A Legend without a Map
(a cruciverbal fiction)


1       Move into water (4)

5       Or stand, and with your toes, outline the bank. (4)

9       A kind of attention you pay, to the birds, to the rumors of the city, an archaic way to hear. (4)

13     Nearby, a pole—like a kiosk—is feathered with flyers and studded with rusted staples. (4)

17     As it turns out, one small Greek word links the hero of the play to the villain, to the contest between them, and to the
laughable assurance of anguish all the while. (4)

18     In the park, that day, we could hear the chirrup of urbanized starlings, and the dogs’ chirrup back, and the thundering
of skate-boarders and the shallow careening of strollers, each with their specificity, their unique aural envelopes. While
across town, the same playful emanations would arrive at your apartment window dulled, a white noise, a ___. (4)

19     This is how we met, online. (5)

21     There is a pond in the park, fed by a fake stream, and in the mouth of the stream a little tongue of silt. (5)

22     It was lunchtime, and we saw this bird, a bird neither of us had seen around before, and we weren’t at all sure it could
live in a city. At first, you called it something ridiculous: a Sandwichpaper. I said, no bird was ever called that. You were
half-drunk I think, and eating a sandwich. You know what I meant, you said, punchily. The bird picked in the dam of the
small pond with its curved beak. (9)

24     And with its ostensible mate, it made arabesques on the bank, like a polite dance looped into a sonata. (5)

25     We absorb time, it seems. (2 wds.) (5)

26     This kid was holding a rotary fan made of pink and blue Mylar (8)

27     and wearing a shirt featuring a ferocious Gorilla gripping a woman like a blond barbell. (4)

28     Sometimes, in the summer, these chrysalides are woven into tree-bark, or folded into leaves, or hanging by threads
in midair. (7)

30     The bird (22 A), had a hollow bent beak like a straw. We joked that he was a junkie, and it was his coke spoon, or
something like it. (4)

31     Across the pond, birds were grouping and regrouping, though few seemed to be of the same species. They were
taking sides, anyway. (6)

33     There was another bird you knew, a songstress, insectivorous and famously carefree. (4)

34     The whole park seemed to be posing for pictures, like a shifting diorama for a film. (3)

36     I searched for the word bucolic, but all I could think of was bovine. (3)

37     It wasn’t bucolic, either. There was a shattered streetlamp beside our park bench. Some thug or some romantic had
shot out the most vital part (4)

38     on some wool dark night, no doubt, when the sky could actually be described as a cloak. (4)

42     Ragtag gangs of city birds began these battles in a turf war. (6)

45     You’d brought a martini in a flask. A real martini, you said, (3)

47     as dry as liquid can be. (3)

48     From word one I was concerned that we thought too differently, that you thought in this kind of bland code (5)

49     requiring a storm of syntax to point and say: there, voilà! (3)

50     But the sun was as bright as the western Sudan (4)

52     Archaic; ethereal. (4)

54     So we began a game of ignorantly and arbitrarily naming birds, and then awarding people bird-names, too. All women
with red sweaters we called ___. (6)

55     I said, Did you know that aquiline means eagle-like? And you laughed, and asked if there was something protuberant
about your profile. (4)

57     There was so little coincidence in any of our thoughts or movements; we were out of ___; (4)

59     cutting each other off ___-sentence. (3)

60     At first I couldn’t imagine you calling anyone, say, something short for honey. (3)

61     But our game helped. The ease of a shared dialect, even an instant pidgin-style one, (3)

62     however coarse (5)

64     heated things up (5)

66     toward common goals. (4)

68     A kid pummeled a basketball against the pavement behind us; the hollow trounces sounding out  ___ Ab-dul Ja-bar. (5)

69     You pronounced one woman an Extinct Bird Named Dorothy. (4)

70     Economy, in a word, (4)

73     commences the game. (5)

77     A little Spanish girl (4)

79     with a voice like Italian coins (5)

81     and hair like the “nevermore” bird (5)

82     was so businesslike with her Mom. We suspected they both worked for a government tax agency. (3)

85     Our talk became more casual than chat. (3)

86     You guessed, in all earnestness, that I was a sun-sign. (3)

87     I imagined, for a moment, that you could be part of a cultish coalition (4)

90     divining truth from a variable star. (4)

91     There’s nothing like a blind date to make you feel like a yellow chick in a coal mine. (6)

93     It dawned on me then and there: (4)

94     In coupling, even the wisest birds (4)

96     drum (3)

97     the unstable air, (5)

98     unable to keep their fibrillating pulses (3)

99     stern, (3)

102    working up the very air until it’s palpable. (6)

104    Reptilian or phoenix-like, we’re all born in water and live in fire. The heart is salamandrine: amphibious and burning,
and without scales, or feathers for that matter. (4)

105    We had finished our picnic, and you invited me back to your place, but you threw me off when you called it what
P. Diddy would call it. (4)

106    P. Diddy is this kind of artist, though we agreed his name sounds like a puppet from the Banana Splits Adventure
Hour. (3)

108    On the walk to your place, you taught me a game called bacronym, in which an acronym is ___-fabricated: what it
stands for is un-___-meditated, and the goal is to be entirely  ___-posterous. (3)

109    For example, you said: Oiligarchy Propagating Eternal Combustion (4)

110    And as we were passing an office building, I tried: Lawyers In Association with Big Litigious Entities. (6)

113    You said, and I believed you: this game is good for whatever ails you. (4)

116    This one was yours, I think: Academics Laboring Under Many Nebulous Assumptions of Entitlement. (7)

120    The problem with the game: ___ no winner. Amusement Involving No Telos. (4)

121    Walking towards your neighborhood, the sun started to set, and the sky to the east began to purple. You called it
aubergine. (8)

124    The wind off the street was superheated and desert-dry. (5)

125    Crossing Canard Street, cars squatted in the gutters like water birds all in a row (5)

127    or, on a larger scale, steel mites in the fur of the city’s grid, (9)

128    say, from the point of view of a sharp eye sailing overhead. (5)

129    Suddenly, our afternoon together began to feel almost too good, like gorging. I’ve never been able to tell an innocent
flight from a binge; (5)

130    I guess I would have made a great addict. (4)

131    I did ask: How much further? And you took my hand. At this point, I would have followed you if you said you lived in
that big stadium in Flushing. (4)

132    The thought of sex pushed time faster: it raced. (4)

133    But there was nothing to be done. In an old fashioned phrase, someone sends you, and you’re signed, sealed,
delivered. (4)

134    After all, all that afternoon together we had been taming the world by naming: giving feral birds and passersby the names
of domestic companions. (4)

135    When you opened the door to your apartment building, you called me yours in German. (4)


1       This much is certain: it stings (4)

2       repeatedly (5)

3       at the root, a bit like a dominatrix (5)

4       the way it ends, and that it must end, finally. (7)

5       What kind of demonic contraption has 57 locks and no key? (4)

6       Love anesthetizes us; (5)

7       inverts our minds, like trying to read Celtic script. (6)

8       But what could be more human? (3)

9       Regret, maybe. Or an irrepressible sense of the symbolic, in the way that, instead of immediately hearing regret, always
first you would hear the part-echo egret, (5)

10     which was already picked out from ___ the echoing ratios surrounding it, (5)

11     in the same way that singing is the simple spatial relay of having sung, and all we know first of the alarm-call is how
sublimely loud it sang. (4)

12     But I heard no warning bells. Once politeness imploded like a soufflé, that is, once we invaded each other’s
territories and really got to know each other, this became our first continuous argument: which one of us was the
bigger child. We’d say, couched and insulated in teasing, “You’re such a ___.” (3)

13     My evidence: you kept a “magic coin that saved your life” in the Philippines tucked in an odd sock in your sock drawer. (4)

14     Your evidence: I called margarine “oriole.” (4)

15      My evidence: you would imitate a ___ gun: you would shuffle surreptitiously around the apartment for as long as you could,
working up static energy, then curl your thumb and index finger into a bracket, sneak up behind me and yell “shazam!” (4)

16      Which was so annoying. What could be more annoying? A bugle call, maybe. (4)

20      Your evidence: I’m from an exotic place (6)

21      where we say ridiculous things like “fuck a ___,” an innocent fowl that you would never, ever actually want to fuck in real life. (4)

23     Our second running argument (e.g.):

I told you once that just the thought of an apartment without AC might send me into anaphylactic shock. You thought I was joking.
In spring, one day I was laid out flat by pollen, and drifting in and out of an antihistamine haze.
Slowed to a stop as I was by mucous, you brought up the question: If the cardinal humors were superheroes, which one would win
in a battle? Would it be Bile Boy, with his gamma rays of white-hot belligerence? No, of course he couldn’t beat the Blood Baroness,
the relentless, ruthless agent of lust. One thing was sure: Melancholy Man, he would lose. His only superpower is to delight you with
morbid thoughts.

Oh my god, I nearly wailed, I cannot have this discussion again right now.

You sat beside me on the bed, and complimented me on the color of my eyes, pink as roses, and folded your hand around mine. Your
face beamed, sympathetic and amused.

How is it (I thought yet again), that everything about you seems larger than everything about me, and broader, and more agile?
I never did mind so much, your enveloping physicality I mean, but how was it you could pin me so hard I couldn’t move
and run faster?      
Shouldn’t I have been compensated for your brute strength and incandescence with some kind of nebbishy dexterity?
Of course, I knew what made us even: ultimately the battle of the humors was always won by the Phantom ___, whose indomitable power
was to make us want to stay in bed all day, napping. (6)

27     After all, the happiest, the most fruitful bird is flightless. (4)

29     So there was an adolescent logic to our being together, and a perfectly stratified symmetry, like a sphere. Or a gobstopper. (3)

32     We even had the perfect pooch, (3)

33     named after my first car, which was named after Mrs. Arnaz. (4)

35     She was part Labrador and part Abyssinian, with just a hint of China Black. (4)

37     Okay, for all I know, she could have been a Double Wattled Cassowary, (4)

38     which, for all I know, is an outsized swan. (3)

39     You could have won an acting award for playing Holy Jolie adoptive mother to her, (4)

40     while my performance met with negative reviews, which were probably deserved. (4)

41     And besides… (4)

42     I never claimed to be the symbol of parenthood. (5)

43     If there was ever a problem (5)

44     between us, it was on the DL (3)

46     and difficult to diagnose (4)

48     or else it was just so unreal, funny, like a cartoon vulture with a silly-putty neck and a natty white feather collar (5)

49     flapping far, far above our little ___ paradise, our private Machu Picchu. (4)

51     You should know (4)

53     way down under our down comforter, which was stuffed with feathers so light they barely count as matter, (5)

54     to flow, to rush, to elapse, to vie with you (3)

56     was heaven, before heaven went south. (4)

58     Meanwhile, we were matched in our tendency to over-think anything at all. You, even in your sleep. A teeth-grinder,
in your sleep you would mull a thing over and over and over. (3)

60     And I’m just a born brooder, I guess. (3)

63     But the sense we sought to make of our life together was always a migrant, a nomad, crossing borders freely and in
broad daylight. (6)

65     That’s when the games really began, I think, when we began to act like spies (5)

67     towards each other, even within the intimate biased space between us. (4)

69     Even the slightest ambiguity, the smallest bit of some mysterious substance, (3)

71     might become a clue to something else. My surprise birthday game: you left me a clue in a nesting doll in the back of
a yellow sedan, complete with the fare to get me across town. (3)

72     Though most of the subsequent clues seemed to point directly towards a distant Scandinavian capital, (4)

74     I wound up in a Day-Glo Swedish Christmas village by a turnpike in some unfathomable suburb. The place was stuffed to
the lutefisk with signs, but what was it ultimately meant to call up? (5)

75     Even if I knew what to look for, was there ever any chance I would have found it amid the piles of outdated Advent calendars,
the weirdly svelte Santa chocolates and boxes of Christmas glög? (5)

76     I spent that birthday alone, until late that night when, after you gave up searching for me, we ran into each other back on our
street. I was coming home with Chinese take-out. Is it fair to say your plan had an unforeseen catch? (4)

78     Or was the catch my inability to see the obvious? Or was your semaphore too obscure? You said no to both possibilities. (3)

80     I was sure you had gotten me something really subtle for my birthday, like an eyelash, or a single atom. (4)

82     But we went to fetch it the next day from a Russian Orthodox church, two neighborhoods over, where it was tucked under a
graven image of, naturally, Our Lady of the Sign. (4)

83     I had to dismantle my bad temper, (4)

84     but that part was easy, as we strolled home and the city hushed; winter was showing itself in quieting drifts. (4)

86     Your birthday surprise was easier: I left the first clue on a platter between two ribs of mutton, (4)

88     which lead to the talon of a macramé predator in the bathroom. (3)

89     You snapped it all together quickly, (4)

92     and we wound up in a dust-batted taxidermy museum, in front of a giant ___ colony, teeming with involutions, a caste-system
pressed between glass. (3)

93     It was after that the games became contests, and became increasingly interminable, expensive, odyssean. (4)

95     Included always in the adventure were the shuffling generic units of unknowable suburban malls, (6)

98     lots of strange beasts sorted by characteristics (6)

100   and best of all, beneath it all, the implication of a secret order. (4)

101   Then, further down beneath all the cryptic play, we began to keep score; to tick off points and incur a debt (3)

103   of a demonic sort, (7)

105   though each appointed the other official accountant. (3)

107   As with 108 A: People Looking Everywhere for Answers Seem Eccentric. (6)

109   I could still remember, though it was dim, there was a time, (4)

110   When not everything had to refer to something else, when objects could innocently be of themselves, indifferent to any
attempt to inveigle them in some elliptical equation. (5)

111   As it was, on our anniversary, you were puzzling over the black-and-tan marquetry on my coffee table, which I had recently
moved, and discovering a clue within it, and ignoring that I had no possible control over the pattern of inlay (5)

112   you set off in a heated search for any of several herons, (5)

114   a whirling machine in your head. (5)

115   You wound up back at the very bench in the park where we first met, but the current occupant, an old eastern European
woman, made a cipher of her vellum hands and flashed you a venomous smile, (5)

116   which sent you off to find the nearest planetarium, where, in the turning of an orrery, you were assured of finding clues within
the signatures of the planets’ pivots. (4)

117   Four hours later, you called me on your cell from the next state, to thank me for the gift of a wonderful Spirograph of hawks you
could practically touch in the air above this famous cliff. (4)

118   I had no idea what you were talking about. A few wind-blown words and the line went choppy and dropped you. I took this as
an incentive (4)

119   to come to you. Besides the clippings of your words my only clues were the sun in your voice and the wind’s warm temperament. (4)

120   The detritus you left scattered around the bedroom indicated a clear plot (4)

122   to return to distant bluffs where we had found fossils of primitive pike. (4)

123   But this time, you’d left so many contradictory signals in my path: evidence obviously directing me to a Burmese restaurant far
out in the avenues, hints pointing to an Alpaca stall at a suburban county fair, signs indicating a plot on the life of the Russian
emperor. (4)

126   By late afternoon, I was at an outdoor farmers’ market in Falconaire. A lint-haired woman who sold me a sandwich bag of
raspberries winked at me wisely and dropped a handful of yellow gooseberries in the bag. I caught the hint and set off for an
address in nearby Emissary Heights. (3)

127   I made it to the coast but I never did find you. Hours later, the sun had all but set. I found myself alone in the freezing sea spray
of Peregrine Sound, on an outcropping of slick rocks, searching up and down in the equally perplexed eyes of a newborn seal. (3)
Christopher Tradowsky
Christopher Tradowsky is a graduate student in Art History at UCLA. He is currently completing a dissertation on
contemporary art. His fiction has appeared previously in
Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly.
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