Six express tracks and twelve locals pass through Palimpsest. The six Greater Lines are: Stylus, Sgraffito, Decretal, Foolscap, Bookhand, and Missal. Collectively, in the prayers of those gathered prostrate in the brass turnstiles of its hidden, voluptuous shrines, these are referred to as the Marginalia Line. They do not run on time: rather, the commuters of Palimpsest have learned their habits, the times of day and night when they prefer to eat and drink, their mating seasons, their gathering places. In days of old, great safaris were held to catch the great trains in their inexorable passage from place to place, and women grappled with them with hooks and tridents in order to arrive punctually at a desk in the depth, of the city.
As if to impress a distracted parent on their birthday, the folk of Palimpsest built great edifices where the trains liked to congregate to drink oil from the earth and exchange gossip. They laid black track along the carriages’ migratory patterns. Trains are creatures of routine, though they are also peevish and curmudgeonly. Thus the transit system of Palimpsest was raised up around the huffing behemoths that traversed its heart, and the trains have not yet expressed displeasure.
To ride them is still an exercise in hunterly passion and exactitude, for they are unpredictable, and must be observed for many weeks before patterns can be discerned. The sport of commuting is attempted by only the bravest and the wildest of Palimpsest. Many have achieved such a level of aptitude that they are able to catch a train more mornings than they do not.
The wise arrive early with a neat coil of hooked rope at their waist, so that if a train is in a very great hurry, they may catch it still, and ride behind on the pauper’s terrace with the rest of those who were not favored, or fast enough, or precise in their calculations. Woe betide them in the infrequent mating seasons! No train may be asked to make its regular stops when she is in heat! A man was once caught on board when an express caught the scent of a local. The poor banker was released to a platform only eight months later, when the two white leviathans had relinquished each other with regret and tears.
Catherynne M. Valente (Palimpsest)