The City Turns Its Back

The City Turns Its Back

Tara Campbell


The City rumbles and turns its back, but it knows you’re still watching. It looks out over the waves and pulls on a rope, knowing you’re admiring its muscles through its too-thin T-shirt, the same one it’s worn for countless fishing trips and rugby matches and hockey games, sweating into stinking pads, and nights drinking beer while yelling at “The Deadliest Catch.”

The City shouts at the screen every time it watches that show, because anyone who works a boat knows it’s nothing like that pussy-ass shit they show on TV. Nobody sits around providing context for a camera—they’re all too busy yelling at each other to keep the fuck away from the winches and watch the hell out for the nets. The City has worked a boat or two, and knows it’s too fucking loud to sit around opining on the nature of Nature.

The City knows that when you talk, it’s at night, when you’re drinking belowdecks; and when you talk, you talk about women’s bodies, and where you will go to look at them when you get to shore, but nobody will admit how much they will pay to do things to them, and nobody will dare admit to thinking about other kinds of bodies, no matter how badly they may want them.

The City is aware that you’re still watching, waiting for it to say something about the bounty of the sea, or the expansive sky, which is bullshit because no one’s seen the sky for days. There’s a sun that everyone just has to trust is still there, lurking behind flat white cloud cover. The City hasn’t seen the sun in a month; it has no tan lines, only a runny nose from a summer cold, the result of spitting rain and unrelenting gloom.

The City won’t answer any of your questions, because it just wants to go home, even though it knows it will crave human contact soon enough after you leave. It just doesn’t want it right now. Or from you. The City pulls on a rope and lets it go again just for something to do with its hands aside from smashing your head in.

The City doesn’t know why it has these thoughts. It doesn’t have them as often when the sun is out. Maybe it should go somewhere where the sun is out. But people need fish, and boats need workers, and the City needs money, so somebody else gets the sun. The City’s no baby; it understands everyone wants something they can’t have. But that means there’s someone out there who has the sun, but doesn’t want it, wants rain instead, and that makes the City want to beat their head in. But the City knows it can’t have that. It shouldn’t even want that.

The City wishes it didn’t have these thoughts. It knows you’re still there, watching. It pulls on a rope and rumbles, and tells itself again and again it WILL NOT turn around.


Story inspired by The City Outside of Itself by Amber Sparks


Tara Campbell ( is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction editor at Barrelhouse. Prior publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Jellyfish Review, Booth, and Strange Horizons. She’s the author of a novel, TreeVolution, a hybrid fiction/poetry collection, Circe’s Bicycle, and a short story collection, Midnight at the Organporium. She received her MFA from American University in 2019.

Tara Campbell_Photo by Anna Dewitt Carson