I once forgot about the city of Cleveland so completely that it disappeared; even the people who lived there weren't certain where it had gotten to, though some said there was nothing unusual about that. It irked them only because there was even less possibility of moving to anywhere more happening: how do you travel even to Kansas City or St Louis, let alone Chicago, from a place that momentarily doesn't exist in the same world? and how momentarily? no one could say, all that's been established in the aftermath to what's remained officially a non-event is an unusually pronounced city-wide spell of traveller's stasis anxiety, a disorder common in many communities that a large minority of the populace more or less permanently want to leave.

Bringing it back was not simply a matter of remembering; reconstruction on several levels was required, and archives referencing Cleveland were vanishing as rapidly as other people's memories (which may have been as much at fault as mine in the original displacement). A colossal effort of group recollection and scholarship (very little of it entirely conscious) finally brought the city back after 72 hours (not quite so long as Lazarus was in his tomb), at which point it was discovered that the downtown core was burning.

I'd had experiences like this before, though I could only properly put them together by tentative guesswork, in retrospect. Three charred kittens and a toy poodle, at which point our family gave up on pets, but I'd never suspected the reason. A town derelict black-boned, charred and smoking-for some hours flames would burst out and rapidly die down if the corpse were prodded with a stick (a point established by neighbourhood children, myself included, more often than strict scientific curiosity required). Eventually (an overnight snowfall helped) it grew cool enough to move and be properly examined by a coroner. No accelerant was detected; final ruling by default was spontaneous combustion; anecdotally it was recalled that he'd been known to ingest lighter fluid in the absence of more conventional intoxicants. (He'd been governor, for nearly two decades, of a state just two over from us, a discovery that came as a shock to all concerned.)

A professor at university-I thought I'd only forgotten about a paper due in her class, but apparently. . .
Not that I'm certain to this day about these or other incidents; only they do seem collectively to share a discernible pattern. If you look for more positive proof than that of anything in this world, you'll be sorely disappointed. But Cleveland? Surely I couldn't have been solely responsible, others must have forgotten it as well, in fact the rapid almost complete vanishing of information suggests a swift-moving contagious amnesia. How it managed to burn up so many paper trails is a poser though, which is perhaps why, with its reappearance, the earlier disappearance has been almost completely forgotten; electronic systems have a functional memory due to imperfections in the delete mechanism, but only the accidental survival of copies allows an imperfect paper preservation.

However the collective and individual responsibility must be divided-and assuming I'm following a viable chain of associative logic, which I for one find compelling and indisputable-why should forgotten things, remembered, invariably return in flames? (Fatally to small objects such as kittens, derelict former governors and professors, less so in cities of substantial population and spread: once the fire brigade was properly alert and active (supplemented by ad hoc citizen volunteers and flyover helicopters dropping tons of bagged water) the blaze was brought under control, not without considerable loss of human life, commercial property, heritage building sites (I hear your skepticism, but every city of a certain age is bound to have a spate of buildings in styles chambers of commerce and concerned citizen committees will consider worth preserving), loss of business and insurance claims into the billions. FEMA invited themselves in to help and party. Neighbouring cities, counties and states commiserated, offering aid and (where necessary) temporary housing for those suddenly bereft of a home (as they very nearly had been of a city)-but mostly it was citizens of Cleveland itself who took on billeting duties. A certain number who did move out made the relocation permanent-likely they had spooky memories of the limbo state they'd been in, then suddenly the fire; others still remaining vowed they would relocate as soon as that should prove feasible, but many had been saying that for most of their adult lives. Not that this is uniquely a Cleveland, or even uniquely a "recently vanished cities" phenomenon; it seems wherever any of us are, the grass is greener somewhere (in Cleveland, for instance, in the months and years of rebuilding that followed; many who remained thought they'd never had it so good, and people flocked there from more depressed areas, swelling the population and inevitably-as the boom died down and the economy levelled out-its unemployment ranks). Places that stay have many points-not least these recurrent and deranging boom and bust cycles-in common with those that waver, vanish and partially burn up on their return, but what about those that never reappear?

It would seem their condition is worse than that of Cleveland-and Boston? Madrid? Papua New Guinea? Did they disappear and recur similarly? It's difficult to tell-not every blaze and smoking ruin (some are acts of arson, others acts of God) is the necessary consequence of having vanished (a certain number of days) from human memory. How many days? am I any expert? Cleveland's the only example I can date even approximately. Safe to assume, I'm sure, that the longer a city is gone, the less likely its return, but what precisely the threshold is I couldn't say.

It does seem as if bursting into flames to some degree is a necessary condition of return for any object forgotten out of existence-complete immolation I would guess up to a small or midsize town (the only way an individual could escape such a fate is by improbably morphing into a human torch-stranger things may have happened, but not so you could rely on them; likely it's in the best interests of all those vanishing this way to remain wherever they are, or aren't).

Too little is known about the state of disappeared cities to speculate-even their one-time existence has the waters of Lethe all over it. Atlantis? El Dorado? Cuidad Real (which certainly ought to have existed if the name is anything to go by)? Atlantis might have plunged into the sea in a desperate bid to quench rapidly spreading flames, in which case they were equally screwed; or I might have had too much coffee, feeding instead of quenching the roar of raging speculation in my head.

Sometimes I feel the earth, this globe we inhabit, the whole schlimazel,  slipping away from my thoughts for minutes at a time-I mean I notice once it's happened, and at such moments a misty vagueness seems to inhabit my immediate environs, personal space, vicinage. My inattention's bad enough (given the potential consequences), but I can plainly observe it's much worse with many others. Minutes of inattention! do they even fully comprehend what a minute is? They live in a moment that's progressively shrinking, if its duration's more than a second or two at this date I'd be very much surprised. Nerves, muscle and reflex store what memory they have. Talk to them of past, present and future and they'll moan "You're making me tense." Time scale that atomized, what do you need the space of a whole world for? They'd never notice the loss of such vastness in excess of requirements, shrink to the space of a capacious molecule, especially if the rest of us grow forgetful minutes and hours at a time. Say the world vanishes then, with all of us on it but where? Cleveland vanished somewhere or it couldn't have returned, bonfire of the vanities and all. Where will we be if we aren't there already? Best to stay put? What vast plains and valleys, maybe even a lesser continent-sorry about that , Australia-toweringly abalaze and then cinders if we return? Having first disappeared, that hasn't been precisely determined, and as they say in England, it might never happen; fingers crossed.