Now, instead of encountering a different set of strangers, we encountered the same ones, and this familiarity comforted us to no end.
But then one morning I thought I saw her again. I was walking along a street near my apartment carrying a bag that contained three warm pastries or, rather, two and one-half warm pastries – I had already started eating one of them. It had a light, sweet glaze that would have gone well with steamed milk, and I was vaguely touching the tip of my tongue to the center of my upper lip and feeling very happy, thoroughly contented, perhaps even a little smug, when I saw her again, or thought I did. She was standing quite near me on a corner, looking in the direction of a man coming rapidly across the street towards her. The man was wearing a hat with a wide rim and sunglasses, as, I might add, was she. The man approached and kept approaching and then, although his speed broke for a moment, had passed her and continued along the street, and she turned and stood looking towards me, or seemed to be. I greeted her. She didn’t respond. She did, however, continue to seem to look at me, so I approached and said, would you like a pastry? They’re very good. How true: in addition to being finely glazed, these pastries contained a fresh pear filling blended with an almond paste and one could smell this aspect of their preparation even through the bag. When she didn’t respond I leaned forward a little and asked her if she wanted to smell the bag. Good God, she said. It was a bright, warm day in early Summer, and there were birds in the trees and on the cars and on the building fronts, very pretty birds. I tried to come up with something to say about the birds but couldn’t, so instead I complimented her on the shorts she was wearing. Thank you, she said. This seemed more promising. After a moment, however, it occurred to me that she might just as well have complimented me, in return, on mine, as I had just purchased them the previous day in a boutique we had once walked by together on the way to the cinema, but she did not, even when I reminded her of these details, which, I have to say, did not seem to me to be entirely devoid of interest, it had been quite a successful evening, the one I was remembering, we had often had such successful evenings together. How’s that little rash? I asked her. That little rash? she said. Her mouth had changed, seemed somehow elongated, the lips were a touch thinner, paler. Her nose, too, looked different, was somewhat wider, a slight flaring of the nostrils, just a touch. It’s good to see you, I said. Likewise, she said. Several cars went by. She looked at her watch. Somewhere in the distance a gun went off. On the job? I said. I’m not sure, she said. At this she smiled, bitterly it seemed, showing me teeth that were not quite as lovely as the teeth I remembered, but it had been some months, perhaps, in truth, somewhat longer, and I am not unwilling to admit that my own teeth, in that interval, had also undergone a not unremarkable measure of decline. I was preparing, in fact, to broach that subject when, somewhat abruptly and without further comment, she began to walk off. Hey, I said, and when, my interpolation having had no effect, I began to follow her, she sped up, and when I sped up, she started running, and when I started running, she ran faster than me. Never a fast runner, I had put on several pounds and had become something of a fatty at that time. This was not just a function of a regular intake of glazed pastries with pear and almond filling, it was also a function of cakes. I liked a good deal of chocolate in a cake and I could not go lightly on the butter. It was not, in fact, a cake at all for me during that period unless it was heavily iced, and it was not fit for consumption unless it was very large. Also, I had become fond of nuts and of oils and of cream and of cheeses and when I slept, during that period, it was with dark visions of rich dainties occupying my head. I watched her run for a time then went home. Walking home, I thought to myself, well, that was strange, and I thought to myself several other things, and I remembered a few things, and I thought about her nose, it was a nice nose, both versions of it, and I began to feel a bit moved and I had not felt moved for some time, and it was rather nice to feel moved and to feel, also, somewhat relieved, that she had reappeared, had reentered my life, although the nose was troubling, and I heard some more gun shots and fought my way through a crowd which had gathered to look, there was blood but I couldn’t tell if this one was real, then said hello to the old woman with ocher hair who sells pictures of roses near my building, and who at other times works in liquidation, and then I was in my building. I went up some stairs then took a short break, then went up some more stairs and, a little surprised to see that the door was open, into my apartment. The gentleman with the hat and sunglasses was there. I hope you don’t mind, he said. Not at all, would you care for a pastry? I said. He ate very neatly with one hand cupped against his chest to catch stray crumbs and flecks of icing. I liked the delicate but rhythmic motion of his jaw and the way his tongue came out to probe his lips between bites. It is a fine pastry, he said. It is, I said. They don’t skimp on the custard. No they don’t. So often, he said, they skimp on the custard, and the fruit and paste is left to fend for itself; one should not have to feel sorry for the fruit that passes one’s lips. I nodded. This seemed like useful information. He asked if he might trouble me for a glass of milk. I apologized for not having offered him one. It is so infrequently, I said, that I entertain. But you do occasionally? he said. Very occasionally, although once I had an event here. An event? Yes. We both looked around the room. Did you come to it? I asked him. It is possible, he said. It was a great event, I said, a terrific event, there was a magician of some sort present and my sweetheart came. Your sweetheart, he said. Yes. We sat quietly a moment. I could see myself in his sunglasses. Yuck. Basically. Well, what are you doing here? I said. Actually, first I said, excuse me, then got up, went to the bedroom, took my own pair of sunglasses off the dresser, returned to the kitchen table and put them on. Well, what are you doing here? I said. Those are very nice shorts you are wearing, he said. He smiled. I smiled. Are you still hungry? I asked. He nodded. In that case why don’t I make us something more substantial, which I did, some excellent omelets, and when we had eaten them we ate some more, I had a good piece of sausage on hand, and I began to feel sleepy and suggested that before continuing our conversation, which up to that point, I assured him, had been very interesting, we have some coffee, which we did, quite a lot of coffee, this is excellent coffee, he said. Thank you, I said, and told him that I was pleased to have made the acquaintance of someone as pleasant as he was and as interested in comestibles as I, myself, had become. I am not against the occasional calorie, he admitted, there is something so very satisfying in those beautiful bits of heat. I thought it an admirable answer. In fact, I thought him, generally, admirable and told him so. This was not to remain the case, not even for very much longer, but at that juncture that was how things stood. In the throes of this soon-to-be reversed sentiment I told him that he, too, was in possession of quite fine shorts, and I asked if he could let me know where he had gotten them, and he did. I wrote it down and some weeks later, when I had recovered, I went to the address I had noted and found only an old watchmaker’s shop, and an old watchmaker’s assistant, something of a humorist, who asked me for the time. You need a watch, son, he said. I need very many things, I said. Well, what we have here, son, are watches, now let me see, I’ll find you one. We sat there. In my kitchen. That was her, out there on the street, wasn’t it? I said. No, he said. Are you sure? Absolutely. Do you know who I mean when I say her? He shook his head. I told him who I meant. Ah, he said. How long has she been back? I’m not sure. I thought— Yes, we all thought. No, I mean I very deeply believed— We all very deeply believed. So she is back. Yes, definitely. You’re not lying are you? He didn’t answer. I repeated my question. He smiled and I decided I’d just learned nothing. At this juncture, the telephone began to ring. I do not like telephones. I asked him if he would be kind enough to answer it for me. He was kind enough, and, in fact, swung the phone out of its cradle with great panache. Yes, hello? he said. Yes, I’m fine, just had some breakfast. Who? Yeah, fatso. He’s standing right here. Big as a fucking balloon. I was looking at him, making gestures meant to indicate that despite the fact that I was present, I should not, insofar as the phone was concerned, be considered so, and could he take a message or make arrangements for me. Yes, he’s right here, however, my guest informed the party, and a moment later I found myself, the receiver pressed against my ear, saying, yes I’m available, tonight, 11:30, yes, I understand, you’ll send someone to take me. I always feel proud of myself once I’ve actually been on the phone, have made it through whatever it is there is to make it through and have set the receiver down. You will understand, then, why it was that when I replaced the receiver, I grinned, or smiled, I think it was a smile, no, it was a grin, a gesture which, at any rate, was meant for him, only he wasn’t there any longer. Hello? I said. No answer. It occurred to me that he had taken the opportunity to excuse himself to the facility: we had, after all, consumed quite a bit of coffee. Hello? I said, positioning myself near the bathroom door. No answer. I decided that this lack of a response was inconclusive, that there simply wasn’t enough evidence to make an informed judgment, and that it would be best, until further evidence presented itself, to wait. As I stood waiting, I thought about things. I thought about my breakfast and about my teeth, which really were spectacularly in need of care, someone had just recently made a remark to that effect, there had also, recently, been a remark about my breath, probably not unrelated, and I thought about one or two other things like my need for a new bookshelf and my difficulty in acquiring such things and generally how strange the day had become, and how it was just beginning. A former acquaintance of mine once told me over a turkey dinner that beginnings were quite extraordinary things, there being nothing and then there being something, a prelude and an aftermath, and that, on top of that, many beginnings were a positive morass of the unlikely, the bizarre, the insignificant but intriguingly odd, the innocently calamitous, the highly charged mundane. All the great stories, he continued, begin strangely, often stupidly, and end incomprehensibly, and then there are all those elements in between. How do you feel, I asked him, about a story that begins with someone seeing someone again, but there being certain differences in the person’s physical make up, like their nose has changed, so you are not entirely sure that it is in fact him/her? I see, said my acquaintance, who is she and when did she get back? No one, I said, and she hasn’t even left yet. She hadn’t. Days lay ahead of us, perhaps even weeks. Within that interval we would take pleasant walks together and travel to a small coastal city and picnic in a grove of olive trees. There would be an event for us to attend and some business for me to mishandle, to choose to mishandle, to believe I had chosen to mishandle, and a large bathtub in an old house in the country, and a cold window pane onto which we would breathe our mingled breaths. But all that was years ago. It must have been years ago. How old was I now? I was fat. My hair was curly and touched with gray. It had occurred to me, in the interval, to take up singing. I had even performed the lead male role in a small production of a famous opera. I think this is true. I have just tried singing. I can sing. Also I thought – I was still standing there, still thinking – of a proof of the infinite nature of the series of prime numbers, it employed the following equation Q = (2 * 3 * 5 * 7… P) + 1, quite pretty, this was the work of one of the very old mathematicians, though transmitted by one less old, or at least one more recent, if I am remembering correctly, possibly. Then I worked a few problems in my head. Simple ones. Small acts of division, of slicing apart. In my youth I was known to be quicker than average with a figure; in fact, I was once first runner-up in a contest. The prize was pizza with the school’s math teacher and the winner. It was this teacher who told me about prime numbers and also about irrationals – not as pretty but much more powerful, very deep. Having at this point waited for some time, needs of my own had become pressing, so that – I should not have chosen such a course otherwise – as I had stood with my ear against the cold wood for some seconds and heard nothing, I gingerly opened the door. Empty. I registered, however, as I rushed forward, that he must have been there, had either washed his hands or used the facility or had entered as part of a sweep, we often make sweeps, because an object, a memento, my green duck, a gift I had kept despite a troubling defect in its buoyancy, was out of its place. Its place was on the porcelain soap dish next to the bath tub. Now it sat on the shelf opposite the toilet. This was troubling. And curious. But little more. At any rate, I sat. I stood. I resisted the temptation to bathe. Then returned to the kitchen and found a note:
You must pardon, or I must ask you to pardon, my surreptitious departure. This course of action was factor only of an inability on my part, and under any circumstances, to say good-bye, to anyone (you will please note that I am not saying it now), I am quite simply incapable, this since birth (please don’t ever ask me about it), and so am forced to take my leave when the opportunity presents itself, regardless, I might add, whether or not my business (if the circumstance relates to such) has been concluded. This being the case, I have taken the liberty of attaching to this document a summary of the substance to which my visit (I hope my presence has not too greatly importuned you) corresponds. Please consider me, if it should seem (I am always hesitant to loosely employ the verb ‘be’) appropriate, your humble servant.
The note was not signed and there was nothing attached to it. I read it through again. It seemed straight-forward enough, although I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not it was or was not, and was absolutely unsure whether or not it was appropriate for me to think of him as my humble servant, probably, I decided (rightly it turned out), not. Then he threw a brick through my window. This wasn’t, I should hasten to add, as unpleasant an incident (or as exciting an incident) as it could have been had my window been closed. I am not opposed to unpleasant experiences, by the way – I don’t mean to imply that at all. The unpleasant experience clearly has its place, an important, perhaps even indispensable place. But at any rate, the brick sailed neatly through the window, clattered across the white tile floor and slid into the wall with a nice crisp clunk! I like that sound. In the day time I like it. I do not like it at night, but in the day time, and when it is explained, it gives me a pleasant feeling at the back of my throat. I went to the window. Did you get it? he called. Yes, thank you, I said. I stood there. He stood there. Fatso, huh? I said. I’m sorry about that, it slipped out, he said. Did you like my duck? Your duck? In the facility – the green duck. I have not been in your facility, in fact, I am just rushing off to find one. He did look a little uncomfortable. Must run, he said. Was she here? I said. He stood there. While I was out shopping? He didn’t move. Can’t you just leave without saying good-bye? I said. I can’t talk about that, he said. A few people went by. No one paid any attention. Was she here? I said. Yes, he said. Was she in my bathroom? Yes. I lifted my sunglasses, winked, let them drop, leaned back inside, walked over and got the brick, put the brick on the table, went back over to the window, and found him gone. What a weirdo. Then I went over to the table and pulled the attachment off the brick. It was much shorter than the Dear Sir/Madam note, was relatively personalized, and had not been typed. The handwriting, I might add, seemed familiar, but also not, maybe mostly not. It read, and I think these words will mark the end of my beginning, for what it has been worth:
Do not, under any circumstances
Some minutes later I left for the cafe where, following a pleasant walk, I was to meet an individual I had an appointment with and eat a cheese sandwich. Also, I was to have my cards read and the inside of my thigh stroked, but the main thing, now that my breakfast had begun to digest, was the cheese sandwich. It was a very good sandwich, so good that, having taken just the second bite and while still in the middle of chewing it, I nodded appreciatively to the bartender, who, while not having himself prepared the sandwich, was the one who had responsibility for it. The bartender graciously blinked back at me, and I continued eating, just as earlier, on the way to the cafe, I had continued walking, enjoying the sunshine and noticing along the way the varying quality of shorts that were visible. Few were as nice as my own or as those belonging to my recent interlocutor. None were as nice as hers. It was of shorts, then, that I thought as I made my way to the cafe, and also of the events of that morning, a little. In thinking of the events of that morning, as I walked along beneath the trees and, behind the trees, the gorgeous old buildings, and behind the buildings all the rooms with their appliances and television screens, I found my mind drawn towards more distant events, events of a previous Autumn and early Winter, events that had involved her, I felt certain, and that had involved me, as well as others. The trees and buildings, as I say, were lovely, especially in reflection, one wished almost to dive into them, were the water not quite so murky, and I found it difficult to concentrate. It is a very pleasant river, thoughts of swimming in it and of other things aside, especially on a warm Spring morning with a blue sky above the surrounding buildings so that the orange of the chimney stacks is very bright. There were boats on the river, some moving slowly, others quickly. It was all very quiet and impressive, and I liked it better than most of what I was remembering of that previous Autumn, though not better than all of what I was remembering, parts of what I was remembering were much better than the river, and then I walked up a flight of steps, crossed a street, and approached the establishment. Just prior to entering it, however, I paused and attempted, once more, to gather my reflections, even just a little, around the subject of those earlier events and the events of that morning, but could not. I went in. The air was dark and smelled of beer and dust and antiquated cleaning product. I let my eyes adjust. I decided, as they were adjusting, to make one last attempt to think about it a little more, but other things came to mind. E.g., one of the instances in which I had I thrown someone in the river. The one with the trees reflected in it. Waving in it. A boat had gone by. Some people had waved. Fortunately, the body had not floated. They do sometimes. Despite your best efforts. Or of those of your colleagues. Most, however, do not float. This one, as I say, did not. It had gone down in a white cloud, the dark water whirling around it. This establishment is one that I have frequented for some time, that is to say almost as long as I have been in this city, which is quite a long while now, it becomes hard to hold it all in one’s head. The first time I entered this establishment was one evening that previous Autumn. I entered it because as I was passing someone standing in the doorway said, pssst. That was how I became involved with the organization and came, occasionally, to do some business for them. It was this someone that I had it in mind to meet that morning, now. Hi, I said. Whatever, she said. She was sitting at a table near the back of the establishment shuffling a deck of cards. Subsequent to my interpolation is when, incidentally, I ordered a glass of beer and a cheese sandwich, that good one. Whatever, she said again as I came over. She did not look very well, even in the dim light of the back tables, but she seemed to me to be in somewhat better spirits. They had been on the low side the week before when her bruises had been worse. Her bruises, while not entirely healed, were better, and the swelling, which had been very pronounced, had gone down. How are you? I said. Cut the deck, she said. I cut the deck. She then sort of swirled the cards around on the table and told me to pick one. At that moment my sandwich arrived. Without looking away from the cards, she pointed at the empty table next to us. The bartender, who had been kind enough to bring the sandwich over to me, very gently set it down on the empty table, and for some minutes it sat there shimmering in the dim light. Pick another card, she said. I did. I then picked another and she said, stop. Judging this to be an appropriate moment to take a preliminary investigative bite of the sandwich, I began to do so. No, she said. I put the sandwich back down. She was quite impressive, quite, in her own way, intimidating, still. Also she had begun to stroke my thigh. Now, she said. I do not know what it is she had done. I am referring to the bruises. It is rare that one knows. Even though it is true that she had played some role in my own earlier bruising, she very likely did not know what it was that I had done. Even I, although this is not true, was not sure of that. Likely, no one knew exactly what it was I had done, or if I had even done something, anything at all. Three of Hearts, 7 of Spades, King of Spades, she said. No, I said. Four of Diamonds, 2 of Spades, Queen of Spades. No. This went on. Eventually I showed her. All right, yeah, whatever, she said, put them down on the table. I put them down. She began to squint, to mutter, to make small movements with her hands. A few minutes later as I was eating my sandwich, her prognostication having been made, I said, I thought you were supposed to do that with special cards, and she said, you think too much. Which is true. At that moment, for example, I was thinking about the bartender, and about working with him down along the river. His great-great grandfather, he had told me on that occasion, had used to poach ducks. He had gone out, the great-great grandfather, in a boat in the early hours of the morning when the ducks were sleeping and had filled up huge bags with them. This came up because we too used huge bags. Once there was a very large body. He had not been a body at the start of the business, he had been an individual and he had woken up. Then he went back to sleep. At any rate, it was interesting. I mean what she had said. And I certainly hoped that it would become the case. I might add, at this juncture, that my meeting with her was in no way contingent upon the events of that morning – I had arranged to meet with her some days previously at one of our rendezvous. It did, of course, occur to me that the interpretation of the cards she had given might have been contingent upon her having been made cognizant of the events of my morning, such as they had been, or of some part of them. I thought about that. In the middle of so thinking I had my pleasant interaction with the bartender. He had not been quite as friendly of late, and it bothered me to think of this. Throughout our association, he had always been quite friendly, so it pleased me to see that he was warming up again. You’re telling me I should definitely go to work tonight? I asked her. Yes, absolutely, and do everything you’re told to, and don’t ask any stupid questions this time. Do you really think all that will happen? I do not think, I have told you many times that I do not think, never, not at all. This was true. She had told me that several times and I had no reason not to believe her. And after all, reading cards was what she did with herself. When I say it was what she did with herself, I mean when she was not otherwise engaged in business. The same business I was engaged in. Of course given the amount of bruising she had received, it was likely that it would be some while, if ever, before she was recuperated, or so I thought. For my part, I had only just recently been recuperated. A state of events with which I was quite satisfied, but not entirely sure what to make of. My recuperation had been initiated by the bartender some weeks previously. When I had gone up to the bar to order my standard mid-morning beverage and hard-boiled egg he had said, very casually, the usual place, tonight. And at the usual place that night, instead of blankets and chains and bags and the bartender, I had found an earnest-looking man of moderate size who had said, come with me. It is my understanding that in most organizations, once an organic asset has been disaffirmed, it is only under unusual circumstances that he/she is recuperated. This had been the case with the organization with which I had previously enjoyed affiliation. That had been unpleasant. I had been placed on a list. In such situations one leaves. One did. The subsequent organization, this one, is structured differently. This is due to its very generous and active recuperation wing. The organization is quite large and considerably diversified. I had been in one part of it and now I was in another, an interesting if slightly infuriating part, which suited me quite well. The woman who had just predicted so many fine and interesting things for my day had also been in that previous part of it, but, as she had not as yet been recuperated, or so I thought, she did not yet belong to another. It was for this reason that I concluded that she had likely not been made aware of any developments regarding certain parties, but thought nevertheless that it would not hurt to attempt to make sure. You saw who? she said. Yes, I said. Well that’s sort of interesting. I agreed that it was. I then asked her if she had any insight into that development. She said she did not. However, she said, and began swirling her cards around on the table. I reached out my hand to pick one, but at that moment something singular transpired. When one is disaffirmed from the organization, one is often, if the disaffirmation is not overly stringent, supplied with a document summarizing the character trait(s) found wanting, the character trait(s) that might well have helped the asset avoid trespassing into the circumstances into which he/she has trespassed. I learned this not long after the events for which I was disaffirmed. That is to say that one morning during my convalescence I opened an envelope and read the words,
To the organization’s credit, I think, there was no overly determined attempt on its part to remedy this situation – in fact, I was left to meditate on the subject alone. It is quite an interesting subject, and the events in which I had been involved were full of incidences where I could see that, under the circumstances, my cerebellum had been wanting. Lying on my back on my narrow bed in my small room it was easy to think of, not to say imagine, several instances, one of which took place during the event I mentioned having once held in my apartment. During that event, I was taken aside at one point by an old man with an awful nose, who took out his sunglasses, put them on, and told me that the assignment with which I was being entrusted was an important one, and that, although the organization had developed some confidence in my abilities, they had decided to send along a few staff members with me to facilitate the proceedings. Who are the staff members? I said. He listed them. Quite a generous bit of information and one I chose to completely ignore, and in fact succeeded, more or less, in wiping entirely from my mind. This process of erasure deserves some development. One has one’s theories and one has acknowledged those of others. If I were to say for instance, I have a heart, one might then, if the evidence were present, be inclined to say, I gather that. But likely not: I believe that. And yet, I contend, what we are talking about, even with the evidence directly, so to speak, in our face, is belief, not gathering: I believe that. But such faith, others have contended, is misguided. Which I also believe: I believe that. Somewhere along the line a degree of dread becomes indicated. Becomes amplified. Absolute. Nevertheless, I found I agreed with the organization’s assessment and at one point even sent them a letter to that effect. It seems unlikely that this played a role in their decision to recuperate me. The organization, its literature states, is rarely swayed by individual revelation or entreaty. But the fact remains that I was recuperated, and at the usual place on the evening of said recuperation, after I had followed the man I have described above, I was asked to perform a task in an operation that the organization was known to undertake. In fact, I was scheduled to perform another one that very evening. I did. But before that a singular incident transpired.
This incident was not the previously mentioned singular incident, which prevented me from drawing another card, forced me to lie flat on my back in a warm puddle for some minutes, and obliged me to help the bartender carry an individual out to the trunk of a car. This was a second singular incident, one that took place a short while later, after I had left the store where I acquire my job-related supplies. For this job, according to the instructions I had received over the telephone, those supplies included red duct tape and a standard wooden-handle feather duster. The red duct tape was very pleasant to work with. It was both excellently adhesive and relatively easy to remove. I still have the remainder of it. One acquires considerable amounts of left-over product upon the termination of this variety of job – much of the work has about it a certain performative aspect, thus placing a premium on the quality of the realia put into use. Realia, the organization’s literature on the subject states, is most essential, serving, as it does, to ‘anchor the event’. Most evocative, for me, of the left-over products I have accumulated, is a heavy power transformer, which was used to run a branding iron, which was used to heat a certain element, which was used in conjunction with several liquids, each of them very expensive and hard to come by. I have other things in my possession which are capable of inspiring in me certain associations. One I carry with me at all times. I have shown it to very few people, as it has elicited mixed reactions. One party said, okay, nutcase. Another said, oh that’s very interesting. Another, quite some time ago now, called it exquisite. I am still not entirely sure how I can describe it. I could not believe that it hadn’t crossed my mind, that morning, to show it to her, although it struck me as altogether possible that she would not remember having given it to me, various things about her seeming, as they had, to have changed. But to return to the second singular incident. There was nothing to do but encourage the horse to right itself. It was an old horse lying on a patch of grass next to a vegetable stand, and I had no idea how and what it had come to be doing there. An old woman figured in the incident, insofar as the horse was partially lying on her. The old woman seemed incapable of answering questions or rather of providing answers that seemed in some way to correspond with questions. I had been in this situation before. I knew what to do – when to say yes and when to nod. When I was young my father used to tie linoleum strips around my ankles so that the snakes wouldn’t bite me when we were berry picking, being an example of what the old woman said. I nodded, I held her hand. She described the handles of a tea set she had once owned. Also she had been a teacher. In her cardigan pocket was a list of the subjects she had taught. I have a list in every pocket, she said. She then told me, pulling out one of said lists as evidence, about her mother’s onion tarts. Here I listened very carefully. It was apparently all in the consistency of the cooked onion. An emergency team arrived, the horse was lifted, shot and carted away. I went to a computer shop. There I was supposed to, also according to my instructions, acquire a computer. A very small one. The salesperson demonstrated how neatly her product could fit into, for example, one’s breast pocket. She was very proud of her product and succeeded in imparting a fair measure of that pride in me, the new provisional owner of the very small computer with the illuminable screen. Later that screen was to come in handy, as was the built-in calculator, and one or two other functions. Alas, that item was not one I was permitted to keep. It was held as evidence and played a role at my trial in for a few hours exonerating me. Then, for the second time, I thought I saw her again. I was leaving the store, small computer in breast pocket, red duct tape and feather duster in a plastic bag. The feather duster was nice, too, in its own understated way. The tips of the feathers had been touched with green paint and one could imagine how nice they would look gliding across oak or cherry or teak. She was sitting in the window of a restaurant across the street talking to someone. Someone I couldn’t quite see, someone wearing a hat and sunglasses. It certainly did look like her, albeit with one or two of the differences I mentioned previously. Sun was flooding the street. It occurred to me that it was perhaps the presence of so much sunlight that made her appear to have changed a little. There had of course been sun, even bright sun, during those other days, but it had not been warm, or only rarely. Most of the time there had been rain. I tried to imagine I was looking at her through the rain. I squinted a little. It helped. Still squinting, I crossed the street and stood outside the window. It was her all right, I thought. As for her interlocutor, I couldn’t be certain, but it seemed to me that she was speaking with some difficulty, as if, even, she was stuttering, and it also looked a little like she was holding a gun. Such impressions often prove erroneous, however. In fact, the last time I had seen a person who spoke with a stutter and who seemed to be holding a gun, I was wrong, about the gun part. This was following the conclusion of the task I had undertaken at the outset of my recuperation, some weeks previously. I had performed the task and the lights had come on and all present had nodded and we had all shaken hands and just as they were beginning to clean up the blood someone had said, follow me. We went along dark streets for a while then into a building and up six flights of stairs. I don’t mind this, this is great, I said, huffing a bit. Will you please keep your fucking mouth shut, the person I was following said. Then we were at the top and I kind of leaned over and the person told me to kind of stand up and I said hold on just a second and the person gave me a smack and I stood up very straight and we went into an apartment and then into a room and in the room there was a swimming pool lit with golden lights. At the far end of the swimming pool stood the individual with the stutter and the presumptive gun. It’s good to see you again, I said. Jump into the pool but don’t drown, the person I had been following and who was now standing beside me said. I jumped and did not drown. I am actually a very good underwater swimmer, especially in indoor swimming pools. This has been true since my childhood. During that portion of my life, which proceeded my life on the farm, I was often to be seen in the swimming pool at the local hotel. I excelled at all games that involved retrieving coins from deep water. Others would gather around the edges of the pool to watch me swim from coin to coin, often emptying their own pockets to create what looked to my submerged eyes like a glittering rain. At any rate, as I say, I did not drown, although for a time I did sink. The pool was strangely deep, in fact it was considerably deeper than it was wide, and I was fully clothed. Nevertheless, once I had adjusted, it was nice underwater. It is lovely to see a lit pool from under its surface, lovely to lie on your back near the bottom. Then they fished me out. For a while, I lay on the tiles beside the pool. From where I lay, I could quite clearly see that what I had thought was a gun had not been one. In this case I was not as certain. The bright sun was falling across the table onto both of them and it certainly looked like a gun. I tried mouthing the word, gun, but I am not very adroit at mouthing, so that when she looked up and saw me doing so she raised one eyebrow, frowned, and looked elsewhere. Then I was taken away by two large individuals. They did not speak to me, they just invited me into the back of a truck parked some distance down the street then handed me an ice bag and invited me to get out. When I returned, she was gone, although the woman who had been holding the gun, or what looked like a gun, was still there. Then I had to go to work. Work, in this reference to it, did not involve the phone call I had received earlier. One of the many interesting aspects of the organization, and I believe I may have touched on this elsewhere, is that there are very few, if any, organic assets who serve the organization full time. As the work is part time and not alway very well paid, one finds oneself obliged between assignments to seek gainful employment elsewhere. This had not been the case for me when I had arrived those months or perhaps years previously, but now it was. In my previous employment, with another organization, a transaction’s firm, I had managed to put a certain amount of my compensation aside and, for a time, after I had been obliged to leave and had come to this city, had been able to live quite comfortably, i.e., many of my days were spent lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling, listening to the river, or to the rain, or to the falling leaves. That afternoon at work I sold 36 cakes and earned compliments from the senior cake-seller, compliments I was only too glad to accept, as my luck with the cakes had not always been excellent. In fact, early in my period of disaffirmation, and up until my recuperation, it was not uncommon for me to sell a mere 6 or 7 cakes over the course of an afternoon. This is not many cakes. Especially since they are attractive cakes. With clever glazing and the scent of fresh lemon and cream. I was not at all astonished then, given the excellence of the cakes and the fine location of the cake stall, as well as the comprehensive nature of my training, that the senior cake-seller expressed a certain amount of disappointment, in the early going, at my poor luck. In that light, I feel very fortunate that, as far as cakes were concerned, my luck underwent a change. Regarding other aspects of my life I can report that I have registered no such change. For a brief time during the period prior to the events I am now relating, I was under the impression that it had changed, but it had not. I am not very lucky, I told her later that day, when I saw her again, because I did see and speak to her again, whether or not it was her. We were sitting in a dark room on a couch and had been discussing science fiction movies, a topic I had proposed. Certain events were to begin shortly and until they began we were obliged, according to instructions, to wait together in the dark. She had refused to gloss her presence in the room, except to say that it was job related, and she hadn’t asked me why I was there, so I told her about a movie I had seen recently in which the rocket a man is riding in loses an engine, forcing him to crash land on a planet populated by citizens dressed in iridescent robes. These citizens enjoy going to the arena, where often there are gladiators fighting wild pigs. The pigs in the film were very large, I explained to her, much larger than the average pig and they could fly. Actually it would not be quite fair to say the pigs could fly. What they could do was hover. This was described as a form of instinctual levitation. As a young man, subsequent to my coin-diving period, I knew pigs, our pigs – often I was given the job of filling up their trough. It was quite a deep trough and the pigs were frequently hungry and, as I remember it, I used to hold this against them. Made aware of this, a friend suggested we hit them with two by fours. It was unclear to us whether or not they noticed. One day having worked with the pigs, I went to school without changing my shoes. The teacher used to strike us, in such instances, with a text book. That day, however, the teacher instructed me to remove one of my shoes and, holding it carefully, struck me with it. Basically, the spaceman was lacking both the tools and the materials to repair his rocket. There were many shots of the stranded rocket, a standard elongated cone job with elegant blue fins. It was pleasant to hear the people in their iridescent robes who came daily to offer advice to the spaceman say, titanium. That’s a nice word, isn’t it? I said. Yes it is, she said, in fact, right this second it wouldn’t be a bad thing to be encased in it. Encouraged, I told her about another movie involving an android whose eyelid function wasn’t working, causing it great discomfort. Then I stopped talking because suddenly she was holding my hand. That had not occurred for some time. For quite some time. That her hand seemed larger than it had previously and that her arm against mine seemed slightly longer than previously did not matter in the face of this pleasantness. Do not, under any circumstances, yeah right, I thought, squeezing her hand and sort of humming a little. It is definitely a nice word, she said. Yes it is, I said. Then our period of waiting was over and there were others in the dark room with us. Two of them sat down on the couch. I felt to make sure that the roll of red duct tape, it was, was still in my pocket. A moment later it wasn’t, and she was no longer holding my hand. After I had finished selling cakes, I went to a small restaurant I know and where, I might say, I am known, which is quite pleasant. The restaurant has a decor and is lit, principally, by yellow bulbs behind yellow shades around which, at the right season, insects circle lazily. The proprietor is a kindly person, always wearing a white apron, and the waiter is neither too quick in his service nor too slow. I ordered, on this occasion, what was described in the menu as “a large piece of meat”, and as I waited for it I sipped a pleasant beverage and looked at the other diners. They had all, it seemed, chosen the large portion of meat, and it was agreeable to watch them lift their heavily laden forks and wipe at the corners of their mouths with their napkins. It was an attractive scene, a lovely scene, and by and by the waiter came to me with my own plate. It is a lovely thing, during those occasional intervals when nothing is all that is required and more, to eat a nice piece of meat in a warm, dimly lit room, one with adequate ventilation, and I was very sad when it was finished. May I take your plate? said the waiter. May I keep it a moment longer? I said. He nodded. There were others in the room sitting over plates glistening with that lovely sheen of residual sauce. And as we sat thus aimless and sated, some of us even dozing in our despondency, the door to the restaurant opened and in walked the woman with the sunglasses and the hat and the stutter, only she was wearing neither hat nor sunglasses, and she did not stutter when she called out, rather pleasantly, even gaily to the waiter to bring her a piece of meat, a cup of soup and a wedge of bread, and when the waiter came forward with them after the required interval, she exchanged one or two very pleasant complete sentences with him and then set to eating. It was only later, when her meal was finished and she reached into her bag and retrieved those two articles, that she began to stutter. This is one of those instances in which subsequent circumstances stain previous ones. I say this because in thinking about her and the remarkable luminosity of her eyes and the lovely timbre of her voice and the excellent quality of her hair, I remember most clearly sunglasses and stutter and hat. This was due in large part to the fact that once said circumstances were in play she came over to my table and sat down and the entire restaurant, lovely plates notwithstanding, cleared out, so that it was just the two of us, or perhaps I should say the three of us, because in her hand, and there was no mistaking it this time, was a gun. I do not know if you have been involved in an interaction like the one I then found myself involved in, it was curious. She began to say something, but was unable to say that thing so left off and we sat there. We sat there for quite some time and the only sounds I could make out were the sounds that one hears in one’s own body when one is forced to sit so still for so long after such a fine and copious supper, and to sit, I might add, in the presence of reflective sunglasses, in which one can see oneself, one’s barely palatable self, and in the presence of a large semi-automatic hand-gun. I sat without moving, of course, and she sat mostly without moving and every few minutes she would attempt to speak. It was something beginning with a sound that involves simultaneously expanding the base of one’s throat and contracting it. I know this because I have tried it since, in my free time. I have quite a bit of free time lately. I can tell you that it is pleasant to be aware of having a good deal of free time on one’s hands and to just, perhaps humming, sit there. One sits and hums and looks out the small window. Stop humming, someone said. I stopped. We continued to sit there. Occasionally her head would move. I mean apart from when she would make an attempt to speak. We would just sort of be sitting there and her head would turn. Then my head would turn. When hers would, I mean. That began to happen after a time. It was just a slight turn. I could see the motion in her glasses. At some point the waiter came out, very quietly, and brought us each a portion of sorbet. It was a green tea sorbet, quite delicious. We ate it off of very tiny spoons. It was interesting and even pleasant to observe her sucking the sorbet off the spoon while holding the large gun. It really was quite a large gun. Clearly, many a caliber could be propelled through it. I wondered, if the gun went into action, if it would strike me in the breast. No doubt it was wondering this that put me in mind of the hero, who, his invulnerability having been called into question, was able to maintain the illusion of it by the fact that when presently he was fired upon, the projectile that struck him lodged in the address book/ organizer that he was carrying in his breast pocket. I understand that, relatively speaking, it can be quite elegant to be struck by a projectile in the breast. I am told that, unlike the head or the groin or the stomach, the chest bleeds quite beautifully, that sometimes the escaping lines of blood make lovely patterns. She began to say something. She stopped. It was all quite intricate. Then she lifted her hand and someone came up behind me and said, don’t fuck it up tonight, we’ll be watching you, now get out. Back out on the street it was evening and for a while I just walked around. Any city on a pretty evening is probably just as lovely as this one. Not true. I have been in more than one city in the evening that was unlovely. This one wasn’t. I walked for a time. I lost myself now. It is a very pleasant city, and, in that regard, holds on the crowded boulevards, deep within a variety of circumstances, the evening crowds, branches into myriad undulations, under the fountains, once or twice crestfallen, as we speak. Obligatory pitfalls nearly often mitigated, though always not, etc., or not always. I was told once in a big bed in the countryside by the woman I loved that what made it always so difficult, all of it, was to be an interior in a world of exteriors. The skin embraces while the bones, stripped of their flesh and fat, long to click and knock against each other. It is only when the skin is gone and the flesh, a function of decay, releases its water that they finally heap the bones together, she supposed, but this is too late. Just as, as I slowly, in a manner of speaking, returned to myself, it occurred to me that everything was too late, but I kept walking. This is likely, I said to myself, reverting to my earlier line of thought on the city’s loveliness, due to a variety of factors, a few of which involve the city’s physical attributes, that is to say its tendency, generally, to undulate. I have always supported, in a city, a well-balanced street to structure ratio, and this one certainly enjoys that. Also here there are many spaces that are empty, or only partially filled, and the people can enter them. Or, if these spaces are in some way partitioned off, at the very least the people can approach and, at leisure, allow their eyes to explore them. For many it is preferable, of course, to be able to physically enter, or, with the very real possibility of doing so, to think of entering, to stroll, for example, without strolling, across deliciously clear spaces or among trees. I am of those who find it unbearably lonely to actually enter such places. This is true, for example, most days. It is not lonely, however, on the mornings when the colorful stalls have been set up in part of a given space and the wares have been displayed, and the men and women call out words and numbers to you as you walk. And occasionally, then, of course, you purchase something, and the person you have purchased that thing from, while perhaps not ecstatic, is pleased, and you are pleased and occasionally ecstatic, even if you happen to be alone. Circuses are nice. I do not count circus tents as structures either and once, in the middle of a very large space, upon the conclusion of a certain piece of business, I went to one. Also, of course, there are movies to go to, and that brings up the aspect, added to space, of mediated light and dark, and in this city there is plenty of that. There are plenty of movie theaters where you sit alone or in company and watch rocket ships and androids and points of light and, that world, of movie theaters, is both light and dark and dark and light, as it is on the streets in the evening in this city, with the dark, quiet crowds, and the undulations, and the lights coming on. The lights were coming on. Suddenly I realized I had forgotten my hat.
I retraced my steps and reentered the restaurant, which, now crowded again, was bright with the sound of forks falling and rising and of mouths being filled. The woman who was the woman with the sunglasses and the hand gun had been replaced by the woman who at any time might become that woman, but still. I forgot my hat, I said. I know, she said. She waved to the waiter who disappeared then reappeared with a hat, but it was not my hat, and I told them so. This sequence repeated itself. I’m sorry, I said. What kind of hat was it? she asked. I explained that it was quite similar to the variety of hat that she occasionally wore. And you are sure you left it here? I nodded. Because I don’t think he has it, she said, lifting her chin and pointing with it at the waiter. The waiter, very politely, shrugged. Have a seat, she said. Do you have any aspirin? I said. She produced a small bottle. The waiter brought me a glass of water. I sat. She seemed to be wearing some sort of scent, and after a moment I made mention of this. She thanked me. I ordered a coffee. When it came I inserted a certain amount of sugar into it. So much sugar, she observed. I explained to her that I had lately become quite devoted to it. We then discussed sugar for a while. It is quite a thrilling substance and, in its various forms, is a vital part of many a dish or organic compound. A world without fructose, maltose, sucrose or even glucose, she mused. The thought, we both agreed, was profoundly distressing. I confessed to her that I often dreamed about sugar, most frequently, although I had not yet determined why, of raffinose. Ah, she said. We then spoke of eggs for a time. She was a partisan of whites, I of yolks. It was quite a pleasant conversation, quite convivial. I asked her what she did. She told me she worked part time as the coach of a swim team. We discussed swimming. I told her how much I liked to swim underwater in indoor pools and she asked me what stroke I used. I told her I hadn’t thought of there being strokes for underwater swimming. She assured me that there were. I suggested that at some point she could give me some instruction, and she said she would be delighted and that as a matter of fact she was free right then. I thanked her for her generous offer, but told her that I was feeling a touch out of sorts, as I had had quite a shock that morning, and in fact again that afternoon. What kind of a shock? she asked. I saw someone, I said. That can be a shock, she agreed. We then spoke for a few minutes on the subject of the shocking quality of, as we saw it, the larger part of interactions. It really gets to be a problem, I said. One finds oneself becoming hesitant to relinquish the horizontal position each morning, she said. I asked her if she had a boyfriend. She didn’t answer. I used to have a girlfriend, I said. And was she lovely? Yes, she was. It’s nice when they are lovely – often they aren’t. How did you meet her? It had to do with a stapler. Is she who you saw again today? I think so. Incidentally, she then asked me, how do you feel about justice? About what? Justice. I prefer other subjects. So you don’t care to discuss whether or not those who have committed errors should be judged. Oh, well, that, sure, I’m all for that, I said. And do you think it is a process that should be interfered with/impeded/obstructed/disturbed? Either, I mean, in cases affecting your own person or in cases affecting others. I believe in 100 per cent compliance, I said. And have you always? I’ve learned from my mistakes. That’s a lovely answer. What are you going to do to her? To who? To my sweetheart. I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure. I think you have. I think, she said, reaching out her hand and placing it, for a moment, on my forearm, that your line of questioning is bordering on the inappropriate. She then asked if I would like some more sugar. I told her I would. As the bowl had become empty, she waved to the waiter and very graciously made my desire known to him and then very graciously said she must be going and that, if I wished, I could accompany her. She had a small errand to run, a little business to attend to, and then we could continue our conversation, or could do as we desired, do whatever it was that we wanted, perhaps swimming and even swimming underwater, she knew a nice pool, one that was beautifully lit and deep, and I thanked her for the offer, which, I said, was very kind, but confessed that my discomfiture seemed suddenly to have accelerated and that unfortunately I did not feel at all like swimming. I’m sorry to hear that, she said. But I do think that the aspirin has done the trick, I said. Well that’s something, anyway. We shook hands. I watched her leave. When I got out on the street I went over to a pay phone and made a quick call. Then I threw up. A gentleman passing by asked me if I was all right. I said I was not. He asked if I required assistance. I told him I did not. I must insist, he said. Oh, I said. It was the gentleman from that morning in my apartment. He was wearing the same hat and shorts only now he had added an elegant light-weight hunting cape, because the evening air, as he put it, had become a touch fresh. For my part, I do not become much concerned by minor shifts in the weather and am quite comfortable in my shorts in a wide range of temperatures. I have shorts in a variety of lengths, some quite long, some quite short, although lately, concomitant with the general expansion of my proportions, I have found myself less likely to opt for short shorts. It has become, quite simply, unbecoming. I know this for a fact, because one day when I was sitting on the terrace of an establishment enjoying a beverage and hard-boiled egg a passerby told me so. That, quite frankly sir, is unbecoming, the passerby said. Have you completed throwing up? the gentleman said. I told him that I could not be certain, but that I thought so. Splendid, he said. I told him that I did not think that anything, right at that moment, could be called splendid. At this he launched into a rather lengthy disquisition on the subject of a raise that he had just that day received. Oh yeah? I said, sort of leaning against a wall. Oh yes, he said. By the way, shouldn’t you be putting on your sunglasses? This was true. I had, officially, gone on the clock when I had made the phone call. I reached into my pocket, but they were gone too. I don’t have them, I said. Don’t you carry a spare? I do not. But this is relatively terrible. It was. One was required by recent directive to wear sunglasses when carrying out official duties. Hats, while recommended, were optional – sunglasses were not. Perhaps I could borrow yours, I said. Perhaps you certainly could not. Well then what about your spares? I’m sorry, but if I gave you my spares then I wouldn’t have them in the event that I misplaced my own. He had a point. The only thing to do was to buy a new pair. Why I was unable to do so is a long story, one that does not, suffice it to say, recommend itself to retelling, except to mention that a display case got broken and a lot of stairs were climbed. Well that was a complete fucking waste of time, I said to him an hour later. It certainly the fuck was, let’s go have a snack, he said. We found a small shop that sold fried potatoes, of the variety that one dips into a white sauce or into a red and white sauce onto which one sprinkles bits of chopped raw onion. I like that variety of fried potato and so did my companion. Well, I said. Yes, he said. We had both, during the search for a suitable pair of sunglasses, become rather tense, and eating the generous portions of thick warm potatoes soothed us. I had, during the search, twice dropped the roll of red duct tape and had slightly damaged the feather duster and had suddenly grown worried about the durability of the small computer, and he had spoken at great length about very little. I would be the first to admit to a tendency to speak too much during tense situations, but in this regard my companion far surpassed me. He was also, in my estimation, fatter than I was, and to be honest I did not think all that much of his hunting cape. Well, I said. Yes, he said. I ate a couple more potatoes then, still savoring the warm salts and oils, being aware of their residue on my lips, I asked him to what I owed the great pleasure of his company this time. I have a message for you. Can I have it? Not without sunglasses on. Well can you tell me what it’s about? No, I can not. Not even a hint? He shook his head. For a couple more minutes we just sat there eating potatoes. Then I had an idea. Hey, Sport, I said. Okay, that might work, he said. We shook hands then approached each other and he took out his spare sunglasses and, without letting go of them, slipped them onto my face. This procedure obliged us to sit in rather extreme proximity and allowed me to see more than I would have liked to about his mouth. Have you ever watched a mouth talk from about seven inches away? A mouth that does not belong to a loved or even tolerated one? One that has just been eating fried potatoes with sauce? I was glad I had the sunglasses on to kind of dim things up. But it was a good message, better than average, very interesting. It was a little confusing, a couple of spots I’d clearly have to chew on, to make a little better sense of, but all in all it was surprisingly clear. I had received messages before that were not at all clear, and had suffered the consequences. E.g., not very long before these events I had received a message and proceeded to purchase, instead of a player, a recorder, a very nice one with a black body and turquoise buttons, one that was absolutely incapable of playing, and I had arrived near the beginning of things rather than, as I was supposed to have been told or to have understood, at the middle, so that what was supposed to have been played, near the end of things, was not played at all. It wasn’t played at all because I didn’t have a player – not because of when I arrived. I realize that. I kept the recorder. I also kept what I recorded. It is not easy listening this recording. It is remarkable the subtlety of the sounds that recording device was able to register. A friend for whom I played the tape commented on this and referred to the range of sounds as texture. This has texture, she said. I asked him to repeat the message. He did so then started to take off the glasses, but I pulled them back on. Who gave you the message? I said. I can’t tell you, he said. Did she give it to you? Is she in trouble? Who do you mean by she? She, I said. I can’t tell you. Won’t tell or don’t know? I have delivered my message. Tell me. At this point I had him in a choke hold. It was by no means an impressive choke hold, but it had some effect on him, because after not very many seconds of being choked he said, okay I’ll tell you. I loosened up a little. When I did, he leaned back and rubbed at his throat. It is true that I am, on occasion, capable of surprising myself. I enjoy such occasions. Though that should not be taken to imply that I enjoy surprise in general. I do not. I did not, for example, enjoy the surprise I experienced later that evening, if you could call it that, I’m not sure you could. How’s the throat? I said, proudly. Better now, thank you, he said. You’re sure? He exhaled. I ate a potato. Then he answered my questions. Who gave you the message? The central office. The stutter? The stutter. So it wasn’t her. I don’t know who you mean. Is it a set up of any kind? I don’t know, probably. What’s my part? I haven’t been told. And is she involved? I don’t know. Who is it I am supposed to sit next to on the couch? A fellow participant. And who is the subject? I was not informed. I paused a moment to take this in. Nothing, or very little, seemed to enter. Excuse me a moment, I said, I have to use the facility. May I have my second pair of sunglasses back before you do? I’ll only be a moment. He said nothing and when I got back he was gone. Hah! I said. But then he jumped me when I got outside the fried potato establishment. He moved very well for a larger individual, placing his knuckles where they were sure not to damage his glasses. Nice, I thought. Very nice. Then he knocked me out. When I came to I was somewhat disoriented and for a moment was under the impression that a woman was standing over me, a lovely woman in possession of nimbly locking joints and great general fluidity of aspect and intent, in fact, great everything, but I was wrong. There was a woman standing over me, but she was very tall and very skinny and short on fluidity and she was waving a deck of cards. Pick a card, I’ll get it right this time, she said. You were right about the horse, I said. What horse? she said. She was no longer the same woman. She was a woman, that was clear, but not any of the women I have hitherto had occasion to mention. This woman was quite interesting. I had had several dealings with her, often of the pleasant variety. Usually we had frequented her quarters, which were well-situated and comfortable and had a wonderful bed. It was large and firm and much, if one had the inclination, could be done on it. My own bed, incidentally, is some distance from what one might consider comfortable. Which is not to say that I dislike my bed. Often during my recuperation, I would lie in it and listen to the river that flows near my apartment, and I would sigh and the phone would ring and I would never answer it and food would appear at the kitchen table, very simple dishes, quite easy to chew and digest, which, in the evenings, I would leave my bed to eat. Then I might take a soothing bath with large sponges and fragrant salts and one day when I went into the bathroom this woman was there, already in the tub, and she had with her the aforementioned green-plastic duck that she later gave to me. Good lord, I said. Unusually nice, huh, she said. She had a and a slim and long and a beautiful that she lifted close to the surface of the water and instantly I or my then I very quickly sat down on the edge of the tub. We talked and I asked her how business was and she said business had not been good lately, not enough coins and no bills were being left in her hat, although her repertoire had expanded and she had made certain innovations that had positively impacted on both her voice and her playing. That’s good, I said. Then she pulled me into the water and, when I was further recovered, I went to spend time in her bed. You need to get up now, she said. What? I said, opening my eyes. Beside my head, faintly pressed into the concrete, was the imprint of a hand. Not a large hand. Perhaps a child’s. Or not quite a child’s. It was somewhat larger, the digits thicker. It was hard to tell. There was water in the little finger. Had it rained? I remembered something. Another city. Many years before. Being dead. It is almost time, said the woman. I looked at my watch. I was no longer wearing a watch. But then I remembered that the small computer I had acquired was capable of giving the time in several zones. Which zone are we in? I asked her as I stood and extricated the small computer, which, in its protective case, seemed to be undamaged. Put that away and follow me, she said. But I don’t have any sunglasses, I said. She did not appear to hear me and set off walking, and I set off walking after her and I could not, in following her, help remarking the fine articulation of the muscles in her calves and the near proportionate slimness of her ankles, which put me in mind, as we walked along the deserted street, of another pair of calves and ankles and of other things, which, so thinking, reminded me of a film I had seen recently in which a robot follows another robot through the desert. It was a fine movie with great dark cities and burned plains set against the backdrop of galactic empires and frightening weather patterns, and this aging robot, or rather this robot who thinks he/she/it is aging and can not stop thinking of days gone by. It is never made quite clear what has set this robot, after 7000 years of service, to, as he/she/it puts it, dwelling. I can not stop dwelling he/she/it says at one point to a companion robot. This must be your fatal error, the companion robot says, not without a touch of awe. They speak, of course, without lips and with lights flashing and have large, boxy heads, but their voices betray much feeling. In conversation recently I was told that my own voice betrayed much feeling, that my interlocutor could detect in it a distinct trembling. It is trembling because I am afraid, I told my interlocutor. Afraid of me? Yes. It is this companion robot who does not know what his/her/its own fatal error is or will be, who precedes our hero out into the desert at film’s end. The two robots walk slowly out into the sandy wastes, and our hero, watching the small, blinking, turquoise lights on the backs of the other robot’s knees, thinks of other small blinking lights that he/she/it has seen over the course of his/her/its 7000 years, and perhaps later dreamed of, for these robots dream occasionally – they refer to it as being “on in off mode”. They even have nightmares. This they refer to as being “on off in off mode”. I have nightmares. I think I have addressed this elsewhere. Once, recently, however, I was on off in off mode and saw electric horses fighting slowly in a forest. It was, I think, the remembered slowness of their battle that most troubled me upon waking, and the fact that when they noticed I was there they tore me, slowly, to pieces. This was not very long ago. Also not very long ago, it occurred to me that perhaps what I was most lacking, even more than a brain, was sturdy grounds for my argument, that, in fact, my argument, such as it was, was utterly groundless, where did it come from? relative to what did it exist? I say to myself: I have a hand, I know that this is my hand, but can only mean very little by it. At one point during the movie, a robot of a different variety asks our hero – who, incidentally, is wanted by the authorities for not having de-batteritized another robot, that is, for not having terminated it, our hero is a “central matrix assassin” – what it is like to be on in off mode, could it be viewed as analogous to being off in on mode. No, he/she/it responds, adding that the phenomenon only ever merits discussion when, in instances of being on off in off mode, it is troubling. My matrix has never been troubled, the robot of a different variety says. Then you do not understand, our hero says. At this point the conversation is terminated because the authorities have arrived. There is a terrific robot fight involving serrated pincers and curious threats and our hero escapes. It is at this juncture that the robot with the turquoise lights comes into the story and that their adventures in common begin. All in all it was one of the best films of the science fiction genre in the style of some years ago that I have seen, and I had hoped to discuss part of it with her, in addition to the other films I mentioned above, as we sat on the couch together, not too many minutes after I looked at those ankles and calves and thought of her ankles and calves, or at any rate of ankles and calves that I had once loved fiercely as a subset of an individual I had been in love with, fiercely, once upon a time. Incidentally, it is fall again. The streets are quiet and the people begin to move more quickly. The glass in my windows is cold. Leaves drop from the trees. I hunt for warm pastries in the bakeries. I steal cakes at work. There are always crumbs caught in the sugary oil around my mouth. None of this is true, of course. I mean in the sense that it is actually the case, that it occurs, or that it can be confirmed. But that is saying and making too much of too little. Which, so doing, is often the case, in my case, admittedly. She refused to answer any of my questions about what she was doing there, then we sat down on the couch together, is the way it went. The couch was so structured as to elevate one each of our buttocks, in my case the left, in hers the right. There were many other couches in the room and chairs set close to each other and many discreet alcoves and from them, as we settled ourselves, we began to hear a faint murmuring. I’ve missed you, I said. And I you, she said. Would you like me to sing for you? Yes I would. I sang. She was silent. Why did you come back? I never left. I thought you were dead or that you had betrayed me. I was, she said, I did. I then suggested that for old time’s sake we make love. The conversation sort of fell off for a time after this, so I started regaling her with film-related anecdotes and descriptions, which I think she found quite entertaining. My interpolations, however, were cut short when it became apparent that we were no longer alone in the room. This is not to say that we had ever been alone in the room – clearly, given the murmuring, we had not. It is just that all those who had been implicitly present, on their own couches, so to speak, had not yet rendered themselves explicitly present, and I think you will agree that that is a very different sort of thing. At any rate, as I have said, there they all suddenly were, and there we were, being crowded by some of them on the couch, meaning, according to our instructions, that it was time to begin the substantive part of the operation, a prospect that left me a little cold – we had been holding hands, sort of, and her hand, even if altered, had felt wonderful to me. Just before we braced ourselves to leap up off the couch and begin propagating ourselves through the treacherous dark, I whispered, we’ll meet afterwards, and she said, of course we will. Usually I enjoy these assignments. One is obliged to operate in dark rooms in which many pieces of furniture are present, so that one must move gingerly, which I enjoy, for as long as that is appropriate. One is always in company and, while the tasks of all those present are distinct, they are far from unconnected. Also in the dark, in such a unanimous dark, where one moves across thick carpet and there are always many couches and heavy wall hangings and pieces of soft furniture present, pleasant encounters can occur. Once, for example, I lifted a velvet tablecloth and, letting it drop behind me, found myself in a dark set off from the greater dark in which there was another, some other, come here, she said. And, as we lay a moment later tightly locked, on that occasion, the perfumed air beneath the table was pierced by a scream. It occurs to me that I have forgotten something. This occurred earlier, prior to my acquisition of the small computer and subsequent to my acquisition of the lovely red duct tape and the rather ordinary wooden handle feather duster. What occurred is I stopped off at a lecture which was to have taken place in a small amphitheater in one of the side wings of a very great and very old university. The lecture was to have treated of the subject of the horse in medieval courtly romances. There was to have been a detailed analysis of the number of lines in such romances given over to descriptions of horses and of the categories of horses described. Also there was to have been a slide show, of representations of horses, one of which was to have been an image, from the fifteenth century, of horses fighting in a forest, and I was eager to see this. But the lecture had been canceled. To fill up the time I had allotted for it I went out into the university’s courtyard and sat on the steps between a pair of statues and drank coffee from a small plastic cup and looked at the students and wished that I was one. I had been one. In another country. Before I became involved with organizations and evening missions and amateur opera companies. I was actually a pretty good student and frequently earned relatively unqualified compliments from my instructors. I spoke to other students and they spoke to me. It was one of those students who introduced me to representatives of the first organization I had dealings with, the transaction’s firm. He later told me that he had done this out of friendship for me, but that he had made a mistake – I was actually poorly qualified. He was highly qualified. And very popular. Especially with female individuals. I do not know what has become of him. It is possible that he has taken his retirement. When my allotted time had expired I: left the university, went to a nearby park, took out my knife, inspected the blade, found it satisfactory, cut open the tip of my finger, watched the finger, sucked the finger, felt happy, smiled at some gentlemen who perhaps thought I hadn’t noticed them trailing me, then, the bleeding slowly stopping, as it usually does, took out the feather duster and whittled the butt end of its handle into a sharp point. Which proved to be effective. In fact afterwards I received a compliment, in writing, on the innovative quality of the instrument I had provided for that evening’s exercise. At the bottom of the sheet of paper, which read,
was typed, a copy of this official compliment will be placed in your file. I was later able to confirm that this had been done. This confirmation took place just recently and is, in its posteriority to the events I have been describing, somewhat irrelevant. I have worked very hard in my life, on occasion, if not to avoid irrelevance, then at least to recognize it. A colleague of mine, when I was holding forth on the subject at one point, remarked that a certain amount of irrelevance was inherent in any organic asset; that, in fact, irrelevance constituted a key difference between organic and technical assets. To illustrate this point, my colleague related a story in which a young man, a visitor in a far off country, climbed a fence to enter a baseball game and found himself being beaten almost to death for having done so. He further illustrated his point by describing, in some detail, the working parts of a telephone receiver. So you see, he said. I do not quite, I said. Which did not bother him in the slightest and he let it go at that, but I have continued to consider it, this difference, it intrigues me. It is that way, she said. Which way? I said. We had been walking for some time, and I had not, I should clarify, spent the whole time looking at her ankles and calves and being put in mind of epic movies about assassin robots that have begun to dwell. A good part of the time I had spent looking around me, at the people, who were varied as to aspect and attitude, at the cars, some of which I coveted, at the shops and doors and lamp posts, which presented themselves, for the most part, in the standard one after the other fashion, although occasionally the odd group of doors and lamp posts would arrive all at once. Is that irrelevant? I wondered. I wondered what my small computer would have said. It said several things that evening, and especially the next day at the trial, but none of them, I think, addressed this point. Once ‘Tuesday’ blinked. And on the 24th there was a rendezvous scheduled with a certain individual. It was possible to have an overview of the events of an entire week or month or year or even half-decade, and to see them listed, before and after the fact, categorically, chronologically and in order of priority. I must confess to having a penchant for the last. I once spent considerable time with an individual who ostensibly preferred the first. She would have pretended, that is, to have liked to know all meetings on a Tuesday afternoon at the cafeteria in the train station with a particular woman in the past year. Or all purchases of items costing between x and x purchased on behalf of whom for whom and etc. I should say I think she was pretending – I was never able to verify this. In fact, it was really little more than a hunch. Speaking of pretending, for a time afterwards I used to pretend she was still there. I would greet myself and have small conversations. Usually I would do this in the dark, although once I did it on the terrace of a cafe. No fruitcakes, the waiter said. For my part, I have no particular interest in categories. That is to say that I am only ever interested to know when there is an unpleasant duty coming up. One was coming up. The fact that I had seen her then had seen her in the company of an individual holding a gun and had subsequently had a gun held on me was indicative. It’s that way, she said. Can’t you come with me? I said. Or perhaps I thought it. One thinks many things, of course, some interesting, most not. Here, she said. She handed me a pair of sunglasses. My sunglasses. Where did you get these? Never mind. And what about my hat? I don’t know anything about the hat. Well it’s a nice one. It suddenly occurs to me that I am approaching the end. Yes, I said. At the end. I said some other things before this. I am thinking of one strange sentence in particular. Hard to believe I uttered it. Did I utter it? I’m getting confused. Thanks for the sunglasses, I said. You are quite welcome, she said. I put them on. We had been traveling through progressively smaller and narrower streets, which were also progressively darker streets, streets lit only by lanterns hanging from hooks above the doors or candles on the inside of the occasional window. It was a disgrace, really. I think if there is one thing a modern city is obliged to do it is to pump light into its streets. Millions of gallons of light should always be available, indoors or out, at the flick of a switch or the pulling down of a lever or cord. Ideally, of course, the intensity of the light could be modulated. I am not advocating some kind of universal brightness here. I am not fond of glare and so, while wishing to be adequately lit in my nocturnal endeavors, I would wish also to be gently, even tenderly lit, but here, is my point, I was hardly lit at all. So you can imagine what it was like with sunglasses. To their credit, these sunglasses are of the variety that permits one to see quite well in varying conditions; dark to very dark, however, is not one of them. Still, I made my way forward as best I could, and, in so propagating myself, arrived at a low door that sat in the center of an enormous wall. You will pass through a low door then a large courtyard at the center of which is a fountain where you may refresh yourself, my latest guide had told me as soon as I had put on the sunglasses. Once you have or have not refreshed yourself at the fountain, you will exit the large courtyard, where they used to slaughter livestock and wash linen and pluck fowl and hold dances and weave baskets, and where a middle-aged man was once flogged for having stolen two eggs, and enter a smaller courtyard in which they did nothing just walked through, pausing occasionally, lost in thought, a young lover, at the far end of which there is a tree. Climb the tree. I was in the tree. Now the trick was, she had told me, to move out to the end of one of its branches and step onto a balcony, only there was no balcony, just a window, and it wasn’t really that kind of a tree. I went out to the edge of one of the branches. There were cracking noises. Small ones mostly. And then I fell. And fell, clear through the floor of the courtyard and farther, we’re talking sub- sub- basement, and, I have to give myself and my training (the organization offers occasional seminars) some credit, I didn’t scream, just gave a little yelp, not much more than a squeak, and I landed in a huge pile of old hay. Pure fantasy. There was a door in a high wall, but all that happened was I rang a bell, was admitted, and went up an elevator that opened with a soft, electric swoosh directly onto the room in which there sat, among other pieces, a fine red couch in the center of which was a young or youngish woman who looked somewhat familiar. You haven’t changed, I said. You have, she said. Basically, I thought you were dead. You’ve already said that. So you were just reassigned. There was no assignment. You were disaffirmed. I would prefer not to discuss it. What would you like to discuss? I would like to discuss this couch. In the old days you would have wanted to acquire it. Would I have? I think so. Why would I have? I was never quite sure. You weren’t? I shook my head. That’s a little sad. It was. I was sitting in a pile of damp hay. It took me a moment to disengage myself. In the process of doing so it occurred to me that someone should be made aware that damp hay had been known to spontaneously combust. This had happened once in my youth, in the middle of the night. We all rushed out to the barn, but by the time we got there all we could do was watch. For some reason my father wanted my sisters and I to sleep with him that night. I remember it occurred to me that his breathing, in the midst of all the other breathing, was precarious, which later got shifted in my head to precious, the seven shared letters. Then relatives, mostly, came and took one each of us away with them. Leaving the hay behind, I moved through the damp room towards a bar of light. All around me, small things scurried and something was growling, but, in accordance with my training, I walked rather than ran. The bar of light was attached to a door. The door was unlocked. The room I entered was lit with rows of torches and there were columns with bright red dragons painted on them. There were also many figures moving slowly around a square pool. Hey, excuse me, what the fuck is this? I asked one of them, but he/she didn’t answer, so I continued across the room and entered another, no door this time just an arch, this room larger still and lit by trees upon which hung a variety of gorgeously glowing fruit. About this couch, she said. I’ve been sitting here wondering, and you will think this is silly, if it is still red when the lights are turned off. Yeah? I said. I mean that it continues to be a red couch, will continue to be so when, in a few minutes, they extinguish the lights. Aren’t the lights already extinguished? Not yet. Then, yes. Yes what? Yes I think that it will be. Will remain red? Yes. I could see it. Sitting there in the dark being red. Just as, similarly, I could see that her eyes, when I could no longer see them (I could no longer see them), would remain blue. Yeah? she said. Yeah, I said. My eyes aren’t blue. Technically, this was true. The woman with whom I was speaking (she lifted her sunglasses – a breach of protocol – as I illuminated the small computer) was in possession of brown eyes, or maybe they were green. Strange to relate, however, that when she replaced her sunglasses, her eyes immediately reverted to blue. Perhaps, then, it is green in the dark. The couch? Yes, or purple. Purple’s a good color. It reminds me, she said. Of what? Something many years ago, never mind. Who are you? Does it matter? Are you here because you’re in trouble? Yes. Was I once in love with you? Maybe. You aren’t allowed to steal those, someone said. I had leaned into one of the glowing trees and had my hand around one of the mildly ovoid pieces of fruit. I see you managed to acquire a pair of sunglasses. I see you managed to get your fat ass back into my business, I said, declamping my hand from the piece of fruit and making to clamp it on the son of a bitch’s throat. We did a kind of a dance, a dance lit by the gently glowing trees. It’s actually rather pretty to think of, my hands going after his neck and his neck retreating from my hands and somewhere water was running and I think there might have been a light breeze. Time out, I said after a while, huffing a little. Both of us put our hands on our knees for a minute. You ready? I said. He nodded. I leapt for his throat. He back-pedaled and pivoted and stuck out his foot and I fell and he put his boot on the back of my neck. Are you finished? he asked. Yeah, I said. He removed his boot and I stood and brushed off my shorts and he said no hard feelings? and I was just about to say, yeah right, you big jerk, when he pulled a thick envelope out of his pocket and offered it to me. Which was actually quite a decent gesture. Almost anyone would have to admit. So I took the envelope and he stated his business, which was that he been instructed to take me the last leg of the journey, which, once I had finished counting the contents of the envelope, he proceeded to do. We left the room of the glowing fruit trees and entered a room where toys were being made. Here there were many workshops lit with colored lanterns and candles made of multi-colored wax. We walked by workshop after workshop and the crafts-people held up for our perusal perfectly determined tin solar systems, singing robots and glistening segments of train track. I knew a couple of the toy makers, one of them, for example, was the waiter from the restaurant where I had supped, and it was not unpleasant to stop a moment and to converse with him. My guide was proving, once again, to be quite a pleasant guide. He had found his earlier form and was proving vrey agile with the repartee, and we all laughed quite a bit and found ourselves forced to stifle our laughter so as not to disturb the other workers, who occasionally lifted their heads and shot us disapproving glances. After a few more moments of conversation, the waiter invited me to step across the room for a glass of something, which, taking momentary leave of my guide, I did. A word of advice, he said. Yes? I said. Call it off. Call what off? What it is you’re doing. What am I doing? I’m not sure. But you want me to call it off? That’s right. Did someone tell you to say that? Yes. Did you steal my hat? The young lady did. Which young lady? The one who came in to dine after your departure. My first departure or my second? Your second. And you say she stole my hat? I may have the sequence of events wrong. Well I can’t call it off. Why not? Because I’m already there. How’s that? In the room. It’s dark. We’ve already started. Someone just screamed. There were several other rooms, all of them pleasant, none of them real, and then my guide and I rode up an elevator and shook hands and he said, we’ve arrived at last, and I said, thank you for the envelope, and he said, you are welcome, and I closed my eyes, and when I opened them he was no longer there. And then I walked through a door and found her standing in the center of the room and she said, I want to get out of here, right now, so we made for the door but a large individual appeared shaking her head. And then I was moving gingerly through the warm dark with my arms outstretched, palpitating the occasional object – a table, a chair, a sharpened feather duster, a roll of red tape. That I had, in my palpitations, placed my hands on these objects, which upon entering I had placed in a drawer as per my instructions delivered over fried potatoes earlier, was quite significant. The procedure was regulated by rules which, among other related provisions, stipulated that if your hands closed over certain preselected objects your hands, preselected, used them. I should mention that prior to that evening my role in those proceedings had consisted in, among other things, transporting the evening’s realia – always different – and then standing very still in a corner; or in acting as a placer of the key objects, so that the key person, as it were, would find them. That I had been selected to play a substantive role, and not just a tangential one, was an unexpected development, and it was with both pride and trepidation that as the instructions began to be delivered over the intercom, instructions that were meant only for the holder of the key objects – take two steps forward, one left, not such a big step, three right – I began to move forward and left and then right as the others stood or sat or hid or lay together waiting. One of them marked the end of my itinerary, though none of them, as they waited, knew who had been chosen or who was coming or what exactly beyond unpleasantness would happen. At certain junctures I was prompted to say, I am coming, and so I said, I am coming, several times, and moved through the dark and, moving slowly, following their instructions, right then left then left then right, arrived at my terminus. Once, as we sat in the tub watching the green rubber duck float poorly between us, my acquaintance of the glamorous proportions and of the evocative calves and ankles, recounted the following anecdote. It appears that once, she said, a certain party, A, was obliged to murder a certain party B. However, this obligation was complicated, as it occurred, by the need first to murder parties C, D and E, none of whom, when A began, had yet been located. Why did A first have to murder C, D and E? I asked. Because it was an essential part of the mechanism that A, or the person for whom A acted as instrument, had elaborated. I see. Yes. Did A find C? And D. But not E? It was necessary to substitute. F? F escaped. Was there a G? Yes, G, in effect, became E. So then B became possible. Yes, it all worked out in the end. I, too, was a part of something rather elaborate once, I said, giving the rubber duck, listing rather precariously at that moment, a shove. It was interesting and elaborate and also had a mechanism, albeit rather an indeterminate one. It involved fixed and moving points, some of which converged, and others of which dispersed. I ran first through streets and gardens and then through a woods. In the distance, it was possible to hear dogs barking. Occasionally in my running I would intersect with another point and we would confer. Then a siren sounded and we all went to see what there was to be seen but there was little left. When I had finished recounting this anecdote she sort of looked at me, then said, your anecdote is lovely, you may keep the duck. The duck? Yes, the duck. That is how I got the duck, which I think I still have. Is that you? I whispered. I was standing in the warm dark holding a sharpened feather duster. Not a duck. The duck never leaves my apartment. The duck is not really all that interesting. Not nearly as interesting as the gift I was given previously by the individual I now imagined was standing before me in the dark, was breathing before me in the dark, I thought I recognized the breathing, and which I keep always in my pocket and that seems impervious to explanation, although I do make some attempt in my description of those earlier events, not an entirely successful one. Then I went home to bed. I mean after the entire affair had been completed. What affair besides the breathing? you might well be asking. But by then I was already fast asleep. Here is what I dreamed. The two of us are sitting at the edge of a castle wall. There is a considerable drop-off and I am concerned about her proximity to it. She, of course, finds my concern suspicious. I didn’t want to do it, I say. Oh, but you did it, didn’t you, she answers. And in a moment, even here, my erstwhile lover, you will push me off this wall and that will be that. But I’m not even sure that it’s you. And why should that matter? Before I could answer, I woke to someone pounding on my door. I opened it and a very small man came in. Are you the detective? I asked. He nodded, then told me that I was required to answer a number of questions. Okay, but can we do it over breakfast? I asked. He shook his head. It won’t take long, he said. It didn’t, I suppose. But by the time he had left I was ravenous and began ripping the cupboards apart. No sooner, however, had I settled into some breakfast – a very beautiful loaf of bread, an excellent jar of fig jam – then someone else started pounding on the door. Uh, hi, I said, who are you? We are the police, you are under arrest, they said. Well can I be arrested after I have completed my breakfast? They looked at each other. Couple gals with big hair. One of them said, he is resisting arrest. I said, I am not. But they clobbered me just the same. In the instance of unconsciousness they knocked me into I was back on the castle wall alone. I really didn’t mean to, I said, my voice seeming to echo. I didn’t mean to all that much. I was lacking information. There was a key string missing from the sequence. Then I came to because someone was shaking me. As I have said, the organization I work for is very large, and while it is clear that the concept of large, and certainly of very large, is relative, there is about it a sense of comprehensiveness, of saturation even, such that some days one sees very many pairs of sunglasses in the city indeed. One sees also, of course, very many hats and hunting capes on individuals not wearing sunglasses. I find it an excellent aspect of the organization that its sunglasses, so to speak, can come off. Mine, you will have noticed, were off during a significant portion of this narrative. I am quite proud of that fact. One learns to plant the flag of triumph where one can. At any rate, the organization is large and within that largeness it expands and contracts, sunglasses coming on and off, and individuals arriving – just as I had arrived that previous autumn – and individuals leaving and going far away, like I have now done. Or will do. Soon. I have it in writing. Of course “leaving the organization” should be understood in a relative sense. The process of leaving is rife with conditions and stipulations, and often one comes back even when one doesn’t want to. That was her case, I’m sure. In fact, I asked her and she said, yes, you’re absolutely right, the fuckers made me come back. I am of those who would like, when I go away, to stay. The organization, it is only fair to add, is only too happy to arrange the eventual permanent relocation of its assets, organic and otherwise, in fact this is advertised in one of its many brochures. I once, however, went to the relocation office listed in the brochure, in hopes of scheduling an eventual exit interview, and found only a vacant lot. At the back of the lot a notice was posted to the effect that several years hence the ground would be broken for the office. The notice was not dated. Obviously, now I’ve admitted that I have nothing in writing, no written guarantee. We’ll run away, I said. What? she said. We’ll run, I think I can get us out of here. We will not. Why not? Because there are monitors watching us with infrared goggles. This was true. On a previous occasion it had been my role to serve as one of the monitors. So what should I do? I said. You should plead innocent, it’s your best option. This was the lawyer talking, the one who had been shaking me. The lawyer chewed gum and used great quantities of fragrant product in his hair. I was sitting next to him in the trial chamber, which was very crowded and very warm. All rise, someone said. The judge came in. She had on a wig and a black robe and we all stood for some time while she instructed us, through her stutter, to be seated. It was while she was working on the s in seated that I began to understand, but by the time she had finished the word I had been encouraged by my lawyer to stop. Then there was a trial. I was innocent, according to my lawyer and according to the other lawyer I was not. Order! the judge would occasionally attempt to say. Then the witnesses were called in. The first witness was the detective, who told the judge I had confessed. On the evening in question, the detective said, the defendant entered the dwelling place of the victim and, following drinks and light conversation, placed a piece of duct tape over the victim’s mouth and inserted the sharpened end of a feather duster into the victim’s ear. The second witness was a second detective who I had not yet seen. This detective had found, she said, the remains of the role of red duct tape and the sharpened feather duster, its point broken off, in my kitchen. The third witness was the woman who had earlier, you will remember, stroked my thigh and read my cards or her cards or someone’s cards, and who was now, I quickly noticed, again in possession of sunglasses. I told him this would happen, she said. What she had told me, I’d just like to set the record straight, is that I would see a large animal with the words, do not, under any circumstances, painted on its side, and that I would be, in whatever I undertook that day, a big success. The fourth witness were my two guides, and they pretty much sold me out. Hey fats, I yelled as the larger one left the box. Then there were some other witnesses, including the bartender, the heavies and the judge. The judge took off her sunglasses and wig, stepped into the witness box, and testified that she had dined with me during the course of the afternoon of the day in question, and that I had pressed her for information regarding certain swimming strokes, and that I had commented, somewhat lasciviously, on her perfume, and that I had eyed her bosom, and that I had sworn up and down that I would kill a certain party who had some years previously jilted and perhaps also betrayed me. Then there was a video, clearly doctored, which showed someone who looked a little like me running around and someone who looked a little like my alleged victim wrapped up in red duct tape. Which was all pretty damning evidence and then I was pronounced innocent (the small computer/electronic organizer found on her person clearly indicated that she had had a rendezvous at exactly the time of her murder with another individual “of the worst element”). So I was released, and the compliment was placed in my file, and the locale of the murder was scrubbed down, and the people who lived there came back from their vacation, and the subject was buried in the woods, and I went back to selling cakes, end of story, or almost. There is still a bit more that can be proposed, conjectured, said. For instance, on the evening of my reaffirmation, as I lay on the deck of the swimming pool all those pages ago, the boss, holding what I had thought was a nifty little automatic but that wasn’t (it was a cigar wrapped in silver paper), told me that should my brain functions during my assignment to this particular branch of operations prove to be enhanced, I would earn a reward, a lovely one. What reward? I sputtered. You may, she said, see her again. Yeah? I said. Yes, she said. Before or after the operations? After. As often as I like? Absolutely. What I mean, you understand, is that she might have said that. She might also have said, you will see her again and then you will be forced without quite knowing who it is to murder her and wrap her up in tape and toss her in the river or bury her in the woods, you dumb sucker. Or she might, further, have said, you will, asshole, see someone very much like her and will wonder if it is her and if it really matters anymore after all this time and will never be entirely clear on this point and meanwhile some events, events in which you will have a small role, will be played out. But here is what really happened. Fuck you, I said. Tell me something, I said. She did not. Individuals picked me up and carried me to a bed, wrapped me in blankets, turned on some nice music and went away. So I wandered through the dark room thinking about this and about other things. I thought about my shitty day and about my two guides and about the rubber duck and about the message – do not, under any circumstances – which seemed like words to live by, I would have to give some thought to their implementation, I have, it has worked, most days I do not, stupendously, and thinking about that message I thought of my journey through the underground rooms, which had not happened, and about how when I was down there, in addition to the waiter, I had run into her, or had been led to her, my guide had said, oh yes, over there near the rocket-ship display there is someone who would like to speak with you. We spoke. She told me what had happened that previous autumn afternoon. How she had been there the whole time. Had even once or twice burned me with a cigar. Had sat laughing in the back bedroom with John and Deau. Had splashed all the objects in the room with violet paint. You’re kidding, right? I asked. She didn’t answer. You weren’t really there were you? I asked. She didn’t answer. So we talked some more and I told her a story that took place in the desert although I only knew the ending, which she liked, then I asked her, are you, you? And she said, yes, are you, you? And I thought, that’s it, I’m not. No, I’m not, I said. Well that’s good. Yes it is. Okay, I’ll see you upstairs. We were upstairs. It was all already happening. But then I called her back. I’m definitely not me, I said. And in fact I’m not her, she said. So that was finally settled. Before we parted ways, she said, incidentally, whoever I am, I’m in trouble – I’ve been in trouble for a while and now it’s time, I’ve been told, for me to pay for it. What did you do? I don’t know, something, it’s been years – I double-crossed someone. The boss? No, not the boss. You’re being disaffirmed? You could put it that way. Do I have anything to do with it? You’re here, aren’t you? I was. She had blue eyes. I was placing duct tape over someone’s mouth. We were holding hands. I got out the feather duster. I’m coming, I said. Or at any rate I was thinking something, I must absolutely have been thinking something as I drifted through the dark where there was the sound of breathing and whispering and I thought, this is something and I am something and that is something and she is standing before me or she is not standing before me and now she is taking my hand and afterwards I went back to selling cakes they are good cakes and I am quite happy that is the strange part and even fatter and there is more although none of this has happened and tonight I had my cards read again and the prediction was not pleasant and I thought this is how things seem these days they seem not pleasant it is raining it is cold I have long since given up on shorts and fine sunshine I heard breathing and I thought, I thought to myself, at any rate, all this is long past.