Michel Encinosa Fú
(Translation: Daniel W. Koon)
Axxón 148, June 1999

          I arrive in Ophidia on a fourth-class flight from María Meteoros, an Ulzer under my belt, two cigarettes in my cigarette case and credit enough for just two sub flights. In the Ulzer, a bullet. Just one.
          I bum a light after getting off the sub and I shiver. It is January. I’m not wearing underwear. Not even socks. I reach the building. I suck the cigarette down to its end, almost burning my fingers, and I climb the stairs.
          I hesitate in front of the door. Do you even still live here? My knees go weak. You’ve got to still live here. Please.
          My knuckles announce me.
          “Coming!” you answer. Like it was yesterday.
          I breathe hard. I pull out the Ulzer. Bullet through the peephole.
          You open.
          Three seconds later the tiny fibers of the rug tickling my nose. Your foot on my neck, my Ulzer in your hands.
          “That was clumsy,” you say, and you remove your foot.
          I manage to climb onto a chair.
          You pull the bullet from the peephole, and you place it, with the weapon, carefully on the table.
          “Long time no see,” I say, trying to excuse myself.
          “Don’t fuck around.”
          You take a step backwards, bend and then raise your legs to the ceiling. You walk around the apartment. Three complete laps. You laugh. Then, returning to your normal posture, you cough, as though embarrassed:
          “I’ll get some coffee.”
          I look at the Ulzer for a moment, before carrying my legs.
          You return.
          It’s been a long time since I’ve given up coffee. But I accept the cup. Hell, even my medical insurance has been canceled.
          You rest on the window frame. You could still break a pirate’s neck. I wonder if you are still working. Only your face is a gallery of wrinkles. Laughter, shock, pain... thoughts.
          “I’ve thought a lot,” you confirm.
          I rest the cup on my Buddha paunch and lower my head. That’s all I am: paunch and traumas. Once, long ago, people would mistake us for brothers. Envy. Sadness. I crack my knuckles:
          “The neighborhood hasn’t changed. And you, you’ve even painted the apartment.”
          “The same graffiti over forty years. One gets tired of it. And grows up.”
          “You bastard, I tagged this building too.”
          “You can sand off the paint job, if you like. It’s not as good as it looks.”
          I snort, “you still in the business?”
          “One’s got to live somehow. You?”
          I shake my head. Only an idiot would hire me any more. Now, you were another matter. It came naturally to you. Always did.
          “Well then?” you nudge, “fully functioning member of society?”
          You wish. I wish. A pity.
          “Toledo, Bangladesh, Montreal,” I tick off halfheartedly, “running adulterated nootropics. Five years in the can.”
          “So it’s not by choice that you’ve gone rusty.”
          I shrug my shoulders. I imagine I’ve worn out my welcome in this world. In your world. I’ve had this hunch for half a century. I wipe the sweat of my hands on my pants and ask:
          “What have you been thinking about?”
          “About Erica. And about you.”
          You watch me from the corner of your eye. You do it well. My hands are nervous, my breathing is altered.
          “Were you really going to kill me?”
          How can I answer? I limit myself to a question: “Is she still with you?”
          You turn to face me. A face of stone:
          “I thought she was with you. All these years...”
          “Forty years,” I chime in, needlessly.
          There is not much more to say. I feel like breaking something against the wall. As long as I don’t have to move. I wish that things would fly and explode, that I could use some supernatural power to do it, effortlessly. I have no desire to lift a finger.
          You seem as tired as me.
          I look away again. Really, this neighborhood never changes. That’s how the Middle Village is. The vagrants seem to be the same ones as half a century ago. The air smells the same; like nothing. Someone is singing from a balcony. I know that song. I used to hum it myself. Some songs never go out of fashion. Or is it the people?
          “Today is her birthday,” you mention, and I feel your skin stiffen. Mine too.
          We always knew the world was large. Now we suspect that it is too large.
          “I’m off,” I finally announce.
          “If you see her, give her my regards... No, wait,” you squeeze your face in your hands, and I see your eyes glisten. “Better not say anything.”
          I nod, grab my piece and walk into the passageway.
          You close the door behind me.
          Once again on the street, Ulzer under my belt, cigarette case empty and credit for a single sub ride. In the Ulzer, one bullet. Just one.
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