They told him in awed hesitant poetry. “Antinous has been snatched away from life, Caesar.” The imperial majesty of Scarecrow Hadrian crushed to a void stupor before his bird-like people. He demanded facts (Antinous. Drowned. In the Nile) and wide-eyed he saw: the air bubbles in the muddy water; the senators’ long, wrinkled but sinewy hands keeping his boy’s curly black hair down; the plotters being sentenced to death and their leaders killed last, that they may see their friends drop like flies, one by one, and live in terror what was left of their days.
[… no other distance …]
The Emperor ordered that a city should be built named after Antinous; He decreed that – moonlight toward Egypt – that constellation up there should take the name of Antinous; He proclaimed that – at daybreak, the coast of Africa still not in sight – Antinous should be made a God.
Squinting through the fogged-up windows, in the serpentine of cars, from the entrance to the parking lot to a slowed-down pace at the supermarket doors – “What does it say? Closed?!” – then fast again, to a halt, at the junction, scrunched-up faces, waiting for the road to be clear on both sides, because, whatever those buyers needed, there was another supermarket nearby, sigh of relief, another smiley Santa listing its opening times, so they all hastily ignored the no-left-turn sign – “Yes! I’ll U-turn right here!” – but the second supermarket, the grim prospect coming true, is closed too – “what the…!” – the discouraged snake-like procession now at a halt again, only one way to go, on to the big shopping mall, that will be open, the hope getting fidgety, halfway down the hill, for a sinuous snake is driving up, faces not so holiday-like, look more like they went all the way down and found it closed – “that too?” – an unsettling wonder, at what they all forgot to buy and desperately need.
So… this boy hurries back home carrying a six-pack of water bottles, and he has a hard time finding his keys to the main door… A woman is walking down the steps of the building; she opens the door but doesn’t hold it for the boy. She lights up a cigarette in the middle of the sidewalk.
An elderly lady is approaching, while a… nameless, red-haired Lolita rushes out of a nail shop, doesn’t look out, bumps into cigarette lady and elderly lady. Bus D54 zips past to the next stop – too far! – but the traffic light, green, goes orange then red. The bus screeches to a halt.
Bread is being baked at street level… the smell rising in the mirror of a signpost. A car… backs up and hits a scooter, softly, then speeds away, almost runs over the old lady, and cigarette lady watches, and nameless Lolita gets on the bus, while… the door downstairs bangs, and the boy and his water are home.
Sitting in a comfortable armchair, his big dreamy eyes on the flat expanse outside the windows.
The French littoral had vanished in the wake of the ferry, and the British coast lay beyond the low black clouds moving in from the ocean. The sea was choppy – half light, half pitch dark. He had tried to stay on the deck outside but the wind had pushed him out of his little shelter behind the lifeboats.
A wave, and the alarms of the cars had gone off and waken him from his reverie. He’d gone back in among the sad game arcades, the carpeted floors, le pub, and the posters advertising how cheap it can get for “frequent crossers.”
All of a sudden the famous white cliffs of Dover, in the fog, the rain and the gray clouds. It’s not the new world, but the thought is, “I came over on the Rodin.”
Aw… poor thing. The old lady is a beggar. A black hat in her left hand, she’s waiting for passers-by to give up a few of their coins. A couple of cents can still buy some candy.
Hold on. A sense of vertigo from this window. Whoever built that fan-shaped sidewalk certainly wanted people to look up and not down.
Hold on. It’s not a hat. It’s the visible part of a round manhole to her left. Her arms are folded behind her back. She’s not begging. She’s waiting. Looking. Thinking that whatever made those people over there go through the garbage can, well… it reminds her she used to wear torn clothes as a kid. Maybe. And that she’d roam the streets barefoot like some little vagabond.
Hold on. Thoughts must be very clear at that age. Eighty-five, ninety. She’s thinking: “I would never go through the garbage can.” And then: “These black shoes hurt.”
The twin brothers, separated at birth, met by chance in an online forum after their adoptive mothers’ funerals. The two women had died on the same day a couple of months prior to the cyber encounter. By the time the system had realised that two identical accounts had been created, the brothers had already connected, exchanged phone numbers and met.
Grief had turned both online. Melvin was shier and had rarely been abroad. Lucas had a stubborn streak but had travelled around the world for work. They were both collectors: Melvin old phones and radios; Lucas illustrated children’s books and maps. They had been on vacation in the same places but not in the same years and laughed and laughed about trying so hard to come up with different usernames and emails for all their online accounts.
“What’s all the fuss upstairs?” he asked, tying up the belt of his bathrobe.
By the door, she shushed him, overjoyed. “They’re taking her away!”
“How should I know? A little screaming and I find an ambulance at my doorstep.”
The paramedics were carrying a woman down the stairs.
“Poor thing… is she going to be all right?” she asked, worried about the reputation of the building.
“Yes, madam. Go back in, please.”
“Her husband’s not home.” She mumbled, closing the door. “I wonder who she was… you know, entertaining… I saw her 3 days ago. New hair cut and color. Red. I guess she knew her husband was leaving…”
“You women are your own worst enemy. I’ll go back to bed.”
She was offended by his lack of interest.
“Get away from the door…”
“Oh no, whoever she was up there with, he’s got to go past this door.”
You keep yourself to yourself. You have a selected number of friends you hang out with, but you keep your distance; you pay your monthly rent “in cash”; you get a job which doesn’t require you to state where you live – you keep your old address.
In your building you have neighbors – you don’t know them, they don’t know you. You feel something creepily peculiar in the phrase “unburied, un-… what was it?, unknown”, like dying at sea and the big city is the big sea and you drown into it although you might like to drown somewhere else.
You say, “I want to swallow this big city. Not this big city to swallow me.”
Until the water pipes in your apartment break. Major work needs doing inside the walls.
And the walls are only pipes now. Whatever flows in every direction, it has to go through you.
I look at myself in the spoon I use for breakfast. Every morning, both sides. My face is normal and then upside down.
If you hold the spoon by the handle, gently, I’ve come up with this trick to make it spin non-stop: pushing it with your thumb and pulling it back with your middle finger. Let it just slide on the index. Upside down and right side up, and the face never stops changing…
Sometimes I look at my face upside down and I bend the spoon back and forward so that my forehead gets twice as big and my hairline is pulled back, or my nostrils turn into huge holes right in the middle of a face with no mouth.
I can use the lenses of sunglasses too if I’m facing the sun, but spoons are best.
“What was your relationship with the late Ms. Wilson?” – There was a pink rose lying casually on the table. It seemed to come from the woman’s garden.
“A professional one.”
“So how about your frequent trips to Ferns Hall?”
“She wanted to extend the house in the back, and on top of the garage. She also needed permits to redecorate the façade. She couldn’t stand those bricks.”
“And you helped her out with that.”
“It’s my job, inspector. I know these things. That’s why she called me. I don’t think…”
“You don’t think what?”
“That drinking a cup of coffee that’s being offered to you is a crime.”
“No.” The inspector dropped his gaze again on the pink rose.
“How did she die then?”
“Suicide. I’m afraid it’s pretty clear now.”
Mr. Sedlar, of Sedlar & Co. broke into a little grunt, then tightened his lips, “She never liked that house…”