THE FRENCH CONNECTION

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Marie drew closer, embarrassed, should there be a handshake? She knew she knew. The one, the other. Both connected to the man under the wreaths of colorful flowers. The man in the coffin. Marie the lover, and not so clandestine even; Marie the fiancée; Marie who never got to be the wife. Françoise, from long ago, the girlfriend; Françoise the fiancée; the (first) wife; Françoise the divorcée.

Albert had recently discovered he had a heart condition.

Marie’s hand. Françoise’s firm grasp. Who would have thought? At the café, lit by a gentle sun, they ended up exchanging comments on the hot chocolate, one, and on the blackberry infusion, the other; “He could never…” behind sunglasses; “Yes, that’s true!” hair tied in a bun. “So you never got to be his wife.” “I miss him.” “Oddly, I miss him, too.”

THE TWO EMPLOYEES OF THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES

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The two employees of the National Archives looked down at the avenue stretching before them, a straight mile or so, at the feet and wheels cutting it at right angles. They were smoking, small-talking. Their eyes suddenly caught a young man with a light-blue briefcase (A student! A scholar!) walking up the avenue in between the manicured hedges and the neatly parked vehicles; he looked up – they looked away, and kept small talking, hiding from each other and him the hope that the light-blue briefcase would reveal a soul interested in archives, so surprising when they had people come in, so annihilating when the dusty shelves stood untouched – no metaphor – for days on end. The young man stopped, opened his briefcase (A folder? Some files?) walked on a bit, reached the steps leading to the massive columns of the National Archives building and sat down (A book! He’s reading! Wonderful sunny day, huh?) Last puff, cigarettes down, backs to the avenue, flags on their poles swinging in the glass doors gently closing.

THE DAY MY DOG DIED – PANEL 3

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The day my dog died, I marked, nameless, my territory. From the slope where my apartment is to the end of the street, the traffic light, surprisingly it sounded like no traffic at all for that rush hour, the sun going down, everything going down in turn, to the crosswalk, to another, cut perpendicularly, brakes screeching in silence, then through the gate of the park, up the hill, branches covering the footprints, the smell of horses from the riding center down below – I walked up to a bench in one of the squares, the world now watery and darker because of the sunglasses – a dog rushed by and put his paw on my foot, pierced my soul with his eyes, was whisked away by the voice of his master, just as a squirrel rattled in a whisper, fast, along a twig of a big tree. Coming, I didn’t hear them, and then gone, I saw that. It sounded like they all knew.

The Day My Dog Died (Panel 1)

THE DAY MY DOG DIED – PANEL 2

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The day my dog died, they – for I wasn’t there – brought her back from the vet in a comforter that was blue and red. They put her on the living room couch, which is yellow, and waited a while, for they did know what to do but held on and bit the time that was passing, hoping, I can only guess, that those sealed eyes would break open and it was a miracle and all that would follow. Then, some time gone by, they picked her up and carried her down, out the back door of the basement into the garden, laid her gently onto the green grass and started shoveling to make a hole; they put her inside, wrapped in nothing because nature was back to nature, and then, I think, with their hands began piling dirt on top of her body and a plant that was someplace nearby was uprooted and replanted over her, with a little other flower, which was pink, and another one, which was orange, and yet another, which was white and light-blue. It was the beginning of June, and the ground was wet, the earth dark brown almost black, and the sun was shining – and all of these colors were resplendent.

The Day My Dog Died (Panel 3)

THE DAY MY DOG DIED – PANEL 1

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The day my dog died, I (temporarily) lost my faith in atheism. I struggled with the notion that where she is now there’s none of us to be with her – but there isn’t such a place! – and on I cried knowing she was lonely, like us around the house feeling it empty, and I whispered, laying my hand on the warm earth after travelling miles to see her resting place in the backyard near the persimmon tree, on the edge of a little valley so that opening the shutters in the morning on the terrace we, the living, will say “Hi, Lucky” as if she’s running up from the garden, wait a few seconds, no, she’s not, I whispered “Don’t be afraid of loneliness.” and wished for only one other moment, one day, when I’m gone too – so unreal – that I can see her eyes again and we’ll go for a walk.

The Day My Dog Died (Panel 2)

IRRESPONSIBLE WRITING FROM THE 1960s

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Irresponsible writing from the 1960s.

… and [he; nice fellow, overworked and underpaid] lit the first of the ten cigarettes that he smoked every day. When he had smoked the cigarette down to its filter, he put it out and emptied the ashtray into the wastebasket.

A contemporary adaptation.

… and, cautiously, on the sly, [he; no excuse for whatever his misfortunes might be], lit the first of what were now ten cigarettes a day. Down from eighteen. Good. No, actually, because it had been more than a year! When he had smoked each one out trying not to get too close to the filter, he would crush the butt into the ashtray, the veins and bones in his hands showing, and would then empty the ashtray into the wastebasket with a bang, a cloud of dusty smoke wafting up in the air and, at times, into his nostrils. He’d sneeze then in a panic. “Shit!”

THE BLOCK WAS DEAFENED BY THE CRASH

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The block was deafened by the crash. No sign language though, “Are you fucking blind? Can you drive, for Christ’s sake?!”

Venomous lava, spewing, the burning oil of the broken car on the smashed windows.

The man doing this, the man throwing fists in the air, the man whose car had been hit. The woman – no driver’s license? – fainted at the wheel, seat belt fastened.

“Call an ambulance!” The echo of one was rushing thither from many a block away.

It was all like an imposing winding staircase, the spiral of which depressed my impotence and inaction. Today a shiny magnolia flower blossomed in an early March morning; tomorrow a silent scream and a prayer would go up so that what we didn’t want to happen wouldn’t. I had the fragile soul. I was the chapters of a book read at full speed, fingers cut while turning the pages. I cleansed myself by going out and soiling my life.

My feet, in the blood and/or burning oil, slightly, pretending to get closer and help, stamped their print on the gray asphalt to say I had been there.

22. March 1, 1915

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1 March 1915

The belfry has been reduced to: “Isn’t that tree trunk big! Wait, it’s a belfry.” It is the abandoned convent that stands by the path through the woods. I was padding along the path behind a vision. I wasn’t walking. And I paid an imaginary visit to the empty frescoes and the gutted columns. The saints were smiling because they wanted me to stay on. It is a show, after all, and they know it. In the little time it took me to break in through the non-existent stained glass windows, they arranged a glorious tribute to their golden god and urged me to do something about the walls, and the columns, and the crypt. I don’t know if I want to.

The white clouds eating up each other in the blue sky today help.

What’s our world coming to, dear Paula?

I will write more on this tomorrow.

“ANTINOUS HAS BEEN SNATCHED AWAY FROM LIFE, CAESAR.”

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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.

17. Waiting for Christmas

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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.