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Greek translation Greek dictionariesPeter "Kip" Soteres (CV)
   Confusing Words: Chapter 1 - The Imperfect


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hurt / injure / suffer / wound

For a lie faces God and shrinks from man.

Francis Bacon, On Truth

Reasoned analysis is a kind of methodical step between an uncultivated and an educated sympathy.

Paul Ricoeur, History and Truth


M. Street angled down a long slope from the surrounding hills into the exhaust-glazed bowl of Athens: from 15,000 feet, a doctor's illegible line of script. Along either side, broken sidewalks surfaced in erratic patterns like bad needlework stitching together pieces of suburban sprawl - air-bronzed cubist rows of apartment blocks - submerging again sometimes without bothering to reach the next intersection. Granite outcroppings, as old as human history, grubby parks with pigeon crusted fountains, silvery-green olive trees caked with soot, crossroads at skewed angles, crumbling stairs, dumpsters untended and burgeoning with ripe colors and scents, kiosks the Greeks called peripteros like buoys in the soup of the city's disorder - the rights to build and run them were licensed only to war veterans who had passed on and left behind heirs shaped by their environment into the size and dimensions of those cramped spaces, hawking batteries, chocolate, cigarettes, newspapers, condoms, light bulbs, pornography, tissues - impossible inventories tucked into cubes about twice the size of a phone booth.
The road buckled and heaved - four-laned but more often than not choked to two or one or zero by parked cars, loading vans, buses, or taxis - up and down, but always more down, blind curves under tenement shadows, and only the imperturbable sky to recall countless tourist brochures for sunny Greece, the smells of stale cat, butchered lamb, rotting produce, or urine, but then a small rise and suddenly the city spread out in irregular mosaic tiles, here a little more red, there yellow, there tinted blue with shadow, there spackled green with shrubbish vegetation, and always deferring to a topography that defied straight lines, easy answers, summaries, amalgamations with a rigor approaching malice.

M. swept past unapologetically high, drab walls of a suburban satellite of Athens University - graffiti in balloon lettering providing the only color - descended unevenly through the borough of Ano Ilisia, Upper Ilisia, in close proximity to the somewhat more upscale Zografou and loosely parallel to Vasilis Sofias Avenue, connecting with it just behind the downtown Hilton a block from the Caravel Hotel where upscale Balkan prostitutes shopped their wares from bars - conning drinks from the unsuspecting who paid 20 dollars a pop for placebo margaritas or daiquiris.

Like rivulets, or dialects, every side street fed into the next, streets to roads, roads to thoroughfares, inevitably joining with one of the five main avenues before dumping into the central hub of the city, Syntagma Square. Again from 10,000 feet these avenues had the straight-but-segmented appearance of gossamer tie lines in a vast semi-circular web. A classical mind, a grecophile's mind, might have seen them more as radiating aisles in the grand amphitheater of Athens. Barring the route from Piraeus and the sea, all other ways into Athens demanded a descent. But the ways were distinct and uneven, it was never so simple as just going down. North-South was easier, but moving East-West involved labyrinthine angling through streets like M. or worse, where a single loading van or a gypsy selling watermelons from the back of his truck could halt traffic for hours, a car badly parallel parked could freeze up a bus or garbage truck to where it seemed there could be no untangling.

Athens was, in effect, the product of a system sustained by failures, and the failures were in turn held up to show that all systems were flawed - interesting from a philosophical perspective, but the perspective of Fenix Stratos was one of a man who needed to travel west on a daily basis for his livelihood. He could not afford taxis and had given up on buses, which ran on schedules that dictated no bus coming along for an hour followed by two buses going to the exact same place arriving simultaneously. The only alternative was walking, his route beginning on craggy Avidou Street soon feeding into M., but inevitably he had to decide on when to cut West, his destination the borough of Kypseli. Directly between home and work loomed the high hill of Lykabettos - going West without compromise took him right up to the walls at the base of the monastery-fortress flinching in the sunlight at the peak; going around it either North or South tacked 30 minutes, an extra mile and a half, to the trek. South took him to chic Kolonaki, the boutiques and European designer stores; North to the more industrial area at the top of Alexandras Avenue where soccer hooligans gathered weekly at the Panathainikos stadium - across from a police headquarters and a hospital, appropriately enough; he didn't know the hospital's name.

                                                 * * * * *

45 degrees Celsius. The mind of Fenix Stratos tugged at the unfamiliar figure and threaded it through the conversion: 81+ 32 equaled 113 Fahrenheit. The air was a rubber coat he couldn't remove, and dry enough to make the throat thick with thirst. He toyed with metaphors that might aptly describe his condition, but with a 30-minute walk behind him and an hour away from his final destination, he decided it was too hot for a just turn of phrase.

The stairs, cut into bronze-depleted pale orange rock, rose at a 50-degree angle or more, and marked the end of the mainly downhill first third of his journey. The Greek morning sun hewed sharp angles into everything, starkly defined all things with paradoxically obliterating brightness. Its assault both stimulated and pained the senses, and not midmorning yet. One effect of the light was to force color to commit; non-primaries were vaulted from indecisiveness into yellows, reds, blues, whites, or blacks. The right side of Fenix's cheek burned a pale golden-yellow as he ascended with the purposeful absent-mindedness of routine labor - past nightflower vines, olive trees tossed silver and black by imperceptible breezes, sere shrubs and patches of suffering, brown grasses, cyclopean outcrops of russet stone.

But for all the decisive clarity of the light, cleaving distinctions into the simplicity of shadow and light, sweat and dehydration fogged both mind and vision. Fenix enjoyed the sensation actually. It allowed for more subjective thought associations, but precisely vagaries like 'subjective thought associations' had caused him to forget that today was the weekend leading up to a national/religious holiday - August 15th, or Virgin Mary Day. Fine and good for the Greek Orthodox out in their home villages on the coasts or in the cooler mountains, but for Fenix it meant only that the shops and peripteros selling bottled water were closed. He was getting light headed.

He was, by most accounts, an unusual young man. 32 years of age and perhaps best characterized by the fact that he was the sort of person who had a 'word of the month,' not to mention a 'motto of the month,' and so on ad nauseum (a recent, but not current Latin phrase of the month). His word for that month: psiolistic, which he overused with aplomb, but only in conversations with himself - of which there were many. Yet for all his 'Xs of the month," Fenix had no 'Greek word of the month,' though he should have because he had lived in Greece for over two years, ostensibly for the purpose of learning Modern Greek. What he'd done instead was make chart after chart of derivatives and conjugations. Ask him to form the past perfect from a regular verb, say 'mathaino' (I learn), and he would shuttle the word through the warp and woof of the language with dazzling ease.

On the other hand, ask him to interpret the simplest of sentences while on the streets of the city, and he would focus intently, looking like a Spirit Medium who has just received a visit from a fraud-busting Houdini. Over the years, he'd developed more than one strategy for coping with or concealing his linguistic incompetence, but when he felt particularly tired (or when he knew he was in the presence of a non-native whose Greek was far superior to his own), he would adapt that most dread strategy of all: the last-ditch defense of honesty. "It all just sounds like one long word to me," he'd confess. "If you wrote it down and gave me a dictionary, I imagine I could make some sense of it."

But to return to his thought processes: 81 + 32. The conversion felt oddly Pythagorean ... right triangles, right action. Harmonies and sympathies between sounds, as in music, mathematics, and ... ethics? The Three 'Ichs' - "I am a sich man." Dizzy and faintly nauseous, he allowed his mind to flit, focus in, fuzz out, like a bee over poppy fields in the Cretan mountains. However this hill led to no fabled Knossos but rather to the gnarled and very secular-looking fortress-church, Lykabettos. His daily journey from home to work led up steep stairs, then along the winding paths through gardens strangely joyless despite their coyly dispersed patches of shade and the magnified brilliance of their ostentatious blooms - indeed they offered nothing more aesthetic than a simple respite from the eternal grate, honk, whine and wheeze of the city proper. Flashers watched motionless from the brush like perverse, gray caryatids as he walked past.

Fenix didn't really notice. He never paid much attention to his surroundings during the uphill portion of his trek, his dehydration worsened by the mouthful of sunflower seeds he chewed compulsively - cracking shell after shell parrot-like and leaving behind a glistening and irregular trail of husks like an ineffectual Hansel from the fairy tale. Stairs eventually gave way to paved park paths still rising, occasionally intersected by improbable roads, lined by hedges, stacked-stone fences, tiered rock hewn to make way for commercial bustle. Winded, Fenix struggled to attain to the base of the fortress wall, the midpoint of his commute. His thoughts during this segment were typically characterized by a clarity that might have made Descartes proud, and by the ordering of his mind in service to the day's upcoming tasks: "He thinks, therefore he works." The view South - through stunted pines and twisted olives into the Attica basin mustering once and only once into the proud thumb of the Acropolis, the "high city," crowned by the Parthenon - no longer inspired him, dehydrate and doubly-vexed by a holiday he neither cherished nor benefited from, today less than ever.

But he was long past thoughts about Being and now well along his stumbling, heat-struck descent, thoroughly immersed in Being (as in Being thirsty, or Being tired). Hence the loose associations referred to earlier, more like near-deliriums under the circumstances, with thoughts only occasionally cohering like iron filings in a floral whorl before dissolving again into the primordial soup of consciousness - or, as Fenix would have put it, the "caverns measureless to man."

Except only for the footing. Throughout the city, the routes roughly paved, sidewalks unreliable, pot-holed and choked with garbage bins, motorcycles, even the odd car cast up upon them like suicidal sea creatures. Roads and sidewalks then, scarcely functional in any traditional sense, but in their present condition they served a very useful function, providing a tenuous thread of practical consideration. In Athens proper, the mind was never allowed to float so very high above the feet, and there was no leeway to play a modern version of Thales, the first philosopher, who fell into a well one night while staring at the stars and their rarified geometries. Coming upon the distraught philosopher in the twilight hours, a young shepherd girl allowed herself a little joke at his expense: "The great philosopher Thales tracks the motions of the stars, but cannot even keep up with the movement of his feet." After which, presumably, she helped to extricate him, the story doesn't really say. Such shepherd girls (or boys) were nary to be found in modern Greece. And it was while enmeshed in similar considerations that he first noticed the noise.

His way along the downward slope brought him almost within sight of the first major road he would have to cross - where the city proper resumed in hordes of Hun-like tenements surrounding the hilly bastion of Lykabettos. At present a hedge composed of a vine resembling honeysuckle but called by the Greeks "nightflower" blocked his view of it, but there was an opening only a few meters further down around the bend. The growl of an unmuffled motorcycle engine interrupted his airy thoughts, if only to conjure up a very earthly resentment towards the unnecessary noise. (Athens is arguably a city built in honor of and exclusively for the propagation of unnecessary noise.) A thought entered his head. A terrible and frankly rather commonplace little thought, more a mental snapshot than any articulated idea: the obnoxious vehicle bursting into flames, its rider cast off violently amidst tires, handlebars, and fenders - suffering Dantesquely for his presumption in so grossly offending the ears of his community.

No sooner had the image presented itself than Fenix heard an odd sound, a tiny pop but surprisingly articulate and clear against above the engine growl. The pop turned into a shriek, the squeal of metal being tortured, followed by a loud boom. As if brought into being by a malevolent Djinn, two bodies entered his field of vision, a brief but forceful wave of flame rising up behind them and then yielding to a column of thick gray smoke.

In the matter of an instant, his mental picture had become, in a manner of speaking, so. Not that he saw the motorcycle, other than a shower of parts (a needle of shrapnel, perhaps a piece of spoke, actually sliced through his right pant leg and removed a sliver the size of a small watch clasp from his inner thigh). But he had no time to consider either his wound or the actual cause of the explosion, the two human beings just now clearing the top of the hedge having captured his undivided attention.

He saw them quite clearly as a matter of fact, and in the cinematically cliched slow motion we have become all-too-familiar with. A girl came first, upright with limbs spread-eagled like an Orion rising from the sea. Long black hair out behind her and oddly asymmetrical. Her eyes (Fenix would later swear that he remembered even this detail) already shut. Then he understood. The hair was not asymmetrical. Rather, the right rear quadrant of her skull had been partially sheared away. Her lips were moving or perhaps simply limp and therefore manipulated by wind and momentum to create the impression of her speaking. The parabola described by her flesh, as she arced over his head, seemed impossible even in this broader context of impossibilities that had suddenly sprung into existence. His first articulate thought was, "I've killed her." She hit the ground on a particularly steep bank not three yards above Fenix and finally came to rest sprawled face-up (he thought, "constellated") in vegetation that looked like alternating rows of oleanders and stumpy palm trees.

Behind her, a helmeted boy, this one with feet over his head like an Orion descending headfirst into the sea. The head looked like a puppet's - its relation to the rest of the body did not seem feasible for a functional living thing, and this self-same head struck the paved path not ten feet in front of Fenix. The body crumpled like a deflating balloon and rolled partially onto its side, but the head did not turn with the body. It remained almost aligned with the right shoulder, owl-like and fixed on the implacable sky above, now ever so slightly stained with quickly dissipating smoke.

The girl, Orion Ascending, wasn't moving at all. The boy, Orion Descending, clearly had breath in his body - and just as clearly would not keep it for long. Perhaps only minutes. With a groan, his body slumped back in alignment with his head so that he now lay flat on his back. The chest heaved. One hand fumbled weakly and numbly for the chinstrap of the helmet as if to remove it, but Fenix gently knelt down to stop it. The neck was slightly bent into an 'S,' removing the helmet could well have removed the boy's head. And so, through the plastic visor, Fenix watched the face of Orion Descending. His hands still gripped the dying boy's wrists to hold him down. Then, suddenly, the wrists stopped struggling and their hands spontaneously joined.

He had blond hair, or dyed blond, visible in small tufts, and a heavy-metal t-shirt featuring an ankh design: "Burn it out," it stated in the Germanic Gothic lettering favored by the genre. Then Fenix heard for the first and last time Orion Descending's voice echoing weakly from its plastic and foam-insulated cage. It was more a death rattle than an intelligible whisper, and utterly incomprehensible to Fenix except for the single phrase (intermittently repeated): "katalaves?" (Did you understand?) Simple past - that is, the imperfect - second person singular of the regular verb "katalavaino" (I understand).

Fenix tried to sit very still and make his face appear comforting, but it occurred to him that it must look every bit as sphinx-like to the boy as the boy's face looked to him. Of course, some facial expressions telegraph an emotion from a distance, but most are not 'readable' without other cues - a gesture, a tone of voice. The grate of Orion
Descending's choked words and the muting effect of the helmet killed all inflection. He was sweating (with fear?), but it just as easily could have been shock or the heat. The question repeated, "katalaves?" This time followed by a spew of dark blood, and now his face obscured further by that sanguine veil.

Fenix replied, "Of course. Of course," in Greek, "I will tell them." He tried to smile knowingly, but his foreign accent and disastrously mechanical language had already given him away. Orion Descending's face froze in shock: even these, his last words, would die before their prime and pass into nothing. Only a puerile t-shirt would remain to sum him up, and that in English: "Burn it out."

At least 2 or 3 minutes had passed, and still no one else had arrived at the scene. Despite roads that reached up to about two-thirds of Lykabettos, the mountain had a labyrinthine quality to it. Sections of it were untouched by any but the most touristy human traffic, mostly lost or attempting to snuffle out some special spot (there were none). The haze and heat had seemed to swallow the blaze almost as soon as it ignited and the smoke quickly took on the sickly gray sheen of the exhaust-filled air, slyly insinuating itself into the pervasive dioxide fumes. Except for the bodies, lying viscerally before him, nothing had changed. The heat persecuted, the various portions of the city yawned and groaned or stood silently and stoically as a Spartan waiting for the sun's inevitable descent to bring it shade.

Fenix remained, alone with the corpses or at least two people whom he presumed to be corpses. As it turned out, the girl, Orion Ascending, was not dead at all but rather comatose, though the story is now getting a bit ahead of itself. The absence of any other witnesses or spectators in such a public place contributed to Fenix's growing and desperate sense of unreality. Time moved at an indeterminable rate. Surely the damaged motorcycle on the other side of the hedge must have drawn some attention. Surely someone else must have been there at the heart of modern Athens, on the slopes of the most visually dominant landmark in the city - even on the single emptiest day of the year. Fenix stood, and stared, and waited for some external cause to dictate the next course of action. Yet no external stimulus was forthcoming beyond the execrable and unrelenting heat.

His sweat fell profusely upon the boy's corpse, and its discomfiting refusal to twitch or react in any way further fostered his burgeoning sense of humming nausea. He finally staggered to his feet, retched barrenly and blindly, and went to look at the young woman. The ground under her head was stained deeply red. Her hair was brown at the roots, but pitch-colored otherwise to match her starkly black mascara. A pretty girl. He saw now that she was wearing a helmet after all - on her pristine elbow. Her shirt featured ghoulish figures with metallic, vaguely mechanical skulls and gleaming red eyes. No motto here - only a logo: Cyberdeth. "The nightmare Life-in-Death was she / who thicks man's blood with cold."

The verses, Fenix would still insist, came to him at the time, and yet if he were capable of full honesty (or perhaps simply full clarity) - he would confess that the association might well have been created years later. Indeed, draped over a barstool did he not describe for the second and last time the very scene of the Orions Ascending and Descending? And was he not informed that the band Cyberdeth's number one cult-classic hit was a hard-core metal rendition of Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in collaboration with the Cleveland symphony orchestra? And perhaps it is further worth mentioning in the interest of character development that Fenix responded to this information with the comment, "Why the hell not? It's got everything the genre needs - misogyny, misogyny, and ... misogyny." For which he was egregiously beaten, having seriously underestimated his confidant's enthusiasm for "the last real fucking real motherfuckers on the motherfucking planet." Hard to refute - the beating not the argument. And the ensuing mild concussion did nothing to enhance his sense of chronology.
The way Fenix remembers it now, however - it was precisely with the words "who thicks man's blood with cold" that he felt a burning in his thigh. He was thoroughly addled with shock and particularly confused by the irrational possibility that his mental picture of malice and destruction had caused the surrounding scene. At the same time, along a completely different tack, he persisted in the perception that his senses had simply gone awry, that the bodies before him were illusory for no other reason than that they ought not to be there. Ought not on a grand scale - their presence there, bent and broken, worked against what Fenix felt to be against the natural laws of what could be.

Beads of blood clotted jewel-like on the loose threads of the hole created by the tiny projectile. He found himself moving first towards one body, then towards the other, then away from both - checking and counter-checking in uncertain starts and fits like moths sometimes will when confounded by an array of artificial lights. 113 degrees and Fenix was stuck - attempting to triangulate by this ghastly constellation of human flesh and failing to find a way.

Mathematics, music and ethics. In the end, he did not seek help, either for himself or for the teens who "fixed on him their stony eyes" and (he felt palpably) cursed him thus. But the panic and horror, perhaps even the pre-natal twinges of sympathy that had been fomented by the sight of their deaths, finally invested themselves solely in his own quite trivial wound. Like a Newtonian object, he slowly gravitated down the slope with only the convictions of his inertia to guide him until he reached the opening in the hedge. There was a decision to be made here. As Virgil once wrote and Dante rightly suggested it is a relatively easy thing to enter hell - you cannot watch two young and therefore undeserving people die and avoid this truth. The decision presented itself spatially, and it, too, formed a triangle - stay until someone else arrived, go to find help, or simply leave - or more accurately not a triangle but a funnel with the final option at the bottom like Dante's mechanical Satan with his perpetual inarticulate chewing and futile wings. Fenix stepped through. "Abyssus abyssum invocat." Hell summons hell.

He stood on one side of a sun-stricken and poorly paved road. In a momentary spasm of guilt, he surveyed the section where the accident must have happened. Whatever had caused it, the motorcycle was now crumpled in a deep, narrow ditch along a low stone wall. In a city replete with garbage bins spilling out onto the sidewalks and streets with unattended garbage (the garbage men reliably went on strike at this time of year for the extra vacation time), the machine easily passed as just another heap of abandoned waste unless one were specifically looking for it.

And the road was empty. The whole damned city was empty, and still somehow, not quiet. Car alarms sang to themselves solipsistically, the echoes making their location indeterminate; a cat cried out sadistically as another whimpered and fled; a pack of semi-feral dogs passed yapping and howling through a hole in the hedge, bringing images of horror to Fenix's head as he first feared for his own safety and then considered what they might do to the freshly dead bodies he had left behind.

"Must get this taken care of," he told himself, meaning his minor cut, and crossed over. It was that simple. If he thought about the pair for the remainder of his journey it was in those wordless cut scenes, patchwork quilts of pity, guile, helplessness and anxiety. As blood mingled with sweat, and the leg began to stiffen and ache, the only articulate phrase that kept coming to mind was: "We are the hollow men." He couldn't remember the rest of it.

                                                 * * * * *

The Doctor sat at his desk and watched the computer monitor. The newspaper, Rizopastis, open to his left, two sections pulled out for special distinction. On one, dated the week before, a headline: "Prime Minister Simitis Cracks Whip at Illegal Immigrants." The other, a more recent Obituary section.

The monitor displayed red, yellow, and blue 'units' in a software program called "Prisoners' Dilemma 2.1," given to him by a colleague in artificial intelligence. A game of sorts, the basic premise of which was - two people are accused of a crime that they committed together. A prosecutor goes to each separately and gives them the choice of confessing or keeping silent. If neither confesses, both will receive a year of prison. If both confess they each receive two years. If one confesses and the other remains silent, the prosecutor agrees to let the confessor off the hook, but the silent one will receive three years of prison. There are four possible outcomes:
Silence - Silence (1 year - 1 year)
Silence - Confession (0 years - 3 years)
Confession - Confession (2 years - 2 years)
Confession - Silence (3 years - 0 years)

The dilemma is that while mutual silence is the 'best' result in group terms (collectively the conspirators will serve only two years), silence also carries the threat of a sucker punishment - a conspirator who breaks ranks by confessing will potentially emerge from the situation unscathed. Making matters more complicated, the worst group outcome results when both conspirators break ranks and confess.

Borne of the minds of Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher in the 50's - who sought out applications of game theory in the context of global nuclear strategies - the game was eventually named by psychologist Albert Tucker who wanted to make Flood and Dresher more accessible to a wider audience. It has, in the forty-some ensuing years, proven to have an even wider band of applications than those men imagined, from sociology to cognitive science to environmentalism to philosophy to artificial intelligence - the Prisoner's Dilemma has grown into a potent metaphor, a realm of knowledge unto itself and growing as theorists tinker with shifting numbers of participants, more possible responses than the binary "silence-confess," and variable score weightings producing a host of outcomes both as rigid and as inexhaustible as any social interaction.

A common meta-interpretation is that the puzzle illustrates a conflict between individual and group rationality. Individuals all methodically pursuing self-interest (confessing) may end up worse off collectively than a group whose members act contrary to rational self-interest. The Doctor himself had toyed with the notion, but soon came to realize that the game's scoring did not necessarily have to reflect self-interest. He preferred the broader view - that groups with members acting against reason to attain a goal, any goal, may outperform groups whose members rationally pursue the same.

The software program on the doctor's monitor played out the rigorous interactions of units in the framework established by the classical framing of the Prisoner's Dilemma through millions of iterations. In a blink, units paired up, chose their responses, tallied the results and then awaited reshuffling before pairing again, and again, and so forth. In this version, if both kept silent, each received three points. If one chose silence but the other confessed, the confessor received two points, the truth-teller lost two. If both confessed, they each gained one point.

The color codes corresponded to the strategies of the units. Red units always confessed. Blue units always kept silent. Yellow units were silent unless their point threshold went below zero, then they would switch to the confession strategy until their point tallies rose above zero. All units gave birth to another same-color unit for every fifty points. They died if their point tally fell below negative 25.

There were infinite permutations. Thousands of red, yellow, and blue units engaged. Red would swirl up and become dominant, then yield to blue or yellow. In the Doctor's opinion, Red was winning, though it was a subjective measure and subject to quick changes as a patch of blue would suddenly bloom in one corner of the screen, get infiltrated by a tentacle of red units with a yellow corolla, invert kaleidoscopically then dissolve into pointillesque chaos. Actual results were but a push of the Tab button away, but for the time being he did not particularly care about the actual.

Yellow was by far the most interesting. And this was a very simplified version. It really became interesting, Dr. Angeloupoulis, his colleague, had explained, when you gave yellow broader latitude for change in the virtual-Darwinian environment. There were many brands of Yellow strategies that were available on later versions - altruists who persisted in telling the truth until reaching some self-appointed breaking point; revenge-seekers, who told the truth, but would never forgive once lied to and lied themselves forever after; alternators between truth and lies; randomizers who acted in accordance with inscrutable patterns, perhaps telling truth on prime numbers or on perfect square roots or in ratios approximating Pi; copy-cats who took on the strategy of any encountered unit with a point tally over x.

For the time being, though, the Doctor was satisfied. A few thousand more rounds, and he would turn his attention to more direct observations.

                                                 * * * * *

Barbra Steven was Fenix's boss - owner of a frontistirio, a private language school where Greeks came to learn foreign languages, primarily English. She had been successful and parleyed her business from a one-room operation, herself the sole teacher and administrator, to a self-owned, newly-built 5-storey building with a team of 10-12 instructors during the school year dwindling to 2-3 summer instructors in June. Not satisfied with this, she had in turn parleyed the school into a publishing house that now churned out textbooks for teaching English as a foreign language at a rate of 2-3 books a year. Fenix worked for her as an instructor during the regular school year, when he wrote textbooks ostensibly part time (an eighty hour week in all taking teaching and writing together and not counting grading and class preparation - of which, by this point in time there was very, very little), switching to full time (still an eighty hour week) through the summer months.

Barbra was truly a figure fitting for a Dickens novel. The almost-Anglo-Saxon name stood in stark contrast to the woman, who by any other name would still never be an Anglo-Saxon. Fenix had known her real name at some point, but had long forgotten it. Sweat soaked him now, and he was at a loss as to why, of all the books and people and experiences available to him, his thoughts returned to her with the persistence of vultures over a corpse.

He was picking up a kind of static in his peripheral vision - a blackout was becoming possible as an angry bee-like buzz filled his ears and grew steadily louder. He felt weak from both hunger and nausea - an appropriate punishment, he thought, for the damned. And in this state he reelingly, stubbornly approached the building where She was lying in wait like a bloated, peroxide Medusa. (What would Medusas eat? A variant of King Midas' curse - everything she touched would perforce turn to stone.) A sudden urgent feeling of fear overtook him, associated with Barbra and yet with sources far too deep for his dazed mind to plumb. Flight was out of the question; he wouldn't have made the return journey home.

Barbra had thighs the size, shape, consistency and color of tree trunks, and wore tight mini-skirts (in her Greek accent she called them "mee-nees") that squeaked and stretched like tormented souls every time she sat down. Abandon all hope, fabrics which enter here. And yet they did tend to endure. At every movement any physicist, having calculated the stresses and tensions involved, would have confidently predicted the clothing to give up, to combust spontaneously into wisps of smoke that would presumably mingle with the smoke from her Eternal Cigarette, burning like a joss stick in her left hand, rarely if ever smoked. Yet the material inevitably held by a process not unlike that of a bumblebee's flight - a kind of hope mingled with necessity sustained it, though whether the hope belonged to Barbra or to her clothing was debatable.

The building, itself midway up the slope of a steep hill, finally came into the field of Fenix's tunnel vision. The lights were off in the lobby, and the door was locked. Barbra was sitting in the shadows. He reached the door, tapped, and peered in. Tinted windows and the cigarette smoke turned even the indefatigable Athenian sunshine gray - petrified it, ground it to a fine hoary powder, and then scattered it like a Stygian gloom throughout the building. Barbra rose, huffed to the glass door and bellowed as soon as she had opened it: "You're late again."
The coolness fluttered against his face like a desperate moth on a bulb, briefly reviving him but simultaneously almost unhinging him. He clenched fists to keep his feet. "Saw two people ... on Lykabettos. Dead," as he quickly maneuvered around her imposing body and staggered for the water fountain, pausing only for a second to catch the full force of the air conditioning from its central vent. Undeterred and unimpressed with Fenix's melodrama, Barbra followed as he passed, "Tom's been here an hour - when he said."

"Tom's nice." He wet his mouth and plunged his face into the brownish stream. "Two teenagers, I said. My leg ... "

He gestured and Barbra's eyes followed the sweep of his hand, then noticed the stain of sweat-diluted blood, first on his pant leg, and then on his forefinger and thumb. Pulling away sharply - she was convinced he was gay (and in part this was why she kept him on) - she nodded and pointed to the stairs that led down to the bathroom. She didn't really care whether he was gay or not except that having a gay employee made her feel cultured on the occasions when she attended the theater or art exhibitions with her circle of friends. Fenix was "gay" - her artist/writer. And Tom was "straight" - her practical computer person and sometime editor on American projects. Poor Barbra - never a very good interpreter of other people, she had adapted by treating everyone she encountered with a uniform meanness. Fenix found this sad, but for all intensive purposes it had proved to be a rather effective tactic. She had thrived as a publisher.

When Fenix returned, cleaned up and somewhat more coherent, Barbra was waiting and in a bad mood. She actually smoked her cigarette when disgruntled or impatient. In her right hand, she proffered him a book. "This came out today," she said casually as the cigarette went to her lips. He looked down at the title on the front: Borderline: Course Book for Intermediate Learners. The cover featured 5 children as stereotypes of various races (no black people though) depicted in an oddly blurred photo-realistic style that created an intensely annoying montage effect. It offended all notion of "line" and was clearly the result of an unfortunate collision between an overzealous art major and the PhotoShop software application. The final impression was of some bad reproduction of a 1970-style time-lapsed photograph, complete with what could only be a deliberately tasteless color complex.

"I thought we'd agreed not to call it Borderline," Fenix commented wearily. He had planned this book, organized it, and written it. Barbra had done nothing but catch spelling mistakes, the majority of which were the result of his using American spellings in a British English textbook. It galled him terribly to see that she'd gone ahead with the one title he had emphatically opposed. "What's the marketing campaign going to be, Barbra? This book isn't that great, but it's definitely on the Borderline? Your students aren't very smart, but with Borderline they may just squeak by?"

"Borders are very popular this year. It's a hot concept."

Fenix had never decided whether Barbra was incapable of grasping irony, or if she feigned ignorance as a (very effective) defense. Typical for Barbra, the line between effectiveness and incompetence was extremely blurred. As to 'hot concepts,' he wondered at times if she didn't have a secret satellite connection to American daytime television. Where did she get these ideas, and what in the world put the word border into her head?

"Yes, maybe, Barbra. Maybe borders are, I don't know. I'm not the expert. Borders, but not borderLINES.

"What's the difference?" Barbra's voice was confident and braced for conflict. She had had at least the morning to prepare for this argument - she had perhaps been preparing for it since the previous week. Fenix decided not to take the bait. Re-examining the cover, he let his eye drift down the page - "By Barbra Stevens and Paula McCarthy." Paula was not a Beatle love child, but rather Barbra's daughter. Real name - she'd kept her husband's surname: Afrodite Skiouros. Married, divorced, remarried to the same man. Divorced again and with two children, one for each marriage. Neither she nor her mother seemed to have any idea of the associations her truly dreadful pseudonym conjured up: some satyr-like creature, hippie from the waist up, anti-communist fascist from the waist down. That mother and daughter had taken credit for a book that the daughter had never seen and the mother had scarcely proofread was simply standard. It did not even surprise him anymore. Again, not worth a conflict.

He opened the book, skimmed the title page and went on to the credits. In what must have been 4-point type, at the very bottom, was his 'name' - also a pseudonym - Felix Stratton, assigned to him by Barbra because, as she put it, "Who wants to buy a book teaching English that looks like it's been written by a Greek?" Never mind that it was her pseudonym as author on the cover - which ought in any sane environment to indicate that the British 'Barbra Stevens' had written the book. The phrase with Felix's name read thusly:

"The authors and publishers would like to thank Cindy Brown and Felix Stratton for their contribution to this book." The singular contribution punctuating the wound, as if he and "Cindy" had collaborated on the dark fringes of the text production - mentioned by name as a courtesy, peripheral, pointless.

Fenix's hand was now holding the book very tightly. As a boy he had seen a documentary of a man "milking" a rattlesnake. Venom beaded like a tiny crystal ball at the tip of the creature's tooth, grew fulsome and then tumbled cleanly, clearly, and toxically into what looked like a glass preserve jar. Fenix felt like the jar. "Cindy Brown" was the office secretary, but since he typed five times faster than she, he never used her services. Her English was not at the level of the textbook she was now credited with contributing to - could not possibly have contributed to unless chain smoking or suffering Barbra's daily vitriol with bovine docility was a contribution.

"If I am not," he said, speaking very slowly, "an author or a publisher, what exactly am I, Barbra?"

"Look, I tell you what to write, don't I?"

"What?"

"I told you to write an intermediate course book, right?"

"Well, yes. But ..."

"So I told you what to write."

"That really doesn't answer my question though, does it? What exactly am I?"

Barbra shrugged. Nothing was going to happen here. He decided to shift to a topic that she was less prepared to deal with. Barbra always assumed that people would disagree with her, argue with her, cheat her. So, when dealing with them, she made it a point to be both confrontational and underhanded before they could, figuring (Fenix supposed) that the guy who threw the first punch usually won. He had learned over time that the way to win a fight with Barbra was NOT to fight about the issue of the moment. He would come back to the atrocity of both the book cover and her inadequate acknowledgement when she was geared up for a completely different dispute.
"And my paperwork? You told me last year ..."

Barbra took a long and furious drag on her cigarette. For three years he had worked for Barbra in Greece. Under the initial terms of their 'contract' (there was in fact no contract, or any other official, signed document between them), she had promised to help him get his work papers. No actual progress had ever materialized, so that always at the back of their disagreements over titles, authorship or payment was the fact that he continued to be an illegal immigrant - theoretically deportable at any moment.

Fenix, as a U.S. citizen, had taken some time to grasp the tenuousness of his situation in Greece. He told himself that having a Greek grandfather (on his father's side) would somehow protect him if things went terribly wrong. On the other hand, he didn't want to trust in luck or ancestry or anything else - and he was also coming to realize that neither would avail if his work status ever reached the ears of the wrong people. Barbra had become increasingly cold if not overtly hostile in recent months. If she were to find someone capable of even half his quality or output, Fenix had no doubt that he would be dropped, and probably deported in the bargain.

"Soula is working on it," the words came forth with an enormous billow of smoke. Soula, aka Cindy Brown, was no more likely to be effective at a Greek immigration agency than at writing textbooks teaching English. A woman in her late twenties, she went through life at one of two speeds - narcoleptic or hysterical. Narcoleptic until something went wrong either in the office or her personal life - then hysterical to a degree reminiscent of South American soap operas. Her primary virtue was a martyr complex so enormous that not even Barbra could exhaust it, and a loyalty (exclusively to Barbra) that only grew stronger with abuse.

"How can Soula possibly work on it when she opens the building at 7 in the morning and closes it at 10 at night?"

"I spoke to her about your green card just last week. I'm not sure what she's doing with it at the moment."

"She hasn't done anything, Barbra. Are you listening? She's here all day, every day."

"Well, I can't spare her. You're not the whole company, you know." She seemed particularly pleased with this new non-sequitor. "I've been meaning to talk to you about that, especially the way you talk to Soula."

And now, again, he felt the poison. He knew that the proper response was to tell her to go to hell. He knew her rhetorical tactic of switching every material objection to a psychological issue, usually revolving around somebody else's selfishness. (His leg ached). Her catalogue of his many small failings would be brought up and implicitly weighed against her profound immorality - and in the balance of her crooked scales it was Fenix who would be found wanting. Strangely, in Fenix's own scales her litany would bring out in him guilt disproportionate to anything she mentioned. Most of all the guilt originated in his fear of losing this miserable job - a terrible if common kind of cowardice. But he was fearful, too, of being deported from a country that he was in fact growing to hate, and this was a different (he felt, worse) kind of cowardice. And he had left those children there, in the heat - for all he knew, for the packs of feral dogs that roamed the city.

He moved towards the stairs, but his legs felt leaden. He could not bear even to look at her - the air choking and lifeless, her voice gravelly and utterly impervious to any appeal or threat. "Am I back on the network?" he asked over his shoulder.

"Tom's just finishing up. I don't know why it keeps crashing."

And now, from one flight up, slightly more able to breathe - "It's mid-month on Monday, but that's the 15th. I'd like to be paid ..."

No answer.

                                                 * * * * *

Tom Posner was a dead ringer for the English actor, Rowan Atkinson, barring only his more aristocratic British accent and van dyke beard. He called it a "dick van dyke," but never around Barbra, from whom he seemed to take great pleasure concealing his sexuality. He sat in Fenix's public-schoolroom issue chair, and leaned back on two legs until he was almost perpendicular to the floor, arms over his head in an extended stretch. The computer chirruped like a little cricket in a cage as it processed Tom's (as he called it) "good tech mojo."

"Morning, Fenix. Rising again from the ashes, I see." He always acted as if Fenix had been out drinking the night before and was somehow privy to great times and lavish parties that he selfishly kept secret from his mindlessly bored co-workers. Also, his fly was open, which posed a problem for Fenix. Tom was definitely absent-minded enough to leave himself thus exposed for an entire day, but he was also subtle enough to have done so on purpose (He'll just think I'm absent-minded). Attempting to divine Tom's designs on him, if any, was one of Fenix's day-to-day preoccupations. It didn't help that he had grown more and more dependent on Tom, as the last way station of sanity in the building.

"Morning, Tom," Fenix put on an over-the-top salesman's tone, "Great day, isn't it? Barbra's a bitch. Saw two people die. Put her there!" He held out a hand towards the still upside-down Tom, whose frown consequently came across as a smile at first.

"Are you serious?"

Fenix's enthusiastic tone sagged immediately, "Yeah. A girl and a guy - motorcycle."

No response, so Fenix continued, "Did I tell you my motto of the month?"

"No, I've been lucky so far."

"I'd rather hear an interesting lie than a boring truth."

"Wouldn't an interesting truth be best of all?"

"You know, Tom - how could you tell the difference?"

The computer stopped whirring, and Tom straightened up, returning the chair to its proper four-point stance. "Look here, my friend, I'm a programmer. Well, used to be. When something works, I mean really works - no fudging or fumbling, it's probably true."

"One-zero-zero-zero-one."

"That's seventeen in base ten, old chap." Patting Fenix on the back and giving him a wink, Tom strode towards the door. "Anyway, you're back on the network. I'll tell Barbra so she can download what you've got to her computer."

"Fine, fine," and as an afterthought, "and thanks."

"Don't mention it ... Oh, by the way, I know it's a bad time, but I thought I'd ask ..."

"Yeah?"

"One of my Kurds is in a bit of a fix," Tom was ever associating with a wayward band of Kurdish refugees. When he talked about them, he had the annoying habit of making them sound like house pets. He never said anything to suggest more than a platonic relationship with any of them, but whenever they came up, Fenix began to feel uncomfortable. "He's staying over in your neighborhood," Tom continued, "Can he drop something off with you? Just a package, bootlegged software for me if you must know. He's a naughty boy, Amir, but he's definitely got his uses."

"I don't see why not. You remember where I live?"

"Of course, of course. 87 Avidou, I believe. I'll send Amir by around, say, 8?"

"Sure, I should be home by then."

Tom bustled out, closing the door behind him leaving in his wake, finally, an approximation of quiet. Nobody seemed particularly interested in his "saw two people die today" story. At the moment he didn't feel particularly interested in it himself - unless annoyance or irritation could be construed as interest. He shook his head to clear it - his work rate had slowed considerably over the summer, and Barbra wouldn't tolerate matters as they stood for much longer. But before sitting and arranging himself, Fenix couldn't resist going to the lone window in the room. Reliably, his two pigeons were shading themselves on the ledge outside - he called them Paris and Helen because ... well, because he was a pretentious shit. They might as well have been Asterix and Obelix. He opened the window, and they fluttered off momentarily. The room was bare except for a row of five generic computers, all of which required their users to face the wall opposite the window and only two of which actually worked. His chosen spot was utterly nondescript. Apart from the unemptied garbage can at his feet (diet cokes, Break chocolate bar wrappers, Cheetos foil bags), there was nothing to associate him with this spot. Barbra saw to it that no one really ever had a definable place, and she had a variety of tactics for keeping it that way.

Tom had already turned on the air conditioning. The uxoriously wasteful combination of this with the windows open was mildly invigorating. Enough to get started anyway. But first things first. He took a floppy disk from a pouch in his backpack, inserted it, clicked and waited as the computer emitted a series of grunts and whistles in a manner very different from the purrs Tom had coaxed from the machine. As software suffered and he settled into the chair still warm from Tom's body, Fenix muttered, "With a big thanks to the dark technology of Nic."

His dirty work accomplished, Fenix popped out the floppy, slid it into its plastic case, and put it back in the pouch. Then he opened the top of his bag and fished out several wrinkled, handwritten pieces of paper. The top page read "Vocabulary Tasks, Unit 13. A - Identify words from definitions in reading passage. B - Vocab expansion (relating to accidents). C - Derivates. D - Words commonly confused. He accessed the appropriate file on the computer, cracked the stiffness out of his knuckles and began to type.

How could an illegal-immigrant textbook writer put his signature on his work? Fenix had given it long, bitter hours of thought. His name was not featured on any of the material he had ever produced, except as some exceedingly helpful non-author or non-publisher - "The authors and publisher would like to thank ... for their contribution...". His so-called contribution to his books was now being directly equated with those of the office secretary, and technically he got second billing even to her. There was no paperwork linking Barbra to him, no real evidence that he'd ever worked for her, much less written the books that had launched her publishing empire, such as it was. Fortunately, over the years, Fenix had adapted to his environment and "evolved" (for lack of a better word) a workable solution.

The definitions would only take a few minutes, and he wanted something more sustained to start with. For obvious reasons, he didn't want to write a vocabulary task with words relating to accidents just yet. So he began with Section C, Derivatives. The idea was to write a sentence with a blank in it. At the end of the sentence was a root word which students then had to alter with prefixes or suffixes until the original word fit the blank in terms of both grammar and meaning.

Fenix typed:

1 Myra got into trouble for ..... her parents. OBEY
2 Yancy is not as ..... as Nancy. DEPEND
3 Aaron was angered by the ..... policies of his company. DISCRIMINATE
4 Mary and Ernie are ..... about protecting the environment. ENTHUSE
5 I explained to Iris that ..... was a very important virtue. HONEST
6 Stan was given an award for his ..... after he saved a girl from a burning building.
BRAVE
7 Fred and Elaine admitted that they were ..... guilty. DENY
8 Mr. Nelson is very ..... of other people. He hates everyone who disagrees with him. TOLERATE
9 Inez didn't think she looked ..... enough to go into the fancy restaurant.
PRESENT
10 Xavier worried that the ..... rate would continue to rise. EMPLOY

He did this task in twenty minutes, flawed and uninspiring as the writing was, but he would claim that it took at least an hour. Barbra's incompetence in judging others coupled with her miserable job interviewing skills had brought a series of people up the stairs over the years. People who would come for a month or two to sit at the only other functioning computer in the room and stare. A more inept selection of mentally and/or psychologically impaired human beings would have been difficult to compile were one actively attempting to do so. In the last year alone, Fenix had sat next to no less than ten different "writers," none of whom had lasted for more than a month. For any one of those people, the task he had just written would have involved no less than three hours (and one lady, a matronly-looking 60 year old woman who insisted on being called "Miss Kathleen" would have needed a full 8-hour day and change). The resulting side-benefit for Fenix was that Barbra really had no reliable clue about how long the writing of any particular task should take, though she did have a fairly accurate sense of how long it took to produce a book as a whole.

But the question remained: How could Fenix put his signature on his work? If, at the final extreme, he was called upon to prove that he'd written this book, how would he do so? The names. In order, then, the names he had just used in the derivate task had been:

Myra, Yancy, Nancy, Aaron, Mary, Ernie, Iris, Stan, Fred, Elaine, Nelson, Inez, Xavier.

Take the first letter from each name and you get:

MY NAME IS FENIX

Tom had said: "When something works, I mean really works - no fudging or fumbling - it's probably true." Was Fenix's code, then, true?

The difficulties of maintaining an acronymic monologue were not as insurmountable as many might suppose. He only "tagged" texts or exercises where there were going to be a substantial number of different names (usually vocabulary or grammar tasks - much less frequently, reading passages), and only in situations where he knew he had complete freedom about the names he could use. Furthermore, he allowed himself both first and last names. Still, there were certainly difficulties, especially his first name with its inconvenient 'x,' but he nonetheless indulged himself on occasion. Of course, the names could get a bit eccentric at times as he struggled to avoid repeating any single name to a suspicious degree, but on the other hand the strain of finding multiple names for, say, the letter t directly led to Barbra's 'inspiration' of 'multicultural' textbooks. Indeed, she had heard the word 'multicultural' for the first time when in debate with Fenix about his names:

Barbra: This Tiina, it's too much. It looks like you misspelled Tina.
Fenix: It's not an unusual name in Finland. Anyway, why do we always have to use British or Greek names? English is a global language. Why can't we be more multicultural?
Barbra: What?
Fenix: Multicultural.

The dominant theme of Barbra's new advertising campaign for her books was the word multicultural and her still more recent discovery, multiculturalism. He should have known: watered-down pop-cultural catch phrases and concepts stuck to her like word-magnets on a fridge. And, by the time she was done with them, they were equally as jumbled. Barbra's Borderlines, for instance, was multicultural only if by the word you meant "an anthology of racial stereotypes from around the world." The American boy played video games and wore a baseball hat. The Egyptian boy had, of all things, a pet camel: "Hello, I am Faisal, and this is the desert village were I live." The British girl was bossy, not to mention insufferably and endlessly politically correct. That Fenix had actually implemented these inanities into the book, that he was deeply complicit in this kinder, gentler racism, was one of the things he felt truly guilty about, and that Barbra lacked the sophistication to accuse him of.

Helen and Paris had long returned to their ledge. Their lidless round eyes threatened to bring to mind unwelcome recollections. Like many people, he found the creatures insufferable, but now he perceived an almost ominous quality in their indifference to all things human. The way they thrived off human detritus, provided no service in payment, and felt no debt, no guilt - indeed a kind of scorn expressed in fecal matter, with special disregard for objects constructed for reverence: statues, busts, and particularly old churches. Fenix stood up to shoo them from the window, but the ache in his thigh pulled him up short. He was quite thirsty, actually, but the prospect of facing Barbra on the way to the coffee machine was too much for him. Then the phone rang. There was only one possibility.

"Hello, Barbra."

"The network crashed again."

His voice was studiously even. "I'm sorry to hear it. My computer's working fine as far as I can tell."

"Tom said he fixed it. He came down half an hour ago and said everything was green." The parroted expression sounded odd in her mouth.

"Everything was green, hmm. Does he want to come back up and look at it again?"

"No," a deep inhalation. Barbra was smoking her cigarette again. "He left. He said it was green, so he left."

Her silence demanded an answer. "What do you want me to say, Barbra? I'm not the tech-person. You want ME to try and fix it?"

"No." The pauses kept lengthening. "A woman is coming in today. For an interview."

"On a Saturday?" He did not, however, voice the real question in his mind: "Interview for what?"

"She'll mostly be working out of the office." This said as if it were an answer.

"So ... you want me to be there for the interview?"

"What?" It was almost a laugh, but cut very short. "But ..." Her voice was definitely calmer and slightly quieter now. Fenix no longer doubted that something particularly nasty was in the works. "I'll call you down to meet her when the interview's over."

She hung up, and he squared himself to his keyboard and monitor again. His thigh ached as the sun draped itself over the affected leg. He thought about those teenagers - decomposing now, perhaps still out in the heat - being eaten quickly but by very small things, bacteria and bugs. He had no experience with such happenings - no idea about how they might look after x number of hours in y humidity at z temperature: the Calculus of Decomposition. Having no means of elaborating, then, Fenix's thoughts turned to himself: illegal alien and now, rather inexcusably, someone who had walked away from them without doing ... anything. He could call even now. Call the police, but with his Greek: God, it would give him away in seconds. He wouldn't be able to understand their most basic questions, and ... and ... in the final analysis, he didn't know anything anyway. Once upon a time two corpses flew over a hedge and landed at the feet of an unsuspecting boy.

Standing up, he strode to the stairs and descended. He had to have something to drink, and he felt light-headed again. Then he'd tackle that section on "Confusing Words."

                                                  * * * * *

Injure/hurt/suffer/wound
1 Dr Hanson asked Erica where it ..... .
2 Leonard was found to be ..... from a rare form of cancer.
3 Private Pierce had been seriously ..... by enemy fire.
4 Megan ..... her foot on a nail while walking with Esther. (2 possible answers)

Three hours passed. A single ray of sunlight from the open window had crept onto Fenix's arm like a spider. He felt bothered and grievously distracted. Only the soothing flow of his fingers over the keyboard gave him any solace. There is a kind of Zen state to typing, when you are no longer really seeing the letters you type, and you certainly aren't trying to arrange them in intelligible patterns. The link between the word on the page and the keys you are typing dissolves: from eyes to fingers without any intervening brain. Being there, in that utterly unreflective place, was the closest thing to innocence Fenix ever felt anymore.

The phone rang again, and this time he was told to descend to Barbra's office to meet the interviewee. He'd had some time to think about it, but only had enough information to conclude the following: Barbra knew she was going to offer THE JOB (whatever it was) to this new woman, and she also knew THE JOB would be accepted. Otherwise, she'd never have mentioned it beforehand. So, a staged interview. Not really an interview at all.

When he entered they were laughing, disconcerting in itself. He'd never seen Barbra do anything more than snort derisively. The 'new woman' was pasty and shrouded in smoke. Her reddish hair was tightly curled, deeply pomaded, and as unnatural-looking as her complexion, which resembled the pale-green of glow-in-the-dark Halloween toys when they are not in the dark. She turned to look at Fenix, and an expression flashed across her face that struck him like a bolt and said, "I've slept with dozens of sniveling men like you - weak and inadequate."

For a second he froze, managing only an unconvincing smile. We can adjust to people disliking us when they know even the barest details about us - we can justify it and even take pleasure in it and foster it. But there is something deeply chilling about being hated on sight - with no other grounds for the hatred than your mere appearance. Impressively, she was obviously the kind of person who had disciplined herself to manipulate others and foster insecurity and discontent without losing her train of thought - a real multi-tasker of emotions.

At the moment she was jovially engaging in an anti-American tirade even as she punctured him with fang-like eyes: "They don't know a word of English, but owing to Hollywood they've overrun the world with their barbaric idiom, frightful really. Gunna, Hadda, Wanna, bloody hell. They wouldn't know a vowel if it bit them on the arse."

And Barbra laughing exaggeratedly all the while; viperous wisps of smoke coiling conspiratorially around the both of them. "Everything here has been staged," Fenix thought stonily, "to belittle me."

"Nothing personal, dearie," the new woman smiled, but she turned to face Barbra as she continued. "I'm sure you're the exception that proves the rule."

"Oh, not at all," he answered flatly, "I'm the cliche that proves the lack of imagination."

That killed the laughter briefly, although snake-eyes continued to smile. Yes, she was very disciplined if not particularly witty or original. Barbra would like that; she would understand it. Their allied silence, though, chastened him, and he began to squirm awkwardly on the carpet like a seven year old brought forth at a dinner party to perform a banal trick for the guests.

"This," Barbra finally ventured, "is Fiona Finch. She's going to be our production editor."

"Is that her official title?" So far as Fenix could tell, the only official title he'd ever had was "not-author and not-publisher," a title he merely inferred from the fact that the faceless ostensible authors and publishers were endlessly thanking him for his contribution in the inside covers of the books he wrote.

"Oh," Fiona broke in, "titles don't mean anything to me. Too much like those big American conglomerates like ... McDonald's. Slap a label on everything. Back to the assembly line." Her body had the collapsed, invertebrate look of a chain smoker of 35 years' standing, and through his stinging eyes, despite the smoke and bad light, he could clearly see that her small, rather pointed teeth were the color of earwax.

Still, he felt it best to focus on one person at a time. He continued to address Barbra as casually as possible: "So, what's Fiona going to be doing for us?"

"Well, we've got lots of plans in the works," Barbra replied leaning back, "I'll start by letting her proofread and edit the latest book - the one you're working on."

"She'll be working here?" The thought of her upstairs in his sanctuary was too terrifying. He wouldn't last two weeks with her beside him.

"Oh no," Fiona broke in again. "My boyfriend's in Glyfada - the astrologer, Malthus Empyre? He'd die if I went off every day. (Here she exchanged a knowing look with Barbra that reeked of Just like a man.) No, you'll be sending me things by courier, and I'll call you in the mornings for corrections. (Very long pause.) If that's OK with you, of course."

She said, "OK" as if she were doing him a favor. As if he (like any ignorant U.S. citizen) would quickly expire if not regularly fed gaudy tidbits of cowboyesque idiom. As if "jolly all right" would have flummoxed him. He considered responding, "Well, thankee ma'am," but quickly discarded it as being too far over the top. No, the best way to get to a woman like Fiona would be to continue to ignore her.

He turned to look at the rows of books behind Barbra. Books about pedagogy, books about philosophy and theory, books of literature, books of poetry, textbooks teaching English to thousands of children across Greece. There ought to be some fragment of goodwill behind this ... academic machinery ... some human motive apart from greed and power. A methodical rite of passage towards an educated sympathy, because god only knew when your motorcycle would blow up. And god only knew what you would try to be saying from behind the uncommunicative panes of your eyes on that fateful day.

But this internal philosophizing was taking up energy, and he needed to focus on the world - which was quickly becoming more dangerous by the day, by the hour. This Thales couldn't afford to watch the stars, because Fiona Finch would not be pulling him out of any wells, though she might drop a rock on his head to put him out of his misery - if she could find one without any undue effort.

And yes, he knew at that very moment that Fiona was going to be the end of him here - the end of what meager husks of a life he'd managed to squirrel away. It was as clear to him as an algebraic equation and as unrelenting as an advertising jingle - mathematics, music, and unethics. Despite everything he'd always wanted to believe about himself and his tolerance, he'd hated her on sight, too. He couldn't imagine what he'd do with Fiona in the well, but he doubted it would be kind. And, oh, how she smiled.

                                                 * * * * *

He'd arrived at work at eleven, and it was now well past seven as he closed down his computer and flustered Paris and Helen again by closing the windows. The sky was an aqua-cobalt that he'd never seen anywhere else in the world, but was fairly common to Athens. A beautiful color, and the sky cloudless as always during the summer months. The sun had set behind rows of anonymous tenement buildings - uncounted balconies in near-infinite regress. Some lush with vegetation, others arranged with tables and chairs, still others with sprung mattresses and other detritus. And all the possible variations and combinations between. Fenix paused for a moment thinking, "The word chaos we take from the Greek root, but order, that comes from the Latin." The thought pleased him, and he considered making it the motto for September before a stab of hunger and the pain in his thigh alerted him to the need to go home.

He limped back to the stairs and made his way to Barbra's office. It seemed on days like this that he had never actually seen her leave the building (or enter for that matter). He arrived, she was already there. He left, she remained. The observation, however, only brought out a pity in him that he did not want to feel.

Her husband, a frightened-hedgehog-looking specimen of a man named Thanos, clearly disgusted her. He had started at least three businesses in the time Fenix had known him. All had failed, and now he was kept on as a gopher by his wife, who treated him exactly as such. Among his multiple duties, his most serious charge was to keep track of the company's bills, accounts and other paperwork, but he had no aptitude for it. His desk was in the ground floor lobby, and the bookshelf behind it seemed to nurture and cultivate disorder biologically. He hated it, the failure and the paperwork and the demeaning treatment, and he took his hatred out on anyone he perceived to be weaker than him. The secretaries in the office were the daily victims of his bile - Fenix less often but only because between his Greek and Thanos's English communication was reduced to grunts, pointing, and dismissive nods.

Indeed, the only time Thanos was happy was when Barbra delegated do-it-yourself jobs involving plumbing, electricity or carpentry. He would pal around with the laborers, and smile and tell jokes. During these periods there were no absurd shouting matches, no whirlwind bouts of panic and anger when Barbra phoned down for a receipt or registration sheet or government form. Then the manual labor would cease, and Thanos would return to his usual sullen bitterness. His inability to identify what made him happy and to pursue it boggled the mind, and yet Fenix was slowly coming to the conclusion that it was not so rare a phenomenon as he'd once thought.

In any case, the point was that at work Barbra was in her first-floor office where she did not have to look at or listen to her husband. When he went home, she stayed at work ... and stayed, and stayed. Holidays like today, she was at work. She would be here tomorrow, on Sunday, and she would be here on Monday, the 15th. Virgin Mary Day. Then Fenix remembered the 15th. He needed to get paid.

Having reached the ground floor, he trudged miserably back up the stairs. He had truly hoped to get out of the building without seeing her again. She was looking over an article about her in a newspaper, The ESL Times, devoted to teaching English as a Second Language. Of course, it was nothing more than an advertisement that did not have to declare itself as such - she'd paid for its placement by the page, and needless to say, Fenix had written that, too, without receiving any credit.

"Uh, Barbra. I'd like to be paid, if you can spare it," it was difficult to check his sarcasm, but the need was real. Avoid conflict.

"Didn't we say twice a month?"

"Yes, the 15th and the end of the month. But seeing as the 15th is a holiday ..."

"I can't help you. Payment's on the 15th."

"Do you mean you're expecting me to be in?"

"Why not? It's not a holiday for you, anyway."

"So, from here on out, while I'm working for you in Greece, I'm to take American holidays off? Labor Day's just around the corner."

"What?"

"Look, can't you spare anything. I'm not going to make it through the weekend."

"I don't have anything with me. We'll talk about it tomorrow. The first thing I want is printouts of what you've done on Borderline 2 - you know I can't access it while the network's down. Thanos will drop it off with Fiona tomorrow evening.

Fenix took a deep breath. "No, Barbra. If I'm coming in to be paid on the 15th, I think I'll take Sunday off."

Now it was Barbra's turn to breathe deeply. She took her purse off her desk and fished out 50,000 drachmas. "I'll give you the rest tomorrow," she sighed. "Fiona's waiting."

True enough. Fiona was definitely waiting. He took the money without saying another word and limped out of the building.

 
 
 

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