Buy this book from Amazon
hurt / injure / suffer / wound
a lie faces God and shrinks from man.
Bacon, On Truth
analysis is a kind of methodical step between an uncultivated
and an educated sympathy.
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.
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
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.
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.
* * * *
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.
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.
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
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
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."
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
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.
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."
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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"
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
* * * *
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.
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
Silence - Silence (1 year - 1 year)
Silence - Confession (0 years - 3 years)
Confession - Confession (2 years - 2 years)
Confession - Silence (3 years - 0 years)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
the time being, though, the Doctor was satisfied. A
few thousand more rounds, and he would turn his attention
to more direct observations.
* * * *
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
nice." He wet his mouth and plunged his face into
the brownish stream. "Two teenagers, I said. My
leg ... "
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.
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.
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?"
are very popular this year. It's a hot concept."
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?
maybe, Barbra. Maybe borders are, I don't know. I'm
not the expert. Borders, but not borderLINES.
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
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:
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.
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.
I am not," he said, speaking very slowly, "an
author or a publisher, what exactly am I, Barbra?"
I tell you what to write, don't I?"
told you to write an intermediate course book, right?"
yes. But ..."
I told you what to write."
really doesn't answer my question though, does it? What
exactly am I?"
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 ..."
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.
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.
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.
can Soula possibly work on it when she opens the building
at 7 in the morning and closes it at 10 at night?"
spoke to her about your green card just last week. I'm
not sure what she's doing with it at the moment."
hasn't done anything, Barbra. Are you listening? She's
here all day, every day."
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."
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.
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.
just finishing up. I don't know why it keeps crashing."
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 ..."
* * * *
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
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.
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.
enthusiastic tone sagged immediately, "Yeah. A
girl and a guy - motorcycle."
response, so Fenix continued, "Did I tell you my
motto of the month?"
I've been lucky so far."
rather hear an interesting lie than a boring truth."
an interesting truth be best of all?"
know, Tom - how could you tell the difference?"
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."
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," and as an afterthought, "and thanks."
mention it ... Oh, by the way, I know it's a bad time,
but I thought I'd ask ..."
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."
don't see why not. You remember where I live?"
course, of course. 87 Avidou, I believe. I'll send Amir
by around, say, 8?"
I should be home by then."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
4 Mary and Ernie are ..... about protecting the environment.
5 I explained to Iris that ..... was a very important
6 Stan was given an award for his ..... after he saved
a girl from a burning building.
7 Fred and Elaine admitted that they were ..... guilty.
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.
10 Xavier worried that the ..... rate would continue
to rise. EMPLOY
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.
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:
Yancy, Nancy, Aaron, Mary, Ernie, Iris, Stan, Fred,
Elaine, Nelson, Inez, Xavier.
the first letter from each name and you get:
NAME IS FENIX
had said: "When something works, I mean really
works - no fudging or fumbling - it's probably true."
Was Fenix's code, then, true?
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:
This Tiina, it's too much. It looks like you misspelled
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?
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.
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
network crashed again."
voice was studiously even. "I'm sorry to hear it.
My computer's working fine as far as I can tell."
said he fixed it. He came down half an hour ago and
said everything was green." The parroted expression
sounded odd in her mouth.
was green, hmm. Does he want to come back up and look
at it again?"
a deep inhalation. Barbra was smoking her cigarette
again. "He left. He said it was green, so he left."
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?"
The pauses kept lengthening. "A woman is coming
in today. For an interview."
a Saturday?" He did not, however, voice the real
question in his mind: "Interview for what?"
mostly be working out of the office." This said
as if it were an answer.
... you want me to be there for the interview?"
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."
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.
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."
* * * *
1 Dr Hanson asked Erica where it ..... .
2 Leonard was found to be ..... from a rare form of
3 Private Pierce had been seriously ..... by enemy fire.
4 Megan ..... her foot on a nail while walking with
Esther. (2 possible answers)
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.
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.
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."
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
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
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."
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."
not at all," he answered flatly, "I'm the
cliche that proves the lack of imagination."
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.
Barbra finally ventured, "is Fiona Finch. She's
going to be our production editor."
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.
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.
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?"
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."
be working here?" The thought of her upstairs in
his sanctuary was too terrifying. He wouldn't last two
weeks with her beside him.
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
* * * *
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
we say twice a month?"
the 15th and the end of the month. But seeing as the
15th is a holiday ..."
can't help you. Payment's on the 15th."
you mean you're expecting me to be in?"
not? It's not a holiday for you, anyway."
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."
can't you spare anything. I'm not going to make it through
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
took a deep breath. "No, Barbra. If I'm coming
in to be paid on the 15th, I think I'll take Sunday
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
enough. Fiona was definitely waiting. He took the money
without saying another word and limped out of the building.