Precursor (short story)


When I thank you for coming here, you retort—No, I am in San Jacinto.

We sit in the plaza watching shadows traverse the pillared entrances. You say—That shadow carries exquisite serapes. That other shadow will explode the train station.

Two wrinkle-faced men shake hands. Then one possesses the building with semi-automatic weapons and tear gas, while the other jumps in a spaceship and hits the sky. The spaceship does not explode.

I try to go to work the next morning, but I am blocked by a forest. I exit the subway and watch a gathering sky, precursor to a snap election.

The workshop is warm and the oak floor is cool. Heavy-lidded tenement squatters with pursed lips embroider your attitudes onto blocked-out serapes. I stop at each desk to caress the flickering accommodation.

No one telephones, but a smooth-cheeked boy of ten enters wearing a muskrat netsuke whenever a new garment is ordered.

You rest your spoon carelessly on your napkin and say—Council resolutions have drawn up to the train station. I do not agree to go down to the center plaza to view them. I say I can do so before work tomorrow. —I’ve no regrets, I hear you say, but perhaps it was, ignore egrets.

The movie theater reeks vaguely of samosas consumed that afternoon, and mourners bear out the canister of the previous feature in mute tribute to Fassbinder. We watch the next feature, and you say—I don’t like how the Ukrainian hacker was portrayed as some kind of a lost soul. I say—The film was a documentary about Renaissance Florence.

The smoke filled the crevices in the sky, so everyone went to college. I went to college. The hallways didn’t turn. When I brought my reading list to the library, all the shelves were bare. I found you working in the stacks, with an egret netsuke at your waist, and asked you where the books were. You answered—We have only a book by Borges, in Czeck translation.

Egrets spread salt packs across the pavement. They are preventing a revanchist attack by indigenous thieves, and they win because the rising sun is chasing shadows into the crevices. The egrets are scrutinized by gatherings of loiterers, but not you. Everyone is disputing account tallies. A precursor of regional loyalties.

A snapping sound, as churches open onto the square. Hordes of mourners blast through the narrow passages into the greening sunlight, and they are carrying nothing.

We are at the train station, its mold-streaked glass windows spaced out by dull gray steel bars. Medlo the Thief turns up in the middle of the plaza, says—Life is cheap, and absconds with the copper faucets from the water fountain.

I say—You should go now. But it is I who turns out to be lost in a green ocean, steaming toward a shattered isle.

Andy Oram
April 3, 2021