I suppose I could have gone this route, linking the short story excerpts together into a loose narrative…
After sanding every appositive and polishing each comma, you will send it to the finest English-language literary publisher in the world, a man of profound understanding and exquisite tastes who funds the press out of his rear pocket, stuffed with a staggering fortune in steel. He will be the only man capable of seeing your work for what it is on the first pass. While reading your manuscript one long summer afternoon, “Here it is! Here it is!” will be heard coming, at approximately half-hour intervals, from his second story office, the “At last” unnecessary, implied in his exclamations’ very torque. 1
Exalted, the publisher will sprint to his office window. “Here it is!” he will shout to the cars and walkers passing anonymously below. The window won’t open, cannot open, was designed not to, installed per specs drawn up by the REIT’s design people two years after the real estate bubble made high-rises like this one a real steal investment-wise. He scans the urban landscape: not an open window to be seen. Directly across from him, three buildings to the right, a pair of window-washers suspended midair dangle their legs from their slowly descending platform. “Here it is!” they shout. Only the bearded man looks up. He nods gravely, holding the white-on-white taqiyah in place, and walks on.
He enters the mosque compound before going to the rectangular bathroom to perform wudu — ablution, where he robotically drenches and systemically cleanses the face, beard, ears, fingers and palms, wrists and elbows, and toes and ankles. Sandals, initially left outside, are then reworn — and immediately taken off — to enter the main wide mosque doors, where carpet arabesques paint the floor and equal amounts of Arabic calligraphy surreally encapsulate the walls, spiritually caving out a tightly woven meditation. He goes to the microphone — attached by the loose wires through the outside to the megaphone at the top of the minaret — and starts summoning by call of prayer, in a broken Arabic, monotone of an accent. 2
“Here it is,” he intones in the language of his people. “Here it is, here it is, here it is…”
A woman, graceful of motion as she gathered the empty glasses on a tray, barely noticed the disembodied voice issuing its incomprehensible summons. She glanced toward the man seated in the rattan chair drinking coffee.
The biggest cat she ever saw, white and black, made its way across the deep red tiles of the patio flexing its shoulder muscles and looking up. Esteban pointed to the birdcages it fixed on, out of reach.
“Here’s the question,” he said.
“All those exquisite feathered creatures, an orgy of killing and eating just waiting to happen, and the cat will never catch a single one of them. I make sure of that.”
“So what’s the question?”
“The cat’s existence.”
“Is it Heaven, or Hell, or someplace in between.”
“Purgatory, you mean.”
He shrugged. 3
“The cat is indifferent,” she replied “‘Here it is,’ you might inform the cat: here is hell; there, heaven; between them, purgatory. Or perhaps now is heaven; then, hell; between now and then… The cat will at times make its smooth passage between them, forward and backward in space and in time. Then it will stop, lie down, undertake its ritual ablutions, sleep. ‘Here it is,’ the cat will say without speaking; it goes where I go; it is where I am.”
The man sipped his coffee, no longer concerning himself with the cat, with the eternity, with her. There would have been a time when he would have been studying a musical score, jotting marginalia as the coffee cooled, stepping distractedly through the sliding door to the piano to experiment with harmonics and dynamics. Leaping from the bench, flailing both hands wildly, asking why, dear god, can’t the coffee be hot for once. Now he was working a crossword puzzle.
Once he seized in the middle of a performance and no one knew. Sometimes his seizures were like that, so far deep in the head that it barely located itself in the body. No one knew, of course, except for her, watching from the front row, like she always did. Before, she used to watch for pleasure. Now she anticipated pain. She recognized it in the back of his neck—his head inched down slowly, like he was trying to withdraw into his chest, and his shoulders narrowed. In his hands, the batons continued their movement, but the world between them was smaller now, and the orchestra hastened to keep abreast of this new changing world. The back of his head, so bare and pale, folded over so that all she saw was neck, a headless man swinging his hands whichever way they’d go. 4
“Here it is!” he would shout at the double-reeds, jabbing a baton at the sheaf of papers on the music stand. “Here, goddamn it!” Now he traced his finger along a row of letters. “Here,” he muttered, tapping the eraser lightly on the empty squares. “Or…”
She glanced through the iron patio gate at two young men walking past. They looked in; she smiled. “Hello again Eric, Gabriel.”
Gabriel and Eric walked halfway down the block in silence. Though it was hardly observable, Gabriel noticed that Eric walked a step further from him than he had all day, or the day before.
“Why do you think she asked us?” Eric said, a jagged edge in his voice. “Do you think we look gay to her?” 6
“Here it is,” Gabriel says. He pushes through the revolving door into the menswear boutique, Eric following reluctantly behind. They seem surprised to see me there, my reflection appraising them critically from the three-way mirror. The sales clerk approaches me perkily.
“Are you ready for a new version of you?”
“Yes, honey,” I say. “I’m ready for it. Who is the new me going to be?”
“Oh, it all depends! You have to give me some input! Do you want to be cool, but accessible? Or do you want to be greedy, right under the surface, mixed with an insouciance that’s irresistible?”
“I just want to be normal. Just kidding. I don’t know, I want it all, darling, give me the full package!”
The plastic woman, who has not been deterred in the slightest by my removal of her right arm, is a little overwhelming, to be honest. I think about removing her head but I know this would be rude, and that it wouldn’t shut her up, either. Across the sales floor in other artfully lit alcoves, other customers gab away with their plastic attendants. 7
“Here it is!” my personal fashion advisor announces, a tinge of excitement playing skillfully on her practiced modulation. With a tilt of the head she beckons toward a closed curtain in the changing area.
“Excuse me? Oh that.” She waves her left hand dismissively. “No, here it is! The new you!”
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