Principle of uncertainty

First thing in the morning Fernanda has a double espresso, or an orange juice, in one of four Starbucks in Leeds. She might be reading a pocket novel that cost her six pounds, leafing through the newspaper she buys almost daily, or, sometimes, gulping a glass of water to get an aspirin down on an empty stomach. She buys them every so often, always at the same pharmacy. Once a month, she pays forty pounds for her phone line and cell, twenty-five for cable and broadband internet. Lights, gas, water—fifty all in all. She doesn’t pay rent because a friend, who went off to Italy for “a year, maybe two,” loaned her the apartment. She buys books once a week, usually on Tuesday morning, Thursday afternoon, or, rarely, Saturday. She always goes to the same supermarket, once a week or every ten days. In total, it’s not much more than what she spent in Buenos Aires when she lived there by herself in the middle of the last decade. She regularly burns through five-pound long-distance phone cards in a single call. She eats out once a day, at noon or at night. She doesn’t take many taxis or buses, and almost never buys clothes, but sometimes she takes the train to London and goes to the movies, to shows, to bars, to rooms in three star hotels, sometimes doubles, then buys a subway ticket to Victoria Station and a couple of cups of coffee before coming back. But most of the time, she’s running late and hails a cab, because Fernanda is almost always late when she has to take a train, bus, or plane.

Lekman organizes the bills she sends him every month. He spreads all the slips out on the big table in the living room, which he rarely uses these days. He groups them face up, first by day, making three long rows of ten days each, then by category: “room and board”, “food”, “personal spending” and “research materials”. He glues one or two receipts on A4 paper, hole-punches, and writes the dollar total on each; then he adds up the entry totals, gets the monthly total, converts to pesos and puts away each page in one of the four categorized folders he has to present to the British foundation that gave Fernanda a one-year grant with an optional year-long extension. With time, he’s got used to doing this while thinking of something else, maybe a half-finished painting, or what he’s going to have for dinner, or how to shape that image, that minor revelation he’d had the day before, in the countryside, a chicken climbing a ladder leaning against the house wall, the light in August on a winter afternoon.

He doesn’t pay much attention while he puts it all together. That way he won’t read too deeply into the meaning of certain receipts that, at first, triggered a blend of surprise, indignation and pain (although he sometimes still blanches, especially to think that she wants him to know, that it’s not absent-mindedness). Those trips to London, for instance, or what exactly she buys at the supermarket. And that receipt for a twelve-pack of condoms—Durex brand, two pounds fifteen—he found a while ago, hiding in a long list of innocent products: frozen broccoli, Guatemalan coffee, toothpaste, and three bottles of carbonated water. But Fernanda never said anything about it, and Lekman found neither the moment nor the way to ask.

A high-school girlfriend used to tell him he was shy because he was born in Norway. Lekman’s family arrived at the height of the dictatorship, and he was still a child when his father was transferred to the local office of a French bank. Juana was the first and only girlfriend of his adolescence. They went out for a year, exactly; she broke up with him the day before their anniversary. Apart from the months that followed, Lekman was solitary by choice. Regardless, or maybe because of this, women were attracted to him from a very young age. His Scandinavian genes gave him an early growth spurt; at fourteen he was already 1.75 meters tall, had sculpted arms, and looked about twenty.

Lekman got his first kiss from a friend’s mother at a sleepover. He’d sneaked into the kitchen to eat something and found her barefoot in her nightgown, the refrigerator door hanging open. Her lips were cool, like she’d just drunk water from the mouth of a pitcher, and they tasted slightly sweet. The morning after, he panicked at the thought of the scandal that would break. Later on, he only thought about what he’d do the next time they were alone together, but he didn’t get the chance. He started seeing Juana shortly after. She liked him less for his Nordic features than that he sang and played guitar. Besides Juana, his only audience consisted of the few school friends who used to come over to his house, including the one whose mother he’d kissed. They said they liked his music, but that it was a little weird.

Lekman studied law for a couple of years, until he realized he didn’t want to be a lawyer or a musician. Maybe in Norway, but not here. He wanted to draw and paint, and signed up for a workshop. He quit law school a year later, kept working, and started taking private classes with a prestigious teacher. Another year went by and he worked less and less in the office. Everyone was impressed with his first group show, and two critics said something about his work that he didn’t understand but had the tone of praise.

He left his teacher after he arrived for a session and found him in his underwear, dragging himself from one end of the studio to the other, unraveling an enormous ball of red wool, his chest chafing against the wooden floorboards, his gaze absorbed in the point of the thread. He had several interviews with other teachers, but he didn’t hit it off with any of them—moreover, it was a fairly difficult moment in his development to start over with someone new, and it would be better to go on alone or give it a try abroad, a change of air, one of his interviewers said while shaking his hand goodbye.

He sent out copies of his best works to various international institutes and got no answers except from a Portuguese school to which he didn’t remember applying. He decided to quit the job his father had got him in the French bank, to lock himself up and paint, living on occasional illustrations for a children’s publishing house. And though his father didn’t know why, from then on, every time they saw each other, he pictured his son in his school uniform, sitting on a felt chair in the auditorium. It’s that the artist always has to get up when he’s sitting comfortably, said Lekman. But perhaps the chair won’t be in the same place when you want to sit back down, his father responded, because the world turns, and then you have to stay standing, like an idiot, until you die.

Six months later he had his second group exhibition. At the beginning, reviews are more important than sales; for that reason, presentation is just as important as the work, a critic told him. That month he sold a painting, his father bought a second, and he got an email from one Fernanda López, a journalist who wanted to interview him. Now, Lekman is much less naïve; years have passed. Still, every time he remembers those conversations with his father he feels a certain tenderness—in their time, those words served a purpose, to encourage him, to help him face his father, to inflate to epic proportions certain decisions that he wouldn’t have had the courage to make under different circumstances. What’s certain is that, without turning wholly cynical, he gave in a long time ago and adopted the words and modes of contemporary art, most of which Fernanda taught him. Now she doesn’t write much and rarely calls—once every fifteen days or so. But when they do talk, it’s for a half-hour or more, especially on Sunday afternoons, when it’s midnight in Leeds. Those Sundays when she comes back from London, as he later confirms with the receipt.  She must be feeling that blend of emptiness and guilt.  Sometimes he feels it too.

To fill a silence, Fernanda asks if everything is all right with the papers, and reminds him to submit them on time, so that they authorize next month’s expenses. He tells her not to worry, it’s a boring job, but he likes mechanical tasks because he doesn’t have to think, it’s nice after spending whole days shut in, working, “it clears my head”. Like driving to the countryside: the empty road, straight ahead, at 140 kph. She asks him if he’s kept away from cigarettes, and he lies and says yes. Lekman tells her he just won a grant for a six-month project; he’s confident, even though he still doesn’t have a clue what he’s going to do. She asks him to mail her some sketches as soon as he has them. And please don’t forget the text that opened the catalogue of your first multinational-sponsored collective show. It’s going to be very useful for her thesis. He says “sure”, and they say goodbye, but he never does it. Sometimes one says, “I love you”, and the other says “you too”, sometimes one says it and the other stays silent, sometimes neither says a word.

He has to hand in the folders Monday morning and he’s hardly opened the British woodpaper envelope on the living-room table. For the first time, he asks himself why he’s doing this. But he promised, and besides, Fernanda doesn’t have anybody else, so it’s better get it done as soon as possible. He tries to think of a new system or way to organize the folders and get focused. On Fridays, he always wakes up early at his country house, and he’s already tired when gets back to his apartment in the city after a light fifteen-peso lunch and a mineral water at a roadside parrilla, 90 pesos of gas and 4.20 in tolls. Besides, staying home alone just complicates the situation. And if he goes out with his friends, they all end up drinking around a table, wine or whiskey, going to the bathroom one at a time, everyone talking except for him, talking endlessly, and Lekman gets sluggish, dozes off, jolts awake to his friends laughter—they’re cracking up, and he apologizes. He got up at seven in the morning, took the highway home, and he’s tired.

He’s still got work to do, and what’s worse, the holes in the rows of receipts are days when Fernanda vanishes. Sometimes this disturbs him, sometimes he comforts himself with the thought that if there aren’t receipts there weren’t expenses, and if there weren’t expenses she must have stayed in her apartment. Sometimes Fernanda goes to the movies and watches two in a row, because in Leeds there are single screening room theaters that offer different films on the same day. Or she goes to the supermarket, buys everything she needs, and comes back fifteen minutes later to get something she’s forgotten. Lekman sometimes thinks it’s strange that, in spite of the distance, he now has a better record of her activities than when they lived together. And from what he can tell, she’s barely making progress on the thesis she got the grant for. She’s as scattered over there as Lekman is here, with an individual exhibition scheduled at the end of the year—an important gallery, who’d have thought—and also the fellowship and the crippled ranch.

Bordering a swath of dry pasture near the wire fence along the highway, the ranch, really a 1500-hectare lagoon, was flooded until last year. And out of nowhere a local entrepreneur appeared, offering to rent it from Lekman’s father. He wanted to exploit the lagoon: get a fishing club together, put in a dock, transplant trees, nail in beach umbrellas, sow fish, build barbecues and bring some motorboats. He paid, punctually, for ten months, but one Monday, around midday, he let them know there were some problems.  Before the first contract year was over, the lagoon dried up and the club closed.

That was around when Fernanda decided to go to England to finish her Doctoral thesis, a comparative study of a British painter and four young artists from emerging countries. None of the five had been born in the country where they currently lived. They emigrated as children and, for some reason, were developing much more radical works than the rest of the artists in those countries, or something like that, Lekman never really understood the whole project, like many of the articles Fernanda had published over the two years they lived together.

The English one, born in Turkey, emigrated at nine. He’d had shows in New York, Amsterdam, and a small retrospective in his native Istanbul. He is one of the few living artists who Lekman admires. He had been the one to introduced Fernanda to his work, telling her about it for entire nights on a trip to Europe a little while after they started living together. The Argentine is Lekman. Like him, the other artists are just starting their careers, “it’s that I prefer less high-profile artists, virgins to academic attention”, Fernanda used to say, and Lekman couldn’t help but feel a slight chill every time he heard her speak those words.

At first he’d thought in her terms: he had much more to gain than the rest, nevermind the Englishman, or Turk, who was already quite famous. In other words, the comparison was going to be very beneficial for his work. Only his father would use that word, he thought. It was several months before he figured out that the English Turk probably lived in Leeds or London. It’s the second revelation of the day, this Friday afternoon, looking out the window, making coffee with the remnants from two packets he found in the freezer.

He imagines her this very night, gazing absently after eating a set menu with a pint (five pounds ninety) in some chain pizzeria, like almost every Friday she doesn’t spend in London. Meanwhile, he’s making afternoon coffee, the receipts spread all over the living room table. Of course he’s OK with her buying condoms. He also buys them from time to time, not twelve, but little packets of three. What he can’t stop mulling over are the trips to London. Let’s say with the British Turk. It must be interesting, of course, even he would like to meet him. But why always to London and not to another city? Why not Scotland? And anyway, what does this have to do with a postgraduate study in Comparative Arts, and how is it that it doesn’t seem suspicious to the foundation, which is so meticulous about the receipts?

 

He looks his day over backwards and forwards, opens the fridge: empty plastic bags, empty bottles, and a lidless jar of jam. The only way to save himself tonight is to put some food in the fridge and stuff himself.  On his way to the supermarket he sees a poster for a recently premiered U.S. movie Fernanda saw months ago. He’d seen the orange ticket with the name printed on it. And though he doesn’t know why, when he notices a girl wearing an English band T-shirt he thinks that painters living in England have it easier than Argentines, as is almost always the case with rock bands. He buys fresh as well as frozen food. Some of the brands are similar to the English ones, not as many as before, but a lot, in any case, excluding kitchen items.

Lekman buys two bottles of beer and two of mineral water, and for a moment he contemplates his own receipts: drinks, paints, canvas, gas, tolls, and supermarket tickets, like the one the cashier, who’s Chinese, Korean, or Japanese, puts in his hand with his change. She scrutinizes her nails as if the contact with the coins had chipped her polish. Lekman counts the bags—there’s a lot—and asks if they have delivery service. The cashier says yes, taking a wad of hundreds from inside her jacket or her bra, he can’t quite see, into which she folds the two he just gave her and shouts something in Japanese, Korean, or Chinese. Someone who could just as easily be a second cousin as a pseudo-slave emerges from the back door, puts the bags in a shopping cart, and waits.

The idea of walking three blocks with a stranger makes him uneasy at first. He walks quickly, ignoring the supermarket employee from a few steps ahead. Lekman can’t tell if he just got to the country or has been here for years, always shut in the back stockroom. If he only goes out on deliveries and only knows this part of the city, which must be like a dream, an interruption of his dim world of organizing food in the stockroom shadows, whiling away his time in a pine bunk bed, pining for monsoons.

Now they’re traversing the cracked sidewalk of an avenue. Passing busses honk their horns. Lekman glances back when he crosses to see if the delivery boy is still following him. And he begins to think, first from boredom and then with immoderate morbosity, about how far the other, who by his way of walking must have pulled a rickshaw with an umbrella in the back in his native country, would follow him. At what point would he say something, how many blocks would it take? How far, literally, would he take his servility, and if he said something, what would it be, in what language? Would he push the cart away, shout an incomprehensible insult, and go back to the supermarket, or would he try to fight him? Or would he get lost, not knowing the way back, and wander around the neighborhood, hallucinating in an unknown city? Maybe he would find another Asian supermarket where they would understand him and show him the way back, or maybe he would just stay there, better off than he was before; he’d have a little patio in addition to the stockroom, the beds wouldn’t be bunked, and he’d meet a cousin who came to the country in a different litter.

Lekman starts to feel an almost infantile exhiliration, as if in some way he were revenging himself on all the immigrants in the world, starting with this one and the Southeast Asians, but also the British Pakistanis and the other four plastic artists. And he turns and crosses as if he were alone, like he’s been crossing for months, ignoring Fernanda’s warnings. She always made him cross when the street was absolutely empty. A dark car turns the corner, passes Lekman and hits the Asian with the shopping cart.

He studied law for a few years, and although he’d failed Criminal (this was the reason or excuse for quitting Law school), he knows he has some responsibility for the incident and it scares him. The man from the supermarket lies among the scattered bags and groceries on the asphalt. He doesn’t look hurt. Two men get out of the car, one with a beard and long hair, the other tall, like Lekman, but sturdier. There are two women in the back seat. The men look at the Asian and ask him with gestures if he’s O.K. They look at Lekman, then at each other and back at the Asian. The two men offer him a ride back to the supermarket. He either doesn’t understand Spanish or can only get back by muscle memory.  He says ‘no’ with his hands and head and leaves.

Then the bearded guy tells Lekman to get into the car, that they’ll take him home. Lekman doesn’t say anything, and he gets out again and tells him not to worry and to come on in. “Don’t worry”, he says, popping the trunk and putting in some of the bags with undamaged food. Lekman, still suspicious, climbs in as if the crucial thing were not to be separated from the bags. He closes the door, his stare fixed through the window on the Asian from the supermarket with the shopping cart, which rolls away, fortunately, in the right direction.

In a second he’d gone from lamenting the monotony of his life through the lens of his expenses to imagining himself in a police station. He calms down a little and distracts himself. He’s in the back seat, sandwiched between two girls. Though he has a good idea of what they look like, he hasn’t been able to give them a thorough once-over. They’re wearing miniskirts and they smell good. The car goes two more blocks and turns onto the avenue heading towards the city center. Lekman realizes that they’re not bringing him to his house when they go under a bridge. He considers jumping out at some stoplight, but he would lose everything in the trunk, almost two hundred pesos worth of food.

They stop at a bar in an office district. There’s a woman in the doorway crying into her hands. Then they go down a basement staircase and sit on some couches. The place is empty apart from them and looks deserted. The music is two or three years old. One of the girls goes into the bathroom, and one of the men, the bigger one, follows her after a minute or two. Lekman pictures her against a wall, skirt up, stockings down, the man’s leg wrapped around the toilet. But she comes out and whispers something in the other girl’s ear, a blond with apple-sized breasts that jiggle in her shirt’s low neckline. He’d guessed that she was the other guy’s girlfriend but they go into the bathroom together, and he’s alone with the bearded one, at opposite ends of the couch.

He lifts his hand to call the waitress, the same woman that was crying outside ten minutes earlier. He orders a drink. The music is bad and it’s loud enough to discourage conversation. Anyway, he wouldn’t know what to say. He downs the drink in one gulp and occupies himself with worrying the straw until it’s unrecognizable. The waitress sets down two identical glasses, leaves, and they remain silent. Lekman starts to search through his jacket and wallet and the others’ jackets and wallets. The bearded guy asks what he’s doing and he says he heard a phone ring. It must be yours, Lekman says. The other takes out his cell, looks at it, says no, it wasn’t his. “Maybe it was yours?” But Lekman didn’t bring his. Then I don’t know. “Look, I heard a phone”. Yes, sometimes it happens, the man tells him, because the notes of certain songs vibrate the neuron where the ring tone is kept.

He’d learned what a harmonic was when he was thirteen. At that age Lekman was somewhat judgmental and it surprised him that Pythagoras, a philosopher and a mathematician, would have dedicated himself to investigating, in his free time, he supposed, the sound a cord makes according to its longitude. It also surprised him that his music professor, who always wore colorful pants and seemed to subsist on tea, crackers and something he’d only later discover was marijuana, knew a good deal more about Pythagoras than the anecdote about harmonics he must have told every student at least once.

The memory stirs Lekman’s interest in the conversation and he asks what the deal is with the girls, if they’re a couple, if each is with one of the guys. The man laughs and tells him that they’re journalists and the girls are press managers. They’re lubricating the relationship, he says, and he laughs hard. “It’s part of the job, with what they pay us…” and Lekman doesn’t know if he left the phrase half finished or if the complaint dissolved into the music while it travelled the distance between them.

The bearded guy gets up, walks over to the wall, and presses something behind the curtains. He walks onto the dance floor, empty like the rest of the place, except for a D.J. in the corner, a thin man with long hair. The disco ball begins to spin. He beckons Lekman, who goes over after buying another drink to keep his hands busy. The song has no rhythm for dancing, and they can only spin around in the same place, with their arms held outwards a little, as if the whole bar were a music box in minor key running out of batteries. Of course he’d like to spend twenty minutes in the bathroom with two women. On the other hand, he’s almost caused a man’s death, had three fernets, and now he’s dancing to a Morrisey song with another man on the desolate dance floor of a voided bar.

He has to go: if he learned anything from his years with Fernanda, it’s to distrust journalists. But this bearded guy seems nice. He walks him out to the car, opens the trunk, hands him the bags and asks him if he’s sure he doesn’t want a ride. Lekman says no, shakes his hand, and hails a cab. It’s a long trip, and the driver’s running commentary is a little frightening, so at times he pretends to be falling asleep.

He’s taken barely any cabs since his father died and he decided to take care of his country house and bought a car. In the end, maintaining the house didn’t take up too much time. The agronomist he hired told him that the lake had accumulated so much sediment that an excess of minerals had rendered germination “impossible and dangerous”. Though nothing would grow for a year, high levels of potassium would make it extremely fertile in the future. Anyway, he keeps going once a week, on Thursdays. He always stays for the night and wakes up at seven, late for the workers who are already up at four-thirty in the morning in summertime and five or five-thirty in winter. There’s frost every morning until September, melting glaciers that shine like suns from a distant dimension when he leaves the house.

He makes sure everything’s O.K., that the six workers are there, not that they’re working, though, because there’s nothing to do, just that they’re at their posts so they don’t get into the fields or the house. That nobody stole anything, neither thieves nor workers, that the latter aren’t drunk or bringing women around, at least not when he’s there.  He doesn’t want to lose authority. When he’s gone they can do as they please as long as they don’t steal or break anything. But sometimes he comes and goes and notices he hasn’t had a real conversation with anybody, he’s just exchanged a few hand signals.

He wakes up at the entrance to his building, gets out of the taxi and puts the bags on the sidewalk while he looks for his key. He gets in the elevator, lays his stuff on the floor, and leans against the wall, like that night with Fernanda. She’d come back for a couple of days.  She was going to stay fifteen but she ended up leaving on the ninth, and that’s when she mentioned the two-year option for the first time, saying she might use it. Lekman later thought that, in spite of everything, her visit hadn’t been that bad. He weighs the elevator episode against other moments when Fernanda took calls on her British cell and came back after ten- or fifteen-minute absences. One night while they were watching a movie under the covers, she got a call. Fernanda picked up and went to talk in the kitchen, the farthest of the apartment’s three rooms. She was away six minutes, minutes he spent lying in silence, the lights off, the movie paused on an actor’s twisted smile. In cinema there aren’t perfect instances, paintings, but the effect of continuity, Lekman thought as he stared at the screen. Then he thought about other things without looking away from the TV.  He couldn’t hear anything, not even Fernanda’s voice, although he knew she was murmuring in English with her hand over her mouth. When she got back, the VCR had stopped the tape. She slid into bed and said, like it was nothing, let’s keep watching.

Piling his bags on the kitchen table, Lekman is certain that if his father hadn’t died, Fernanda wouldn’t have come back. And from then on they hadn’t mentioned any more visits. Seeing the receipts on the living room table, just as he’d left them a few hours ago, he feels as if he’d woken up from a night- or month-long dream and he calls her for the first time in a long time.

She answers sleepily and asks what’s up, if he called for anything in particular. He says no, he just wanted to talk, and tells her what happened with the Asian from the supermarket, he doesn’t understand how he could do something like that, so cruel, and about the bar, and the weird taxi driver who took him home. One of the journalists walked outside with me and kept insisting on giving me a ride. A taxi came along twenty minutes later, slow, and another behind it, also free, but much faster. So fast that he passed the other and slammed on the brakes right in front of him. It was a model he’d never seen before. The taxi behind pulled up next to the other one and insulted the driver, who just stared ahead in silence until the other one got fed up and drove off, laying on the horn for the rest of the block. “A night like this, nobody cuts you any slack,” he said, shifting into first gear just as the other taxi turned the corner. Lekman could have sworn he was a paralytic, and he drove pushing and pulling levers with his hands. He sat behind, half asleep, and a late night radio announcer asked in which episode of a movie saga did some event occur and the driver turned and said, out of his mind: “In the third, when they put an oxygen tank inside its mouth for the shark to swallow and then they shoot it, ha, and it explodes, ha… I love that part!”, he said, says Lekman, and Fernanda laughs and says something about taxi drivers in London.

Then he asks if she’s on her way out, it must be nine in the morning there. Yes, it’s nine, but she was sleeping, says Fernanda. Ah, of course, today is Saturday, he says, otherwise you’d already be eating breakfast. And before the last syllable is out of his mouth he regrets sounding like a maniac who knows her routine and shadows her through the streets every day. It doesn’t seem to bother her. She laughs drowsily and says don’t pay too much attention to the receipts, that, for example, she doesn’t go to Starbucks that often and most of the time she doesn’t eat breakfast. She gets the receipt from a Romanian friend who works as at one of the branches.  And that’s why there are so many Starbuck’s receipts, because the truth is, she says, there are times when I don’t remember what I spent the money on, or I lose the receipts, you know how hopeless I am with this kind of thing. And Lekman feels something crumbling to pieces, falling from somewhere, a wordless phrase careening through his body.

He catches his breath and asks how her project is going, something he has almost never done in all this time. While she talks, Lekman realizes he doesn’t recognize any of the names she mentions and barely understands the words she uses. He lets her go on and then asks about the Turk. He’s good, she says, everything’s great. He asks if she knows him personally. Yes, of course, Fernanda says, that’s why I came here, in a way, besides, the University has an extensive library and they give me access to everything. Lekman asks her what he looks like in person and she answers that she wouldn’t know how to describe him.

He remembers how she approached him at the beginning, at the first interview, how they saw each other in various exhibitions, in talks, in workshops. After one of these, they went out to eat. It was late, after midnight, and he took her to a cantina for taxi drivers. He figured he’d lose any chance he had but he took her anyway, testing her a little, and also because he was hungry and when he’s hungry he gets irritable. And she enveloped him in art theory, with ideas about his own art, with new points of view and keys to understanding different artist’s works, and even encouraged him to consider other painters, many of whom Lekman, who was fairly conservative, perhaps because he was self-thought, rejected until then.

He hangs up and jumps into bed; he can’t sleep. He gets up again and gets undressed. Juana gave him the T-shirt he’s been wearing all day, since he woke up at his country house, at least ten years ago. But it is still in good condition, laid out on the TV under a pair of pants with mud-crusted cuffs. He’s lying down with his eyes open. He puts music on and gets back in bed. He starts, twice, imagining a phone is ringing; maybe it’s Fernanda, wanting to talk more, or, for some mysterious reason, Juana.

Lekman still can’t sleep. He takes a shower and puts on the same clothes he wore last night. He goes to the kitchen, empties the shopping bags. The half-dozen eggs he bought are broken. He opens the humid, viscous carton and sees red stains, blood in the thick mixture of yolk, whites, and some feathers. He remembers the farm chickens. He puts the kettle on. He’s about to make coffee when he realizes he forgot to buy it. It’s quarter to nine. By now Fernanda must have already had breakfast, or at least gotten out of bed.

At five past nine he walks up to the supermarket entrance, but it’s Saturday, and it doesn’t open until ten. After waiting on the curb a while, he jumps up and heads for the public hospital in the neighborhood, four blocks away. He asks at the information desk if an Asian patient came in early last night. The nurse says she wouldn’t know what to tell him, that if she said anything she’d be lying. Another nurse behind the desk says that she was filling in a shift for a coworker and that she heard about someone coming in alone around eight or nine. Even though it wasn’t anything serious, the doctor who examined him asked him to stay the night under observation. And when they tried to get his personal information, he ran off, so he was definitely illegal, or couldn’t have been hurt that bad. While he’s going down the stairs, Lekman’s vision clouds over, maybe because of the mix of anesthesia and disinfectant he’s been breathing.

Employees have already started to crowd around the entrance to the supermarket, waiting for the manager with the key. He’s afraid they’ll recognize him if he stands around in plain sight so he walks around the block. It’s open when he comes back. He grabs some crackers, milk and a half-kilo of coffee. The cashier is the same one from last night and when she gives him his change, she acknowledges him with impersonal warmth. He can’t take his eyes off her, and asks if everything’s alright. She says yes, but he’s still uneasy and leans in a little more and asks her again if everything is O.K., if she’s sure, now gazing over the entire supermarket with a look that ends up lost in the door to the stockroom. No problem, sir, she says, annoyed with his insistence.

Translation by Chris Wait

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