A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.




 

El Otro - Un mate de plata con pie de serpientes
Wednesday, July 06, 2016




I took the above photograph of Irma in 2013 in Buenos Aires. There are few good poems in Spanish about the mate (a mate gourd). This lovely story by Jorge Luís Borges mentions a silver mate with serpent feet. When I photographed Irma in Nora Patrich’s house in Bellavista in Buenos Aires I could have found such an item as Patrich has an extensive collection of mates. But at the time I did not know about El Otro. So this picture will do just fine, I believe.


El Otro

Por Jorge Luis Borges

El hecho ocurrió el mes de febrero de 1969, al norte de Boston, en Cambridge. No lo escribí inmediatamente porque mi primer propósito fue olvidarlo, para no perder la razón. Ahora, en 1972, pienso que si lo escribo, los otros lo leerán como un cuento y, con los años, lo será tal vez para mí. Sé que fue casi atroz mientras duró y más aún durante las desveladas noches que lo siguieron. Ello no significa que su relato pueda conmover a un tercero.

Serían las diez de la mañana. Yo estaba recostado en un banco, frente al río Charles. A unos quinientos metros a mi derecha había un alto edificio, cuyo nombre no supe nunca. El agua gris acarreaba largos trozos de hielo. Inevitablemente, el río hizo que yo pensara en el tiempo. La milenaria imagen de Heráclito. Yo había dormido bien, mi clase de la tarde anterior había logrado, creo, interesar a los alumnos. No había un alma a la vista.

Sentí de golpe la impresión (que según los psicólogos corresponde a los estados de fatiga) de haber vivido ya aquel momento. En la otra punta de mi banco alguien se había sentado. Yo hubiera preferido estar solo, pero no quise levantarme en seguida, para no mostrarme incivil. El otro se había puesto a silbar. Fue entonces cuando ocurrió la primera de las muchas zozobras de esa mañana. Lo que silbaba, lo que trataba de silbar (nunca he sido muy entonado), era el estilo criollo de La tapera de Elías Regules. El estilo me retrajo a un patio, que ha desaparecido, y la memoria de Alvaro Melián Lafinur, que hace tantos años ha muerto. Luego vinieron las palabras. Eran las de la décima del principio. La voz no era la de Álvaro, pero quería parecerse a la de Alvaro. La reconocí con horror.

Me le acerqué y le dije:
-Señor, ¿usted es oriental o argentino?
-Argentino, pero desde el catorce vivo en Ginebra -fue la contestación.
Hubo un silencio largo. Le pregunté:
-¿En el número diecisiete de Malagnou, frente a la iglesia rusa?
Me contestó que si.
-En tal caso -le dije resueltamente- usted se llama Jorge Luis Borges. Yo también soy Jorge Luis Borges. Estamos en 1969, en la ciudad de Cambridge.
-No -me respondió con mi propia voz un poco lejana.
Al cabo de un tiempo insistió:
-Yo estoy aquí en Ginebra, en un banco, a unos pasos del Ródano. Lo raro es que nos parecemos, pero usted es mucho mayor, con la cabeza gris.
Yo le contesté:
-Puedo probarte que no miento. Voy a decirte cosas que no puede saber un desconocido. En casa hay un mate de plata con un pie de serpientes, que trajo de Perú nuestro bisabuelo. También hay una palangana de plata, que pendía del arzón. En el armario de tu cuarto hay dos filas de libros. Los tres de volúmenes de Las mil y una noches de Lane, con grabados en acero y notas en cuerpo menor entre capítulo, el diccionario latino de Quicherat, la Germania de Tácito en latín y en la versión de Gordon, un Don Quijote de la casa Garnier, las Tablas de Sangre de Rivera Indarte, con la dedicatoria del autor, el Sartor Resartus de Carlyle, una biografía de Amiel y, escondido detrás de los demás, un libro en rústica sobre las costumbres sexuales de los pueblos balkánicos. No he olvidado tampoco un atardecer en un primer piso en la plaza Dubourg.

-Dufour -corrigió.
-Esta bien. Dufour. ¿Te basta con todo eso?
-No -respondió-. Esas pruebas no prueban nada. Si yo lo estoy soñando, es natural que sepa lo que yo sé. Su catálogo prolijo es del todo vano.
La objeción era justa. Le contesté:
-Si esta mañana y este encuentro son sueños, cada uno de los dos tiene que pensar que el soñador es él. Tal vez dejemos de soñar, tal vez no. Nuestra evidente obligación, mientras tanto, es aceptar el sueño, como hemos aceptado el universo y haber sido engendrados y mirar con los ojos y respirar.
-¿Y si el sueño durara? -dijo con ansiedad.
Para tranquilizarlo y tranquilizarme, fingí un aplomo que ciertamente no sentía. Le dije:
-Mi sueño ha durado ya setenta años. Al fin y al cabo, al recordarse, no hay persona que no se encuentre consigo misma. Es lo que nos está pasando ahora, salvo que somos dos. ¿No querés saber algo de mi pasado, que es el porvenir que te espera?
Asintió sin una palabra. Yo proseguí un poco perdido:
-Madre está sana y buena en su casa de Charcas y Maipú, en Buenos Aires, pero padre murió hace unos treinta años. Murió del corazón. Lo acabó una hemiplejía; la mano izquierda puesta sobre la mano derecha era como la mano de un niño sobre la mano de un gigante. Murió con impaciencia de morir, pero sin una queja. Nuestra abuela había muerto en la misma casa. Unos días antes del fin, nos llamo a todos y nos dijo: "Soy una mujer muy vieja, que está muriéndose muy despacio. Que nadie se alborote por una cosa tan común y corriente."Norah, tu hermana, se casó y tiene dos hijos. A propósito, ¿en casa como están?
-Bien. Padre siempre con sus bromas contra la fe. Anoche dijo que Jesús era como los gauchos, que no quieren comprometerse, y que por eso predicaba en parábolas.
Vaciló y me dijo:
-¿Y usted?
No sé la cifra de los libros que escribirás, pero sé que son demasiados. Escribirás poesías que te darán un agrado no compartido y cuentos de índole fantástica. Darás clases como tu padre y como tantos otros de nuestra sangre. Me agradó que nada me preguntara sobre el fracaso o éxito de los libros.
Cambié. Cambié de tono y proseguí:
-En lo que se refiere a la historia... Hubo otra guerra, casi entre los mismos antagonistas. Francia no tardó en capitular; Inglaterra y América libraron contra un dictador alemán, que se llamaba Hitler, la cíclica batalla de Waterllo. Buenos Aires, hacía mil novecientos cuarenta y seis, engendró otro Rosas, bastante parecido a nuestro pariente. El cincuenta y cinco, la provincia de Córdoba nos salvó, como antes Entre Ríos. Ahora, las cosas andan mal. Rusia está apoderándose del planeta; América, trabada por la superstición de la democracia, no se resuelve a ser un imperio. Cada día que pasa nuestro país es más provinciano. Más provinciano y más engreído, como si cerrara los ojos. No me sorprendería que la enseñanza del latín fuera reemplazada por la del guaraní.
Noté que apenas me prestaba atención. El miedo elemental de lo imposible y sin embargo cierto lo amilanaba. Yo, que no he sido padre, sentí por ese pobre muchacho, más íntimo que un hijo de mi carne, una oleada de amor. Vi que apretaba entre las manos un libro. Le pregunté qué era.
-Los poseídos o, según creo, Los demonios de Fyodor Dostoievski -me replicó no sin vanidad.
-Se me ha desdibujado. ¿Que tal es?

No bien lo dije, sentí que la pregunta era una blasfemia.
-El maestro ruso -dictaminó- ha penetrado más que nadie en los laberintos del alma eslava.
Esa tentativa retórica me pareció una prueba de que se había serenado.
Le pregunté qué otros volúmenes del maestro había recorrido.
Enumeró dos o tres, entre ellos El doble.

Le pregunté si al leerlos distinguía bien los personajes, como en el caso de Joseph Conrad, y si pensaba proseguir el examen de la obra completa.
-La verdad es que no -me respondió con cierta sorpresa.
Le pregunté qué estaba escribiendo y me dijo que preparaba un libro de versos que se titularía Los himnos rojos. También había pensado en Los ritmos rojos.
-¿Por qué no? -le dije-. Podés alegar buenos antecedentes. El verso azul de Rubén Darío y la canción gris de Verlaine.

Sin hacerme caso, me aclaró que su libro cantaría la fraternidad de todos lo hombres. El poeta de nuestro tiempo no puede dar la espalda a su época. Me quedé pensando y le pregunté si verdaderamente se sentía hermano de todos. Por ejemplo, de todos los empresarios de pompas fúnebres, de todos los carteros, de todos buzos, de todos los que viven en la acera de los números pares, de todos los afónicos, etcétera. Me dijo que su libro se refería a la gran masa de los oprimidos y parias.

-Tu masa de oprimidos y de parias -le contesté- no es más que una abstracción. Sólo los individuos existen, si es que existe alguien. El hombre de ayer no es el hombre de hoy sentencio algún griego. Nosotros dos, en este banco de Ginebra o de Cambridge, somos tal vez la prueba.
Salvo en las severas páginas de la Historia, los hechos memorables prescinden de frases memorables. Un hombre a punto de morir quiere acordarse de un grabado entrevisto en la infancia; los soldados que están por entrar en la batalla hablan del barro o del sargento. Nuestra situación era única y, francamente, no estábamos preparados. Hablamos, fatalmente, de letras; temo no haber dicho otras cosas que las que suelo decir a los periodistas. Mi alter ego creía en la invención o descubrimiento de metáforas nuevas; yo en las que corresponden a afinidades íntimas y notorias y que nuestra imaginación ya ha aceptado. La vejez de los hombres y el ocaso, los sueños y la vida, el correr del tiempo y del agua. Le expuse esta opinión, que expondría en un libro años después.
 Casi no me escuchaba. De pronto dijo:

-Si usted ha sido yo, ¿cómo explicar que haya olvidado su encuentro con un señor de edad que en 1918 le dijo que él también era Borges?
No había pensado en esa dificultad. Le respondí sin convicción:
-Tal vez el hecho fue tan extraño que traté de olvidarlo.

Aventuró una tímida pregunta:
-¿Cómo anda su memoria?
Comprendí que para un muchacho que no había cumplido veinte años; un hombre de más de setenta era casi un muerto. Le contesté:
-Suele parecerse al olvido, pero todavía encuentra lo que le encargan.
Estudio anglosajón y no soy el último de la clase.
Nuestra conversación ya había durado demasiado para ser la de un sueño.

Una brusca idea se me ocurrió.
-Yo te puedo probar inmediatamente -le dije- que no estás soñando conmigo.
Oí bien este verso, que no has leído nunca, que yo recuerde.
Lentamente entoné la famosa línea:
L'hydre - univers tordant son corps écaillé d'astres. Sentí su casi temeroso estupor. Lo repitió en voz baja, saboreando cada resplandeciente palabra.

-Es verdad -balbuceó-. Yo no podré nunca escribir una línea como ésa.

Hugo nos había unido.
Antes, él había repetido con fervor, ahora lo recuerdo, aquella breve pieza en que Walt Whitman rememora una compartida noche ante el mar, en que fue realmente feliz.
-Si Whitman la ha cantado -observé- es porque la deseaba y no sucedió. El poema gana si adivinamos que es la manifestación de un anhelo, no la historia de un hecho.

Se quedó mirándome.
-Usted no lo conoce -exclamó-. Whitman es capaz de mentir.

Medio siglo no pasa en vano. Bajo nuestra conversación de personas de miscelánea lectura y gustos diversos, comprendí que no podíamos entendernos.
Eramos demasiado distintos y demasiado parecidos. No podíamos engañarnos, lo cual hace difícil el dialogo. Cada uno de los dos era el remendo cricaturesco del otro. La situación era harto anormal para durar mucho más tiempo. Aconsejar o discutir era inútil, porque su inevitable destino era ser el que soy.

De pronto recordé una fantasía de Coleridge. Alguien sueña que cruza el paraíso y le dan como prueba una flor. Al despertarse, ahí está la flor. Se me ocurrió un artificio análogo.
-Oí -le dije-, ¿tenés algún dinero?

-Sí - me replicó-. Tengo unos veinte francos. Esta noche lo convidé a Simón Jichlinski en el Crocodile.
-Dile a Simón que ejercerá la medicina en Carouge, y que hará mucho bien... ahora, me das una de tus monedas.

Sacó tres escudos de plata y unas piezas menores. Sin comprender me ofreció uno de los primeros.
Yo le tendí uno de esos imprudentes billetes americanos que tienen muy diverso valor y el mismo tamaño. Lo examinó con avidez.

-No puede ser -gritó-. Lleva la fecha de mil novecientos sesenta y cuatro. (Meses después alguien me dijo que los billetes de banco no llevan fecha.)
-Todo esto es un milagro -alcanzó a decir- y lo milagroso da miedo. Quienes fueron testigos de la resurrección de Lázaro habrán quedado horrorizados. No hemos cambiado nada, pensé. Siempre las referencias librescas.
Hizo pedazos el billete y guardó la moneda.

Yo resolví tirarla al río. El arco del escudo de plata perdiéndose en el río de plata hubiera conferido a mi historia una imagen vívida, pero la suerte no lo quiso.
Respondí que lo sobrenatural, si ocurre dos veces, deja de ser aterrador. Le propuse que nos viéramos al día siguiente, en ese mismo banco que está en dos tiempos y en dos sitios.
Asintió en el acto y me dijo, sin mirar el reloj, que se le había hecho tarde. Los dos mentíamos y cada cual sabía que su interlocutor estaba mintiendo. Le dije que iban a venir a buscarme.

-¿A buscarlo? -me interrogó.
-Sí. Cuando alcances mi edad habrás perdido casi por completo la vista.
Verás el color amarillo y sombras y luces. No te preocupes. La ceguera gradual no es una cosa trágica. Es como un lento atardecer de verano. Nos despedimos sin habernos tocado. Al día siguiente no fui. EL otro tampoco habrá ido.

He cavilado mucho sobre este encuentro, que no he contado a nadie. Creo haber descubierto la clave. El encuentro fue real, pero el otro conversó conmigo en un sueño y fue así que pudo olvidarme; yo conversé con él en la vigilia y todavía me atormenta el encuentro.
El otro me soñó, pero no me soñó rigurosamente. Soñó, ahora lo entiendo, la imposible fecha en el dólar.




The Other
By Jorge Luis Borges

The incident occurred in February, 1969, in Cambridge, north of Boston. I didn't write about it then because my foremost objective at the time was to put it out of my mind, so as not to go insane. Now, in 1972, it strikes me that if I do write about what happened, people will read it as a story and in time I, too, may be able to see it as one.
I know that it was almost horrific while it lasted — and it grew worse yet through the sleepless nights that followed. That does not mean that anyone else will be stirred by my telling of it.
It was about ten o'clock in the morning. I was sitting comfortable on a bench beside the Charles River. Some five hundred yards to my right there was a tall building whose name I never learned. Large chunks of ice were floating down the gray current. Inevitably, the river made me think of time… Heraclitus' ancient image. I had slept well; the class I'd given the previous evening had, I think, managed to interest students. There was not a soul in sight.
Suddenly, I had the sense (which psychologists tell us is associated with states of fatigue) that I had lived this moment before. Someone had sat down on the other end of my bench. I'd have preferred to be alone, but I didn't want to get up immediately for fear of seeming rude. The other man has started whistling. At that moment there occurred the first of the many shocks that morning was to bring me. What the man was whistling — or trying to whistle (I have never been able to carry a tune)— was the popular Argentine milonga La tapera, by Elías Regules. The tune carried me back to a patio that no longer exists and to the memory of Alvaro Melián Lafinur, who died so many years ago. Then there came the words. They were the words of the décima that begins the song. The voice was not Alvaro's but it tried to imitate Alvaro's. I recognized it with horror.
I turned to the man and spoke.
"Are you Uruguayan or Argentine?"
"Argentine, but I've been living in Geneva since '14," came the reply.
There was a long silence. Then I asked a second question.
"At number seventeen Malagnou, across the street from the Russian Orthodox Church?"
He nodded.
"In that case," I resolutely said to him, "your name is Jorge Luis Borges. I too am Jorge Luis Borges. We are in 1969, in the city of Cambridge."
"No," he answered in my own, slightly distant, voice, "I am here in Geneva, on a bench, a few steps from the Rhône."
Then, after a moment, he went on:
"It is odd that we look so much alike, but you are much older that I, and you have gray hair."
"I can prove to you that I speak the truth," I answered. "I'll tell you things that a stranger couldn't know. In our house there's a silver mate cup with a base of serpents that our great-grandfather brought from Peru. There's also a silver washbasin that was hung from the saddle. In the wardrobe closet in your room, there are two rows of books: the three volumes of Lane's translation of the Thousand and One Nights—which Lane called The Arabian Nights Entertainment—with steel engravings and notes in fine print between the chapters, Quicherat's Latin dictionary, Tacitus' Germania in Latin and in Gordon's English version, a Quixote in the Garnier edition, a copy of Rivera Indarte's Tablas de sangre signed by the author, Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, a biography of Amiel, and, hidden behind the others, a paperbound volume detailing the sexual customs of the Balkans. Nor have I forgotten a certain afternoon in a second-floor apartment on the Plaza Dubourg."
"Dufour," he corrected me.
"All right, Dufour," I said. "Is that enough for you?"
"No," he replied. "Those 'proofs' of yours prove nothing. If I'm dreaming you, it's only natural that you would know what I know. That long-winded catalog of yours is perfectly unavailing."
His objection was a fair one.
"If this morning and this encounter are dreams," I replied, "then each of us does have to think that he alone is the dreamer. Perhaps our dream will end, perhaps it won't. Meanwhile, our clear obligation is to accept the dream, as we have accepted the universe and our having been brought into it and the fact that we see with our eyes and that we breathe."
"But what if the dream should last?" he asked anxiously.
In order to calm him—and calm myself, as well—I feigned a self-assurance I was far from truly feeling.
"My dream," I told him—"has already lasted for seventy years. And besides—when one wakes up, the person one meets is always oneself. That is what's happening to us now, except that we are two. Wouldn't you like to know something about my past, which is now the future that awaits you?"
He nodded wordlessly. I went on, a bit hesitatingly:
"Mother is well, living happily in her house in Buenos Aires, on the corner of Charcas and Maipú, but Father died some thirty years ago. It was his heart. He had had a stroke—that was what finally killed him. When he laid his left hand over his right, it was like a child's hand resting atop a giant's. He died impatient for death, but without a word of complaint. Our grand-mother had died in the same house. Several days before the end, she called us all in and told us, 'I am old, old woman, dying very slowly. I won't have anyone making a fuss over such a common, ordinary thing as that.' Norah, your sister, is married and has two children. By the way—at home, how is everyone?"
"Fine. Father still always making his jokes against religion. Last night he said Jesus was like the gauchos, who'll never commit themselves, which is why He spoke in parables."
He thought for a moment, and then asked: "What about you?"
"I'm not sure exactly how many books you'll write, but I know there are too many. You'll write poetry that will give you a pleasure that others will not fully share, and stories of a fantastic turn. You will be a teacher—like your father, and like so many others of our blood."
I am glad he didn't ask me about the success or failure of the books. I then changed my tack.
"As for history… There was another war, with virtually the same antagonists. France soon capitulated; England and America battled a German dictator name Hitler—the cyclical Battle of Waterloo. Buenos Aires engendered another Rosas in 1946, much like our kinsman, the first one.* In '55, the province of Córdoba saved us, as Entre Ríos had before. Things are bad now. Russia is taking over the planet; America, hobbled by the superstition of democracy, can't make up its mind to be an empire. Our own country is more provincial with every passing day—more provincial and more self-important, as though it has shut its eyes. I shouldn't be surprised if the teaching of Latin were replaced by the teaching of Guaraní."
I realized that he was barely listening. The elemental fear of the impossible yet true had come over him, and he was daunted. I, who have never been a father, felt a wave of love for the poor young man who was dearer to me than a child of my own flesh an blood. I saw that his hands were clutching the book. I asked what he was reading.
"The Possessed—or, I think would be better, The Devils, by Fyodor Dostoievsky," he answered without vanity.
"It's a bit hazy to me now. Is it any good?"
The words were hardly our of my mouth when I sensed that the question was blasphemous.
"The great Russian writer," he affirmed sententiously, "has penetrated more deeply than any other man into the labyrinths of the Slavic soul."
I took that rhetorical pronouncement as evidence that he had grown calmer.
I asked him what other works by Dostoievsky he had read.
He ticked off two of three, among them The Double.
I asked him whether he could tell the difference between the characters when he read, as one could wish Joseph Conrad, and whether he planned to read on through Dostoievsky's entire corpus.
"The truth is, I don't," he answered with a slight note of surprise.
I asked him what he himself was writing, and he told me he was working on a book of poetry called Red Anthems. He'd also thought about calling it Red Rhythms or Red Songs.
"Why not?" I said. "You can cite good authority for it—Rubén Darío's blue poetry and Verlaine's gray song."
Ignoring this, he clarified what he's meant—his book would be a hymn to the brotherhood of all mankind. The modern poet cannot turn his back on his age.
I thought about this for a while, and then asked if he really felt that he was brother to every living person—every undertaker, for example? every letter carrier? every undersea diver, everybody that lives on the even-numbered side of the street, all the people with laryngitis? (The list could go on.) He said his book would address the great oppressed and outcast masses.
"Your oppressed and outcast masses," I replied, "are nothing but an abstraction. Only individuals exist—if, in fact, anyone does. Yesterday's man is not today's, as some Greek said. We two, here on this bench in Geneva or in Cambridge, are perhaps the proof of that."
Except in the austere pages of history, memorable events go unaccompanied by memorable phrases. A man about to die tries to recall a print that he glimpsed in his childhood; soldiers about to go into battle talk about the mud or their sergeant. Our situation was unique and, frankly, we were unprepared. We talked, inevitably, about literature; I fear I said no more than I customarily say to journalists. My alter ego believed in imagination, in creation—in the discovery of new metaphors; I myself believed in those that correspond to close and widely acknowledged likeness, those our imagination has already accepted: old age and death, dreams and life, the flow of time and water. I informed the young man of this opinion, which he himself was to express in a book, years later.
But he was barely listening. Then suddenly, he spoke.
"If you have been me, how can you explain the fact that you've forgotten that you once encountered an elderly gentleman who in 1918 told you that he, too was Borges?"
I hadn't thought of that difficulty. I answered with conviction.
"Perhaps the incident was so odd that I made an effort to forget it."
He ventured a timid question.
"How's your memory?"
I realized that for a mere boy not yet twenty, a man of seventy some-odd years was practically a corpse.
"It's often much like forgetfulness," I answered, "but it can still find what it's sent to find. I'm studying Anglo-Saxon, and I'm not at the foot of the class."
By this time our conversation had lasted too long to be a conversation in a dream.
I was struck by a sudden idea.
"I can prove to you this minute," I said, "that you aren't dreaming me. Listen to this line of poetry. So far as I can recall, you've never heard it before."
I slowly intoned the famous line: "L'hydre-univers tordant son corps écaillé d'astre."
I could sense his almost fear-stricken bafflement. He repeated the line softly, savoring each glowing word.
"It's true," he stammered, "I could never write a line like that."
Hugo had brought us together.
I now recall that shortly before this, he had fervently recited that short poem in which Whitman recall a night shared beside the sea—a night when Whitman had been truly happy.
"If Whitman sang of that night," I observed, "it's because he desired it but it never happened. The poem gains in greatness if we sense that it is the expression of a desire, a longing, rather than the narration of an event."
He stared at me.
"You don't know him," he exclaimed. "Whitman is incapable of falsehood."
A half century does not pass without leaving its mark. Beneath our conversation, the conversation of two men of miscellaneous reading and diverse tastes, I realized that we would not find common ground. We were too different, yet too alike. We could not deceive one another, and that makes conversation hard. Each of us was almost a caricature of the other. The situation was too unnatural to last much longer. There was no point in giving advice, no point in arguing, because the young man's inevitable fate was to be the man that I am now.
Suddenly I recalled a fantasy by Coleridge. A man dreams that he is in paradise, and he is given a flower as a proof. When he wakes up, there is the flower.
I hit upon an analogous stratagem.
"Listen," I said, "do you have any money?"
"Yes," he replied. "About twenty francs. I invited Simón Jichlinski to have dinner with me at the Crocodile tonight."
"Tell Simón that he'll practice medicine in Carouge, and that he will do a great deal of good… now, give me one of your coins."
He took three silver pieces and several smaller coins out of his pocket. He held out one of the silver pieces to me; he didn't understand.
I handed him one of those ill-advised American bills that are all of the same size though of very different denominations. He exclaimed it avidly.
"Impossible!" he cried. "It's dated 1964."
(Months later someone told me that banknotes are not dated.)
"This, all this, is a miracle," he managed to say. "And the miraculous inspires fear. Those who witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus must have been terrified."
We haven't changed a bit, I thought. Always referring back to books.
He tore the bill to shreds and put the coin in his pocket.
I had wanted to throw the coin he gave me in the river. The arc of the silver coin disappearing into the silver river would have lent my story a vivid image, but fate would not have it.
I replied that the supernatural, if it happens twice, is no longer terrifying; I suggested that we meet again the next day, on that same bench that existed in two times and two places.
He immediately agreed, then said, without looking at his watch, that it was getting late, he had to be going. Both of us were lying, and each of us knew that the other one was lying. I told him that someone was coming to fetch me.
"Fetch you?" he queried.
"Yes. When you reach my age, you'll have almost totally lost your eyesight. You'll be able to see the color yellow, and light and shadow. But don't worry. Gradual blindness is not tragic. It's like the slowly growing darkness of a summer evening."
We parted without having touched one another. The next day, I did not go to the bench. The other man probably didn't, either.
I have thought a great deal about this encounter, which I've never told anyone about. I believe I have discovered the key to it. The encounter was real, but the other man spoke to me in a dream, which was why he could forget me; I spoke to him while I was awake, and so I am still tormented by the memory.
The other man dreamed me, but did not dream me rigorously—he dreamed, I now realize, the impossible date on that dollar bill.




     

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