The Bottom of the Sky - Excerpt
And so, there we are again. Ezra and I. And there we’ll stay.
After telling me the interplanetary whereabouts of my unfortunate father and pointing to the sky of his—suddenly our—room, Ezra sat down on one of the beds, rolled up his pants and showed me, with a fiercely proud smile, two abnormally skinny legs wrapped in harnesses of metal and leather, he stood and said something in a strange accent, punctuating one of the two words with little pants. At first I think Ezra has a speech problem, a disability or, perhaps, another metal apparatus wrapped around his teeth. Or asthma. Or tuberculosis. But then I realize what he’s trying to do: Ezra wants to sound like a foreigner from somewhere very far away. Ezra—the imperfect youngest child arriving on the heels six perfect sisters who are constantly plotting with their mother to undermine a father who never put up a fight—needed to think of himself as alien to all of that. A spy, an infiltrator in the controlled and toxic atmosphere of planet Leventhal. An extraterrestrial who speaks perfect English but can’t ever—or doesn’t really want to—entirely forget the accent of his own planet.
“SCIENCE FICTION!” was what Ezra exclaimed.
And I, of course, knew something of the celestial vicissitudes of gods and mortals in ancient religions. I’d stumbled across the odd crackpot satires of philosophers and patriots. I’d also read novels with heroes who enjoyed traveling to the center and the bottom and the highest places of the world as well as other self-styled “scientific romances,” with wise laboratory men driven mad by their own messianic genius. Or with creators of immortality potions. Or with adventurers discovering lost continents inhabited by dinosaurs. Or with warriors battling invaders from an exotic ocean Empire. And all of them, always, written by men who’d traveled nowhere, for whom just standing up from their desks was a struggle. Men who invented perpetual-motion adventures for little readers who also struggled to escape from the orbits of their homes and parents. [. . .] So—those invisible men and human animals and bellicose tourists from the red planet and flying rockets and voyages into the future via Victorian apparatuses or hypnotic trances—they were, actually, instruction manuals barely hidden inside novels and stories. Instruction manuals to set the future in motion.
“SCIENCE FICTION!” Ezra repeated.
And it was then, for the first time, that I heard, tied together by the umbilical cord of a hyphen (each nourished on the letters and significance of the other) those two words that at first, to me, seemed impossible to bring together in the same environment. Science and Fiction struck me as irreconcilable and contradictory terms, like polar opposites.
Two of the greatest novels in the history of literature (two novels not considered part of any genre, instead, each of them a genre that began and ended in itself; the same would occur years later with the polemical Damitax, which follows, throughout the cosmos, the amorous obsession of an old astronautics professor with a manipulative Venusian adolescent who he clones over and over again hoping that one of the versions will, finally, love him) were, indeed, fantastical and spatial. But they were, above all, classics. Krakhma-Zarr, Ezra’s favorite, narrates the madness of a captain pursuing a mythical cosmic creature from star to star. And Times Without Time, my favorite, was the obsessive tale of the last Martian Mars-El: a traveler who, after ingesting a strange drink distilled from the dust suspended in the melancholic rings of Saturn, returns to the confines of his childhood and, from there, passes through his entire life all over again as if contemplating it from outside, as if he were reading it, as if it were a book composed of many books.
In a way (titles that now I can’t find anywhere on my bookshelves and that seem not to appear in the card catalogues of any library) we were defined by one or the other novel, and by dividing us they made us perfectly complimentary: Ezra was a man of action and I a man of reaction.
Or something like that.
And my reaction to those two magic words—Science and Fiction, suddenly turned into one word with two heads and a single brain—was instantaneous and perfect.
It was as if Ezra were a magician—someone who’d just finished announcing that “For the next trick I’ll need a volunteer”—and I, a more than willing spectator, ready to climb up on the stage and submit myself to anything: to be cut in half, to be the body stuck full of swords, to disappear in a cloud of colorful smoke or inside a magic cabinet decorated with oriental characters and dragons with almond eyes, to float and ascend and lose myself forever in the rafters of a vaudeville theater.
I was—I knew then—someone who’d waited for years to succumb to this illusion that soon came to seem truer and solider and stronger than everything I’d experienced previously.
It’s easy for others—I have no command of that language—to write, and even write well, about the highs and lows of the tides of love. Much more difficult to pinpoint are the ripples on that apparently placid lake that is friendship, at whose center, every now and then, circular and secret storms explode, just for pleasure of, in turn, being eclipsed by a sudden blue sky.
Of one thing I’m certain: with arrival of Ezra in my life (and until his recent and possibly final departure, just a few days ago, again, The Incident) everything seemed to accelerate.
And, looking back on it, everything I’ve said up until now (all my false starts, all my repetitions, all my clumsy statements about the genre, and all the absurd attempts to translate the elusive texture of time and space into letters) changes sign and language.
Because with Ezra’s entrance into my life I have arrived, at last, to another planet.