The One Before - EXCERPT
Hands and Planets
Barco’s familiar and skillful fingers un-screwed the chrome top of the saltshaker, dumped the salt onto the tablecloth and then, under Tomatis’ tranquil but astonished gaze, began to scatter it, his fingertips pressing onto the grains and turning slowly to fully spread out that little white mountain on the blue cloth. Barco’s fingertips had an extraordinarily peculiar shape: they were oval and tapered—they looked like the classical representation of a teardrop. In the whole world there couldn’t have been another pair of hands with fingertips like that, and Tomatis would have recognized them immediately from anywhere.
“Probably,” said Barco, “in many of these grains of salt there are Ancient Greeces where Heraclitus is thinking that the events of the world are the product of a game of dice played by children.”
“Probably,” said Tomatis.
“Last night on television I saw the latest mission to the moon,” said Barco. “No one cares about those missions to the moon anymore. The whole world is convinced that the moon is already a thing of the past, and that science fiction is becoming an anachronism. Fiction can’t keep up with science anymore. Probably, in fifty years everyone will be a scientist, the way that nowadays everybody drives a car.”
“Probably,” said Tomatis, without taking his eyes off of Barco’s fingers, which were now resting on the scattered salt and remained motionless.
“Something strange happened,” Barco said. “Everything was going fine when they were showing the inside of the spaceship and the crew working on the screen. But suddenly they began showing pictures of the Earth as it got farther and farther away, getting smaller every minute, and then everyone watching the television in the bar stopped what they were doing, or started to sit up slowly in their chairs, or to strain their necks, all this trying to keep the Earth closer, contorting themselves to help the Earth stop in its tracks, like when you’re bowling and you twist yourself around so that the ball will follow the imaginary path you’ve laid out for it, you know? We all tried to get this obscene distancing to stop, so that the Earth wouldn’t be erased and disappear forever. I was frozen stiff. And when the voice of the narrator announced that the astronauts could still make out Mexico, we all felt a moment of relief and for a moment we all felt as if we were Mexican: Mexico was the final crest, the highest, mounted by the wave of nothingness that pushed up from behind, the wave of nothingness that, when we could no longer make out Mexico, flooded everything and left it smoother and more uniform than this wall here. Then we all felt sad and confused, a bit frightened, and I don’t think we felt any better when the program about the mission to the moon ended and they cut to the live game at Chacarita Stadium. I’m convinced that last night we broke the identity barrier. Breaking the speed of light or the sound barrier is nothing compared to breaking the barrier of identity. We kept on being erased, until we totally disappeared. We thought that things would stop at some point before they got out of hand, at some point from which we could still make out Mexico, for example, but no, nothing like that, we totally disappeared. And I felt something even more vertiginous: sitting in the chair at the bar, the screen showed me how the Earth had been shrinking, that is, I, the chair, the bar, the screen and the earth on the screen, shrinking, how we were being squeezed by the fist of the cosmos that closed upon us, vertiginously, macerating our bodies and turning them into hardened lava. And I felt it so intensely that I closed my eyes and waited for the walls of the bar to start closing in, subtly, molding the four into a single wall with us inside, in an inconceivable contraction, until the whole Earth had shrunken to the size of little dice with which little children would play out the destiny of the world. Probably, these grilled fish the waiter is bringing are ours.”
“Probably,” said Tomatis, seeing Barco’s familiar fingertips press into the salt and then lift to his thick lips, fingertips that, like no others in the world—and now also because of their flavor—made him think of the solid form of tears.