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Floozman and the Traveling Entertainers

by Bertrand Cayzac

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part 1

Fred Looseman used to be the head risk assessor at World Wide Credit Corporation and the chairman of the Anti-Money Laundering Commission. Now he works as an automated teller machine repairman.

Sometimes he hears voices, and sometimes what he hears moves him to tears. His bank account overflows with the money of deliverance, and he becomes a financial super-hero: Floozman.

“With a scandalous abundance, he brings deliverance.”

As he did every Sunday morning, Cyril Handlebar left his wife and children to run the fifteen kilometers he considered a bare minimum.

The exercise was putting his willpower to the test. Looking down on the nameless resistances that still held him in a dreadful half-sleep, he had executed the optimal sequence of actions standing in the way of his exit — without neglecting the vital balanced breakfast — and had rushed out in spite of the rain.

His reward wasn’t long in coming. By the second mile, by the north interchange, his strength and serenity were returning as usual.

These were measured forces, as well deserved as anything he had ever achieved. Often, at the very moment when effort was becoming easy, he was feeling above himself, able to see his own compact body in motion.

He was feeling his agile spirit ready for the strategic and tactical calculations required to stay in control. Minimize the time devoted to the 80 percent of the tasks that accounted for only 20 percent of his personal productivity; reserve time for reflection; submit his business plan before the next executive committee meeting; free up one evening per week for the kids; support the oldest one of them in preparing for engineering school; reduce his cholesterol rate; eat vegetables; keep his heart and memory in good condition; and not die.

Of course this vitality allowed him mainly to meet his number one objective: personal growth. What else could he want for himself and his family? This train of thought, which often occupied him along Route 9, led him invariably to anxious love dreams: when would he at last take up with Petula again, and how?

It was at the bridge across the highway, just before the water sports complex, that he usually began to tire. The challenge of the home stretch focused his mind and energy on the victory he had to win against himself.

But that morning, insidiously, Cyril dreaded crossing the large beet fields beyond which the Plouvigny suburbs began.

This is probably why, when he tilted his head slightly sideways as though to avoid looking at the obstacle, that he caught sight of the trailers below, on the side of the highway. Stimulated by torrents of endorphins, his cortex recorded the image with clarity and repulsion: around a tin brazier, a little girl and a tanned old man were eating corn on the cob. All around them the camp was asleep except for a dog hopping around a box on which was perched a torn umbrella.

Zachariah Zai stared at the girl, who was busily sucking the butter from the tender grains of corn. Behind her was the line of concrete pillars supporting the bridge. In the background, the vast beet fields stretched out. Beyond them was the entry to the suburb, this suburb he had sworn never to return to. And who would want to go there, or anywhere else in this country?

This is the end, Zachariah says to himself. He doesn’t care much about his own end. He has been imagining for decades the side of the road by the interchange, where his route would end. He feared it no more than he feared the wind or the cold. But he saw no beginning for little Preciosa, nor for any of the others. In the silence that isolated them, he closed his eyes for a moment — so short a time that she won’t notice, he thought.

That instant was enough for him to appear before the centuries and ancestors who began his wandering and about whom he knew nothing.

When Cyril regained his stride, he was overcome by dizziness. Was he having heart trouble? He stopped to look at the liquid crystal screen on his biometrical read-out. Each crystal was rigorously following its cluster’s electromagnetic field; the seven-segment display was delivering the value computed by the micro-processor on the basis of signals received from the sensors. The readings were good.

However, Cyril felt worse. He had gnawing pains in his chest, signs of a heart attack. The sudden closeness of death made his blood run cold. As he collapsed onto the railing, he looked around with the gaze of a trapped animal, his eyeballs bulging with panic. At that instant, everything was transformed or, rather, revealed. Indeed, Cyril had always known the miserable world his path crossed but had never seen it clearly.

Around them an ocean of matter was dying from repetition.

The chaotic mist covering the area, loosely woven with simple molecules, gave the washed-out sky three shades of grey. Above the sky, interstellar space extended as far as necessary.

Below, the beets were expressing the same genes at the same rate along straight and endless furrows.

Further down, the ground was homogeneous and stripped of grass and stones, nourished with balanced fertilizer. There was surely no Hell.

From the first warehouses to the grounds surrounding the water sports complex, cement, asphalt, and concrete were immutably clotting the river’s stones. In deserted warehouses and business offices, rolled up on hard disks, immense files of binary magnetic charges were sleeping. They were the data that would allow beets to be transported, concrete to be stockpiled, or human resources to be managed.

The blackout did not come. Cyril stood sweating above the railing. He thought of Petula naked and still asleep, barely protected from the void of the fields by the thickness of a cheap housing project’s wall.

His bright white sneakers and the solid blue synthetic fibres of his track suit were doing violence to this weary grey universe. He seemed to have stepped out of some TV program showing a green-turfed stadium and scoreboards.

Zachariah Zai had seen landscapes disappear. Space extended all around him like ugly wallpaper, impenetrable as a wall despite the horizon scoffing at him. He hadn’t told the families yet, but he could not find anywhere to go. The district demanded that they leave this land. The police would not be long in expelling them, and they would not be able to go any farther than the large shanty town at Verugny.

This was the end. They would not be on the road anymore. The old would die off, forgotten in hospitals. The old men would still survive on the suburb fringes with no victories and no plunder. Their sisters would follow. Their children would go to school for years and become truly poor.

His eyes closed, Zachariah knew that Preciosa was waiting respectfully for him to speak a reassuring word to her. Overwhelmed by grief, prostrate, he prolonged his meditation, imperceptibly bowing his head.

* * *

To be continued...

Copyright © 2008 by Bertrand Cayzac

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