The magistrate, who had spent his life in conspiracy, corruption, debauchery, forging chronicles and destroying evidence, left the city with some strong wooden poles, nails, and ropes, and climbed a hill close by. The city applauded this seeming act of repentance. The road workers, carters and pilgrims watched him erect the large crucifix silhouetted against the twilight sky. The magistrate camped there and would not leave, clinging night and day to the empty cross, eating poor meals of lollium bread and skewered doves roasted on the campfire. In the beginning, nobody dared to ascend the sacred hill. Many years passed. Reverent and humble, one pilgrim finally climbed the hill to thank the magistrate and to pray. What faith! exclaimed the pilgrim, but his joy was soon turned to sorrow. I have no faith, said the magistrate. Why then your vigil by this beautiful cross? queried the pilgrim. I am waiting, laughed the magistrate, just in case he returns. I will be ready for him. The pilgrim burst into tears and said, When he comes again, you will behold the glory of love and perfection! The magistrate nodded thoughtfully. My resolve is made stronger by your words, he said. The pilgrim descended the unholy hill, afraid to look back at its cross and its sentry.
The idiot walked a long, curving road lined with gently swaying silver grass, his wooden sandals and dark robes caked with pale brown dust. At last he came to the river where some merchants sat, examining ornate and empty tea cups. It was late afternoon but not yet dusk. The idiot lit a small cigar and listened to the merchants praise one cup or disparage another as he built a small mound of charcoals. Lighting the charcoals, he boiled some tea in an old kettle and poured it into a crudely ribbed earthenware cup. The smoke of his cigar and the steam of his good tea wafted over to the merchants, who laughed at him as they packed up their belongings. The idiot watched them cross the stone bridge and bow respectfully to the watchman holding a lantern. When night fell, he remained there listening to the crickets, the gurgling river and the hissing coals, draining one cup after another, now and then lighting another cigar.
There was a printer who felt empty inside, unvelievably and unbearably empty. Night and day, he made woodcuts and printed posters and newspapers, but no amount of work could fill the horrible void in his chest. Then one day he received an unexpected gift from a happy client, a sum so great that he could finally afford to take a vacation. He boarded an old carriage and traveled east until he came to a river. Nobody of any number or consequence lived there, but there was a stone wall and walkway along the watetfront, a few teahouses, and of course the inn and waystation where the carriages stopped, only rarely picking up or depositing travelers. To the printer, the river looked more like a great sea. It hissed at the black trees in the dark rain, it lapped gently in the clear sun, it rolled in silver and indigo waves all the way to the stars. The printer spent most of his holiday just watching the river, listening to its plashing, gurgling and rippling. The longboats came and went, their oars casting up little wavelets of white foam, their bright lanterns shining like stars. He took several boating trips and sailed far out into the great currents until the coastline blurred into a thin, gray stroke of ink. Something painfully heavy, bittersweet and eternal wafted up from the waters and filled his soul. The nights and days passed like a dream. Then the printer ran out of time and money and had to return to his city. All he bought as souvenirs were a few books of poetry, some chopsticks, cough drops, and some patterned cloth. The road home was long and tiresome, but the printer felt different. Whenever he was alone or asleep, he felt the rippling of the river or heard the bells of the passing boats. Once he arrived back in the city, he set about making woodcuts of his journey, but something puzzled him. The river was in him somehow. Closing his eyes in the dusty shop, he could still see the stars and water as if they were brand new; he could hear the surprising sound of the waves washing the stones. He was still discovering the strange boats, still seeing the prized chopsticks and patterned cloth, still reading the books of poetry—all for the first time. The old emptiness had fled, but its pain remained. For years, the river had been absent from his life. Then the river had been present, like a short dream. It was absent once again, but its enigma persisted in the work of his hands and in the sleepwalking of his soul.
On an evening of indigo skies, the shadow mourns the one who is not there—a dark muse with cool, gray eyes—to whisper in his ear. On tree-lined avenues, on rivers of stone, he always looks for her. In faces, bodies, clothes. And in the frost of dark windows. The shadow misses the one who did not embrace the nothingness underneath his skin.
With red paper she wrapped long letters scrawled by pale hands. Her hands were empty. The wooden floorboards of the buses creaked and the aquariums of the restaurants and the markets bubbled. Her eyes looked long, looking for something. She remembered the miscounted pocket change and miscounted days. Motorcycles still purred through the markets where he had followed her. And she wandered, heading for the post box with a long red letter, a little song, of motorcycles and markets and long abandoned temples, heavily tattooed and illegible in the evening haze.
One day, a huntress entered an unfamiliar stretch of grassland that rolled in blue and golden waves as far as the eye could see until they dissolved into black mountains of impossibility. Clothed in a striped poncho and dark hat, her rifle always ready, with great caution she walked the unknown. In the twilight, as moon and stars began to rise and the afterglow of the sun still burned its propane flames to her right above the distant highlands, she came to a land of scattered silver ponds, where she encountered the voice of the animal. Who are you? the deep voice demanded. I am a huntress, the young woman replied, her finger caressing the trigger. I know you are, but what am I? She stepped forward, for the animal seemed to have taken on the features of a cougar. You are a cougar! she said. The animal replied, I know you are, but what am I? I am not a cougar, the huntress laughed, but in that instant, she felt that she was no longer walking upright or carrying her gun. Instead, she had limbs of tawny fur, and she cast the reflection of a prowling cougar in the ponds she passed as she tried to follow the creature that had dissolved into darkness. It appeared once again, further south, as a sheep. Who am I? You are a sheep! she bleated out, and immediately noticed that her hooves were stuck in the mud by a pond. The voice withdrew, calling out, I know you are, but what am I? She hobbled foreward, unbearably warm in her thick coat of wool. A strong wind blasted by, bending down all of the blades of grass. You are the wind! she shrieked, suddenly flying high above the plains, rushing through a darkness of swirling stars, remotely glinting ponds, and the bared teeth of the snowy cordillera. She could no longer see the creature anywhere. And the voice thundered throughout the mountains, throughout the grasslands, throughout the abyss within her skull. Who am I? You are nothing, she howled, her heart sinking, her last thought lingering midair for a few more seconds: I should have remained as the wind.
She was a young girl, a whisper of mist—seven strokes of ink on an empty page. In a moment, she might not even exist. One brush of wind could have thrown her away into a different dead end, another narrow corridor of closed gates and steps that echo and stay a long while, their sounds diffusing into the fresh darkness, wandering passages of endless stairways, broken sidewalks and blind shop windows. After a while, it seems that she did blow away. Like a dead leaf detached from its twisted branch. She left a few strands of her golden hair clinging to his coat, which had embraced or imprisoned her form.
Nobody knew how it got its shape. Some said it was designed to look like the leaf of a lost tree. Others compared it to a spread vulva, the maternal bosom, the mons pubis, a little box or the wound of a knight. In one ancient text, it has been described as a disembodied body without essence or substance, a discarded oar, a red gate and the emptiness of the other shore.
In theory, the robot knew that he was a robot and that robots came with finite batteries, just as the universe seems to be a seemingly infinite but finite battery. Day to day, he busied himself with his robotica: raking leaves, sweeping the soft gravel and sand into swirling patterns, washing bowls, hauling water, listening to silence, counting non-integers, memorizing the birds, blowing the flute, and printing solitary characters on white paper. The emptiness began to fill with something–an error of computing, a damaged algorithm, an incongruent eternity. It was like bleeding invisible blood. It was the empty mindfulness of the slow leaking of its energy, leaking off into the rust, copper sulfate, and tarnish of the whirling concentric whirlpools of scrap metal and unidentified minerals that were also losing their energy. The marks of time were staining the timeless. The robot was sad.