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The cypress leaves

I only have one enemy. I'll never know how he managed to get in my house on the night of April fourteenth, 1977. He opened not one but two doors: the heavy street door and the door to my brief apartment. He turned on the light and woke me from a nightmare I do not recall, but in which there was a garden. Without raising his voice he ordered me to get up and dress immediately. My death had been decided and the site destined for the execution was a little distant. Amazed speechless, I did so. He was shorter than me but stouter and hatred gave him strength. In all those years he had not changed; a few silver threads among the dark. An irate sort of happiness animated him. Always he had detested me and now he was going to kill me. My cat Beppo watched us from his timelessness, but did nothing to save me. Nor the blue ceramic tiger in my bedroom, nor the wizards and genies in my volumes of The Thousand And One Nights. I wanted something with me. I asked him to let me take a book. To choose a Bible would have been too obvious. Of the twelve volumes of Emerson my hand took out one, at hazard. To make no noise we went down the stairs. I counted each step. I noticed he was careful not to touch me, as if contact might contaminate him.

At the corner of Charcas and Maipú, across from the tenements, a coupé was waiting. With a ceremonious gesture which signified an order he made me get in first. The coachman knew our destination already and lashed the horse. The journey was quite slow and, as you may suppose, soundless. I feared (or hoped) it would be interminable nevertheless. Calm moonlight night without a breath of air. Not a soul in the streets. On either side of the carriage the low houses, all alike, formed a guard. I thought: We're already on the Southside. High in the darkness I saw a clocktower: on its big luminous disk were neither numerals nor hands. We never crossed, to my knowledge, one avenue. I had no fear, not even fear of having fear, not even fear of having fear of having fear, in the infinite manner of the Eleatics, but when the little door opened and I had to get out, I almost fell. We went up some stone steps. There were flowerbeds singularly straight and numerous trees. I was brought to the foot of one of them and ordered to lie down upon the grass, face up, with my arms extended like a cross. From this position I made out a Roman wolf and knew the place. The tree of my death was a cypress. Without a thought, I spoke the renowned line: Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi.

I remembered that lenta, in this context, means flexible, but there was nothing of the flexible in my tree's leaves. They were identical, stiff and gleaming and dead matter. There was a monogram on each one. I felt sick and also relieved. I knew that a great effort could save me. Save me and perhaps lose him, since, possessed by hatred, he had not noticed the clock or the monstrous branches. I let go of my talisman and pushed down on the grass with both hands. I saw for the first and last time the flash of steel. I awoke; my left hand was touching the wall of my room.

How rare a nightmare, I thought, and did not wait to plunge into sleep.

The following day I discovered a gap on the shelf; the book of Emerson was missing that I had left in my dream. Ten days later I was told that my enemy had left his house one night and had not returned. He never will return. Caught within my nightmare, he will continue discovering with horror, beneath the moon I did not see, the city of blank clocks, fake trees that cannot grow and no-one knows what other things.