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Thursday, May 16, 2024

The End of the Affair

This extract from a police witness’s deposition appeared in last Friday’s Tallis County Times:

“We found two bodies in the wreck, both very dead: a woman about 25 and a much older man, neither with a scrap of identification.

From circumstantial evidence, we believe the woman was not his wife. A microcassette recorder held by the man contained the following message, and, to assist identification, anyone recognizing the situations described therein is urged to contact the Tallis County Police Department: ‘…God knows how it happened; I don’t.

I’m lying underneath a car with the tailpipe digging into my neck. I think my spine is broken, as I can feel nothing below the waist, but I’m still holding a minicorder, which probably caused all this, so I may as well go on with it.

‘The tailpipe is cold, so I must have been here some hours, and I feel drowsy, which probably means I have lost a lot of blood, but my mind still seems fairly clear.

‘They say that at the instant of death your whole life passes in review before your eyes. That hasn’t happened to me yet, so maybe I’ll survive, but I keep recalling disjointed scenes from the past, though I can’t remember who I am or what I do. The scenes are in color, and it occurs to me that if I have a wife and family, they might like to know I’m thinking of them.

‘Here we are in a dugout canoe with an outrigger on each side, speeding toward a palm-fringed island maybe a mile away.

The lateen sail, made of old flour sacks, much patched, is tight as a drum, and a small boy with almond eyes is throwing water on it to make it draw. I feel absurdly happy, though the sun is hot and we are bound to get burned.

‘The picture fades, and we are in Switzerland, judging by the scenery, just getting off a cog-wheeled mountain train. The track stretches out above us at an unbelievable angle toward a snow-capped peak, and there are tiny blue jonquils all around us.

The cold air cuts my lungs like a knife; I wish I’d brought the quilted jacket I forgot to pack.

‘Now we’re looking down on Mount McKinley at sunset, a pretty study in pink and purple, but I am concerned we all rushed to the starboard side of the plane to get a look, and the pilot will be cursing our curiosity.

‘We switch to the great banyan tree in Calcutta with a hideously maimed beggar brandishing his tin cup in my face. They say children here are deliberately disfigured at birth to give them at least some chance in life, and in fact the whole of Calcutta seems to be constructed on that horrifying principle.

‘Now I look back and see the children clinging to my wife, though I can’t make out their faces. The scenes speed up, and I know what that means: I am going to die. An enormous fatigue creeps over me, and I can’t even…’”



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