Canada Press

Canada Press

 

The offices of Canada Press sit in the gentrified paradise of Pastoral, a shadow mark away from the overbearing nature of the financial district. Skyscrapers, monoliths, each vying for the elusive prize. In winter, the rested fun fawns over the skyline, shading the lower roots of District 21. In the summer, the city is a place of death, split along the basic lines of those with air conditioning and those without. Those with generators, those with hats. Those with parked cars, those with bicycles. Those who ride the bus to work, and the bus home at night. Salah was not immune to this dance, having occupied his post as property manager for some time now, a title that promoted him from the ranks of his obvious peers, building managers, the work of a concierge, and janitors and such in bars, hospitals, and schools. His father had wanted him to take over his role, as concierge to a building in Ras Shahid. He wanted something more for himself, something stagnant, sterile. His first visit to the offices, the commercial space full of size and charming glamour, the sort of renovated warehouses done in style, left him with a feeling of great and honest dread, that he would never assume such a job. His luck, however, proved far more fruitful than he had previously imagined. It was his lunch break, or a break he took himself, as no one really knew what he was supposed to be doing, though in his head there was a great order to everything he did, perfectly planned and accomplished, all of it according to plan. He stepped out onto the rooftop of the building, a wide concrete plain almost eighty meters wide. The block sat among other blocks, all of a relative size, built between one another, sharing even their fumes. Joined by no one in particular, he unbuttoned his largely oversized blue overalls, sitting down to eat, pulling from his bag an aluminum stash of food, a packed bowl of sardines in garlic oil, and two slices of bread with a fountain cheese spread, and a mug of black tea. From his view, the overlapping heads of the financial district formed the first row of villages in sight. A towering symbol. Fields of garbage collecting underneath the houses. A birth right. News had come to them that telecommunications would be out for the day. One report posted on EEU’s portal suggested that users abandoned the site to protect themselves, preferring the encrypted PPU. It had emerged to technical experts within the EEU community that several thousand rogues had invaded the program, simultaneous to the attacks in Dar Imam and Dar al Shaab. To pass the time, having no luck establishing signal so far from the building’s main server, on the office floor, Salah lounged on the rooftop terrace playing a habitual game. He spent so much of his time alone, he developed a series of entertaining modules that required no external source, such as technology, so as not to rely, such as he was doing, on electricity, battery, natural light, etc. He took the loneliness of his occupation like a creed, with which to live by. He wasn’t aware of where his little game had originated, but he had been present one afternoon when the speaker Baba Rahman was giving a lecture at temple. He was discussing a meditation of the self, suggesting to the pilgrims to meditate on the image of oneself with positive attributes, likeliness to sacred and profound moral standing, similar to a sort of hero, and to banish thoughts of the decadent self in the imagination. Alongside the sacred was is the profane, he said. The speaker Rahman said to find the image of oneself and linger, committing daily chores and kindredness, and to imagine oneself impressing a strong significance among a strongly unified cohort, or group, operating as a sort of family. What a business model, following James’ decree, calls company culture. And to imagine oneself with, very specifically, appropriate posture, strength and bale of body and mind. The game involved imagining himself seated, exactly where he was at the very moment he was thinking. Seeing himself in clear perspective, usually at an upwardly tilted angle, as though he were viewing himself from an ascendant plane, looking down on his being, like a vulture if it were to imagine its prey. He imagined a pistachio in his hands. He loved pistachios, since he was a little boy and his parents brought the nuts home in large potato sacks to sort and bag. His father had Learned it from his father, and Salah’s older brother was bred to do the work. He loved his older brother. He stayed with him, Learning, until the end. He had disappeared in the middle of the night, sometime during a raid. He hadn’t visited home for some time, though he had been meaning to. He wasn’t sure what might have happened. They weren’t a political family. Still, their father wasn’t dumb. He had his Leanings, spoke openly when he had the chance. It must have been something he had said, pissing someone off. They came for him in the night. It was terrible on his wife and children. He had been sleeping in his cot, in a small basement room he shared with his wife and seven children. They broke the glass on the basement window, to scare them, to wake them up. Then they barged in through the front door, breaking the lock and slamming it open. That was what his children had told him, he wasn’t there, he couldn’t know for sure. What had his brother done? He looked them in the eyes, astonished. He might have even recognized one of them. They were local members of the Civil Guard. That’s how it was always done. Ordering those who knew their neighbors to remove them from their dwellings. They hadn’t found any paraphernalia, his wife had said, but then again, she would’ve been embarrassed to admit it had they found something in their home. She was loyal to her husband, to his brother. She wouldn’t have wanted to spoil what remained of his reputation. It broke his parents, who were both still alive. In some way, he hadn’t ever thought in that way, thinking it was the way of others, unlike him, to think, but he wished that they had died before it happened, to save them from that pain, dying with the fear of having an unburied son. He might still be alive, Salah thought. He hadn’t given up. If they were in pursuit of him, they had reason to believe he had done something wrong. Lots of kids Salah grew up with worked on the force, especially the local forces, stationed where he grew up. His neighbors Hisham and Tammam were both some of the first to join. When they visited their parents for lunch he used to sit with them and listen in on their stories, asking how it had been, where they were planning on going, having to spend the first year at Least stationed somewhere remote, keeping it secret from their families and friends, before being able to return to their hometown to secure the borders in the way the Guard provoked. He thought about joining the force. They looked great. He admired their uniforms. The young recruits wore red and white, and the older wore navy blue, with golden lapels and brown collared hats. They were given cufflinks for their jackets and ordinary canes with the emblem on the side. They still wore their swords at their waists, though they were each given a gun, a pistol sitting in the holster. The pistachios came to symbolize that time, that feeling, of being in that age, fresh for the recruit, fighting for the parameters to be set on their watch. He didn’t pay much attention anymore, the kind had changed. People spoke of that time in reverie, forgetting what the war did to families high and by, what occupation meant for their children, who could not walk freely without fearing for their lives, saved only from their predicament if they had money in the bank, which he knew, far and well, he’d never have. When the image of the pistachio cleared, he imagined himself opening the pistachio, which he had come to decide was the most difficult task to repeat each time, as every pistachio was unique in its own way, causing him to feel rather daunted. It helped to have pistachios on hand, to enjoy the game by savoring the flavor. But he hadn’t bought pistachios that week. They were selling small bags in the market down the street, but he had to decide between fifteen pistachios on a given day or two bottles of water for the house. Did he have some change to spare? Not really. They were being forced out in some way. The landlord wanted to cash in on the investment. The tenement house was going to be destroyed, in place of a familiar looking establishment, a wide shopping district barricaded by visible elements of class. He thought of applying for a security job there, but that would be difficult. Besides, he didn’t mind his job at the office. He didn’t have that much cleaning to do. People were generally kind, even though they mistrusted him, he could tell, it was obvious in the way they hid their belongings from him during lunch. Why else would they locked up their computers in a safe, when going out for a quick bite? He was the only one out of all them who didn’t have an education, and the only one who hadn’t been hired to do the same work. He was their cleaner, adopted from the streets. Still, he didn’t mind it at all. It was decent work. He only had to do the bathrooms once, in the morning, and once after they had all left, unless they decided to pull an all-nighter, he was allowed to Leave by eleven at night, and to return between five and six in the morning. The bathrooms were the hardest part. Sometimes he had to pay attention to how it was in there, if someone had taken a big shit, and there were stains in the toilet bowl, and water all over the floor, and paper towels strewn about, he had to clean it again, to make it look better. It wasn’t an official job of his to keep it clean at all times, that hadn’t been decided, but he did so as to evade a conversation with the house manager, Asir, who would have been told by a member of the staff, probably one of the editors. He honestly didn’t mind being a janitor, cleaning up after people, cleaning up people’s shit, wiping down the toilet bowls, but to be told to his face to do it, to be told to his face, Salah, there’s shit in the toilet bowl can you go clean it up, he didn’t want to have to deal with that. The rest of the work was alright. He had to pick up loose papers from the floor, crumpled or transformed into paper airplanes. The annoying thing was cleaning up little shards of paper from the hole puncher without using a vacuum cleaner. If they were still at work, they would ask him not to use it, even though it would only take two seconds and he would be done. But they refused to make it easier for him, explaining every time, as though he’d never heard it before, how difficult it was to do their work, how important it was for them to have silence, especially silence from things that had nothing to do with their work. Then one of them would come over and put his hand on Salah’s shoulder and explain, in all seriousness, in all kindness, that they appreciated the work he did, but that he was supposed to be more invisible, they weren’t supposed to feel his presence at all. How could that be, he would think, when they were so messy all the time, Leaving their open food packages in the hallway, tossing entire binders of papers in an overflowing garbage. They wanted him to do his work, but they expected him to do so invisibly. It was an interesting concept. If only it were possible, they would all be pleased. He wouldn’t have to maintain such rapport, forcing a smile on his face at all times. He imagined having a pistachio in his hand. Some pistachios were harder to crack, while others came almost open, one needing only to pry the gap even further from its grip. Still other nuts from any batch, the most exciting prospects of a bunch, required a learned technique, a function of the nails, and both of his thumbs. One thumb, often the right, dipping slightly lower than the other, turning the pistachios at an angle away from his naval, so that the pistachio was at an earthlike tilt, caught in orbit of the cosmos, submitting to its rule. He held the uppermost pole with a thumb, pulling away from the nut with his other thumb. If the pistachio cracked smoothly, without damaging the essence of the seed, Salah rejoiced in a show of tranquil calm. If, for example, the pistachio cracked only the tip of the loosening shell, and he could visibly see the pistachio seed inside, but due to its territorial integrity was unable to devour it, he would become so upset, returning the pistachio to where it was found, trying another one, hoping for a more simpler transition from his fingers to his mouth. He clears his clothes from the locker, tossing them into the wash basin by the door. He walked ten meters to the showers, lying in the public bath. He lay there for five minutes, the hot water stinging at his skin with every pleasurable drop. Feeling it was time, he dried himself off and changed into fresh clothes, walking four flights of stairs rather than taking the elevator to the Office of Public Affairs on the second floor, having been two floors underground. He chugged at a water bottle as he walked, slow, deliberate strides, telling of a certain boredom, insignificance to his working habits that afternoon. He came to his desk, Cubicle 1E, the first by the elevators on the fifth row, forty five rows in total. He knew everyone by name, of course. He knew their habits, their histories. His friend, Manjod, worked at cubicle 11FF, twenty seven rows down, eleven seats inwards, twenty four seats in total, the cubicle forming a long rectangular form extending beyond the imagination. Wide barrel lights blared fluorescent glares on the cubicle floor. He turned on his receptor and adjoining keyboard, pressing on the small curled button click of the spotlight lamp, to increase the lighting on his working board. Four faces came up onscreen, identities he had yet to learn or experience, faces that were new to him, new to all. His task was to study their behavior, and to report inconsistencies on the reporting of others, had they already appeared elsewhere on the platform floor. He caught the eye of his neighbor, Radwan Rashid, peering over the small fence that acted as a wall.

“Anything interesting?”

“Nothing yet. You?”

“Some fools, usual trolls.”

“You always end up with more active participants.”

“I guess so. What about you? You had those bastards at Film Tawil.”

“They were good to watch for some time.”

“Are you over them?”

“Its with Protocol now. Why? Have you heard something?”

“Not at all. Only that one of them may be working with us now.”

“I wonder which one.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Guess not,” he said, turning back around to face his duties, the rolling balls of his chair inching forward, his neighbor Radwan disappearing behind the makeshift wall. He passed the time reviewing the different files. Nothing of interest, really, just a simple glance here and there. It helped that most of the subjects were logged on to Narcis at all times, and more often than not exhibited not only their latest location, but their plans as well, where they were headed next. It gave the Office a certain edge over their subjects, who couldn’t have known more or less they were being watched, each of them studied at random intervals, picking at their lives like the ticks of a watch, waiting for something to happen, something always does, while the hour hand keeps turning, around and around the clock. every now and then they were instructed by anonymous memos from the upper floors of the Office to create their own account, to enter the program Narcis, to become one with their subjects, to learn about their lives, to discover them. Meeting some of them on dating platforms, meeting others on chat profiles, like BubuCum, for instance, though most of them had encrypted service, the Office has a way of stealing intellect where it counts. Needing to use the toilet, he stood from his seat, passing the row of cubicles in the office. Turning at the entrance to the elevators, he walked into the men’s room. One of his coworkers was standing at a urinal, flicking his penis up and down to relieve the pressure. He noticed by the slump in his shoulders that he was feeling some trouble. He passed him. The man turned over his shoulder and glanced at him, and the two met a polite stare. Finally, he stepped into one of the stalls. Next to his stall a man was taking a shit. He seemed to clench and pull, and he thought that he must be a fat sort of man with a larger chin, sweating in his nerve. He pulled down his pants. He pulled out his cock, rubbing the head softly. He rubbed the growing shaft. After a few strokes he let go, pointing his penis in the direction of the toilet to keep from urinating all over the walls. Though the piss didn’t take long, nor did he spend too much time caressing his penis, he realized he was sweating. He hadn’t removed his jacket, ro his shirt. He had sweat stains on his lower back and under his arms. Tiny blotches of sweat formed on his chest, visible when the shirt pressed against him. And he had barely come, just barely, a minute expulsion of semen that hadn’t even given him a sensational feeling at all. It was less of a relief. He was in pain. He felt like there was semen clogged in the tubes of his penis, lodged in there, requiring a combustion to come out. The bathroom smelled of shit. They would think it was his own shit, his having to leave the bathroom at that moment, stepping out in visible distress, palms wet, forehead sweating, his shirt drenched in his decaying sweat. The thought of this only added to his perspiring. Suddenly he felt stuck. He looked for an escape through the roof, but he knew the thought was ridiculous. He flushed the toilet, cleaning his semen from the top of the bowl and the seat lining. He used a tissue to open the door, to unlock the hinge and step out, tossing the tissue in the wastebasket beside the stalls. He was relieved to find nobody inside the bathroom, only the faint possibility of someone in the stalls. But he heard no noises so he carried on, confident that he was, and would remain, alone. But the thought again frightened him. At any minute someone might enter the bathroom, and met immediately by the scent of feces in the air, would look upon his dreadful figure drenched in sweat and surrounded by fecal perfume, and assume it was him who had taken a shit. But he could not deign whether he would prefer them to know the truth, that he had masturbated shamelessly in one of the stalls, the ruins of his seed planted in a pool of goo somewhere on the porcelain and tiled floor. Reaching the sink farthest from the stalls, hoping to evade some sort of accountability by appearing at a more distant point, he turned the faucet on and, amused at the diligence of the water running in a cylindrical bowel of pressure, he squirted some soap into his hands and let the water run over his fingers, his palms, and riding up onto his wrists, and then his forearm. But he had forgotten to pull back his shirt! Suddenly his wrists and lower arms were drenched in water! To accumulate against the sweat. Though it felt rather nice to cool off his own bodily fluids, he looked a mess. At that moment, paralyzed in his confused position, the door to the men’s room swung open. But it was only Salah, a kind forgiving friend, who would never pass judgment on visitor’s to the room. They smiled at one another, and Salah, carrying his bucket and broom alongside him, passed swiftly to the stalls, where he let out a great sigh upon entering the labyrinth of smells. He stared at the man performing his job, on the hour, on the dot, and he felt suddenly the unmistakable urge to say something, to make a joke or feign a light remark. To feign some sort of brotherhood among the men. But as the words were about to emerge from his lips he held his tongue, biting his cheeks and pulling himself back. He realized the foolishness of his idea. The two men shared nothing in common. Even the idea of their sharing this space was false. Salah himself probably used another bathroom. A bathroom reserved for building staff. Reserved primarily for janitors. He wondered if Salah were permitted to use the bathroom. He wondered if Salah, permitted or not, wanted to use the bathroom, used by all the other employees. He wondered if Salah cared for permission, if he had been restricted but, knowing nobody would in their right mind take offense or even approach Salah were he using the bathroom against protocol, used it whenever he liked. He hadn’t noticed but in his thinking state he had curled his fingers together, lifting them to the height of his chest, and he was staring unmistakably at Salah with a profound sense of astonishment, like he were observing an animal in its natural habitat. Salah himself had noticed the man’s curiosity and had returned his stare, albeit with less amusement. Suddenly the two were locked in yet another stare, their second of the afternoon.

“Can I help you with something,” Salah asked.

The man, completely embarrassed, was at a loss for words. Wanting to effuse some camaraderie between them, to remind Salah that he understood his condition, that he sympathized with his day to day reality, and that himself took great wonder in the job, and probably, were forces in his upbringing different, he wouldn’t mind the role Salah were assigned. But he wasn’t able to say a word of all that. He muttered something under his breath and he caught himself stuttering, at a loss for words, before finally, giving in, remembering as well his own superior position, thinking, I don’t have to talk to this man, smiled at the poor janitor, in his sad and pathetic blue uniform, without a name tag on it, one large piece of overall, that had clearly been made without his strict measurements considered, so that the overalls hung loosely over his body, almost like they had at one time been the correct size but with the demands of the job had shrunk over time to accommodate the man’s own shrinking proportion. Probably, he thought, shrinking under the weight of his daily obligations, and the embarrassment that came with meeting men of his type between the bathroom walls, who always wanted in the first place to appear brotherly and forgiving to Salah for his wasteful life but upon remembering their own superior condition shrugged off the nearing advances of Salah, who only wanted, he assumed, to be likeable, not least of all by the men whose shit he cleaned, and for some men, their semen. Thinking all that, he had still to move from his position! Salah, entirely at a loss for words, had let go of the broomstick, resting it against the door of a stall. But the man, realizing the exchange had at some point to be ended, turned around in his place and walking briskly exited through the door, not before pulling a wad of toilet paper from the dispenser by the sinks, drying his hands off in a reckless fashion, and tossing the wad into the waistbin, without looking to see if the wad made it into the waistbin, which it didn’t, landing awkwardly on the rim of the bin and falling, like a leaf that hangs languidly in the air before flowering to the ground. He had regained his confidence, stepping out into the office in a drier, freer state, ready to return to the affairs of the afternoon. He decided to visit his friend Manjod at his computer.

“How’s the work out going?”

“Hey, brother. It’s good. I feel good, feel tight. The reps you gave me are harsh.”

“I told you. It’s good. Get back slow,” he said to him. “So, what are you watching?”

“Just some guys.”

He opened the mugshot of two individuals, one of them shirtless, blond, clean shaven, no older than twenty, damaged teeth, bruises around his eyes.

“He needs a dermatologist, man.”

“Looks like shit. How old is he?”

“Twenty nine.”

“Damn. Looks young though. Babbyface.”

“They’re the ones who always look the weirdest growing up.”

“What’s he up to?”

“Online gambling, a lot of porn. The usual.”

“And this guy?”

He pulled up his picture.

“He trolls a lot, usually on this one chick. She’s hot.”

“What do you know about her?”

“She doesn’t get out of the house much, she works a lot. She likes pizzas, orders three or four times a week, sometimes six or seven times if she really stays home.”

“Does she work?”

“Freelance. She’s a reporter. Gets out of town every once in a while.”

“What do you know about her? Where does she go?”

“Blaines, Austin, Cor Harbor. I don’t know what kind of stories she covers. Not sure yet. She spends a lot of her time on dating sites and watching peep shows online.”

“She watches a lot of porn?”

“Its not really porn. It’s a little more artistic.”

“And what about this guy?”

“I’ve been studying his online presence more. He’s becoming a sort of meme artist. Check this out.”

 

That moment when someone makes a layup and the commentator mentions American being the greatest                                country on earth.

INSERT MEME

Going for a weekend getaway

                        (Insert image of Orleans chick dragging truckload of suitcases)

                        Girlfriend show up like woah.

 

“And this one?”

“Blond. That’s not his real picture.”

“What’s his profile like?”

“Odd, erratic. He doesn’t post anything for four months, then posts something three times in a day.”

It wasn’t a piece of shit like the place before, but the eventual adaptation of the office was nice. I preferred the piece of shit, working like a dog for just a few hours, and the rest I lived like it was off, doing what I wanted in the city, when I want, doing what I see fit. The story is that I began at this time to write more, but not really writing fiction, or anything like that. Writing, mainly, on my stories for the paper, and things like that. I have a dream, sometimes, that I am giving a lesson in my book, teaching people what is this and what is that, what I wanted them to appreciate. The building was nice, and it had a nice façade, and when I say nice I mean it was turquoise, almost like the color of thunder before it rains. The color of the clouds in a hot September, before the seasons start to change. The voice I heard that night was telling me to come closer, to the religion of the fact. The room in question is no longer there, but the answer I have is solid. In fact, I stood outside the store, on most mornings, buying coffee and fresh bread from the bakery across the street, and the small playground separating the stores, the balcony of our shop on the mezzanine floor. The fact of the matter is I was doing some things for the paper I had never done. Some things were like an experience, for me, some things were a tragedy of my time, but, still, it was positive. I wanted to give most of my life to some sort of mission, but I was trying to beat the odds. Now, I know, on most mornings I do not have much rest, and I wake up as tired as I was before I went to sleep, trying so hard to fight the sleep from my eyes, waiting for another puff, another cigarette, something I can smoke, even though I have quit and I am always quitting, the sound when it rains make me want more, and the memory it is for me is important. I have seen the way the story flows when I am not focused, and when I find an idea I sit and rest, and there, you and I, we are together in peace, and you reading my lessons as they will be read to you, in the year of showers and seven blessings, the year of cowards and the seven chords. The door did not always shut and when you ring on the bell the sound is not always heard inside, so sometime so you are ringing more than once, and they have heard, and this makes a little problem in your heart, at least it makes a problem in mine, and after it is over the possibility is there, that they will not, the next time, hear your call, and so, afraid to bother them, you stand outside, waiting for them to hear the absent call, calling like a boulder just before it falls, surprising. Later, I will be close to you and we will speak about this, and you will say I was a genius. But for now, I remember well, the sound of the hammers during midday, when Wendell, the photographer, and Walter, the assistant, who was editing on the web most of the time, would stand outside and smoke cigarettes and leave open the windows, and the smell of their smoke would come with the sound of the hammers rain, and the clash of the two reminded me of home. Your constant cigarettes and the noise and many levels of construction, rocking in our little port. The room was like a little thread in a web of halls, the doors opening from the quiet hallway just before the door, always dim with artificial light, the absence of light, in the halls, was a little problem, for me, at least, who is afraid of lead, and being led, somewhere, when frightened. Sometimes I walked between both rooms, crossing in the meeting hall, passing a phone or a paper document, for Marius to sign or for Namus to read it, passing along like a web of fawns, following their mother in quiet. I stood outside in the halls, and every so often Marius came out, holding the phone in his hand, speaking to me as though I were his brother, looking down on me, with his enormous neck, the height and becoming taller that was the weight of him, and is still is as then. I was always looking back, and it was there that I learned to look forward, editing from the front, pushing and pushing on. In that sense, you can say it works the same in sports, in football, for the most part, I imagine. When the game is changed, by a coach’s call, by his willingness to surrender to facts, to change and alter his ways, or to see something before it comes, like a member of the Avant garde, what is he doing? Actually, I know. He is doing something we call genius, we call it like this because it is true, it is the best way for him to surrender, to learn something like it was there before, as fact, but now he is bluffing, teaching it as truth. The reality is simple, the way the spirit learns is the way of the dark, forgetting what is most important. He changes the game and changes the odds, the rest of the world must now surrender, taking it from one focus to another, from too much of an attacking mentality to a defensive game, and in art, from stroking to really brushing, to putting it in your cock. Now I know, and I did not know it then, you have to keep the spirit close when you are pushing, keep the spirit there, but never let go completely, this defeats the entire point. He was kind enough to come outside and say I did not have to do it. He would look at me for some time, after that, and I wonder now why he was so kind. To the others, he was mostly normal, but he was always polite. But to me, and also his wife, there was something different. Maybe, because I was getting older, and put my trust in them. They came to me, anyways, because of friends. That, for sure, they did not know then. They didn’t know what I am certain now, that the birth of many products is of genius, and the highest call to arms is art. Not because of any genius, but because it is a selfish art, a way of becoming one with nature, leaving the world behind. This is how it felt to write for them, at that time, even as a boy, who did not know the secrets to excelling at the creative arts. Journalistic reporting was difficult for me, it was different. I hadn’t done it since school! The academy is good at teaching laws and sciences, and politics and such laws, but when it comes to journalistic arts it isn’t serious. There is not yet enough respect in the league. People know it brings little money, so for many in the West, they are calm, having grown up with something significant, a nation and an arm.

“Sabrina.”

“Yes, Edgar.”

“Who do I have next? I remember being annoyed at having to hold this next meeting, but I can’t remember why.”

“It’s Hakim,” she said, “your financial advisor.”

“That makes sense. Alright, send him in when he arrives.”

Edgar had left to go to the toilet in the backroom of his study, when he heard the door open and his friend, a longtime advisor, staring at him from the void of his receiving chair, reclining, comfortable. He was, as always, seated before the painting of Edgar’s forefathers, the mural of the family Bey, watching over them, all who enter, a state of irretrievable calm.

“She’s a beauty, isn’t she,” Edgar said.

“My,” he said, turning around in his chair, offering his hand as he rose to greet his friend. “She is.”

“I used to think,” he said, pointing in the direction of Khobel Bey, his great ancestor, the founding father of their dynasty, “why the long face, old man. Now I understand. Do you think our ancestors know something about us,” he asked his friend?

“I don’t know,” he said, turning wistful in his eyes, languid in his posture, fierce in his stare.

“What’s up,” he asked, finally sitting down.

“I don’t care. Whatever you want.”

“I want something decent.”

“Why? Why do you care? Why are you so keen on keeping this control? Times are changing. Change with it, fast. People are getting their stories outside of books. Half the world is illiterate, nobody cares. Numbers have taken over control. You’re a victim to it, admit it. Work with me here. How many books do you want to publish? How many do you mean to? What’s your actual goal? As your financial advisor, I think you’re only able to cash in and produce twenty five novels this year, at the most. That’s basing them on an average of three hundred pages each, meaning around ninety thousand printed words, giving you a total of two million two hundred twenty five thousand words, in total, as an estimated gross, combining all of them, in one single edition. From those two million something words, you can have twenty five editions, one of each. An estimated seven thousand five hundred pages of books. We take that, and we multiply it by five hundred fifty five thousand, the number you always produce in the first quarter. Or, we save that cash, and we do half of them on demand, and the other half we keep in digital storage, in a digital reading code. That’s twenty five authors, or two authors with ten and one with five, if that’s what you’re carrying, but I know you’re not. But I also know you don’t have twenty five authors. Not anymore. The game’s changed. People are taking it upon themselves to get their shit out there. They don’t need people like us anymore. I’m here to convince you of that. You can also decide to keep all this money, to stay away from this entire investment, and to call an early closure on the press. It’s your choice. To be honest, I don’t know what you’re carrying, but it better be good. Otherwise, it’s going to cost you a lot. It could cost you your fortune. Have you thought of another plan? Have you considered removing the artist’s bonus, like I told you before? I got Keystone to do it. Why can’t you?”

“You know I can’t get rid of artist’s bonuses. They’ll fucking bury me themselves. They’re the only ones on my fucking side.”

“Let’s not lose sight of why they’re on your side, here, brother. How much of yourself did you put in each of them? How many of them have already left you? Huh? Your side is looking pretty empty, brother, at least from the outside.”

“What are people saying?”

“That it’s a matter of time.”

“What the fuck am I supposed to do about it? Huh? Like, I had another plan, like I had something else I was supposed to keep going.”

“The game’s changed, brother, the industry has changed. So have all your partners, so have all your friends, so has every artist in this fucking town. Where are you getting your income? You have no stream. You can’t rely on a writer anymore. You have to raise the demand, and demand is sharp. The public is scared. Nobody is shopping, let alone outdoors. People aren’t buying lousy gifts, like a fucking book. It’s depressing. This is it. This is what we’ve come here for, to chase after the end like it’s a fucking pussy that we all want to fuck, and the first to get there gets it all. But that’s the situation. How many times have I told you, you’re losing sight, there is trouble ahead? Now, I’m begging you, I want you to be concerned. You can’t rely on a writer anymore. Not with this fucking storm.”

“I was the first to publish Duro at this standard!”

“I know.”

“I was the first to put my neck on the line for Zahreddine!”

“I know, brother, I know.”

“I put together the Impulsivists! I put together the Revivalists. I bought the first ever painting by Tamdil! I buried everyone in the press who fucked with me, because they didn’t like me, and I put together the classic at Gallery 3. It’s because of me.”

He pointed to his chest as he spoke. His face had turned red, fierce in his implosion, before sitting back in his chair, finally resigned.

“How many writers do you have, brother?”

“I don’t know anymore.”

“You have to cough up some information. I’m not Leaving this meeting until you budge. You have to give me something. I’m meeting Tariq and Shahine, from Alma Capital. They’re interested in buying, but they want control. I’m not supposed to tell you that, but I’m telling you now. If you’re bluffing with me, Edgar, then tell me now. Tell me before we lose all control. Because they’re going to come in for this, and if they come in aggressive, if they come in hostile, you won’t put up a fight. You’ve already lost the board. Now, what are you afraid of losing more? Your company, or your pride? Either way, trust me, I know you’re fucked. And I know it hurts. But you have no choice anymore. Pull something out of your fucking sleeve, or give me the fucking money, and run.”

“Tell me, honestly. Do any of them have something in common?”

“Any of them? Just one?”

“The game is changing, my friend, I’m sorry. But, you’re going to have to change! Look, I have a meeting that I can set up for you. It’s with a guy, he’s in deliveries, in services, works with a tech company, in the Upper Ward. Hard worker, three PhD’s. Had everything on his plate the moment he was born, squandered it for a while but he’s back up now and running. Good guy, great guy.”

“What’s he selling?”

“He has a program. He calls it The Glitch. It’s the most sophisticated integrated network in the world, he says, according to him. That’s one of his faults, I guess, he’s his own biggest fan.”

“What does it do?”

“Basically, he’s trying to figure out a way to root out the creatives. In a sense, he’s your worst nightmare. Journalists, filmmakers, artists, of all kinds. Let’s face it, they’re going to become obsolete. First of all, they fail to meet industry standards when it comes to non bias reporting, if they’re journalists, and as artists, I mean, really, honestly, who cares, right? Look, you get the gist. We’ve had our heyday. We have all the names. The greats will live on in our hearts, forever, don’t you think? I know so. People will learn how to play the great sonatas and conduct orchestras in all their major and minor forms, not only as an art, but as a lifestyle, as a passion, a way to live, a way to do things. But do we need anymore? That’s the question. He has a routine, he takes a work of art, a great, great work of art, he integrates it into his system, he wanted to name it Narcis, but that was already taken, of course. But he wants that many people, you know, he wants everyone involved. So basically, he takes this system, this system of ideas, he builds this thing, he calls it an artifact, it’s basically the digital information of the product he’s just stored, say, for example, Abu Bakr’s Pronouncements. He takes the piece, and by using all the other information he has digitally outlined into the system, using a series of webs and Venn diagrams to integrate necessary and useful information wherever he can manage to find it, and trust me, he doesn’t do this on his own, I mean, he’s using a supercomputer that does all the work, he just watches it from afar, enjoying it as it happens, really fast, right before his eyes.”

“What happens?”

“Well, it updates.”

“What do you mean?”

“Imagine, all the stories in the world, constantly updating, one year, one season, one cycle at a time.”

“What dos that mean?”

“Every work we have ever made, updating it to fit the common era. And that also means reinventing the stylist techniques that are niche at the time, for example, taking something that is totally absurd, like the work of the absurdists, and, for a more sober, humble time, quieting down the enthusiasm, just a little bit, making something with a similar message but told in a different way. The system does all the work. I mean, at the end of the day, what the fuck is the work, anyway, right? I mean, it’s just, it’s words, it’s pictures, some ink, some paint, some ideas, some biographies. That’s really the important thing. How do we get people to fall in love with the creator. That’s something people want. They want heroes. Life guides. Shamans. Teachers. We can give them all that, but why follow someone fallible? why follow someone who has it all? Why follow someone who has already stepped up the pedestal and is staring at you all the way down? Why not follow, say, something less tangible?”

“Like an idea?”

“No, not like an idea. That’s, that’s dogmatic, that’s religion. No, like, like an entity, a source.”

“Like God.”

“More like, artificial life, artificial minds, working together to entertain and educate this world, one update at a time.”

“It sounds like everything we’ve fought our whole lives against.”

“The fighting is over, Edgar.”

He stepped out from behind the desk. His friend knew, it was that sort of time in a meeting where the man losing it all is given a moment to reflect, afforded a moment of silence, so as to enjoy, that sort of feeling, that feeling that is felt when the pangs of regret are too strong to ignore, when the reality of a defeat sets somberly in.

He stood beside the painting by Buccolt, Story of the Anus.

“I’ve always loved this painting,” he said, brushing his hand gently against the canvas, bare centimeters away from the frame. “I donated it to the National Museum, just after the war. But you know how they take in their favors. They wanted me to pay a tax on storing it there! And the security, nonsense.”

“Sabrina, call Thomas in here, please. I’d like to see him.”

He turned back toward his friend.

“It’ll just be a minute. Thomas knows more than I do about the anthology. It’s published every year, Walid. I don’t know what to say. It’ll be difficult to convince them. They’ve worked really hard on putting this thing together. It’ll be devastating to the girls.”

“How’s your daughter invested in this?”

“She has all of her friends on it.”

Thomas entered the room, knocking on the door and turning the handle simultaneously. The situation had changed. It was no longer as serious as before.

“There’s a sense to the way things are done around here, you understand that Thomas. I don’t have to tell you this, you know for yourself, but just as a courtesy, to Mr. Haddad. What we discuss is not to be repeated except to me, unless I specify otherwise.”

“Of course. What’s up?”

“How’s the anthology coming along?”

“Are you considering scraping it?”

“Don’t rush. Listen, tell me, what’s happening on your side.”

“What do you want to know? We’re working on it. It’s a little weak on our side, but it’ll grow. We have twenty five pages so far, more or less, a lot of it is material we didn’t publish last year. People are tense. Nobody is really shelling anything out. It’s quit out there, even on the streams. I don’t know if you know but I’ve basically switched my role in Operations. I’m taking more control on the physical side, the content, not the management or the source. I’ve spent the last year reading the live stream and the live feed of every major newspaper and every independent press, and their little catalogue announcements, gone through all of them, and every little report.”

“How much of it is unpublished shit from last year?”

“Twenty one pages, and then there’s the foreword.”

“So you have two new pages?”

“Yeah.”

“Who from? What for?”

“It’s a poem. Sarah Keys. She lives in Tal Khar.”

“What’s it about?”

“It’s a short, two page poem, written mostly in prose. It’s the story of her adoption, and wearing her sibling’s children’s clothes, and the riots last year, in Ras Shahid, because of the crisis, and her first ever reading of Duro, and her reading Abu Bakr’s Pronouncements, and her friend’s bar on Avenue Rose, the Bottoms, and the first place she ever wrote. It’s a generational thing, bent up on psychoanalytic chores and Sissy Myers. They go to all her shows.”

“Have you gone before?”

“I have. Once. It was a little gross. She climbed over a small gate, a little perch, on the stage. It took about two hours and two and a half minutes. She was dressed completely in white, with a mesh sort of cloth shrouding her entire form. It was really beautiful, the way she came out. But she had just two punctures, tiny visible holes, in the part where her anus was shown, and for her mouth. Both were lubricated, they glowed.

She had to crawl over one side of the stage, and through the various positions of people on stage, she basically had to maneuver getting through them by forcing them to orgasm.”

“Who else was there, from the critics?”

“I think Joseph Hassad. He was writing a manifesto, at the time, nobody really knows why. He said it had something to do with the idea of her coming apart onstage, first by lust, by desire, by criminality, and bondage, and then by fate, leaving her romance designed, capturing, in her final moment, the elusive cock on stage, the one that invites her to return to the womb, incriminated, tainted. She was penetrated, quite casually, coming over the gate, and on the other side of the spires, there was a small bon fire, and surrounding the fire, they had drawn the stage up in ash. She rolled in the ash, and as she lay there, naked, being penetrated in her ass and in her mouth, the ash formed a mold on her shroud, removing it from her body, like removing a plaster mold. It was beautiful. I was thinking about it for days. I tried to include it in the editor’s foreword, but it was too late.”

“Why don’t we include it?”

“Bring it back? It’s too late. The moment’s gone. It’s moving in another direction now. They’re talking, on a more serious side, about analytics. From a scientific sense. Like, the cock in the cage, the initial bondage. Her own sort of masculine form.”

“Have you spoken to Duro about this?”

“He doesn’t talk much about it, I think it’s making him unstuck. He says the idea of the cock in the cage is important. It’s like a lesson. It’s the reason we’re hosting this year’s Cup Final on Avenue Rose. Changing the city construct, one bondage at a time. Her enslavement, the enslavement of a woman in another man’s body, her enslavement is the key. It’s the key to our fortune, he says. He’s never spoken like that. I don’t know if we can get it past the censors. Not right now. I want to publish his work, but it’s just not going to pass.”

“What’s Badreddine saying?”

“She’s saying it’s going to be tough to pass, but she’s on to it. They’re still stuck on his work for The Anus. All of his writing is banned. If we can get it through the censors with another name attached, I think that would work wonders.”

“That sort of thing doesn’t work anymore.”

“No, it can’t happen.”

“Is there any news, from Linda Harrar?”

“They’re still chasing the suspect. She’s on the report. I think she’s gone over to the swamps, to see for herself. They’re saying over at Yorks by the time it comes out it’s going to be old. I don’t know. Do you want me to keep Miggy on the report?”

“Keep her on it for now. They have a good rapport. Who knows, they might break their silence. Miggy has a good nose. She’ll put her body in first. Linda will give her the call.”

“Who knows. Hey, have you spoken to Darin?”

“Yeah.”

“How is she?”

“She’s good. She’ll be fine. She wanted to come in to work tomorrow, I told her forget it. Lay off.”

“This shit’s getting old.”

“It’s about to pop off.”

“You know when you take a vacation, and you’re out on a lake, having lunch, and its suddenly really, really quiet, like when you shut the windows after working for hours at home, with the sound of the highway just beside you? You know when that quiet hits, what does it feel like to you? I’ve always felt like, somehow, I don’t know. Like it feels like something has just happened, and now it’s time to calm down.”

“Yeah.”

“I haven’t felt that for a while. Things are taking off. They have been, for some time.”

“And we’ll keep following them.”

“That’s right.”

“Have you thought about what I asked you?”

“I have. I still need some time to decide what’s best, and to talk it over, when she’s back.”

“It’s your call, you know that. Just, don’t take forever. They want an answer, fast.”

“You got it. I know.”

“She’s saying it’s going to be tough to pass, but she’s on to it. They’re still stuck on his work for The Anus. All of his writing is banned. If we can get it through the censors with another name attached, I think that would work wonders.”

“That sort of thing doesn’t work anymore.”

“No, it can’t happen.”

“Is there anything news, from Linda Harrar?”

“They’re still chasing the suspect. She’s on the report. I think she’s gone over to the swamps, to see for herself. They’re saying over at Yorks by the time it comes out it’s going to be old. I don’t know. Do you want me to keep Miggy on the report?”

“Keep her on it for now. They have a good rapport. Who knows, they might break their silence. Miggy has a good nose. She’ll put her body in first. Linda will give her the call.”

“What else is going on around town?”

“Um, there’s a film screening at the Gallery 1. Mitchell Cox is going to be there, giving a talk. A book signing in de Ponsoir. Raymond Diarra. His parents are from the lower ward. Born to immigrants, grew up in Stacks. He’s a former athlete of some sort. I’m not sure. I’ll ask Claudia. I think he played badminton or ran track or something. I’m not entirely convinced.”

“Who’s on it?”

“A freelancer. Morose.”

“The actor?”

“Yeah. It’s a video piece.”

“Brilliant. Who’s filming?”

“Jonah Yards. Before he played jazz he studied visual arts. It was a rough transition, very bold. And, sticking to sports, there’s an ongoing trial, actually there’s a few. There’s a match fixing scandal. It’s rocking the boat. So far, there’s about twenty firms and three national delegations involved. Some of those top administrators are also involved in the ongoing Zimmerman scandal, regarding allegations of decrepit sport, embezzlement, corruption, tax fraud allegations, really magical stuff. Tusk’s management of the governing body is being put up for question. And we’ve got allegations of doping in the local divisions, that’s creeping up on the international scene as well. As you may already know, football has been one sport never really rocked or broken the way every other major sport has, and tennis is about to. I have a few guys on that stuff. What do you think?”

“Where are they now?”

“They’re on their way over there, filming. Have you heard of Method Dance?”

“I haven’t. Go on.”

“They’re a new dance collective. Former students at the University of the Arts, in Drague. They’re all mostly locals. Some are foreigners. They’re planning to do a break up of a protest later this afternoon. Performative piece. I’m hearing there’s going to be a fight. The Salafins are going to rip them to shreds, burn them to pieces. It’s sensationalist stuff.”

“Where’d you hear it?”

Talk of the Town, Talk of the Nation and Liberty Press. Sunday Headlines ran a video article quoting them as well, so we know it’s spot on.”

“What else are we watching?”

“Municipal elections, in a couple months.”

“What else?”

“You don’t want to hear about that?”

“I don’t know what we have in mind, and frankly I was against sending Maher to check up on that. It’s enough what happened to Shalhoub, and what they’re saying about Nasr Shalom.”

“What’s the alternative? Letting it go?”

“It’s delicate, Sabah. It’s delicate. I don’t know right now if I want to touch. I don’t want to budge from our position, where it’s safe, for something we don’t know. What happens if they take Maher out? You want that in the back of your fucking head, the rest of your fucking life?”

“Fine.”

“What else are we monitoring?”

“There’s a new type of grape that’s being sold and served in some restaurants. It’s called the Yellow Hole, it’s seedless. Can be steamed or eaten raw.”

“I was the editor of his first three scripts, the scrolls sold each for a thousand. What would amount to four dollars today. As his apprentice, I thought of him nobly. The man who managed to live by a code, unwavering, unrepentant. What separates the wolf from the fawn. I’ve always said, for any man, any artist, a soldier of any kind, what separates them is their sacrifice, the ability to sacrifice what matters to them most. I saw it with my own eyes. It wasn’t the greatness of Yunus Kum,. The clergy of craftsmanship was long overdone. What elected him sovereign of the arts? In his time, there was nobody like him. What was that? And if you want to talk about our other work, if you want to talk about Hamid Hamza, or Sami Gibril? Who represented them, before they were millionaires, before they could stick a finger in the sand and turn it into gold? Who was it, that was sitting there, when Sami scored his first goal for the nation, on the eve of Bastille? Who was it? You were there, he said to him. Get the fuck out of my office.”