January 30, 2009

Latin American sci–fi part 1?

               dogman             

1

It takes three weeks, at most, for the body to putrefy. Then my nails will drop out, my organs will swell and burst and my face will bloat until it’s completely unrecognisable.

           Jesus.

           Anita draws the balcony doors apart. The room seems to cool.

           ‘You can’t stay here,’ she says after a few moments. I continue to lie there, quite still, half-covered in the duvet.

           ‘Hey, dogman, didn’t you hear me? You can’t stay here. I don’t want any more trouble.’

           ‘Why did you bring me back?’ I ask.

           ‘Not grateful?’

           ‘Curious.’

           She leans back, enjoying the wind’s caress on her long black hair.

           ‘You were never bad company, dogman,’ she says. ‘Besides...the way they did it, in the back of the head, no sporting chance...you deserved a sporting chance.’

           Anyone can bring you back from death, if they have enough ready cash and don’t mind a visit down to the knock-shops in the lower side of Santa Colcha. I once heard of an old dogman who kept a leg alive for fourteen years after its owner died. No heart, no respiratory system. Just a leg that went around the store, sweeping up with its heel, and occasionally walloping drunken customers who wanted to speak to the Devil. Until one day he found it in a corner, kicking at the wall, refusing to stop.

           I stand, stretch, and observe myself in the mirror. Pale. A thin line of red running from my throat down to my naked stomach.

           ‘Did I have a name?’ I ask Anita. ‘Something you called me?’

           ‘Don’t you remember?’

           ‘I’m not sure.’

           ‘You were just another dogman,’ she says, shrugging. The skyscrapers gleam in the dawn light behind her. For a few more minutes the harbour will be lit in deceptive gold. My feet draw him out onto the balcony; the breath of the city is waiting.

           Anita joins me there.

           ‘Enjoy it while it lasts,’ she says. ‘The knocking-man said you’d start to go off in four or five days. It’s only downhill from there.’

           ‘And you can’t tell me anything else about this?’

           She flinches in the wind.

           ‘The child said it was a tall man. Not a dogman- he was pretty sure about that. He didn’t change even to run away. A, you know, a military type.’

           ‘Do you know where the child is?’

           ‘Hell, I don’t know. It was just-’

           ‘-Just another dogchild. Yeah, yeah, I get it.’

           We lean on the iron rail and watch the city wake. Santa Colcha embraces the sunrise and robes it in smog. I might never have seen another dawn, I think, as the air whistles through the hole in my head.

***

           I’m wrapped in an overcoat stained with my own blood, shivering in the morning sun. It’ll get hot soon. Human kids are running back and forth on the beach, screaming and chattering, throwing a red ball from hand to hand.

           Men in white T-shirts, worn tight to show their muscle, stand at the very edge of the boulevard to stop any strays from touching their feet on the scorching sand. A brown dog limps across the waterline towards the children and one of the men jogs towards it and swings a leg out. The dog yelps, skids back to the public sand, and changes. The naked dogman sniffs at an imaginary bruise and scurries back through the sunbathers and out of sight.

           ‘Go back to the barrios!’ the security officer shouts.

           Someone collides with me. A young man in sunglasses and a leather jacket. He snaps,

           ‘Hey, man, watch where you’re going-’

           My eyes must be bloodshot. He stares at me for a moment, and then walks slowly on. I can feel him watching me from all the way back down the boulevard.

           Nobody speaks of these things in this part of the city. There was a scandal a couple of years ago when two rich girls wandered into the barrios to get wasted on deliriant tea and ran into an Orb in one of the alleys. Sometimes children die in the slums, alone and crying out for love, and when they do, what’s left of them can get hot- agonising to the touch. If you’re alone in the barrios and you hear,

           ‘I’m so lonely...love, I’m so lonely!’ then you’re going to have to run.

But the rich girls didn’t know any of this. Nobody wants to hear about Orbs, so the media blamed the charred bodies on a slum fire. One of their father’s, a politician, made a speech complaining that the packed barrios were a serious health hazard and should be cleared. Someone had to quietly whisper in his ear that bulldozers that go into the barrios are rarely seen again. The slums have their own way of dealing with invaders.

           I buy a plastic cup of tea and drink it by the Presidential Bathing Pools. Models splash from the three-storey diving board. The palm trees shift, almost embarrassed, as one gorgeous body after another emerges.

I have to find one dogchild in a city of three hundred thousand kids and half a million stray dogs. He’ll be scared, and he’ll be a child of the barrio, and I have three weeks at most to find him before I begin to rot. This is going to be tricky. But I do have my Other.

I only know her through the signs she leaves me when I wake. Muddy pawprints on the floor, strings of meat between my teeth. Once I opened my eyes to find a half-eaten, unplucked chicken on the mattress beside me; a token gesture of love between two creatures that share the same stomach. Anita tells me she’s good-looking, for a slum dog. She tenses behind my skin.

Can you remember how he smelt? I think.

And, unless I’m kidding myself, she replies,

Yes.


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