There once lived a girl who knew she was destined for great things, but great things were always taking too long to appear on her horizon. She bided her time with her husband, a street magician, and her best friend, an artist’s mistress. Greatness teased the girl, slyly peeking around the corner up ahead and disappearing again, laughing with other people at parties.
One autumn day, when the skies were clear but the air already smelled like snow, the girl was walking home from her job at a printing house, when a long, black car pulled up next to her in the street. There was a man in the back seat of the car and he rolled his window down. The man’s eyes were shiny and rich and dead, like drops of oil. “I’ve been looking for you,” said the man, and opened the car door, inviting her in. The girl got in, congratulating herself on her bravery as she did so. Greatness required bravery.
The car ride was long. The man did most of the talking. He pointed out various people he saw on the streets, people who couldn’t see him on account of the tinted glass.
“Look at the pregnant chick holding another kid by the arm,” the man would say. “Used to be a good-looking woman, you can just tell. Whoever’s banging her can’t even afford to buy her proper furs. Think she’ll keep her children alive during the coming crisis? I think I know what will happen to them. They’ll be traveling on a snowy road, in some rusty tin on wheels that they call a car, when a drunk driver will force them off the road. They will all die. The littlest child will hang on the longest, and suffer the most, little bubbles of blood forming on her tiny lips as she struggles to breathe. The ambulance won’t come for hours. Hilarious, isn’t it?”
“Look at the old woman drinking a coffee and reading something on her tablet in that cafe window,” the man continued. “She thinks she’s a member of society? She’s nothing. She’s not just past her sell-by date, she’s annoyingly clinging on to life in a world that has no patience for her. Her younger lover will knife her to death and steal her diamonds, which will turn out to be fake. He will return to her apartment, to her body rotting quietly on the floor, because the neighbors are away and haven’t noticed the stench yet, and he will kick the corpse so hard that the mess of wrinkles she calls her face will cave in. That’s what the old bag will get for thinking she’s an actual human being, and not a pile of aged meat.”
“Look at the group of students on a corner,” the man said next. “So free, so full of the strange, erratic energy of youth. Two of them will die of AIDS. The girl with the adorable pigtails will go to jail for resisting a well-connected rapist a little too forcefully.”
“Look at the tired, bloated man selling hotdogs in a kiosk,” the man said. “Did you know that as a child he imagined that he would be a great scientist and inventor?”
“Look at the young woman hurrying home from work in her smart coat and precarious high heels,” the man said. “How happy she looks, in spite of her uncomfortable footwear. She’s up for a promotion, she knows she’s going to get it. But this is her last happy day, I’m afraid. Tomorrow she will find out about the cancer that is eating her. It’s an operable cancer, but the healthcare system will fail her. She will survive, but become permanently disabled, and will take her life around this time next year. Hanging. The neck won’t snap. She’ll piss herself before she goes.”
“Look at that – such a lovely woman washing the windows in an art studio,” the man said. “She’s sleeping with the painter who owns it. She has artistic pretensions herself, but they will all come to naught. She’ll date a succession of men who only care for the wild way she fucks, how great she is at giving head, but she won’t make a name for herself, she will never win a single grant or competition, and her talent will die with her. The casket will be a cheap one.”
The girl recognized her best friend, the artist’s mistress, but said nothing.
“Look at the handsome guy doing card tricks for pay on the corner,” the man said. “How he delights the children. Poor thing, his beloved wife is utterly indifferent to him. All of that hard work, basically being a street clown, and in the cold, no less, and she doesn’t care for him or the hard-earned money he brings in. She knows she deserves something better. It’s causing his heart to go blacker and blacker, day by day. Soon, his heart will rot right through, and he will cry out and die.”
The girl recognized her husband, but again said nothing.
On and on they went, driving, the man talking, the girl listening.
Finally, the man gave up on trying to impress her. “Don’t you want to ask me why I’m telling you these things?” he said.
“Because I’m worthy of knowing them,” said the girl, after a while. “I know who you are,” she told the man. “I know your name. I can even speak it. I can look into your eyes and not go insane from fear.”
“It’s curious to me – your lack of horror and repulsion,” the man told her. “Don’t you want to ask me why I don’t intervene in these sad, doomed little lives I see on the sidewalk? Don’t you want to ask me if anything I told you is even the truth?”
“No,” answered the girl to the first question.
“It’s bitter enough to be the truth,” said the girl to the second question.
“Spoken like a person destined for great things – but untouched by greatness for too long,” said the man. His dead eyes grew even deader. He was a starless void. He was the horizon flatlining at the end of time. She could smell him. He smelled like cologne and good whiskey and old and evil books of magic.
This was her moment, she knew it.
“It has been too long,” she said in what she hoped was not a too-eager manner.
“It may be a while longer,” the man said, opened the car door, and pushed her out onto the cold asphalt. The car sped away. She watched its taillights for a long time, until they disappeared.
The light was failing. The first of the season’s snow began to spiral down. The girl hugged her knees for a while – hugged them as if they were separate from her and in need of comfort. Then she slowly got up and went home.
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