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Chano stands alone in a perfect cloud. For a moment everything is invisible. There are no more streets, no shops, no banks, no cops. Only hanging white curtains of gas-cloud falling softly, thickening like snow.
All is quiet inside this perfect whiteness. Chano takes a few tentative steps further into its pure silence.
He finds that the cloud hosts a museum miscellany from that other world, the world outside the thick, white gas-fog. How odd it is, he thinks, to come across a dark-blue mail-box here, like a symbol in a dream!
He walks on through silent blank suspension. Not quite silent: he eavesdrops on coughing, spluttering, crying, the private scrabbling of bodies on intimate concrete. Two people with their arms still linked appear out of the mist, stagger into him and go by. All is sheer blank again, and then in the cloud-a sapling. Here, thinks Chano, a little tree, here! And yet it could be on a winter field in Peru. Passing the sapling, he touches a branch and plucks a leaf from its bendy twig.
Chano stands over a curled-up body in the mist at his feet. A billow rolls between them. He crumples the leaf in his palm. He breathes heavily, gas singeing his nostrils, its spiky air scraping his throat. He crouches. Lower down the smoke is less thick. He can see him clearly now.
Here in this strange other world, in the calm center of chaos, in this place where it seems he alone can walk, time has bent and warped. For so much does his son now look like he looked once before: steam all around him, curled-up, crying, coughing, spluttering, wailing, and as if abandoned.
Chano strokes the damp hair.
My baby, he says in a slow, quiet voice, Daniel.
Daniel forces an eye half-open. In-rushing torrents of pain blur a petrochemical haze. He sees a face floating above him. The lips smile. The voice says: What have they been doing to my boy?
The apparition teleports from Daniel's view. The side of Chano's head is clubbed. A soldier's leg steps over the crumpled figure who stroked his hair and called him Daniel. He screams as a gloved hand seizes neck and jaw, dragging him forward onto his knees.
In green goggles Monica throws herself, rolling into the steel shin-guards and tumbles on top of Daniel in a heap. The grunt brings down the butt of his stave on her ribs, then turns away.
A long-distance swimmer dragging herself out of the sea, she stands. She reels, at first away and then towards Daniel. She drags him along the ground until she's holding more sleeve than arm. She hauls him up into a three-legged race until both fall into the recessed doorway of a bank, where Monica cradles Daniel's head in her lap.
A bespectacled medic in a green bib pours water from a one-gallon bottle over their faces to sluice the oleoresin-capiscum. Daniel splutters, hawks, heaves. The crudely-drawn red cross swims before his vision a moment before she presses a wad of cotton to his eyes, clamping Daniel's own fingers over it. The bespectacled medic stands up holding the plastic gallon jug. A shot rings out. In one smooth movement, as if she's pushed herself over with the heel of her palm, she clutches her head and falls. Another shot booms. A rubber bullet hits the medic's back but she still clutches her eyes with both hands. The gallon jug rolls into the street.
Monica bends over Daniel's body as a rubber-bullet ricochets around the three-walled doorway like a supersonic, rock-hard squash ball, cracking the glass door to land, spent, in the frozen crook of Monica's arm. Slowly she puts out a hand to the quarter-inch hard-nosed shell.
Robocop marches towards the prostate medic. Stands over her, takes aim and shoots her twice more in the neck. Robocop turns, picks up the gallon jug and empties the water onto the street. Robocop stamps it flat with a big black boot. Robocop turns his plexi visor towards Monica and Daniel. Studies them. Thinks about it. Sets off to protect some place else.
Excerpted from The Fountain at the Center of the World by Robert Newman Copyright © 2003 by Soft Skull Press, Inc. . Excerpted by permission.
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