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you only die once

You sit down next to her, squint at the screen of her phone, shaky camera images of a city in ruins. Everything’s covered in sand, as if the city were desert. Tanks roll along the streets, children in torn clothes run towards the camera, and front right a man in jeans and a T-shirt is talking into a mike. He looks worried, his face is strained, he seems to be having trouble breathing, his eyes are red¾you wonder if it’s the sand or if he’s crying. You’re awed, you’ve never seen a journalist cry on air before; you want to know what atrocious thing has happened, but the phone’s on mute. Your wife looks at the images, sipping her bergamot-flavoured tea; a text comes in and she hides the phone under the table. Looks at you.

She’s sad. She seems very sad indeed. Her eyes are sharp and focused, she’s wide awake; despite the early hour, she seems already to have worked everything out and come to the conclusion that everything’s very sad. The way the world’s headed. There’s a bit of dried yellow sleep in the corners of her eyes, and black spots from the eyeliner that she never removes properly; the residue runs into her tear fluid and leaves globs under her retina. She blinks. Has she been crying too? Has everyone been crying today except you? Before you can ask what’s wrong, she tells you: the world is bad and unjust and it distresses her. She doesn’t know if she can write today, with the world the way it is¾and what’s the point, her writing’s no use to anybody anyway, certainly not to those ragged children in the deserts. Or their mothers. Or the refugees who come here and have nothing to eat; they might as well wipe their arses with her literature¾after all, the refugee homes are in such a state, they don’t even get loo paper, they have to use their hands; maybe it would be better if she donated her books to them¾or, better still, took them round in person for them to wipe their arses with. It’s torture. These people come here on foot and then they’re tortured in the refugee camps¾the camps next door, just the other side of the park¾while you sit here in your two-thousand-five-hundred-square-foot flat, drinking coffee sourced in the countries the refugees left to come to us, crossing the desert with bleeding feet, crossing the ocean in boats that capsize, so they all arrive dead, and we only get to see them in theatre performances and newspaper reports. Who could blame these people if they came to the West¾the wicked West¾and mauled it and flattened it and smashed it up and sucked it dry and raped it and made slaves of everyone and left nothing but burning deserts. That’s all it deserves.

You look at her. She’s wearing your blue Hugo Boss shirt which is much too big for her. She wears it as a housecoat or kimono, with only a pair of knickers underneath; it’s what she’s most comfortable in, what she writes best in¾a baggy man’s shirt and nothing else. You wonder which knickers she’s wearing today. Blond strands of hair fall across her face, her thin fingers struggle to tuck them behind her ears, now she really is crying. You want to take her in your arms and lay her on the kitchen table, but you know this isn’t the moment.

You tell her it would be a good idea if she wrote about the awful state of the world. It would be meaningful. Really meaningful. Her readers would gain from it. And you tell her what a wonderful author she is¾perhaps a touch histrionic this morning, but in one of her books, these thoughts would be just the ticket.

She calls you a cynic and jumps up from the table. Goes to the fridge.

‘Can you give me the butter, please? Can you give me the jam, please¾no, the jar at the back¾needs defrosting, doesn’t it? I didn’t say you need to do it, I said it needs doing, I can do it, at the weekend. Can you¾oh, it’s okay, I’ll get it myself.’

Your wife freaks out. Don’t you care. Don’t you care about anything. Anything at all. Does it all mean nothing to you. Is that the reason you can do your job, your shite job, your fuckwit aren’t-you-ashamed-of-doing-what-you-do job¾because you don’t care about anything else. Because you’re deaf and a cynic, a monster who makes these crimes to humanity possible in the first place. You’re the problem, you know, you’re the one who needs to go, the white, heterosexual man in a suit. The ambitious, white, heterosexual man in a suit needs to go¾to fall, to die¾and his wife with him. She’s his whore, lives off his money, lives off his filthy money¾earns money of her own, too, of course, but not in the same league as him, not enough to go on holiday in countries where the natives are kept away from the hotel guests with fences. Such a whore. Nothing but a whore.

You think: how ugly she is when she’s crying. The red spreads out from her pointy nose like a crumbling butterfly.

‘Wouldn’t you miss me?’

‘What?’

‘Wouldn’t you miss me?’

‘What do you mean, miss?’

‘If I wasn’t here anymore¾if I had to go away because I was evil, because I was the problem, the monster who’s to blame for all the world’s atrocities. Would you miss me if I wasn’t here?’

Translated by Imogen Taylor