15 December 2008

Borges and I

This 700-word story is included in my short story collection Transported, which you can buy online from Fishpond and New Zealand Books Abroad. It's also available in many good bookstores, though many Whitcoulls stores now seem to have sold out of it.

Borges comes round with a six-pack just in time for the game. I tell him he could have got it cheaper down the road. He nods unhappily, as is his way.

Half-time, and the ABs have had a shocker. Borges, of course, has divided loyalties; he says he’ll be happy if Argentina lose by less than twenty points, or the All Blacks win by more than fifty. I tell him I need to go for a piss. Two Exports will do that to anyone.

When I get back, Borges is making himself a coffee. Is it possible, he asks me, that Amphixion of Thebes was thinking of rugby when he wrote that each game played by men is one moment of the game played by the gods?

I tell him he’d better get back to the couch if he wants to see the second half, and besides, only woofters drink coffee at half-time.

The All Blacks win 42-17. Sevens against Thebes? It’s possible.


Borges and I go out for a few quiets. I meet him after work in a bar favoured by web developers and business analysts. We sit and watch a small subset of the world go by.

Borges looks glum. “Bad day in the stacks?” I ask. He nods, says nothing, swallows another mouthful of beer.

I nudge him. “Look, over there. I happen to know those women are studying to be librarians. Go and dazzle them with your learning. That’s what it’s for, man!”

He surprises me by draining his glass and walking right up to them. Asks them a question; they look surprised, but make room for him. Turns and waves me over.

“This is Brian,” he says, “he’s something in computers.”

Borges talks to the dark one, I talk to the fair. She’s a bit serious for me. Nothing doing there, but Borges and Krystal are getting on like a house on fire — so well that I say my goodbyes and walk home under the indifferent dome of eternity. Borges, eh? You never would have thought it.


Borges and I scarcely see each other nowadays. What with his work and the kid, he’s too damned busy, and besides, all he wants to talk about is how little Pedro took two steps the other day, how Pedro looked at him and said “Mama”, how when Pedro wakes in the night Borges walks him round the house till the little fella settles back down. The bookcases have survived from his old flat, but now they’re full of “Baby and Child” and “Raising Boys”.

“So where are your old books?” I ask him after the grand tour. (Krystal is at yoga.)

“Out the back, in suitcases. Want to borrow them?”

“Choose me an armful.”

They aren’t easy going, those books, but I’ve learned (for Borges underlined the passages) that Goncalves compared eternity to a mirrored sphere, while Basilides was exiled from Mt Athos for teaching that the world would end when the souls of the Elect called God to account for human suffering. It seems to me sometimes, as I wake on my couch to find the wisdom of ages in unsteady piles around me, that the world will end when there is no longer room for all the books in it; but when I suggested this to Borges, he said he had less than four hours’ sleep last night and a meeting of the Library Board next morning, and could I call him later?


I have moved into Borges’ former apartment. It had been renovated after Borges moved out, but with heavy drapes across the windows and the lighting turned down low I don’t notice the difference. How I miss those days when we’d lounge around discussing the pre-Socratics and Cameron Diaz! Back then, I used to tease him that he should get out more. Well, he did, and it landed him two kids and a house in the suburbs.

Having quit my job in computers, I am living on my savings. I have decided to become a writer. Borges, informed of this, sighs and tells me I should get a life.

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