Welcome to the Age of Autonomous Machines, where the brown bears of Kamchatka are cold, ragged, and hungry, and under perpetual ban, and rivers brim with jizz and blood, and fish have the twisted mouths of stroke victims, where saints travel incognito on New York City subways and God speaks to them in a gravelly two-packs-a-day voice, where a peeling billboard declares it’s time to look ahead to the past, when the public gallows stood silhouetted at dusk against a sky of faded red plush.
Blinking like a sick mole against the harsh white light of the desert, the last of the angels steps out of his winged chariot onto the hot tarmac. Little girls in braids present him with bouquets. Jeers erupt somewhere among the hundreds of people solemnly watching the ceremonies from behind a security fence. The plainclothesmen mixing with the crowd pepper-spray everyone within range. On the tarmac, meanwhile, a military band strikes up a brassy tune that has long been a favorite of dictators around the world. Birds hum along.
I fall asleep to music, wake up to the barking of Soviet space dogs. We are apparently closer than I realized to the border of a bygone era. “Better call a repairman,” I whisper to my wife, who is standing on tiptoes, peering over my shoulder. By the time the repairman arrives, it is four in the afternoon and the sky has a long, black crack running down the middle. As he unpacks his tools, he volunteers that he has a titanium plate in his head. I nod numbly. Death, when it finally comes, will have his phlegmy eyes.