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The encounter.

It was that time of day when lazy shadows begin their promenade along the river. With the same smooth cadence of the gentle breeze along the bank, they flowed silently up the walls, then dipped to the path below and rippled among the paving stones. Dim light from a lantern set into the wall played itself out between the forged iron grillwork and the wooden panels of a shuttered window. Unfettered, the shadows swirled down the block, causing a honeysuckle vine spilling over crumbling adobe to sway back and forth. Its flowery perfume defined the shapeless hour, filling the crannies of light and of shade and providing continuity to the slow street motions. Nearby, the still black water reflected no quiver from darting fish traveling their zigzag paths to the infinite abyss, while, overhead, the curving half-moon reposed languidly against the raveled shreds of a tipsy cloud. Millions of blinking eyes stared into the dreamlike night, awed by the new miracle that was taking place one more time. For every night is the same, with a sameness comparable to the infinite variations of each second of endless time. The differences repeat themselves over and over in a blind cycle staggering wearily along the heavy path of life.

Steps echoed in the ageless dust, disturbing the sleep of dreams. Startled motes spiraled upward in a cloud, clinging to the indifferent leaves of a twisted willow tree. The echo flung them again into the translucent air. The steps were slow and measured, bearing the full weight of all the generations of mankind. I tried to see between the shifting shadows, to make out some shape from the lurking darkness of the street. A frenetic bird's symmetrical screeches repeated themselves at intervals in some hidden recess of the ear. The steps drew nearer, their ping-pong echo making them appear to come from all sides. The black moss spread its velvet across the bare bricks, which submitted uncomplainingly to the stroking of a relentless shadow. One more shadow among the others, moving at its own pace, following the initial rhythm of the steps. I stopped, placing my hand against an invisible wall. Blood pounded in my temples, as if seeking to burst out of the prison to which it had been condemned, as if it would spill out upon the fertile ground to engender the life awaiting birth there.

A shapeless form halted beside the dark mass of still foliage. The echo of footsteps was stilled. The dust came to rest, filtering gently down through the air to settle upon the paving stones. I took one hesitant step, hands at my sides, then stopped again with my legs slightly apart. An undefined force impelled me toward the figure while another held me back. I felt crushed between them, my waist and my bones bruised and aching. I knew that the encounter would take place this very night, that it was written on this page of my life. And I was afraid. The shadows continued to shift slowly around me. The intermittent screeches broke off. The figure advanced silently until it stood squarely in front of me. I could not discern its features, only its eyes that stared at me intensely, reflectively, regarding me with compassion, eyes that had seen the secrets of life and death. I stood motionless, struck by sudden understanding. For this was my own self before me, returning from the shades of truth.

Carlos Tripodi is the author of a collection of short stories, Debajo del Sueno, (Ediciones de la Banda Oriental SRL, Montevideo, 1983), one of which was awarded second prize in the International Literary Contest of New York in 1982. Currently, Mr. Tripodi is a Spanish editor for Americas.
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Title Annotation:Latitudes; short story
Author:Tripodi, Carlos
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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