I don’t know where this question would have led me had it not been for another absorbing matter. The price chart of the biotech stock I had been watching formed a pattern that indicated a “strong buy,” and I made a sizeable bet. A few weeks later, the company announced the discovery of something awesome and its stock price soared, launching an upward trend that continued for over a year. I did not cash out at its peak, but I did well enough to start losing my mind. I had always believed that large sums of money brought tranquility, but in reality, I was frenzied, pacing from room to room at home and walking up and down the stairs at work, trying to decide what to do. Extravagant purchases were out of the question, but I did want to celebrate, and not knowing how was driving me nuts.
No need to tell you who I wanted to share this victory with, but in light of her silence over the years, I was at an impasse. I could not even reach out to her, and attempting an in-person rendezvous was also a bad idea: I was not going to ferret out where she lived to contrive to accidentally bump into her in a drug store hoping I wouldn’t catch her purchasing one or more of the many objectionable items that are sold there. I toyed with the idea of sending her a gold ingot engraved with a poem, but then something in me broke. Why did I need to take her into the equation at all? It’s a truth universally acknowledged that wasting time on someone who wouldn’t care if you were dead is stupid. I must have exceeded the human quota of the pathetic long ago, yet I kept adding to the surplus. But it wasn’t masochism or obsession: no, it was merely the readiness to tolerate current inconveniences in exchange for disproportionately greater returns in the end.
In the end, I relented and booked a luxury suite on a Mediterranean cruise liner. I went alone, thinking there’d be plenty of options on board, but merely played out the same scene, fancying women who didn’t fancy me and vice versa. I was disappointed, finding little amusement in tourist duties like overeating, trying every Jacuzzi, or playing poker. Fortunately, the breathtaking sunsets did whet my imagination, inspiring me to work on a novel and finish some poems that had been on my to-do list for a very long time.
It was just before returning to Civitavecchia, the port where the voyage had begun, that I met two Italian women in their late thirties who took a keen interest in me. Their English was as terrible as my Italian, so we had to rely on Spanish. The ladies claimed to be sisters and offered to show me around their native Rome. The liner docked in the early morning, and with my return flight departing late in the afternoon, I accepted. Under the pretext of dropping off their luggage, they took me to their apartment, and that’s where the sightseeing began.
It was the first time that I had had sex with two women at the same time, and I was amazed at how smoothly it went. Letting instincts take over proved key; as for the ladies, they put out a most praiseworthy performance, which pushed me to the extreme. Which I welcomed, appreciating both their expertise and the chance to flaunt my own. When they were finally sated, I checked the time and could not believe my eyes. There was precisely half an hour left before take-off.
I was livid. And the sisters were delighted, offering me a room at their place for as long as I wanted, but I had to return to work on Monday, so before we resumed, I booked a ticket for the next morning. Yet I couldn’t shake the gaffe and wasn’t enjoying the sex anymore. I finally fell into a dreamless sleep interrupted only by the shriek of my alarm.
The sisters offered to drive me, but I declined. The cab driver was an opera junkie playing Aida on the radio, and, to my utter surprise, I understood several lines of the arias. The airport had not become any cleaner in the nine days since I’d seen it last, and I didn’t open my laptop, waiting for the boarding call in a café and drinking cappuccinos that were overpriced yet average in every other respect.
By the time I got on the plane, the stewardesses smiling at me like wax effigies, I was in a sour mood. All of my neighbors were hopelessly prosaic, ranging from a tall dude in a baseball cap worn backwards to an antiquated Italian couple who looked like they had hated each other for the last twenty years but had stuck it out because of property issues. The good news was that I had an aisle seat, although I was sure that the sad forty-year-old woman of obscure ethnicity sitting next to me would go to the bathroom at least once while I was asleep.
As I sat down, wondering if the in-flight entertainment would offer anything worth watching, my wandering eyes were arrested by a slip of paper emerging from the back pocket of the seat in front of mine. The angle at which it jutted out from between the pages of a fashion magazine betrayed utter carelessness and, acting on impulse, I grabbed the thing by the corner and yanked it out. Just as I expected, it was a boarding pass for the reverse route. Indulging my love for numbers, I played with the departure and arrival times, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing until the numbers made up a hundred, but when my eyes tracked across to the name printed on the boarding pass, my hair stood on end and an infinite vacuum jolted into being right behind my solar plexus, sucking my soul into a miniature black hole: