In which our hero thinks about how to deliver his speech at Davos, ponders the complexities of communication, and encounters some trees who suggest, through the nature of their being, a way of communicating their importance to his audience.
What would he say at Davos? What would they ask? Franco always tried to prepare but no more than a few seconds in, he would abandon the effort, overwhelmed by the infinite number of considerations that could sway his talk one way or another. His idea was always to use these walks to collect his thoughts, but without the ta-dum, ta-dum, ta-dum of the train, and its rhythmic slowing and speeding, he had no mechanism except for his heartbeat, footfall and breathing to keep him on task. Wasn’t that enough?
His body had been replaced by the world, especially by the city, the urban world. “I can’t not read words in front of me”, a woman had said, not to him but to the woman next to her. Franco thought of people he knew who read deliberately, and with effort. It was not natural and ineluctable as it was for that woman. What were their brains like? How nice it must be to decide to read something, or otherwise be able to ignore it. Is this what he liked about the goat and the donkey, the poor sad cow, the fig tree, the stone that sits in the sun and rain, indifferent to the world of words? It was too late for Franco now.
Franco thought of what kind of wordless performance he could present in place of a talk. A dance? Was that goat trying to tell him something with her gush of urine? It produced such a tender sense of vulnerability and empathy in Franco. Isn’t that what is needed? All of these words and reasons did nothing. It was like a water balloon exploding, not linear at all. Maybe that was the trick. Multiple stories all at once. Here it is my friends, everything you need to know, all at once, a dance, a gush, an opera in which everyone sang their song on stage at the same time, cacophonous and opaque, but communicating nonetheless, but feeling and empathy, and not knowledge, not reason or argument. Don’t they see the florid and fruiting fig tree, Franco thought, don’t they see it, and feel it? This is what they needed. The noisy fig tree that says nothing at all but says everything.
Now Franco found himself amid the trees, beautiful and terrifying in their number and anonymity. They soared above him and blotted out the light, and trapped the moisture, like big wicks that sucked the water from the earth and the air, storing it in their cells, thousands and millions of cells, in their pulp and in their bark, cells in every twig and stem and leaf. Franco was thirsty and had already drained the two bottles of water that he had brought with him. He felt the lightness of dehydration that was thrilling and worrisome at the same time. So different he was from a plant, who could just suck moisture from the air. Maybe he could also, and the moist air felt good on his sweaty skin, but he could still feel the dryness inside of him. His legs felt skinny, as if they weighed hardly anything at all, and again he had the feeling that as he walked he was not really moving forward, but was just pushing off in space, floating, without ever gaining traction that would make movement forward possible. Or he was moving forward, but there was no way of telling that he was, since everything that surrounded him seemed the same, the lack of differentiation in the landscape yielding space without dimension or direction. It was a trick of the trees, and of the oblique road whose slope was not a slope, but exhausting nonetheless. Franco’s thirst was gone, and hunger was a distant memory. He knew then that he was in trouble.
He thought about the border guard. What was he doing now? Bored, looking at his watch, not even halfway through his shift? Standing, but not like the stolid donkey, animated, engaged, chatting, human, and not walking, like Franco. Franco could not stop walking. He actually tried to stop and he couldn’t, like the woman and reading. His legs were limbic, as was his breathing, and his heartbeat.
The leaves of the trees fluttered above him, with a leaf falling every once in a while. One leaf dropped straight down, on a tear, slipping through the air perfectly straight and hugging the trunk of the tree from which it fell, but staying locked just a centimeter away, sliding on a cushion of air like a maglev train sliding on a magnetic field. Maybe that is what was happening, maybe the tree and leaf were separated by an electrical field, so that even after separation the two stayed related to each other.
Franco was still now. He had stopped walking, and he stood stolid like the donkey staring.
He looked at the tree. The smooth bark was appealing, a wrinkle where the limb joined the trunk. Franco thought of the plants he left behind at home, the woman who worked in the propane store, the donkey.
The fish weeps in the dry riverbed.
Too late he is sorry he flopped across the shallows.
Now he wants to go back, and warn all the other fishes.
Franco now had his hand on the tree and could feel its smooth cool bark. It felt better, his hot palm cooled by the smooth cool bark, drinking in the tree, drinking in its wetness and moisture, its cellular coolness and regularity soothing his complicated insides, the inside of the fig, crimson and scarlet, seminal in its unctuous and seeded interior, green on it exterior.
Franco knew he was lost in thought did not want it to end. But he knew that knowing that he was lost in thought was a sign that he was coming to, just as stopping and staring was a sure sign that he was drifting inward. Is this what the donkey was feeling? The revelation generated enormous respect in Franco for the donkey, but left his warmth for the goat in place. The town, the fetid town, in the base of the valley, was finally behind him, fetid and tiny and far, far away.