Fiction · 08/15/2012

The Specialists

I was to bring a box of Borges’s letters to floor minus-fourteen, wing six, for virtualization. Owing, perhaps, to some glitch in the transport tube, the placard on the wall where I stood said 14/6 instead of -14/6. For the first time in my life, I had left the Literature Prefecture.

I wept.

From the tube stop, this place looked just like minus-fourteen, six, except for the placard numbers and a reversed layout. I stepped into the hallway and turned left. (I would’ve turned right on minus-fourteen; perhaps if they caught me I could appeal to the kind of absent-mindedness for which so many literary scholars were once known.)

The door at the end of the hallway — the one that, on another day, would have led to the virtualization chamber — had no markings. I stood before it, facing an unknown future, and wept again. I had read that mathematicians employed the word “variable” as a noun; was this door what they meant?

I lifted my hand toward the lockpad, but the door remained closed. Maybe on fourteen, I thought, they open doors with their left hands. I tucked the box of letters under my right arm, and showed the door my left palm. Success! I thought as the door opened. It may have been, though, that the technology had actually yielded to the woman who, just then, walked her breast squarely into my upraised palm.

She gasped, making the kind of sound people make when they dream of falling through infinite space — breathless, but not without pleasure.

She put her hand over mine, and we retreated into the room together in a slow, hopeful tango. When we cleared the doorjamb, we stopped. The door closed. As we trembled there, she mashed my hand into her bosom through her white uniform shirt. Through the soft tissue, I felt her heart squirm. Our eyes remained locked in what I still believe was passion.

“Hello,” I said. “My name is Vizquel. I catalogue literature.”

She looked at me blankly, sadly, and pulled my hand down from her chest. When she moved her lips, I heard sounds I wouldn’t have thought a human mouth could issue. She brushed her blonde hair behind her ear. Live with me, I thought.

I showed her the badge on my shoulder — a topograph of an ancient volume, printed and bound. She blinked with what seemed like enthusiasm or confusion, and showed me her own badge. The symbols looked familiar; perhaps I had seen them in some book.

I tried to look reassuring, to let her know that it didn’t matter whether she was a literaturist or a gravity scientist or a maintainer of transport tubes. We would know each other; we would love and age.

She smiled and spoke again: “You’re right,” she might have said. “It doesn’t matter.” She pulled me towards her by the lapels of my lab coat.

I put my hands on her hips, which were almost level with mine. Her breath smelled sweet and dark, like burnt bread. I froze, wondering whether she would even know how to kiss.

I heard the door behind me open. She screamed and stumbled back. Four mechanized arms wrapped around my shoulders and legs. As they gripped me, her badge swelled in my mind. I pleaded with her: “A logician? Are you a logician?”

The security drone had drawn me backwards into the hall, but the logician was quick. She ran towards me, leapt, wrapped me in her arms and legs, and pressed her lips to mine, eyes wide open. Her tears dampened my cheeks.

I don’t know what she felt in that moment, but if her logic was sound, she felt the crush of impossibility, stronger than the arms of a drone.


Devan Goldstein’s writing has appeared in PANK, The Collagist, Annalemma, and elsewhere. He lives with his wife in Pittsburgh and works as a web usability consultant. Find him online at This story originally appeared in Etchings #9.