Borges' Aleph

Evan Marcey


In my mind, I know Jorge Luis Borges. In my mind, we are friends, we are sitting at a cafe on a street corner in New York or Buenos Aires or elsewhere; it looks however I should imagine it. It is in my mind and in my mind, it is real, and it is real, it is real, it is real.
Borges includes few women in his stories, and those women he does deign to include are specters - spoken of only romantically, abstractly, distantly. Better to say are only the concept of woman exists in his works - and this concept, one which necessitates a love story, necessitates a sexual-lustful-desirous-maternal-all-of-the-above relationship. That to include a woman means to include romance, and only in wiping away woman from a story completely can Borge find it in himself to discuss anything else.
This story, however, is of a man, Borges, and of a woman, in which there is no romance. Whether that means that this Borges treats me as a man or that it means he has found it within him to treat me as a human irrespective of gender - I don’t give a fuck how he does it. In my mind, it is so and I do not concern myself with the why or the how.

 In my mind, Borges is late in life and clean-shaven, hair faded to wisps like fog over a swamp. He wears a wrinkled bahama blue shirt and khakis, small circular glasses with wire frames. I do not know if his appearance stems from my time or from his time or yes or no or if time has any meaning at all. There is the distinct possibility that this is not happening at all.

Were this a story in which Borges made a pass at me, it would be a story in which I am passing, or Borges is queer, or Borges is blind; these are not mutually exclusive. If this is a story in which Borges makes a pass at me and in which I am passing, then I have written a wish fulfillment story, which I am told serious writers avoid. I could forgo being a serious writer for this. But as this is not a wish-fulfillment story, one of the following must then be true:

A.    I am not passing and Borges is not queer.
B.    I am passing and Borges is exclusively gay.
C.    I am or am not passing and Borges is or is not queer and this is a story in which the nature of our genders and our sexualities have been omitted.
D.    Borges does not find me attractive.
E.    Other: ________________________

I should prefer the second story or any variation of the third in which I am passing. I would take the fourth as long as I was passing because I’d rather be ugly than a man. I’d rather be anything than a man. I’d rather be nothing than a man.

I ask Borges how his work is going. We speak in our communal English, so when he tells me about ‘the word,’ I assume there is a language barrier. But after so many repetitions, and after remembering that every iteration of Borges which became (becomes/will become) a renowned author speaks multiple languages and some even teach/taught/will teach English Literature, I begin to understand: he is talking about the capital-W Word, and when he says the Word, he means the Word. The Word - I have heard the Word before, I have heard tell of a word, words, THE WORD, which, if known, can spark life into the inanimate, can create from nothing, can drive a person insane.

“Knowing the Word,” Borges says drinking his coffee like someone who has drunk too much coffee, “The Word is everything.” Everything is a great many things.

A man by the name of Georg Cantor introduced two set theoretical concepts key to our modern understanding of mathematics: countable and uncountable sets.
A countable set is exactly what it sounds like. These sets are either finite or within a certain set of infinite numbers; groups of numbers that we can conceive of counting. If I were to count the natural numbers, I would begin with 1, and after 1, I would count 2, and after 2, 3, and 3, 4, etc. etc. to infinity. I would never reach the end, but I could conceive of it - there is a method of counting without skipping over a single number.
An uncountable set, on the other hand, is so immense that one cannot even conceive of counting it. Imagine the rational numbers, any positive or negative number of the form 99999.9999, with a finite number of digits before and after the decimal. 

1.    Now let’s say we are to begin at 1.0.
2.    Then we count to 1.1.
3.    And next, 1.11.
4.    And next, 1.111.

This is not so formal as the proof Cantor proposed, but perhaps you can see that we could never finish counting all of numbers composed of 1.0 + some finite number of 1’s after the decimal. So, how could we ever get to 1.2, or 2.0, or 10,00000.12345? It cannot even be conceived of. This is an uncountable set.

As we must at one point or another assert a single story, let us suppose this is the third and, rather than concoct a set of conditions that remove our genders and our sexualities from the proceedings, we simply omit them. I do not know if I this is dishonest.

Is it dishonest if I fail to mention:

●    When I was walking to meet Borges, a man bringing his trash to the sidewalk mustered all the English at his disposal to tell me that my lips would look best around his cock.

●    And when I turned around and he actually saw my lips, saw the peach fuzz and electrolysis scabs, called me a faggot, told me to get the fuck out of his neighborhood.

●    And when I called my father, he told me that my mother doesn’t sleep anymore for fear of my health.

●    And that I am unsure if she is worried about external forces acting, or if she thinks that I am just another stupid crazy tranny.

This Borges asks me how my life is going. This and that, I say, ups and downs, the whole queer thing is a mess.

"Queer thing?" Borges asks, which means this must be one of the stories wherein Borges is not queer, because with a queer Borges, the conversation would go as follows:

"The whole queer thing is a mess."

Instead, this Borges needs explanation of something so greatly predicated on mutual understanding - there aren't words, often enough, so that's what I say: "I don't know. There are things that are happening that I’m feeling that are hard to find the words for."    
"That was a convoluted sentence."
"Apt then," I am clever. I am not very clever. We wait. He is like the therapist waiting for the patient to make the first move. I hate that kind of therapist; they're very good. 
"Sometimes I wish I could have just been a man."
"But you can't." This is (not) a question.
"I don't know. If I give up transitioning, does that make me a man, a woman in denial, a woman irrespective, have I always been a man regardless of what changes, always a woman, yes, no, all of the above, other:______________________ - am I was I will ever be a man could I be a man if I wanted, am I a woman now just by declaring it so - how is it possible to feel like a woman and not a woman at once."
This strains Borges; I know not if it his conservatism rearing its head or my incoherence - "That is a lot of choices," he says after some time.
"Is it? Is it any choices, do I have a choice, I don't - I don’t - are those choices or is one of them just going to happen." 
Borges retreats further, slumps in his chair, go into his mind, eye contact broken, silence silence. "Choices," he says, "I see all your choices." Another thing about serious writers: do I have to say this just-vague-enough-to work shit like a goddamn horoscope or tampon box and pass it off as wisdom.

"You wanna tell me which one I should take?"
"Why don't you see for yourself?"
"How the hell am I supposed to do that?"
"The Word."
"I don't know what the fuck that is Borges," I say (too loud, too loud). I excuse myself to the bathroom.
Is it dishonest to omit that the bathroom goes cold dead quiet when I enter, that everyone scuttles out like insects from an upended rock. Is it dishonest to say that I like to piss in peace so it kind of works out. Or is it dishonest for me to include all of these incidents, but not that my boss offered to travel across the country to ensure everything went smoothly, or that last week a man on the street told me to “Never let anyone take my truth,” which I assume another one of those vague serious writer things. Is it dishonest to refrain from including that despite all of the above incidents, I am satisfied with my choices, I am happy.
Do I have an obligation to honesty? If a story is honest is honest is honest, then mustn't it say everything? Everything that is, that was, will be, could be, might have been, could never occur. That is not economical, not feasible. It must be curated. Choosing is naturally the difficult part.

His mood has darkened, a great weight on his shoulders. I ask what is on his mind. “Nothing,” he says, then: “The Word,” neither of which clarifies. He is fidgety, picks out the grit from under his nails using a business card from a small-time journal hoping to land a whale. His wallet is filled with such cards, corners all worn down and greyed by whatever grime it is that accumulates under fingernails.

“Is something going on?” I ask this Borges, “Are you worried about something?”

“Of course,” he says, and spits the same question back to me.

“No,” I say, “Not more than usual.”

“You don’t know the Word,” this Borges says to me, he is more anxious than the Borges who first sat down, altered so sharply, so fixated now that I am not even sure this is the same Borges. Did they swap places when I went to the bathroom? Is this Borges an imposter, is this Borges a man I know, is this Borges a Borges at all?

Agitated, he continues to pick at his fingers, the cards prick deeper under the nail bed until that isn’t good enough so he scratches at the nail until there is enough of an edge to chew off, and, with his teeth, he peels it off. Blood spurts out from two, three, four of his fingers, all of them, many, some. No indication of pain. I grab his hands - shit, well now mine are red and sticky; he’s babbling, “The Word, the Word, the Word,” he is babbling, people in the cafe are staring, they are thinking:

●    “This is the great Borges, reduced to incoherence; whatever happened to him?”

●    “This is the charlatan Borges, reduced to incoherence; who is surprised?”

●    “This is a strange and potentially insane man whom I do not know.”

●    Other: ________________________

Borges says we must leave. His hands tremble counting his money so I tell him I will pay, and he says, I know, which is a rude thing to say, but I pay because I said I would pay and he evidently is not in the best place, now muttering and shaking and causing all kinds of a scene. I need to get Borges out of here before he completely loses his shit and gets us banned from the cafe.

I think I over-tipped, dammit, like 30% goddammit; if that doesn’t get me in the barista’s good graces, fuck if I know what will. But right now, right now, right now I have to fucking hold Borges up to get out of here and I ease him into the passenger side of the car and take his keys. He has a lot of keys, the hell does he use all these keys for?

I ask, “What are all these keys for?” but he doesn’t respond - there are like four different car keys on here - which of these works?  “Where are we going?”

“The Aleph.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Right out of here,” he commands, and takes me through Buenos-Aires-New-York-Nowhere; he calms as we close in on our destination, as if the last fifteen minutes never happened. He might should see a doctor about these mood swings.

When he says: “Here,” we trundle over cobblestones down a narrow alley pocketed with trash cans close enough to fold in our side view mirrors. This is a long alley. Most alleys are short, so when there is a long alley, there is presumably some significance to its length. I do not know the significance to the length of this alley. The alley is barren, which, if movies are anything to be believed, is ominous as well. The truth is, most alleys don’t have any people in them at any given time, but the curious thing is this alley has no stray dogs or cats, not even rats foraging in the overflowing trash; a place must be vile if rats even are not tempted. That is ominous. I have lived in cities long enough to be disconcerted by the absence of rats.

At the end of the alley, we reach a gate leading into a cul-de-sac. Borges says we must climb the gate and I ask: “Are you planning on breaking a hip?” 

This Borges says, “I’m more spry than I look,” which is like me saying - I don’t have anything clever for this, he looks really fucking old, like he even has that potbelly-tiny-legs look going on. But true to his word, Borges lifts himself up and over the fence like a pole vaulter.  Terrible day to wear heels; I walk myself up the chain link fence. Are there other Borges’s who are less spry than this Borges, other Borges’s who could never have gotten over the gate, never gotten to wherever it is we are going to see whatever it is we are going to see - are those Borges’s happier than this one? Would this Borges trade his knowledge (and his agility) to be one of those Borges’s?

There are three buildings squeezed in around the end of the alley. Two in reasonable upkeep: windowsill plants (alive) and fresh paint. We enter the third house. It is familiar, like a story of his. Borges leads me to the basement. We stop at the door and he asks, “Are you ready to see the the Aleph?”  Wait; I know Aleph. I took one number theory course in college. The professor taught the same lesson every day for the last month because he would spend the first half of the class telling the same story about the elevator numbers in his apartment building and the second half of the class recapping the previous class, which was a recap of the class before that all the way back to the last time we learned something new. Aleph showed up there, levels of infinity, something like that, infinities of infinities, is this what Borges wants to show me? Infinite infinities. Quite the sight to behold. How could one even perceive all that and not lose their mind? Simple answer: Borges has lost his mind. Do I want to lose my mind? For this, maybe.

In mathematics, Aleph, ℵ, is used to denote infinite cardinal sets.

ℵo is the smallest of these, containing all natural numbers, and is the greatest of the aforementioned countable sets. Well, it’s tied for biggest. ℵ1 is the following set, the next largest, and it contains all rational numbers. This is the first of the uncountable sets, as you are now aware.

There is another argument that ℵ1 = 2^(ℵo), where 2^(X) is the power set of X - that is the set of all sets of X. This equation supposes - more than supposes: it is proven - that the number of all conceivable rational numbers is equal in size to the number of sets of natural numbers.

In the basement, a ratty old couch sits center stage, the walls, cracked brick and flaking mortar, unadorned. Blank, no words, no Word, no Aleph, scattered breaks through which vermin might have scurried. This Borges seats himself on the couch right in the middle where the cushions split. He pats the seat to his right and proceeds to stare out at the blank wall and he says to me like a wistful admirer, “Isn’t it beautiful?” I say it’s a wall, it’s a goddamn wall, there’s nothing to see. He points straight ahead and he says: “There, it’s right there! Don’t you see it?” And like, obviously, I can’t see it, because I’m saying I can’t see it, why would I be making that up? I wish I could see it; I want to see it; I can’t see it. There’s nothing there to see. I’m beginning to think Borges has actually lost it - and not in the “Saw something so beautiful it drove him mad” romanticized kind of lost it I initially thought, but just regular Alzheimer’s can’t-remember-his-kids’-faces batshit crazy. Which is way less fun; dementia’s not a good time. One thing stops me: I look at his eyes - and every era of art and pseudoscience has suggested that the eyes carry immense meaning - and his do, in a sense: less on a psychological level, more the fact that they’ve rolled to the back of his head and glazed over and what kind of rotation can an eyeball make before it pops off its bearings, because he’s got to be getting close. Something is going on down here. Is there a mold problem, a carbon monoxide leak - did he take some tabs and not share?

He is not perceiving the world as I am, I mean that’s the obvious part - how can he even be looking at anything. And yet, and yet, and yet and yet yet yet, I do not believe him to be entirely insane. Maybe a little. Even up to 60-70%. He is not altogether in this world, but he is not altogether out of it. I do not know what to make of this.

In this and many other lives, Borges was a literary critic before he turned to fiction. In some of these lives, perhaps he continued writing criticism, still writes criticism, never at any point begins or began writing fiction. Are there lives in which the order is reversed? So much of his work is predicated on the works of others, on the knowledge of story - no, I think no, there is no great literary Borges who did not first write criticism. There may be a Borges writing fiction in that group, but not good fiction, not the same fiction, not the hallmark fiction of Borges that we all know. It could hardly be said to be the same thing, the same Borges. In a sense, I suppose you could say that this Borges contains the Aleph within him, in his knowledge of stories, he may be able to put together any he pleases. Is this the Aleph, some shit metaphor for reading books until you go blind I don't want that.

Alternately, one could suppose that the rift between critic Borges and author Borges - the rift between critic Borges and author Borges is split around the Aleph. Once he did begin writing, his stories focused, almost without exclusion, on a limited scope of thematic material. One might call it material on possibility, potential, infinity. The Labyrinths, the great and unending libraries, the splitting worlds and parallel lives, the self-multiplying and self-dividing stones, and, of course, the Aleph. A creative writing teacher of mine once called this sort of thing an ‘intellectual preoccupation,’ which is a nice way of saying ‘Stuck on the same problem long after everyone else has resolved it,’ which is a nice way of saying ‘Slow.’ If Borges is stuck on the Aleph, could it be because he has witnessed it? He’s stuck, he cannot get past it, and like that’s a lot for one person to handle. Maybe, maybe he has or is or will, it's really hard to say for sure without knowledge of this Borges' timeline, and this is not going to be a time travel story, because those are way too messy. It is true enough, it is possibly true, if it must be true, then you might as well stop reading (and maybe purge everything else you have read up to now), there is no certainty in truth, no truth in stories, no stories in something clever that completes this triplet. Eh, I’ll figure it out later.

“In that unbounded moment, I saw millions of delightful and horrible acts; none amazed me so much as the fact that all occupied the same point, without superposition and without transparency. … The Aleph was probably two or three centimeters in diameter, but universal space was contained inside it, with no diminution in size. Each thing … was infinite things.”

(Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph)

Is it within the realm of possibility that this Borges knows all stories, which, for those of you keeping count at home, is a fuck-lot. If this Borges does know every story, then he could be sitting there on the couch - still is, hasn’t moved an inch, not even sure he’s breathing, no, no, wait, he is breathing, okay, that would be bad very bad, really just not how I want to spend a Saturday - is he sitting there seeing all of these stories at once - witnessing all potential fractures of choice and possibility - this is why  could be why, he is hunched over and tense, why his eyes are glazed and his teeth chattering, his heart palpitating and hands shaking and sweating like he is on overdrive. 
Is it possible that the sum of all knowledge is enough to drive us insane - we have finite space, right? I am neither a psychologist nor neurologist, but to imagine the brain as an infinite repository of knowledge seems… unlikely; infinity is a tricky concept. Things would be a lot simpler if there was no infinity. Some things would be more complicated, things like the universe, that would be more complicated, but it doesn’t affect my day-to-day. Who’s gonna freak out, Stephen Hawking or some nerds at MIT?
Is this Borges’ state now, like an overclocked CPU burning, a motor gasping, pushed faster than was believed it could go, fans set wheezing - Borges without safeguard, with nothing to prevent him from attempting to process this information all at once. It seems self-evident now to say that his biting his nails to the point of bleeding was his body’s way of crying for attention, attempting to tell the world outside Borges that Borges is breaking down and unable to help himself. Godammit, I guess it’s my responsibility. Thanks, universe, I totally didn’t have plans after this (I mean, I didn’t, but I’d still like to take a moment to be indignant).

Oh! Borges has made a sound, a groan, he might just be gassy - and great, he’s back to chewing what remains of his nails, blood streaking again from his hands, now dyes his mouth, his clothes, the couch. He has begun babbling under his breath like a tape rewinding; it is incomprehensible. And annoying - he’s slurring, sputtering, his mouth struggling to keep pace with his mind. He’s drenched in sweat, it collects down under his ass with his finger blood. I feel his forehead and, holy shit, my hand actually hurts, he’s burning up like I’ve never felt before. I run upstairs and raid the kitchen. In the freezer, I find a tray of ice cubes and break them out into a dish rag. I swear the ice sizzles when it touches his forehead. This slows him down some, enough to make sense of his words again, there are at least syllables. He is even able to look at me and utter: “The Aleph” in a bronchitis voice as if it means anything to me. And he is pointing a finger at the blank wall, there’s nothing there, Borges! Goddamn!

It is an interesting thought-experiment to calculate the sum total knowledge of this and all Borges’s. The Borges’s can be divided into two categories:

●    𝛼: the Borges’s who do not know everything.

●    𝜔: the Borges’s who do know everything.

Any given 𝜔 Borges possesses, naturally, all the knowledge of any given 𝛼 Borges, which leads to the conclusion:
∑(𝛼) + ∑(𝜔) = ∑(𝜔)

That is: the collective knowledge of all 𝛼 Borges’s and all 𝜔 Borges’s is equal to the knowledge of all 𝜔 Borges’s. Or: the 𝛼 Borges’s add nothing to the equation. They are useless Borges’s (in this example; possibly in life). Then we must realize that the only value we could achieve from one omniscient 𝜔 Borges to another is a certain set theoretical knowledge of the power sets of knowledge of 𝜔 Borges’s. In a sense:
                                                                                                 ∑(𝜔) = 2^(𝜔)
But, if we consider what omniscience actually means, then any single Borges will also have that set theoretical knowledge, resulting in:
                           ∑(𝜔) = 2^(𝜔) = 𝜔

If we recall the problem of countable and uncountable sets, then this single Borges before me is attempting to reason through an uncountable amount of information - a volume of information so great that there is not a mathematical means of examining at all. That might be too much for him to handle. Omniscience is a tricky thing. 

I go to the wall now. I feel only brick, there appears to be nothing of note. Borges has removed the ice from his head so I bark at him to keep it there. He complies like a child angered by the embarrassment of getting caught. I knock on the wall where he was pointing. It sounds hollow. And if not hollow, the peculiar - I test this by knocking on other walls and other parts of the wall, and sure enough, they sound different - finally something I can get my hands on, something empirical - it’s adding a much needed layer of grounding. I feel better now. This story feels real again.
Borges’ ice has all melted and the water soaked into the couch now with both his sweat and blood; as long as he doesn’t piss there, we’re not going to have a problem. I just hope the house’s owner (if there is one) doesn’t want their couch back. I run back upstairs but, of course, I left the tray out and the remaining ice has melted. I don’t think I could freeze any in time to do anything. I’m not sure it would help anyway. His babbling has caught back up to speed - increasing this time, well that can’t be good. I guess it could be good, but there’s no reason to believe that anything that is happening, could happen, will happen is good. Things are bad here, now. Faster, Borges’ voice picks up faster faster faster, it’s a screech, louder, piercing, holy fuck, how can a human make that noise, what process produces -  jesus fuck, I think my ears are bleeding and it keeps going higher louder higher higher louder - and stops. Just… stops. I do not want to go downstairs, I am certain of what I will find.

Some days pass after Borges’ funeral before I find the will to return to the house. Still abandoned, gate pried open for the ambulance, even the prints of the EMTs’ shoes left on the cobblestones before disappearing into the ambulance. It is like the moon, as if no one has been here since us. It is strange, but not the strangest proceeding afoot, and I don’t worry too great a deal about it.

Inside, there are signs of life. Borges’ shit stain on the couch has been removed, the rag washed, folded, left on the kitchen counter, and the basement floor mopped - the ice tray was refilled and returned to the freezer. And most of that, the cleaning, could be attributed pretty easily to whatever post-mortem cleanup crew was called in (although who called them in?), but refilling the ice tray? Peculiar. Or, a very thoughtful cleaner. Or, other: _________.

I take the ice tray and a sledgehammer down to the basement. The sledgehammer I brought from home. Well, Home Depot then home now here. Whatever factory Home Depot buys from then Home Depot then here. Raw resource deposits then factory then… doesn’t matter.

I leave the ice on the couch and set to work on the hollow part of the wall. The first swing succeeds only in cracking splinters of brick off the facade. The sledgehammer is heavy and there’s dust in my eyes and I can never seem to hit the same spot, so after 10 minutes of working, I have sore arms and a scattered series of surface-level marks. There has to be a better way. The sledgehammer’s all I brought. I try for a few more minutes, succeeding now in hitting the same spots out of favorable probability: I’ve hit more places once than not at all, so the odds of hitting a spot a second time increase with every miss.

I work for some 20 minutes, at the end of which my arms are trembling. I should exercise more. How long should the average person be expected to swing a sledgehammer? 20 minutes doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s tough work, really wears you down. At the same time, I don’t work out at all, so I should exercise more in the future period.

I’m going to take a 5. The ice has all melted, so I drink from the tray. I want to refill it, but… stairs. Should’ve brought a Gatorade, a G2, a Powerade, a water, a Coke even - there are a lot of options, and I chose none of the good ones. I did not come prepared. If I ever have to do something like this again - which I’ll admit is unlikely - at least I’ll know what to expect. I really thought it would take two or three good swings to bust through, and I did not think my hands would be numb from the reverberations. Lot of surprises here today. Really hoping none of these are the big one. Talk about a letdown if I finally break through this wall and the most surprising thing is how long it took to get there.

I have to be getting close now - but, why don’t let’s just skip ahead to the part where something interesting happens - saves you like 5 minutes and saves me a lot of manual labor. 


I finally push through, enough to squeeze my hand into, scrape my skin up on the jagged brick, feel around. That was dumb, that kind of move never ends well in movies. I should be glad my hand didn’t get chopped off and/or eaten and/or infected with a flesh-eating disease. And why are flesh-eating diseases always the go-to “terrible disease to get?” Because they’re rare and they’re terrifying, stop asking stupid questions, we’re getting off topic.

I can’t feel anything, can’t reach the back wall. But when I get up close at just the right angle, I can see something shiny, a glint - a metal or precious stone or candy wrapper. That’s where I focus my next round of smashing, and after another good 10 minutes, I have cleared away enough to pull out the glittering object.

You know, golden tablets (and tablets in general) - like the kind Joseph Smith got from Moroni - feature pretty heavily in religious mythology and ancient writings and cultures and whatnot. But I never really had a good mental image of what golden tablets were supposed to look like. Everyone really skimps on the details in the retellings, probably because the tablets aren’t real. This tablet is real. About the size of a sheet of notebook paper, top rounded into an arc. Some 2 inches deep, all the lettering inscribed into the surface with thin strokes of black ink to highlight the depressions. The top is in red, and it contains only this symbol:

The ink is crusty and with the shade of dried blood. I’m sure it’s not. I hope it’s not. The big symbol at the top is somewhere around a 32pt if I had to guess. The body is smaller, not 10pt small, maybe your low 20’s? All of the lettering is in Hebrew, I think. I don’t even know Hebrew well enough to know if something is in it.
There’s only the one tablet, but along the left side the edge appears to be broken. I go back into the hole and root around for another piece. I don’t find one; I do find a small vial containing a murky greenish liquid. There is a label which reads (in English):

Drink and read from Aleph to Taw.

How the shit am I supposed to read this? Did Borges speak Hebrew? Did Borges even read this? Maybe this is a strange, unrelated gold tablet hanging out in the wall; this would be a good time for Moroni to pop out and break down the situation for me. No, nothing? God, are you there? If so, your clues are too goddamn complicated.
And what the hell is Taw? Aleph, Aleph is the symbol on the tablet. I know this. No fucking clue what Taw is, or even how to pronounce it and the ink on the label is smudged so it actually kinda looks like Taco, and fuck it, I’ll take a Taco - but the reasonable assumption is that it is not Taco, and not-Taco is the header on the other tablet. Kinda hungry now.
I might drink it anyway. What’s the worst that can happen? I diO. obviously. The worst is I die the same slow, painful, bizarre death as Borges. Which is pretty bad. Kind of a thinker.
Eh, I’ll do it.
No dosage instructions on the vial; seems pretty unsafe; this whole operation seems pretty unsafe - you don’t store a gold tablet and a bottle of mystery liquid in a wall unless you’ve got something to hide. Of course, if I drink this and find out what happened to Borges, there’s a nonzero chance I figure out why this shit’s in the wall and it’s all perfectly reasonable and I feel like something of an ass for being so suspicious about the whole thing. I’m never one to forgo making an ass of myself.
I pop the cork and drink a swallow. It smells like like it’s been sitting in a wall for God-knows-how-long and has absorbed the dust and the rat shit and the mold - I wonder what it was supposed to smell like. Cognac? I think it’s cognac. I know it’s cognac. Strong, already feeling it, am I really a lightweight? I should drink more and exercise more so I can drink more.

Shit maybe I’m drunk, but this tablet’s making sense, so I guess I can read Hebrew. Or something. It’s not in English, but I get it, I understand it, as if I have already seen and read and known these words - and I see it, I see everything - unfolding without end. I see myself in every iteration, there are choices, finite… but they’re there. And it’s getting a little warm in here.



This story began when I picked up a copy of Borges’ collected works and read straight through, which, in hindsight may have been too much Borges’ at one time. It did get me thinking about Borges’ notions of infinity in relation to my studies at NYU. The inspiration for the story as a version of Borges’ story comes from two places: Borges himself, and his iteration of Don Quixote, ‘Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote,” and Cathy Acker’s body of work. From there, I began to mimic and subvert some of Borges’ themes: the fictionalized self as narrator and the use of women as representations of principles of love and sex: with a fictionalized version of myself as the narrator, and Borges’ as an idea of Borges. There is then a natural extension from here to depictions of transness (and other marginalized identities) as concepts rather than people fully-formed.

Evan Marcey is a (trans) woman born in California, raised in North Carolina and now lives in New York. She has a degree in Mathematics and French from NYU. She now works for an information systems consulting firm and writes in her spare time/when drunk on the subway and trying to stay awake. Her work has appeared in The Concubine, Long Day Press, and Weather Patterns, a collection of short stories.