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The View From Here

Out his window is Texas.
Red earth. The location of Houston where he had once owned a percentage of an oil refinery (did he still?). This refinery he had only seen once, from the window of his chauffeured car as he drove past it on his way to somewhere else, a collection of monstrous pipes and scaffold and fences and oil drums, which as it scrolled by looked as if it were on fire because the light as well as the earth is red there.
The location of Dallas where the American president was shot dead. Mikhail had watched the film and it made his neck itch like a wool shirt. He would never ride in open cars.
He had often told people that one of his oldest memories is of his mother and father discussing the assassination of the American President. His mother when she was alive said that this was foolish and impossible, as he had only been three years old and barely even speaking at that, to the degree that they had worried he might perhaps be a little slow or troubled developmentally. He thinks of his mother and eats a meal of grey mash that tastes almost like peas.
Out his window is the Atlantic.
On the dock of an island near Cyprus with blinding white buildings and scenic peasants he had christened a yacht with a bottle of champagne and the name of his second wife, and then presented it to the woman herself with a magician's bow. Two years later they divorced. They had a single daughter whose eyes were a different color than either of their own.
Mikhail had another daughter also, older, but no sons, which he pretended to but did not regret.
He used to put his first daughter on a yellow school bus in New Jersey on cold mornings, in the final years he was poor: Ronald Reagan had just become president and the customers at his gas station would call him Ivan as they bought his gas, which was special because it had the tax removed, making it unusually profitable. The room he is in now is about the size and shape of the interior of one such school bus, perhaps a little smaller.
Out his window is the Russian Federation.
In his youth it was still called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It was not red but had been red on the maps. When he returned after perestroika and made himself rich he found that he was a ghost. His parents were dead and the world he had known as a child and young man had vanished, and because he had not seen it happen he did not quite believe it. Vitaly, another man who made his fortune in those same years, had thrown a party once: French farmers were hired to dress as collective workers and drive old tractors back and forth on the lawn in front of his mansion, which looked a bit like the winter palace, he had hired the Red Army Choir to sing patriotic songs, and there the finest caviar and vodka was distributed by beautiful, gazelle-like women in Komsomol uniforms, who would also supply cocaine if you should ask.
Out his window is Japan.
Like many countries he would say that he had been to Japan when in fact he had only been to its hotels. These were the years in which he had been a sort of elite transient, existing in a looped series of airports and hotels and boardrooms. He had forgotten where food came from and what happened to clothes after you dropped them on the floor.
His daughter from his second marriage had moved to Japan. She rarely spoke to him. Going to a hotel was really just like watching a country on television. You had to smell things to know what was really happening. This daughter would never accept his money. She had died in a hotel room. It had broken his heart but sometimes he took a strained solace in the fact that after living a life of which he could envision only the most generic and impersonal strokes she had at least died in the sort of location with which he felt a little familiar.
Out his window is the Pacific Ocean.
Dark, a cyclone spinning its arms across the sea, drowning fishermen (are there still fishermen out there? There must be. There are still people and people will always eat). When he was young he had been a strong swimmer, never afraid of the currents. Then one day he had gotten in the sea and felt the water pull at him and been afraid and known that he was old.
Every time he sees the ocean he is a little bit closer to it. Not perceptibly, not visually (not yet), but closer. He knows this because his computer told him. The designer or at least the chief designer had been Japanese, a young man. He hadn't wanted money from Mikhail, it was too late for that, he said; there were no longer any reliable currencies. Instead what he had wanted was a ship, a large one.
Once they were alone in a glass elevator, climbing the side of a Singapore hotel as below in a concrete plaza a thick black line of riot police circled a crowd like a noose, Mikhail had been seized by a sudden and almost overwhelming need to speak to the young man about his dead daughter, because he thought that this could well be the last Japanese man he ever spoke to, and he had turned and even opened his mouth before the moment passed and instead of speaking they looked back down to the streets to observe a firebomb burst in a circle of blue flame which was from this height no more than the striking of a match.
He should have listened to Vitaly. Vitaly placed his faith in the earth, in old deep bunkers where you could still see where they had pried off the hammer and sickles. Vitaly was probably still alive.
Mikhail had placed his faith in the sky, sure now some kind of arrogance in him had made him do it. He had explained that it was about percentages and missiles, that because they kept on hitting the asteroid with missiles you couldn't be sure where it would strike exactly, that he didn't believe the predictions. But wasn't it something else? Wasn't it because anybody could dig a hole but only a very few could afford to soar above the world? Wasn't it that he thought everyone would die and he couldn't stand to see it? Wasn't it that he hadn't wanted to be on Earth anymore, but he was too proud to drink himself to death or put a gun to his head?
Leaving behind the night side of the Earth, its tangle of manmade lights like tattered nets in a sea of darkness, moving towards a greater light.
The joke or irony was that it was a piece of the asteroid that had struck the space station, after they finally succeeded in deflecting it, just enough, a day after Mikhail had ascended. A very small piece, but superheated, fusing the lock holding the pod by which he could have safely sailed back down to earth at any time in place, its impact taking away his ability to communicate, and ever so slightly altering the path by which he traveled around the Earth.
Degrading. That was what the word for his particular sort of progress. Very slow, like aging, so that rather than see it happen you observe its results.
Here comes the sun.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, February 24th, 2017
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