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Symploké by Frank Passani

What was that?

What was it?

I recall reading it on the bluish leather couch while she was breakfasting at the kitchen table under that limpid orange sky of Mars. Madeleines with her milk coffee, as usual. Radio in the background, breaking news from Earth. Looks like it happened one million years ago, but it was last month. A mere month back. That’s what space does to you. Stranded in the Rings of Saturn and a rescue team that will get here just in time to pick up my beautiful corpse from among icebergs that float in the void, supposing they show up at all.

Damned thrust.

How can you crash against giant ice cubes in the middle of space, baby? Looking to chill your glass of whiskey? Almost like the guy in that Alfred Bester novel, The Stars My Destination.

Who was it?

Can’t recall.

Must be the lack of air in the suit.

Running out.

Bloody hell.

Last month and I still remember the smell of the madeleines from four meters away but not the title of the novel. Proust would be proud of me. And now it’s not four meters. It’s one billion kilometres. But that book… not Bester’s but the other one… it’s like the Odyssey but not quite. Yeah, nothing is like the Odyssey, be it Homer’s or Kubrick’s. Not quite.

What am I talking about?

Ranting again?

You have Ulysses going back to Penelope on a ten-year trip after a ten-year war against a bunch of imbeciles who lost because of a wooden horse. You have his son Telemachus who honoured his name, who fought at a distance while Father was away, and Mother undoes at night what she weaved during the day. In twenty years, you have twenty Champions League winners, and yet Arsenal wouldn’t win a single one; no matter how much money you throw at the team, they’ll lose against Albanians or Polish because of whatever, whereas Real Madrid wins four in a row with a team of suckers and drunkards. The difference is I’m not Ulysses. I’m not going back. I’ll be the first corpse in the Rings of Saturn; at least that mark will be mine and not Sebald’s.

So, it’s about nostalgia, that made-up word, only half a millennium old but so basic to describe human indigence. How did the ancients describe what we call nostalgia? But what was the book, anyway? It’s about going back home. It’s always about going back home, to her and her madeleines.

Like Brideshead Revisited, no, wait, what am I talking about?

Not that one, for fuck’s sake but A Handful of Dust.


Nobody will ever see you alive again.

You don’t go back.

But he did go back.

What was the novel?

Cannot be Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond because they were tourists after all, whereas I was born on Mars. It’s not that I want to return to see Greek ruins in Turkey. I guess not only Sebald but Bradbury too would be proud of me. Set it all on fire but leave the books intact. I never saw the ghosts of Mars. Would good old Ray have seen them?

Can’t breathe.

God, I can’t breathe.

What was the title?

Even she liked it… not much of a reader, but she did… her father was a reader still in the old style, paper and the sound of pages turning… air…

Philip passed away on Earth… oxygen… can’t breathe. God, I got it. It’s The Return of Philip Latinowicz… Miroslav Krleža… that’s the novel, that’s the guy… red light… not a red-light district, last corny joke before dying but… red light in the spacesuit… a last madeleine with her and a walk under the domes of the colony… holding hands while licking an ice cream… just like Mum and Dad on Earth… their engraved wedding rings… I’ll love you till entropy do us part… not like the rings of Saturn… such inanimate beauty… arcades on Mars… Walter Benjamin wouldn’t… believe it if he… saw it.


Frank Passani (Barcelona, Spain, 1975) obtained his Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Barcelona with a dissertation about the Platonic and Aristotelian influences on C. S. Lewis. He became a Modern Greek translator while working in Greece as a Spanish language teacher. He is currently based in Singapore, where he still teaches Spanish. He self-published his first novel, "Void," with Notion Press in India since Singaporean proofreaders deemed it to be “polarising.”


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