The new story of Marcelo Birmajer: Aquiles in Chascomús

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A book that grows as a meeting approaches. And the difference between mortals and immortals.

This year it was Professor Korcek’s turn, in Argentina, in Chascomús: he would receive the Aquileanos. They met once every twenty years. The 2020 date was famous in itself. Professor Korcek went out of his way to be an unquestionable host. He took even the smallest precaution so that no mishap of insecurity between Ezeiza and Chascomús arose: he hired an armored van, with the highest protection standards. He advised his distinguished guests not to exchange money at the airport: a handful of dollars would be left over for any extra expenses that weekend.

As in every Aquilean headquarters, the host was in charge of housing, meals and walks. That alone would make an eye out of his face, but he wasn’t sorry. Dr. Pataquis attended, from Greece; Itamar Gazó, from Jerusalem; Nabuko Espora, an Iraqi exile in Los Angeles, the Cuban Villamir and the Dutch Jude Hostadt, among others. They were all Aquilean in two senses: scholars in the mythical story of the Greek hero, and each of them possessed mutilated invulnerability at the same time. Pataquis’s weak point was his knee; Hostadt suffered from a kidney; Spore, bruxism; Gagged, rotator cuff. On any given day they would die of their respective ailments: but meanwhile, every twenty years, they attended the Aquileo Congress by a lake.

The tradition dates back to an irretrievable anniversary, next to the original Styx lagoon. There, Thetis had submerged her son Achilles, but taking him by the heel, giving rise to the warrior and his legend. Why had Tethys taken Achilles for a heel, Korcek wondered? She was not stupid. It would have been enough to take it, under the water, alternately by one heel and the other, so that both were wet and invincible like the rest of the body. Didn’t she finish loving her son? Precisely, to receive the members of the Aquileo Congress, Korcek was preparing his presentation on the great book by Professor Acho: Achilles’ mother. Acho, a Spaniard, had gifted the book to Korcek for his Bar Mitzvah, along with the revelation that Korcek was also an Aquilean.

Korcek confessed to his companions that his Achilles heel was, strictly speaking, Sansonian: her hair was falling out. That would die. But as long as the poisoned arrow of destiny did not arrive – that would finish them all, Achilles or not – they had to continue the farce of existence: meetings, congresses, friendships, romances, chinstraps, rows. Mimi, the widow of Oy, had colluded, without saying water, as Korcek’s secretary. Mimi was ten years older than him: she insisted on calling him a doctor or a professor, while the latter resented the respectful treatment.

– Doctor or professor was her husband, bless his memory. I am just a humble disciple. Please just call me Korcek.

But Mimi, as if she did not listen to it, or forgot it, persisted in the doctor, or professor. Since he had read the book that one time, at the age of thirteen, Professor Korcek had set out to reread it a month before the Achilleans arrived. But the specimen was playing tricks on him: a week before the event, when you thought you had just ten pages to go to finish, ten more pages appeared. Korcek recalled that the book was 379 pages long, and in October he discovered a new chapter that ran up to page 389. Was he going crazy? Alzheimer’s? Were your host nerves playing tricks on you? To top it all, Mimi was forcing the siege on her sentimental stronghold as hard as possible.

Acho’s widow would call him at night, he would appear around the house with a delicacy cooked by her, and make inappropriate comments. He would never mock the memory of the greatest Achilleans. But he was not being able to finish the book.

“Mimi,” Professor Korcek called from his office.

The woman came immediately, as if Korcek had screamed. He imposed a submissive attitude. It was clear to both of them that without her, Korcek would not even be able to find a pair of his shoe. He could perfectly have gotten lost in the center of Chascomús, if she didn’t pick him up when she did her little shopping. But he refused to consider himself tied to Mimi: “If he ever left, and I get lost in the center of Chascomús, what would be the tragedy?”

“Mimi,” said Professor Korcek. By any chance you were changing my copy of Achilles’ mother?

“No, professor,” Mimi replied.

– How can it be that last week the book had 389 pages and now it has 400?

He avoided mentioning that, originally, he remembered a total length of 379 pages.

“I have no idea, professor,” Mimi replied, adding, muttering: I didn’t touch him.

The implications of the verb were obvious. Korcek felt a sudden sexual desire, which he eased by scratching his skin. He thought that they were already two ridiculously old people. The guests were on their way: suddenly the book was 415 pages long. What a shame, they would arrive before I finished rereading it. Oy collated the story of Achilles from conception to death, but with an epilogue dedicated to why the mother had taken him by the heel when submerging him. This section was the one Korcek could not reach: each time he approached the end, like a weed, the number of pages increased. When the guests finally arranged their belongings in their individual rooms, the book totaled 422 pages.

– How can it be? Professor Korcek wondered aloud, avoiding Mimi’s presence. It is not a wonder: it is a curse!

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