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Matt Leibel

At the entrance gates to the Ends of the Earth, I handed my passport to a guard, who looked at it, looked at me, then back at the passport. He told me to wait while he spoke with a superior. He came back and asked me some questions. He asked me why I had come here.

"I followed my girlfriend to the Ends of the Earth,"I told him, "because I'd told her that I'd follow her to the ends of the earth, which caused her to freak out, pack her bags, and bolt down the street in bathrobe and flip-flops. I watched her catch the #46 bus, caught the next one behind, took it to the coast and dove into the ocean after her. I swam the breadth of it, followed across Asia, to the top of Mt. Everest, where she unfurled wings from her purse and launched herself like Icarus toward the sun. I leapt into the frozen sky on pure strength of will and chased her shadow. I caught glimpses as she peered out between the cirruses, tailing, flailing, sailing, until finally I lost her, and crash landed into here."

And the skinny, purple-faced bureaucrat with a goatee the thickness of stretched gum stared at my passport, as though the picture might reveal something essential and hidden about me, some morbid thought, some master plan, when in fact I was just a man keeping a promise. I hoped he could understand, if he'd ever loved someone madly, unthinkingly, though if he had, he wasnıt inclined or authorized to disclose this fact to me, and he stood silent, stone-faced, I mean literally, his face turned into a blocked hunk of rock: part man, part stone, a kind of Magritte halfling. I couldn't believe it so I touched his face, and stone it was, immobile humanity, and heavy, so I tried to move him in another way.

"Okay. I have a problem," I told him, "an addiction to the Grand Romantic Gesture, in the same way that others are addicted to booze or pills or masturbation or computer solitaire or writing bad poetry. I'm not proud of this but I'm powerless against it. I've done it all from horribly off-key serenades to buying overly expensive gifts too early in the relationship to extravagant lobster dinners during which, in course of preparing, I nearly lost a finger. But this was more than that: I really LOVE this girl, or maybe what I love is the IDEA of this girl, my projection of her as a mirror reflecting everything good about the world and refracting everything that is messy and wrong. I always knew I would follow her to the Ends of the Earth, which, at the time sounded like a magical place, floating crimson carpets and glittering chandeliers and high frescoed ceilings and such, but which now seems more like a huge SNAFU, a bureaucratic nightmare, and all I care to do is see if she's inside, take a quick peek around, itıs fine with me if I'm followed around or hooked up to some sort of monitoring device."

The guard told me to wait while he made a call and so I sat there at the entrance to the Ends of the Earth eating complimentary pretzels and listening to the same Muzak CD loop over and over so many times I lost track. Finally the guard returned, handed me back my passport and the gates opened slowly and choppily, like a garage door deciding whether or not to function.

As I walked through, everything was encased in thick, gummy fog. I started to call out for her, repeating her name, over and over. No reply. I kept walking, all was obfuscated for miles and miles. I called her name again and again until I heard voices calling back to me. I came to a clearing between the clouds where the fog briefly lifted. And there they were. Millions, maybe billions. Every deluded idiot who'd ever lived and loved, calling out his lost lover's name, over and over, as though the women were missing terriers who'd run off into the night. As I entered the clearing, I could no longer distinguish my own voice from this sad chorus. We called out into the clouds, all of us did, plaintively, pleadingly, until the myriad names fused into one: beautiful, unpronounceable, and lost to us, forever.


Matt Leibel lives in San Francisco. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Metropole, Barcelona Review, Pif, Parting Gifts and Cafe Irreal.

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