All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews:
He took a book out of his bag and wrote something on one of the pages.
What are you reading?
Thomas Bernhard, he said. The Loser.
Nic, I said, that’s not even funny.
I know, but I am, you asked. Oh, can you give her these? He opened his backpack and gave me a sheaf of papers. They’re e-mails from people. For Elf. Fans. Friends. Claudio sent them. Nic turned away to look out the window. We were close to the airport, following the little airplane signs, through industrial zones and windowless gentlemen’s clubs and massive potholes.
Does anybody ever fix this city? I said. Nic said nothing. We got to the airport and again thanked each other for the efforts being made to help Elf. We hugged and said goodbye, au revoir and adios. All he had was a backpack and it looked half empty. I wondered if he’d bothered to pack anything at all besides his Bernhard and his favorite Chinese authors. How many days again? I called after him. He was walking through revolving doors, trying to negotiate his way through with his pack. He held up both hands like he was under arrest. Ten.