Excerpt from “The Boarding House” by Mario Levrero

The Japanese man isn’t even my biggest headache; he pales in comparison to the scientist, for example—who succeeded, without the participation of the human male, in exciting an ovule with electricity, creating an abnormally large adult fetus that has been living in a glass flask for over four years now and hasn’t yet officially been born; working on the assumption that after the fetus is born sometime in the next few years it will prove to be endowed with new and longed-for sensory powers, the scientist indefatigably imparts a knowledge and refinement far superior to the norm by reading meticulously-chosen selections aloud to it every day, covering, among other things, poetry, mathematics, philosophy, and history, in order to exploit the fetus’s extraordinary faculties for the good of mankind, a sort of new Christ, as the scholar puts it, who will stir the dead consciences of those individuals around the globe who march blindly en masse toward total automation, and I, out of moral duty, must assist in the readings, standing in for the scientist when his eyes can no longer bear the strain, as well as carefully supervising the fetus’s nutritional intake at regular intervals, using a specially-designed apparatus to pump the balanced liquid feed through a half-natural, half-plastic umbilical cord—or to the old spy—who lives in a room on the floor above mine, keeping strict records of, if not all, at least the vast majority of the boarders’ movements, not out of bad faith or for practical purposes but out of mere curiosity, stemming most likely from her small-town upbringing, obtaining her reports through extortion implemented using previously collected data and her astonishing network of microphones, cables, recorders, transmitters, and other state-of-the-art equipment, ably concealed, sometimes in a little pot of forget-me-nots or a row of hooks stuck to the tiles on the bathroom wall, while using a team of special agents, including practically every one of us, for straightforward espionage, as well as more complex tasks of a technical nature involving the installation and control of devices—or to my neighbor across the hall—who has entangled me, winning me over initially with packs of filtered cigarettes acquired on the black market, in the story of his clandestine trysts with the bubbly blonde, periodically bringing her, much more often than I’d like, to my room, from which I am thus banished ipso facto, forced to hang around the back streets and snack bars of the neighborhood and knock on my own door before entering, provoking a range of emotional states highly detrimental to my nerves, in addition to other sentiments, particularly guilt, yet again, because I think of his wife, noble, beautiful, and self-sacrificing, whose mistreatment is only furthered by my complicity, a commitment I am still unsure exactly how I acquired, though everything began as a man-to-man favor sealed with a peculiar wink that I didn’t want to reveal I neither understood nor approved of, something I never suspected would become so frequent and almost ritual.

Read the complete story in Issue 2 of the Portable Museum, available now for all ebook platforms!