It annoyed the professor when people slept late, but he didn’t want to awaken Valeria, because she enjoyed sleeping. “She is really very diligent,” he thought, studying her delicate profile and the profusion of red hair against the white pillowcase.
The professor’s name was Felix Hernandez. He seemed young, as did so many of his age at that time (twenty years earlier they would have been old already). He was famous, even outside of the academic world, and much beloved by his students. He considered himself fortunate to be living with Valeria, a university student.
He went to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. Taking care to brown the toast just so, he remembered, “This morning Valeria will be defending her thesis. She must not forget the three periods of history.” After a pause he said: “Lately I’ve been talking to myself.”
He carried the breakfast tray to the bedroom just as the girl was getting out of the shower, still wet and wrapped in a towel. As he handed her a cup, he caught sight of his own face in the mirror, with his salt-and-pepper beard that even recently shaved looked three days old. He looked at the girl, looked again in the mirror, and thought to himself, “Such a contrast. Really, I am quite fortunate.” The girl announced:
—If I don’t wake up, I’m dead.
—Because you won’t get your doctorate? You won’t be missing much.
It is no longer understood that it is possible to study alone. Just because they’re in a classroom with a professor, students believe that they are studying. The universities, once fortresses of learning, have become patent offices. Nothing is more worthless than a university degree.
The girl continued, as if speaking to herself:
—I don’t care. I want the degree.
—Well then, maybe it would be worth mentioning the three periods of history. When man believed that happiness was dependent upon God, he killed for religious reasons. When he believed that happiness was dependent upon the form of government, he killed for political reasons.
—I read a poem. It said that each one kills the thing he loves.
She looked at him, smiled, and shook her head.
—After dreams that were too long, true nightmares—Hernandez went on to explain—we arrived at the present period of history. Man woke up, discovered that which he always knew, that happiness is dependent upon health, and began to kill for therapeutic reasons.
—I think I’m going to start talking to the wall.
—I don’t see why. Does anyone doubt that at a certain age he will receive a visit from the doctor? And isn’t that a form of killing? For therapeutic reasons, naturally. A way to kill the entire population.
—Not the entire population. There are those who manage to escape to the other Zone.
—And from there looms the threat of a second wave of killings. Immense. For therapeutic reasons, also.
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.