‘Alvin’ by Jonas Eika, translated by Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg

This story is from the best collection I’ve read this year, After the Sun by Jonas Eika. A systems administrator for a bank arrives in Copenhagen “sweating” and “halfway out of [himself]”, reflecting on a series of “fictional flights” he’s experienced. He remembers one in particular where he saw, through the plane window, a man running who fell to ground as if by shotgun. The rest of the story follows suit and has a fuzzy sense of jet lag where everything is blurred and slippery; a feeling pervasive in Eika’s fiction where things don’t have edges, bodies are without boundaries or thresholds. 

The systems administrator, we don’t learn his name, meets another man’s reflection in a cafe window and the pair seamlessly enter each other’s lives. We learn this other sickly pale man is called Alvin, he orders five of whatever meal he chooses from fast food chains so he can pick the best one and he trades derivatives, or “ghosts from the future” as he describes them. 

It’s clear that the pair’s amorphous relationship is something of a human derivative and when it shows signs of having a concrete future (I.e., not like a derivative) in the time of a glance the two part as quickly and as smoothly as they came together—like planes quietly taking off through “Broken air.” Eika’s visions of the future are both seductive and disturbing, a trick well practiced by the likes of Ballard which some of the dystopian writers working today seem to have forgotten.

First published in English in The New Yorker, April 2021, and available to subscribers to read here. Collected in After the Sun, Lolli Editions 2018, originally published in Danish as Efter solen by Forlaget Basilisk 2018