THE OUTLANDS - we watch them going in a bubble of breath held -

897
EL TOPO

The trapdoor to the bunker is disguised by moss gathered from nearby and arranged so as to look natural. Moss is in good supply. The bunker is a subterranean complex. In the past, there must have been more evidence of its extent: a visible platform, the remnants of a rotating turret with apertures for the muzzle of a gun. Likewise, on the opposite side where the ground falls away towards the beach, the bunker’s fortifications distinguish themselves from the faces of rock which they seem to mimic all the same. The natural features of the landscape have been taken into account; the building’s orientation takes advantage of the slope.

A tangle of fallen branches blocks access to the place where the bunker’s platform might still be found. Trees and bushes grow in places that used to be clear.
El Topo knows the passages of the bunker well. Or El Topo does not know the passages of the bunker well. He has walked them, and repeated his walk, in his isolation testing the span of the corridor. He has done so with articulations of his limbs (some natural, some less natural). He has found places to stop, to reside for periods longer than he would be able to reason, where there is no provision for the requirements of a body. He has seen the complex from its anonymous corners. He has watched himself watching, and has made ocular procedures adequate to the task. But if El Topo is familiar with its turns and scattered volumes, his vision of the bunker’s extent is confused; with his labour, his knowledge of the passages’ convolutions increases, and his picture of their limits becomes less sure.

It does not cross El Topo’s mind to consider that this place was built for bodies with dimensions and musculature different from his own.

His appropriation of the blockhouse marks its more recent chapter. In most places the internal walls are damp. And where they are not, to brush one’s hand over the surface disturbs a dry residue: a caustic dust that is the concrete’s struggle with itself. The dust gathers in crystalline forms around vents, invisible to the eye. These are the concrete’s pores. El Topo has seen them. He has done so by listening to the sound of his clothes brushing against the concrete’s surface. His legs, part of the soles of his feet, the palms of his hands, a portion of his belly, the left side of his chest, his chin: his encounters with the wall pass through each of these in turn, through all at infinite speed. He knows the density of wall through distributed vibrations. New skin and a new intimacy. El Topo knows his cavernous concrete dwelling, and he knows it not.

But the residue on its inner walls foretells the ruin of the blockhouse.
In conjunction with its steel reinforcement, concrete is unstable. And in its own composition too, over time it transforms. The solid mass expels its interior, becomes a hollow network. Paths across its surface shift as thresholds between the deposits of aggregated dust, the solidus on which the discharged interior collects, and the catastrophic descents of the wall’s porosity: each of these compounded by the work of micro-organisms that the hole-complex supports. El Topo has seen it all before inscribed in the stones of the beach. The beach too has testified to the bunker’s fate. You just need to know it well enough; take note of the most minute transformations of its surface. El Topo has made their pace part of his own duration; its slowness, the slowness of his movement; the tempo of its modification, his temporal texture against the measured times now abandoned.

He feels the stiff canvas of his jacket in contact with the wall. He brushes from his sleeve some remnants of dust.

He states his tenure.

El Topo is not in residence, but he is close-by and would like to be enjoying its safety again. But there is a more pressing need. The secrecy of its location has been compromised.

He has installed himself at a distance, on the opposite side of the clearing, near the post of a demolished fence, with a view of the bunker’s entrance. He has been stationed here long enough that the undergrowth is flattened around him. His movements are slight. But even the warmth and pulse of a body at rest administers to its own comfort. Or in the intangible distance between his crouching, hidden form, and the under-growth yielding to his weight – in the body’s warmth that passes, and then passes back – there is something like sympathy.

But such feelings are forgotten when El Topo is alerted by a sound from nearby. He senses a presence apart from his own. There is no intruder within sight, but he must lie still.

Over his jacket he has wrapped an animal fleece. To maintain the vigil requires him to keep alert. He will imagine his hiding place as if from the vantage point of a third party, plotting himself here in the grass so as to better judge if this position continues to provide advantage. But in the stillness, his mind will wander too. It is odd to have found a transitory security. It is of the same nature, the safety of the hiding place in the bushes and the safety in the deepest cells of the bunker. The same strategy is employed as he hides with a view of the bunker’s entrance, secure for a moment, his fur-wrapped body a fortification. But if an enemy becomes aware of his presence, this will happen by the enemy first suspecting it, seeing a fraction of El Topo’s disguised form, or by seeing the most imperceptible movement as an anomaly in the field of vision from which the magnitude of the danger that El Topo constitutes for the other can then be inferred. This is the other’s advantage: not that the hiding place might be exposed, but that his adversary has a sense of the danger faced while his thinking is not directed exclusively by the spectacle of the danger. Seeing what cannot yet quite be seen, the enemy is made alert beyond his normal capacities. Thinking it through again, El Topo’s comfort recedes.

But El Topo has recourse to the same powers. While the necessity to keep still results in the limiting of his view, now his body nested this way realises a new seeing. The fleece in which he is wrapped gives him a vantage of the forest. It is an eye, an insect organ, seeing by touch. His feet – his boots – he would like to draw even closer: they may be visible from the other side of the bush. But it is better not to move. And with this twitch – the impossibility to stay still, the impossibility to move – muscle transmits anxiety of leg’s exposure, brain to body’s extremity, body’s extremity to brain. A carrier wave. Leg-antenna, before he draws it closer. The light is fading. He will sleep here tonight.

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