Hot Milk

Alice Spawls writes:

In Almería in the heat of summer, the temperature reaches 40 degrees, and no rain falls. It looks like a lunar landscape: parched, craterous, unreal. In the distance, white tents incubate tomatoes, artificially hydrated. Gas canisters stand in the sand like strange desert plants; cargo ships float past to Greece. Against this largeness, Sofia Papastergiadis, postgraduate anthropology dropout and barista, is feeling the smallness of her life. ‘The dream is over for me. It began when I left my lame mother alone … that autumn I packed my bags for university … it ended when she became ill and I abandoned my PhD. The unfinished thesis I wrote for my doctorate still lurks behind my shattered screensaver like an unclaimed suicide.’ Her laptop is broken, which means Sofia is broken too (it ‘knows more about me than anyone else’). She stares at the screensaver image of the Milky Way; it’s the sort of generic screensaver laptops come with but Sofia, whose restless mind is always looking for connections – ways of explaining things, and explaining them away – jumps from the picture to the Latin lactea to her own etymology (‘my mother told me years ago that I must write Milky Way like this: γαλαξίας κύκλος’), to Aristotle in Chalcidice, to her father born in Thessaloniki, to the oldest star (13 billion years old) and back to the stars on her laptop (China, two years old). Γαλαξίας κύκλος means literally a ‘milky circle’.

(LRB 16 June 2016)

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