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The Death of Arthur

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San Francisco has kind weather for old bones. He can sit in the park all day, with a sandwich and a book and his chess pieces. The other old men have stopped offering him a game. He's left in peace.

When it rains, he goes to the library. He doesn't like his apartment, which is small and white-walled. He doesn't like enclosed spaces anymore. Even if he could go back to his rock fortress, he could never bear to live there.

His name is Moise Liss. It says so on his driver's license and his social security card. He's not sure why he chose something so Jewish. Erik Lehnsherr didn't sound Jewish at all. Before he was Erik, he was Dawid, but no one living has ever called him that. Dawid Goldwasser died in Auschwitz. He's a number tattooed on Erik Lehnsherr's arm, which is Moise Liss's arm.

Erik Lehnsherr, the first one, was a boy at Dawid Goldwasser's primary school. A sort of friend. He was eight years old when he died from stepping on a rusty nail. Years later, in 1945 when the Russians arrived, his name came into Dawid's mind, and he told it to the man with the notebook. In the camp, people used to say that Jews with Polish names, German names, had been able to get away. Even to America.

It worked for Erik Lehnsherr. When they sent him back to prison, it wasn't because he was a Jew.

Every day, as Moise Liss sits in the park or the library, he's surprised that no one recognizes him. He's been on television, after all. His picture's been in all the papers, both with and without the helmet. There are even websites about him. But of course no one expects to find a famous terrorist sitting on a bench reading Le Morte D'Arthur.

This is the first lesson of Moise's new life: invisibility doesn't need a mutation. Getting old will do it. Being harmless--neutered, normal, nothing--will do it.

Of all the dead people he's been, Magneto is the deadest of all.

Metal, too, is dead. It was alive to him once, like his breath--both outside him and part of him. Now it sits in cold lumps, and however he calls to it, it doesn't respond.

He avoids it, as best he can. He walks instead of taking the streetcar, stays away from modern buildings, doesn't buy canned foods. When he has to touch his keys, or a metal doorknob, he wipes his fingers on his trouser legs afterwards. He's beginning--and this almost makes him laugh--to love plastic.

Yet even in this age of plastic, metal is everywhere. Five times a day, ten times, he finds himself stretching his gift for it, and failing. Because he has no gift.

When they come for the mutants, they will not come for him. Powerless, he is safe.

They might come for the Jews, of course. Or, more likely, the queers. Moise flirts aggressively with any man he could remotely desire, so that no one will mistake him for a heterosexual. If he were thirty years younger, he'd buy one of those self-proclaiming t-shirts he sees on beautiful young bodies along Castro Street, where he likes to walk at night. The young men give him strange looks but avoid his eye. Probably they think he's there to tell them about Jesus.

They're all so beautiful. He has to remind himself that they're human, most of them. Some of the queer bars have signs on the door that say "No Mutants."

Mutant, queer, Jew. He's never met anyone else who was all three.

After Castro Street, he's always glad for the long walk home. It helps him sleep.

Sometimes he dreams that Charles is alive. Dreams full of ruined wishes--Charles alive, saved by Erik, murmuring "Thank you" and collapsing into his embrace. Charles grateful, ready to join him at last.

The dreams would be humiliating, if he thought about them once morning came. They would make him weep. But Dawid wept his last tears at twelve years old. The dead are dead. They can neither hear, nor help, nor be called back by grief.

Moise Liss doesn't own a copy of The Once and Future King, a book Charles Xavier gave to Erik Lehnsherr more than fifty years ago. He reads Malory instead, fumbling through the Middle English. He likes this version better. There's no twaddle about non-violence, for one thing.

Moise Liss carries a smooth granite pebble in his pocket. If he ever gets a chance, he'll lay it on Charles Xavier's grave. He carries it, but he doesn't think about it.

Moise Liss reads, and walks, and plays chess against himself. The plastic pieces are weighted with metal, and sometimes he tries to move them without touch.

If he ever succeeds, he will be Erik Lehnsherr again. Magneto.

He neither hopes nor fears.