The day when her master, the writer, would join the Academy was very important for
Mrs Stamate and she had long waited for it. Pretorian had already finished his
speech last week. The woman watched him once again, from the door, barely
containing her tears, as if he were a child who made her proud. She would come
to wake him up early next morning.
Before going to the
Academy, Pretorian wanted to pop into the publishing house, to submit his
Antonio had skipped whole
paragraphs, he had become bored very soon. Literature was of little interest to
him, he wanted to feel the life, to be a normal man, to have a wife and
children, workmates, money, holidays to spend in the mountains, at the seaside,
to see the world, to be loved.
Pretorian's book did not
mean any of these.
"Yes, I read
it", he replied. "It is a beautiful book. Very accomplished, I
"It reminds me a
little of your last novel, but this one is better. You are a master of
style!", he beamed, thinking this would flatter Pretorian, but the other
man did not return his smile.
uncomfortable under his gaze.
Pretorian had opened his
book full of curiosity. After the first lines he had felt better already.
Lilian had been right. To witness somebody else's failure, the lack of
initiative, the cowardice and, above all, the inability, can be extremely refreshing.
The short, simple phrases were downright sophomoric. After a few pages, they
had begun to startle him. Then, without noticing, he had sunk completely into
reading, as into a miraculous trap. The book was different from anything else
he had ever read. He had loved it instantly, fascinated, amazed, befuddled.
He walked to the window
and saw Antonio in the garden. Pretorian's notebooks were lying in the grass
and Antonio was pruning the roses with some huge shears. Pretorian was aware
that Antonio had only leafed through his book and in that moment the fuzzy
feeling he had after he finished reading had suddenly turned into the wonderful
clarity he experienced after every night of not sleeping. Antonio was swirling
his tea with a teaspoon, now and then tasting the greenish concoction and
trying not to meet Pretorian's eyes.
"I read your
book", said Pretorian, handing the notebook back to Antonio. "It is
the only essential book I have ever read".
Antonio thought that
Pretorian was joking and smiled, waiting for the punch line, but only silence
added the writer stretching his hand out for Antonio.
deal....", said Antonio.
"I am sorry",
answered Pretorian. "You are leaving tomorrow".
In the silence that followed,
a thought occurred to Antonio. He held out his own notebook for Pretorian. The
writer watched him, bewildered. He understood and smiled, shaking his head. To
steal the work of a failure! Turned down, Antonio threw his notebook in the
fire blazing inside the fireplace. They both watched it burn with orange flames
and with blue flames.
"This does not change
anything", said Pretorian. "If you want, I'll give you a lift to the
center of the town tomorrow"
It was a clear morning. It
did not even look like November.
Pretorian had taken his
car our from the shed.
Antonio had gathered his
things into the tattered backpack.
The car started slowly
onto the city lanes. There were people strolling on the sidewalks. All the way
to the university they kept the same affectionate silence. Pretorian stopped
Antonio could not open the
door. He showed him how to do it.
wanted to answer Antonio, but he only waved his hand.
Pretorian took his
manuscript to the publishers (his friend, the director, expressed the happiness
that this new joint venture was causing him). Then he wasted a good few hours
at the Academy, where he uttered his speech and received sincere
congratulations and mystifications.
He returned home after lunch.
He sent the Stamate woman to buy him cigarettes. Almost two hours he pondered.
Then, with a sure hand, although it was his first time, he hanged himself.
It was three o'clock,
exactly when Antonio stole a doughnut from a table in a bakery.
Out from college, a girl
had bitten twice into it. It was a swollen doughnut, with a raw center.
It was a fine day, with
gentle light, except for the breeze that was knocking leaves off trees.
from Respiro - Short Stories Selection 2000-2002, Dacia Publishing