The Medicine

In the first day of November the two men swapped manuscripts and by the same afternoon they had finished reading.

"Are you done?", Pretorian asked him.

Each of them was occupying one spacious armchair. The room had grown colder, so the Stamate woman had heated the fireplace. She had brought them mugs of tea. After showing her which suit, shirt and tie to prepare for him in the next morning, he sent her home.

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 manuscript.

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 mean".

"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.

Antonio became 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 followed.

"Congratulations!" added the writer stretching his hand out for Antonio.

"Then, our 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 the car.

Antonio could not open the door. He showed him how to do it.

"Goodbye!" said Pretorian.

"Goodbye", 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.

(Excerpt from Respiro - Short Stories Selection 2000-2002, Dacia Publishing House, 2002)