THIS WEEK IN NYC 
 
 
YMANHATAN CHRONICLES FICTION
LITTLE PEOPLE
 

It began one morning. He had woken up very early. He was sipping his coffee. A book, still closed, lay beside him. A strange and powerful feeling he had not experienced before took possession of him. It seemed that an imperious, confused, but dictatorial voice was barking orders in brain.  Open the book and read!  He began to perspire. His head began to ache, and a shiver went down his spine, all the way to his slippers. He felt as if he was being pushed by something he couldn’t identify. Read! He could neither understand, nor oppose whatever was happening to him.

He took the book, opened it, and tried to read. But, far from fading away, the anxiety amplified. Words became garbled and began to eat each other. A sort of anxiety was clutching at his soul like a claw. His fingers were shaking, holding the book. The text became an amorphous mass of letters. He closed the book and stared at the wall in front of him. He was feeling alone and endangered, powerless and vulnerable.

A passing age crisis? The chaos of words neglected? Or something was being born inside Andrei Roscov?  And from that moment on, his life was turned upside down.

Andrei Roscov, a New Yorker naturalized more than fifteen years before, had won his battles with immigration. He had fought his way up the professional ladder and had reached as far as his training and capabilities allowed him. All he was left with now was the savor of his success. He past his prime, with only retirement to look forward to.

As the great confrontations were behind him, he started to think of ways to spend his old age. He was mildly terrified at the thought of inaction, which could undo men both physically and psychologically. In a way, he had already started to prepare for retirement, trying out hobbies, dabbling in things that he would later practice as antidotes to alienation, to the punishment of having to stay at home all day-even if this home were their dreamy upstate possession, complete with his relatively tempered and rather understanding wife.

He could travel, but then, how much can one really travel? After all, how many movies can one see, how many chess games can one play, how much can one garden?  Besides, he didn’t play golf or tennis; he wasn’t the athletic type. Then again, there’s always a book. One can read books forever. Reading is a sure thing, readily available and potentially endless. All he had to do was to recover all the books he had put off reading, all the books he had failed to read all those years he had to wage war with life, all those years he had to work until late in the evenings, he collapsed in exhaustion.

And since he thought one should have some practice and establish a tradition early on, Andrei Roscov started to read right away. Not just randomly. Systematically. Books by classic and contemporary authors, expensive volumes, and cheap editions soon began to flood the house, which until recently harbored few books, mostly bought by the children during their college years. Andrei Roscov became a conscientious book buyer, a regular of local libraries.

Books flooded his home. All the rooms sprung shelves, wall units, and all manner of custom-made or improvised book storage. Books were practically everywhere: on top of tables, spread on couches, in the kitchen, under the bed. 

Andrei Roscov would use every free moment for reading. He would read on the subway, at the dinner table, on the toilet, in the garden, even at the stadium, when he’d go to baseball games. He had been a passionate baseball fan in the old days, but now he was dismayed by the long-drawn games, which would keep him away from his reading.

He would read during the weekends, late into the night and early in the mornings, before leaving for work. He would read at work too, during his lunch hour, while munching on a sandwich, or whenever he found a moment of peace and quiet. He read avidly, thinking how unfair it is to have only one life with all the millions of books ever written. He felt frustrated by the volumes that would be left unopened, by the books that would survive him, by the authors he would not be able to reach. He adored the feel of hard covers, the feel of freshly cut paper and of pages weathered by the passage of time; he loved to leaf through vanilla-scented volumes and to behold the complex shapes of rare books.

He had naturally acquired some taste and already had preferred authors, genres, and themes, but his reading hunger obliged him to refrain from nothing from poetry to drama, philosophy to fiction. His desperate advance on culture had started to take its toll-not just in money, but also in sleepless nights leaving obsessive dark circles under his eyes, skipped heartbeats, eye infections, and exhaustion.

Old age no longer scared him. Neither did retirement, whose monotony and promise of decrepitude are so terrifying to so many men. He was now looking forward to his retirement, to devoting all his time to reading.

He was becoming mannered, stylish, aristocratic, meditative, and enigmatic. At times he would appear to plumb the meaning of existence in depth, to penetrate the complexity of life, indeed of the whole universe, to ask fundamental questions, and to be concerned with the purpose and destiny of all mankind-where we come from, what we are meant to do, how, why, and until when...Death, mysterious and incommensurable, a fat subject for most of the authors Roscov was reading, had also carved out a space for itself among his preferred themes for reflection. For him, death was both revelation and forgiveness, both end point and ultimate accomplishment, the doppelganger of our lives, the shadow awaiting to engulf us.

He would strain to feel death’s touch on his shoulder during those long autumn nights when everything is still and settled, when leaves rustle and daylight gradually slips away into the calm and cool night filled with the sweet smells of fruit and smoke. At such times, nothing in his future had the power to terrify him.

One night Jesus came into Andrei Roscov’s dreams. The apparition was doubtlessly due to his readings, which leaned at the time more towards philosophy and history of religions. Anyway, Jesus was duly dressed in his famous white mantle with wide flowing sleeves; he was sad and benign with a halo hovering over his head, a classic image derived from paintings, frescoes, and naive book illustrations. He looked rather like a chosen beggar bathed in resplendent light. He was holding a book and a strange pencil radiating light from its tip.

At each move, the tip of the pencil would spring words, themselves made of light, although  material, carnal, heavy, with distinctive shape, floating like fantastic luminous birds. They would unfurl in the air and, for a fraction of a second, Roscov could read them, but then they would disappear. Roscov beheld words written on air for the first time in life. He was fascinating by their blinding pulsation, by how the words vanished only to be replaced by yet more others, endlessly pouring from the tip of the pencil, held by Jesus like a sword.

He was at fist scared by the apparition, especially since it was so faithful to the images he already knew. Jesus appeared real, true, a living man, and Roscov could not understand the meaning of that rare encounter and he especially could not understand what Jesus wanted of him.

He had read that only the elected few have such dreams and that they are rarely without consequences. Those dreaming are usually given messages, tasks to perform, duties to fulfill, some kind of cross to bear.  He was relieved to see that Jesus was not speaking to him, that he was not pushing him to understand anything beyond the spectacle of his apparition, that he was not burdening him with any kind of cross or commandments, that he did not ask anything of him.

He was beginning to believe that Jesus had not even noticed his presence, when the Savior made a sudden move, pointing the shining tip of the pen towards Roscov.  He stretched out his hand, thinking that Jesus was offering him the pencil, but Jesus rushed on, piercing Roscov’s heart with it.

Roscov instantly woke up, feeling his chest inundated by words. It wasn’t painful. He even had a strange and pleasant feeling of plenitude. He closed his eyes and almost saw Jesus walking towards a milky horizon, stepping lightly as if he were walking on water or flying low above the ground, as if he were walking on one of those gliding lanes in an airport.

Roscov was left confused, his chest brimming with words, overwhelmed by the strangeness of the heritage the divine apparition had lodged in his heart. Though he did not try to understand its meaning. Nor did he talk to anyone about it.  He went back to his books. He was reading perhaps more eagerly than ever, now that Jesus had clearly shown him that words were born out of light, that light and words were one. Roscov was now hiding under his shirt all the luminous words planted by the Savior straight into his heart. He discovered that it wasn’t all that difficult to live with such riches in one’s heart. Roscov’s life hadn’t changed in the least. Soon he would forget to think about his dream, caught in his web of minor and major readings.

            In the evenings, he went to readings and book signings, to meetings with authors who promoted their books in stores and book clubs. He had purchased a long white scarf that he twisted with studied negligence over his elegant coat, modeling himself after a recently discovered character with a complex psychological makeup.

            It was on one of these evenings that he met the great Allen Hunter, an established writer and author of several novels, some of which had been awarded prestigious prizes. He was waiting in line for Hunter to autograph a copy of his latest work.

When he finally reached the front of the line and spelled out his name so the author could add it to a canned formula such as “with regards,” Hunter lifted his eyes inquiringly:

            “Andrei Roscov?...The name sounds familiar.”

            “No, I don’t think...” Roscov grew self-conscious. “I’m not a literary...type. That is, well, I mean, I don’t think you could have met me before.”

            “Not sure...Roscov with a C or a K?”

            “C.”

            “You never wrote or published?”

            “Never,” Roscov assured him, a bit embarrassed by the long line of people waiting for autographs behind him. Allen Hunter couldn’t have cared less.

            “Still, Andrei Roscov-I definitely heard or read the name before.  No writers in the family?”

            “Well, my mother used to correspond with all sorts of literary types. But...I don’t think, she wasn’t really a writer.”

            “Where are you from?”

            “That’s not going to help either. I’m from Eastern Europe.”

            “Oh, my grandmother was from Bukovina! Listen, if you can wait a few minutes, I’ll finish up here and we can go have a drink. I know a place nearby. If you don’t mind, that is.”

            Roscov was speechless. An invitation from the great Allen Hunter himself!

The bar Hunter had mentioned was two blocks from the Barnes & Noble bookstore where they had met. Roscov was still nervous, even though Hunter was treating him as if they had known each other forever.

Hunter introduced him to the bartender and the few customers he knew, who appeared to be somehow related to the world of literature or the arts. Hunter and Roscov ended up drinking scotch until late in the night, smoking cigars and telling stories of their lives as brothers in arms meeting by chance years after the end of the war.

            Roscov was overwhelmed by how natural his conversation with Hunter turned out to be, by the unreserved trust the writer had in him, by the fact that he was being treated as an equal in the pretentious field of literature. Hunter would ask for his opinions, would provoke him to comment on and analyze particular authors, books, or critical categories; he would correct or contradict Roscov only gently, like a teacher who wants to bring out the best in his favorite student.

            But the most interesting moments were provided by Hunter’s confessions about writing. It was so exciting to peek into a famous man’s writing habits and motivations, to learn the backstage details of a kind of work usually surrounded by an ineffable cloud.

            “I began to write too late. I was over forty when I published my first short story in The New Yorker. I had written only occasionally, for my own pleasure, until then. I was teaching at a college on Long Island and was bored to death. I would read a lot, and it’s very hard to get by only by reading. You start wanting to write. Have you ever felt this? Have you have felt that you too can do it, that you too have something to say, to add?”

            “No, I don’t think so.” Roscov hesitated.

            “Not yet,” Hunter corrected him, smiling slightly ironically. “I can feel the writer in you.”

            Roscov’s head spun for a second. He was both flattered and embarrassed by Hunter’s suspicion.

            “We keep being thrown traps. And we’re happy to fall into them. After The New Yorker published me, I started to take myself seriously. My colleagues in the department were very impressed by my achievement. I felt it was my duty not to disappoint them. In fact, writing is just a way of satisfying one’s ego. In the beginning, you write out of vanity. Then you write in order to flatter yourself. I don’t discount passion in all this, but prose writing is hard labor. There’s no pleasure in it. Some call it talent or gift. I think it’s just about carrying out a task, a chore you are told to do. You fall ill with the duty to write, and everything else takes a back seat, as when you have to deal with a serious illness. Professional accolades are no longer important, even family becomes a secondary priority. In fact, in a way you write for them too. Or sometimes despite them, if you happen to have a needy wife or indifferent children. In the beginning, you’re just trying to prove to yourself that you can do it. Afterwards, you can’t stop. Of course, success and fame count a lot in this whole affair. You are always within short distance of arrogance or obsession. Every time you walk out there to get an award, failure is just around the corner. Fame can tickle your ego and drive you to all sorts of errors or compromises. It’s like walking a tightrope. If your attention slips for even a fraction of a second, you find yourself lying flat on the ground. There are so many others who are at least as good as you that your fall might never get noticed. People note only success, no one has time for losers.”

            Roscov was looking at him with moistened, admiring eyes.           

            “I am overwhelmed by the strength writers have, by...”

            “You should be better overwhelmed by their weakness!. And besides, there’s only one small step between being a reader and being a writer. Only a matter of courage. Some readers do dare to take up writing. That’s all. Just write your first line. Dare yourself to write the first line. Everything else follows automatically. What about talent? Yes, one could talk about talent in the same terms as one could talk about luck: you can make your own. In fact, what people admire  in the best of us is perseverance, the ambition of seeing things through, irrespective of circumstances or costs.”

He then launched into a long demonstration that randomly amassed  evidence that at times contradicted itself. That’s the only way he could communicate. Maybe he was a lonely man, Roscov thought, but then, how can a famous man like him be lonely?

            “Most people write out of weakness or solitude. Those who write out of weakness are trying to provoke their destiny, to prove that they can overcome their complexes, and to show that they have a world all of their own, which only they can control with no interference from the outside world. The lonely ones write in order to squash their fears. There is something pathological about every great writer, a chemical imbalance, a degree of deviation from the norm. Loneliness is a good way into writing, whether the isolation is imposed or voluntary, traumatic or optional, real or imaginary. There are so many forms of loneliness, it’s not hard to find one.”

            “Of course, metaphorically speaking, every writer is alone...” Roscov attempted.

            “Metaphorically like hell! Who do you think would want to live with a writer?  Oh, it might be pleasant to be around one for a while, to sniff the glory and the fascination that surrounds him, but who do you think can last though to the end? Writers are impossible people. They are finicky, bizarre, hard to take in the long run. Some develop a persecution complex; others, on the other hand, can get enamored with themselves.  They can be boring or, even worse, eccentric. Listen to me, I know what I’m talking about, I saw a lot of things in my life, and sometimes I can even see myself. Tonight, I might be willing to risk my own life for you, but tomorrow I might pass you by without even a flicker of recognition.”

            Andrei Roscov looked at him askance.

            “Well, that’s just a manner of speaking,” Hunter tried to mend things. “I mean that writers are unpredictable and their reactions often follow a different logic from most people. They live in a disorderly universe created by themselves that has a hard time following the general rules of living. They like to pose so much that they fail to distinguish the model from the original, and they stop making an effort to avoid posing. They end up becoming histrionic and taking the shape of characters they themselves gave birth to.”

            Roscov was startled. Didn’t he feel the same way, even as a mere reader? Maybe Hunter was right: what distinguished the reader from the writer was courage. Come to think of it, everything Hunter was telling him applied to him, too-he felt it, he lived it, even though he had never written a line in his life.        

            “Once, at one of these readings, I ran into this woman who went to junior high with me. She was living in Chicago but had come to New York with her husband for a few days. He was attending some medical convention of sorts. She had seen my name in an ad in the Village Voice, so she showed up at the bookstore to see me again, decades later. ‘I’m surprised you’re a writer,’ she said, kindly. ‘I’m surprised you’re not,’ I answered politely. I tried, unsuccessfully, to convince her that being a writer was a choice, that I hadn’t just turned into a writer, that I had chosen to be one.”

            “If it were really so easy, the world would be swarming with writers,” Roscov said.

            “But it is that easy. And the world is actually swarming with writers. We each have in ourselves an infinite number of latent little people gifted in an infinite number of fields. We just don’t let them out. We don’t allow them to manifest themselves, that’s a whole other story. But it’s up to us. They continue to wait there, patiently, fully prepared to spread throughout the world. But we are afraid of our own infinite abilities and insist on keeping them locked up inside us, suffocated by our complexes and our cowardice and by the comfortable mediocrity taht every day billions of people prove to be a viable way to make a living. It’s against this complacency that that we must rise. Those who don’t accept this insipid abandonment, the complacency in the general mud bath, are the elect few, the trailblazers, the mold breakers, the destiny carvers, those who push the world forward. For them, everything is just a horrible, permanent chore, a perpetual discontentment, a painful never-ending birth. They spit out exceptional little people on a daily basis, and cater to their well-being in this world so eager to chew up exceptional little people.”

            Roscov swallowed air. He was touched, hurt, defeated. He almost saw inside himself an army of little people waiting, disappointed by their host’s inability to spit them out. He felt small, helpless, and guilty. It wasn’t enough that Jesus had planted words in his chest; now Hunter was at it with his little people.

            Astonished at what he was discovering inside himself and unable to figure out what he was supposed to do, he fell prey to the endless glasses of scotch the bartender kept bringing their way as if Roscov were trying to wash away all the words and drown all the little people who were trying to turn his life upside down. Just when reading had brought him balance and peace, everything began to change again.

He could hardly wait to get home, open the first book he saw and start reading. Reading would certainly give back the confidence, peace, and security he had worked so hard to achieve by organized, systematic, passionate, and responsible reading. This way he could free himself from the guilt and reproaches so cruelly thrust upon him. 

            Hunter was going through the shot glasses fast. His eyes had grown moist, he had begun to smack his lips, and a rivulet of saliva had formed at the corner of his mouth.

            “Look around you. Only lonely little birds.”

            He was speaking slowly, dissecting the bar crowd with his eyes, stopping at various groups of huddled patrons. He was speaking mostly for himself, even though Roscov continued to listen to him attentively, hanging on his every word.

            “The consequence of all this madness with sexual harassment: all poetry went to hell. What’s the use of some of them being smart, others talented, and others successful? They all reek ambition; they are merciless and sure of themselves, the macho kind-you know, they have money, they are accomplished, and they wouldn’t renounce to anything for a man. Now that they have gotten even the rights they didn’t need, now that they have become superior to us, now that they’re encouraged by this politically correct society, we’re not worth much in their eyes. Whatever we do, they can do too. Whatever we have, they can have too. They satisfy themselves-or each other. Oh, where are the love intrigues of yesteryear! Where is the suffering, the depression, the mad passion, the sacrifice, the suicides of unfulfilled lovers?”

            Hunter issued a melancholy hiccup.

            “We are going headlong towards violent and promiscuous matriarchy. Just think about all the sidewalks with toned legs in silk stockings and sneakers, running all over the place all day long, energetic and competitive. How horrid! In fact, it’s quite sad, even for them, no matter how hard they’re trying to play the champions. You know, I don’t believe the easy going air they put on when they chose their solitude. In fact, none of these beer-drinking broads giggling to each other and casting glances at the lonely men at the tables is truly happy. They yearn for a real male who can drive them out of their minds. But they’re proud and the men are timid, full of complexes, defeated before the race. Many men were castrated by this idea of sexual harassment! Sometimes I miss Europe so dearly, our old-fashioned granny with runs in her stockings, with black-and-white photo albums and run-down walls. At least there you can pinch a woman’s butt in the street without ending up in court. And women smell like women over there! And they can sniff a man from a distance, too. They let themselves be picked up, they expect manipulation and seduction. I so miss some European booty! What if we went to Paris on a lark? Or to Rome! Will you come to Rome with me?”

            But he didn’t wait for the answer, which Roscov was trying to make as evasive as possible so as not to ruin Hunter’s mood.

                        “Are you married?” Roscov asked.

            “I was. Three times. And all of the marriages were successful,” grinned Hunter, his eyes still moist with the image of Europe, which was slowly fading in the last scotch glass downed under the admiring eyes of the bartender, who was kept Hunter’s photo on the wall alongside those of a few other famous patrons such us Paul Simon and Hillary Clinton.

            They wobbled into the street. Hunter hailed a cab. Instead of sobering them up, the cold wind was rocked the two men ridiculously. Their cheeks burned and their eyes turned red. Each had other reasons besides alcohol for their behavior.

            “Now what?” Hunter asked, balancing himself against the cab’s door. “We’re not gonna go home?!...”

            Roscov’s white scarf was fluttering like a symbol of surrender. It was past midnight.

            “I live far upstate. I have to come in to work tomorrow.’

            “Aaah! That’s right. You have a job. What do you care about writers’ insomnias!’

            The cab driver motioned impatiently. Now Roscov was supposed to feel guilty for having a job, for not being an insomniac?!

            “All right...but I’ll see you tomorrow night at my place. 26 Green Street. The top buzzer.”

            Hunter fought his way into the cab, folding his coat. Roscov was left in the street. His arm lifted to hail the next cab, his chest laid waste by a pain never experienced before.

            He found his wife awake and worried. He had never come home so late. He used to rush home as fast as he could, so he could start reading.

            “I was afraid something happened to you. Are you all right? Where have you been all this time?”

            “In a bar.”

            “A baaar?!” his wife cried indignantly. “You, in a bar?”

            “With Allen Hunter.”

            “The writer?”

            “You know him?”

            “Who doesn’t? He’s in the newspapers all day long, he’s on TV, in shop windows. Oh my God, you and Hunter?”

            “What?! Why not? Me and Hunter.”

             “Where did you meet him? And how did you get to...”

            “Friends. We became friends. We have a lot of things in common. And then there are the grandmothers, both from Bukovina.”

            The look on his wife’s face mixed distrust, irony, admiration, and jealousy.

            “Oh yeah?”

            “I’m seeing him again tomorrow night.”

            “Oh yeah?”

            “What’s with you?”

            “Nothing, nothing. I was thinking that you started to have a personal life...Can I come along?”

            “I don’t think so...Not yet. And I think you’d get bored...we talk about all sorts of technical stuff, so to speak.”

            “Such as...?”

            “Creating, writing, people, little people...” Roscov stammered.

            “Oh, so you’ve become intimate,” the wife took a stab at him. “Maybe you think I couldn’t sustain this kind of conversation, since I don’t have your extensive readings...”      

            “Ella, I’m tired. What if we continued this tomorrow? I have to get up at seven for work.”

            “You’re still going to work after hobnobbing with Hunter?”

            “Ok, ok, I get it that you’re angry.”

            “I’m not angry, I’m bewildered.”

            “All right, you’ll get used to the idea. I have to go to bed.”

            “Aren’t you going to read?”

            “Now? No way, I’m exhausted.”

            “Then let’s go to sleep together.”

            “Now?!”

            “I said go to sleep, I had no other intentions.”

            “Ok, let’s go to bed-but you know I’ll be snoring. I drank a lot and I’m beat.”

            “It’s all right. You can snore. I’ll use earplugs.”

            Roscov looked at her gratefully.

            “Was it really Allen Hunter? Himself?”

            “Stop it, Ella. It was him.”

            They fell asleep in each other’s arms, with the smell of alcohol and Hunter’s ghost floating above their bed.

            The next night, eight o’clock sharp, Roscov pressed the top buzzer at 26 Green Street. He was holding a bottle of scotch. His long white scarf had been replaced by a one that was dark blue. He rang a couple of times with no response. He stood about five minutes in front of the building, ringing the buzzer a couple dozen times. It looked as if Hunter had forgotten about him. He wasn’t home.

            Disappointed and even a bit humiliated, he walked away slowly, aimlessly. He walked into the first bar, ordered a scotch, and began to feel ridiculous. He regretted not having a book to read while sipping his drink watered down with ice.

            Whenever he was tense, stressed out, or just tired, Roscov resorted to a relaxation method he had learned from an immigrant healer from Kiev, the kind of transcendental therapist who was always in between paranormal aptitudes and convincing impostures.

During a few friendly sessions, Igor, the healer, had taught him to stay in control in moments of crisis, to dig back into his memory and face the traumas of his past in order to free himself from emotions and obsessions, to concentrate on a particular point on the wall in front of him and imagine soothing colors. Above all, though, the healer had taught Roscov visualization.

             Even if he were always afraid to relive shameful, painful, or humiliating memories, he was always fascinated by visualization. Once he had reached such an advanced stage that he was able to relive his childhood with its smell of burnt milk, its brighter colors, stronger tastes, and more terrifying heights, with the small accidents that appeared catastrophic, with its catastrophes passing him by without being understood, with its strange adults and devastating curiosity. Sometimes he was able to remember even things he had not experienced.

            He would calm down, his breath would become shallow and regular, and a sort of weightlessness would take hold of his muscles and joints. He would experience the floating sensation he suspected astronauts knew. He would close his eyes, letting his arms hang as if he were a discarded puppet; he would experience bright colors springing from his forehead like paint spilling from a bucket. This was a simple trick he could perform on the subway, at work, at the theater, in the park.

Igor had taught him to enter a state of deep relaxation by imagining a sphere of light practically anywhere. Thus Roscov, still in the bar where he was recovering from being stood up by Hunter, closed his eyes and tried to empty his mind of thoughts, just as Igor had taught him. This was the hardest part-emptying one’s mind of thoughts. He could hear Hunter insisting,

 “Art is something optional. You either resort to it or not, you either need it or not, you either decide to dedicate your time to it or decide to do something else instead. In fact, art does not need an audience. It’s an ethereal gesture, meant for an abstract eternity. Books don’t even need to be read. But they do need to be written.”

            Roscov saw the sphere of light above his head and slowly lowered it onto his forehead, then let it slide down his neck, caressing his thyroid, down his chest, feeling it slowly crawl along his stomach and then, very slowly, down to his toes. He lifted it, just as slowly, all the way up to the top of his head. The sphere left behind it a trail pleasantly warm. Roscov relaxed and he calmed down until, having reached the top of his head, the sphere exploded, and a shining light invaded his body, giving him so much energy that his body, now strong and fully recovered, was shaken by a powerful frisson.

            He opened his eyes. The bartender was studying him, worried that he might be on drugs or about to have a heart attack. Roscov smiled back strategically, finished his scotch, paid, and left, his dark blue scarf billowing in the air. He passed Hunter’s house again but did not give in to the impulse to ring the intercom again.

When he reached home, the hand in which he had been clutching the bottle of scotch was asleep. Ella was waiting in the hallway, among books, which had taken refuge from the overstuffed rooms.

            “Well, how was it?”

            Roscov averted his eyes.

            “All right.”

            “All right? What’s that? I was expecting superlatives. Tell me more.”

            Roscov’s wife wet her lips, opened her eyes wide, leaned against the dining room door, ready to hang on her husband’s every word.

            “He wasn’t home...Maybe, I don’t know, something came up...”

            “He wasn’t home? You mean, this whole story about Allen Hunter was made up? You flexed your imagination at my expense?” Ella shouted, grinning maliciously. She hesitated between continuing to humiliate him or exercising compassion.

“You’re either naive, or a liar, or a sucker. Or perhaps you’re having an affair...”

            “Stop it. I’m not having an affair. He just wasn’t home. I rang the intercom like crazy. Maybe he forgot.”

            “Ha! I should have expected it. Nonsense, this whole thing about you being friends with Hunter! Just like that! All the confessions, the invitations to spend time at his place... Nonsense! I’ve suffered though your reading mania, but I’m not going to take this! Are you very sure this whole thing is not about another woman?”

            “I’m sure,” Roscov mumbled. “I’m going to take a shower.”

            “Take two!”

            Ella went back to the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.

            That night Roscov went to bed earlier than usual. Once more, exhaustion overcame him, together with the dissatisfaction of his failure. Not a very consequential failure but an irritating one, one that bothered his inflamed ego.

            He chose a book, opened it, and tried to lose himself in it. He tried to return to certitudes, to that part of his life that he could control, to that part of his life where no one was going to slam a door in his face. But his eyes began to sting after only a few pages. A tear rolled down his cheek. It must be exhaustion, he thought. He turned off the light and squeezed his eyelids tight until those tiny points of light he knew so well from his childhood reappeared.

            What if there were something wrong with his eyes? What if he was about to go blind? The very idea of darkness and especially the thought that he might have to give up reading terrified him. They were going to take his books away from him. An endless night would take hold of his soul and mind. Was the radiating pencil of light from his dream a providential sign? Or maybe just an irony?

            He could see himself useless and powerless with all those words boiling over in his chest, with all his potential destinies unfulfilled. He remembered that once in a museum he had seen a gallery for the blind. There was a large room where copies of famous Roman and Greek sculptures were placed so that the blind could touch them and imagine what art looked like. He had found himself there by mistake, while looking for the Impressionist rooms lost in the gigantic maze of the museum.

            Only two men with dark glasses were in the gallery. They had let their white canes fall down to the floor. They both happened to be wearing white raincoats, which fluttered on their frail bodies. They were feeling the cold marble, embracing the statues, caressing the ample shapes in silence. The scene looked like a pantomime, like a ballet without music, beautiful and sad.

            Roscov relived the scene with some envy. At least the blind could feel the art. He, on the other hand, might never be able to read. He turned the light on, startled. He looked around. The objects were each in their place, but he continued to feel his eyes stinging.

It had to be something temporary and unimportant, Roscov consoled himself, trying to escape his fantasy about losing his sight. He opened his book again and went back to reading. Words where there, like little people ready to take over the world. 

 
        Carmen Firan is a Romanian-born writer and novelist living in New York.