Writing and Translation Samples

Brett with Books

The author amidst his books in Houston, Texas — 1990

History of the Knight and the Sophist

This short story has appeared in the old Journal of
Graduate Liberal Studies
and in Tertulia Magazine.

Four centuries to the decade after Cervantes’s 1605 publication of the first part of his Quixote, I lay hands for the first time on an episode that apparently eluded him. On this cold January afternoon in 2001 my older sister and brother and I are sorting through the final leavings of deceased parents, the sale of whose house is pending. While sister and brother are busily engaged with separate piles of clothing and miscellanea that we have hauled down from the frigid attic, I concern myself with a solid mahogany trunk that contains our father’s most treasured memorabilia from scattered years of globetrotting that had commenced with a stint, at seventeen years of age, on a Canadian military vessel combing Mediterranean seascapes and ports of call. Among the varied trinkets and postcards and among numerous letters and journals of those adventures in his own handwriting I find a thin ancient-looking tome in brittle Moroccan leather that he must have purchased at some exotic bazaar. Inside there is no publisher’s imprint nor other indication of the book’s author or time or place of origin, though its antiquated Spanish script is at least suggestive of the eighteenth or even seventeenth century. But what really attracts my attention is the title page:

El Ingenioso
Hidalgo don Qvi-
xote de la Mancha
y un griego sofista caminante

 historia suprimida por apo-
crifa por el sabio cide hamete

            I stay awake through the night laboring over this remote text that I will never be certain that our father, grandson of Galician emigrants, ever read

Picasso inkblot

Picasso’s Don Quixote

himself. I can only be sure that he would have recognized the good knight’s name because he used to make affectionately teasing allusions to him and Sancho Panza when he saw me reading the story in English translation when I was in high school. I never read it in Spanish, and when I was formally studying that language in high school and later at the university he never spoke it with me. Nor did he ever use his grandparents’ native Galician; I only recall rather vaguely the furtive sound of it on his voice when I was little and he would be speaking secretively with his mother who also spoke English with perfect facility. Perhaps he read the book though he might just as well have acquired it simply as a souvenir, another signpost along one life’s particular journey. Neither letters nor journals mention the purchase.

            As pieced together imperfectly with my rusty grasp of modern Spanish and an old bilingual dictionary that I must have left at our parents’ house after some distant summer’s vacation, this heretofore invisible text relates an unheard-of encounter between the knight of La Mancha and a wandering Greek Sophist of undisclosed name and provenance, a tale of unascertainable authenticity that Cervantes’s wise Arabian narrator suppressed as too evidently apocryphal. Good Sancho, in this account, is left asleep under a tree – horse and mule are tied up beside him – while his master wanders off to contemplate his lady Dulcinea’s many glories. Enter then this mysterious interlocutor, dressed remarkably unlike anyone else in turn-of-the-seventeenth-century Spain, and we find him and Don Quixote afoot and entirely at their ease (both thinly white-haired and bearded; the one in simple cloths and sandals, slightly less gaunt than the familiarly – and woefully – countenanced other in his forlorn and dented armor) in the most agreeable and mutually flattering converse, which proceeds somewhat as I here relate it.

“If you are wondering, my good sir, at the singularity of my present attire,” the foreigner said as he fell into step with Don Quixote, “then know that I come from distant shores and that it is my sole intention to revive and rescue from their unhappy neglect, in these fallen times and places, the ancient arts of rhetoric as so excellently taught and practiced by the eminent likes of Gorgias and Protagoras.”

This curious avowal of Sophistic faith was immediately welcomed by the familiarly ardent elocution of our affectionate knight, reveler himself in Ciceronian oratory as in all of the ancient arts, without strict regard to the individual doctrines of their various practitioners.

“You have said a great deal already with these few words,” Don Quixote answered. “Enough indeed that if you were to say nothing else at all I should still know you as a man of uncommon discretion. For who is there so bold as to deny the supreme excellence of the oratorical traditions of our pagan fathers? What could they not have argued for the common good had it only been given that they know and profess the eternal verities of our holy Catholic faith? For the whole of ancient Greece and Hellenistic Rome is summed up in the poetic splendor of their rhetoric. No one in this addleheaded age of iron can hope to rival the golden brilliance of Socratic or Platonic dialectic. Never again shall there be such perfection of argument as laid out formerly in Aristotle’s science. And never are we likely, in this depraved and unpoetic era, to enjoy anywhere approaching the equal of either Cicero’s mighty oratory or the masterful instruction of Quintilian.”

It was now the turn of his Sophistic hearer, agape at our knight’s immaculately considered prose, to wonder at the unlikely attire and visage of one who despite such a woeful physical presence should speak with equally unimaginable wit and beauty.

“Indeed,” Don Quixote continued, declaiming further on the glories as well as the errors of ancient Greece, “no one better than Plato has so thoroughly described the proper functioning of a well-ordered republic. Modern kings would do well to pay more heed to the incisive profundities of his well-ordered reasons. Still, were he to have done no more than record the sublime dialogues of his master and teacher Socrates, we would owe Plato an unpayable debt of gratitude. As for Socrates’s Sophistic challengers, for whom I gather that you retain some particular affection, I cannot precisely say. Perhaps you have identified some merit in their teaching that Plato has not clarified to us. Indeed, given that my profession naturally touches more fully on the exercise of arms than on that of letters, I can only say with any certainty that your Sophists must have suffered under some unfortunate misapprehensions regarding Socrates’s message, as well as regarding the supreme humility, as Plato reveals it, of that tender and uncomplaining martyrdom.”

“Ah,” our most generous Sophist interjected, “but you haven’t mentioned the unkind and vicious animosity that Socrates naturally bore toward the common people and all of my kind who went about encouraging and teaching them to speak up for themselves in the public forums. How disdaining our so-called sophistries, lying and fallacious arguments as he would have them dismissed, he hid behind disingenuous and malicious sophistries of his own. How feigning a self-acknowledged ignorance he barely masked the arrogant presumption to power that would exclude everyone but whatever elite would most adoringly surround that elusive one who really knows. That philosopher-king who if himself not really knowing at least understands that he doesn’t know. Whose knowing ignorance he takes in with a comprehending aloofness that must always elude the unholy masses who would themselves remain forever uninitiated into his eternal and unquestionable verities.”

A brief silence ensued while Don Quixote reflected on every facet of that revisionist perspective that so clearly contradicted the very essence of the laudatory vision that he preferred.

“Perhaps there may be some truth to what you have said,” our good knight finally answered, “for indeed anything is possible. But consider, please, what otherwise evidently escapes your notice, which is above all a full consideration of Socrates’s doctrine of the good and the beautiful as they exist even amidst the depravity and outrageous cruelties of any age. If some wandering Socratic spirit were at this time to inhabit Spain it would encounter a people of sublimely simple faith, practical and idealistic at once, with nowhere about it the wise ministrations of anyone resembling that hoped-for philosopher-king. But wouldn’t the honest Spanish countryman still benefit from the gentle instruction of one who, while recognizing what little any mortal being can really know (at least in terms of Plato’s absolute criteria of truth), rules anyway by recalling the sources from which such wisdom emanates? Even taking counsel from time to time from the land’s peasantry that nourishes it? I imagine that this wise and benevolent leader would emerge like me, Don Quixote of La Mancha, their errant knight and defender, from the humblest corners of this Spanish soil. And Socrates, if he were alive in Spain today, while in that other time and place he may have found it necessary to reprove plebeian masses who had grown forgetful of a greater good than themselves, would search out and nurture that good ruler not from among the presumed royalty but from among those of truly noble conduct among otherwise common elements. For even my Sancho, as he is instructed by my example, becomes nobler and more comprehending with each passing hour. And we are truly children of our works, aspiring through our living to either a universal and beautiful good (however particularly we may each perceive it) or a universal evil that would overthrow us all and sow our destruction.”

At this point, recognizing his hopeful interlocutor as that singular knight of worldwide fame and marveling that one of such reputed lunacy should appear in all his words so sublimely lucid, our gentle Sophist thought for a moment before replying.

“But how is it,” he asked, “that one of your profession should so perfectly echo the ancient Sophists’ rhetorical teachings? For now that you have revealed yourself as that famous knight that everyone speaks of, I am amazed that such eloquence should flow from your mouth. You are, after all, but a chaser of windmills and a beheader of giants, adherent of a frequently violent and distinctly un-Sophistic pursuit of Platonic absolutes. Is it possible to sit down and reason with inhuman giants and evil sorcerers? Whereas the function of rhetor, in this age as in any other, is purely a function of persuasive discourse. By skillful use of either spoken or written argument to help bridge an otherwise unbridgeable gap between rhetor’s and audience’s knowing. Arguing, without malicious sophistry, that human perception is always uncertain, subject to contingency rather than universal principle or absolute truth.”

“You speak well,” Don Quixote answered, “for it is true that giants and evil sorcerers do not often heed the gentle arts of persuasion. And while truth, as you argue, is relative, it is not as a consequence unarguable or unable to be acted upon. The good rhetor, neither an absurdist nor a demagogue, is instead a facilitator in potential transformations of word into deed. Likewise the knight-errant, through a properly restrained exercise of arms on behalf of the needful and downtrodden, facilitates the transformation of ideal into reality. You must believe me when I say that, if by the word’s simple persuasion it were within my power to persuade all evildoers to do good, I would gladly give up this profession of arms to pick up right now with you instead. Or else, as has often occurred to me, I might simply become the Quixotic shepherd, forever singing of my beautiful lady Dulcinea. While otherwise it does give pleasure to recall my faithful squire’s counsel to me (I left him sleeping just now under a tree) that I would make a better preacher than knight-errant.”

Having said this Don Quixote fell silent. The good Sophist scratched his silver head, marveling at the potency of the knight’s argument. At last he picked up from that paraphrase of Sancho’s thought and addressed to Don Quixote these final words.

“In any case,” he said, “you are an accomplished rhetor. And champion, as any good knight or rhetor aspires to be, of the underdog.”


Alejandro and Sebastián Bekes

Alejandro and Sebastián Bekes — brothers; teachers; writers and literary translators — at home in Concordia, Entre Ríos, Argentina

A Man, A Typewriter1


Sebastián R. Bekes
(translated by Brett Alan Sanders)

This translation appeared in Tertulia Magazine.


            A man – lean, tall, with dark and wavy hair, his face marked by desperation, life, and the desire to live – is practically broke and wandering through the streets looking for a job that for him does not exist. His eyes can’t see what his soul yearns to make out. He sleeps in a miserable hole in the wall in a run-down boarding house and doesn’t even have enough money to pay the outrageous rent, on which he owes two months. He eats what he can, when he can. He has even considered hunting rats, or some bird in the park. More than once he has gone through garbage cans in search of some remains of food. More than once, in fact, he has eaten out of a garbage can. Bathing, which under those circumstances is not a priority for the man, is at the same time not a small worry for him. He wants to maintain a certain impression of dignity, and he understands that personal hygiene is an important sign of that impression. On some warm nights he has gone so far as to bathe in the park’s dirty greenish lake, where the ducks frolic – better that than nothing. He always tries to return to the boarding house after midnight, when the landlord has already gone to bed or is in the process. He gets up at ten or eleven in the morning, when he knows that the landlord has already left, and that he has grown tired of pounding at his door. A pounding that at seven or eight in the morning becomes mixed up in the man’s dreams, and seems to him like someone who is taking a hammer to his head, or even worse, like someone who is taking a hammer to a child’s head.

One afternoon, while he is roaming through the park in a half light, the man finds a magazine, abandoned to its luck on some random bench, with a drawing on the cover that seems to be made by freehand. That drawing is the first thing that calls his attention. He picks up the magazine and stands there looking at it. It occurs to him that it is very well done, and he really likes it quite a lot. The design is in black and white, made, apparently, with Indian ink. It isn’t too clear, but you see that there is a scantily-clad woman and you can make out, partly hidden, the bare suggestion of one of her breasts. The woman is reclining on a settee, and you suspect that she might be talking with someone who is outside of the drawing, like a shadow; and that in some way, subtly insinuated, this frightens her. In the woman’s eyes you can guess that she is not entirely calm, not entirely satisfied with her posture and her position, and that besides that she doesn’t trust that something or someone who is watching.

Intrigued, interested, the man opens the magazine and starts to thumb through it. He discovers that way that it’s a literary journal, with notices, advertisements, reviews of books and authors, and, of course, three or four stories. Since he doesn’t have much to do at that hour, and still has quite a while before midnight, he sits down on a bench near a streetlight, and he starts to read the stories. After reading the first two, he feels remarkably contented, not just because he has very much enjoyed the stories, but because he also senses that he could write stories or narratives similar to the ones that he has just examined. In the next hour, now eagerly, the man devours the magazine’s other two remaining stories. He is really quite enthused with the perspective that has taken over his mind. When he finishes reading the magazine it is already close to midnight, so he rolls it up, grasps it in his hands, and then (joyous dreamer) heads off toward the boarding house.

When he reaches the house the landlord still has the television on, but it is clear that he won’t come out of his room until the next day. The man climbs the stairs to his redoubt, then, with care and without making noise. Once inside, and after carefully undressing, he lies down with a certain calm, like someone who is proud of having accomplished something great or important in the day just passed. In bed, and before being lulled to sleep by his own sweet thoughts, the man is inventing and sketching out possible stories, some audacious, others enigmatic, all of them brilliant. Also he is trying to see, to look for some means of getting his hands on something in order to start writing. At the last moment, almost in the passageway that leads to dreamland, he remembers something that might help, but there is no time for anything else since the man has … fal … en … a …

On the following morning he gets up a bit earlier than usual. After opening the small wardrobe that separates his bed from the door’s view, he puts on the white shirt that for more than two years he has used for special occasions; and he feels that this is one of those occasions. It turns out that during the night, just before falling asleep, he has remembered that he still has one friend (an acquaintance, actually) left in the city, and upon awaking he has decided to go see him. That’s why he has thought it best to put on his best suit in order to create a good impression, since he must ask a favor of his old confrere. He vaguely remembers the address, so after consulting a phone book in a booth, he heads for his friend’s house. He arrives at the place shortly, and since the friend is home, he is in luck. Although at first the house’s owner can’t quite place him, he finally recognizes him and invites him in.

The man can’t stop admiring and scrutinizing how well furnished and provisioned his friend’s home is. The flustered expression on his face is owing, above all, to its pronounced contrast with his own place, which next to his friend’s is really a pigsty.

The man enters the house and sits down as if plunging into a leather armchair almost aquatically plush. His feet practically levitate over the coffee-colored goat-hair rug, and he can’t take his eyes off of the wall opposite the door; a wall that is no longer such, since in reality it is totally adorned with books that rest in an embedded library made of oak wood. The man suddenly notices, lounging in that sort of drooping seat of honor, an envy, a rage, an impotence that rise from within himself and struggle to find expression. Nevertheless, he manages with great difficulty to control his emotions, and accepting the glass of whisky that is offered him (he hasn’t even had a sip since noon of the day before), he sets his mind to conversing with his old companion in youthful exploits.

“It’s true,” the friend agreed, “it’s been a long time already since the last time we saw each other. The truth is I know very little about your affairs. The last I heard was that they’d thrown you out of the studio, and that you were looking for another firm that would like to hire you. Have you finally got it?” the house’s owner asked, as if he cared.

“Really … well, yes, it sure has been a long time since we’ve seen each other. And as for looking for another firm … yes, I looked for awhile, I sent out several letters, but no one called me, no one wanted to hire me. Pretty soon I got tired of it, fed up; in any case, I did other jobs, always short-term because none of them appealed to me too much … and pretty soon … but what an idiot I am! Always talking about myself … And you? What’s up with you, with your affairs? I see it’s going pretty well with you, isn’t that so?” the man said, making an expansive gesture with his hand.

“Yes, yes, quite well … I can’t complain. Don’t suppose that it’s easy, in any case. It’s tough getting to the position I’m in, and then you have to fight long and hard to stay there … there’s a lot of competition; there are lots of people who’d be willing to put out your eye, or both of them if they could, just to get your job, and that’s why you have to let many things fall by the wayside. It’s very tough …”

“Yes, I imagine,” the unemployed man said with a light smile, almost like a consoling grimace for the other one. “And what’s the story with your wife?” he wanted to know next, perhaps foreseeing the answer.

“No, she … Susan … we, well, look … she left me,” said the abandoned husband, and he drank a good shot of whisky. “She went with a guy, I don’t think I knew him .. that’s what I think, that’s what she told me,” and he emptied the glass. “One night I returned from work and she wasn’t here anymore; she took the mattress but not the bed, and she didn’t even forget her toothbrush; she left a note, and three days later she called me … we talked on the phone for a whole hour. Since then I haven’t heard a thing from her …”

“How terrible …”

“Yes … but it’s over now, I’ve already gotten past it, by dint of work and spending a lot of money on a good doctor,” and for the first time the house’s owner laughed; he laughed as if someone had told him a very funny joke, or as if his drama were someone else’s. Right away he went and served himself another glass of whisky.

In that moment the man thought it opportune, as if to change to a lighter topic, to ask his friend about his old typwriter. The friend, confusedly, suggested that it must be around there somewhere. Before the man’s insistence, the house’s owner roused himself a bit, and remembering that he also had a couple of reams of paper saved with the typewriter, he offered them to him along with it.

“I wouldn’t want to cause you any inconvenience,” the man said.

“Not at all, I give it to you freely … I think it still works well, or so I hope.”

“It will be fine either way.”

“Then, how are you for money?” the typewriter’s owner asked, after between the two of them they had taken it and two intact reams of paper out of an enormous chest full of unused things.

“Well, I’m managing,” the other answered. In that moment their glances met, and in the shared complicity of their eyes they both realized that the other was aware of the lie.

“Well, of course, that’s good. Come with me, I’ll give you a bag to carry all of this. It’s a bit heavy.”

Now in the doorway, and before the man could shake hands with him, the now ex-owner of the typewriter extended his closed fist to him.

“Take this, keep it even though you don’t need it now.”

“No, seriously, it’s not necessary.”

“Yes, yes, take it, please. Even if just for old times, for old times’ sake,” the friend insisted, almost begging so that the other would accept it.

And the man, seeing that the offer was sincere, enclosed the fist within his hand and without looking at the bills put them in his shirt pocket. Immediately they shook hands and the visitor left onto the noise of the street. From a distance he heard the friend shout something, and he turned his head to hear better.

“Be sure to call me!” the house’s and the whisky’s owner repeated, as if exhorting the woman who had left him for an unknown man.


As he approached the boarding house, the man arranged the bag beneath his arm and got ready to enter, as always without making any noise. In his hand, and after quite some time, he carried another bag with a bit of food. It seemed incredible to him that it was noon and he was going to be able to eat in his house, in his room, as it should be, seated at the table with plate and place settings. He had even allowed himself the luxury, since it was the first time in so long, of buying himself a bottle of wine. After leaving the bag with the typewriter and paper on the bed, he set the other bag on the table and started to take out the food. First he took out the bottle of wine, then the tray with the roasted chicken, and finally the tray with the salad and a bit of bread. If he had looked at himself in a mirror he’d have realized that he was smiling, and therefore, strange as it may seem, happy. He was happy because he had something decent to eat, and because he had obtained not only the typewriter but also a lot of paper so that he could work.

Toward three o’clock in the afternoon, after eating until he was quite full and then just sitting there, relaxing, smoking a cigarette – a cigarette! –, he saved what food was left in the wardrobe, lit a second cigarette, more relaxed by then, and placed the typewriter comfortably on the table, with the paper to one side. Now he was ready, now he could start, although without knowing very well how. He had never made the effort to write seriously, that is to say taking it as a job, and he had no idea how you went about working with words. He had read somewhere a long time ago that words, when all is said and done, are like a craftsman’s material, to which you have to be giving shape and molding and trying to make them, as much as possible, conform to what you intend of them. He knew it wasn’t a simple task, and moreso having as your only instrument thought, the most difficult to skillfully manage of all the instruments known to man. He also knew, and this in an ambiguous way, that in order to write plausibly, acceptably well, he should work tenaciously. He had heard, finally, that if he wrote reasonably well he could come to make some money.

First he started writing simply to become accustomed to the typewriter and to acquire a bit of practice in its use. He checked the keys, one by one, to see if they worked properly. That way he noticed that the exclamation point didn’t show up, nor did the parentheses. Okay, he said to himself, until I can fix it, none of my characters will make exclamations nor will I make parenthetical explanations in my narratives. And with this and other thoughts of the sort, he continued experimenting and making friends with the typewriter, wanting, desiring to make himself one with it; that the keys become no more than an extension of his fingers and his fingers, in turn, of his mind. During a break it occurred to him to open the front lid that covered the characters’ arms, and thus saw, pleasantly surprised, that in a small compartment there was, still enclosed in its original wrapping, an intact ink ribbon, placed there securely by the previous owner. This wasn’t an insignificant bit of information, since he had already observed that the ribbon in use was a bit worn-out , and because of that he hadn’t failed to consider that he should buy a new ribbon. In the end, he started to write just for the sake of writing, to feel that he was doing something, that his fingers were striking the typewriter’s keys.

After four or five pages written in that primitive, arduous, necessary manner, he tried to put on paper those brilliant stories that he had imagined in that first moment a little after reading the magazine that had inspired him. But little by little it was dawning on him that he couldn’t, that those stories didn’t belong to him anymore, that they had dissolved like the steam that comes off of a boiling teakettle. He did have left in his mind a vague memory of those fictions, like the drops of moisture on a bathroom’s tiles after a hot shower, but that in no way are the shower. That’s how the man entered, without much realizing it, into that world of sufferings and penuries that it is to write with some purpose, with the desire to reveal something. By the time that first workday was almost over, he had scarcely written a page that might have been interesting, and he had emptied the two thirds of wine that since noon had remained in the bottle. Of the meal he had consumed, reluctantly, the rest of the salad and a chicken wing. With that meager nourishment in his stomach and a great deal of bitterness in his soul, the man decided to rest, though not before re-reading the magazine’s stories. There must have been something there that could help him in his search.

On the following morning he heard, as he had the last time, the early-rising poundings on his door, but this time, instead of allowing them to bother his sleep, he used them to get himself up and get to work. He thought pleasantly that doing so was a good sign for the new life that he was planning. After getting dressed and looking skeptically through the window to see how the new day was shaping up, he passed both hands through his hair, sat in front of the machine, and was like that for some time, just sitting there, apparently without doing anything. After a half hour he pressed the “a”, then the “t”, and the other letters followed in an uncontrolled succession of images, events, and happenings. The man was thus denoting his destiny. A strange and absurd destiny, of course, as the majority of them are.

Meanwhile, the boarding house’s owner had not failed to notice that the boarder in the upstairs room had something odd going on. Not just that it was now over two months since he had paid his rent, not to mention that whenever he saw him he was rather dirty and quite dissheveled, but also because lately he seldom saw him come out of his room, and on those few occasions he observed that he was taciturn and sort of ill-humored; aside from that, worried, he was not unaware of the constant noise of the tappings that reached his prudish ears from inside the room. Certainly he did not like that situation at all, and one of these days he would call the police and put an end to that strange plot that his equally strange tenant was surely hatching. At the precise moment when, one day at mid-morning, he had made up his mind to call them, the man came down from his cubbyhole with a certain sluggishness and, extending his arm, deposited on the over-sized table that served as the “office” desk half of a month’s rent. Although the house’s owner was as distrustful as a gypsy of the source of that money, even so he didn’t go to much trouble asking about it. In any case, the man gave him some explanations.

“I’ve received some money as an advance on a job, and there you have half a month of the two and a half that I owe you. Or in other words I only owe you a month and a half now. I’ll pay you the rest soon, when I collect the other part. Ah, I’ll also start using the shower when I need it.”

“You know you have to pay for that,” the owner said with avarice and not without a certain malice.

“Yes, I know,” the man said. “Add it to the debt, I’ll pay you that as well.”

“Well, of course, as you wish. It’s just that if you don’t pay, you already know that …”

“I’ll pay it, I already told you.”

“Yes, of course. Just don’t forget.”

The man left the office eaten up by his impotence, and he climbed to his room as quickly as he could. He slammed the door shut, as if to show the big nuisance downstairs that he was angry. The big nuisance that stayed in his office for a good while, pacing back and forth and lazily smoking badly rolled cigarettes.

He had scarcely shut the door of his room when the man went to sit down once more in front of the typewriter, almost as if it were a punishment, a sentence that he must serve in order to pay for his own and others’ faults. That did not mean he wouldn’t enjoy the task, but it hadn’t been long since he realized that his enjoyment also went tacitly hand-in-hand with a quota of suffering; and lately he had done little more than guarantee that daily quota, which at times seemed to increase into pinnacles of sorrow. Sometimes he said to himself that he didn’t know what he was doing, that maybe he should devote himself to something else; many times he considered abandoning his thankless purpose, leaving it in the box along with all his other dreams. But in any case the man did not slacken in his determination. He continued sitting down to write, or rather, to struggle with the fickle white page.

At the beginning, after those drafts of writing that were so erratic and lacking in precise direction, he tried to compose stories based on events and incidents that had happened to him in his own life. But, discouraged, he quickly abandoned them for their seeming to him of little interest or unlikely to attract his possible readers.

Nevertheless, there was a moment in which it occurred to him to build a story with the friend abandoned by his wife, and relate it to his acquisition of the typewriter. He thought of transforming that rather trivial matter into a story of intrigue. It occurred to him that the same person who asked to borrow the typewriter could also be the woman’s lover, and that between the two of them they might contrive the means of getting rid of the husband. He was plotting the story slowly, ploddingly. He was mixing more-or-less true matters with others that he tried to deduce from what his friend had told him. He even took the trouble of describing in detail the mattress and the toothbrush that the woman would take with her. In the end, the character of the lover, his alter ego, ended up murdering the husband thanks to the excuse of asking him for the typewriter. In order to build a convincing narration he imitated a little of what he had read in that magazine, and another little bit he was taking from what he knew and from what he could invent. Thus, with arduous patience, he finally achieved a result not only convincing, but well written, thorough, interesting. He tried out several titles but ended up with “A Man, A Woman, and a Typewriter”2 –it really struck him as a good title. To his enormous and happy surprise, the story was successful, and he managed to sell it to the very same magazine that he had found a copy of on that lucky park bench. His joy was even greater not so much for the money received as for the radiant accolades that the story obtained.

His next story wasn’t as good as the first, but they bought it just the same. With that money, on top of what had come before, he was able to pay off his debts while continuing to write.

Several months after having published his first story, already with a new typewriter since he had returned the other to its former owner, he continued producing more stories and narratives. As for the typewriter, he had already made it flesh, he had it inserted clear to the bone. His first novel was advancing at a good clip, and soon he would have to finish it. Happily, the friend, owner of his first typewriter, was not in the habit of buying the type of magazine where the now fledgling writer published, and he would only learn of his achievements upon receiving a copy of his first novel. Only a number of years later, when the stories that had appeared in the magazine were published in two volumes, would he read that first successful story the man had written and, thanks to the time that had passed, vaguely relate it to his own personal history, without giving that incidental coincidence any importance.

Upon delivering a first draft of the novel the man had received an advance of money, and with it he had finally decided to move to a better place than the boarding house, where he could be more comfortable and work with greater calm. In any case, he didn’t go very far from the neighborhood, and consequently he still lived near the park, through which he truly enjoyed walking and taking long, meditative strolls.

Some time later, on an afternoon of pensive roaming, almost absent-minded and sort of bewildered, with that absent-mindedness and bewilderment only possessed by those who don’t suffer hunger and thirst and need, the man sits down on some random bench, near to a streetlight, and with sudden melancholy remembers that other afternoon on which, desperate, hopeless, and famished, he found and opened a magazine with a drawing of a woman on the cover, and in that very act had opened the door that, not without effort, of course, had led him toward a new life. Suddenly, as if prodded by needles, he leapt up and ran toward his apartment. He didn’t bother to take the elevator, and he was still running as he climbed the stairs. He rummaged through his papers until he found what he was looking for, and more calm, he returned to the park. Now, anxious, he was rushing among the hedges and beds of aromatic flowers in search of the bank on which a few minutes ago he had been seated.

He finally found it, and sitting down on the edge, next to the streetlight, he unrolled the magazine that he had in his hand and began to thumb through it wearily, lazily, without particular interest. In fact, his interest was in another matter, and not on the magazine. What happened was that before, when he had sat down on the bench overcome with melancholy, a notion had crossed his mind, like a call of human instinct, and that’s why he had dashed off to his new home to look for a copy of the last magazine where a story of his had appeared. He’d had the idea that now it was his turn, as if he were merely another link in the chain, to leave that copy of the magazine abandoned there, as if by accident, so that maybe someone, desperate or not, might see in it a likely door to modifying the course of their life. The man got up from his seat tranquilly, pleased at having had such an idea. Leaving the magazine on the bench, almost carelessly, he took off for home.

1 Note: The Spanish title is “Un hombre, una máquina” (A Man, A Machine); “máquina” being the standard abbreviation  for “máquina de escribir” (writing machine: that is, typewriter).

2 Note: The Spanish, here, is “Un hombre, una mujer, y una máquina de escribir”.

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