09/27/2021

Tom Williams ~ A Writer’s Vision

Everything seemed in place: the ran­dom café, the silent street, the stranger pass­ing, the cof­fee left untast­ed. The knock at the door first pro­duced an emp­ty hall­way, but Donovan expect­ed that, just as he expect­ed a sec­ond knock, the stranger’s return, this time car­ry­ing, brazen­ly, an open umbrel­la. Mr. Muhammad, he said. Donovan nod­ded and showed him into his three bed­room flat, where the stranger walked the perime­ter and tapped every sur­face with his umbrel­la before leav­ing it on the yel­low couch.

You under­stand the exchange? the stranger said

Donovan retrieved the MS in a leather messenger’s bag. The stranger did not look inside. He rubbed his hand on the bag then sniffed it as avid­ly as a 13 year old back home in Little Rock huff­ing paint.

When can I expect to see results, Donovan said.

The stranger strapped the bag over one shoulder.

When you are ready for Jorge Luis’s vision.

And when will that begin?

What kind of name is Donovan for a black man?  He looked at Donovan as if to say so what, he’d switched script.

Irish, Donovan said blink­ing his blue eyes as if to charm a red­head back home. On both sides.

The stranger pushed into his chest a book. What do you always do to bet­ter grasp an author’s vision, he said, not even try­ing to sound Argentinian any­more. Read.

~

Donavan had but one week remain­ing of his exchange semes­ter in Mendoza. He’d com­plet­ed both his class­es, earn­ing an A in South American Lit, a B in Spanish 3. But he was nowhere near­er his prin­ci­pal aim. Later that after­noon he checked Submittable: Two respons­es had arrived. “Hopelessly slight,” sniffed the edi­tors of one review. “Suffused with bad faith, try us again,” claimed anoth­er face­less team. Always eager for crit­i­cism, Donovan did not know what to do with these two man­u­scripts. He admit­ted he lacked some unseen qual­i­ty. Why else did he want to see the world as Borges had? But in the time since the stranger left his apart­ment, he wished he had had more time or a more respon­sive con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist. Would he see a sud­den or grad­ual trans­for­ma­tion? When would he know?

He was also dis­ap­point­ed with the book the stranger left him, Dreamtigers. It lacked the strange­ness of Labyrinths, the stun­ning mag­ic of Ficciones. In fact, Donovan had checked Wikipedia to be sure it was a gen­uine Borges, not some ersatz copy by a real life Pierre Menard. The cov­er was par­tic­u­lar­ly vivid–he could see that eas­i­ly. More rejec­tions arrived. One appeared to be a per­son­al note, addressed, how­ev­er, to a Mrs. Haines about a sto­ry Donovan did not write. Sleep came fit­ful­ly. He had no appetite. He read and read and read.

And then a strange thing hap­pened to his copy of Dreamtigers: its words no longer stayed still. They swirled into smoky parabo­las or marched togeth­er as for­mal as reg­i­ments. They swelled ten times their size and burst. They skipped like dancers and one sim­i­le slapped him on the face. After three days of this, Donovan opened the book to find all the let­ters spilling into a pile. The door to his bal­cony opened and the let­ters drift­ed out­side into the street. Some sweep­ing wid­ows cursed and a skate­board­er hollered that a B had fall­en into his eye. Donovan shook the book to find, diag­o­nal­ly, on page 122, an address: 245 Calle Ocho.

In the lob­by of the bib­liote­qua the stranger referred to Donovan as the good Reverend Doctor. He wore a nametag like all the oth­er librar­i­ans. His said S. Reno but he claimed to be in dis­guise. Sweaty from run­ning the thir­ty odd blocks, Donovan apol­o­gized for any odor. The stranger assured him this was use­ful. Then he led Donovan to the read­ing room and sat him down. S. Reno said, Don’t speak. The room went dark. A rich per­fume filled Donovan’s nose, its scent some­how that of an Arabic bazaar, an African hut, a Harlem café; all places he’d nev­er been. Then some­one touched his face. Not the stranger. These hands were too smooth, the touch too gen­tle. The lights came on again and he opened his eyes.

No mat­ter how many times he blinked, his focus did not sharp­en. He raised his hands and could see their fawn col­or but not their dimen­sion or more than a blur­ry out­line. He placed them on what he knew to be a table a few shades dark­er. He would have cried had laugh­ter not tak­en over. He’d want­ed for noth­ing but to pos­sess Borges’s vision and now he lit­er­al­ly had it, vic­tim of a ruse so com­plete he could bare­ly see. He sup­posed he should call the embassy to warn them but how many Americans were like­ly to fall vic­tim to these pre­da­tions? How would he find the num­bers on his phone?

Someone helped him stand, and just as brusque­ly as Dreamtigers had been thumped into his mid­sec­tion, anoth­er item was there, along with the com­mand to write. Then he felt a hand guid­ing him. Whoever was attached to it—he thought the few words he heard sound­ed as though they came from a woman—guided him the  back to his three room apart­ment where he was placed into bed.

It was no dream.

Yet when he woke that morn­ing, things seemed in place: the ran­dom tex­ture, the fleet­ing thought, the smell of cof­fee. He could no more see the items in his apart­ment but he could sense their loca­tion and count­ed the fif­teen steps to his kitchen, where he smelled toast and bacon, ran his thumb over the tines of a stur­dy fork. His hands drift­ed to where atop a stack of paper sat a pen. There was a knock. Twenty-two steps lay between him and the door. Who is it, he shout­ed, rest­ing his hand on the wall before the door opened, smil­ing because he heard no one reply.

~

Tom Williams is author of Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales, Don’t Start Me Talkin’, a nov­el, and the novel­la, The Mimic’s Own Voice. His sto­ries, essays and reviews have appeared in such pub­li­ca­tions as Barrelhouse, Boulevard, The Collagist, Florida Review, and South Carolina Review.