Hemingway once said that he wrote one page of masterpiece for every ninety-something pages of shit.
Seems like a fun thing to do, sharing the 99th page of all my books with you.
Are they masterpieces? Are they shit? Who ever said that writers should be able to judge their own words? What are readers for, after all?
“She had closed her eyes and seemed oblivious to everything but the music.
She looked happy as she danced, twisting and twirling her waist and hips, and bending her legs as if to ride on the sonic waves of the trumpet. It was as if she was controlling the rhythm, as if her movements were the driving force behind that jazz song.
When the tune ended, Amber smiled, a strange, crazy smile, and said, “Will you take me home? Will you stay with me tonight? I don’t want to be alone.”
There was an eerie sense of quiet inside her apartment, a strange emptiness. The first thing I did when I walked in was look at my watch. I expected for time to stop, but seconds kept ticking away carelessly inside. I looked around, trying to decipher what had happened. Probably I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a handwritten note on the coffee table – a relic Jacques had left behind. But there was nothing of the sorts.
“I’ll make us some coffee,” Amber said and went into the kitchen.
I took a seat on the couch. It was all so quiet that I could almost hear the water boiling. I closed my eyes. It was so silent, all so silent, just my heart relentlessly pumping blood through my body. I must have dozed off for a while, because when I regained control over my senses, I could hear Amber crying in the bedroom. I was so dazzled by the strong light that I just sat there for a moment. When I walked into the bedroom, I saw her standing
by the window, staring blindly at the night. And there…”
This was the 99th page from Jazz, my first novel.
Curious to find out what happens next? You can download the eBook here.
“So many people, so many cars, so much noise. You could feel it. There was no time. There never was, there never is. For these people, Earth had to spin two times slower, just so they could stop and stare at the world around them, maybe even realize that they weren’t going anywhere.
Slum dogs were lined up on the sidewalks, begging for a little bit of compassion. Shallow preachers spreading a religion we were all immune to. But one stood out. He was an old, old guy, but what grabbed my attention was that he held a book in his arms. A big book, and he was holding
it close to his chest, caressing it with such passion… I thought he was mad.
But who isn’t?
“Ernest Hemingway,” he shouted at me after I had passed him by.
I turned around. “Ernest Hemingway?”
“Yes. American writer, Nobel Prize Winner, he’s probably best known for his novella, ‘The Old Man and The Sea’,” he said. “A man can be destroyed, but never defeated,” he added, uttering the words with such conviction that I thought those were the few words that still gave him hope and strength.
I knew the quote, it was from the novella he had mentioned earlier, but I had never agreed with it. In fact, I have always thought it to be exactly the opposite.
A man can be defeated, countless times, but can never be destroyed entirely. Not even by death. A man can be defeated, and Hemingway himself
proved that he was wrong. He ended up taking his own life. But he wasn’t destroyed. His memory and works still linger on, his brilliant writing will endure for many, many years.
Isn’t that what we all want?
I stepped in a little closer to the bum. He had the most peaceful look on his face, as if this was a moment of joy. He grabbed my hand and grinned. “I know what you truly want,” he said. “What you’ve always wanted.”
This was the 99th page from The Writer, a strange compilation of stories that form a more complex narrative.
Curious to find out what happens next? You can download the eBook here.
“SECOND MONTH WITHOUT HIM
There are certain memories that stick with us for no apparent reason, whose influence we never understand.
For instance, one of your most persistent memories from childhood consists of you sitting in your father’s car, waiting for him and your mother to come back from a shop. It was raining, and all you did was watch this beautiful anomaly of nature; raindrops trickling down the windshield, layers upon layers upon layers, drops blending together; tears running down cheeks. And you thought God wanted to drown the entire world, to cover everything in a deep sea of rain. For a few minutes you felt empty and pointless, and yet time didn’t stop. People were running down sidewalks, struggling to hold onto their umbrellas in the blistering wind, cars were passing by, and the rain kept falling, oblivious and impervious to everything and everyone.
Then there are certain memories that we recognize as being important and relevant to our own story as they are happening, memories that alter our lives.
Like the day you decided to close the door behind you. As it was happening, you knew things would change forever. Yes, you told yourself that it was the right thing to do. It was what had to be done.
They say it takes some time. To get over. To forget. To move on with your live. To replace. They’re wrong. Only those who never loved can replace. Can forget. The rest of us? We spend whatever is left of our lives aimlessly wandering between love and hate. Between blaming ourselves or them. Between wanting to forget them and wanting to find them again.
It’s a terrible thing to go through. It’s out of your control, out of your reach.
Over the years, you made people carry different versions of you with them. You’ve got them thinking they were right. Some went on to fix you into a character they thought they knew and you played along so well they believed that was who you were, they thought they’ve got you all figured out. You did that too many times and now you’re lost to yourself. Now, you’re not only misleading others but deceiving yourself too.
But the thing is… you loved the way he looked at you. You loved what he saw in you so much that it made you fall in love with yourself too. You were magic to him…
The way he’d look at you, the way he’d talk to you, the way he’d make love to you.
Is that why you miss him still?
Or do you just miss something that’s never coming back? Because it doesn’t exist anymore?
Isn’t that the saddest thing in the whole universe?
We miss what can no longer be, what is lost to us forever. Because we know it’s never going to come back.
We miss the most the people who are never coming back…
People always leave. Whether we want it or not. Whether they want it or not. Something happens and they are gone. A grey skin covers what we felt for them and can no longer feel.
Such an odd thing happens: people tell us who they are, yet we pretend we don’t hear them because we want them to be who we want them to be.
But don’t worry, because time heals everything. Whether you want it to or not. The longest distance between people is time, for it fades everything away.
But something always remains. The Portuguese call it “saudade.” The love that remains. Nostalgia. The love that no amount of poison can ever kill. The love that eventually alters itself to become what is left when nothing can be done anymore. The bitter sweet feeling that engulfs memories.
And we carry people around like this. Inside our heads. And we go on with our lives. Whether we want it or not.
And, in a way, they never leave. But they never return to us either.”
This was page 99 from 2:22 AM, a short novel about the way him and her experience a breakup. The aftermath, the questions without answer.
If you’re curious to read more, you can find the book here.
“What’s this?” I ask as I get out of the car.
We’ve stopped in front what resembles an old warehouse. Behind us, a gravel road slowly disappears into the night. We’re a few miles away from the city, and the stars shine bright against the sky.
This almost feels like an adventure…
“You’ll see,” Herbert says.
Darkness is a liquid spreading around the warehouse and filling every corner of the building. Only the headlights of the car shimmer across this grey skin.
“You’ll see, my friend,” Herbert says and takes out a long key out of his pocket and unlocks the door. “You’ll see.” The door rattles as he pushes it open.
We go inside, but my eyes can’t breach through the thick veil that seems to cover everything inside. Herbert pushes a button and neon lights sluggishly cover the dark silence.
I shake my head and take a few steps inside the warehouse, but then my feet stop. I turn around to face Herbert, but he’s lost. He’s blinking fast, breathing fast.
But I can barely breath, I can barely feel my heart beating inside my veins and head.
What is this? I want to ask, but I have no voice.
Even though inside the warehouse the air is warm and cool at the same time, as it so often happens during summer nights, what’s inside is making a distinct and metallic shiver come up and down my spine, round my shoulders, all the way up to the base of my skull.
Paintings. Hundreds. Paintings that hang on walls, paintings that rest against the concrete walls, wonderful works of art that lay on the floor or on simple cardboard boxes.
Herbert’s cheeks turn blood red. “All these years Patricia thought I was going fishing or hunting.”
I walk around slowly, and every two steps I have to stare down, for fear that the concrete floor is going to devour my feet. I expect this to be a dream. I want to wake up. I want this to be a dream, because this can’t be real. My brain can’t process it all.
“I don’t even know how to… I don’t know…” Herbert’s voice ripples along the walls.
I take one of the paintings and look at it. And I gulp.
“Should have told you…” he says.
The young version of Herbert’s back from the dead abyss of the past, and he’s whispering to my ear, “You see, making art is like trying to catch fish with your bare hands. No matter how much you practice, it’s still an excruciating process. And undoubtedly, it leads to countless failures.” Young Herbert, holding onto a small portrait of a woman he once dreamed into existence. Young Herbert, the perfect artist, says, “But sometimes you get lucky and create something wonderful.”
I take another painting off the wall, and I feel tears in my eyes.
Young Herbert May says, “Imagine art as making a paper plane. You can make it anyway you like, you can color it, you can give it a certain shape, but you have to follow some rules, unless you want your plane to come crashing down like a stone. That’s the art you’re creating. That’s the only power you have, the only freedom you’re granted. And then you throw it out the window. How far it will go, that no longer depends on you,” young Herbert smiles inside their cramped living room, adding some last minute details to a portrait of a young woman, “You see, when that plane is thrown out there, into the world, there are countless factors that affect it. You know, air currents and whatever. Those are the art critics and the art collectors and, basically, everyone who gets to experience your work.”
An art collector would see millions and millions of dollars, I think as I press my fingers against one of the paintings’ wooden frame. But I see… I see millions and millions of brush marks, I see beauty and mastery colliding together to form something so close to perfect that it’s almost painful to look at. A tangible dream, a dream that’s so close to being real you’re scared to pinch your arm.
And I’m just a fool who can’t even shave his beard without cutting himself at least once or twice.
“You can’t change the way other people see your work,” says the young, young Herbert May, his face smudged with red and white and blue. “You can only hope that they’ll see what you want them to see.”
Dreams and illusions and bitterness melt together and wither on all these wonderful paintings. This is the real tragedy: paintings that never get to hang on proper walls, which never get to be fed enough love, manuscripts that slowly decompose under beds or in drawers. Art that never gets a chance.
Art is more important that we care to admit, more important that we are capable of processing. Art, not religion, not science, is what’s keeping us from setting this world on fire. Art is what makes us truly human.
It’s the only thing keeping me from pulling the trigger.
“So, what do you think?” he asks me.
“It’s… it’s…” I feel old and bitter.
It’s not fair. That’s what I want to say.
“It never is,” answers the young Herbert May. The young artist, so full of hope and ambition, whispers, “Please, don’t hate me for being better than you. Our friendship is worth more.”
“I know it’s not nearly as good as your own works,” Herbert says, in a weak and pathetic voice. “Be as harsh as you like.”
“No, no. They’re really, really good,” I say and smile. That’s when I turn around and see what I’ve been secretly searching for. That thing we always miss, but we never know what it is. I can only murmur, “This is… this…”
I do not dare blink, for fear of the painting disappearing.
“On a winter’s night a stranger…”
It’s a simple painting: a man is walking down a path, tall frozen pine trees surrounding him. And the sky, so blue, so clear, and I never even dared ask Herbert how he managed to create such a brilliant sky…
Herbert had painted a dozen versions of that painting, but never something on a scale so grand. This version is a monument of magnificent beauty. It’s at least six feet long and two feet tall.
“You know this has always been…” I stare into his dark eyes and smile, “my favorite painting.” And I regret releasing the words into the air, not because I finally admitted what it was so painful to admit, what I’ve always known, but because it feels as if I offended the painting itself by considering it my favorite. “I bet it took you a long time to make it the way it is now.”
He shrugs. “A few fishing trips.”
“I’ll buy it,” I cry. “I’ll pay you whatever you ask.”
Herbert seems genuinely surprised. “Well… we can trade if you want. Any of your paintings will do.”
“Are you serious?”
“Of course. But Patricia must never see this painting.”
This is either a joke or Herbert is too keen on selling himself short. Maybe he’s just trying to make my last days on this Earth memorable.
The last version of “On a winter’s night a stranger…” sold for more money than it cost me to buy the red Mustang. And that was twenty years ago.
I remember the day Herbert said that he would no longer paint. It appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country. It was a tragedy, some of the art critics said, a heartbreaking tragedy. Naturally, the prices of his paintings exploded, as if he had died.
“But you didn’t say anything about the ceiling.” Herbert points up.
“What about the…”
The entire arched ceiling is, in a way, Herbert’s own Sistine Chapel. It’s monumental and sad. Such a wonderful work of art, depicting Herbert as a painter, young and restless, with a headband wrapped around his head. And he’s painting something.
The easel he’s working on covers at least half of the ceiling itself. It’s a history of painting. And flows in a natural way, everything holds a little piece of truth and a little bit of melancholic beauty.
A painting within a painting within a painting. Every style has a painting dedicated to it. And all the paintings melt together to create the portrait of a man. Something that clearly reminds me of the bizarre paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo.
It’s all brilliant, and because of that, it takes me a while to realize that the man, the one who clings on the canvas in front of young Herbert, ten times bigger than the real life one, is a young Paul Fisher.
Long time no see, buddy.
It’s there, up, up, so high up that I can’t reach him, he’s there, begging his master to give him life, to set him free.
And Herbert May, the creator of all that’s sad and beautiful in this world, says, “I hope that I haven’t offended you in any way.”
It’s agonizingly true that Herbert May was the one who me made me who I am. Herbert May and his insane work schedule, Herbert May and his magical hands, Herbert May and his stupid idea that I was a great painter.
In each corner of the ceiling there are portraits of the great masters themselves, depicted as old marbled busts. Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Goya, Edgar Degas, van Gogh, Matisse, Gaugain, Picasso, and Dali.
“It took me fifteen years to get it done.” Herbert runs his fingers through his grey hair.
The world, me included, doesn’t deserve to see something of such beauty, we simply don’t deserve it.
One art critic once said that Herbert May’s paintings were relentless in their pursuit to stir as many emotions and sensations as possible.
The world could never understand or appreciate something like the ceiling of a warehouse on the outskirts of a small American town.
Compared to Herbert, I’m nothing. It hurts, but it’s true. Compared to Herbert, I’m a writer trying to write a novel using a fifty word vocabulary.
I’ve always been a limited artist, and it always seemed that there were some invisible chains that kept me from being free, that kept me from expressing myself.
In a way, I’ve always painted with the strong conviction that there were others better than I was, that there had been others better than I was, and in this strange lack of conviction and faith, I’ve been nothing but a modest artist.
It’s pleasant and exhausting at the same time to think like that.
I look behind me and notice that Herbert’s gone. He’s on the other side of the warehouse, staring at a painting.
The wall facing the door is almost empty. A single painting hangs against it, and next to it, a framed clipping from a newspaper.
I walk over to the clipping and read it. I laugh. It’s an article about the first art exhibit me and Herbert held together. There’s a black and white picture of me and Herbert. We both stand on each side of a painting that hangs against a white wall. Underneath our picture, it writes, “25 year old painter from Rubicon, NC sells his painting for twenty five thousand dollars to steel magnate Peter Guggenkoff.
Last night, painter Paul Fisher sold his painting, “The Prisoners,” for a record high twenty five thousand dollars, breaking his former record by more than ten thousand dollars.”
“It brings back nice memories, isn’t it?” Herbert says.
“That’s the down payment for my house we’re talking about.”
“What, this?” And he moves a few feet to the side, revealing my painting, there on the wall.
It’s the closest I’ve been to the best thing I ever produced in over 20 years. “But how?”
“It’s a complicated story,” Herbert says, “but long story short, my father in law used to do business with Guggenkoff, so it wasn’t that hard to convince him to sell it to me for a reasonable price.”
“It’s my best work.”
One critic referred to “The Prisoners” as a black hole. He said that it grabbed all the light in a room. It took away hope, it took everything from you, like nothing he had ever seen before.
And it gives nothing in return, I often said.
It’s a simple painting, actually. Five men, their heads shaved; beautiful, androgynous characters. Anatomically perfect, you’d say. But neither one of them has eyes or even eye sockets. All five of them are beating their firsts against the four walls that keep them trapped. Drawn from above, there’s a clear exist above them, for there’s no ceiling.
It’s a story about struggle, I once said. A pathetic struggle.
In the center of the room there’s a marble pedestal with a golden key resting on it. Some said it was a way out. A solution. An escape.
Others argued that it simply represented the way people opt to see life itself, as never offering us the chance to change who we are, even though the tools with which we could change our lives are always at our disposal, always so close.
But, you see, there are no doors. What could a key unlock within four walls that contained five blind, desperate creatures?
“What’s wrong?” Herbert asks. “I hope you’re not mad at me for not taking you here sooner.” He apologetically places his hands on his chest. “Patricia must never find out about this place.”
“I don’t understand why you put up with that woman.”
“I don’t understand why you don’t paint anymore.”
I painted “The Prisoners” after a period in which I had almost given up because of a woman. I remember every stroke I had to apply to the canvas with almost mechanical precision. When I finished it, when I thought that it was perfect and ready to see the world, I told myself that it was the best work anyone, Herbert or better, could paint. I waited two months before deciding to sell it. I even refused to show it to Herbert until the night of the exhibit.
I didn’t want to sell it, even though at the time I was engaged with Adele and desperately in need of cash to buy a new house. I was so young and naïve, and so I sold the painting to that nice billionaire who offered me more than I ever wished to be paid for it.
I was so naively ambitious that I thought that by the age of 30 I was going to become one of the best painters in the world.
“Paul! Why did you give up painting?”
For lack of a better answer, I say, “I have no time.”
“There’s always time.” Herbert places his hands on my back. “There’s always time for one more painting.”
This is something young Herbert would say.
I could have changed the world. Instead of being a creature in a painting, begging for life, maybe I could have been one of the masters in the corners of this ceiling, watching over all that Herbert May created whenever he went “fishing” or “hunting.”
“I can never be as good as you,” I finally confess. There’s a clear, painful, and irreversible sadness in these words. I never before said them out loud. I have always refused to.
We both stare at the ceiling. We both sigh. We both know.
“You’re right,” Herbert says. “You were always better.”
I got a bit carried away, but this is my favorite scene, so…
If you’d like to read more, you can find Dream City and Other Stories here.
“But the more she listens to the Duchess, the more she analyzes her features and mannerisms, the more…
They say hearts are shaped like fists because they have to fight. Hers is fighting its way out of the cage of her chest.
Lucien walks into the living room. He doesn’t seem surprised to see her there. He takes a seat on the couch, next to Elena. Kisses her.
Without meaning to, Alice sights.
“Why do you do this?” she asks. Without meaning to.
“Beg your pardon?” Lucien inquires.
“I was here before. You realize that, right? We… You were dressed as a maid,” she says, pointing her finger at the Duchess.
“Oh, yes. Yes.” They both exclaim.
Lucien stares around the living room for a while. At the paintings, at marbled busts of people long gone. “What do you think would happen if you used a knife to cut through flesh?”
Alice shakes her head. “The flesh would probably heal.”
“Indeed,” Lucien nods. “But if you do it over and over again.”
“A scar -”
“A scar.” He rubs his fingers against his chin. “What do you think happens to souls when subjected to a similar manner of torture?”
“It is said that when Alexander the Great saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer,” Lucien says.
She shakes her head. “What does that-”
This was the 99th page from closer.
A bit of a warning: this novel is not your cup of coffee, it’s more like a shot of whisky. Call in erotic, NSFW, but it’s certainly not the kind of fiction everyone can stomach. Just so you know.
You can find closer here.
These are my books. Thank you for reading.
And if you’d like to take a look at all of them, just click this link here.