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‘You shouldn’t stay sitting for such a long time.’ Apart from the reading lamp and computer screen, there is practically no light, only enough to make out a woman seated at a desk, her agile fingers on the keyboard. A glass of red wine and a few piles of books and papers lie on the table. ‘Then you complain about back pains.’ She takes a sip from the glass, and starts reading the paragraph she has just written out loud. Someone comes up to her from behind, at first still hidden by the darkness of the room. Then, one can make out a young man, elegantly dressed, his hair brushed back with an affected carelessness. He moves closer, rests his hands on her shoulders, massages them – she carries on reading as if ignoring him. He insists: ‘You haven’t been working out. Don’t think I don’t notice these things.’ Without taking her eyes off the computer screen, she reacts impatiently: ‘Why don’t you mind your own business? Who do you think you are, my personal trainer? My ballet teacher?’ He keeps his hands on her shoulders, sliding them down her back, down her arms, squeezing them tightly. ‘You know that after your thirties your body isn’t the same any more, that you no longer have the same muscle structure, the same suppleness. You just can’t leave it to its own fate. Not to mention your spine – he runs his fingers down her spine – look, you’re going to end up all crooked if you carry on like this.’ She shrugs abruptly to free herself from the massage. ‘Please let me work in peace.’ He moves away, apparently hurt; it is almost impossible to make him out in the obscurity, only his voice can be heard.
‘God, you’re so bad tempered, I was only trying to help.’ Silence. She carries on writing. His footsteps can be heard crossing the room. He turns on a small table lamp. Settling in an armchair, he crosses his legs, takes a cigar out of his jacket pocket and looks at it fondly for a moment. A sort of ritual then follows, until he finally lights it. After the first few drags, he pauses and says:
‘I worry about you, you know.’ She pretends not to hear him. He insists.‘You don’t believe me, but I really do worry,’ he says dramatically.
‘You don’t need to. Stick to your own problems.’ He seems perfectly comfortable in the room, as if he had always been there. He takes another drag. Upon smelling the smoke, she turns around for the first time, and with a look of reproach she says: ‘Since when do you smoke cigars? I don’t remember writing that.’ He smiles ironically. He remains silent for a moment, as if trying to create some sort of suspense, and says: ‘Indeed, you didn’t write that.’ And after another pause, he adds: ‘Not yet.’ ‘So…’ Her voice sounds impatient. ‘So nothing. I thought it would look good. It suits me, don’t you think?’ ‘No, I don’t,’ she says, moving the keyboard away and sitting on the desk, with her feet on the chair. She takes another sip of wine. He carries on:
‘If you take a close look at my habits since the beginning, my appearance, my personality, my spirit – not in the sense of my soul, the soul is of no interest to anyone. In the sense of Geist, which the Germans distinguished so well from Seele, the soul. Anyway, if you take all these aspects into account you’ll ealize it’s obvious that I smoke cigars.’
‘Obvious?’ She laughs loudly. This is the last thing I need, you giving me advice on what I should or shouldn’t write, on how I should construct my characters. And on top of that you come up with these explanations in German – don’t think I’m impressed.’
Keeping his calm, he watches the smoke spread out in the air and, deliberately exaggerating his arrogant tone, he says:
‘God no, I’m far from wanting to impress you.’ He stares at her angrily for a minute, but quickly goes back to his previous considered lack of interest. ‘I’m not forcing you to do anything, only suggesting. Besides, what’s the problem? Don’t be so bossy, it doesn’t suit you.’
‘Yes, my dear: bossy, that’s what you’re being. Bossy and intransigent. I’d even say sanctimonious. At the end of the day, what’s so bad about me smoking cigars?’
‘Sanctimonious? I can’t believe you’re saying this.’
‘And what’s more, everyone knows that after a certain point in the story, characters acquire a life of their own. Every author says this during interviews.’
‘I’m not every author, and I never said that in any interview.’
He picks up the newspaper from the little table by the armchair, opens it, looks at an article with disdain and says:
‘No, your interviews were never really very interesting.’
‘Listen, I don’t like the turn this conversation is taking in the least. You know what, I’m not going to hang around here arguing, I have better things to do. If you prefer to smoke, go ahead, do whatever you want.’
She sits back down at the desk and tries to focus on the computer screen again. He smiles victoriously. They remain silent. He picks up the newspaper, glances at a few pages, closes it and puts it back down on the desk. Again she starts reading the same paragraph out loud, and he listens attentively with a look of reproach. When she finishes, he asks:
‘Don’t you think I’m becoming really similar to that ex-boyfriend of yours?’
She answers, keeping her eyes fixed on the computer.
‘My ex-boyfriend? Of course not, I don’t know where you get these ideas. Besides, I would never go out with someone like you.’
She remains focused, now making notes on a sheet of paper.
‘So who am I similar to then?’ he insists.
‘To nobody; why would you have to be similar to anyone?’
‘Because every character is similar to someone the author once came across. Everything is autobiographical. It’s a truth you can’t escape.’
She stops making notes and turns towards him:
‘Tell me something, what books have you been reading recently?’
‘I didn’t read that in any book, it’s something everybody knows.’
‘Something everybody knows? And who’s everybody?’
He doesn’t answer, but laughs sarcastically and carries on smoking.
‘Look here, you’re a creation of mine. Before that you didn’t exist. I created you out of nothing; do you get that? Out of nothing.’
‘No one creates anything out of nothing. Don’t pretend you don’t know that.’
She leaves her chair, goes up to him, sits down on the edge of the armchair and forcefully passes her hands through his hair, as if pulling it or messing it up.
‘I’m not pretending I don’t. Do you know what bothers me about you?’
‘There’s something about me that bothers you? Really? I would never have guessed.’
‘It’s this coolness of yours, this haughtiness. Who do you think you are?
He strokes her arm, and says in a calm and seductive voice:
‘But darling, there is nothing about me that doesn’t come from you. At the end of the day, as you’ve just affirmed with such a strong sense of ownership, you created me out of nothing. I’m a creation of yours, entirely yours, am I not? So this coolness, this haughtiness, where else could it come from?’ He tries to stroke her face, but she moves away.
In total silence, she goes back to sit at the table, straightens the keyboard and starts writing again. She stops for a moment, takes a gulp of wine. He remains seated in the armchair and moves the table lamp away. In the obscurity, all one can make out is the smoke of the cigar – and suddenly, a voice.
‘I won’t interrupt you again darling, I promise. I’m not interested in interfering with what you do or don’t do.’
She does not answer. The voice continues:
‘But don’t you think you’re drinking too much?’[/private]
Translated by Clelia Goodchild.
Born in Paris to Anglo-Sicilian parents in 1991, Clelia Goodchild is in her final year studying French & Portuguese at Oxford University. She is also completing a video documentary and book of photographs on the Atlantic forest, shot during a year in Brazil.