Página número um - sobre o alto da página, soando como ameaça. O escritor se repreende, vamos, é hora de começar. Também a ocasião de uma ironia travessa, demasiado óbvia embora ele por um momento possa se considerar esperto por isso: não sabendo como iniciar a obra, o escritor vinga-se de seu bloqueio criativo elegendo-o como tema.
Então não vamos falar de nada, e não quero ninguém depois reclamando que o que leu não tinha assunto nenhum. Mas qual a real importância de algo ter sentido? Palavras, gestos, ruas têm sentido, mas a maioria das coisas nesta vida não tem sentido nenhum. Então Deus deve ser tudo, jardineiro, polícia, professor, modelo fotográfico, tudo menos escritor: as coisas que faz não precisam senão existir, tenham ou não razão de ser, existir consiste em não precisar ter sentido.
Não fosse essa ressalva, havia que dar algum prazer ao escrivinhador brincar de Deus... Mas o leitor espera beleza e sentido no que lê, enquanto as obras do demiurgo raramente exibem esses atributos. E quando o fazem, temos então plena razão em falarmos em milagre.
Mas há ainda o vazio inescapável da página um e prosseguindo na metáfora da criação divina "ex nihilo", um Deus minimamente responsável tentará criar o melhor dos mundos possíveis. E o melhor romance ou livro de contos ou a grande coleta de poesia possíveis? pierres menards como nós continuarão tentando escrever essa obra arquetípica, a um tempo irreal pois irrealizável, a outro mais real que qualquer outra coisa que já tenhamos de fato lido ou escrito, uma vez que é essa quimera o que nos instiga a prosseguir preenchendo páginas um ou abrindo um livro numa delas.
Ler, por sua vez, requer um grande investimento de tempo, e por isso ler é cada vez mais difícil nestes dias. Já ouviu falar em "novelblank"? É como se diz quando você chega ao fim de um romance de 500 páginas e já não lembra do que aconteceu até a página 490. Dissem que para a pessoa média, sete dias depois da conclusão de um romance, o "novelblackout" é total. Então todo aquele tempo lendo o livrão foi jogado no lixo, e é melhor mesmo você se ater às informações sobre ele contidas na à sinopse da Wikipedia.
Com um livro breve de contos, penso que o mesmo não ocorrerá: nem o volume de informação é tão grande que ultrapasse nossa capacidade de retenção, nem o tempo dispendido será tão longo para que, sobrevindo a desmemória, se tenha perdido muita coisa. Então me veio a idéia: tenho sete contos a meio escritos, se os completo em sete dias terei um livro composto de sete peças para o leitor ler à razão de um por dia, até que, chegado ao fim, terá lido meu livrinho em uma semana, sem hercúleos esforços.
Resta saber se será possível reescrever tanta coisa em um período tão curto. O Kerouak conseguiu, mas relatando experiências que tinha vivido, trocando nomes aqui e ali, sem precisar queimar os fosfatos criando enredos críveis ou consistentes, e essa, descenessário dizer, é a parte árdua do trabalho. Penso por outro lado em certos romances, cuja complicada escritura reclamou décadas inteiras. Tudo somado, me servirei da dupla abordagem: falarei tanto de gente e lugares que conheço como de quem e onde nunca conhecerei, e ,é claro, deixarei igualmente que falem por si.


Marta handed the boarding pass to the airport security agent. He was standing in a blue uniform, his complexion somewhat pale for facing the cold draft, which scurried through the concourse gateway. He did take them, rather, he cast a quick glance instead and went on to explain that no, this was not concourse 1 but concourse 3. In order to reach their gate, they should keep walking further to their left, then some 500 meters away they would see a similar entry, where they would find their correct access. She apologized, muttering under her breath how stupid she had been to forget to check whether the flight had changed gates, twisted on her feet and stepped ahead, holding her handbag with the other arm. She trailed Álvaro again by the hand behind her, visibly upset with the awkward task of imparting direction to her husband’s wavering walk, as some kind of nanny trying to restrain the erratic movements of a big baby into a forward trajectory.
She was also attempting to speed up their pace. Sure it was pretty early, and in all likelihood the airport would still be closed by time of scheduled departure because of inclement weather conditions of a typical autumn morning at their destination, and thus the flight was almost certain to be delayed. However, she preferred to be finished with the embarking process as soon as possible, so she could seat Álvaro down and wait for the boarding announcement.
On his part, he was trying his best to follow her with a uniform gait, by concentrating on a steady straight line. However, his efforts were useless, since his limbs weighed stiff, and he could not keep up with her brisk stride. Moreover, once his steps lacked a destination as point of reference, they seemed rather to stray from his present location, like the projections from a line of flight. And consequently, because the mob of passengers heading the other way appeared to aim precisely at them, each advance foretold the sudden jolt of a clash. Such sensation also took its toll on his breath, which would otherwise sound as usually almost mechanical, yet was now disturbed by an incipient nervous sniff.
When she displayed their boarding passes to the agent at the entrance to concourse 3, the man and she looked up at Álvaro’s face. A trickle of sweat, drawing her gaze simultaneously - a trickle of sweat from his temple vanished between his lips as his mouth half-opened. His head tilted slightly to the opposite side. Regardless, he still remained a handsome man - she could not help noticing. As she realized that she still loved him, a bitter taste undid her polite smile. Did she still love him or more precisely the memory of who he once was? Or, on second thoughts, her own subjective image of the man he believed he had been? The agent gave them back the boarding passes, wishing them in a bureaucratic tone a good journey, as if asking them to clear the passageway, indifferent to their air of uneasy indecision.
Passengers sat on the benches facing the boarding gate. Marta and Álvaro found a row of empty seats and settled in, depositing the hand luggage on the neighboring frail tables. The chilled morning smelled humid, the air thick with cigarette smoke. Yes, it was way too early. Álvaro should be soon nodding off on his chair. Then she saw herself seated by his side in previous cold and shadowy mornings like this one, waiting for a plane at an airport, occupying as early-arriver front row seats, which looked over the runway. In a luxuriant tone, he would insist he was “all the way” madly in love with her. “Liar!”, defied - he would  recite some improvised lines, helplessly lame. In her turn, she would limit herself to lighting a cigarette and blowing smoke ringlets almost impassively. Impassively, were it not for a mischievous sneer, indicative of an intimate satisfaction. He knew it too well: that pretended indifference was in fact an act of provocation. It was necessary that his extravagances reached beyond the brink of the unlikely, he needed to tease her with such a surprising act that she could not stop from being finally snatched from that stolid pose. Until then, she might as well just keep on smoking, cynically examining the polish on her nails. Should he really come up with some overwhelmingly unexpected feat, then she would eventually surrender in a generous laughter, leaning her face against his until their mouths meet, so that she could kiss his lips red wet.
Love rites like these are definitely not rare. Nor are they trite testimonies of some immature lack of self-confidence. In the end, they amount to no other than a renewal of the alliance. No more stupid than saying outloud “I love you”.
She should be reminded of those duels. She should also be aware that a certain disquiet deprived that memory of all its nostalgic sweetness. The biggest of all extravagances had already been performed and rendered unnecessary any such other.
*  *  *
Marta felt as if in total control. This was not because her distress had temporarily given her a relieving truce - it was rather the direct consequence of a strategy consisting of stating to herself that she from then on would just be carrying out a resolution (so she dubbed the whole thing). A resolution, which was the final product of an exhaustive pondering and re-examination of all possibilities at hand, hence so solid and grounded that it could admit no further appeal. That thought was most reassuring, once it barred all the trying waverings of her will right when it was at its most vulnerable. And so, allegedly acting on behalf of such a resolve, as out of an estranged and unavoidable agency, she found herself able to assemble the strength needed to avoid that desperate inaction that normally accompanies feelings of personal impotence.
On board, she did not need to show him the row they were supposed to occupy. He himself scrambled to deposit the luggage in the overhead compartment and took his seat by the window. He lifted the window screen in order to lighten the space, but darkness still dropped its outline from the outside, and all he was able to make out was the very reflection of his own inquisitive expression.
Recovering from the surprise of meeting himself opposite the glass, he spent some time peering at his own inverted shadowy eyes. The Sun still hid beneath the horizon, however it already trumpeted its rising by incipiently sending the long fingers of dawn from behind the mountains. Yes, it had always been like that. First, there was only invisible Time, and from Time detached Space. And Space was but Sky, until Sky shed the Earth apart. And Earth, in turn, curdled into Earth and Ocean.
He returned his seat to an upright position and fastened his seatbelt. Similarly, passengers around him were doing the same and his own clink seemed to multiply neurotically. It had been one, then four, then eight, then. Nonetheless, not anyone ever remounted to his original belt clinking, the same with words pronounced around him - they began to echoing and repeating, sometimes mockingly, never deterring from ceaselessly scattering from themselves. As a result, they never managed to mean one single thing. If he heard for instance from a wisper of the incipient conversation around him someone saying sea, this term could indistinctly stand for an ocean expanse, or something really huge as a mob should appear to someone with an eagle’s eye who happened to be flying over it or only imagined to do so; or else sea could refer not precisely to the water mass but to some coastal station or even to a journey inside a boat, as when we say we are going spend holidays at sea; or then by at sea we could finally point to such a confusing situation that leaves us only wondering what, if anything, we ought to do... And so, if you let a single term like sea compound with other word, the resulting significance should take into account the mathematics of the combinatory logic from both terms. Then again, if you added still a further word, a similar procedure should apply, and so on, until dazzling infinity. He felt frightened: what even they were all not simply taunting him but  trying to prevent him instead from understanding what they were saying by doing such thing with words?
Were it not for these echoes in his head, mangling words with their meanings, he thought, if he were able to deter the manner his own voice kept on straying, he would say to Marta something like this: “It is stupid to believe that two people ought to stick together no matter what because they feel attached by such a thing as fragile as a feeling, however strong it seems to be. As though it turned them exempt from the surrounding events”. So far carried away, he could put aside his mean prejudice against having his feelings expressed and go on to conclude by thinking aloud:  “You were the only one I ever loved. And you know that. Our error was to have put all our trust in this love. Or, what amounts to the same, perhaps our fault was to have loved just too much”. She could object to the idea that there was such a thing as guilty parts, but he thought she would eventually nod. Nonetheless, at the idea that she could agree to those words, he became immediately distressed, because in the end they also meant, among so many other things, that she also had better give him up. And so he finally assumed he might better avoid the theme altogether.
The flight attendants went down the aisles offering the daily papers. She started to leaf through a Zero Hora issue. The shot of a player  caught in mid-air, hovering over the field, was printed on the back cover. Grêmio or Inter, whichever had been the champion team of the season was of no interest to her. There had been dozens of similar championship soccer matches before. Álvaro studied concentratedly the other passengers’ movements: he appeared to have been charmed by their excited confinement inside their narrow elbowrooms. He followed with an automatic anxiety the to and fro of the crew, waiting for the moment when its members themselves would take their seats and the captain would lastly announce the departure. In front of him, the young woman who occupied the window seat excused herself to the passenger installed by the aisle, intent on taking advantage of the remaining minutes before takeoff to use the toilet. At the same time, she lifted herself without proper calculation, banging her head against the low ceiling above the rows. Smilingly, her traits twitched with pain, she sought to reassure the man, who was by then apologizing himself, confirming the lack of seriousness of the strike. She maintained her hand outstretched over the spot all the same, whereas he sought to hurry up and squeeze away on the aisle, so she could promptly pass.
Álvaro looked at Marta, who had been following the episode and experienced the woman’s affliction, as any other person who could imagine oneself in her shoes. To him that sensation of empathy appeared fairly unfounded. He suspected that it was absurd that anybody truly believed someone else was able to sense pain or passion or resentment, once all each and everyone of us is able to get to know from the other is what one does with his or her body: the hand suddenly rising to the point of the stroke on her forehead, her nervous smile and the repetition, in a less patient tone, of her prior would you excuse me? All done and said, what if they all just lied all the time? What if he were the sole person really capable of feeling genuine joy or weariness or regret? How about if Marta as well as everyone else around him only forced themselves to stage a mechanical act under the pretext of a feigned compassion? For how to know the whole extension of a single gesture, the way it surges, where it, if ever, ends?
‘That is the reason I ended up giving up sculpture (so Álvaro said, referring to the passenger’s and crew member’s frenzy with a broad wave of his left hand): its inaptness as a means to capture the vital movement. It resembles the stale nature of that back-cover shot. The player’s feet seem to soar over the ground, but they remain all the same stationary, locked in the moment of the snapshot. The dynamosculpture - well, that is not a brilliant name, you are  the expert in dubbing things - should give expression to the vital abundance of forms we experience and to the consequent lack of repose in all what there is”.
Marta yawned, thereby showing she was beginning to take on an irritated mood (but was it real irritation? would she be somebody prone to such an affection? or was she only pretending to feel so through the practice of a gesture from which he was meant to wrongly infer her distaste?). Of course he gave his best to deliver an intelligent speech, but he could notice all of that was just sounding ludicrous. He then decided to remain quiet. He felt ashamed by comparing himself to a lucid and pedestrian Quijote, who tried to justify himself on the grounds of something he made believe but in which he failed to believe himself. And that uneasy awareness polluted all his utterances with a clumsy falsity.
There had been a time when all this gibberish had made perfect sense. For the better or worse, reality, like an unexpected watchdog, had turned him over, and all else had lost its concocted naturalness. Even the pleasure of company or the exercise of thought, even art, to which he had devoted all of his life. He had been tamed by the events, completed overtaken by it, incapable of getting rid of the paralyzing force of their spell. Learning, creating, loving, none of these things that seemed to depend by any rate on his discretion appeared to him as worthwhile from then on. He wished only to yield to the changing flux of things and being devoured by the hunger of the world. He sought to make Marta understand this change, although by means of a language unavoidably obscure or in the extreme completely unspeakable.
The aircraft only just started to drop its shadow over the Porto Alegre suburbs, bound for the ranges of sierras to the north, when the Sun decided to rise with more momentum, painting the cabin with a warm rose tint. Now he felt thirsty, but he was reluctant to drink from the water he had been offered, after having take a sip and found it awkwardly bitter. He attempted strenuously to restrain his anxiety, to keep it seated and belted, why on Earth would he again scare Marta? Even so, shortly after a few minutes, the repressed words, tearing off their straightjackets, abruptly gushed out from his mouth:
“Above the cloud layers”- he said- there is this lake, a huge reddish lake. Its waters remain red and sizzling even after the Sun has grown yellow. Here on the heights only people who are insane dare live. They go insane because they forget that they are drinking from that bitter water. They are insane, Marta, all of them”. And he took pains to make her see the red lake, though she insisted she saw nothing. “If we go on trapped inside this plane, we will go thirsty of that sizzling bitterness, we will go insane as well, can’t you understand it?”
“No!”, she protested with somewhat excessive vehemence, then she immediately paused to take a deep breath and carried on, this time still with a stringent tone hidden behind her slightly muffled voice: “the plane is landing in some minutes, until then we stay here inside this airplane!”. In silence, fixing her eyes in a plea, he reiterated his disagreement, shaking his head with conviction.
If he at least would not talk that loud, she thought with dismay, if he could keep a low profile... Why the hell couldn’t he pick out a different setting to play out the fool? He had to perform his number right there, in that confined cabin, somewhere she was not able to leave. He had to made them the object of the other’s curiosity, poor woman, what a burden to bear!, they should now be thinking, if only they knew that it was precisely the commiseration irradiating from the stunned eyes what nagged her most... They didn’t understand anything, they never would. But why the poor devil behave like that right there in front of them? Presumably, he should know such scenes used to hurt her. She was sure he could grasp it perfectly well. Probably there lied the object of his playing: because he knew she was about to leave him, he had decided to get his revenge the most cruel way. Or maybe jut try a last bit of desperate theatrical drama...
She unclipped the seatbelt and stood up.
“Where are you going?”
“I am gonna have a cigarette”- she lied, turning again briskly to pick up the newspaper she had almost forgotten.
When she reappeared, he tried to soothe her irritation, apologizing for his outburst. He made an attempt at thinking something banal to say, but nothing occurred to him, nothing that could sound unthought or spontaneous. At last, he opted for closing his eyes, so pretending to doze in order to remain quiet for the rest of the flight.
*  *  *
Álvaro’s parents welcomed them. His mother remarked that she found Marta thinner, putting it down to the strain she had undergone during the last months. Profiting from the opportunity when Álvaro and his father were helping the driver deposit the bags on the car and they were left alone for some time, she said in a condescending voice, holding Marta’s hands reassuringly:
“You gave your best, and we will always be grateful for it. Be sure that he is going to be well by us. We are both retired, there is nothing better to keep us busy than looking after him. And we can also afford a nurse, if the case be. Now look at you! How weary you look! You have no longer any strength to carry on will all that work yourself! You are so young and beautiful, and you never had kids, why would you insist on remain tied up with an ill man indefinitely? How long have you been together? Three years in the most? That is just nothing! You will see, you have a whole life ahead of you, one day you will look back and he will then have turned into a sweet, special memory”, she finished smilingly.
Her apparent generous words concealed a streak of smirking triumph. They had been in competition. Since the early symptoms, Álvaro had become the prize of a relentless dispute. His parents had won over her. Marta felt as if she had given up long before the end of the battle. The resolution - she finally became full aware of it - had only been an attempt at disguising, by ascribing to her attitude a different name, what had only been sheer renouncing.
While the taxi submitted to the string of speed bumps and traffic signs along the road to the city and Álvaro’s father on the front seat narrated in irritating detail the accident that almost destroyed his car the previous day, Marta grew increasingly less convinced of the correctness of her decision. She fretted about her frank incapability to state any reason for her current doings which could not be disqualified for being laden with self-interest. Now that everything was nearly resolved, it became clear that she was behaving out of reproachable motivations: the coward fear that his crises worsened, the cautious misapprehension that she could not bear it much longer and could eventually resort to some impulsive aggressive reaction, the irrational revulsion at the idea of being herself seduced by his siren calls. On the other hand, she blamed him for his condition. She ruminated that if he had kept his will firm enough, if he had in the least fought against his affliction, he could have resisted it. Ultimately, he had made a choice, lucid in a certain instant or at some level of conscience, however estranged or forgotten by now just because so recondite or ephemeral. Anyway, once he had reached it, it was he who had given her up first. And in the wake of his determination, by whim of a strange fortuitous reciprocity, it was her turn to abandon him.
Feeling the vicinity of his body in the cramped car, watching him examining the moving landscape like a curious boy who had never seen it before, her self-control sank, and a tear rolled down her face. Álvaro’s mother stretched her arm around her shoulder in a consoling move. Her son sought to dissipate the tension by announcing, his voice strong and insincerely cheerful, that he had just recalled a dream he had had the night before.
“I have just remembered this weird dream I dreamed last night. You all know I am always dreaming, with with my eyes open, and you are all tired of hearing about them. It was so strange, though, that it deserves being told... Marta and I, we lived in the same hotel but in separate rooms. Every time I knocked on her door, she had already gone somewhere, or then she was watching TV and the sound was so loud that she was never able to hear me. Whenever I called, she was down having a coffee. If she heard the phone ring from the corridor on her way back, she rushed to her door, eager to open it, but when she finally picked up the receiver, I had only just hung up. And I would write her manically, though the letters would never get through to the recipient - they would either be lost to delivery or be returned. Or, worse still, they would slip inattentively from a bag, falling onto the pavement, or then quietly remain hidden inside , simply forgotten. One day, I left a note on her doorstep. Later, when she hit on it on the mat, she grabbed it, sat on her bed and tried to read it. All in vain, for she could not make out my handwriting. If I would see her down the lobby, I would dash to greet her, but she would walk past me, as if she could not perceive me. I felt in despair, since I knew I loved her, but I could predict she would never manage to set eyes on me. We rubbed along together all through our days, parted by a playful chance, as if we lived along parallel lines, prevented from turning to catch a glance or have a talk, both terribly aware of the fact that we were so close and that we could never meet”.
She grabbed his arm: “I am here honey”. But she knew she was condescendingly lying.
Marta and Álvaro had always expected for the moment of  collision. They only had deferred it indefinitely, sure that they had the rest of their lives in order to remain in wait. But the ties that had involved them had been worn out by the strain of such delay, and, as a result, their long hoped encounter had become impossible.
*  *  *
The four of them had never gathered in Curitiba, for some reason or another. Paradoxically, Marta, who had never been to that house, and to which she anticipated not to return in the future, could foresee in detail each room or piece of furniture she happened to set eyes on for the first time. She finally overlooked the garden, that lush garden burgeoning with the descriptions from Álvaro’s childhood years, which gradually waved to her recollection. Perhaps because of her fatigue, perhaps because it had been raining around her all morning long and the day kept quite dim, the predictable setting did not feel exactly safe, but daunting and uncomfortable instead. An incongruent forest of statues strolled on the house’s flanks, as a procession of people sprouting up with astonishment from the earth, glued to it, thrashing about in order to tear the roots, but frozen forever in such gesture. They were wrapped and tied by their very limbs and struggled to no avail to break free from the plaster mould that constrained them, and which were themselves.
Álvaro’s mother served coffee mugs in a wooden-panelled room in the summer-house, whose balcony windows scrambled against the persistent drizzle. Álvaro stepped over a stool covered in raffia to take a closer look at the birds.
“That one is Getúlio, you see?, are you reminded of him, son?”, asked his father.
Álvaro turned his look to a small aluminium cage, inside which twittered a blue budgie. The bird flitted, fearful of his approximation, and perched onto the opposite grid of the cage.
“Believe or not, dear”, the mother-in-law added to Marta, “it is the oldest pet we have home, it must be over fifteen years by now, isn’t it?”
“Thirteen”, her father-in-law corrected.
Marta swallowed the coffee in irregular sips, listening to the wind swishing behind the noise from the birds cheeping and hopping above them. How should one dub a world upside-down? A world where everything is just the opposite of what it was meant to be? A personal hell, probably. A dystopia shaped after the very counter-image of one’s wishes. It occurred to her that she had dared to have lived like the gods, being happy despite the rainy days and cigarettes that would never endure long enough for a last drag. One day she had been impregnable to suffering, that affection which, fierce in its counterattack, had pulled down the rattan walls of her concocted paradise and pushed her into that outer, alien territory. She was living now in that inverted world, a world how it should look to a bird from within a cage.
An unexpected fuss robbed her of her self-pitied absorption. Through the shade that darted over the cups on the table, she could infer that one of the birds had escaped. She now saw Álvaro’s parents hasten to shut the doors and the few breaches of window that were still open. Right after that, they were all looking for the blue budgerigar, until someone spotted it at an angle near the ceiling.
“There he is, the old brat, but how did he manage to fly out, son?”, enquired his father.
“I don’t really know”- Álvaro said in unfeigned bewilderment. He felt confused. He looked at the cage. First, the bird was inside it and then it had got through the little gate he himself had lifted. But, after all, had it gone in or out of the cage? It seemed to him impossible to decide with certainty on whichever sense. He was silent in this thought when his father, bringing the bird enclosed in his hands, returned it to its earlier whereabouts, inside or outside cage.
To C.S.H.T.
Porto Alegre, 1998, when smoking was still allowed on flights and airports, and every weekend the author would go up and down the air-hub Porto Alegre-Curitiba (Brazil).

Revised by Murray Bennett.