When I write, I never think of the reader. But last week, late at night, I was reading a story by Jorge Luis Borges at a table in a bar when a man of my age came over to me with an air of hostility:
“I am a reader and I came to settle accounts with you.”
I was going to ask something, but he continued in a harsh tone:
“For two reasons: the first is that you excluded me from your romance novel. The second is the more serious one. You killed my father in that same romance novel.”
I shut the Argentinean writer’s book and looked fearfully at this intruder who spoke with the disposition of an enemy. I don’t know how, but a voice emerged from within me:
You were excluded? I killed your father?
“Exactly. Your romance is a slanderous story, a tremendous lie. I’m the third brother you ignored in a vile way. And besides that, my father is still alive. My father . . . it’s absurd what you did to him.”
I looked out at the deserted street, trying to understand if it was true what I just heard. It was drizzling. Nobody was on the sidewalk. The waiter had vanished. A cold breeze blew through the open door. I was going to take a sip of cognac, but my hands shook and I thought it prudent not to reveal my fear. I got up calmly without looking at the man. I noticed that we were alone; at nearly the same time I noticed he was stronger than I was. For a moment, I thought our exchange, after the accusations, would reach an end. A drunk let out a scream somewhere along the block, and the sound broke the silence and relieved the tension a little. Suddenly the man put his right hand into the pocket of his jacket and opened his other hand in the gesture of a magician. It struck me as pathetic. I saw a rusted razor blade in his open hand and heard him pronounce in a serious voice:
“For a liar and coward like yourself, there is no exit.”
Frightened, I softly murmured: There is one.
He closed his hand, looked furtively at the door and asked with contempt:
To write another book, to include the third brother in the plot and resuscitate his father.
And that’s what I did, writing like a maniac as the sun rose, drinking and writing almost without breathing until dawn, when at last I freed myself from the nightmare.
Translation of “Leitor intruso na noite.” Copyright Milton Hatoum. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2007 by Idra Novey. All rights reserved.