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.
This copy is for your personal, noncommercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies for distribution by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.