The writer begins typing cautiously. He has to write a short story. Lately everyone’s talking about the virtues of short fiction, but he, if he were honest, would confess that he detests stories in general, and short ones in particular. Still, not wanting to miss a trick, he’s been forced to join the ranks of prevaricators who feign enthusiasm for brevity. That’s why he’s terrified at how lightly his fingers skip across the keys, one word followed by another, then another appearing after that, and another, and together they form an entire line of text, which is soon followed by another—and another!—and he hasn’t even managed to find a focus yet, because he’s accustomed to going the distance: sometimes it takes him a hundred pages to sense what he’s writing about, other times he hasn’t gotten to that point after two hundred. It’s never even occurred to him to fret about length. The longer the better: blessed be each new line, because, one after the other, they demonstrate not only the magnitude but also the magnanimity of his work, which is why—although, in all honesty, one, two, even fifty lines add nothing to any story he’s narrating—never in his life would he expurgate. In order to write this story, however, he almost needs to grab a ruler and begin measuring. It’s absurd. It’s like asking a marathoner to run the hundred-meter with dignity. In a short story, each new line is not one more line, but one less, and in this particular case, one less from thirty, because that’s the limit: “From one to thirty lines,” the velvety voice that phoned from the Sunday supplement and asked for the story had said. Reluctantly, the writer lifts his fingers from the keys and counts the lines thus far written: twenty-three. Only seven left until he’s at the limit. But, after transcribing this concern—and this one—he’s got even less. Six. Jesus, Mary and Joseph! He’s incapable of having a single thought without transcribing it, so every idea eats up another line, which leads, at line twenty-six, to his realization, just four lines from the end, that perhaps he is unable to find a focus for his story because—he’s suspected this for some time now—he’s got nothing to say, and although normally he manages to dissimulate by churning out page after page, this damn short story is blowing his cover, which is why he sighs, on reaching line twenty-nine, and, with a not-wholly justified feeling of failure, types the period at the end of thirty.
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