«The director was even moved», said Irina, the editor in chief of Amoreux.
«I’m glad», said Imerio at the other end of the line. But no happiness resounded in his voice, possibly a slight relief. It was routine, by then. Or maybe it had always been, in a way he couldn’t even explain.
«Well, we are looking forward to receive other stories then», said the woman.
«I won’t fail», he promised, knowing well that he would be late, as usual.
They flattered each other with worn pleasantries, and then said informally goodbye. But there was nothing shabby in the gratitude that Imerio felt towards Irina and the magazine that housed his stories. Love stories, fine, written on commission, but still bread earned penning words on a computer screen.
«All right, then», said Annita looking at his mate on the sofa.
«All right», confirmed Imerio without enthusiasm. Then he slid down from the back and laid on the pillows. He sensed that a discussion was about to rise. His collaboration with Amoreux was a subject they had never completely talked out. The argument brought them together and apart at the same time.
«You should be happy», said Annita.
«I should be», replied Imerio. He wished they stopped after those three words, but he knew it would not be enough. «Yet, I feel a sense of dissatisfaction», he continued. «This is not enough for me, it’s not really what I want. I mean, I’m fine, but I wish there were more than just this».
«Because in this way I am not leaving anything. Not even a vague sign. This is not what I thought I would write when I started».
«But this allows you to earn a living. It allows you to stay in the office much less than before. To have more time to write what you want».
«But I’m always anchored to survival. I don’t know whether it’s an alibi. I don’t know. But I don’t think it’s casual that I cannot keep up with deliveries. I’m lazy, I struggle, I never want to write romantic short stories. Yet, I feel compelled by the need to do it. Under pressure. And all my ideas to write something else are stockpiled in a drawer, as you know. Bread always comes first. Amoreux always comes first. Although, within me I feel that it comes last. My priorities would be different. But I give up, I always do».
His monologue was unusually long. Generally, he spoke concisely and dryly. Annita reproached him for his tendency to synthesis. But, once hit where it hurts, he dwelled in endless as well as unnecessary explanations.
«It’s normal», she said, ready to justify him at his own eyes. «You’re not a middle-class guy who can afford to follow the whim of the moment. You have to survive».
«Yes», he cut her off, «but I ‘m standing up for survival. I begin to think I’m not able to write anything serious».
«These are just mental schemes, my dear. I remind you that you recently wrote The Man Without Destiny and Dissolution».
«They are only two stories. In the meantime, I wrote at least thirty for the magazine».
«Are you going to blame yourself at all costs?» exclaimed Annita rhetorically, jumping up.
«Are you going to prepare a cup of coffee?» Imerio asked, ironically.
«Maybe it’s better», was her dry answer .
While listening to the sounds coming from the kitchen, Imerio imagined the nervous and angry movements of Annita who was preparing the coffeepot. She was right: he was doing nothing more than self-pity. And action, that he had been preaching for years, was a resolution he practiced very badly. As if he missed the ideal drive, or its strength. He even wondered whether he was lacking in conviction. All in all, the adolescent conflict he had with his father, who tried to make him feel a failure, had left him exhausted and unable to fully believe in himself.
«The coffee is on», Annita informed him while emerging from the kitchen. Her tone was neutral, as that of somebody who is tired of arguing with someone who defends himself without making admissions.
«Luckily, it’s at least on», Imerio joked a little indulgently. «Think if it were down like you».
«Spare me, please. Rather, tell me why you always devalue yourself».
«It’s not me who does it. Anyone who read those two stories made it very clear that I missed the target». At that memory, rage raised inside him. «The opinion is unanimous, I didn’t dreamed of it».
The coffeepot began to gurgle .
«Unanimous a damn! » Annita was exasperated. «Do I count nothing?».
«Of course you do», he seemed almost placated, «but you are biased».
«I may be be biased, but I know what you wrote».
The coffeepot began to roar, as if a Tyrannosaurus rex were reaching the house.
«You better go and turn the coffee off».
Annita spun around abruptly and went back to the kitchen. Imerio reflected on the absurdity of some customary expressions: turning off the coffee. But the coffee wasn’t turned on, it was just boiling. How the fuck do we talk? Yet, when I write, such rubbish doesn’t come to my mind. Why do I think of it?
The roar dampened slowly. The sofa began to be uncomfortable. He had laid too deeply between consumed springs and pillows. He sat up and watched Annita who was placing steaming cups and sugar bowl without looking at him. She always did that when she was angry: avoiding his gaze until the argument was over. And with her, it resolved long after it had been closed: first she had to somatise it, to get herself familiar with the new aspects of her partner that had emerged during the conversation, to metabolize the discovery.
Imerio dug three and a half teaspoons of sugar and threw them in the boiling liquid, stirring vigorously. He liked it bitter!
Annita, instead, brought the cup to her lips and stared at him, sulky .
«I know exactly what I wrote», Imerio started again, «or rather, what I wanted to write. But you saw the effect, too. Mirna even called me a fascist. A fascist! Me! And don’t tell me that I hit the target…! »
«You have to admit that The Man Without Destiny is rather nihilistic».
«Also Dissolution is, as a matter of fact. Almost all my independent production is nihilistic. Besides, I just don’t see hope. Call it nihilism, pessimism, call it whatever you want. But, in the end, this is my message. Although I lie to myself. I write to exorcise my fears, to warn against the hazard that we as men, as members of Western society, are facing. I cry wolf, but even those who hear me don’t greet the message. They don’t want to admit that the danger we face is destruction, moral annihilation. They want messages of hope. But they only serve to stop committing themselves. Only with fear you can find a stimulus, you can get pissed, you can react. What hope, where? We are all mollycoddled in our vices, in the triumph of fascist capitalism. What hope, if no one reacts? If everybody says yes, you’re right, what can I do?».
«And you, what are you doing?».
«But you just said you don’t write enough».
He laughed. Imerio laughed, of his own guilt. «Yes, I said that. But I’ve got to survive. Isn’t it what everyone does? In the end, I’ve got my nice alibi».
«You should better give up your part-time job, go back working full-time in the office and during your spare time write only about what matters to you».
«Please, I can’t stand expressions such as part-time. You can well use partial time ».
«Don’t change the subject as usual».
«If I don’t change the subject now, when should I?».
Annita kept looking at him, grumpy.
«Come on, I was only kidding. Don’t do that». He leaned toward her, reached her face with a caress. She didn’t flinch. «The thing is that, recently, I have been basking too much in my alibi. It’s not a matter of part-time or spare time. If anything, I am conceited enough to think I have much to tell, but I never find the place or the time to do it. Maybe I really have nothing to say. But how could I deservedly waste my little talent writing sentimental rubbish?».
«Imerio, are you asking me of your writing or of your life?».
He looked at her thoughtfully.
«I don’t know», he said. And at that time he really didn’t know.
Translation by Anna Anzani (edited by Sara Di Girolamo)