He kept it all day on his night table.
He picked it up a couple of times then he put it back down without opening it.
It’s just a letter. According to physical law, it is light. According to other non-written laws, it is bloody heavy. He knows what it is about, he was waiting for it: it is the letter the publishing house sent to officially communicate him how many copies of the novel he published were sold last year. As a consequence, the envelope contains the sum of his royalties.
Practically, it is his school report. The one which is about to tell him, brutally, how his first editorial adventure has gone, beyond his friends’ pats on the back and the publisher’s pre-packed praises; beyond the two or three “not-bad” reviews gained on the internet, and beyond the bunch of readers who’d added his book in fan web sites.
He knows well: when he made his little debut novel, the one which had been a source of so much anxiety and effort, that it wasn’t a big success. As widely predictable, it is just one of the many unlucky novels, churned out and grinded out by the bulimic national editorial machine, although crying perpetual poverty, manages to pour thousands of titles into the market. They remain in the book shops for one man’s wife’s period return, and they sell, most of the time, a number of copies even inferior to the number of friends or the closest relatives of the writer.
Essentially, some bastard cousin just pretends to read the book.
He is aware, after all, that the genre of his novel is not one of those which is nowadays sellable. It doesn’t resemble a big thriller with a serial killer, nor a story filled with riddles and with Templars. Trivially, we’re talking about the umpteenth bildungsroman concerning the unlucky childhood of a shy boy, born in a middle-class family, in a small town.
Once he has certified that his novel is just a “little cabotage”, he must stay calm and keep faith that is going to be at least, a respectable one. The publisher (a man who incredibly hasn’t asked him some money under the counter), has let him understand that he believed a success of the sale of the first circulation of a thousand-copies. Although, selling three hundred/ three hundred and fifty copies would be enough in order to balance the costs.
Until the day before, he said to himself that he would have been satisfied to reach the quota of five hundred. It seemed to him a great result, comparing it to the average sale of an authors publishing within a little publishing house. Today, with the envelope waiting patiently, silently and unreliably for him on his night table, he thinks that even three hundred copies would be a great result. Perhaps two hundred and fifty as well, even two hundred. It should consider that during next year, other copies could be sold and… The clock strikes 10 pm. He wears his pajamas, he goes in the bathroom, and he brushes his teeth.
At last, here he is: waiting on the bed side. He can’t wait any more.
The moment he decides, he grabs the envelope with unexpected excitement. He tears it up with shaking hands bringing out the only piece of sheet it contains. It is fold up three times. He opens it slowly, you could say he unfolds it as a poker gamer would: by disclosing his cards inch by inch to see what fate has dealt him.
He reads the number. His arms fall down. He reads it again. Perhaps the number is wrong. Perhaps…
No. The number is correct. It says “98”.
During the first year of publication, he has sold 98 copies of his novel. Not even a hundred. He hasn’t even succeeded in reaching the round number. Damn it! Knowing that in advance, he would have bought them with his own money, those bloody missing copies.
How many friends and relatives he has? He doesn’t have a large family. Not lot of friends either (as never before, he dreams to be one of those easygoing people who knows everybody, not the stereotypical shy man who goes out with the same group of people since forever). He counts a couple of times.
Let’s imagine that relatives and friends bought something like eighty copies?
In short, his book in the book shops has sold, more or less, fifteen copies.
Here it is, black on white. The umpteenth newcomer without luck. One of many, neither better, nor worse than most of the others. If it had concerned his school report, his mother would have clouted his ears and told him to forget about the scooter.
He keeps on reading the paper. At this point, he has to swallow the bitter pill.
He reads the sum of his royalties. He produces an unwilling laugh, a sort of noise between his lips. With that sum, it will be hard even to go out for a pizza with his wife.
In the meanwhile, she comes in the room. In her pajamas too, without make up, ready to go to sleep.
A gaze is enough for her.
She doesn’t say a word. She slips in bed. He put back the letter; he slips in too. He turns the lamp on the night table off. The room is immerged in the dark.
“Come here…” she whispers
He comes closer. She hugs him and holds him tight.
“Don’t give up! Next one will be better, I’m sure!”
He’s not as sure as she is. Nevertheless, he knows he’s not going to give up. He has no doubt: he won’t give up because he likes writing, because writing is important; because he’s been doing that for years, sometimes only for himself when he didn’t have a publisher. He’s not going to give up because he doesn’t have a lack of words, or stories, because this head of his, a little skint, the one that his wife is stroking with light fingers, it is always filled with words. He will write because the world is as it is, it’s not enough for him; it won’t ever be enough, and he needs to chew it, to digest it and to spit it in a way his fingers are quite capable of (well or badly) on the keyboard.
Yeah. Next time will be better. He already has an amazing idea.
His wife kisses him. Her lips are hot. Their hands move by memory. Their bodies know the rules.
Thank you, darling, for this love made with love.
Fuck the world!
The next novel will be awesome!
P.S. Luckily, my novels sold a little more, but all the “non-famous” authors could recognize themselves in these lines.
Translation by Francesca Pietroboni (edited by Amy Scarlett Holt)