The image of Aira in his café writing has haunted me. I play the image over and over in my mind as if it were a favorite record. To see him sitting there just across the way with his fountain pen and his notebook doodling fills me with a sense of purpose and of longing. For while I see him in the café, the writer at work, an empty espresso-stained demitasse resting near the upper right hand corner of the open notebook, I see myself, or, I should say, my future self sitting in my own café not in Buenos Aires, but in Long Neck. I’m sitting at the table in the Claire du Lune, the one by the window because from there I can see the ferry coming into the harbor, that too is a sign that man’s true mother is the sea. Ishmael knew this. But ferries interest me less than my own children, my literary progeny born of paper and ink, labored on over many a morning at my little table in Claire du Lune where all I have to do is lift my index finger and nod and Sylvie brings me another mocha latte. Don’t write in the present tense. The voice is that of Aira’s ghost. The past, the past. That is the true world the storyteller inhabits. His counsel is wise. Do I trust him? He who takes no orders, not even from himself.
As he sat in the café Donavan’s imagination was filled with the swirling image of his unborn children. They were queuing up at that narrow ink-filled passageway (a birth canal? the image seemed absurd, but yet, there it was) to take their form on the page. I’m next! I’m next! They clamored to the forefront and muscled their way forward. Be still! he commanded. But he knew that they would not listen. They had been penned up too long, the dam was about to burst. Each character jostled with the other for a place at the front. Pandemonium ensued.
The writer began to despair and so typed a quick prayer on his iPhone addressed to his muse and clicked the send button. To pass the time, he twiddled his hair, spun the pen around on the table, and drew faces in the margins of his notebook. Sylvie brought another steaming mug of mocha latte and set it down in front of the writer who thanked her and asked after Jerome. “He’s doing well,” she said. “Settling in to his new apartment in Brooklyn. I’m visiting him next week. At least that’s the plan.”
He knew the story already. Not the details, but the broad strokes. But the precise beginning eluded him. He would need a title, a working title at least. The last one had been Summer. Fall? No, too portentous. Autumn would be better, softer, less final, fatal.
Suddenly, he was startled by the buzzing of his phone. He put down his pen and took up the portable electronic device. His muse! She’d responded. She was his salvation, his inspiration, his guiding light in the storm.
It doesn’t matter, she wrote. It’s all the same. One day at a time. The devotion of the penitent. You’ve always been a lover of ritual, my dear. Indulge yourself. Send up your prayers like a good scribbler. Don’t look back, and never erase a line.
Time to begin.