His feeble mind was only good for groping memories like vague shapes in the dark. His body was a withered portrait on the wall of some long forgotten castle. The writer sat down to write a simple love letter to a book he had known in his younger years. Now in the grips of his fever he remembered more and more of them. Back when his tastes in literature had been robust, he had loved a book called “The General and His Labyrinth.” The first time, alone in his room as he grew into a stupor over the labyrinth of his disappointments and his dreams. The second time as he was gripped by a virulent pragmatism known to men twice his age. Then, he had been in his thirties. Now he was an old man close to death.
With his arthritic hand he wrote the first line of his love letter trying to recall the pride and ambition of a younger man.
“The book was a testimony to the power of an author to love his subject more than life itself.”
The sentence came out of his pen hopeful. Yet, the vagueness of his prose and its inability to reach beyond simple sentiment sent the writer into a deep malaise. He stood up from his chair with what little strength was left. His pride prevented him from asking for help and on his way to his bed he almost fell over.
When Jose Palacios came into the bedroom, he saw the writer in his bed seized by fever.
“Yes, your highness.”
Although he was a simple writer and the servant was a figment of his imagination, the servant insisted on calling him “highness.”
“Highness…highness. You mean ‘lowness.’ Debased. Fraud.”
“Are you at work on another one of your love letters?”
“The desire comes and goes. I sit down to write a simple sentence and when the thing comes out it lies limp on the page and dies, stillbirth and dead.”
In all the years of his unremarkable life, the only remarkable thing about him was how many great literary loves he had had — a greater accomplishment than even his own literary victories.
A decade before the writer had tried to make a proper accounting of his literary loves and write letters to each of them. After countless hours of scribbling on sheets of various quality and color, the writer had finally given up, burned all the letters, and declared the task hopeless, proclaiming simply, “There are too many! They run in my memory like one long dream.” Over the years, he had climbed into his chair and tried to compose a letter here and there. Not even Jose Palacios knew what had happened to them.
Now, in the twilight of his existence, the feeble writer had fits and starts of work that were equal measures desperate and ineffective. The rest of his time was spent fighting the debasements of time.
If Jose Palacios had been a writer himself he would have thought the writer’s constant constipation symbolic. He ameliorated the writer’s congenial constipation with enemas of immediate but devastating effect. Each time, like a church chime at noon, the writer would exclaim, “Just like my first novel. One big disgusting explosive mess.”
After Jose Palacios had administered the enema, changed his clothes, and cleaned the bedsores on his emaciated body, he placed the writer in his chair, in front of his paper and pencil.
“One more try,” Jose Palacios said. “It’s good for the soul. Good or bad, you will write for love of your literary works.”
There had been so many: X-Men comics in the flower of his youth; science fiction novels about Star Trek and Star Wars in the crude days of his adolescence; the mature yet neglected pages of such books as “The Grapes of Wrath,” in his rebellious years; the more mature loves of young adulthood…
He continued writing for several hours, as if he were in a clairvoyant trance, hardly stopping for the attacks of coughing. When his arthritic hand finally stopped moving he dictated for several more hours in weak hums that barely registered as words to Jose Palacios. When Jose Palacios finally ran out of paper, he had to take to writing on the walls. The walls turned black with ink. Finally, when the old writer’s voice was about to give out, he finished his letter in the only way he felt appropriate. The writer stood up with what little strength he had left, walked to Jose Palacios, and found the place on the wall where the writing had stopped, he curled up into ball next to it, and entered a deep sleep.
Jose Palacios took a blanket from the closet and covered the writer, not knowing whether he would wake. He retired into his quarters to resume his count of the writer’s literary loves and conquests.
Some months later, after the writer had died for the final time. The government ordered that all accounts of the writer’s literary conquests, love of words, or even his existence be destroyed. Thus, the letter and the house with walls tainted with literary scandal were destroyed.
Only in a small village where Jose Palacios lived under an assumed name did the tale of the writer’s many conquests resurface. And like the good servant he had been, Jose Palacios made sure that each literary love, including the “General and his Labyrinth” was accounted for.