End of August. The last revisions of the short story The Inauguration take me back 20 years ago, when I was stepping into the third millennium, whistling merrily with a new book under my arm: The City of the Last Eclipse.
The Inauguration could have very well been a new chapter in The City of the Last Eclipse, 20 years later. Mr. Nik is the worthy successor of the illustrious forerunner Mr. Gelu. Nik pulls the strings, after 20 years only in a small town in the mountains, but under the same dazzling sun. The same society, in continuous decline, in an endless eclipse, as opposed to the total solar eclipse that had obscured The City of the Last Eclipse on August 11, 1999 in less than three minutes. The City of the Last Eclipse, because the solar eclipse of August 11, 1999 was the last total solar eclipse of the second millennium and could be best observed in a city sunken in an eclipse, possibly the last.
In 1999, the city had simply been invaded by tourists from all over the world, eager not to miss such a rare phenomenon. The word eclipse was then on everyone’s lips. We fell asleep and woke up with it. The inauguration of The City of the Last Eclipse misled the notables of the city, who thought I would present the effervescence around the eclipse and could not conceive not being present with the necessary attention. But reading the volume came with the bitter taste of reality. As Adrian Roman, theater director, put it: “It is the way we are but do not admit being.”
The reactions were not long in coming. Let me take them one at a time. Soon after the book launch, I received a phone call from the County Inspectorate of Culture. The head of the inspectorate called me. Good evening, Mr. Mihai. Good evening, dear lady, I answer. I’m Cora Pepenas, do you know me? No, dear lady, I don’t. How come you don’t know me, I’m one of the characters in your book. You made me a satirical portrait. But I forgive you, because I really liked the book.
About two or three days later, an impatient mayor called me. Mister, he lambasts me, you’re an ass, you ridiculed me and my folks in that piece of garbage you call a book. I should break your neck, but I don’t want to get my hands dirty. In the evening, the prefect of the county called me, angry that he thought he recognized himself in my book and wanted to sue me; if he had been younger, he would have shot me in a duel, like in bygone times.
A few days later I received a phone message from the director of the County Hospital. He warned me he would break the Hippocratic Oath, regardless of the repercussions, if I ever was to be hospitalized. The last chief who called me was the one from the police, reproaching me I had made fun of the policeman’s honor.
But the most seductive meeting I had with the head of the soul sector, His Grace the Bishop of the Diocese in which I am also a servant of the Lord. He invited me with sweetness and priestly patience to the Episcopal Palace. Pay me a visit, we have to talk. I knew I had to obey. So I went, how could I refuse His Grace.
Listen, son, you wrote this book. I did, I confirm. My priests say you criticized me in it and put some horns on me. Is that true? That’s not true, I answer. Well, they read to me from what you wrote. And they said I was the one being mocked. Your Grace, I defend myself. In my volume the trams go up and down in the city. Has Your Grace ever seen even one tram wheel in our city, because I haven’t. The holy father hummed and hawed, and finally told me. See, my son, they all advised me to anathemize you. They had almost convinced me. Well, then give me a blessing, I said triumphantly. The old bishop put his hand on my forehead, blessing me. Then he exclaimed: What do you know, you can’t count even on the reverend fathers anymore.
The latest revisions are almost ready …