Authors: Paulo Coelho
Tags: #Romance, #Literary, #Fiction, #Visionary & Metaphysical, #General
They had to make a choice: either risk extinction or accept their fellow porcupines’ spines.
Very wisely, they decided to huddle together again. They learned to live with the minor wounds inflicted by their relatives, because the most important thing to their survival was that shared warmth.
The children want to know if they can see a real porcupine.
“Are there any at the zoo?”
I don’t know.
“What’s the ice age?”
A time when it was very, very cold.
Yes, but a winter that never ended.
“But why didn’t they remove their prickly spines before they snuggled up together?”
Oh, dear, I should have chosen another story. I turn out the light and decide to sing them to sleep with a traditional song from a village in the Alps, stroking their hair as I do so. They soon fall asleep.
My husband brings me some Valium. I’ve always refused to take any medicine because I’m afraid of becoming dependent, but I need to be in top form tomorrow.
I take a ten-milligram pill and fall into a deep, dreamless sleep. I don’t wake up all night.
there early, and go straight to the clubhouse and out into the garden. I walk to the trees at the far end, determined to enjoy this lovely afternoon to the full.
Melancholy. That is always the first word that comes into my head when autumn arrives, because I know the summer is over. The days will grow shorter, and we don’t live in the charmed world of those ice-age porcupines; we can’t bear to be wounded by the sharp spines of others, even slightly.
We already hear about people in other countries dying of the cold, traffic jams on snowbound highways, airports closed. Fires are lit and blankets are brought out of cupboards. But that happens only in the world we humans create.
In nature, the landscape looks magnificent. The trees, which seemed so similar before, take on their own personalities and paint the forests in a thousand different shades. One part of the cycle of life is coming to an end. Everything will rest for a while and come back to life in the spring, in the form of flowers.
There is no better time than the autumn to begin forgetting the things that trouble us, allowing them to fall away like dried leaves. There is no better time to dance again, to make the most of every crumb of sunlight and warm body and soul with its rays before it falls asleep and becomes only a dim lightbulb in the skies.
I see him arrive. He looks for me in the restaurant and on the terrace, finally going over to the waiter at the bar, who points in my direction. Jacob has seen me now and waves. Slowly, I
begin to walk back to the clubhouse. I want him to appreciate my dress, my shoes, my fashionable lightweight jacket, the way I walk. My heart may be pounding furiously, but I must keep cool.
I’m thinking about what words to use. What mysterious reason did I give for meeting again? Why hold back now when we know there’s something between us? Are we afraid of stumbling and falling, like we have before?
As I walk, I feel as if I were entering a tunnel I’ve never traveled before, one that leads from cynicism to passion, from irony to surrender.
What is he thinking as he watches me? Do I need to explain that we shouldn’t be frightened and that “if Evil exists, it’s to be found in our fears”?
Melancholy. The word is transforming me into a romantic and rejuvenating me with each step I take.
I keep thinking about what I should say when I reach his side. No, best not to think and just let the words flow naturally. They are inside me. I may not recognize or accept them, but they are more powerful than my need to control everything.
Why don’t I want to hear my own words before I say them to him?
Could it be fear? But what could be worse than living a sad, gray life, in which every day is the same? What could be worse than the fear that everything will disappear, including my own soul, and leave me completely alone in this world when I once had everything I needed to be happy?
I see the leaves falling, their shapes silhouetted against the sun. The same thing is happening inside me: with every step I take, another barrier falls, another defense is destroyed, another wall collapses, and my heart, hidden behind it all, is beginning to see and enjoy the autumn light.
What shall we talk about? About the music I heard in the
car on the way here? About the wind rustling the trees? About the human condition with all its contradictions, both dark and redemptive?
We will talk about melancholy, and he’ll say that it’s a sad word. I’ll say, no, it’s nostalgic, it describes something forgotten and fragile, as we all are when we pretend we can’t see the path to which life has led us without asking our permission. When we deny our destiny because it’s leading us toward happiness, and all we want is security.
A few more steps, a few more fallen barriers. More light floods into my heart. It doesn’t even occur to me to try to control anything, only to experience this afternoon that will never be repeated. I don’t need to convince him of anything. If he doesn’t understand now, he will understand later. It’s simply a matter of time.
Despite the cold, we’ll sit out on the terrace so he can smoke. At first, he’ll be on the defensive, wanting to know about that photo taken in the park.
We will talk about the possibility of life on other planets and the presence of God, so often forgotten in the lives we lead. We will talk about faith, miracles, and meetings that were planned even before we were born.
We will discuss the eternal struggle between science and religion. We will talk about love, and how it’s always seen as both desirable and threatening. He will insist that my definition of melancholy is incorrect, but I will simply sip my tea in silence, watching the sun set behind the Jura Mountains and feeling happy to be alive.
Ah, yes, we will also talk about flowers, even if the only ones we can see are those decorating the bar inside, the ones that came from some vast greenhouse where they’re produced en masse. But it’s good to talk about flowers in the autumn. That gives us hope for the spring.
Only a few more feet. The walls have all fallen. I have just been reborn.
I reach his side, and we greet each other with the usual three kisses—right cheek, left cheek, right cheek, as demanded by Swiss tradition (although whenever I travel abroad, people are always surprised by that third kiss). I sense how nervous he is and suggest we stay out on the terrace; we’ll have more privacy there and he can smoke. The waiter knows him. Jacob orders a Campari and tonic, and I order tea, as planned.
To put him at his ease, I start talking about nature, about trees, and about how lovely it is to realize that everything is constantly changing. Why are we always trying to repeat the same pattern? It’s not possible. It’s unnatural. Wouldn’t it be better to see challenges as a source of knowledge, and not as our enemies?
He still seems nervous. He responds automatically, as if he wants to bring the conversation to a close, but I won’t let him. This is a unique day in my life and should be respected. I continue talking about the various thoughts that occurred to me while I was walking, the words for which I had no control. I’m astonished to see them emerge now with such precision.
I talk about pets and ask if he understands why people like them so much. Jacob gives a conventional answer and then I move on to the next subject: Why is it so difficult to accept that people are different? Why are there so many laws trying to create new tribes instead of simply accepting that cultural differences can make our lives richer and more interesting? But he says that he’s tired of talking about politics.
Then I tell him about the aquarium I saw at the school when I dropped my kids off that morning. Inside it was a fish, swimming round and round, and I said to myself: He can’t
remember where he began, and he will never reach the end. That’s why we like fish in aquariums; they remind us of ourselves, well fed but incapable of moving beyond the glass walls.
He lights another cigarette. I see that there are already two cigarette butts in the ashtray. Then I realize that I’ve been talking for a very long time in a trance of light and peace without giving him a chance to express his feelings. What would he like to talk about?
“About that photo you mentioned,” he says cautiously, because he’s noticed that I’m in a particularly sensitive mood.
Ah, the photo. Of course it exists. It’s engraved on my heart and will be erased only when God chooses. But come in and see with your own eyes, because the barriers protecting my heart fell away as I was walking toward you.
Now, don’t tell me you don’t know the way, because you’ve entered several times before, in the past and the present. Yes, I found it hard to accept at first, too, and I understand that you might be reluctant. We’re the same, you and I. Don’t worry, I’ll lead you there.
After I have said all this, he delicately takes my hand, smiles, and then sticks in a knife:
“We’re not teenagers anymore. You’re a wonderful person and, as I understand, have a lovely family. Have you considered marriage counseling?”
For a moment, I feel disoriented. Then I get up and walk straight to my car. No tears. No good-byes. No looking back.
nothing. I think nothing. I get straight into my car and drive, not knowing exactly where I should go. No one is waiting for me at the end of the journey. Melancholy has become apathy. I need to drag myself onward.
Five minutes later, I’m outside a castle. I know what happened here; someone breathed life into a monster that remains famous to this day, although few people know the name of the woman who created him.
The gate into the garden is closed, but so what? I can climb through the hedge. I sit on the cold bench and imagine what happened in 1817. I need to distract myself, to forget everything from before and concentrate on something different.
I imagine that year, when the castle’s tenant, the English poet Lord Byron, decided to live here in exile. He was hated in his own country, and also in Geneva, where he was accused of holding orgies and getting drunk in public. He must have been dying of boredom. Or melancholy. Or rage.
It doesn’t matter. What matters is that one day in 1817, two guests arrived from England: another poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his nineteen-year-old wife, Mary. (A fourth guest joined them, but I can’t remember his name right now.)
They doubtless talked about literature. They doubtless complained about the weather, the rain, the cold, the inhabitants of Geneva, their English compatriots, the lack of tea and whiskey. Perhaps they read poems to one another and praised one another’s work.
They thought they were so special and so important that they decided to make a bet: they would return to that same place within a year, each with a book he had written describing the human condition.
Obviously, after the initial enthusiasm and conversation about how the human being is a complete aberration, they forgot about the bet.
Mary was present during that conversation. She wasn’t invited to participate, first, because she was a woman, and, even worse, because she was very young. And yet that conversation must have marked her deeply. Why did she not just write something to pass the time? She had a subject, she simply needed to develop it and keep the book to herself when she had finished it.
However, when they returned to England, Shelley read the manuscript and encouraged her to publish it. Further, since he was already famous, he decided to submit it to a publisher and write the preface himself. Mary resisted, but in the end agreed, with one condition: her name should not appear on the cover.
The initial print run of five hundred copies quickly sold out. Mary thought it must be because of Shelley’s preface, but, on the second edition, she agreed to allow her name to appear as author. Ever since, the book has remained a constant presence in bookshops around the world. It has inspired writers, theater directors, film directors, Halloween partiers, and those at masked balls. It was recently described by one well-known critic as “the most creative work of Romanticism and possibly of the last two hundred years.”
No one can explain why. Most people have never read it, but almost everyone has heard of it.
It tells the story of Victor, a Swiss scientist, born in Geneva and brought up by his parents to understand the world through science. While still a child, he sees a lightning bolt strike a tree and wonders if that is the source of life. Could man create another human being?
And like a modern version of Prometheus, the mythological figure who stole fire from the gods in order to help mankind
(the author used
The Modern Prometheus
as her subtitle, but few remember this), he begins to work to try and replicate God’s greatest deed. Needless to say, despite all the care he takes, the experiment slides out of his control.
The title of the book:
Dear God, of whom I think very little but in whom I trust in times of affliction, did I come here purely by chance? Or was it Your invisible and implacable hand that led me to this castle and reminded me of that story?
Mary met Shelley when she was fifteen. He was already married, but, undeterred by social conventions, she followed the man she considered the love of her life.
Fifteen! And she already knew exactly what she wanted. And knew how to get it, too. I’m in my thirties and wish for a different things every hour, but am incapable of fulfilling them … although I’m perfectly capable of walking through a romantic, melancholy autumn afternoon, thinking about what to say when the moment arrives.
I am not Mary Shelley. I’m Victor Frankenstein and his monster.
I tried to breathe life into something inanimate, and the result will be the same as in the book: spreading terror and destruction.
No more tears. No more despair. I feel as though my heart has given up beating. My body reacts accordingly, because I can’t move. It’s autumn, and the evening comes on quickly, the lovely sunset soon replaced by twilight. I’m still sitting here when night comes, looking at the castle and seeing its tenants scandalizing the bourgeoisie of Geneva at the beginning of the nineteenth century.