But I still haven’t properly explained why I’m writing this letter to you when you are a matter of two paces across the room from me and unable to keep from hearing any words I might let slip from between my lips. You are my captive audience, and too polite to ignore me no matter how much I am getting on your nerves after one hundred and eleven days on the sofa in your tiny apartment (I’ve counted). Oh, I know I’m getting on your nerves, testing your resolve to be generous and undemanding, to practice what you preach about a kinder, gentler world in which we look after one another instead of solely ourselves. You loathe hoarding and selfishness and greed. How right you are that we are destroying all that is good around us, from natural resources to human relationships, and you are out there doing something about it, making a difference, making of yourself and your Project a shining example. And along I’ve come and plopped myself down in the middle of all that like some man-made eyesore—I’m thinking of a dam on a pristine river, strip-mining in a jungle; our old lit-theory prof would be proud of my “consistency of metaphor,” don’t you think?—which you are dealing with so admirably, so fairly, with such generosity of spirit. Beth has told you to get rid of me, I know it, I see it on her face daily; your mother has too, judging by a phone conversation I overheard last week.
But you, Adam, you have stood your ground for one hundred and eleven days and I imagine you could hold out for one hundred and eleven more—a thousand and eleven, why not?!—but I will spare you that, I will save you the rift with your girlfriend and your mother and your conscience and in this case it will be me who does the decent thing, the selfless thing; and that is the purpose of this letter, my friend: I am leaving, in fact I shall be gone when you are reading this. It will be the long-overdue explanation of my mysterious appearance at your door these four months ago.
The expression of my gratitude. I expect you will be tempted to share this letter with Beth, your beloved, from whom you have surely pledged to hide nothing. But my
recommendation is that you read it through first in secret, alone; if nonetheless you decide to let her read it then at least it will be a decision made from knowledge and not from some promise you made about open communication, or from guilt.
I detest guilt as a motivating factor for anything, and as for the promises made between lovers, well, they are a blueprint for calamity, a writ of divorce rendered point by point. You’ll think I’m being cynical here—you’ve used that word on me on five occasions in these four months already— but I have more experience in this than you do.
Beth, you feel certain, would break no vows made or even implied between you, and you have had no true lover before Beth, so she is the entirety of your experience, and you two as a couple are untried. But take it from me, a man with a record in the crimes of love: Promises will be broken and vows will be trampled and feelings will be hurt—oh, far worse than that. Where love is concerned the rules are not written in books of statutes but they exist all the same, and they are unbending.
But I don’t wish to turn you away—not from Beth, not from love, and not from me and the story I am about to reveal to you in these pages. So do not worry your sweet head about it, that head of unwashed, uncoiffed hair, or for that matter your gently sloping back or your hairless arms and legs or your hollow belly or sweet, bony ass. Carry on with your Project—you are typing now, furiously; it looks, from the sofa, to be yet another grant application, another long Statement of Purpose or Scope of Project essay—and do not let me distract you unduly. But do read my recounting, my accounting, and let it penetrate you at the margins of the day, when you lie in bed, your arm curled gently around a soporific Beth; let it infiltrate your pores, allow it to seep into your soul. You are too pure, my friend; perhaps this will be your chance for damnation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Evan Fallenberg is the author of three novels and a translator of Hebrew fiction, plays and films. His work has won or been short-listed for numerous awards, including the American Library Association Barbara Gittings Stonewall Award for Literature, the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and the PEN Translation Prize. He teaches at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv and is faculty co-director of the Vermont College of Fine Arts International MFA in Creative Writing & Literary Translation. Fallenberg is the recipient of residency fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell Colony, Banff Centre for the Arts, Fondation Ledig-Rowohlt and Sun Yat-sen University, and is the founder of Arabesque: An Arts and Residency Center in Old Acre.