The Price per Square Meter for an Apartment on the Outskirts of Bucharest, in the Swamps

It was still too hot to go to the beach, so I walked slowly, so as to not wake Irina. After taking a leak, I sat back on the bed and started reading from a novel I had begun a few weeks back. A guy had written a book; HBO found out about it and made him filthy rich. He bought a house, had a work room made in it, but he understood pretty quickly that he could no longer write; that it was all over. He had a beautiful wife, a golf course. He could afford good wine everyday, going for a swim. Why write anymore?

The days were getting shorter; his octogenarian neighbors went out on the tennis field and Frank watched them from the window of his work room, passing the ball around and warming up in the still dim light of sulphur lamps – the first time I had heard of such a thing. He hadn’t given up on writing completely; he was contacted by a sports magazine and they gave him a monthly column in which he wrote lazy stories about former champions, baseball players, boxers, runners. They used his name to sell publicity and he used his monthly trips to give the impression that he was doing something, that he had a vector.

I dropped the book on my chest and started thinking about which magazines I’d write for when HBO came knocking on my door.

I glanced at Irina. She hadn’t moved an inch since I had woken up.

I wanted her to stay in my life, but I knew I had to make it for that to happen – not to make it for her or her family alone, but for everyone to see. I had to wear the suit and play the part, sell my art and make the money. To take myself seriously and play the game, although there was always the risk of looking absolutely ridiculous. The fact that I had published a novel and that I was writing my second one wasn’t enough: art is just a job like any other job, and the professional earns money and then buys a house.

I got out of bed and wrote to my editor’s secretary, asking for the sale stats. I hadn’t gotten any money and wanted to know what to expect. The first run had sold out in ten weeks, the second was late and the book, I had heard, was no longer to be found in stores. I started doing the math. It was, in fact, simple – I didn’t need a computer: 1.25 lei times 2,000 pieces was 2,500 lei. Add to that, let’s say, another 1,000 pieces at 1.25 lei – because I had negotiated the rerun just as badly – and it amounted to 3,750 lei, not even 1000 euros .

The price per square meter for an apartment on the outskirts of Bucharest, in the swamps. Another 39 of those, and I could call myself an artist.

If I wrote a novel every year that would sell just as well as the first, I could buy a place by the time I was 77. If I would negotiate the contract and fight tooth and claw for it, I could maybe buy it by 55 and on my tombstone lay copies of the contract, so that all that doubted me could see that I HAD MADE IT.

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