A Dream on Fire

This story was made into a short film. You can find it HERE, if you are interested in viewing it after reading.  It has my voice on the voiceover.

As published in the 2012 Whispered Words Anthology in Canada (This story won a Whispered Words award). Image by Michele Seidman.

Sick on a journey,

My dreams wander

A withered landscape.

-Matsuo Basho

The miracle happened on the evening of October twelfth, 1976, in a small apartment of Buenos Aires Avenida Corrientes building 314. At exactly eleven thirty-three, the clattering typewriter of journalist Raúl Heliodoro suddenly stopped, and a masterpiece of twelve words and seventeen syllables blazed across the twenty-second line of a half-filled page. The sentence was so brilliant that it shone like a dream on fire, and after it was written Raúl’s hands fell limply from the keys as if they were a woman who had just given birth to the savior of the world.

It was a sentence so profound and intense that there could be no doubt that were it spoken aloud in public it could pacify the bitterest conflict, seduce the most beautiful woman, apostatize the most zealous opponents of liberty. He removed the page from the machine and cut the phrase out delicately with a pair of scissors. He spent the night reading and rereading it, and fell asleep with the paper held rapturously to his chest. The following morning he took it to be laminated, and every day from then on he walked with the little slip cached secretly in his pocket. Occasionally he would sit by the placid pools of the local botanical garden to take it out and gaze upon like a beloved child or the body of an especially submissive lover.

He passed his nights imagining the book that he would construct around the exquisite phrase. Any novel with this unique and glorious sequence of words would become an instant classic, he knew, and the quotation, his quotation, would be repeated in attentive classrooms full of rapt students across all civilized nations in the world.

Now, Raúl was experienced in the world of letters, and knew what it was to start and abandon a work of literature. This time he wanted to be sure he had the story fully formed in his mind before even beginning. So every day after reporting on the atrocities of the dictatorship he lived under, he sat on benches with the phrase in his hand, imagining dialogues, creating characters, crafting metaphors.

In February of the following year, Raúl Heliodoro was denounced as a socialist by a man who barely knew him. The informer had been an acquaintance beaten by the secret police with a lead pipe until he gave them names, and Raúl disappeared the following night, kidnapped by black-suited government agents who dragged him naked and screaming from his bed.

But the seventeen syllables still burned like a flaming barrel of gasoline in his mind, and the book progressed. As they twisted his fingers back until they splintered and hung loose from bleeding sockets, the plot was perfected. As they beat him with rubber truncheons around the face and neck and demanded the names of imagined co-conspirators, the characters were fleshed out with pasts and eccentricities. As they tied him to a chair and splashed boiling water in his face, the details of the love interest became clear in his mind. As they cut off parts of his ears and fed them to dogs, the astonishing climax that he would one day write was envisioned and revised.

The story changed and evolved, hundreds of pages orbiting the key phrase that kernelled its luminous soul. Then finally one day, as arbitrarily and inexplicably as he had been abducted, after nearly half a year of incarceration without trial, they decided to release him. On that day, as he walked out of the prison, he smiled with a satisfaction greater than freedom. For he had the entire book already finished in his head.

He returned home and sat down at his typewriter, feeding a fresh sheet of paper into the machine with trembling, bandaged hands. As he laid his crooked fingers across the waiting keys, however, he suddenly realized that he had forgotten the sentence.

He ransacked his apartment for the scrap of paper, but could not find it. He had left the laminated sentence on his desk the night of his kidnapping, and the illiterate Argentinean breeze had long since blown it out the window. He became desperate. He raged and sobbed and pounded the walls. He lay in bed and went over the whole story again in his mind. All the dialogues, all the descriptive passages, all the intricate twists of the plot. But the phrase had somehow disappeared.

Raúl went ahead and wrote the book anyway. It took three years and he never tried to publish it when it was done.

One rainy afternoon a few years later, Raúl Heliodoro died of a broken neck after falling five stories from his apartment window. The death was declared by investigators to be a suicide. A 396-page manuscript covered with scrawled alterations was found in a cobwebbed shoebox in a corner of his closet, and soon buried under a humid mountain of deteriorating garbage in the city landfill.

The laminated strip of paper blew through the darkened, rain-slick streets the night Raúl’s body arrived in the morgue, and was caught under the recently polished boot of a chief of police as he stopped to light a cigarette. The man reached down and picked it up, wondering absentmindedly what it could be. Squinting in the half-light, he held it up to his semi-literate eyes and read. He cocked his head, thought about what it meant for a moment, then crumpled it slowly in his hand and threw it in the gutter.


18 Responses to “A Dream on Fire”

  1. I absolutely love the perspective of this short story. I have always been fascinated (in a strange way) by the political/social situation during that time in Argentina, and I have quite a few works (fictional and non) describing those times. This is one of my favorites. Colorful, poignant language!

  2. This is my favourite short story in this series, eloquently written it takes the reader straight to side of this tormented writer in 1970´s Argentina. Everytime I read Raúl´s tragic story I am left with that tantalizing question: Will we ever learn the contents of Raúls life changing sentence!?!

  3. This story is short but exceptionally powerful! I have lived in Argentina, and can definitely appreciate the era that Mr. Bourassa is dealing with. Very well written from beginning to end. =)

  4. Wow, gripping piece of work, I really enjoyed it!!

  5. Once again, an absolutely fantastic read. Well done!

  6. Excellent story Blair. Beautifully worded. It reminds me of the writings of Jose Saramago or mercier. I imediately felt involved with Raul. I can hear the voices of the other characters, the prisoners in adjacent cells, the neighbours to his apartment. I can’t wait to read the novel 🙂

  7. Inspiring read,i was riveted to the end,must admit,kept wishing for more…Melissa

  8. Oh my gosh…OH MY GOSH…It leaves me breathless. It leaves me speechless….

  9. Great writing style…you take your readers on a journey with you when you write. Intriguing conclusion!

  10. One of the more profoundly ironic, nay satiric stories I have read that addresses simultaneously the act and art of writing and the acts and atrocities of political dictatorships or machines. Reminds us that we can be enslaved easily and to some extent always are in threat of this, no matter what political boundary we imagine ourselves to exist within. Reminds us too as writers not to take ourselves too seriously (in vanity) and yet we must absolutely take the right and responsibility inherent in writing — acting on our freedom of speech and of expression. if then our imaginations or our memories, or our countrymen, or our sanity should fail us, perhaps we all will end in a gutter…metaphorically speaking.
    Fine job, Blair. thank you.

  11. Nice. I love the sentiment here, and the evolution of the rhythm.

  12. Wow, Blair! This definitely had me on the edge of my seat. This is extremely well written, and the use of words is incredible. I especially liked “the illiterate Argentinean breeze.” This story strikes me as something that would make its way into a college textbook for literature students to discuss.

  13. This story is as beautiful and painful as life itself. I felt that it stood not only for the assassinated journalist that it was inspired from but for every big dream killed because of ignorant minds who don’t get it or can’t stand it.
    And I love the fact that no matter how creative your writing is, it doesn’t lose touch with reality.
    Keep the magic up Blair!! And thanks for sharing it here!

  14. Incredible story! I loved the poetic sense of the writing and the dramatic torture scene is unforgettable. One of the best short stories I’ve read in quite a while!

  15. Very good story, Blair. I think it’d make a fine movie. Let me know when it’s finished, I’d like to see it.

  16. One of those stories that haunted my thoughts for a very long time. I don’t know if I should praise or curse you Blair for this blissful torment. Somehow I’m at a loss for ‘words’ to express what I really feel…

  17. Wow, riveting stuff!!

  18. awesome story and it should win an award.

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