(Translated from Romanian by Mihaela Alecu. For Romanian press here).
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It all started from there. How long did it last, obviously it did not check my watch, because I was too busy watching something else. But afterwards, I checked my watch. The movie had started at 4 o’clock sharp, and my watch now indicated 13.14. It is broken, I immediately thought, but I could not take my eyes away from the clock face. I was fascinated, like a child who saw for the first time in his life something that he had imagined would look completely different. And I could not believe my eyes. Eh, this is too much; did you take after that clock? I heard myself asking my watch. It had happened before, I admit, to talk by myself, but always to myself. Who doesn’t? But I’ve never spoken to my clock, I swear, cross my heart. When I got home, I removed it from my wrist and placed it on the desk. I looked for something to do. And, thank God, I had plenty. The next day was the interviews for the assistant professor job, and I still had to analyze two application files. So I would read another page, without having any clue about what I was reading; I mean I understood all the letters composing the words, but my mind was somewhere else. After the first page, I could not withhold myself, although I had promised it to myself. But I was fizzling in the armchair as if I had hives….
I looked at it and it was true. The hands of my clock, his thin and pointy silvery hands, were going backwards.
Oh, how I wished I would have had a TV, to be able to turn it on. I wonder what I was hoping for. To see breaking news about how my watch went crazy? I immediately realized that it couldn’t be but the influence of the movie I had seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Therefore I decided to go to bed. Tomorrow is a new day and everything will come back to normal. I’ll go to the university and I will examine the applicants. Yes, it will be alright…
But it wasn’t. I got there the next day and everybody was nervous. I tried to stay calm, as if nothing had happened. The commission’s chairman, our faculty’s dean, pulled me aside. We knew each other since forever. We had both gotten to the States at the same time, we left after the Revolution because our intuition had long indicated the road, we went through a lot together, but I had never seen him so, how should I put it, light headed.
“D.P.” he told me, “did you see the news?”
I gave him a long look.
“Ah, yes, you don’t watch the news!”
It almost sounded like a reproach.
“What is it? I asked him. What happened?”
“You don’t know? You really don’t know anything?”
“It depends on what you mean by that, but I could not say that I don’t know anything at all. After all, I became a professor…”
“You feel like joking,” this time he clearly reproached. “Please…”
“What is it? I’ve never seen you so…”
He did not let me finish the sentence, he grabbed my arm and he started while he said:
He took me, he almost dragged me, it is true that I did not resist him, I could feel the gravity of the moment, in the examination room.
“Look”, he put a file under my nose.
“What’s the problem?” I wanted to encourage him. “It’s just and application file…”
“Open it. Look at the CV.”
I opened it.
“What is this, some sort of joke?” I exclaimed.
It was clear, it wasn’t my watch which was crazy!
A few moments afterwards I was standing face to face with our candidate, whose name was Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald.
“Mr. Fitzgerald”, the dean told him, “please understand that we cannot accept your application.”
“Why not?” He asked visibly baffled.
“Well, ignoring the fact that, anyway, what is going on is impossible, let us assume…”
“Mr., if I may, allow me to observe that you are not making any sense.”
The dean looked at him, then he moved his look at me, begging, helpless.
“Hmm”, I cleared my throat, “If I may interfere… You mean to say that your name is Fitzgerald? F. Scott Fitzgerald?”
“Yes you have all my papers there.”
“And here, in the CV, it said that you are the author of 4 novels: This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night?
“Yes and I’m working on the fifth, The Love of The Last Tycoon. But I don’t see the point of all these questions…”
“Well you see”, I told him “I don’t want to doubt your words, but it is impossible. That is why I think you are mocking us…
“How can you” – he suddenly got mad – “To insult me and to call me a liar? Why would I lie? Why is it impossible?”
“Well”, I answered calm, “maybe because we are in 2013, and you, I’m sorry, Fitzgerald, died in 1940.”
He looked at me as if I was insane. I could clearly read contempt in his eyes. He was probably thinking that he was dealing with a commission from an asylum, not from the University.
“But”, I continued, because the silence and especially his look had become very embarrassing, “How my distinguished colleague was saying, assuming that you are who you say you are, with all the regret I am afraid we cannot accept your application…”
“Why not?” He defied me.
“Because the vacant job is not that of a writer, but of assistant professor. And, as I can see from your file, you have no background in scientific research, let alone teaching…”
“Ho, ho, wait a minute”, he interrupted me, completely rude. “Isn’t this a job for creative writing?”
“Yes but for teaching creat…”
“And”, he interrupted me again, “who else could be better at teaching creative writing if not a writer? Award winning, applauded, adapted for the screen? Do you know that The Great Gatsby first became a movie in 1926?”
“Yes, but this…”
“And then it was again turned into a movie several times, for instance in 1949, 1974, 2000 and a new one is to come in 2013?”
“But you have no qualifications. You did not write scientific articles in peer reviewed journals …”
“What? What journals?”
“Peer… never mind, the important part is that you don’t have…”
“And you are the one to say it! I didn’t expect it. If you wouldn’t have seen the movie yesterday…”
“How do you know this? Anyway, I must admit that they did an amazing job with that movie; I wouldn’t have imagined that such a short story could turn into such a long movie… and Brad Pitt was really good, I must admit it, although I don’t necessarily like him. But, anyway, I wanted to ask something else. For instance, do you have a PhD?”
“You are joking, right? Maybe you think that my friend is better suited than me?” And he pointed to the gentleman behind him, who had stayed silent so far.
I went pale; I recognized him even before he stood up and said his name.
“I’m happy to meet you. I am William Cuthbert Faulkner (for the record, born Falkner)… let me tell you why I think I am better suited for this job. Not just because I was awarded a Nobel Prize for literature, but countless PhD theses were written about my work, since you’ve mentioned it. Even one of you famous countrymen, whose work delighted me, wrote his thesis about me. You do know him, don’t you?”
“You are talking about Mr. Alexandrescu?” I hummed. “Yes…”
“Of course, of course. I even knew his uncle. What do you think he would have said about my application?”
“Well, I don’t know… He most certainly would have…”
I was probably sweating like a long distance runner. I hardly managed to force my hand enough to take the glass of water up to my mouth. I was dying of thirst…
“But I don’t understand what is going on”, I finally managed to say.
“You should be happy we are not in Europe”, he answered. “You might have gotten Goethe or da Vinci… What would you have done? Would you have rejected them as well?”
“Oh, no” I tried shyly. “But I still don’t…”
Faulkner looked at the other one, encouraging him to speak.
“Scott, you tell him.”
“Well, alright”, started Fitzgerald…
“Wait a second, please. Why are you only talking to me?”
“Because there is no one else here”, he answered.
I looked around. He was right. It was only me and them.
“Where did the others go?”
“Which others?” They both asked surprised.
“The other members of the commission, the other candidates…”
“They left”, said Faulkner. “Long ago!”
“Do you really don’t understand?” Fitzgerald asked me.
I looked at him frightened.
“Now. What is it?”
I looked at my watch. Maybe instinctively, maybe like a defense mechanism. I was hoping to see the hands going in the right direction and that everything would go back to normal.
“Time doesn’t matter”, he whispered, “only space. That is why Plato could not be here”, he said smiling.
“But let’s not talk now about Philosophy”, said Faulkner, laughing.
“Yes!” Fitzgerald insisted. “After all, we came for a creative writing interview. What do you think? Are we accepted?”
And they both left, with their arms around each other’s shoulders, like two old buddies, joking, maybe on my account. You can imagine why I destroyed my watch, I furiously crushed it against the floor, I pushed steep with my foot against all its keys, although my colleagues were looking at me a little bit weird. I was happy to see their faces. I knew I looked like a crazy person, but it was no longer important. I had succeeded.
“You don’t get it”, I told them calmly. “Time is no longer relevant if it goes crazy. Let’s start.”