The Briefcase

Every day Jerry started writing a new novel in the hope that the next day he would find his efforts worthy enough to continue. This never happened. Yesterday’s writing was always Yesterday’s Writing, old and dull and foreign from the new day’s line of thinking. He had been a salesman for thirty-five years, and he knew from experience that when one prospect appeared the least bit flat it was better to look in a new direction than try to import a mountain. So every day Jerry turned and indeed didn’t have to look far before he found something new to get his typing fingers moving. Writing was easy.

After a few months, however, it struck him that he had so many beginnings of novels collected in a stack by the side of his typewriter that he may as well explore the market for beginnings. Why not? Perhaps someone had assembled a similar collection of endings, or a whole lot of middles, and were actually in need of beginnings. Granted, his beginnings were not first-rate, but they were in sufficient quantity to give a prospective client an appetizing variety to choose from. So attractive was this marketing idea, and so tired was he of writing beginnings, and so in the mood was he for frivolous travel, that he straight-away packed up his beginnings in a black leather briefcase and went out to put them before the public eye.

Once on the street, his well-worn walking muscles took over. They stretched and flexed and propelled him easily forward. He whistled and tipped his hat to the young ladies, some of whom actually flushed and acknowledged him with a smile and a nod of the head. Jerry was a salesman still.

In Chicago he made the acquaintance of Marcus Winfield, who had neither middles nor endings, but knew some people who might. They stopped over drinks. Marcus was a fat man with a bald head which, if you followed it to the nape of his neck, ended in a single neat fold of over-abundant flesh. He had dark, sharply defined eyebrows and a sheepish grin which gave him a devious look. This was in contrast to his actual nature, which was friendly and candid and sensitive to the concerns of others. He felt obliged, for instance, to take an active interest in Jerry’s alcohol consumption, inquiring about his likes and dislikes in order to make suggestions and arguing with the bartender about the amount of vermouth he had attempted to put in Jerry’s glass. He did this good-naturedly and was obviously well liked at the bar.

“I was once a writer myself, and like you tried my hand at novels. I was never very good though. I could not bring myself to create beginnings, and therefore felt false when it occurred to me to write an ending, so I never quite managed that either. If I could have found a middle, I might have been somewhere, but those eluded my grasp as well. In the end, I never wrote a single word. I only passed blank sheets of paper before my eyes, trying to think of what was missing on them.

“That was 20 years ago. Today I am Chicago’s greatest manufacturer of paper products.” He slid a cocktail napkin closer to his companion, pointing with a pudgy index finger to the embossing on the side. “See there? ‘W.W.P.’ Winfield White Paper. I’m proud of that.”

Jerry boarded a plane that night for Charlotte to see Mr. Winfield’s acquaintance, Stephen Balking. Stephen claimed to possess a huge backlog of middles which he had been trying to unload for years. The middles had come to him through inheritance. His grandfather on his mother’s side had apparently written nothing but middles. One wondered how the man had managed to do anything else when confronted by the sheer quantity of middles that the old man had produced. But he had been so covetous of them that their existence was not discovered by the family until after the funeral, when the will was read, and a bank of filing cabinets marked “middles A-E,” “middles F-J,” “middles H-P,” etc., were attacked by the executors. Stephen found them deposited on his driveway several mornings later and, not without reverence, pushed them into a vacant corner of his garage.

“I haven’t given them much thought, to tell you the truth, and I couldn’t tell you if they’re any good because I haven’t read any of them. I’m told, however, that they could be quite valuable as literary curiosities. My grandfather, they say, was something of a socialite. He lived in Mississippi for a time and they say he knew Faulkner and even exchanged thoughts on writing with him.” Stephen stood with his arms crossed, looking blankly at the green, well-used filing cabinets for a few seconds. Jerry cleared his throat to thank him for the opportunity, but Stephen suddenly unfolded his arms and began walking away while looking at his watch. “I’m very sorry but I have to be rude and run out right now. You are welcome to browse to your heart’s content. I should be back in a few hours to check up on you.”

The alphabetic arrangement of the middles seemed to serve nothing at all but a sense of order. That is, they were not arranged by subject or title, as Jerry had at first suspected, but merely by first word. Indeed there were no titles and, as he soon became convinced, no real subjects either. That is, they all seemed to have roughly the same subject. Under the A’s were a great number of middles beginning with “and”, and they all seemed to have something to do with a man and a woman sitting down to a cup of tea and engaging in witty repartee. One emphasized the biscuit that the man had on his plate, the fastidious way he picked it up to spread it with butter, the largeness of the knife as it glittered in the morning light, and the doughy flakes which fell on his lap as he lifted the biscuit to his mouth. Another acquainted Jerry with the sad longing of the woman’s watery blue eyes as she peered out the window at some conglomeration of half-realized, glimmering images. In still another the man and woman spoke to each other in bored and tension-filled voices. Jerry skipped to the G’s, where he was met with “get …” and “going …” and “grown-up” and “grunt …” all of which centered around the same breakfast table, although each from a distinct point of view, so that one had in the end to admire the writer’s gift for variation. Is it possible that this was his life’s work? How could he write so many middles to the same story without a beginning or an end? It was humorous and nightmarish.

At the same time, Jerry had to consider his own practical concerns. The fact was that none of his beginnings, not one of them, even hinted at the prospect of a man and a woman sitting down to a breakfast of tea and biscuits. He looked through a few more files but became convinced of the inexhaustible nature of the late writer’s fascination with that same situation. He left a note of thanks on Stephen’s door and tucked his briefcase under his arm once again.

When he got to Boston, his spirits were already much improved, because a literary agent had been sitting next to him on the flight. He promised Jerry that he not only had middles but a number of first-rate endings at his disposal and would be delighted to look over Jerry’s beginnings, since beginnings were really much harder to come by. He even treated Jerry to a drink and fed his vanity by insisting that writers of beginnings were really a very rare and special breed and were the only true literary artists.

“Take my word for it. Middle writers are incredible bores. Don’t invite one to a party, because they don’t know how to end an evening, let alone a novel. Ending writers are much worse. They always have to have the last word.”

When they arrived in Boston, he gave Jerry his card, and Jerry promised to look him up, and hardly had the flush worn off from this successful pow-wow than Jerry bumped into an actual, living, breathing writer, literally bumped into her.

She was by a banister bent completely over, her rump in the air. Jerry had glanced up to look at a television screen which was hanging from the ceiling when his leg met with a soft, human resistance. When he turned to get a look at the obstacle, he saw nothing but this rump, clothed in a dingy plaid felt dress and girdled by the fringe of an also-dingy white knit sweater, trying to maintain its balance. It didn’t succeed, and Jerry was dismayed to see the rump turn into a woman with a worried look on her face sprawled on the floor. He put down his briefcase hurriedly and helped her to her feet. She had not made a noise when she fell, and even as he showered her with apologies and remarks about his own inattentiveness, she merely brushed down her dingy plaid felt dress in silence. When she was content with that, and in a motion which indicated she had planned this action the whole time she had been smoothing her dress, she reached in her purse and took out a pen and a small pad of yellow paper and began jotting something down with her jaw firmly set and a look of concentration in her eyes.

Jerry was confused as to what to do, whether he could consider the incident over and go about his business or if he should wait for some sign of dismissal from the woman. Thus he stood in silence for several seconds as the woman wrote. When he finally bent down to retrieve his briefcase and beat a retreat, the woman extended her hand with the pen in it and, still gazing at her pad of paper, said, “Wait,” in a calm but forceful voice, and resumed her writing. Thus in mid-stoop Jerry froze again and wondered what the devil the woman was up to.

Finally the woman stopped writing, triumphantly capped her pen and thrust it with the pad back in her purse.

“No apologies necessary, I’m sure,” she said, smiling courteously. “It was as much my fault as it was yours. Thank you for helping me up. You are a gentleman. Have a good day.”

She spit all this out as if she had been saving it up, as if her speech valve had been temporarily closed and had back-logged all the responses which had been appropriate a moment ago.

“Wait,” responded Jerry, as she turned to go. “May I ask what you were writing just now?” He picked up his briefcase to walk after her.

“Writing? Oh, yes. It was the end of a long sad story. It was a beautiful story with all the classical elements: love, betrayal, mistaken identity, reconciliation. It ends in an airport, much like this one.” She stopped suddenly, almost causing another collision with a gentleman behind her, and admired the scenery of her final act. A polished silver escalator descended between high white walls, which rose to a ceiling made of glass. She looked up blissfully at the edge of a white cloud which was drifting out of view. Her long, scrawny neck emerged from her rumpled sweater like the stem of a flower. Her face – forehead, cheeks, chin, upper lip – was an arrangement of planes made to reflect the light from above, and her curly brown hair descended gracefully behind. Suddenly, she lowered her face and resumed her walk.

“You are a writer?” asked Jerry.

“Yes.”

“And you just now finished writing a story?”

“Yes, of course.”

They emerged from the airport lounge into the open air.

“That’s remarkable. I am a writer, too.”

“Ah,” she said without much expression.

“I am looking for other writers.”

The woman stopped, laughed, and then began walking again, resuming her previous, half-bemused expression. There was mockery in this laugh. Jerry didn’t know quite what to do.

“I don’t mean to bother you, but I just arrived, you see, and if you are a writer then you may know some people. I have some beginnings, you see, about a hundred or so, more or less, some better than others, you know …”

Once again she stopped violently, and her face changed to one of disgust and hatred. When she started walking again she walked quickly and angrily, and clutched her purse close to her side.

“Do not speak to me anymore, sir. Your attentions are not welcome. Good-bye.”

“What? Have I insulted you, ma’am? What have I said?”

She stopped and raised a menacing finger. “Beginnings … oh!” and resumed her walk with even greater distress. “Do not speak to me of beginnings!”

“I don’t understand, ma’am. I only have trouble getting past the first chapter, you see. I lack the skill …”

“I don’t want to hear about beginnings!”

“But I can’t let you go when there has obviously been some misunderstanding. I only try to begin stories … like that story you finished just now. It had a beginning …”

She came to a screeching halt and turned so menacingly towards him that he involuntarily backed off a couple feet.

“That story is done! It’s over, it’s through! Do not speak of it! Next thing you know it will start all over again, and then where will we be? Oh, the misunderstandings! The anguish! The not-knowing-what-will-happen-next! You men of beginnings: begin this, start that, as if somebody’s going to just come along and magically tie it all up for you! There are consequences, you know – there is work and there are tears and there is blood – once you have begun something it’s a long hard painful struggle to bring it to a close! Don’t you know that? Oh! You take your beginnings away from me! I don’t want them!”

She struck out into the parking lot and climbed into a small, brown Datsun. It squealed away in fits and starts.

Jerry was somewhat shaken by this incident, but decided that the woman had been completely insane and was only sorry that he had managed to stir her up so violently. He felt pity for her but resolved not to let this incident discourage him in his endeavors.

It was late afternoon. He got something to eat and then repaired to a bar where he planned to make casual inquiries about how he might gain entrance to the local community of writers. Walking randomly at dusk through the city streets, he chose a bar for its cozy decor and its name, “The Inkstand,” which seemed invitingly literary.

The place was nearly empty. Behind the bar was a frightening specimen of man. Jerry could scarcely believe his eyes. The man was huge, with bushy black eyebrows and a livid scar running from his left temple to the base of his jaw. Jerry couldn’t imagine what sort of altercation or accident could have produced that scar. The man was thick-set with a broad and brutal face, his ears red and shriveled and small, and to top it off he was scowling with brows furrowed and woolly arms crossed at an empty beer mug on the bar in front of him. When Jerry, fearful in spite of himself, approached the bar to order a drink, the man lunged suddenly at the mug, grabbed it, and thrust it in the basin of soapy water behind the bar, raising an eyebrow in Jerry’s direction only when the mug was fully submerged and gurgling like a drowning man.

“Hello, friend,” said the bartender, in a voice as gruff as you might imagine, but in a manner which suddenly stripped Jerry of all apprehension and produced a smile on his face. The bartender listened attentively to his request and moved gracefully about the bar, almost as if her were dancing. He wasn’t talkative, but all his actions – all, that is, besides the mug drowning which Jerry had witnessed – seemed designed to put his patrons at ease, and by the time he laid a beer on the counter, the head rising just above the rim, Jerry looked upon the man with affection and felt sorry for the ghastly appearance of the scar. He carried his beer to a corner table where he might easily survey the room, as was his habit.

The only other occupant of the bar was a little man in a brown, double-breasted jacket, straight black hair, and glasses. His feet were up on one of the wooden chairs and he seemed immersed in thought, glancing occasionally at Jerry as if he really wished Jerry had not come in the bar, as if Jerry had interrupted him in some rather important speculation. Finally, the man lifted his feet tiredly off the chair and put them down on the floor with a sigh. He rested his hands on his thighs for a moment, and then got up and left the bar.

This left Jerry alone with the bartender for a few minutes, but, although he had no more fear of him, he couldn’t imagine striking up a conversation with him. The bartender moved gracefully behind the bar, his face placid and kindly, rearranging the glasses, running a towel along the bar, inspecting the liquor bottles. There was obviously nothing really for the bartender to do, but he seemed so happy and occupied doing it that Jerry did not want to interrupt him. When he finished his beer, however, and meanwhile nobody else had entered the bar, he decided that interrogating the bartender was exactly what he should be doing in order to further his cause. He set the empty mug down on the bar and said, “I’ll have another,” and was preparing to greet the bartender’s good will with a few words of introduction when he was struck cold by the same fierce glare that the bartender had worn on his arrival. The empty mug seemed a terrible disturbance to the bartender’s state of mind. Jerry almost instinctively took it back, but stopped himself because, what would he do with it then? So he merely held his breath as he watched a repetition of the drama which took place with the original mug: after glaring at it for a few seconds, the bartender grabbed it and thrust it mercilessly into the water. Then he went about contentedly filling another mug with beer.

Jerry thanked him and then resolved to satisfy his curiosity. He introduced himself, said that he had just arrived in Boston that afternoon, that he was a writer and had been attracted by the name of the bar, since he was hoping to meet other writers in the city. The bartender made polite, encouraging comments to everything that Jerry said but didn’t volunteer any useful information. Several people, meanwhile, entered the bar, and the bartender divided his attention between Jerry and those new patrons.

Jerry was half-done with his beer. He had a vague idea of how he might solve the mystery of the bartender’s violent attitude toward empty mugs. He set the half-filled mug down across the bar, in front of the bartender and the basin of soapy water. At first the bartender didn’t notice what Jerry had done. Jerry was telling him about the literary agent which he had unexpectedly met on the airplane and about what he had said about middle and end writers. But when the bartender got a good look at this unfinished beer sitting on his side of the counter, his face displayed an entirely new emotion, something like fear.

He pointed at the beer and asked Jerry, “Why did you do this?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize …” said Jerry, reaching for the beer to take it back. He felt the bartender’s hand like a fiery claw on his wrist.

“Why did you do this?” repeated the bartender.

In his astonishment over the bartender’s grip he could do nothing but gasp.

But the bartender suddenly let go and gave a little chuckle. “Sorry Mack. How could you know? It’s just that … Jesus, you shouldn’t scare a guy like that!” He laughed nervously, rubbing his eyes, and then leaned conspiratorially towards Jerry. “Let me tell you something. People tell me shit, so I’m going to tell you something. I’ve just been thinking about those mugs today, just thinking. I don’ know why. Look: I’ve been serving beer behind this bar for, how many?, twelve years. Liked the job. Liked the customers. Hell of a lot better than the army. But they set that empty mug down, thunk, and they don’t give a shit. And sometimes they set it down crooked and it wobbles around on the bar for a second, making that sound, like a growl, before it stops, and there it is. A little bit of slobber and beer dripping down the side and the guy’s pounding on the bar for another one, or they’re out the door already. It’s sad, you know, because it’s a beautiful thing, a beer, and I pour it because I love it, I swear!, and I set it down in front of them nicely with one of these little cocktail napkins and sincerely hope that they enjoy it and have a great evening and get laid, or something. And they cast it off, just like that. They don’t give a shit.” He grew silent for a second.

“You’re looking for a sense of closure,” suggested Jerry.

“That’s it! A sense of closure!” said the bartender, smacking the bar and whipping his towel on to his shoulder, as if finally he was understood. “Only, I don’t know, I just wish everyone loved everything about a beer the way I do, sitting in a bar, tasting it, holding the chilled glass in your hand – look here, look: I keep the mugs in a refrigerator here, nice and frosted – tilting back your head for the last bit, and buying another round. But there’s no beauty in throwing that mug back up on the bar. No beauty.” He hoisted up a leg and propped his elbow on his knee, his chin on his elbow. “See your glass here. Half empty or half full?” He took it and placed it under a tap, filling it back up. He got a fresh napkin and placed the beer in front of Jerry. “Now it’s all full. Drink up, man.”

When Jerry finished his beer he set it reverently in front of the bartender with a little bow and a word of thanks and left the bar, not having met any writers but satisfied nevertheless.

It was only 9pm. He was in the mood for walking. He didn’t know the city, had no idea what part of it he was in, didn’t have a map, and didn’t care. He decided that when he was tired of walking he would hail a cab, give the driver the name of his hotel, and trust in the native’s ability to unfold the densely folded streets which would have by then led him into geographical oblivion. He resolved on this plan of action not from a sense of adventure but only with the knowledge that he would eventually have to resort to it anyway, as he had countless times in more familiar locales. He also knew that, starting with this proposition, he left himself open to the happy possibility of discovering his hotel by accident.

Walking randomly gives a man time to think. Naturally, Jerry’s mind was on the bartender.

“There’s an artist,” he thought. “There’s a man who knows what’s what. No pretensions. Down-to-earth. And an artist of the highest order. He’s only worried about the last bit, which he has no control over.

“I should be ashamed of myself, running around, treating art as a commodity. It is all right for vacuum cleaners, but …”

He began thinking in unfamiliar ways. He had written his beginnings for fun and out of boredom. But all along he wanted them to be good, good enough so that others would read them and slap their foreheads and say, “My God, man! This, this here, is art! And you, Jerry, you are an artist!” He could not explain why this was such an attractive prospect, but he realized now that he wanted it badly. After all these years, he wanted it like he remembered wanting a particular new bike one Christmas when he was a little boy. The one with the white trim and the knobby wheels and the semi-circle of shiny chrome behind the seat. He laughed remembering how he had cried that Christmas morning when the bicycle was nowhere to be seen.

“What a child still resides within me,” he thought. “So: these beginnings are either worthy, or they are not. I am either a writer or I am a vacuum cleaner salesman. There’s really no in-between, and I don’t need any two-faced agent to tell me what is what.”

Jerry stood before a little well-lighted bench, behind which was a small plot of public grass. A statue lurked in the shadows of the trees, raising a sword or staff of some sort. Jerry sat down excitedly and opened his briefcase on his lap to reread his beginnings with new eyes. Perhaps some of them were not so bad and might even be continued. So far he had been completely unsuccessful in finding other people’s middles and ends for them. True, he had not tried very hard, and he had the agent’s business card still, but the whole project seemed suddenly useless and futile. He had thought from the beginning that it was crazy, but “just crazy enough to work.”

The first beginning Jerry retrieved from his briefcase started like this:

“When he sat down at the typewriter, he thought that maybe something good would come to his mind, and he would find himself in the midst of writing a great novel. How vain were his hopes in this regard? It might very well have happened. The fact that it didn’t, this time, should not have been a great disappointment to him, and it wasn’t. To amuse himself, he pretended that the typewriter keyboard was a piano keyboard and, as he typed, raised his eyes to the ceiling as he had seen great virtuoso pianists do on the concert stage. Whether their show of emotion was involuntary, caused by the passion and intellect of the music they played, or, as it sometimes seemed, feigned for effect, it was certainly great theatre …”

Rereading this reminded Jerry of something John Barth called “Tuning the piano.” It was not really a beginning, but a way of getting to the beginning. He took out another sheet of paper.

“I woke up this morning with fuzz in my head. Happy to have had the time to sleep. Almost sick with all the time I had. And dozing in and out, lacking the inclination to move the covers and sit up, I listened and nodded as my parents took their turns telling me they were leaving. My Mom had an edge in her voice, something to scrape the fuzz off my brain and get me to listen. She explained some obvious things about the care of the animals, and annoyance swept over me …”

The old “I woke up this morning” device. Jerry just couldn’t get beyond that. Was that a fair reaction? Wasn’t it a natural place to start? He placed the paper to the side and took another.

“Her companion was Satan incarnate. He had short brown hair combed down straight around his head in such a way that some hairs stuck together to form a series of points along his forehead and around his ears and over his scrawny white neck. He had a long nose, drawn down at the tip, which he accentuated by keeping his face slightly bent down as he looked at her across the little checkered tablecloth. His lips were thick and sensuous and curled like the petals of a red flower. One leg was crossed delicately over the other at the knee …”

Something annoyed him about this beginning also, and he could not continue reading. He shuffled through his briefcase again, remembering what bothered him about every beginning by the second or third sentence. He began to be very depressed. He resolved to throw all of his beginnings in a waste basket.

“I am a vacuum cleaner salesman. A retired vacuum cleaner salesman.”

He put the beginnings back in the briefcase and placed the entire thing in the next waste basket he came to at the side of the road, then thrust his hands in his pockets and attempted to whistle a tune of freedom. But before he was twenty paces from the waste basket he heard someone rooting through it. He turned around and saw a little man in a suit lifting the briefcase out of the waste basket and, glancing briefly at Jerry, running away with the briefcase clutched to his chest. It was the man Jerry had seen at the bar when he first arrived, who had left with a sigh.

Like an animal energized by instinct, Jerry set off in hot pursuit. He wracked his brain to make sense of the other man’s actions. Had the man been following him? He must have been. But what did the man think was in the briefcase? He couldn’t have known what was actually in there, and, if he did, why would he want it? These were compelling questions, the desire for the answers of which sped Jerry’s pursuit as much as his sudden and violent need to lay his hands once again on the briefcase.

But Jerry was like a big clumsy dog after a hare. Although he could outrun the little man, he could not keep up with his sudden turns amid the unfamiliar buildings and alleyways. When finally Jerry could not for the life of him figure out which way the little man had gone, he stopped, bewildered and gasping for breath. He rested on a curb, and when an empty cab came in sight, raised a hand as if to accept defeat, and climbed wearily in.

He could not sleep that night, and as he lay in bed he enacted over and over again something like a dog’s pursuit of a hare, the dog this time being the force of his reason, and the hare being the little man’s motives. He could not figure it out and was so mentally exhausted by the chase that, when he finally fell asleep, he did not wake until after noon the next day.

Sitting at the hotel cafe, he couldn’t help staring at the agent’s business card, which he had retrieved from his wallet. His beginnings were gone, whisked away by a devil in a double-breasted coat. He remembered the hope and pride inspired by the agent’s words. At the time, he had seen the vanity in believing the agent, and felt embarrassed to recognize the feelings of hope and pride which welled up in his chest. Now, with his beginnings gone, it seemed quite obvious that the agent had been absolutely right, and only with some difficulty did Jerry manage to assure himself that his beginnings were not any better for having been stolen. Yet, he had judged them rather harshly the night before.

He then struck upon a new idea. He had been unable to continue any of his beginnings. When he read them, he was not inspired to alter them by appending to them. They were, therefore, as he was the author and reserved the exclusive right to alter them, for all practical intents and purposes, done. Whatever yardstick one may place against them and find them lacking, they were finished things in so much as they had achieved an inalterable state. But where does that get you if they are very poor and ineffectual finished things? Then Jerry realized that, since the first few were written, he had since been incapable of thinking of them individually. They were always his “beginnings,” and it was this thought of their cumulative effect which had inspired him to take them on the road. Perhaps, then, one should really consider them as a whole. After the first few, perhaps, he was already considering, unconsciously, each beginning as a part of a whole, which was made up of beginnings. The work of the artist is rarely understood, even by the artist himself.

The idea was powerful enough to expel Jerry from his chair and force him out of doors to take another walk, this time in Boston’s mid-afternoon heat.

The woman at the airport: she was disturbed by an untidy ending. Why? Only because she clung to the illusion that every beginning must have a tidy ending! Not so! There are no real beginning, no real endings. That man in the south who spoke to Faulkner, he was a man of genius. He had been absorbed in a monumental work which denied the importance of beginnings and endings. And yet he had been focused, concentrating on a single breakfast table on a single morning. Ah, we will never know exactly what he and Faulkner had worked up! We can only, as artists, extract from their work a better and more complete sense of our own art!

He now became fumingly angry about the theft of his writing. That little weasel had somehow come to know what Jerry had in his briefcase. He had probably known of Jerry’s visit to Charlotte and had deduced the historic importance of his work. Oh, he was good. He was very very good. Jerry hadn’t suspected a thing.

The next day, Jerry was back home, sitting at his typewriter in front of the window. He was resolved to write, write, write! To become the artist that he had envisioned. He was no longer a salesman.

It wasn’t so smooth at first. There weren’t so many ideas to choose from as there used to be. He was frequently visited by fits of rage against the little man who had stolen his masterpiece. Every time he opened the book review section of the newspaper he expected to see the man’s evil little face pictured against a review of his new novel, which would be titled something like, “The Book of Beginnings,” or “Starts.” The review would glow, and Jerry would be given the luxury of righteous anger.

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