It’s about Shira, a translator who doesn’t translate because she doesn’t quite believe that it’s possible to bring words from one language to another. Instead, she temps as a filing clerk and dogsbody, usually in the boroughs. When she gets a call from Romei, a Nobel Prize-winning poet who asks her to translate his latest work, she’s stunned. He offers a plausible explanation for his choice, she agrees, and ecstatically envisions new life for herself and seven-year-old daughter Andi. But as Romei begins faxing her sections of his work, we, and eventually she, begin to realize that Romei has another agenda, one that involves Shira personally.
Sounds like you’ve kind of memorized that pitch.
I have, rather.
A man with a Hollywood pizza-guy accent introduced himself.
It was Romei, or so he said in a passable imitation of Romei’s voice, known to me and everyone in America from his cameo on Seinfeld, where he played a poet who may or may not have stolen Jerry’s cigar (allowing Romei to say,Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar).
Do you know what time it is? I asked blearily, though in fact it was only seven.
You are Shira Greene, yes? The translator? This is Romei!
I swear he said it with a flourish.
Your joke isn’t funny, whoever you are. Go away, I said, and hung up the phone.
He called again.
There are seventy-nine minutes left in the day. I am clinging to consciousness as I write, half drunk, half sleepy. At least it’s almost over, my birthday that is. I didn’t have an official cake, so let this be the proverbial frosting, the telling of my forty-first birthday. I’ll tell it in one long unedited inhalation, the opposite of blowing out candles, that morbid ritual of extinguishing light with one’s breath, but not before making a final wish, followed by a gasp, and then an emptying of your lungs resulting in darkness. Blowing out birthday candles (tiny flames symbolizing each year of your even tinier existence) is a metaphor for death, right up there with a raven shitting on the Grim Reaper’s hoodie. There’s some luck in that, just as there’s luck in surviving another year. There’s also humor, but mostly the kind that laughs at you, which is fine by me. I have zero delusions of grandeur. I entered the world hysterical and naked, and I intend on dying like that too.