Italo Calvino. Harvest Books. 260 p. paperback. copyright 1979.   do not worry; I never give anything away. except some of the feel of it.

Halfway through, you will laugh or slam it shut. Either way you will say Ok Calvino crazy bastard cut it out, this book cannot become any more of what it is. You will be wrong. Embrace it.

You thought it was ten stories but it is a hundred. Even now I am underestimating so as not to frighten you. Even then you will be frightened. Embrace it.

The beauty is not in keeping track like boxcars. Let this train flash past you in the dark. If at all possible read this book with your eyes shut. Let it deafen you too. Then start paying attention.

You will be afraid of this upward spiral of correct and delicate thought. You will be afraid it cannot keep being perfect. You have two hundred pages left; how can it? Have faith. It is encouraged.

A once familiar, now deliciously frightening woman says to you, You are beautiful, come to my bed. She turns, she walks ahead of you. You are taking off your clothes and you are following her and you are staring. She says I am in need of your skin. You oblige. Her breath is hot on your neck when she says Now is the time for picking apples.

You are not interested in apples. But she has already gone up the ladder. You hold the bucket, she says. You are baffled, but you hold the bucket. That's what you do. She gives each apple a twist to see if it is ready to leave the branch. Some aren't. The others, she hands gently down to you. You reach up and feel her fingertips on the other side of this firm fruit pressed into your palm. Fruit you can smell all around you. She tells you about the orchard, her father's. You can tell she has been up every tree here. You have to shade your eyes if you want to watch her against the bright sky, which you do want.

You look at her, on tiptoe and reaching. You look at the multitude of streaked reds you have collected in this basket. Their smell is so strong you can already taste apples in the back of your throat; still, you pick one up. It has a bird-pecked hole, it would have been rejected for sale anyway. In your hand it is firm and light. Reddest on the side that saw the sun every morning. She calls down to you; you look up; she says, Where is the goddamn train.

You are in a station, waiting in a crowd of other waiting people. Something must have happened, the train is never this late. Shit. Everyone is talking about it; it has been long enough to allow strangers to discuss it together. Everyone is tired, wants to go home and take off their shoes. Shoes off all over the city. It is hot in the station and you have had enough of people for the day. Oh, she says, look. He's here every day but I usually miss him.

She is pointing at a skinny old man working his body slowly into a kneeling position on the cement. He opens the case and takes out a shabby violin. Nobody is in the mood, he gets hateful glances. You would have made up your mind to ignore him by now if not for her evident enthusiasm.

You soon see that it's not a violin, it is a fiddle. The old man is arthritic, his fingers are claws clutching at the bow and strings, but he makes do. He does just fine. He is so fast and he gets faster as he limbers up, he is a blur of angles. One booted foot tapping to a cheerful frenzy of sound, imperfect and so happy to be that way. This is raw self-taught music and he is kind enough to bring it to the city, to your subway. You glance at her as she starts clapping along and soon you are all doing it, strangers to each other, briefcases on the ground, newspapers tucked under arms, you are all clapping and grinning like fools in the same rhythm. It feels like a gift. It is. You look again to make sure she is having the same moment.

She says What are you staring at? You keep staring, you have to make sure it is a different face. It is. You look around but there is no one else under this awning. Why are you under the awning? You must be waiting for something; there's no rain to avoid. The strange girl is waiting too, no, she is smoking, it could be that she has only stepped outside to smoke. It could be that you are an oddity, a man who has suddenly lost his memory. She blows smoke and does not look in your direction. She may be afraid of you; you want to reassure her, but you don't know where to start.

You try to lounge against the building comfortably but you know you are giving off a sense of total unease. You wish there were people to watch but it is an empty street, without pedestrians or landmarks, no signs, no indications of what city you are lost in.

A taxi pulls up. She gets in and does not shut the door. She leans out and laughs. Get in, silly, she says, I was only teasing. You see something you had not noticed before, held tightly in her non-cigarette hand. She has a firm grip on it. She knows it is important. She is watching you watch her. Your heart does something dangerous as you take the three vital steps toward the door which now slams shut as the taxi lurches, scrubs the curb, squeals around the corner and is gone. You are suddenly so tired.

You rub the sweat off your face and open your eyes. It has been hours of soldering the final minute details of the robot you will never get to talk to. Maybe you will pass it one day in the halls of the embassy but this will not matter. It will not recognize you.

You are almost done with the job; you have made it last. You cannot tell your superiors Tomorrow any more. You have left the most important pieces of the whole for last, after everyone else has gone home. This is your signature you will hide deep within this robot, your best poetry. You have gotten as far as "I will be yr d-." There are three circuits left to go when you feel a hand on your shoulder, metallic and heavy but surprisingly gentle. You look up. All you can think is, Where did that facial expression come from, I never put that one in.

She says, You are not paying attention. It's true, you have been distracted by her fluidity under a thin sheet. What's the last thing you heard me say.

You say, I got distracted by the one about the robot, I was thinking. You put a hand on her hip, she permits it. She is warm through the sheet and you know she is naked under there. You say, I have been chasing you through a hundred novels, you know.

She tilts her head at you the way she does. She says, I know.

Are you frustrated? Are you awake and aroused? Do you want something to become finished and fulfilled, a whole story, any story? Are apples, or a woman, so far from your reality? All of them are waiting for you, they are in fact out there asking specifically for you, how many reminders do you need?   Go get them.   Have some faith.   Finish this book; once begun, that is your job.  You finish it.   Then put the book down, and keep going.   Have your real life now.   Embrace it.   It's encouraged.