He knelt beside me. “What’s the matter?”

“I’m afraid?”

“Of what?”

“Of the sounds, of this darkness, of evil spirits, of snakes and bugs, of the soldiers, of what we’re going to do Saturday-that we’ll all be killed …”

“I’m afraid, too, but I wouldn’t miss this for anything.” I took his hand and held it firmly for a moment; his skin felt warm to the touch, and again I had the impression I had known him for thousands of years.

“What a pair of fools we are!” I tried to laugh.

“Tell me a story, to get our minds off things,” Rolf Carle requested.

“What about?”

“Tell me one you’ve never told anyone. Make it up for me.”

“Well … Once there was a woman whose lifework was telling stories. She traveled far and wide, offering her wares: stories of adventure, suspense, horror, lust, all at a fair price. One noon_ in August she was standing in the center of a plaza when she saw an imposing man walking toward her, slim and hard as a sword. He was weary; he had a weapon in his hand and was covered with the dust of faraway places, and’ when he stopped before her she noticed a strong odor of melancholy. She knew immediately that the man had been at war. Solitude and violence had driven steel splinters deep into his heart, and had robbed him of the ability to love himself. Are you the one who tells stories? the stranger asked. At your pleasure, she replied.

The man took five gold coins from his pocket and placed them in her hand. Then sell me a past, because mine is filled with blood and lamentation, and I cannot use it in my way through life.. I have been in so many battles that somewhere out there I forgot even my mother’s name, he said. She could not refuse him, because she feared that there before her in the plaza the stranger would shrivel into a little pile of dust-which is what happens to those who are not blessed with good memories. She motioned for him to sit beside her, and when she could look into his eyes, she was once again overcome with pity, and was moved by a desire to take him in her arms. She began to speak. All that afternoon and all that night she spun her tale, inventing a worthy past for the warrior, putting into the task all her vast experience and the passion the stranger had evoked. She spoke for a very long time, because she wanted to offer him the novel of his life, and she had to invent it all from his birth to the present day, his dreams, his desires, his secrets, the lives of his parents and his brothers and sisters; even the geography and history of his homeland. Finally it was dawn, and with the first light of day she could tell that the odor of melancholy had faded from the air. She sighed, closed her eyes, and when she felt her spirit as empty as that of a newborn child, she understood that in her desire to please him she had given him her own memory: she no longer knew what was hers or how much now belonged to him; their pasts had been woven into a single strand. She had delved deeply into her own story and now could not take back her words; but neither did she want to take them back, and she surrendered herself to the pleasure of blending with him into a single story. . . .”

When I finished I stood up, brushed the dust and leaves from my clothes, and went to my hammock in the hut. Rolf Carle stayed before the fire.