Medardo Meets His Maker. A True Story by Elvis Bego

Medardo is sitting on a bench behind the white slabs of Santa Maria Formosa in Venice, watching three girls lined in front of the water pipe that gushes next to the old sealed well as they one by one fill their cupped hands and drink. The ungodly sun throwing lava on the roofs, the heads and the flagstones, making surfaces shimmer.

There is an unsavoury hunger about his lips. His face is dark, rimmed by an obscenity of black hair. If he were an actor he’d be the first candidate to play Judas. But he is not, because I say so.

Medardo squints and quietly says to himself, ‘I don’t know what to do now.’ He stands up and walks round the church, over a little bridge into the shade of a narrow calle. For some reason, the image of Jesus hunched on the cross is with him when he thinks, ‘How wonderful to be a man, a live breathing thing,’ and forces an audible sigh.

‘I can hear my breath,’ he says, contented. It is Sunday. Another square opens and he sees some people standing in front of a church and others going up the steps. Medardo now thinks what a strange thing it is to believe in God. He has no beliefs. Maybe he should go in and take a look at the proceedings. The forbidding beauty of rituals. The superstitious rabble.

Time to stop this crap. As he stands in front of the white building, he hears a voice, or he sees it written in chalk on a wall in Hebrew, or a vermillion bullfinch flies down and recites it to him in German, or the roof of a palace lifts like a lid and a huge head appears to intone: Medardo, you have been made!

Medardo is startled and mumbles, puts his fingers to his temples, yet he is strangely composed by the time he says, ‘What the hell do you mean I was made?’

And I say to him, ‘I am your maker. I have invented you. I have made you think, do, and say everything you’ve said thus far. A meagre history as it stands. I made all these houses, these people around you. What you see, I gave you sight to see it with. You take no part.’

His hair is half his head, a bucket of black fire billowing.

‘Venice exists!’

‘But this one is mine,’ I tell him.

‘But I am conscious.’

‘You are a character.’

‘I am a man if I can speak.’

‘I wrote everything there ever was to be said or known about you. Yours is an impermanent world.’

‘Everything is impermanent. That is, nothing really is. Everything exists.’

Our discourse was getting troublesome and sort of learned with each exchange. I had not expected him to argue with me. Medardo’s head is in a tumble, awash with musing. ‘I am not in doubt. Wherever I look I see each blemish on facades, every wart on a face, the dirt between flagstones, oily patches in canals, the fetid moss, every hair on a beard, the dappled shades in an iris, each an exploded universe, I could go on! This is a reality,’ he clings to his knowledge.

‘Because I make it so.’

‘If I am as you say I am, how do you know I didn’t make you make me say all those things? I am who I am. And now. And now!’

‘Your voice does not convince me,’ I tell him.

Medardo picks his pace up and after a while he is running, cutting through the crowd, shuffling like a wounded dog.

‘O my god, my brain is fried, there’s no such thing as god,’ our good atheist thinks. And I tell him, ‘I didn’t say I was god. I said I made you, or I’m making you as we speak. You are an arrangement in words, bending with the sinuous ink.’

The people he passes by are staring at the cannonball of a man with a pained expression on his face. He falls into shade, sunlight, shade, sunlight. He slows down.

‘I could change your name. I could call you Ishmael, or Lombardo, or Frida, or Rombola Jobberknowl, or Karakter Karakterijevich,’ I say.

‘I could call you an arsehole. It signifies nothing.’ He then whistles a mad tune, a malady of melodies, malformed and malevolent in its angular trills, a rampart against the looming threat of his maker. What a marvellous creation that melody, I say to myself, its real composer. Or at least the composer of its composer. He perceives the particularities of his world as I see those of mine. Somewhere, an argument could be made for the authenticity of fictions, the ontology of imagination. For all I know Medardo is an artefact by a cipher (me) inside another fiction.

‘Those are worn, aged meditations,’ he tells me. ‘How can you even prove your own existence, let alone my non-existence?’

‘You want a sign?’

‘I will take anything. This must be a fever.’

He is making his way over a small bridge, climbing really, for Venetian bridges are a pair of flights of stairs with a landing in the middle, and he falls through it into the water as lightly as if there had never been a material thing there in the first place and he utters a short but terrible scream. He says nothing as he wades through the shallow, viscous canal water with a stoic face and hoists himself up with the help of a mooring rope. He lies down on the hot ground with his aggravated clothes sticking to his slender body and he sees red when he closes his eyes, pondering the trapdoor bridge and his auditory phantoms. At the far side of the square there is a closed-down, dilapidating church with haunted windows looking gouged out like eyeless sockets and there is no one about. He dries quickly.

‘He removes a bridge from under me, but I am conscious,’ he says, still determined. ‘I am thinking, I exist.’

‘Because I make you think, Medardo, my sweet Descartes.’

‘No,’ he rebels, a pigheaded Satan, but in tempered voice. ‘What do you think you have proved? Only your own existence. Whatever designs you have upon me, I am an object, therefore I exist.’

I let him philosophize. And he goes on. ‘How do you know I am not conscious? Why the dialogue then? I am saying these things and though you say you are writing I am saying them nonetheless, it is I who am dictating. How can you know it is not so? You may have made me but I am real no less, my thoughts and deeds are mine, now as we speak. If I am not real, why give me time. Who do you speak with? Who speaks? What do you know? Do you see the paradox, maestro?’ he laughs. ‘I am something else, I am telling you and you keep writing what I am saying.’

‘You don’t have memory, Medardo, try and think back, your mind is a tabula rasa.’

‘My memory is full and clear,’ he says and I damn myself for letting him say that. Why did I? Is he not cooperating, or I? Medardo, my cloven viscount. Yet he is whole like no one else is ever whole. A creature in total confidence. I had started with an image: a man on a bench. Has Medardo taken my impromptu story hostage with a mind of his own? Am I self-duelling on the page or truly across borders of worlds? How do I really know he isn’t right? In time. Forever now, when this is read, each time imagined. It isn’t irony when I call this a true story. After all these aged meditations, as he calls them, I remain silent, thinking Medardo is a fine chess player, but how do I outwit that inky brain of his?

And then it occurs to me, although it disproves nothing: by writing nothing more.


Elvis Bego was born in Bosnia, fled the war there at twelve, moved around, and now lives in Copenhagen. His writing has previously appeared in (the) Squawk Back, The Threepenny Review, Bookslut, Lacuna Mag and Electric Literature (online).