Issue #83

Summer 2022

Collected Stories and The Most Beautiful Beach in Brazil

by Peter Cherches

Collected Stories

The thud woke me. Something must have fallen to the floor from above was my first thought. What time is it? 4:35. I got out of bed and turned on the light. It was right there on the kilim I bought in Istanbul nine years ago, a book, a book I hadn't yet read, from the top of a precarious pile atop the bookcase. I found the book on the stoop of one of the brownstones in my neighborhood. One always finds interesting books left in front of buildings in this part of Brooklyn. This was a book of short stories. I remembered that I'd been intrigued by the description on the back. The writer was unknown to me, an unknown quantity. I took it on faith. That's easy with free books.

I picked the book up, to put on the nightstand to be "reshelved" in the morning. Then I started leafing through it. I should have gone right back to bed, but something I noticed inside the book demanded my immediate attention. I sat down in my easy chair and turned on the reading lamp. It was weird, and it was infuriating. All the stories in this book appeared to be rewritings of my own short fiction. Details were changed, sure, but at their core they were my stories. For instance, my "Mr. Deadman" series, the adventures of a corpse who won't be kept down, was now retitled "The Many Lives (and Deaths) of Cristo Thanatos." And, in this scurrilous pile of plagiarism, "Mr. Cherches Goes to Mars" had become "Mr. Thanatos Goes to Venus." Instead of Martian pot roast, Mr. Thanatos was trying to find the secret Venusian recipe for moussaka. Then I remembered what had intrigued me about the book. I looked at the back cover and read the description. "In what The Wall Street Journal has called 'a mind-bending conceptual tour de force,' Cristo Thanatos has reimagined the obscure short stories of an almost completely unknown writer. As The New Republic put it so succinctly, 'Thanatos is a Borges for our time.'" So what, now I'm the butt of some big conceptual joke? The nerve of that Thanatos character! I should have gone back to bed, but I kept reading. After a while I could feel myself nodding off.

I woke up in bed and looked at the alarm clock. 7:35. I must have fallen asleep in the chair and gotten up at some point to get back in bed. Then I noticed the book on the kilim, exactly where I had picked it up three hours earlier. I realized what surely must have happened. I probably opened my eyes, noticed a book on the floor, then went right back to sleep, having decided to deal with it in the morning. Then I had that silly dream about how my work had been plagiarized. I laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. Cristo Thanatos! Doesn't that mean Christ Death?

I got out of bed and bent down to pick up the book. I looked at the title. The Collected Stories of Cristo Thanatos.


The Most Beautiful Beach in Brazil

Many years ago I visited Brazil, and in a small village near the Bahia coast I met a remarkable young man named Paulo. Paulo was dirt poor, and literally dressed in rags, yet there was something inexplicably beautiful about him. I'd say he was maybe eighteen or so, no more than twenty, and there was something in his eyes, a spark, a spirit, unlike anything I had ever experienced before. In his manner of speaking, too, there was what I can only describe as an unmitigated joy of life.

Shortly after we met—we were in a snack bar, a lancheria, having coffee, that wonderful deep, dark Brazilian coffee, cafezinho—Paulo said to me, "I will take you to the most beautiful beach in all Brazil."

And so we walked to the beach. It wasn't a short walk—at least a half hour, and by the time we got there it was twilight.

Paulo was right—it was indeed the most beautiful beach I had ever seen: a great expanse of pristine white sand, the sea a spine-tingling blue, and to complement these, a perfect sunset. I was awestruck. "This beach is only for the rich," Paulo told me, "but I come here anyway. Such beauty should be for everybody."

At this point I noticed that some people were approaching us. I kept my eyes on them. When they got closer I saw that there were several men in tuxedos accompanied by four or five others in police uniform. "Paulo," I said, "they're coming after you." I knew they were after Paulo and not me.

"Don't worry," Paulo said, "I'll walk on the water and into a whisper." And he started walking to the sea.

I looked back for a second, to see how close the police and the men in tuxedos were getting, but they were no longer anywhere in sight.

And when I turned back to the sea, Paulo was gone too.

Author Bio


Peter Cherches' latest short prose collection is Masks: Stories from a Pandemic. His "Excerpts from Mr. Deadman" appeared in Issue 28 of The Cafe Irreal and in The Irreal Reader: Fiction & Essays from The Cafe Irreal; "The Return of Amelia Earheart" appeared in Issue 48; Three Stories appeared in Issue 70; and "The New Guest" and "Closed Indefinitely" appeared in Issue 81.