The Discovery of Morniel Mathaway
by William Tenn
Everyone is astonished at the change in Morniel Mathaway since he was discovered, everyone but me. They remember him as an unbathed and untalented Greenwich Village painter who began almost every second sentence with “I” and ended every third one with “me.” He had all the pushing, half-frightened conceit of the man who secretly suspects himself to be a second-rater or worse, and any half-hour conversation with him made your ears droop with the boastful yells he threw at them.
I understand the change in him, the soft-spoken self-depreciation as well as the sudden overwhelming success. But then, I was there the day he was “discovered”—except that isn’t the right way to put it. To tell you the truth, I don’t know how to put it really, considering the absolute impossibility—yes, I said impossibility, not improbability—of the whole business. All I know for sure is that trying to make sense out of it gives me belly-yammers and the biggest headache this side of calculus.
We were talking about his discovery that day. I was sitting, carefully balanced, on the one wooden chair in his cold little Bleecker Street studio, because I was too sophisticated to sit in the easy chair.
Morniel practically paid the rent on his studio with that easy chair. It was a broken-down tangle of filthy upholstery that was high in the front of the seat and very low in the back. When you sat in it, things began sliding out of your pockets—loose change, keys, wallets, anything—and into the jungle of rusty springs and rotting wood-work below.
Whenever newcomers came to the place, Morniel would make a big fuss about showing them to “the comfortable chair.” And as they twisted about painfully trying to find a spot between the springs, his eyes would gleam and he’d get all lit up with good cheer. Because the more they moved about, the more would fall out of their pockets.
After a party, he’d take the chair apart and start counting the receipts, like a store owner hitting the cash register the evening after a fire sale.
The only trouble was, to sit in the wooden chair, you had to concentrate, since it teetered.
Morniel couldn’t lose—he always sat on the bed.
“I can’t wait for the day,” he was saying, “when some dealer, some critic, with an ounce of brain in his head sees my work. I can’t miss, Dave, I know I can’t miss; I’m just too good. Sometimes I get frightened at how good I am—it’s almost too much talent for one man.”
“Well,” I said, “there’s always the—”
“Not that it’s too much talent for me,” he went on, fearful that I might have misunderstood him. “I’m big enough to carry it, fortunately; I’m large enough of soul. But another, lesser guy would be destroyed by this much totality of perception, this comprehension of the spiritual gestalt as I like to put it. His mind would just crack wide open under the load. Not me, though, Dave, not me.”
“Good,” I said. “Glad to hear it. Now if you don’t m—”
“Do you know what I was thinking about this morning?”
“No,” I said. “But, to tell you the truth, I don’t really—”
“I was thinking about Picasso, Dave. Picasso and Roualt. I’d just gone for a walk through the pushcart area to have my breakfast—you know, the old the-hand-is-quicker-than-the-eye Morniel—and I started to think about the state of modern painting. I think about that a lot, Dave. It troubles me.”
“You do?” I said. “Well, I tend to—”
“I walked down Bleecker Street, then I swung into Washington Square Park, and while I walked, I was thinking: Who is doing really important work in painting today who is really and unquestionably great? I could think of only three names: Picasso, Roualt—and me. There’s nobody else doing anything worthwhile and original nowadays. Just three names out of the whole host of people painting all over the world at this moment: just three names, no more. It made me feel very lonely, Dave.”
“I can see that,” I said. “But then, you—”
“And then I asked myself, why is this so? Has absolute genius always been so rare, is there an essential statistical limitation on it in every period, or is there another reason, peculiar to our own time. And why has my impending discovery been delayed so long? I thought about it for a long time, Dave. I thought about it humbly, carefully, because it’s an important question. And this is the answer I came up with.”
I gave up. I just sat back in my chair—not too far back, of course—and listened to him expound a theory of esthetics I’d heard at least a dozen times before, from a dozen other painters in the Village. The only point of difference between them was on the question of exactly who was the culmination and the most perfect living example of this esthetic. Morniel, you will probably not be amazed to learn, felt it was himself.
He’d come to New York from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a tall, awkward boy who didn’t like to shave and believed he could paint. In those days, he admired Gauguin and tried to imitate him on canvas; he’d talk for hours, in the accents that sound like movie Brooklyncse, but are actually pure Pittsburgh, about the mystique of folk simplicity.
He got off the Gauguin kick fast, once he’d taken a few courses at the Art Students League and grown his first straggly blond beard. Recently, he had developed his own technique which he called smudge-on-smudge.
He was bad, and there were no two ways about it. I say that not only from my opinion—and I’ve roomed with two modern painters and been married for a year to another—but from the opinions of pretty knowing people who, having no personal axe to grind, looked his work over carefully.
One of them, a fine critic of modern art, said after staring slack-jawed at a painting which Morniel had insisted on giving me and which, in spite of my protests, he had personally hung over my fireplace: “It’s not just that he doesn’t say anything of any significance, graphically, but he doesn’t even set himself what you might call painterly problems. White-on-white smudge-on-smudge, non-objectivism, neo-abstractionism, call it what you like, there’s nothing there, nothing! He’s just another of these loudmouth, frowzy, frustrated dilettantes that infest the Village.”
So why did I spend time with Morniel? Well, he lived right around the corner. He was slightly colorful, in his own sick way. And when I’d sat up all night, trying to work on a poem that simply wouldn’t be worked, I often felt it would be relaxing to drift around to his studio for a spot of conversation that wouldn’t have anything to do with literature.
The only trouble—and the thing I always forgot—was that it almost never was a conversation. It was a monologue that I barely managed to break in on from time to time.
You see, the difference between us was that I’d been published, even if it was only in badly printed experimental magazines that paid off in subscriptions. He’d never been exhibited—not once.
There was another reason for my maintaining a friendly relationship with the man. And that had to do with the one talent he really had.
I barely get by, so far as living expenses are concerned. Things like good paper to write on, fine books for my library, are stuff I yearn for all the time, but are way out of my reach financially. When the yearning gets too great—for a newly published collection by Wallace Stevens, for example—I meander over to Morniel’s and tell him about it.
Then we go out to the bookstore—entering it separately. I start a conversation with the proprietor about some very expensive, out-of-print item that I’m thinking of ordering and, once I’ve got all of his attention, Morniel snaffles the Stevens—which I intend to pay for, of course, as soon as I’m a little ahead.
He’s absolutely wonderful at it. I’ve never seen him so much as suspected, let alone caught. Of course, I have to pay for the favor by going through the same routine in an art-supply store, so that Morniel can replenish his stock of canvas, paint and brushes, but it’s worth it to me in the long run. The only thing it’s not worth is the thumping boredom I have to suffer through in listening to the guy, or my conscience bothering me because I know he never intends to pay for those things. Okay, so I will, when I can.
“I can’t be as unique as I feel I am,” he was saying now. “Other people must be born with the potential of such great talent, but it’s destroyed in them before they can reach artistic maturity. Why? How? Well, let’s examine the role that society—”
And that’s exactly when I first saw it. Just as he got to the word “society,” I saw this purplish ripple in the wall opposite me, the strange, shimmering outline of a box with a strange, shimmering outline of a man inside the hole.
It was about five feet off the floor and it looked like colored heat waves. Then there was nothing on the wall.
But it was too late in the year for heat waves. And I’ve never had optical illusions. It could be, I decided, that I had seen the beginnings of a new crack in Morniel’s wall. The place wasn’t really a studio, just a drafty cold-water flat that some old occupant had cleared so as to make one long room. It was on the top floor and the roof leaked occasionally; the walls were covered with thick, wavy lines in memory of the paths followed by the trickling water.
But why purple? And why the outline of a man inside a box? That was pretty tricky, for a simple crack in the wall. And where had it gone?
“—the eternal conflict with the individual who insists on his individuality,” 141orniel pointed out. “Not to mention—”
A series of high musical notes sounded, one after the other, rapidly. And then, in the center of the room, about two feet above the floor this time, the purple lines reappeared—still hazy, still transparent and still with the outline of a man inside.
Morniel swung his feet off the bed and stared up at it. “What the—” he began.
Once more, the outfit disappeared.
“W-what—” Morniel stuttered. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” I told him. “But whatever it is, I’d say they’re slowly zeroing in.”
Again those high musical notes. And the purple box came into view with its bottom resting on the floor. It got darker, darker and more substantial. The notes kept climbing up the scale and getting fainter and fainter until, when the box was no longer transparent, they faded away altogether.
A door slid back in the box. A man stepped out, wearing clothing that seemed to end everywhere in curlicues. He looked first at me, then at Morniel.
“Morniel Mathaway?” he inquired.
“Ye-es,” Morniel said, backing away toward his refrigerator.
“Morniel Mathaway,” the man from the box said, “my name is Glescu. I bring you greetings from 2487 A.D.”
Neither of us could think of a topper for that one, so we let it lie there. I got up and stood beside Morniel, feeling obscurely that I wanted to get as close as possible to something I was familiar with.
And we all held that position for a while. Tableau.
I thought to myself, 2487 A.D. I’d never seen anyone dressed like that. Even more, I’d never imagined anyone dressed like that and my imagination can run pretty wild. The clothing was not exactly transparent and yet not quite opaque. Prismatic is the word for it, different colors that constantly chased themselves in and out and around the curlicues. There seemed to be a pattern to it, but nothing that my eyes could hold down and identify.
And the man himself, this Mr. Glescu, was about the same height as-Morniel and me and he seemed to be not very much older. But there was a something about him—I don’t know, call it quality, true and tremendous quality—that would have cowed the Duke of Wellington. Civilized, maybe that’s the word: he was the most civilized-looking man I’d ever seen.
He stepped forward. “We will now,” he said in a rich, wonderfully resonant voice, “indulge in the twentieth-century custom of shaking hands.”
So we indulged in the twentieth-century custom of shaking hands with him. First Morniel, then me—and both very gingerly. Mr. Glescu shook hands with a peculiar awkwardness that made me think of the way an Iowan farmer might eat with chopsticks for the first time.
The ceremony over, he stood there and beamed at us. Or, rather, at Morniel.
“What a moment, eh?” he said. “What a supreme moment!”
Morniel took a deep breath and I knew that all those years of meeting process servers unexpectedly on the stairs had begun to pay off. He was recovering; his mind was beginning to work again.
“How do you mean ‘what a moment’?” he asked. “What’s so special about it? Are you the—the inventor of time travel?”
Mr. Glescu twinkled with laughter. “Me? An inventor?
Oh, no. No, no! Time travel was invented by Antoinette Ingeborg in—but that was after your time. Hardly worth going into at the moment, especially since I only have half an hour.”
“Why half an hour?” I asked, not so much because I was curious as because it seemed like a good question.
“The skindrom can only be maintained that long,” he elucidated. “The skindrom is—well, call it a transmitting device that enables me to appear in your period. There is such an enormous expenditure of power required that a trip into the past is made only once every fifty years. The privilege is awarded as a sort of Gobel. I hope I have the word right. It is Gobel isn’t it? The award made in your time?”
I had a flash. “You wouldn’t mean Nobel, by any chance? The Nobel Prize?”
He nodded his head enthusiastically. “That’s it! The Nobel Prize. The trip is awarded to outstanding scholars as a kind of Nobel Prize. Once every fifty years—the man selected by the gardunax as the most pre-eminent—that sort of thing. Up to now, of course, it’s always gone to historians and they’ve frittered it away on the Siege of Troy, the first atom-bomb explosion at Los Alamos, the discovery of America—things like that. But this year—”
“Yes?” Morniel broke in, his voice quavering. We were both suddenly remembering that Mr. Glescu had known his name. “What kind of scholar are you?”
Mr. Glescu made us a slight bow with his head, “I am an art scholar. My specialty is art history. And my special field in art history is…”
“What?” Morniel demanded, his voice no longer quavering, but positively screechy. “What is your special field?”
Again a slight bow from Mr. Glescu’s head. “You, Mr. Mathaway. In my own period, I may say without much fear of contradiction, I am the greatest living authority on the life and works of Morniel Mathaway. My special field is you.”
Morniel went white. He groped his way to the bed and sat down as if his hips were made of glass. He opened his mouth several times and couldn’t seem to get a sound out. Finally, he gulped, clenched his fists and got a grip on himself.
“Do—do you mean,” he managed to croak at last, “that I’m famous? That famous?”
“Famous? You, my dear sir, are beyond fame. You are one of the immortals the human race has produced. As I put it—rather well if I may say so—in my last book, Mathaway, the Man Who Shaped the Future: ‘How rarely has it fallen to the lot of individual human endeavor to—’ ”
“That famous.” The blond beard worked the way a child’s face does when it’s about to cry.“That famous! ”
“That famous!” Mr. Glescu assured him. “Who is the man with whom modern painting, in its full glory, is said to have definitely begun? Who is the man whose designs and special manipulations of color have dominated architecture for the past five centuries, who is responsible for the arrangement of our cities, the shape of our every artifact, the very texture of our clothing.”
“Me?” Morniel inquired weakly.
“You!” No other man in the history of art has exerted such a massive influence over design or over so wide an area of art for so long a period of time. To whom can I compare you, sir? To what other artist in history can I compare you?”
“Rembrandt?” Morniel suggested. He seemed to be trying to be helpful. “Da Vinci?”
Mr. Glescu sneered. “Rembrandt and Da Vinci in the same breath as you? Ridiculous! They lacked your universality, your taste for the cosmic, your sense of the all-encompassing. No, to relate you properly to an equal, one must go outside painting, to literature, possibly. Shakespeare, with his vast breadth of understanding, with the resounding organ notes of his poetry and with his tremendous influence on the later English language—but even Shakespeare, I’m afraid, even Shakespeare—” He shook his head sadly.
“Wow!” breathed Morniel Mathaway.
“Speaking of Shakespeare,” I broke in, “do you happen to know of a poet named David Dantziger? Did much of his work survive?”
“Is that you?”
“Yes,” I told the man from 2487 A.D. eagerly. “That’s me, Dave Dantziger.”
He wrinkled his forehead. “I don’t seem to remember any—What school of poetry do you belong to?”
“Well, they call it by various names. Anti-imagist is the most usual one. Anti-imagist or post-imagist.”
“No,” said Mr. Glescu after thinking for a while. “The only poet I can remember for this time and this part of the world is Peter Tedd.”
“Who is Peter Tedd? Never heard of him.”
“Then this must he before he was discovered. But please remember, I am an art scholar, not a literary one. It is entirely possible,” he went on soothingly, “that were you to mention your name to a specialist in the field of minor twentieth-century versifiers, he could place you with a minimum of difficulty. Entirely possible.”
I glanced at Morniel, and he was grinning at me from the bed. He had entirely recovered by now and was beginning to soak the situation in through his pores. The whole situation. His standing. Mine.
I decided I hated every single one of his guts.
Why did it have to be someone like Morniel Mathaway that got that kind of nod from fate? There were so many painters who were decent human beings, and yet this bragging slug …
And all the time, a big part of my mind was wandering around in circles. It just proved, I kept saying to myself, that you need the perspective of history to properly evaluate anything in art. You think of all the men who were big guns in their time and today are forgotten, that contemporary of Beethoven’s, for example, who, while he was alive, was considered much the greater man, and whose name is known today only to musicologists. But still—
Mr. Glescu glanced at the forefinger of his right hand where a little black dot constantly expanded and contracted. “My time is getting short,” he said. “And while it is an ineffable, overwhelming delight for me to be standing in your studio, Mr. Mathaway, and looking at you at last in the flesh, I wonder if you would mind obliging me with a small favor?”
“Sure,” Morniel nodded, getting up. “You name it. Nothing’s too good for you. What do you want?”
Mr. Glescu swallowed as if he were about to bring himself to knock on the gates of Paradise. “I wonder—I’m sure you don’t mind—could you possibly let me look at the painting you’re working on at the moment? The idea of seeing a Mathaway in an unfinished state, with the paint still wet upon it—” He shut his eyes, as if he couldn’t believe that all this was really happening to him.
Morniel gestured urbanely and strode to his easel. He pulled the tarp off. “I intend to call this—” and his voice had grown as oily as the subsoil of Texas—“Figured Figurines No. 29.”
Slowly, tastingly, Mr. Glescu opened his eyes and leaned forward. “But—” he said, after a long silence. “Surely this isn’t your work, Mr. Mathaway?”
Morniel turned around in surprise and considered the painting. “It’s my work, all right. Figured Figurines No. 29. Recognize it?”
“No,” said Mr. Glescu. “I do not recognize it. And that is a fact for which I am extremely grateful. Could I see something else, please? Something a little later?”
“That’s the latest,” Morniel told him a little uncertainly. “Everything else is earlier. Here, you might like this.” He pulled a painting out of the rack. “I call this Figured Figurines No. 22. I think it’s the best of my early period.”
Mr. Glescu shuddered. “It looks like smears of paint on top of other smears of paint.”
“Right! Only I call it smudge-on-smudge. But you probably know all that, being such an authority on me. And here’s Figured Figurines No.—”
“Do you mind leaving these—these figurines, Mr. Mathaway?” Glescu begged. “I’d like to see something of yours with color. With color and with form!”
Morniel scratched his head. “I haven’t done any real color work for a long time. Oh, wait!” he brightened and began to search in the back of the rack. He came out with an old canvas. “This is one of the few examples of my mauve-and-mottled period that I’ve kept.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Mr. Glescu murmured, mostly to himself. “It’s positively—” He brought his shoulders up to his ears in the kind of shrug that anyone who’s ever seen an art critic in action can immediately recognize. You don’t need words after that shrug; if you’re a painter whose work he’s looking at, you don’t want words.
About this time, Morniel began pulling paintings out frantically. He’d show them to Glescu, who would gurgle as if he were forcing down a retch, and pull out some more paintings.
“I don’t understand it,” Mr. Glescu said, staring at the floor, which was strewn with canvases tacked to their wooden stretchers. “This was obviously before you discovered yourself and your true technique. But I’m looking for a sign, a hint, of the genius that is to come. And I find—” He shook his head dazedly.
“How about this one?” Morniel asked, breathing hard.
Mr. Glescu shoved at it with both hands. “Please take it away!” He looked at his forefinger again. I noticed the black dot was expanding and contracting much more slowly. “I’ll have to leave soon,” he said. “And I don’t understand at all. Let me show you something, gentlemen.”
He walked into the purple box and came out with a book. He beckoned to us. Morniel and I moved around behind him and stared over his shoulder. The pages tinkled peculiarly as they were turned; one thing I knew for sure—they weren’t made out of paper. And the title-page…
The Complete Paintings of Morniel Mathaway, 1928–1996.
“Were you born in 1928?” I demanded.
Morniel nodded. “May 23, 1928.” And he was silent. I knew what he was thinking about and did a little quick figuring. Sixty-eight years. It’s not given to many men to know exactly how much time they have. Sixty-eight years—that wasn’t so bad.
Mr. Glescu turned to the first of the paintings.
Even now, when I remember my initial sight of it, my knees get weak and bend inward. It was an abstraction in full color, but such an abstraction as I’d never imagined before. As if all the work of all the abstractionists up to this point had been an apprenticeship on the kindergarten level.
You had to like it—so long as you had eyes—whether or not your appreciation had been limited to representational painting until now; even if, in fact, you’d never particularly cared about painting of any school.
I don’t want to sound maudlin, but I actually felt tears in my eyes. Anyone who was at all sensitive to beauty would have reacted the same way.
Not Morniel, though. “Oh, that kind of stuff,” he said as if a great light had broken on him. “Why didn’t you tell me you wanted that kind of stuff?”
Mr. Glescu clutched at Morniel’s dirty tee-shirt. “Do you mean you have paintings like this, too?”
“Not paintings-painting. Just one. I did it last week as a sort of experiment, but I wasn’t satisfied with the way it turned out, so I gave it to the girl downstairs. Care to take a look at it?”
“Oh, yes! Very, very much!”
Morniel reached for the book and tossed it casually on the bed. “Okay,” he said. “Come on. It won’t take more than a minute or two.”
As we trooped downstairs, I found myself boiling with perplexity. One thing I was sure of—as sure as of the fact that Geoffrey Chaucer had lived before Algernon Swinburne—nothing that Morniel had ever done or had the capacity of ever doing could come within a million esthetic miles of the reproduction in that book. And for all of his boasting, for all of his seemingly inexhaustible conceit, I was certain that he also knew it.
He stopped before a door two floors below and rapped on it. There was no answer. He waited a few seconds and knocked again. Still no answer.
“Damn,” he said. “She isn’t home. And I did want you to see that one.”
“I want to see it,” Mr. Glescu told him earnestly. “I want to see anything that looks like your mature work. But time is growing so short—”
Morniel snapped his fingers. “Tell you what. Anita has a couple of cats she asks me to feed whenever she’s away for a while, so she’s given me a key to her apartment. Suppose I whip upstairs and get it?”
“Fine!” Mr. Glescu said happily, taking a quick look at his forefinger. “But please hurry.”
“Will do.” And then, as Morniel turned to go up the stairs, he caught my eye. And he gave me the signal, the one we use whenever we go “shopping.” It meant: “Talk to the man. Keep him interested.”
I got it. The book. I’d seen Morniel in action far too many times not to remember that casual gesture of tossing it on the bed as anything but a casual gesture. He’d just put it where he could find it when he wanted it—fast. He was going upstairs to hide it in some unlikely spot and when Mr. Glescu had to take off for his own time—well, the book would just not be available.
Smooth? Very pretty damned smooth, I’d say. And Morniel Mathaway would paint the paintings of Morniel Mathaway. Only he wouldn’t paint them.
He’d copy them.
Meanwhile, the signal snapped my mouth open and automatically started me talking.
“Do you paint yourself, Mr. Glescu?” I asked. I knew that would be a good gambit.
“Oh, no! Of course, I wanted to be an artist when I was a boy—I imagine every critic starts out that way—and I even committed a few daubs of my own. But they were very bad, very bad indeed! I found it far easier to write about paintings than to do them. Once I began reading the life of Morniel Mathaway, I knew I’d found my field. Not only did I empathize closely with his paintings, but he seemed so much like a person I could have known and liked. That’s one of the things that puzzles me. He’s quite different from what I imagined.”
I nodded. “I bet he is.”
“Of course history has a way of adding stature and romance to any important figure. And I can see several things about his personality that the glamorizing process of the centuries could—but I shouldn’t go on in this fashion, Mr. Dantziger. You’re his friend.”
“About as much of a friend as he’s got in the world,” I told him, “which isn’t saying much.”
And all the time I was trying to figure it out. But the more I figured, the more confused I got. The paradoxes in the thing. How could Morniel Mathaway become famous five hundred years from now by painting pictures that he first saw in a book published five hundred years from now? Who painted the pictures? MornieI Mathaway? The book said so, and with the book in his possession, he would certainly do them. But he’d be copying them out of the book. So who painted the original pictures?
Mr. Glescu looked worriedly at his forefinger. “I’m running out of time—practically none left!”
He sped up the stairs, with me behind him. When we burst into the studio, I braced myself for the argument over the book. I wasn’t too happy about it, because I liked Mr. Glescu.
The book wasn’t there; the bed was empty. And two other things weren’t there—the time machine and Morniel Mathaway.
“He left in it!” Mr. Glescu gasped. “He stranded me here! He must have figured out that getting inside and closing the door made it return!”
“Yeah, he’s a great figurer,” I said bitterly. This I hadn’t bargained for. This I wouldn’t have helped to bring about. “And he’ll probably figure out a very plausible story to tell the people in your time to explain how the whole thing happened. Why should he work his head off in the twentieth century when he can be an outstanding, hero-worshipped celebrity in the twenty-fifth?”
“But what will happen if they ask him to paint merely one picture—”
“He’ll probably tell them he’s already done his work and feels he can no longer add anything of importance to it. He’ll no doubt end up giving lectures on himself. Don’t worry, he’ll make out. It’s you I’m worried about. You’re stuck here. Are they likely to send a rescue party after you?”
Mr. Glescu shook his head miserably. “Every scholar who wins the award has to sign a waiver of responsibility, in case he doesn’t return. The machine may be used only once in fifty years—and by that time, some other scholar will claim and be given the right to witness the storming of the Bastille, the birth of Gautama Buddha or something of the sort. No, I’m stuck here, as you phrased it. Is it very bad, living in this period?”
I slapped him on the shoulder. I was feeling very guilty. “Not so bad. Of course, you’ll need a social security card, and I don’t know how you go about getting one at your age. And possibly—I don’t know for sure—the F.B.I. or immigration authorities may want to question you, since you’re an illegal alien, kind of.”
He looked appalled. “Oh, dear! That’s quite bad enough!”
And then I got the idea. “No, it needn’t be. Tell you what. Morniel has a social security card—he had a job a couple of years ago. And he keeps his birth certificate in that bureau drawer along with other personal papers. Why don’t you just assume his identity? He’ll never show you up as an imposter!”
“Do you think I could? Won’t I be—won’t his friends—his relatives—”
“Parents both dead, no relatives I ever heard about. And I told you I’m the closest thing to a friend he’s got.” I examined Mr. Glescu thoughtfully. “You could get away with it. Maybe grow a beard and dye it blond. Things like that. Naturally, the big problem would be earning a living. Being a specialist on Mathaway and the art movements that derived from him wouldn’t get you fed an awful lot right now.”
He grabbed at me. “I could paint! I’ve always dreamed of being a painter! I don’t have much talent, but there are all sorts of artistic novelties I know about, all kinds of graphic innovations that don’t exist in your time. Surely that would be enough—even without talent—to make a living for me on some third- or fourth-rate level!”
It was. It certainly was. But not on the third- or fourth-rate level. On the first. Mr. Glescu-Morniel Mathaway is the finest painter alive today. And the unhappiest.
“What’s the matter with these people?” he asked me wildly after his last exhibition. “Praising me like that! I don’t have an ounce of real talent in me; all my work, all, is completely derivative. I’ve tried to do something, anything, that was completely my own, but I’m so steeped in Mathaway that I just can’t seem to make my own personality come through. And those idiotic critics go on raving about me—and the work isn’t even my own!”
“Then whose is it?” I wanted to know.
“Mathaway’s, of course,” he said bitterly. “We thought there couldn’t be a time paradox—I wish you could read all the scientific papers on the subject; they fill whole libraries—because it isn’t possible, the time specialists argue, for a painting, say, to be copied from a future reproduction and so have no original artist. But that’ s what I’m doing! I’m copying from that book by memory!”
I wish I could tell him the truth—he’s such a nice guy, especially compared to the real fake of a Mathaway, and he suffers so much.
But I can’t.
You see, he’s deliberately trying not to copy those paintings. He’s working so hard at it that he refuses to think about that book or even discuss it. I finally got him to recently, for a few sentences, and you know what? He doesn’t actually remember, except pretty hazily!
Of course he wouldn’t—he’s the real Morniel Mathaway and there is no paradox. But if I ever told him that he was actually painting the pictures instead of merely copying them from memory, he’d lose whatever little self-confidence he has. So I have to let him think he’s a phony when he’s nothing of the sort.
“Forget it,” I go on telling him. “A buck’s a buck.”