In the Cellar
As a boy I couldn’t tell the truth. Reading did it. I read all the time—during school, at recess time, on my way home, and even at night under the table, hidden behind the tablecloth that reached down to the floor. My imagination was always in flames. Because of my reading I played truant from all my world’s affairs—I cut class to go to the docks, or to the billiard tables in the dives on Greek Street. I had no friends. Who would have wanted such a queer bird for a friend?
One day I saw a book about Spinoza in the hands of Mark Borgman, the top scholar in the class. He had just read it and couldn’t help telling us about the Spanish Inquisition. His tale was merely learned mumbling—he spoke without poetry. I couldn’t resist interrupting him. I began to tell all who would listen about ancient Amsterdam, the ghetto dusk, and the diamond-cutting philosophers. My gift for fantasy decked out and embroidered what I had picked up from my reading. I wasn’t able to keep it in check. My imagination heightened the dramatic scenes, changed the endings, and made the plot much more mysterious. Spinoza’s death, his unmolested, lonely death, arose before me as a full-scale battle. The Sanhedrin tried to extort a confession from him, but Spinoza was unflinching. I entangled Rubens in my epic. He stood beside Spinoza’s bed, taking a death mask of the dead man.
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