Vladimir Nabokov bought my daughter a chess set, with pieces carved from sandalwood by hand. Every little girl should own a chess set, he said, and my daughter nodded in feigned agreement, eager to rejoin her friends. Late afternoon, once the guests had left, my wife sent me to collect the plates and glasses from the backyard. And there was Nabokov, crouched in the garden, his pant cuffs folded to his knees, following a caterpillar across his finger.


Italo Calvino stopped at the gas station to ask for directions to the aeronautical museum. I hadn’t been working at the gas station for long, and had only moved to the town a few months earlier. I offered to sell him a map, or I could call my landlord, who knew the town from top to bottom. No matter, he said. I’ll find my way… The day was breezy, warm. He would put his faith in the winds.


Jorge Luis Borges asked me to select a record at random. I picked one from the nearest milk crate. Laid it on the turntable, lowered the needle. Borges sat in his favorite red chair with his pipe, nodding along. When the symphony finished, he leaned back, like after a satisfying meal. Fine choice of music, he said approvingly, despite no such choice having been made.


I shared a table with Franz Kafka at a brothel in Prague. He was sitting hunched over, flicking at crumbs with his coiled finger. I haven’t slept in four days, he said to me. I can’t sleep because I worry and I worry because I can’t sleep. It’s that age-old paradox. He fired a crumb at the dimmed stage. I’m sorry to hear that, I told him. It will be okay, he said. The full moon is a strong tonic and soon I will fall into a deep, restful sleep and wake anew. Yes, it is only a matter of time. There is nothing to be sorry about, my friend.

–Ravi Mangla lives in Fairport, NY. His very short fiction has appeared or will soon appear in Mid-American Review, Los Angeles Review, Gigantic, and Wigleaf. He keeps a blog at

Photos (1) Nabokov in 1970 from Frieze Mag (2) Borges Groupies from Wiki

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