UNITED STATES—Why share the bitterness of that episode of political blindness, a reflection of having lived through that war, being scared to death by the rhetoric of President Lyndon Johnson (yes, another Virgo, but Latin American statistically had so many more). Graydon Miller smiled, alright, at the genial Legionnaire and let him believe whatever he wanted to believe and felt vindicated that he had stood out in the alternate reality. And he chalked up to destiny that his political genie lay dormant for about 43 years, the age of John F. Kennedy.

Bryce Smoke, on the other hand, got married to his high-school sweetheart who was thin and regal and brunette, and they had a perfect kind of young life, their own condominium and steady jobs, she at the bank and Bryce in one of the packing plants. Then, one day he was jogging on the levee and dropped dead, coming down the embankment of the Buddhist Temple. Miller always wondered if she had remarried; he saw her at their 20th class reunion and Leonora looked as regal as ever, with a ballerina’s poise and the cinnamon skin of her bare back exposed by some shiny top with puffy sleeves.

Her young husband had a congenital condition with his aortic valve no one knew about, but it was always there, a ticking time-bomb. Bless Bryce and Graydon thought that it was lucky that whatever the experience of Junior State leadership had been, Bryce had been able to experience in his short happy life.

Out brief candle. Graydon Miller knew well enough he was a lucky son of a bitch to be alive. His interest in academic accomplishment ended the day his early acceptance came from Columbia University. Why try anymore? Why suffer? He gave up, he was coasting, he wore black, was moody. When he got the desired result, he gave up the grade lust and became one of the “bad” kids, hanging around the Catz Pause and starting to smoke.

Alas, our eye is constantly directed to the wrong ball, the money ball, and it should be on the green playing field of here and now. There was dancing after the veal cordon bleu at the Cocoanut Grove, and they met where the dancers bounced and jostled to techno-pop.

“Leo…,” he said.

She narrowed her eyes, “Only my brother calls me that.”

“And me…” Graydon asserted, tasted the ash of fake smoke, like fog drifts lit by the lighting flashes that strobed from a group of high school mates still living the rock dream. Leonora wore a filmy orange scarf, that fell around her arms when she shimmied. It must have been only a few seconds on the dance floor.

The next morning his nostrils could detect the whiff of her scent on his forearms. It was exciting to breathe and it gave his stomach a delirious top-of-the-rollercoaster feeling.

Miller was cocksure that he could have been a master criminal, had he chosen. But he had chosen the less lucrative path of poetry. Being beside Leonora made him fill poor, and her sheer animal presence and beauty made Miller yearn for the dollars he knew were his, the fame, the prizes. Dear Leonora that Saturday night floating on the dance floor amid cheesy pop covers and classmates who must already have grandchildren…It would be years before Leo would have an inkling that she might have figured prominently in the first fictions of the Wizard of Fiction.

It was not until Miller was awarded the Neustadt Prize, which occasioned the lightning-rapid translation into English of “Un invierno en el infierno.” It was nice to be recognized, and it was a nice award followed by quite a few zeroes. It was simply a source of pleasure, and he hoped it could be shared by the living (and now many dead) who had always believed in him, and that in itself for him was the prize of prizes.

Nor did it shield him from minor slights, human being is heir to. So that minutes after some friend texted, “Did you see the news?” he would be under a boulder because a neighbor accused him of letting the other neighbor’s pit bull inside the fence while she was away on vacation and Miller was feeding the cats, and little Ghost was mauled. And he carried the boulder around and it carried it because it was true, he was unkind and self-absorbed as much as he sought to live outward. He still could see the photo of Ghost and it made Miller sad-sick and he knew that being an author and living with your head in the clouds was no defense for not being the mensch he struggled to be.

“Why the boulder, the hurt, the humiliation?” he said, eyes on the gray sky. The sky spoke back and said:

“These are gifts. See them as such.”

The Neustadt money wasn’t bad, either, but money by its very definition –for it is a kind of universal energy pocketed and packaged–can lead to attachment and fixation, obsessive gaze on the green fruit: Max E. White was a freaking example of that. The man trained to be a rabbi, but who for a while was one of the richest men in America, leaped off the Twin Towers.

To be continued…

Grady is the Wizard of Fiction.