Smoking with Antonios Maltezos

Read the Story September 15, 2008
story art

“Beautiful.” What makes this THE TITLE for your wonderful piece?

Well, I’m betting part of it has to do with the fact my mom’s getting older, and I have no idea how I’m going to handle the inevitable. I just can see how it’ll work out. I’ll be freaking devastated. In so many ways my own life will be over. I see it like this: she’s the one person who’s been there from the beginning. She’s the only one who has the true story of me, from the beginning. She goes, and I just know I’ll be cherishing the memory of her for the rest of my days in a very private and lonely way, as a different person from the boy, the man, who could always count on his mother to listen, to share, and as of late, to end every meeting of our minds with a clink of our glasses, an almost reverent salute to a heartache we’d taken the time to remember, to cherish, because those were the times that define our lives. I love it, and I know it has everything to do with my mother’s age and the fact she’s outlived so many people of her generation. It’s her time to reflect, to wonder, and to ask; to try and understand why it is her life must come to an end. But she won’t be there to mourn with me, will she? She’ll probably visit with me in my dreams, as my father did, and only for those precious few months until I’m ready to continue on with whatever it is I have to do in the years to the end of my own life. So why beautiful?

What do you know of this mother and son? When did you first encounter them? For me, they haunt. How and when do they haunt you?

I think this is his final tribute, his final moment with this woman who accompanied him through the course of his own life. I was paralyzed by my father’s death, took to drinking and picking fights with nightclub bouncers, kind of like staying up until four in the morning after a horrible nightmare so that you can pass out from exhaustion rather than simply fall asleep and slip back to where you left off. I wouldn’t want this for my mother. I’d want to pay that final tribute, to see the beauty of that life that was mostly difficult and trying, but ultimately, worthwhile and dear. I know this mother and son well, as would my mother if she were to read this story. She’d understand. I was a mama’s boy as a small child. She’d be proud of this story. She’d say look at that, my son grew to be a brave and honest man who never turned his back on is mother.

How did you arrive at that final ritual? It feels both beautifully real and unreal at the same time. What can you tell us about it? How hard was it to write this section?

It wasn’t hard at all because I don’t see it in a negative way. I had Neil Bisoondath as a workshop leader in university. I’ll never forget how lovingly he described his own mother’s Hindu funeral to us. Of course, I had to make it my character’s own – arts and crafts related rather than religious, though I’m hoping the ritual has that religious feel to it. It wasn’t hard to write at all.

“He stole one last picture of her.” The word “stole” interests me SO MUCH here. Why stole? What does it reveal? Or am I nuts to think it means so much?

Perhaps he realizes this is somehow made up, from son to mother, the pain and misery of her final years covered over, overwhelmed by the flames. Maybe he’s holding up the frame to burn this beautiful and vibrant picture in his mind, the way a camera might steal a moment, that moment obscuring everything that went on before and after. Maybe he’s making art, stealing that moment we step back and acknowledge that something is beautiful to our senses. You know, I find myself trying to rationalize my need to have him burn his mother once he’d made her up with the decorations, but the simple answer is this: he wanted her to stay beautiful, and to remember her that way.

Begin this answer with the words, “I write.” Complete the sentence. Then, write as many sentences as you’d like, each one beginning with that “I write….”

This is the most difficult question of all, Randall! I should be balsy here and come up with one sentence.

…because life scares me, and I’m only ever gutsy and unafraid and carefree and locked in a moment I can control when I’m writing.

About the Author:

Antonios Maltezos is currently working on a novel, A Train Runs Through Here.