“Herna or Love as a Case of the Hives” by Mauricio Koch

Download pdf: Herna or Love as a Case of the Hives

I met her at a birthday party for Martina, a friend from work. I arrived late and didn’t have a chance to make out where the sandwiches were or to spot a familiar face because as soon as I walked in, the first thing I saw was Herna. Or better put, not Herna, because I didn’t know her name then, and it wasn’t that I simply saw her, but rather that a light enveloped me and from the center of that blinding light, she appeared like Aphrodite emerging from the foam, white and immaculate. I am not exaggerating. She wore a colorful Hindu tunic, the kind that only a select few look good in, and on her it looked so natural that I thought this is how she must have come into the world: perfect, in that very instant and solely to stand before me, give me her blessing and vanish. But what actually happened is that she walked by, looked at me, smiled and said Hello. I don’t know how long it took me to react, only that when I recovered from the shock, I tripped all over myself to return the greeting, give her a smile, offer up my insignificance on a tray and so much else, but she had already made her way to the bathroom.

Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”

My taste in women has always coincided, if not with that of the majority of men, with at least enough of them so that the girls I like also attract the interest of others. Or at least one other, and that tends to be sufficient. And the night of Martina’s birthday was evidently no exception: no doubt I had seen the most beautiful woman at the party, and, obviously, there must have been some forty guys at that moment with the same inguinal fever and intentions as mine. At least forty. Of course they would all be more interesting and attractive than me. Super cool guys, hippie chic, blond and square chinned, a loosened tie, hands in their pockets, with titles like project manager or positif planifier for companies with names like Meeting Point or Network Trust, dark and handsome students of intelligent marketing or behavioral finance with four MBAs from Harvard and impeccable two-day beards, emerald eyes and a slight white-toothed grin welded onto their faces, boys with a rebel lock of hair over their tanned foreheads, toned but not excessively muscular, sensitive souls with a two-stitch scar over one eyebrow, a souvenir from their rugby-playing days, and, when you get up close enough to notice, impeccable fingernails; the type of man chicks say they can never find but that I see everywhere. Although it would be unjust of me if I did not acknowledge that it is mainly my fault, not theirs, for being passive, self-pitying and basically an idiot. But this time I wasn’t going to allow it. This time I was radiant. I was sparkling and exultant. And I promised myself that that woman would be mine, mine, mine, and no one else’s.

That said, I went to get a drink to work up the courage.

I’ve always figured that the only way to be sure of yourself when you make your move is to have a good strategy. Not the typical cassette, the pre-devised speech, but rather a plan for every situation. As methodical as ever, the first thing I established was the lay of the land: at the moment, she was with her girlfriends, which numbered several, too many. I counted seven or eight, and more kept joining them, all of them hysterical, intolerably stupid. They wouldn’t make it easy for me. I took up a position behind a column, which I felt was the ideal place: not too far so that I could make my move if some square-chin tried to beat me to it, but also not too close for her or one of her friends to notice me, which wouldn’t be good. One possibility was to wait for her to go to the bathroom, which women tend to do in smaller groups of two or three, and then wait by the door. But I discarded it immediately as too obvious, almost treacherous. Besides, she had gone just five minutes ago and there was no time to lose. I determined that the best thing would be to ignore her friends, pretend they didn’t exist and just head over there, with the naturalness that characterizes me. After all, I said to myself, what was she here for if not to meet guys? To be seen as part of the in-crowd with a frozen strawberry daiquiri (light) in her hand? To act all hysterical with her friends, like they always do? Deep down they are all looking for the same thing: the man of their lives. And in her case, that man is you. Good, very good, I said to myself, with that very attitude you are now going over there to say hi. Without making yourself out to be a ladies’ man, you spontaneously, simply say Hello. And she? She’ll surely return the greeting. She looks like a well-mannered girl. But wait! What do I do if right when I’m standing in front of her and about to say it she turns her head and starts talking with a friend? That’s not going to happen. But, what if it does? What do I do? Do I tap her on the shoulder? Do I take her hand? Do I stand there waiting for her to finish the conversation? Say Hello anyway? Or do I turn around and go home? And if she sees that I got that far and then turned around? Or if one of her girlfriends points it out and they all laugh? If that happens, I’ll have to quit my job the next day. Oh, come off it! It’s because of that kind of thinking that you are where you are now; the key is to observe, pay attention and seize that moment when she’s not talking, that second when she disengages from her friends and looks around expectantly, as if waiting for a miracle, and that’s when you come in, friendly and confident, and say Hello.

I examined my clothes to make sure everything was in order, fixed my hair with my fingers, cleared my throat and, when I took the first step, saw that a guy was standing before her and talking into her ear. I wanted to chew up the glass I was holding and bleed out right there. She smiled, he gestured and offered her a light-blue colored drink. Right then I saw a waiter go by and I asked him for a glass of wine, something genuine. I was the only genuine guy at the party and she, because of her haste, was never going to find out. I leaned against the column and reproached myself for even being there because I’m not one for these kinds of parties, I don’t like the type of people who go to them, I don’t like the music they play, I almost don’t like any of the food they serve. I didn’t want to look in her direction, but I couldn’t help it. The guy was still there. I took a better look at him. He had short hair in the style of David Beckham and a tight-fitting black t-shirt, the kind that accentuates the chest, and I said to myself that after I finished my wine I’d go over there and beat the hell out of him, what did I care, let them arrest me, let them take me out on a stretcher. That’s when I saw him turn and walk away, maybe headed for the bathroom, or perhaps to get another post-modern cocktail, whatever, and I felt at that moment that Providence had given me a wink, a now-or-never chance in the law of the jungle, and I took it, totally determined, feeling with each step that after all it was worth it to die for a cause like this.


I said Hello and she returned the greeting and smiled at me again. I saw then that she had dark eyes. Like “jet black mirrors” I said aloud.1 What she asked. I’m Alexis I said. She said I’m Herna. I said Ah and fell silent, I couldn’t think of anything to associate with that name and I also couldn’t think of why I should, until — don’t ask me why — the movie “Good Bye, Lenin!” popped into my head. I had seen it a few days earlier and found it interesting, and so I began to talk about it. She listened attentively, and when I finished she responded that she hadn’t seen it and had no interest in doing so: “Politics are the refuge of senseless men who have strayed from the spiritual path and carry a very high karmatic load.” She said it with all seriousness. I waited for her to laugh, so that I could join in on the joke, but that didn’t happen. I thought then that there were two possibilities here: one, that she had shot me down Olympically in a weird but effective way – maybe she had made a bet with her girlfriends and was waiting anxiously for me to leave to tell them what she had told me and to have a good laugh at my expense – or two, much less likely, that she was in effect being serious. Since I had come this far already and I didn’t see any sign to confirm the first hypothesis, I decided to stay. I changed the subject to music. I told her that lately I was listening only to English rock from the ’70s — The Who, Small Faces, The Kinks, bands like that — and that American rock didn’t compare, that the only good thing it had going for it was Hendrix, who we know about precisely because he moved to London and … that’s when she interrupted me to say that we grow old when we no longer feel the vibe of new things and remain attached to the past, and that is what I was doing, but that it was up to me to change because the fountain of youth was in my hands, and there is no getting old when we grow spiritually. The shock was so immense that my memory registered every word.

This second blow left me reeling on the verge of a knockout. I hadn’t prepared for something like that. Left with neither a plan nor a safety net and driven on more by inertia than any kind of hope, I told her that I worked in a cosmetics factory, but what I really liked was the cinema, especially writing screenplays. “We are what we believe ourselves to be. The world is a reflection of ourselves,” she said in a monotone voice, like a first-grade teacher repeating the alphabet to children who didn’t want to learn it. “We deserve love and respect simply because we are what we are. Yogi Ramacharaka tells us that the human species is like one great body: every human being is a cell, all division is disintegration, and disintegration is death.” As if more needed to be said, she added that at that moment my aura reflected a nervous state in crisis, and that the shape of my cranium and my earlobes were inherited from an inferior race called lemuridae that had inhabited the Earth ten thousand years ago.

That’s when I had had enough and became angry. This chick was a real bitch, I said to myself, a princess bored of it all, sick and tired of guys hitting on her because she is so pretty, and so she gets a laugh out of feeding them this stupidity, surely one of her girlfriends is filming it all on her cellphone so she can post it on YouTube later. But she wasn’t going to toy with me that way. A part of me in the form of a fireball rose up from my lungs to my throat and demanded that I tell her off, but at the same time, another part of me, no less powerful and perhaps more urgently, gave me a tingle lower down and made me take notice of how stunning Herna was while she went on about invisible chains of luminous energy that bound us to the essence of some incorporeal angel, and I imagined the tips of my fingertips frolicking in some hidden fold, gently blowing the fuzz in her bellybutton, thinking at the same time that if she didn’t stop talking about Osho, Chopra and the ancestral wisdom of the incarbulated flow, I would never be able to bed her. I, who for some time now had ceased to believe, sensed that God was mocking me.

As if hypnotized, I couldn’t help but lose myself in her voice and had become completely abstracted from my surroundings. When I finally looked around, her friends had moved away and left us alone. Herna kept talking, and in the middle of all that blather that I could no longer absorb, I sensed that in some way she was interested in me, that Herna really felt a connection with me, and having found in me an attentive and intelligent interlocutor, she felt at ease and said all she was saying without restraint, and that surely to some degree she too was surprised by her conduct, and when she had a moment to herself, she would no doubt blame herself for having behaved so awkwardly. I thought all this while she spoke, I think, about some harmonization exercises based on the sacred geometry of Taoist mandalas.

At some point that night, Herna paused. I was exhausted and in need of some fresh air, and she told me she was going to leave for a little while to find her friends, that surely they were waiting for her to give Martina the surprise they had all prepared for her. I’m also going to say hi to some friends, I lied. We’ll see each other later.She smiled and said, Yes, of course.

I went to get a drink and then walked to a far-off corner because I know how I am and I felt odd. I didn’t understand what was happening to me and I started to itch allover. My head, arms, belly. I couldn’t stop scratching myself. It was as if ants were crawling all over me. I confirmed on other occasions that, for me, love begins as a case of the hives. And I can’t help but scratch myself, which only intensifies the itch, and the love, I feel. It was Herna. Herna who had penetrated my defenses and was spreading. Suddenly, I heard her voice: “My love, would you like to grow old with me?” I didn’t answer because I was on my back under our car, a light blue Renault 12 that we had bought with our savings, trying to repair something. We were alone on a dirt road deep in the countryside, far from any sign of civilization. The sun was setting and it was getting cold. She insisted:

“My love, will you stay by my side forever?”

“My love, do you believe in a love that lasts a lifetime?”

“My love … my love … ”

I grunted from underneath the car, but she went on:

“My love, will you ever get tired of me?”

I finally poked my head out and looked at her. The beam from the flashlight she was holding shone into my eyes:

“Why don’t you point that where I tell you? Bend down a bit and give me some light over here, love of my life,” I said; my forehead shimmered with sweat and lubricating grease. It had gotten dark and we were in the middle of nowhere, stranded on a remote road that we had mistakenly taken. But she didn’t do as I asked. She walked away and gestured at some lights that, as night fell, began to shine on the horizon. And said:

“My love, I’m afraid.”    

“Afraid of what?” I responded, and shouted: “This axel is about to break any second now, understand!”

“Of the bugs, what else!” she said. “You know that I’m horrified of spiders, snakes, weasels. The thing is … ”

“But you aren’t listening to what I’m saying, Herna; do me a favor, get some cardboard, kneel on it and give me some light. In what language … ”

“I’m wearing a full-length dress, in case you haven’t noticed. And high heels … ”

I didn’t say anything.

“Are you almost done?” she asked.

“If you don’t give me a hand … ”

“I need to pee.”

“Hand me a 14 mm wrench; look for it in the toolbox and get the 12 or 13 mm, whatever you find and I’ll see if it fits because I can’t see a damn thing … ”

“You didn’t answer my question … ”

“What do I know? Go pee over there, who is going to see you?”

“I asked you something else … ”

“You said you were afraid, that you had to pee … ”

“I’m not going to repeat myself because I was perfectly clear.”

“Can’t you see that my mind is on something else. Did you find the wrench I asked for? Check the trunk, see if by chance there’s some wire back there. Maybe we’re lucky. I’ll tie the wire around it and see if we make it to the next town.”

She squatted down and shone the flashlight on my face: “I told you from day one that I didn’t like this car. Maybe it’s the color, I don’t know, but this color brings bad luck. I explained that to you. But you said what did I know, that this was a great car, that it would never leave you stranded. What do you have to say now about this pile of junk?”

“Pile of junk! Hand me the wrench already and see if you can find some wire! You’re blinding me with that flashlight!”

“Its always the same. Always you, you, you! Do you want me to fan you too!”

“Herna, my love, this isn’t the time … ”

“You don’t love me, you never loved me, the world begins and ends with you … ”

“But of course I love you … it’s just that … ”

“I didn’t hear you.”

“Come on, really?”

“It’s not that hard, but because you are so proud … ”

“Look, here’s a loose cable. Where is this supposed to go? You can’t trust mechanics, they do a half-assed job and charge you an arm and a leg … Are you listening to me? Herna … did you move the car? Check the tire stopper, will you … Where are you?”

Herna’s voice came to me faintly, from far away:

“I’m peeing,” she said. “I couldn’t hold it in any longer. Don’t look … I’m afraid, my love … You didn’t answer me when I asked you if you wanted to grow old with me … ”

And then I saw her standing in front of me:

“I was worried,” she said. “I thought you had left.”

“Why would that worry you?”

“Remember a little while ago I was telling you about my yogi?”

“Not really.”

“I told you I have a spiritual guide, an illuminated being named Norberto, a direct reincarnation of the Yogi Ramacharaka, and he spoke to me about you.”

I laughed.

“Don’t laugh. I talk with him over the phone every day, and last week he told me that he had recurring dreams and visions of a person – a young man – that, based on what he could perceive, had some sort of connection or relationship with me. And he described this man he’s been dreaming of: dark, he said, tall, with long hair down to his shoulders and with eyeglasses. And I felt despair because I didn’t know anyone who fit the description. But now I can see it clearly: he described you to a tee, from head to toe. At first I didn’t recognize you – its that sometimes my mind wanders – but there is no doubt about it: the master spoke of a name starting with A and of thick lips like Sandro’s.2 I’ve known Norberto for six years and whenever he’s had a vision or a premonition, it comes to pass. He never fails. And for me its all very exciting, because I’ve been waiting for you for so long! The time is right for the arrival of a special incarnation with an important mission. And we are going to undertake it together!” said Herna joyfully and it seemed to me as if she were about to start jumping up and down.

And that’s when I, who, while I heard her out, had only thought of hugging her and kissing her on the mouth to shut her up, said with a coldness and certainty that were unlike me, that I also had premonitions, that they were my own, and that they did not coincide with those of her master Norberto.

She clamed up immediately. Now it was she who looked disconcerted. Now surely it was her who was waiting for me to laugh so that she could see it was a joke. But that’s not what happened. I told her I was very sorry but she would have to keep searching for her Sandro somewhere else:

“Maybe you’ll find him this very night,” I said. And I left, sensing her sad eyes fixed on my predestined back, on the luminous sway of my hips.

Outside it was very cold and there was no one out on the street. But I didn’t feel like going home, so I walked a few blocks and ducked inside a bar. I ordered gin and a while later, when the sadness that alcohol fills me with began to wear off, I grew certain that yes, I did believe in love for life, and that I would like nothing more than to buy a sky blue Renault 12 with a woman who, peeing in the middle of the countryside, asks me if I’d like to grow old with her.  


1 The phrase “espejos de azabache” from Nobel Prize winning author Juan Ramón Jiménez’s “Platero y Yo”.

2 Sandro is an Argentine rock icon who rose to fame in the 1960s. He was dubbed the Argentine Elvis.

Translated by Dario Bard from “Herna o el amor como urticaria” as printed in El lugar de las despedidas, published by La Parte Maldita, 2014, available from Ediciones La Parte Maldita. The Spanish version of this story was also published in the newspaper Pagina 12.

Mauricio Koch was born in Villa Ballester, a suburb of the City of Buenos Aires, and grew up in the Province of Entre Ríos. El lugar de las despedidas was his debut work. Since then he has published Cuadernos de crianza (2016), a diary of his relationship with his daughter, and the novels Los silencios (2017) and Baltasar contra el olvido (2020).

In this interview (in Spanish) with the department of the humanities, arts and social sciences, University of Entre Ríos, Mauricio Koch discusses his novel Baltasar contra el olvido:


“Rice” by Alejandra Kamiya

Download pdf: Rice

Today is Thursday and on Thursdays we have lunch.

We talk a lot, or rather what passes for a lot for us. Neither one of us is what you would call a talker. 

Sometimes we even eat in silence. A comfortable, light silence, like the air it is made of, in which the flavors of our food can better express themselves.

Other times, when we talk, the words form small mounds that slowly transform into mountains. Between them, there are long silences, valleys of thought in which we wander.

We choose a restaurant in an old house in San Telmo. It has a patio in the middle, a square of sky all its own, with constantly changing clouds.

The conversation with my father progresses at a leisurely pace.

Suddenly, in mid-sentence, he says “… cleaning rice …” and joins his hands together, forming a circle with his fingers and moving them as if he were beating something against the edge of the table.

What is sudden is not that he said these words, but that I suddenly realized that I do not know how rice is cleaned. What happens all of a sudden is the realization that I know many things about him in just this way, without really knowing, just barely intuiting them.

I know that in his hands, my father must be holding a bundle of something that I do not see. I search my memory for the rice paddies I saw in Japan and imagine that the bundle must be those sort of green stalks.

I deduce, clumsily, that the rice must still be clinging to the plants, and that by shaking the bundle they fall loose. Like tiny fruit or seeds.

Seeing my father’s gestures, I can return to the past, to Japan or my father’s story, which is mine as well. Like the impressionists, not seeking out details but rather the light, like the way I know the trees by the sidewalk in front of my house, without knowing what kind of trees they are, but also without being able to imagine my house without them. 

This is how I converse with my father: confidently but also feeling my way.

He says, for instance, that this country has barely 200 years of history, “a child of a country”, he says, and next to the child I see an old Japan, hands with skin that covers and uncovers the shape of the bones.

If he holds his head in his hands when he speaks of running through tea fields, I know that in the sky there are planes that I don’t see and that they drop their bombs.

We look over the menu and order the dishes that we are going to share. My father never got used to eating just one dish. It was my mother who got accustomed to preparing various foods at every meal.

Then we talk about books. He is reading Mozart by Kolb, and he takes it with him wherever he goes. My father always has a book and a dictionary with him.

As for me, born and raised in Argentina, I’m too lazy to look up words in the dictionary. But not him. My Japanese father’s Spanish is richer and more correct than mine.

He tells me he had some tests done on his doctor’s orders and while he waited, he read a good number of pages.

“What tests?” I ask. “A biopsy,” he replies.

I’m afraid. I sense what is lurking around the corner and feel a certainty as concrete as night follows day, a sort of vertigo. All that I never asked over the years comes back to me. Every question comes back and brings others. I want to know why my father chose this country, this child of a country. I want to know what it was like that day he learned the war had begun, what all the days that followed were like till the day he arrived in this land. I want to know what his toys and clothes were like, what it was like to go to school during the war, what the port of Buenos Aires was like in the sixties, and, if he wrote letters to my grandmother, what did they say. I want to know the colors, the words, the aroma of the food, the houses in which he lived. He once told me that when he first arrived, he didn’t bathe in the tub, but washed himself first and only submerged himself in the water when he was clean, because that is the way it is done in Japan. I want him to tell me more things like that. Many more. All of them. I want him to tell me about every day, so that it isn’t blown away by time. Maybe to write it all down, to capture it in ink on paper forever. Where to begin? Where do the questions begin? Which is first?

I search within, as if I were lost and running in that valley of silence that suddenly opened up between the words. To lose oneself in such a vast place is like being in a prison.

When I stop looking for it, I see the question before me, as if it had been waiting for me. I look at my father and I ask it.

He smiles, takes a sheet of paper from between the pages of his book and pulls a black pencil out from his coat pocket. He draws lines very close together, some parallel and others crossing each other. Then another, perpendicular and undulating, that cuts them all near the bottom end. These are the rice plants in the water. Then he draws very small circles on the tips: the grains. He tells me the grains fill over time and he traces over the lines, but instead of straight lines, he draws lines that curve at the ends: the plants when the rice grains mature. “The more one fills out, the more educated one is, the more humble,” he says. “One bends like the rice plant from the weight of the grain.” Then he extends his hands and arms and moves them parallel to the floor. “Large clothes are laid out in the fields,” he says. I imagine them to be white and undulating slightly, like the movement of calm water.

He again joins his hands as if he is holding a small bundle and he shakes it like before, against the edge of the table. Now I see clearly, I can almost touch, the grains of rice as they drop loose.

Translated by Dario Bard from “Arroz” as printed in Los árboles caídos también son el bosque, published by Bajo La Luna, 2015, available from Bajo La Luna.

Alejandra Kamiya is an award-winning writer from the City of Buenos Aires. In addition to Los árboles caídos también son el bosque, she has published Los restos del secreto y otros cuentos (2013) and El sol mueve la sombra de las cosas quietas (2019). Her stories have also appeared in various anthologies.

In the video below, Alejandra Kamiya is interviewed by one of her mentors, author Inés Fernández Moreno, about her development as a writer.

“Boundless Road” by Ariel Urquiza

Download pdf: Boundless Road

“Is it me or is the truck making noise?” the passenger asked.

“It’s this shitty road,” the driver replied. “All these damn rocks.”

“The Dodge is hopping,” the passenger said, looking in the rearview mirror, “like a frog. It’s weird they gave El Coyote the new Dodge today. He’s going to total it. He has no clue how to drive on an unpaved road. Hell, he has no clue how to drive on asphalt! And I bet El Gota doesn’t have the balls to ask him for the wheel.”

The driver didn’t seem to be listening. He looked annoyed, as if he hated driving down that endless road that parted the desert in two. On the left, a reddish, rugged mesa. On the right, gray flatlands littered with stones that reflected varying tones in the sunlight.


“Shadow Play” photograph from ultraget.com

“El Coyote asked me for it,” said the driver. He shrugged his shoulders. “It doesn’t matter to me.”

“Did I tell you about the time El Coyote was driving and these gendarmes started chasing us? It was in Bolivia, in Santa Cruz de la Sierra.”

“Bolivia doesn’t have gendarmes.”

“What do you mean they don’t? In Santa Cruz they do. We were on a boulevard in downtown Santa Cruz with these gendarmes chasing us in a truck. El Coyote crashed into six or seven cars and then we ended up on the sidewalk. Luckily, we were armed to the teeth and used our vehicle as a barricade. We pumped that truck full of lead.”

The driver didn’t say anything. He cleared his throat, rolled down the window, spit out onto the road, and rolled it back up. Some dirt flew into the cabin. He waved his hand, as if trying to brush away the dust. Just then he noticed that the passenger had lowered his head into his hands. He was crying silently. Only the spasmodic movement of his skinny shoulders revealed that he was weeping. The driver was about to say something, but he chose not to and returned his attention to the road before him.

The passenger pulled himself together and turned to look out the window.

“Alright, alright. It was nothing,” he said after letting out a long sigh. “Look at those hills. Those colors.”

The driver didn’t look at the hills but rather at the passenger. He gave him a sidelong, grave glance, and raised his eyebrows.

“This road is long as fuck,” he said, probably just to say something, and slapped the wheel with his hand.

“I like the desert,” said the passenger. “It reminds me of when I was a kid. When my brothers and I got into trouble, my grandmother would say that she was going to leave us out in the desert so the sun could cleanse us of our sins. Imagine all the sun I would need at this point in my life.”

The driver took his hand from the gearshift and slid the seat back to give himself more room. When he finished adjusting it, he turned on the radio but couldn’t tune anything in.

“It’s been two years since this piece of shit hasn’t worked and they still haven’t fixed it,” he said. Still, he kept turning the knob from one end of the dial to the other, until he gave up and turned it off.

“Poor grandma,” said the passenger, not giving the silence a chance to grow. “When she was an old woman, she sat by her front door and stayed there all day. There comes a time when life is nothing more than memories, she used to say, and what measly things memories are.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“I don’t know. Just small talk. I don’t know. I really don’t know. Did you hear that? My stomach is growling.”

“We´ll have ourselves a hell of a meal when we get to Orán,” said the driver.

“Yeah, well, it’s not that I’m hungry. I don’t know why my belly is making that noise. Besides, Orán is still a long way off.”

“Yeah, it is.”

The metallic-blue Dodge Ram that followed them sped up sometimes and seemed about to pass them, only to slow down and fall behind, becoming a brilliant dot in the rearview mirror.

“To think that we’ve worked together for years,” said the passenger, “but we’ve never really talked, have we?”

The driver didn’t answer; not a single muscle on his face moved. Only his eyes did, every now and then, to look for the Dodge in the mirror.

“Am I wrong?” asked the passenger.

“We’ve talked a few times. Sure we have.”

“But with other people around. Just the two of us, almost never. I don’t even know where you’re from. From your accent, I’d guess Buenos Aires.”

“I was born in Venado Tuerto,” said the driver.

“Where’s that?”

“South of Santa Fe.”

“Well, I wasn’t too far off,” said the passenger. “I’m from San Juan.”


“You knew that?”

“Everyone knows you’re from San Juan.”

“Not everyone. The President doesn’t know. And I don’t think the boss does, either.”

“What do you mean? He has to know.”

“What does he know,” said the passenger, looking out the window. He remained lost in thought, contemplating the scenery. His lips, barely separated, gave way to a flaccid smile. In the midst of all the desert, a green strip appeared over the horizon, and as they approached, it stretched out like a road that ran perpendicular to the dirt and gravel path they were on.

“What are you laughing at now?” the driver asked.

“Nothing. I don’t know. At life.”

The driver glanced at him for an instant and returned his gaze to the road. Now he looked more disgusted than grave.

“At life,” repeated the passenger.

“I can’t wait till we get to Orán.”

“Fuck off with the Orán business. We both know we’re not going to Orán.”

“Oh, no? Where are we going then?”

The passenger didn’t answer.

“We were supposed to go last week,” said the driver. “I don’t think they’ll be very happy with us.”

“If you say so.”

In the rearview mirror, the driver saw that the Dodge had fallen way behind and he slowed down. There were no other vehicles on the road.

“Don’t tell the others,” said the passenger.

“Don’t tell them what?”

“What do you think? About my turning on the waterworks back there.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t ever tell them. Not now, not ever.”

“I won’t say a word about it ever.”

“Thanks. And I want you to know that I don’t hold this against you.”

The driver fidgeted in his seat.

“Hold what against me?”

“Nothing. I just wanted you to know that.”

They fell silent, listening to the sound of rocks hitting the chassis.

“My grandma was right. What measly things memories are,” said the passenger, and he rummaged for something in his pocket. The driver shifted his eyes off the road and looked at him in alarm, until he saw him pull out a wallet, and from the wallet a photo.

“Look at how beautiful she is,” said the passenger, showing him the photo.

“Who’s that?”

“My eldest daughter. She’s eight.”

“Put it away, will you? Come on, man, put it away already!”

“What’s with you? I can’t even show you a photo of my daughter?”

The driver shook his head, as if he couldn’t believe what was happening.

“Forgive me,” said the passenger, “I didn’t mean to make things harder on you. I just wanted to share something. There’s so much that runs through someone’s head at a time like this, you know?”

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

“Don’t pretend you don’t know.”

“If you’ve got so many things running through your head, why don’t you just shut up, at least for a while.”

“For that very reason. I don’t think I have to explain it to you.”

The Dodge began to flash its lights at them. Again and again. And although the sun dominated the desert, they could both see the lights. They looked in the rearview mirror and saw them.

“It’s nice here,” said the passenger. “Especially this spot. Take a look. It’s like a painting, see?”

“I already told you, I don’t like the desert.”

The Dodge honked at them.

“The boss doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know the kind of man I am,” said the passenger. “My only flaw is that I’m too trusting. I trusted Carrasco, and now it’s clear you can’t trust anyone.”

The driver didn’t pay him any attention. He continued to slow down until he came to a stop by the side of the road. The Dodge pulled over right behind them.

“I think El Coyote wants to talk to you,” said the driver. “Why don’t you get out and see what he wants?”

“I don’t think he has anything to say to me. I know him well, El Coyote. He’s not getting out of that truck. Not him, not El Gota.”

For the first time during the trip, the driver looked the passenger straight in the eyes.

“Get out,” he said.

“Can I leave my wallet? More than anything because of the photos and that sort of thing. I’d rather leave them here.”

The driver assented. The passenger pulled out several photos from his wallet and kissed each one. Then he put them away again.

“What are you looking at me like that for?” he said. “As if you don’t know I’m unarmed.”

“Come on, let’s get out of the truck already.”

They both stepped outside. The others stayed in the Dodge, no longer flashing lights or honking.

“Let’s move away from the road,” said the driver, tilting his head toward the desert.

They walked on a reddish surface, a mix of clay and sandstone. Now and then the passenger lifted his arms up and the arid, cold wind puffed up his shirt. The driver stayed a step behind, occasionally looking at the passenger’s narrow, somewhat stooped back, and at other times lowering his head to see how the clay was dirtying his boots.

When the driver stopped walking, the passenger half turned and looked at him.

“Keep walking,” the driver said. “A bit more, go on.”

“Forgive me if I made you uncomfortable. It can’t be easy being in your shoes.”

“Go on, walk.”

“I don’t want to get tired.”

“Quit fooling.”

“I wanted to make it easy for you, but have it your way,” said the passenger, as he moved away.

It was then that the driver pulled out his pistol and clicked off the safety. For a while he kept the passenger in his sights, like someone waiting for just the right moment to snap a photo. He saw the passenger walking slowly, his back to the sun, following his shadow into the vastness of the desert.


Translated by Dario Bard from “El camino sin orillas” as printed in No hay risas en el cielo, published by Corregidor, 2016, available from Cúspide. The original Spanish version of this story was also published in Página 12.

Ariel Urquiza is a writer and translator born in Tres Arroyos, Province of Buenos Aires, who presently resides in the City of Buenos Aires. His literary debut, No hay risas en el cielo (published by Casas de las Americas in Cuba under the title Ni una sola voz en el cielo), won the 2016 Casa de las Americas prize for the best short story collection of the year. An earlier, recently published novel, Ya pueden encender las luces, was a finalist for the Third Eugenio Cambaceres Prize awarded by Argentina’s National Library. Urquiza’s writings have also appeared in various anthologies, literary journals and newspapers. For interviews and reviews, visit his personal blog, Ariel Urquiza.

In this video, Urquiza appears on Canal Iberoamericano to briefly discuss the Casa de las Americas prize and the issue of drug trafficking, the central theme of No hay risas en el cielo (in Spanish).

“Divine Treasure” by Inés Garland

Download pdf: Divine Treasure

I like his face. I’d like to touch it. With the tips of my fingers at first, and then with my palms, molding my hands to its shape. Slowly. There is such craving there in my hands that my body feels fragmented. I watch him leaning over his desk, absorbed in his work, and in my heart something happens.

“Fabian.” I like saying his name. “Do you like Antonio Gades?”

I don’t know why I ask. Last night I decided I wouldn’t. When I saw the promo on TV, I thought about how much I wanted to ask him out on a theater date, but then decided I wouldn’t. I always feel naked whenever he is around, naked and with a hollow pang between my legs.

But there is another woman inside me who is apparently of a different mindset and she has just contradicted me.


Renowned flamenco star Antonio Gades.

“I think he’s brilliant,” he says, lifting his gaze up from his illustration and looking at me with those clean eyes. How much longer does he have left in his life to look through eyes like those? “He’s going to be at the Ópera.”

Exactly. I’m not going to say it.

“Why don’t we go see him?”

I just did. I just used the first person plural, placing him and me in the same sentence and asking him out despite having decided I wouldn’t, and he is saying yes and looking at me with a smile. Fabian has the most absolute smile I have seen in my life. With his eyes, and even with his body, he is making a proclamation of intense joy, a joy that should be considered a cardinal sin. I feel stupid.

He goes back to his drawing and I turn my back to him to make some phone calls. I look out the window. I see his reflection in the glass. He gets up and walks over to the reception desk—to say something to Sandra, the receptionist, no doubt. Sandra is his age, with never-ending legs and full lips that look like a red jellyfish on her wrinkle-free face, and a somewhat dumb expression, with this surprised look that she especially puts on when she is making eyes at Fabian. Playing the innocent lamb. When he isn’t looking, nothing seems to surprise her much.

On the other side of the glass partition, they are laughing and I feel a chill on my back, as if Fabian’s absence lowered the temperature in the office. I can’t work like this. I turn the chair to look at him through the door. His silhouette lifts up its arms, crosses its wrists and pirouettes. Olé, says the lamb.

I press the button on the intercom.

“Sandra, can you order me sashimi from the sushi place?” I say, and it comes out in that German guard’s voice that I hate. “You two order yourselves lunch, too,” I add, trying to soften things.

“I’m like Woody Allen,” says Fabian as he enters the office. “I want my food dead. Not sick. Not wounded. Dead.”

“Sashimi isn’t alive.”

“But it looks it.”

“You never tried it.”

“Give me milanesa and french fries. Sandra!” he runs over to the door again and walks over to reception, his back to me. I check out his butt while he asks Sandra to order him a burger from McDonald’s. He turns around. He smiles.

“You’re blushing.”

“Hamburger,” I say and wave my hand disparagingly and feel I’m blushing even more.

“What an attitude. Is a burger that bad?”

“No, it’s not that bad. But you caught me checking out your butt,” I don’t say.

Fabian’s butt is just like Romeo’s in the Zeffirelli movie, in the scene following their first night, when Romeo gets up at dawn and opens the window and sunlight floods the room, illuminating Juliette’s sleeping face—so young, Juliette—and Romeo, his back to the camera, has the firmest and most perfect butt in cinematic history. Romeo’s butt. Romeo and Juliette, so young that they think they can’t live without each other and that their love will last forever. But I imagine them, had they not had the good sense to die for love, sitting at an immensely long table, Juliette fatter and wrinkled, and Romeo with a belly and a shriveled butt, in a silence that is occasionally broken by short phrases that lead to a banal, mean-spirited fight in which Romeo makes some matrimonial remark. It always amuses me to imagine him saying, “Just like a Capulet!” with that habit married people have of blaming everything on their in-laws. That’s why I remain single. I despise mean-spirited arguments and oversimplifications.

Fabian half-closes his eyes, lowers his chin, raises an arm behind his head and lets out a poor imitation of a cante jondo as he stamps his way to his desk.

“Cut it out, Gades. The people from the agency are here.” Sandra’s blonde head pops in, with her hair carefully undone and her red jellyfish.

They both laugh. I hate it that he smiles at her with those eyes I so want to kiss.

The man from the modeling agency walks in engulfed in a cloud of tart perfume, kisses me on the cheek, lays books out all around me and sits on my desk with a cold-eyed smile.

For an hour, he and Fabian discuss the models for the ad. They baptize them with names like The Dyed Blondie, Tiny Butt and Legs; Fabian wants to make a collage using the face of one, the legs of another, and the eyes and lips of a third, and I see him standing atop a pile of women’s torsos, arms and lips, a small impassioned, fierce Napoleon. And the entire time he is standing next to me and his jeans brush up against my arm and I, all of me, is reduced to that little bit of arm that he touches.

When we are alone, he looks at me with an expression I can’t decipher and very softly brushes something off my face. He shows me a small paper circle.

“You’re very quiet,” he says.

“I’m thinking about the ad,” I lie.

Before we say our goodbyes for the day, I confirm our theater date. It is a week away. The longest week of my life.

The day finally arrives and as I lean out over my balcony, my heart stops with every car that parks on my block. I see men and women get out. From above, their legs seem long and their torsos short; ants in a hurry, and not one of them is Fabian. I retreat back inside the apartment and look at myself in the wardrobe mirror. If I keep walking back and forth from the mirror to the balcony, I’ll wear out the carpet. I don’t dare even think about what I’ll do after the show. I won’t let myself think beyond my yearning to touch his face.

The doorbell rings and I jump. In the elevator I look fixedly at my own reflection. I’m more asymmetrical than ever. Can it be that asymmetries become more pronounced with age? Fabian is leaning up against the car, waiting for me. He’s wearing jeans and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and he gives a brief and somewhat self-conscious foot-stomping performance before opening the door for me. I pretend not to look at him as he drives. He smells as if he just bathed and the hair on his nape is still wet. I’d like to sit sideways and look at him unabashedly. I bite my lips because I feel I’m about to lick them. In an unfortunate association, Romulo and Remo’s she-wolf comes to mind. I cross my legs and my arms.

“Isn’t it a little late for that?” says the German in my head.

We arrive early. We take our seats and he slumps down a bit into his and reads the program.

“Sandra was green with envy,” he says.

“Poor thing,” I say. “If I’d only known.”

What a lie. I don’t even finish the sentence. Fabian looks over at me and I could swear he has this conceited expression on his face.

Later, when the lights dim and we ready ourselves for the show, I feel his arm against the length of mine. Music erupts and a red wave of dancers floods the stage, stomping their feet with their arms raised high. Voices are raised and lowered and the dancers face each other, provoke one another, hate the other. Fabian doesn’t take his eyes off them. In the half-light, his eyes shine and from time to time he moves his head to the rhythm and his hands dance without his realizing it. I want to straddle him.

Afterwards, we search for the car in the parking garage, dancing among the columns. We dance the entire length of the second sublevel and back again. I’m stomping like mad. When we make it to the car, I think for a moment that he is going to take me in his arms, but he just opens the door for me, and as I climb inside, I just barely feel his warm hand brush my bare arm.

At the restaurant, I order wine. Fabian says he’s not used to drinking and sits there looking at me as I down a glass in a single shot.

“Bottoms up,” I say, thinking that I’m going to get drunk and then stop mentally wandering all over his body and release the she-wolf prowling inside me.

We talk about Gades. Then comes silence. He asks me about my life and I realize that we barely know anything about each other. My life seems very long to me. I don’t want to talk about my childhood or my school or my exes. I can’t think of anything to talk about at all.

Drink. Drink a man under the table. An English expression that means to drink with a man until he ends up under the table. It’s not in the dictionary. Taken literally in Spanish, it means to drink a man up from under a table. I imagine us down there, and me drinking him up, drinking Fabian up in big gulps. I order another bottle. He protests, and his speech slurs slightly. Everything seems to spin around. The conversation, the food, my desire to touch his face, so persistent. Have I become obsessed with his face? I look at him with an intensity that must be making him uncomfortable. I can see that, but I can’t take my eyes off him. I don’t know what we are talking about. I´m making a huge effort to keep from touching his face, and at the same time I know that’s what I’ve set out to do, that I’m going to invite him up to my place and that I don’t know what will happen because my imagination is running wild, but he isn’t doing anything. I can’t read his body language and I also can’t really hear what he is saying when he sprouts a second head and I can’t tell if he is smiling at me or if I just saw his pointy tongue part his lips. He insists on paying. He takes out a wad of ten peso bills from his back pocket, counts them, blushes slightly, and says he added it up wrong, his head’s no good. His heads, I think, and I’m suddenly laughing all by myself. He looks at me, puzzled.

At the entrance to my building, I invite him up to my apartment.

“Do you want to come up for a nightcap?” I ask, and I almost burst out laughing again. “A nightcap.” Who would say such a ridiculous thing at a time like this.

“Do you want to come up and see if we stop beating around the bush and have sex already?” I don’t say.

“Pervert,” the German calls me. “Perrrvert.”

Fabian holds the door open for me and follows me in without touching me.

I impeccably play the part of the sober one in charge of the situation. We are sitting on the floor. My back is leaning up against the edge of my bed. He’s leaning up against my closet door. Our legs form an L. He just asked me for a whisky. He doesn’t think mixing drinks will mess him up. I serve him one.

“What messes you up is the amount,” he says, and throws his hands open in a helpless gesture.

I open another bottle of wine for myself. My body feels flush all over, my feet are heavy and my head is light. My eyes and skin are burning. I want to be nude before him, very close to him, with my legs spread. I’m going to kneel before him and kiss his eyes, the bridge of his nose, his cheeks, and I’m going to sniff him as if he were my pup and kiss him on the mouth until I’m drenched, and avenge all the wounds he inflicted on me. I’m going to run my fingers through his hair and make him rove all over my body, smell me, touch every inch of my bare flesh. He will return my body to me, piece by piece, until I feel whole again. He stirs his whisky with a finger and takes a sip.

“I’d die to travel like that,” he says, slurring his words. He drags out his vowels as if vowels were more comfortable for him than consonants.

“Like how?” I have no idea what he’s talking about.

“Like a backpacker.”

I hear myself say that those adventures are worthless.

“I had that same dream,” my voice is telling him. I have no desire to speak about what happened twenty years ago and no desire to speak about anything else.

He stares at me blankly. I’m going to stand up and undress. That’s what I’m going to do. In the candlelight, the color of his eyes seems darker.

“Please,” I’d beg him.

But I look at him and see two blurry Fabians. I stretch out my legs and my ankle ends up against his shoe. The rough sole against my skin. If he took off his shoes, he could caress me with his feet, he could mold the sole of his foot around my ankle and maybe then kneel where my feet are and begin to touch me. My four feet. My two feet. With great effort, I join the two Fabian’s into one.

He takes another sip of whisky. The glass hits his teeth. The images and sensations of a dream I had two nights ago come back to me. I was talking with Fabian when suddenly I felt a tooth come loose. I was certain that if I kept talking, I would spit it out. I pulled it out discretely and looked at it, white and small, hidden in the palm of my hand. I pressed my lips together to conceal the gap in my mouth. In the dream, Fabian kept talking to me and I became aware that more of my teeth had come loose. I touched them lightly with my tongue. One by one. All of them were loose. I discovered in horror that I was about to lose them all. I turned my back on Fabian without excusing myself and rushed out into a corridor between two columns, where I pulled them out one tooth at a time. All of them. They came out easily, with a slight sound, a soft snap, a light sensation in my gums. I looked at the teeth in the palm of my hand. My teeth. I awoke and ran my tongue across them, confirming with relief that they were still there, that I wasn’t feeling soft, empty gums. I feel the angst of that dream once again.

I stand up. Fabian looks up at me. His expression is earnest. I think to myself that, before it’s too late, I’m going to unzip my skirt and let it fall to the floor.

“Well, I’m going to go,” he says.


“I’m going to start in Spain.”

He says Spain and turns deathly pale and looks at me with his dark eyes wide open, and in a single, quick movement, he bends over and vomits, a warm, yellow vomit that spreads to my feet. Instinctively, I step back.

He doesn’t look at me. I see him crouched at my feet and I feel he is very far away. If I stretch out my hand I won’t be able to touch him. It lasts only for a moment. Then I say it doesn’t matter. My voice just aged twenty years.

I get a bucket and a rag and clean it all up.

“What a mess,” he says. He tries to take the rag from me. Not looking at me. He is very pale and a tuft of hair is stuck to his forehead. “I’m such an ass.”

Now I do touch his face. I feel his cold sweat on the tips of my fingers. I brush his hair back.

“It doesn’t matter at all,” I say again. I’m not lying.

When he leaves, I lie down in bed with my arms and legs spread out. There’s a bitter smell. In the building across the street there’s a party going on and people are out on the balcony. A girl with her back to me is hugging a boy. They kiss. They must think they can’t live without each other.


Translated by Dario Bard from “Divino tesoro” as printed in La arquitectura del océano, published by Alfaguara, 2014, available from Amazon.

Inés Garland is a writer from the City of Buenos Aires. Her published novels include El rey de los centauros (2006), Piedra, papel o tijera (2009), which received the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (German Youth Literature Prize), El jefe de la manada(2014) and Los ojos de la noche (2016).She has also published the short story collections Una reina perfecta(2008) and La arquitectura del océano (2014). Additionally, her stories have appeared in various anthologies. Garland is also a translator and has written scripts for art documentaries in the past.

In this Spanish-language interview with the public television program Los 7 locos, Garland discusses her literary work, particularly La arquitectura del océano.


Lastly, I leave readers with this clip of an Antonio Gades performance:

“Because the Sky Is Blue” by Pablo Ramos

Download pdf: Because the Sky Is Blue

“That’s how it is,” she says, her back to me, her head in the kitchen sink as she finishes rinsing her hair. “Without you even realizing it, time’s gone by.”

Making a turban out of a towel, she turns around, takes the mate from the table and sips from the bombilla until a sucking sound signals her to add more water. She does so and hands it to me. I take care to avoid touching her hand, to avoid breaking the spell without which I would, perhaps, never have made my way to her house.

“I’m so embarrassed. You caught me right in the middle of washing my hair,” she says. “I do sometimes see that girl from Santiago del Estero. Remember her? She dated El Turco. What’s become of El Turco, I wonder.”


Mate with bombilla, kettle and pastries. Photograph by Cristina Erazo.

She sits down. I assume that while she speaks of unimportant things, she is searching for that kid I was fifteen years ago. Surely she thinks something must remain: a sign, some remnant of hidden light from someplace. Or maybe she is trying to compose herself, to absorb the shock of my visit. I’m sitting and still can’t figure out how I came to be here. How it was that this afternoon I boarded a train, walked the few blocks from the station to her house with a package of pastries, knocked on her door—after so many years—and told her I dropped by for a few mates.

She is wearing a loose floral dress. The neckline is damp and the front is completely buttoned up. She’s nervous. Sitting on the other side of the table, she hasn’t stopped talking for an instant, and now she leans forward and picks out a pastry from the unwrapped package. I can see the shape of her breasts because the light from the window turns her dress transparent. She could have been my mother, I think, and remember that once I wished she had been my mother, and even told her as much.

“Mother Teresa,” I say. But she doesn’t hear, or pretends not to.

“You’re still a wild one, huh,” she says.

Then she asks me what I’ve been up to, where I’ve been. She must wonder what’s become of that fourteen-year-old kid who thought a hooker was some sort of Olympian goddess.

“Time flies,” she says. “You wanted to be a musician or a doctor. You don’t look like either. You also wanted to be a pimp. Boy, you really cracked me up, remember? You were always so funny.”

“I got married. I got separated,” I say. “I have a son named Alejandro.”

Now she hands me the kettle for me to do the pouring. I tap out a bit of yerba on a corner of the pastry paper and reposition the bombilla. In silence, I watch her rub her head with the towel, shake her blonde hair from side to side, and then brush it with her hand, her fingers spread apart to form a comb. Teresa does these things with excessive energy, as if abrupt movements will help her think better, help her conceive of the one question that encompasses all the others that must be running through her head. She stops. Then sighs with a trace of weariness and stands up.

“You must be needing a woman,” she says.

I think about leaving. I’m not sure why I came, but it was certainly not to humiliate myself, or her. I suddenly feel scared, and sad.

“I’m going south; for some real work, you know,” I say.

Teresa neatly tears a piece of pastry paper where the bit of wet yerba left a green areola. She wraps up the yerba, goes over to the wastebasket by the sink and drops it in.

“Hey, tell me about your kid. You said his name was Alejandro? Tell me, does he look like you?”

“He’s just like his mother,” I say, and her silence must be because of the soft tone in my voice, because of the common, everyday words I just uttered. Maybe she already noticed that I despise myself, my miserable way of thinking, of dealing with the world; because I am incapable of trust, always suspecting others of hiding secret intentions they dare not reveal.

“You were beautiful, you know,” says Teresa. “I mean the way you were, the person you were, the things you said.”

She comes up behind me, puts her arms around my neck and strokes my chest. She leans against my back, presses her body against mine. I remain seated. I feel her move away and I turn in the chair. She is unbuttoning her dress. Not rapidly, but also not so slowly as to leave room for doubt. She is about to undo the last button and I fear that that act alone will sadden the world forever. I don’t say anything and she must misinterpret my silence. Her hands move up to her waist and, opening her dress, she lets me see her bare breasts, her tight, black panties, her still beautiful legs. There stands Teresa, and there she remains, close to me, offering herself, a phantom in the half-light.

“Teresa,” I say.

Not wanting to gaze upon her body, I seek out her eyes just as the sun, from behind the wall in the empty lot across the way, colors the kitchen in an artificial orange, illuminating her wet hair smelling of apple-scented shampoo, her Polish-Jewish face, a fierce grimace under the delicate features of her nose. I remain immobile, my arms by my sides. She finally looks away.

“Remember that record you gave me?” She’s turned around and is buttoning up her dress. “Remember?” she asks, her back to me. “I still have it, in its sleeve. It was when you started learning English. You were into translating songs. Sometimes I want to remember. It’s like having a splinter you can’t pull out, this not remembering.”

She goes to her room and, I can tell, she is pulling herself together so she can look me in the eyes when she returns. I can’t help but think it is part of her profession. Now she’s back, with the record in its sleeve, her eyes turned upward.

“It was about somebody crying over something stupid,” she says. “That I remember: some guy crying over something really stupid.”

“Because the sky is blue,” I say, “it makes me cry.”

“Yeah, that’s it. What a relief to finally remember, no? Because the sky is blue, it makes me cry,” says Teresa. “What a weirdo. What utter stupidity.”

Cuando lo peor haya pasado

Translated by Dario Bard from “Porque el cielo es azul” as printed in Cuando lo peor haya pasado, published by Alfaguara, 2010, available from Amazon. The title of the story refers to the song “Because” from the Beatle’s Abbey Road album.

Pablo Ramos is a writer, poet and musician from Avellaneda, Province of Buenos Aires. His short story collection, Cuando lo peor haya pasado, earned him both the 2003 Fondo Nacional e las Artes prize (Argentina) and the 2004 Casa de las Americas prize (Cuba). He has also published a collection of poems (Lo pasado pisado) and several novels, many of which are available in Spanish on Amazon.         

Additionally, Ramos is a frequent contributor to the literary magazine Lamujerdemivida. In this autobiographical article, published soon after he won the Casa de Las Americas prize, Ramos discusses his life growing up in the rough streets of Greater Buenos Aires.

This episode of the Spanish-language public television program Animal que cuenta, features Pablo Ramos talking about his short story “Cuando lo peor haya pasado”, which deals with the act of writing. Liliana Heker, his mentor, also participates in the discussion.

“Does Not Kill” by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara

Download pdf: Does Not Kill

The hand of God squeezes but does not choke. And does not kill: with His hand God gathered up the clay to make the little figurines and create man and woman in His trans image and likeness; then the Creator closed His fist and extended His index finger and pointed at the tiny pair made of dust and water, and shot the bolt of life as He exhaled a “Fiat!” that packed more Pegasus-power than there are grains of sand in the beaches and desserts of the Earth, and filled it with the spirit of divine breath that is the origin of the air we breathe, and for that very reason His hand cannot choke. And does not kill.


Photograph of Omar Octavio Carrasco published by the newspaper Los Andes.

Does not kill, he might have repeated as a prayer, like when we ask to be delivered from evil when evil’s teeth have us by the nose, like when declaring, almost without breath, that God squeezes but does not suffocate, although he is suffocating, and the soldier of Jesus Christ and the Argentine Army Omar Octavio Carrasco might have asserted it and reasserted it, because he well knew, after five years of bible school, that God vomits the lukewarm. This was not the time to wonder if He hawked out the hot and shat out the cold, he was only certain in that minute that could be his last that he should not doubt like the lukewarm though he doubted when he was gasping like a fish because he was drowning, because instead of air he was taking in a sweet liquid that was perhaps God’s vomit, and before the liquid filled him, blows had rained down on him like manna, and one, the final blow, hit him like a bolt from God: he saw it coming with the one eye he still had only half closed and with the half of a vocal cord that still vibrated he screamed no when the officer’s boot that he saw swing away at full speed swung back like an increasingly larger missile, and he closed his eyes when the tip dug into his ribs and punctured a lung that began to fill with blood and he began to breathe His vomit instead of His breath, that air with which He filled the earth so that birds may fly and trees may sway and all the creatures He created may breathe, what for, not to be alone perhaps, and so there was something that God was missing, doubted Carrasco as the brunt of a kick entered his body and never again left, that kick would be inside him forever, and forever lasted about twenty four hours: it had come at him with all the momentum a well-trained, long-legged military man could muster, he must have seen it coming like one sees a bomb fall, splitting the air God made for birds and for airplanes and surely also for missiles, that’s how Carrasco must have seen the boot that ended up killing him from respiratory arrest even though the soldier said to himself that the hand of God squeezes but does not suffocate and that the mouth of God damns but also exhales the divine breath of life into the dust that we are, and that if He does kill, it is those who are evil, but not since Jesus Christ, and besides he, a soldier of the Motherland as of three days ago, but soldier of the World Evangelical Army Torch of Faith since the beginning, he was named one of the chosen around his eighth month of gestation when his father drove off the road from Cutral Có to Trenque Lauquen, and while the van rolled he saw the cargo of headless, featherless chickens fall, he saw them slide down the side of the road as if a river of dead chickens flowed out of the rear of the delivery van, a wave of chickens rose up, fell forcefully and lifted a cloud of dirt from the earth that shone like diamonds, shitty, good-for-nothing earth, not even fit to plant soybeans, that plague, one of the latest, one of the five horsemen, earth that was so shitty it was like damned from its origins, but its particles shone in the evening sun by the side of the road while Don Francisco Carrasco, chicken deliveryman, son of an oil worker who wanted a better life for him and had gotten him hired as a farmhand at the Desertpollo farm, where the boy had risen to the post of deliveryman and so had gotten married and unwittingly planted the seed of the multitudes that would be his issue, and he learned of it then, when the dead chickens flew through the same air in which the shitty earth shone and he bumped his head against the ceiling of the van’s cabin and was afraid he’d lose his job or die, and the desert sun sunk and the pinkish yellow chickens looked like pale sun sparks and the sun looked always the same despite his changing viewpoint, which spun inside the van that fell, rolling over itself, and from that sun that shot out chickens like pale sparks came a voice that said, “Do not be afraid,” using the Spanish tú although Francisco Carrasco was Paraguayan and used vos with everyone, even with the general when he did his military service. “Do not be afraid, my son,” said the voice. “You are saved. And your issue shall be multitudes.” At that moment, Francisco passed out peacefully, and hours later he was found and taken to the hospital, and from the fright he gave her, his wife went into premature labor and that is when he was born, already in the grace of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, the world evangelical soldier Omar Carrasco. From God’s words, the new father thought his firstborn would initiate a long line of children but no, the soldier’s mother was only impregnated once more, and many times they asked themselves what had God meant to say to his beloved chicken deliveryman Francisco Carrasco by “your issue shall be multitudes” and they speculated with Sarah and Abraham, who had Isaac at the age of one hundred, but even so they prayed and prayed for an explanation. They would finally understand eighteen years after the day of His message, exactly one month after he had taken his only male child to the door of the barracks for him to fulfill his duty to the Motherland. It was the second time they had been outside of Cutral Có since their boy’s birth.

His father had driven him to the barracks in the van he bought after he totaled the previous one that very moment he had come to know Christ. He told him the military would make a man of him, that things would be different from how they were in their small village. The boy had replied, “Don’t worry, Papa, I’ll make you proud.” And in he went with the Bible under his arm, singing, “Forever forward we march with Christ, with his word, the word of truth. Ready like soldiers, for Jesus Christ is our general. We are soldiers of Jehovah. We are soldiers of Christ.” That was March 3rd, 1994. He was beaten on the 6th by an officer and two soldiers. And his body reappeared in the military installations exactly one month later, on April 6th. No cause-and-effect relationship can be deduced between the day he entered and the day he left the barracks. What can be inferred is that God, if He does exist, is not particularly attentive to the requests of his soldiers. Because the boy must have asked Him to make them stop beating him, to keep them from killing him, to let him return to Cutral-Có to ride his bicycle and compose songs for Him: besides Jesus, his passions were playing the guitar at temple, River Plate and biking. For this favor, he must have promised some impossible feat: to forsake River for Boca, or to stop jerking off, or to go to Peru to preach the Gospel to the Shining Path. He must have prayed, he must have pleaded and he must have promised anything, but neither the Argentine Army nor General Jesus were moved, and so no more bicycle, no more jerking off and no more chicken deliveries—he had begun to work with his father—for His soldier Carrasco. Few photos of him remain. In fact, just two. The last one must have been taken the day before his death: his head is shaved, eyes forward, dressed in his army uniform. He was brown-skinned, slanty-eyed, and grew to be no more than five foot, seven inches tall. He would have likely grown taller; he was only 18 when he was surprised to learn the difference between being a soldier of Christ and being a soldier of the Argentine Army, the institution that brought him death. And fame that would have been difficult for him to achieve had he survived.

He was a shy kid. And his habit of keeping a Bible under his arm or next to his bed or on his pillow must have seemed non-negotiable, something he owed God, his General.  To the officer who gave him the final kick it must have seemed queer, and he took it upon himself to make him a man. And kaput, no more world for Omar Octavio Carrasco: the Lord called him into His presence. Four months later, while his murder, a national scandal, was being investigated, the sacrifice of the soldier Carrasco was accepted. It is not clear if it was because of General Jesus or the polling firm surveying the citizenry’s voting intention, or a whim of the commander and chief of the Armed Forces of the Nation, President Carlos Menem, or all of these combined, for they are not mutually exclusive.

And his issue was multitudes.


TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: This story refers to the murder of Omar Octavio Carrasco soon after his arrival at the military base in Zapala, Province of Neuquén, to perform his mandatory military service. The media scandal and public outcry that resulted from the discovery of his corpse after a prolonged cover-up by the Argentine army, led then President Carlos Saúl Menem to issue a decree eliminating the mandatory military service requirement. President Menem signed the decree on August 31, 1994 and was then reelected on May 14, 1995.


Anthology (2)


Translated by Dario Bard from a manuscript of No mata provided by Sylvia Iparraguirre. This story was posted on the website CordobaMata and appeared, together with this translation, in the bilingual Antología del cuento argentino/Argentine Short Story Anthology. The Anthology was edited and selected by Sylvia Iparraguirre and published by the Cultural Affairs Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship on the occasion of the 2014 Guadalajara International Book Fair.    

Gabriela Cabezón Cámara is a writer from San Isidro, Province of Buenos Aires. Her short stories have appeared in various anthologies and magazines. She has also written the critically acclaimed novel, La Virgen Cabeza (2009), and the novellas Le viste la cara a Dios (2011) and Romance de la negra rubia (2014), as well as the graphic novel Beya (2013), illustrated by Iñaki Echeverría.  

In this radio interview with Maria Ines Nouzeilles of FM Plaza, Cabezón Cámara discusses her novella Romance de la negra rubia:

The 1997 movie Bajo Bandera is also based on the murder of Omar Carrasco:

“Horse” by Hernán Ronsino

Download pdf: Horse

That anxious horse
of summer
Haroldo Conti

1. Peaches

Polo and Cachila receive the order. Almada, leaning against the door to the shack, says, “You’ll have to go fetch the horse and bring him back before nightfall.” The horse grazes by the river. They left him there on Sunday, after the harness races. He’s a brown bay. His name is Chúcaro Trelpón. And, in a stunning upset, he won the long-distance race. Now a certain Samudio, it seems, wants to buy him.

Martin Davey

“Brown Horse Drinking from Stream” by Martin Davey. Image courtesy of the artist.

The river is on the other side of town. So it’s nearly thirty kilometers there and back. Cachila soaks his head by the side of the shack, spreading his legs wide under a leaky faucet surrounded by mud puddles full of flies. Two or three of Almada’s children, their cheeks streaked with dry snot, watch Cachila soak his hair and shiver from the sensation of cold water running down his nape. Polo, shirtless, a sling hanging from his neck, waits for him in the street, mounted on the bicycle. Cachila then climbs up on the crossbar. And Almada’s children push the bicycle to help them get underway. Then it is Almada’s skinny, famished dogs that escort them about as far as the abandoned ceramics factory. And from that point they will ride on alone and hear, the two of them, Polo and Cachila, nothing more than the murmuring of the pigeons and a few of the birds of the afternoon siesta.

Polo strains to pedal on. With each turn of the pedals, he just barely brushes Cachila’s scrawny thighs and, also, touches, with the tip of his chin, his straw-like wet hair. What does Cachila smell of? Smoke? Burnt, wet wood? Just before crossing the paved road—the main street, as they call it—he begins to sweat, to feel the weight of Cachila on the crossbar, even though Cachila is as light as a feather. Then they stop on the paved road because two trucks loaded with cargo are coming the other way. Cachila jumps off and Polo, more relaxed, rests with a leg on the ground. Polo thinks of ants. Whenever he has a moment to himself, he thinks of ants; he has been told that the queen ant is as big as a toad. An ant like a toad. The loaded trucks grumble and as they pass they let loose a shower of cereals that leap off from underneath the blue tarpaulins; the tarpaulins flap from the heavy speed of the Bedfords. Now Polo and Cachila don’t have the help of the Almada children to push them off, they must manage to resume the journey on their own. And this is how they do it: Polo pedals and Cachila runs alongside and then hops on the crossbar. When they do this, after having crossed the paved road and hearing the grumbling of the trucks fade away, the bicycle wobbles a bit. But then, after a brusque struggle, Polo reins it in and regains control. And they go on.

Now they know that behind the sewage treatment canal is the Schultz farm. They also know that they haven’t been by there since that late Sunday afternoon when Polo got snagged in the barbed wire and saw Schultz’s face behind a tightly held carbine: one eye closed and dried out words coming furiously out the mouth. He learned then, Polo, what fear really was. Cachila managed to run away. He ran so far and blindly that he fell into one of the ditches next to the canal. It was a miracle he didn’t break a leg. But now they know, both of them, that when they cross the sewage treatment canal they’ll have to, for the first time since that late Sunday afternoon, contend with the Schultz farm. And this is why they feel, both at the same time, that urge for revenge.

Schultz is actually the farm’s caretaker. The owner is a man from Mercedes that is never there. It is Schultz who lives and works there. That is why the farm is known as the Schultz farm. The property has a peach orchard. On late Friday afternoons, during the summer, some trucks enter and, two or three hours later, when it’s almost night, they leave with their cargo and then, on weekends, the peaches are sold on those roadside stands that also sell cheese and salami.

That place is a challenge. When they first tried it, it went badly. That’s why it’s a challenge. For example: it was easier to trespass on the Laviña farm. They would always sneak onto old man Laviña’s property, with its plums and blackberries. But old man Laviña never said a word to them. One time he caught them hanging off of a plum tree. And Mrs. Laviña invited them into the house and took out a tray from the refrigerator and they ate some very fresh plums. And afterwards they drank water and slept under the vines in the patio. But the Schultz farm is a challenge. Because it is guarded. And also because they already tried it once and got caught.

After crossing the sewage treatment canal, a wide curve opens up and as they round it, off to the sides, the fruit-bearing trees of the Schultz farm appear, together with the soft, warm aroma of ripe peaches. So Cachila hops off the bicycle. Polo is not so sure. Polo wants to dig a hole and see the true size of the queen. Cachila, however, wants to go in and break something. That’s what he says. Polo leaves the bicycle in the ditch by the road, under the shade of the trees, and makes it clear that if they go in, it’s to steal peaches and nothing more. Cachila, excited, insists on breaking something. And this time Polo doesn’t say anything. He looks at the ground, sitting in the ditch: if he had a bit more time, he’d dig a hole right then and there. “Have it your way,” says Cachila, resigned, “but we have to see where Yul is.” Polo is skilled at that sort of thing: he climbs up the nearest eucalyptus tree. There isn’t a tree that is harder to climb than a eucalyptus. But Polo is like a cat. He climbs the tree with unbelievable ease. There he is: scraping up his hands and knees, ascending. As he climbs, the world changes. Its features and his perception of it begin to mutate. And so he reaches the first branch. Stuck to his skin are those dried up bits of bark that are found on eucalyptus trees. And he is smeared with their smell. It gets in his skin. Now Cachila, for Polo, is a tiny body trapped in the shadow drawn on the ground by the eucalyptus tree. He’s at a good height. Five or six meters. Cachila signals from below. Says things. Polo can now view the full expanse of the Schultz farm, the sun violently hitting the land. And behind the railway bridge, toward the area of the hospital, a dark storm front approaches. Then Cachila shouts: “You see him?” Polo nods. Schultz is lying in the grass, under the shade of a willow tree, next to the house. The dogs he doesn’t see. But Schultz is resting, with a straw hat covering his face, so the dogs must be near him. “You stay there. I’m going in,” orders Cachila. And to Polo it seems like a good plan. He rests on a branch, watching Cachila crawl under the barbed wire and also keeping tabs on Schultz’s siesta. And so things stand. Polo’s gaze now contemplates some columns of white smoke rising up behind the sewage treatment sheds. Cachila moves into Schultz’s territory. Polo doesn’t know what Cachila is up to, but if Cachila keeps going in that direction, in a few minutes Polo won’t be able to see him. That possibility begins to worry him. One of Schultz’s dogs appears under the shade of the willow tree and then lies down next to his master. Polo has lost sight of Cachila: he tracks his path by the slight movement of peach tree branches. And those movements confirm his fears. Cachila advances toward the danger zone. Polo concludes that it’s too late for him to do anything about it. If he shouts, he’ll wake Schultz up and alarm the dogs. He must trust Cachila. The birds, at this hour, do not sing. The only sound that can be perceived is the somewhat muted murmur of distant motors. Then, when Polo begins to think, once more, about the size of the queen ant, a scream breaks out.

Following the scream, Polo sees Schultz stir, jump up and rush into the house. The dogs run among the trees, barking. Something shoves through under the branches. Polo makes out the path of Cachila’s return. Then Schultz reappears holding a carbine. He exits the house and looks out into the distance. Polo senses he’s been spotted, that Schultz has seen him up in the eucalyptus tree while strident barking is heard in the background and Cachila’s skinny body moves among the peach trees. Schultz aims at him. Polo, terrified, drops from the eucalyptus, hugging its trunk. He falls, scraping his entire body. Fear, at that very moment, overpowers pain. He gets on the bicycle. Cachila is about to emerge from the orchard. The dogs are also nearing the road. Polo begins to pedal. Cachila appears a few meters ahead. He yells at him to hurry. “Come on!” Cachila shouts. “Come on!” Polo exerts himself. He pedals faster. The dogs will appear at any moment. Cachila runs towards the bicycle. His shirt, stuffed and folded over, looks like a kangaroo’s pouch. The dogs are at the property line but can’t get through the barbed wire. They become frenzied but can’t pass. That, for the two boys, comes as a bit of a relief. Cachila climbs up on the crossbar. “Let’s get out of here,” he says, “Go!” Polo pedals. He thinks of unimportant things, like, for instance: that Cachila’s hair is now dry. He thinks of meaningless things while Cachila keeps shouting; they know, both of them, that once they turn the curve leading to the railway bridge they’ll be safe. What does Cachila smell of? Smoke? Burnt, wet wood? What does he smell of? Polo thinks these meaningless things as they take the curve that will save them at full speed. A victory cry ripens in their throats. The cry rises, twisting, like the columns of white smoke behind the sewage treatment sheds that neither of them can see at the moment: but Schultz’s face, next to a post, aiming at them, appears meaninglessly, like Polo’s thoughts. “Don’t stop!” Cachila yells out. “Don’t stop!” And he half closes his eyes. Polo hides his face behind Cachila’s back. “Don’t stop!” he insists as they wait for the shot. Polo thinks: What is it like to get shot? And now, suddenly, he feels his body on fire. The bicycle swerves at full speed. Then they hear Schultz’s voice, as they pass by, simulating two shots: “Bang! Bang!” he shouts. They feel nothing more than a brief moment of disorientation before they lose control on the curve’s loose, sandy dirt. Polo ends up by the ditch; Cachila hangs on a bit longer, tottering, but he also finally falls, and ends up on top of the bicycle. A few peaches roll in the street. And those victory cries that climbed so hurriedly up their throats, now come out softly in the pitiful form of a lament.

2. The River

The summer storm—that dark front that was spotted over the area of the hospital—strikes just before Polo and Cachila make it to the railway bridge. For that reason they have to run, because the rains are accompanied by powerful gusts of wind. But their running doesn’t keep them from arriving at the bridge soaking wet. Cachila throws down the bicycle, all twisted, against the iron pillars. The handlebars are bent off-center and the wheels are broken. Polo, dripping wet, looks at the remains of Almada’s bicycle. And tries to think of how to fix it. But he soon gives up. He whistles, folding his tongue up in his mouth, as a call to Cachila, who has been looking out in the distance in the direction of the area of the hospital. And he throws him two green peaches. “Eat,” he says. After a while, the sky begins to clear up. A soft light appears over the sewage treatment area. The raindrops begin to fall as if wrung out. And, gradually, it stops raining. From the bridge, the smell of wet dirt invades the air they breathe.

Almada’s bicycle is no longer of any use on this journey. They leave it under the bridge. The sun’s reappearance imposes, gradually, a heavy, humid air. Weariness and thirst take hold of them both. Cachila is the mastermind. He’s the one who always gives the orders. He now tells Polo, who sits down under the shade of a bead tree, to call at the Barrante house for water. Polo refuses. Although he’s thirsty, he refuses. He says no, shaking his head. Cachila looks at him fixedly. It bothers him when his orders aren’t obeyed. But his thirst is stronger than any anger. Standing before the gate of polished wood, Cachila can hear the assorted voices of the children on the other side: splashing, laughing, in short, abundance. What does Cachila imagine, there, standing under a fierce sun, before a gate of polished wood? That is what Polo wonders, crossing his legs in the shade of the bead tree. Cachila works up his courage and gives a heavy knock, with his knuckles, on the polished wood. The gate shakes. The laughing and splashing stops. He hears footsteps running on the warm, soft lawn. Everything is suspended in the silence of the afternoon. Everything is devoured by the distant sounds of cicadas  and motors. But there is no response. And so Cachila insists. He raps his knuckles against the polished wood. “Please,” he says, “can you give us some water?” On the other side, there is some brief restlessness. And then again the muted murmuring, the apparent calm, the quiet roar of a faraway motor. Polo, under the shade, senses something is wrong. So he gets up and heads towards the gate. But before he gets there, he sees how a sheet of water falls, violently, against Cachila’s skinny body. No doubt, thinks Cachila thoroughly soaked, their polished cars are parked under the shade of the willow trees and the grown men, relaxing on recliners and drinking fresh lemonade, are egging the kids on. That’s what Cachila thinks. And looking at Polo, he takes the sling from around his neck. And he climbs, not saying anything, puffing with rage, on Polo’s body. What does Cachila smell of? He waits for calm to more or less reign once again on the other side. And, when no one expects it, perched on Polo’s shoulders, he leans his body over the white wall. He takes aim, threateningly, with a panoramic sweep. He sees almost everything he had imagined. The kids having fun like hyenas, the polished cars under the shade and, finally, his eyes come to rest on the house with its large window. Everything happens so quickly. The glass explodes together with screams of panic from the Barrantes.

They run. Cachila can’t stop thinking of how much water he saw in that blue swimming pool. They run, while in the distance a soft rumbling clambers closer, taking possession of the afternoon air, growing louder as they approach the gravel road. They run agitatedly, their temples throbbing from the effort: Cachila thinks of broken glass, Polo only feels the small stones he steps on through his wet rope-soled sandals. The road appears suddenly and then, neatly silhouetted, the shape of a truck loaded with grease and picked-clean bones, moving, roaring. Cachila orders, “Come on!” And he keeps running with the intention of climbing up on the running board. Polo looks on from behind, tired. Polo wants to dig up the ground, to see the size of the queen. The truck, every time it accelerates, spews black smoke. Cachila climbs on, but on the rear bumper. He says, looking back, “Come on!” He stretches out his hand. Polo puts all he’s got into it. He stretches out his hand, brushes Cachila’s fingers. “Come on,” he hears. The back smoke envelopes them. Polo, breathing in the gas oil emitted by the truck as he struggles onto the rear bumper, thinks of meaningless things, of the oil processing plant, of the smell, for example, of heaps of dried sunflowers behind the oil processing plant.

The driver is Aceituno. He’s transporting the grease and bones to the meat processing plant. Polo, clinging to the back, recognizes him. And he knows the truck has to turn before the small hill, at the intersection with La Salada, and that’s where they ought to hop off and then follow the path that will finally lead them to the river. Polo looks at Aceituno’s head, framed by a small window, in the cabin of the Ford. He sees him as if he were a wax figure or an image on a stained glass window. An army of flies hovers over the cargo of grease. “Now,” Polo shouts as the Ford shifts into low gear to turn onto La Salada. And that’s when they hop off. The truck staggers to one side as it makes the tight turn. Then it shifts gears again and clambers along thunderously, releasing a puff of black smoke, towards the meat processing plant. As its rumbling fades, Polo and Cachila find the path they were looking for.

They both now know that with a sign, with a slight movement of a leg, with a simple juke even, by either one of them, the race is on. And that fills them with excitement. It’s Polo who takes off without warning. Cachila, then, tries to catch him. But Polo has already bolted. And despite the weariness he feels in his body, despite the falls and the downpour, he advances down the gravel path, stepping forcefully with his black sandals. There are two hundred meters to the river. On the sides of the path grow leafy trees and plants that spread a humid shadow. They run. The water awaits. Polo thinks that the dirt underground, like where the queen ant lives, for example, is fresh like this place. They run. The dense, brown water awaits. Now a hand reaches out towards Polo. Cachila tries to push him out of the way. What does Cachila smell of? But they struggle. As they run, they struggle. And they laugh. Now there is nothing before their eyes but the river, dazzling under the blue sky. On one side mounds of dirt. And on the other, standing very still, its head buried in the dry grass, Almada’s horse, startled. They run. The river, warm and brown, like glass encrusted in the earth, finally, belongs to them.

Argentine Short Story Anthology

Translated by Dario Bard from a manuscript of “Caballo” provided by Sylvia Iparraguirre. This story was printed in the newspaper Pagina 12 (January 7, 2014) and later appeared, together with this translation, in the bilingual Antología del cuento argentino/Argentine Short Story Anthology. The Anthology was edited and selected by Sylvia Iparraguirre and published by the Cultural Affairs Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship on the occasion of the 2014 Guadalajara International Book Fair.  

Hernán Ronsino is a writer, university professor and sociologist born in Chivilcoy, Province of Buenos Aires. He currently resides in the City of Buenos Aires. Ronsino’s literary works include the short story collection Te vomitaré de mi boca (2003) and the novels La descomposición (2007), Glaxo (2009) and Lumbre (2013), collectively known as the Pampa Trilogy. His personal blog is Silabas Negras.

In this interview, aired by Radio Sur TV, Hernán Ronsino discusses his second novel, Glaxo:

“The Storm” by Sylvia Iparraguirre

Download pdf: The Storm

Isla de los Estados, 1902

When the ship’s silhouette was nothing more than a dot on the horizon, the sailor Novello knew that the captain would not turn back, and that certainty struck him like a blow and left him stunned: he had been abandoned on Isla de los Estados. His teeth chattered and his entire body began to tremble. No one would be coming for him. The ocean currents and the fog around the island were fearsome; they wrecked ships against the rocks as if they were empty barrels. In a fit of cowardice, he blamed his mother for everything. Six months earlier, sitting across from him at the kitchen table, his widowed mother had said, now that he was nearly twenty years old, he ought to enlist in the coast guard where, according to her, he’d “have a future”. And what a future! He looked around. It had snowed a few days earlier and good-sized patches of white carpeted the dark, rocky landscape. The mountainsides and fiords, covered in ferns and thick woods of coihue, displayed a somber beauty, but Novello did not notice it. Freezing to death, he instinctively took to walking, not knowing why or where he was headed.

The Storm by Sylvia Iparraguirre

Isla de los Estados, photograph from the blog Expedition Yahgan.

In truth, if Novello was now in a predicament it was because the San Juan de Salvamento Penitentiary was on the island. Or at least it had been till a week before, when the authorities decided to relocate it to Ushuaia and the prisoners, taking advantage of the situation, rioted and fled. In barges, they set off to cross Le Marie Strait with the aim of reaching Tierra del Fuego and their freedom. When the coast guard was notified, the base at Rio Gallegos where Novello was stationed dispatched a ship to quash the inmate uprising. But they arrived too late; the prisoners had already vanished with what was left of the prison staff in pursuit. The abandoned penitentiary, colder than the elements themselves, and the cemetery connected to the far wall, infused the sailors with superstitious fear; they felt it was an inhuman place, unfit even for murderers.

As if he couldn’t bring himself to accept what was happening, Novello went over their disembarkation on the island again and again. They had been given arms and ordered to comb a wide area around the penitentiary. In a confused allocation of manpower, he found himself forming part of a raiding party and got lost. Completely disoriented in the island’s desolate solitude, he could not find the way to the penitentiary. Hours later, he saw the ship pass before the cliffs, heading south, to Ushuaia. His post was in the hold; he realized that, even when they did notice him missing, they would not turn back. The captain knew, as well as they all did, that if the fugitives made it onto Fuegian soil, they would seek refuge in the estancias, and they were armed. Novello did not expect the ship to return for at least two or three days.

He was nonetheless fortunate, Novello thought, that they had been ordered to disembark with their knapsacks. He took quick inventory: two cans of meat, some biscuits, a knife, a length of rope and a few other items. He made his way down the cliff to the horseshoe-shaped beach where a colony of penguins nested. They barely noticed him, but Novello found comfort in seeing living beings that quacked and moved in that desolate place. He sat on a boulder and was eating a biscuit when a rock fell from behind him and rolled to the edge of the surf. He jumped up with his rifle at the ready and thought he saw a shadow disappear over the ridge. He tried to calm himself—Novello told himself aloud that he was nervous—and walked along the side of the cliff looking for refuge. After a short while, he came across the mouth of a cave in the rock. He inspected it and decided to camp there. He was carrying an armful of dry branches when he once again had the unmistakable sensation that someone was watching him from the cliff tops. He dropped the kindling, swung his rifle upwards and fired.

“Who goes there!”

The loud roar of the shot ricocheted off the steep creases of the coast and was eventually swallowed by the constant howl of the wind. Never before seen wild animals, some strange and furious creature of the island, took chaotic shape in Novello’s mind. He climbed desperately and, panting, stood facing the deserted hills with the large patches of snow that he had walked among hours earlier.

The shadows of twilight fell suddenly from the mountains and almost without any transition the island was submerged in profound darkness. Looking at the fire he had labored to light in the back of the cave, Novello felt all alone in this world, numbed by fear and cold. The wind’s mournful wailing rose and fell. He fanned the flames and made himself as comfortable as he could with a blanket over his shoulders. Fumbling in the layers of clothes he wore, he searched for the watch that hung on his chest, the only thing his father had bequeathed him: seven at night. It gave him weak comfort to know the time. It was something that still connected him to the others, to his home, his barracks. One of his shipmates, or his mother even, might be reading seven off some watch. By then, they must know that he had been left behind. In the midst of these thoughts, he lost track of the dimension of time.

When he awoke, the fire had been out for hours. With his body still stiff, he emerged into the gray light of a frigid morning that drove him to move and jump until he could feel the toes at the end of his feet once more. To the south, the sky foretold of a coming storm. In the distance he made out a dark shape that had caught his eye the day before, about a hundred meters from the mouth of the cave. He walked toward it. When he got there, he stood looking at the boat for a good long time. Its hull had been split and only half of it remained; it looked like the stern. The tide had swept it, overturned, far from the surf for who knew how long. Large iron bands with enormous rivets still kept the planks solidly joined. A few meters of rusty chain hung from a ring in the midst of a colony of limpets. A whaler from some ancient ship, an old sailboat, thought Novello, the remains of some shipwreck. It would make a good lid for the cave; it would protect him from the storm that was about to break at any moment now. He took off his knapsack, put his shoulder under the edge and pushed up. The hull, which was partly buried in the sand, barely budged a few centimeters. He got under it and, squatting, he curved his back and pushed. It took him tremendous effort, but this time the boat yielded just as a sharp pain ran through his hand. A nail in a protruding wood plank had pierced his left hand. He remained motionless, trying to gather up the energy to slip out from beneath the boat and wash his hand in the sea. When he stuck his head out from under the boat, a tall man was pointing the barrel of his own rifle at him. Novello perceived it all at once: the long mussed up hair, the days’ long beard, the filth, the striped garments of the penitentiary. The man wore a blanket on his head. From his sickly, bearded face, the man’s eyes, sunken and dull, stared at him fixedly. With the gun, he signaled for Novello to put his hands up. With his voice caught in his throat, he obeyed. The sea had become rough and the wind’s skittish whistling announced a fierce squall. The man clutched at the blanket that had blown off his head. Without a word, they both sought refuge under the boat. Novello saw the barrel of the gun close to his face, guarded by the prisoner’s sunken eyes. In a sudden impulse, he threw himself on his captor and struggled against a body that turned out to be nothing but skin and bones. The man was corpulent, but he barely defended himself.

“And now! What are you going to do … !” Novello shouted, once again the master of the rifle, which he pointed unsteadily at the prisoner, his arms transmitting his own trembling to the weapon. He crawled under the meager space beneath the boat and aimed at the escapee.

“Show me your hands! Put them together in front of you, I say!”

He tied the prisoner’s wrists with the length of rope and knotted a handkerchief over his wound. Regaining a bit of his composure, he took out the watch: twelve noon. Outside, the wind had died down. If he was lucky, he still had four or five hours of daylight.

“Get out,” he ordered.

He looked at the fugitive more closely. His initial fear having subsided, a comforting thought entered Novello’s mind. This unexpected turn of events would make him look good in the eyes of his commanding officer, not to mention his shipmates. Perhaps they would even give him a medal or some sort of reward. For a moment, he forgot where he was and gave himself over to the scene of a celebrated return to Ushuaia and Río Gallegos. His mother … the force of the wind pushed him forward, disintegrating these triumphal images. The sky was a dark purple and to the south, very low on the horizon, a milky splendor with livid edges signaled that there was no time to waste.

“Grab hold of the chain! Help me!” he ordered.

The prisoner obeyed and together they pulled until the half-boat came free from the sand and began to move. At the mouth of the cave, they both lay, panting, against the hull; with one final push, they managed to get it upright and lean it over the entrance. As soon as they recovered, Novello said:

“Got to gather firewood.”

The prisoner wrapped the blanket around his head and exited first. Low, black clouds flattened the contours of the island and hurried them without a word said between them. Back in the cave, ashen rays of light filtered through the planks of the dilapidated boat.

“Build a fire,” said Novello, tossing him the matches. He rested against the stone wall, exhausted, and pointed at the tin cup and the canteen that hung from a rope tied around the prisoner’s waist.

“Give them to me.”

The prisoner handed them over. Novello drank some water, put the cap back on the canteen and placed it beside him. Gusts of frigid air made the fire crackle as it grew larger, warming his legs and giving him the momentary illusion that everything would be all right. The prisoner had covered himself up with a blanket and stretched his hands toward the fire, which shone mercurial reflections on his gaunt face. To mask the anxiety he felt as the imminent storm approached, Novello took out a can of meat and set to opening it with the knife. The gun lay across his lap, the barrel pointed at the prisoner.

“I wonder what you did to end up here,” he mused aloud to cover up the sound of the wind. “I bet you killed a man, or a lot of men.”

He got the can open and held it near the fire. He looked at the prisoner and became emboldened.

“Answer me! Why are you here?”

And then the cave’s cold air got inside Novello’s bones because the prisoner, staring at him, opened his enormous mouth and showed him the stump that was left of his tongue. Novello’s jaw dropped. It took him a moment to recover from the shock.

“So they cut out your tongue … A snitch, are you … ” His voice trailed off and he was left scowling, looking at the can. What kind of man was he that they would do that to him? Novello did not like to think about it at all. Maybe it was an accident, he thought; the man had a scar on the side of his face that he had not seen earlier because of the beard. With a snort of impatience, he put some meat on two biscuits and handed it to his captive. The prisoner made it disappear in a second. Novello rummaged in his knapsack and his eyes lit up: the bag of yerba mate. He filled the tin cup with water and poured the yerba mate in it. Happily, he waited; maybe in the morning the ship would be off the coast. The hot mate tea was the best thing that happened to Novello since he had been left alone on the island. He handed the cup to the prisoner. A short while later, as if remembering he had something urgent to do, he took out his watch: six in the evening. A hollow shriek of wind announced the storm’s outbreak. Here it comes, he thought. He undid the dirty handkerchief and inspected the wound in his hand. He did not like how it looked.

Right then, the storm broke. Heavy rain and gale-force winds buffeted the hull, which shook furiously, showing that it was wholly insufficient. Novello shivered and tried to keep the fire alive. The waves of cold air became increasingly more intense and came out of the cave walls themselves. At one point that night, Novello no longer felt his feet. Much later, at least it seemed that way to him, the prisoner sat beside him and leaned into him. With his hands tied, he straightened out the blanket and the cape, covering both their backs. Their bodies together generated some heat. Outside, it seemed the entire island was being pulled apart. Novello buried his face in his arms, which were crossed over his knees, and in that position could see the half-boat trembling like a leaf in a hurricane, like a cardboard door shaking off its hinges. If the boat were blown away, they were dead men, he thought, without much concern in his muddled mind as his body cramped up and sleep overtook him, sinking him slowly into the darkness. Somebody shook his shoulder and he could barely lift his face. In the prisoner’s sunken eyes, Novello could see the reflection of the dying fire. The man thrust his hands forward. Novello could not feel his body; an irresistible need to sleep overtook him.

“Ah, you want me to free you … and then … ” His eyes closed.

The prisoner gestured frenetically, pointing at the entrance, and shook him again.

“Let me be.” Novello could barely move, and with great effort he aimed the rifle at the prisoner.

As if not caring if a bullet passed through him, the man threw himself on the rifle, the barrel sinking into his gut. A horrible, guttural sound came out of the fugitive’s throat; with a sweep of his hand, he took the weapon away from Novello and threw it on the other side of the fire. Taking hold of his captor by the shirt, the prisoner lifted him up brutally and pushed him towards the mouth of the cave, where he held his hands before the sailor’s face. Novello’s blood began to circulate once more; he was able to stand on his feet and muster the energy to pull out his knife. Feeling as if he were drunk, he clumsily cut the rope. Move the boat farther into the cave, the prisoner’s freed hands said. Deafening hail fell and the fire went out. In the darkness, unaware that he did so, Novello screamed. Feeling their way, shoulder to shoulder, they pushed, but the wind shoved them against the tumultuous trembling of the boat. Driven by the same instinct, they waited for a favorable blast of wind and, pushing at the same time, the boat was incrusted in the entrance. Right then, Novello felt a blow strike his head and lost consciousness.

When he awoke, flames made light and shadow move on the stone ceiling. He was lying face up, his cape covering him with the canteen under his neck. A sharp pain ran through his head. Concerned about his worrisome state, Novello forgot everything else. He touched his forehead and discovered some sort of bandage; it felt like cloth torn from a shirt. He lifted himself up on an elbow and looked around. Hailstones had formed a white band underneath the boat. Some entered the cave with such fury they bounced off its walls. The prisoner handed him the tin filled with mate tea. Taking it by the handle, Novello noticed that his hand had been cleaned and the dressing changed. His companion had taken advantage of the hailstones to melt them into hot water. But what had happened to him? He looked at the prisoner suspiciously and searched along the cave floor for the rifle. It was close to the fugitive, who was hunched over and covered with a blanket, apparently caring about nothing other than remaining as close to the fire as possible. Stealthily, with his pulse racing, Novello began to drag the rifle towards him with his foot, until it was within reach. A moment later, he was unsure of himself as he sat up and pointed the rifle at the prisoner, who seemed not to have noticed the stunt Novello had just pulled off.

“See here, you,” he said, trying to recover his commanding tone, but instead managing little more than a hoarse whisper. The man didn’t even look in his direction. “See here, you! What happened to me? Speak.”

He had forgotten that the prisoner was mute. Wearily, the man pointed to the boat and smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand. Novello felt horrible. Forgetting the rifle, he lay back down on the ground. He was going to die in that cave, wounded and cold. Never again would he see his mother or anyone else. Self-pity took hold of him; he gripped the watch and gave a look at the time; he wept silently, unaware that he was crying. He felt a hand squeeze his shoulder and pat his back. The prisoner made signs in the air, as if wanting to say: We’re leaving. In a daze, Novello interpreted the signs as meaning they were going to die right then and there, and his face contorted in fear. The prisoner shook his head. He made another sign to indicate sliding the boat away from the entrance and heading out into the sun, into life. Novello composed himself and, not knowing when exactly, fell asleep.

In the morning, the storm had passed. Low clouds swept towards the north at great speed; the cold cut their faces and the land was white with hailstones where the ground was uneven. Down by the beach, the penguin colony had once again settled in, which Novello took as a good sign. Without a word, he tied the prisoner’s hands, who stretched them out to him without resisting. He pointed the rifle at him and they left the cave. A short while later, they had made it to the top of the cliff. Just after midday, the coast guard ship cut its silhouette on the horizon. Novello went wild, jumping and running and spinning around, waving his arms. Throughout this display, the prisoner remained still, sitting on a rock with his head bowed under the blanket.

“They’ve seen us! They’re coming!” shouted Novello, jumping excitedly.

Then he calmed down and also sought out a rock to sit on. For a long while he looked out to sea. He looked at the prisoner and then looked out to sea again, as if he were weighing the pros and cons of a decision. At last, he took his knife out of its sheath and approached the prisoner slowly. He tapped him to lift up his hands and signaled his intention to cut the rope. Not knowing why, Novello had adopted the hand signaling of the mute: with his hands Novello told him he could leave, that he would set him free. The other shrugged his shoulders and, with a slight smile, shook his head. It’s true, thought Novello, where could he go; he’d be dead in two days, and as a natural and immediate consequence of this realization, he also thought, And I would be, too, had I been alone. Snapping out of the shock of his abandonment on the island, for the first time he clearly understood something that the prisoner surely knew from the beginning: that they were alive because they were two; that in that icy wasteland, a lone man did not stand a chance. And if the prisoner had stalked him from the cliffs it was simply because the ship would come back for him, because just like Novello he wanted to survive. When this became clear to him, Novello stepped back and sat on his rock, and the solitude he again observed all around him seemed even more terrible and savage. Four hours later, they were brought onboard.

Bewildered by his instant celebrity, Novello forgot all about the prisoner, who was taken into custody and escorted below deck. The enthusiastic voices of his shipmates, between words of praise and pats on the back, asked him for the details of his adventure. For the first time, Novello was the center of a circle of friendly, smiling faces that passed around a bottle of cane brandy. As he took eager gulps and showed off his injuries, which he downplayed although he found them incredible himself, he repeated the tale of his encounter with the fugitive, who, without realizing it, he had already begun to magnify. It wasn’t until sundown, when Novello went below deck to resume his post, his head swimming slightly, that he remembered the prisoner. The man of flesh and bone, not the ferocious escapee of his tale. In the cabin that served as a cell, a draftee guarded him. Novello stood by the door. He experienced a vague feeling that he could not put his finger on. Irrepressible words formed in his mouth:

“We made it, eh?”

The prisoner looked at him with the slightest of irony, which Novello was in no condition to pick up on. Impulsively, he lifted up the bottle of cane brandy and, signaling the guard to leave them—the soldier obeyed; after all, the order came from the hero of the day—he offered it to the prisoner. The man grasped it with his bound hands and took unhurried swigs that seemed to never end. When at last the prisoner left the bottle on the table, Novello found he had nothing more to say. He was about to leave when, of their own accord, Novello’s hands went to pat the man on the back. The patting also seemed to never end. The prisoner looked at him, blankly. And that was all. A short while later, in his bunk, Novello began to doze off to the rhythm of the familiar murmur of the ship’s engines. Beforehand, he had not glanced back, not even once, to see the somber silhouette of Isla de los Estados which, to stern, disappeared in the gray mist of nightfall.

El pais del viento

Translated by Dario Bard from a manuscript of “La Tormenta” provided by the author and which later appeared in the newspaper Pagina12. The story first appeared in El país del viento published by Alfaguara in 2003, available from Amazon.

Sylvia Iparraguirre was born in Junin, Province of Buenos Aires, and lives in the City of Buenos Aires. Early in her literary career, she wrote for the literary magazine “El Escarabajo de Oro” and later co-founded “El ornitorrinco”, a literary magazine that was published from 1976 to 1986. Iparraguirre has written several short story collections and novels, including Tierra del Fuego, a historical novel available in English based on the life of Jemmy Button, a member of the Yamana people from Tierra del Fuego who was captured, taken to England, converted to Christianity and later returned to his native land by Captain Robert Fitzroy of the HMS Beagle.   

Iparraguirre has received several awards recognizing her literary contributions. Most recently, in 2014, the prestigious Konex Foundation recognized her as one of Argentina’s best novelists for the period 2011 to 2013.

On the Argentine television program, Obra en Construcción, Sylvia Iparraguirre discussed her literary career (in Spanish):

Part 1

Part 2

“Tonight, a Get-Together at Home” by Vicente Battista

Download pdf: Tonight, a Get-Together at Home

He ran into him one humid November night and was on the verge of screaming. Later, whenever Alejandro Funes thought of that night, the first and perhaps best thing he remembered was that initial encounter: Barreiro in the lobby of a movie theater, alone and carefree. I always imagined I’d run into him some day, Funes had often said, and he had always thought (although this he never did say) that day would be different. It wasn’t. It was the same as any other. With the same people and the same noises; with the same summer heat, and, like other Thursdays, the same get-together at home. The same as any other night. And, nonetheless, something had to be different; he didn’t know how, exactly (he never did know how), but different. Because the man now looking over the show times, that one in the grey suit and the beige hat, is, despite wearing other clothes, the same Francisco Barreiro who years ago, between blows and sessions with the electric prod, gave orders to those who had invented his humiliation; the same man who, one afternoon, told him he was free. And called him “chicken shit.” And spit in his face. Francisco Barreiro, who appears every night (when Funes, alone, has no one to tell his heroic feats to) is now there, in the lobby of a movie theater. Funes knows what he should say: “At last, Barreiro” and walk into the lobby. But, inexplicably, or because of something that would reveal itself that very night, he remains quiet, silent. That he also remembered, later.

“Marquesinas porteñas” by Fernando Reis.

“Marquesinas porteñas” by Fernando Reis.

“As if it were today,” said Funes, gesturing to Ana Maria to lower the volume on the record player, “but we better not talk about it.”

“Certainly, certainly! In the house of a hero,” someone said, as if by habit, “we’ll let him keep his peace, of course.”

“Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes,” interceded Haroldo, raising his wine glass in a ceremonial toast, “Bertold Brecht rightly said, and I, in that respect, am with Brecht.”

They looked at him in surprise.

“Besides,” he added, “in that respect, the fields Papa owns are also with Brecht.”

Ana Maria had found the volume level necessary for her husband’s story.

But Barreiro has not purchased a ticket. He stood by the ticket window for a while and now he strolls slowly around the lobby as if waiting for someone. God don’t let him, begs Funes. But God does let him: Barreiro walks out, alone, towards Corrientes Ave. Funes begins to follow him; everything becomes easier. He’s often thought of this pursuit. Strange, he never imagined it would be through downtown Buenos Aires, and it never occurred to him before that downtown was better: there would be witnesses. Witnesses for what? Everything that was about to transpire was between him and Barreiro. Barreiro and me, he thought, and stopped for a second: How could he be sure Barreiro was no longer with the Special Unit? He said it a thousand times in his story: “Governments change,” he would say, “but these people remain the same. Before, they were called the Special Unit. Now, DIPA or the Organization; the personnel: the same.” Witnesses for what? he asks himself. And, the idea that Barreiro is armed pops into his head. Police carry arms. He tries to convince himself it doesn’t matter; today is the day. But he can’t shake the thought: Barreiro is armed.

Café San Marcos. Barreiro goes inside for a cup of coffee or to use the toilet. Funes waits for him across the street. The men’s room could have been the site of their confrontation. Strange again that he never imagined it happening there; and it’s common enough to run into people in a public restroom. And, although he knows that Barreiro went to the men’s room, he prefers to believe that he merely went inside for a cup of coffee. A restroom is a small, awkward place. Its better if he stays put, waiting across the street for him to exit.  Before I was on the ground: unconscious, at first; arching painfully, later. He doesn’t want to think about it, but then he decides that thinking about it helps.

“‘Not on the head, you animal! You could kill him,’ I heard him say with the first blow. I must confess,” Funes said, “I was afraid.”

Funes sat in the middle of the couch and, except for the music, there was total silence.

“I would have just died,” Ana Maria commented as she ate a cream-filled Danish; she was about to say something more, but instead made a face. “This cream is sour,” she added.

“But it is possible to resist,” Funes continued, “there comes a moment when it is possible to resist.”

Silence once again. He had told his story so many times that, perhaps without having intended it, he had created a system of pauses, soft-spoken phrases and, at times, short, sharp cries. Even tonight (despite his encounter) the system worked: at this point, a pause; someone will ask how it is possible to resist.

“How is it possible to resist?” someone asked.

And Funes, looking at his audience, began to explain.

Now Barreiro walks again along Suipacha, turns on Corrientes Ave. and stops in front of the Opera Theater to look at the show times. Funes had often dreamed of it this way, at the movies. Barreiro would be seated in the row in front of his, and he in the seat immediately behind him (like right now), his eyes would be locked on Barreiro’s head (as they are right now), not paying the slightest attention to the movie. Silently watching. And suddenly, softly, he would tap Barreiro’s shoulder. Then Barreiro would turn around and Funes would stare into his eyes and, without saying a single word, he would spit in his face; not once, but several times. Barreiro would hurriedly get up and leave; he’d be almost running. Or perhaps he would stay put, turning back around to face the screen. Or he would wipe the spit from his face and apologize. It would all take barely a few seconds. Later, when he awakened, Funes would feel satisfied and at peace.

Now the movie is over. Like strange dolls that stir to life as the lights come on, the people, so many of them, get up from their seats. The first cigarettes are lit. Then, the exodus: two compact groups, one through each door, drown their footsteps on the carpet and converse in hushed tones. Someone laughs. It all has an odd, ceremonial feel to it. Alejandro Funes advances among them. His attention is focused on a beige hat and a grey suit walking a few meters ahead of him. The carpet, the ritual and the air conditioning come to an end, a wave of hot air hits him and, suddenly, he’s out on the street. For a split second, Funes feels something like rage: Barreiro has disappeared from sight. He curses all who walk along Corrientes and takes a look at his watch: ten past one; this is when the get-together at home starts to get good, he thinks.

And again he feels that something that could be rage: the beige hat is next to a newsstand and about to board a trolley.

At daybreak, the mood was right for Truth or Dare. The heat was intolerable, even with the windows open. The whiskey had run dry. A single lamp lit he table and the sofas. The rest of the room was in semi-darkness: “the dark light” as Ana Maria liked to call it. Even so, the heat was intolerable. The men had taken off their suit jackets and loosened their ties. Two or three women fanned themselves with whatever they had on hand. Rather than sitting, they were sprawled out on the sofas, in various poses. The mood was indeed right for Truth or Dare. But Funes had yet to tell them how it was possible to resist. He lit a cigarette and gestured to Haroldo.

“It’s possible … ” began Haroldo, accustomed to his cue.

“ … to play Truth or Dare. That’s exactly what I was about to suggest,” finished Funes, smiling.

Then, Ana Maria’s indignant insistence.

“Please, Alejandro, they’ve come to hear your story,” said Ana Maria, and she truly appeared to be indignant, “and you crack jokes.”

Funes apologized with a gesture. Then, in a serious tone, he said:

“There comes a moment … ”

Another interruption was pending.

“Excuse me, Alejandro, but not everyone knows how things were,” said Haroldo, with a complicit gesture. “I suggest you walk us through it, step by step. I believe we all have time.”

It was now his turn to refuse, but not too adamantly.

“But I’ll bore the lot of you.”

The response would come quickly: a “never,” “but please,” or “to the contrary.”

“To the contrary,” a woman said. It was her first get-together at Funes’.

Now a request.

“Very well, I’ll tell you in exchange for a good cup of coffee.”

Ana Maria and Haroldo’s wife went into the kitchen.

Funes softly caressed his lips and began his story:

“‘You are familiar with the methods the police have to make people talk,’ is what he said to me after the interrogation. I made a face to show I didn’t understand and said no. ‘You’d be better off never knowing them,’ is all he said. You have to be tough to withstand a beginning like that. And I assure you: that’s the end of your friends, your comrades and all that. There’s none of that; you are alone. And you have to simply decide not to do it. It’s the only way; commit to not saying a single word. Be strong, in other words. And, see here, I can assure you that one doesn’t do it to protect others; they, all of them, when you are taken: bon voyage, you`re on your own; it almost makes you want to talk. That’s why I say it’s kind of like a fierce whim; a promise to yourself: not a single word. So you don’t talk. For me, at least, that’s how it was.”

He looked at each one of his guests. Then, as if deep in thought, his eyes half closed, he raised his head up. The silence was authentic. Today, even Haroldo seemed interested in the story. A brief pause, and then Ana Maria would speak. He was wrong; it was the woman, the one visiting his home for the first time, who asked the question she shouldn’t have asked.

“But, did you really not say anything?” she asked.

Nothing, friend, not a single word. I swear: I endured it all. See these marks? That’s because I held up. I don’t know why they let me go, I swear I don’t; because I put up with it all. And it would have been so easy to talk, you should have seen how it easy it would have been: just a name, or two, or three, and they stop hitting you. You see how it is? They’ll stop hitting you. But I didn’t give them a single name; see these bruises, I didn’t give them a single name. Or maybe I said one: Roberto Dubner, 230 Trelles Street, but only so they wouldn’t hit me here … See? Here, where I don’t have a bruise. And then one more: Rubén Vela, 115 Las Casas; they were coming at me with the electric prod, you know, and it’s tough to hold up against the electric prod. I just said: Horacio Fresenza, 314 Azara, and that was that; they left me alone and even gave me some water. I swear, I didn’t even realize I was saying them, the names came out with the water: Raúl Sesarego, 1011 Olavarría, and Aída Bruzzi, 34 Patagones; and a bit more water and no more hitting. See? There isn’t a mark here. That’s thanks to Saúl and Jorge Bellini. Do you remember the Bellini brothers? They lived at 2136 Nazca. Thanks to them there is no mark there; I always loved them, and I knew they would help me out. It’s so easy. You give them a name: Antonio Franco, and another immediately follows: Arturo Taicar, and then another: Susana Fuentes; they are your friends, they are helping you so you won’t get hit anymore. And you don’t want to leave anyone out, so you say them all: Pech, Ríos, Chari, Robles, Pérez, Tokar, Brinman; all of them. They all helped me, my friends. Guillermo Bornik. Is that your name? And you live at 213 General Hornos; thank you, you also helped me.

“Nothing, madam. The trick is to not say a single word.”

“It must be just awful to tolerate that, no?” Ana Maria said, raising her voice and embracing all present with a gesture.

“Terrible,” said the first-timer.

The terrible thing is the fear, my friend. When you know you are all alone, and you begin to realize that a name and an address—You see how simple it is? Nothing more than that: just a name and an address—equals two minutes without the electric prod, or a kick or a punch. That kick that you know is for you, that you are going to have to take, and that only you will feel the pain. When you begin to realize that you can’t take anymore, that your initial resistance has been broken with each increasingly more powerful jolt of electricity. When the words of those around you, but that you feel are faraway, yet there they are, at your side; when even the words begin to hurt and scare you, when you know that you can end it with just a name or two: the words and the kicking and that horrible electrical current, and then the water, or a cigarette; when you know all that, when the fear or the pain, or both together, make you forget those afternoon fundraisers, those secret meetings, those impromptu speeches at factory doors; when you know you can’t bear a single blow more, I swear, everything piles up on you, you try to ask for forgiveness, and you begin to talk …

God damn you, Francisco Barreiro.

“Yes,” he said, “but you can resist. It’s all a matter of realizing that a man’s strength has its limits. Well then, pain, too, has its limits. When you know you can withstand it at that limit, that’s it, it can’t hurt more than that. The thing is to resist up to that point; after that, it’s easy.”

“Easy! I wonder what the torturers would say to that,” someone interrupted.

Funes, with a laugh, allowed himself to fall against the sofa’s backrest, and said, “That’s something you’d have to ask Francisco Barreiro.”

“Who is the bearer of that name?” asked Haroldo; he had never heard it mentioned before.

And Funes heard himself respond.

“The one who oversaw the torturers,” he said. “In a word, the boss.”

In a whisper, the first-timer commented to her husband on the calmness with which Funes told certain things. “Terrible things,” she said aloud. But it was her husband who, with an inquisitive look, asked:

“Sorry, but you know his name. Did you ever think of tracking him down? For revenge, I mean, or something of that sort.”

“I always imagined I’d run into him at some point,” said Funes, “but it never occurred to me to seek him out.”

He said it with a grin of wonder on his face, as if surprised by what he just said; then, he looked over at Ana Maria. Ana Maria turned off the record player and went to fetch more coffee.

And now this was his last chance.

An old woman wearing a hat with green feathers has sat down next to Funes. In front of him, two girls, also wearing hats, are having a lively conversation. Her daughter and her daughter’s friend, he thinks, looking at the old woman out of the corner of his eye; no doubt they are returning from a wedding. Barreiro is seated in another row, five seats up. A conductor with a purple nose and a sleepy face hands him a ticket. Then they took me into a room. And that’s when I saw you. And I heard you: the same voice that had ordered them to up the voltage. Your voice, Barreiro, informed me I was a free man, that I had nothing to complain about, I didn’t have a single mark on my body. Do you remember? You got in my face and told me I was weak, that you knew from the moment you saw me that I wouldn’t be able to resist. Do you remember what you said? “You were as white as a ghost, you little faggot.” That’s what you said; you said it with a mocking grin on your face. Then, in a very deep voice, you shouted at me: “Chicken shit!” And you spit in my face. Do you remember, Barreiro? At Constitución, the old woman and the two girls step off. Funes, not knowing why, looks at the ticket in his hand. Type: palindrome.[1] Because one day I’d find you. You see how simple it is? And I’d follow you. Do you know why? To spit in your face, nothing more than that, Barreiro. 33533. The heat is unbearable and practically no one is left on the trolley. Giddily, Funes comes up with three different ways to confront Barreiro and, although he’ll never actually go through with it, he decides on one: when Barreiro stands up, he’ll do it right then and there. Of course, Barreiro will recognize him, he thinks, those bastards have the memory of elephants. He also thinks that Barreiro is armed. A couple steps off. And he’ll say he did it in self-defense; that’ll be his excuse. But tonight is the night; I have to do it. The conductor chats with the motorman and, except for the old man all the way in the back, Funes and Barreiro are the only ones left on the trolley. He’ll recognize me, and his kind shoot to kill. The old man gets off. I have to do this now, Funes says to himself, and he stands up; but he returns to his seat when the conductor steps into the aisle. He looks out the window and sees that the street is completely wet, the cobblestones giving off a strange, phantasmagorical shine. He sees two parked gasoline trucks. A couple hurries past, almost running. He reads: “No smoking and spitting.” He begins to rationalize why he didn’t scream at first, in the theater lobby. After all, what good would it have done me? I wouldn’t have been able to get close to him. The conductor goes back to chatting with the motorman. When he sees me, he’ll recognize me, and then what? Play the hero for myself? What does that get me? The gasoline trucks are left behind; now there is only the street. Honor and three bullets in the gut. Because shoot me is what he’ll do, no doubt about it. He reads: “Capacity: 36 passengers” and convinces himself that after all everyone has the job he most enjoys. Like that man hands out tickets, that other one drives, and that one over there sells newspapers, Barreiro does what he does, and they pay him for it. He reads: “Do not stick your hands out the window.” And then he almost jumps out of his seat: Francisco Barreiro, a few rows up, has gotten to his feet. Funes’ eyes lock onto his back. He begs for him to please exit out the front; on trolleys, you’re supposed to exit out the front, and besides it’s the only way Barreiro won’t see him. But Barreiro finds it more convenient to exit out the back, and, as he places his hat on his head, he is standing directly in front of Funes, who is unaware of this because a few seconds earlier he decided to turn his face to the window, to the wet street outside, with its strangely shiny cobblestones. He also doesn’t realize that Barreiro walked past without even looking at him; he does hear him, though, walking toward the back, and he pictures him stepping off the trolley. He reads: “Nosmoking36passengersoutthewindow,” closes his eyes and, grinning, murmurs, “He didn’t recognize me.” Funes is happy. He is alone and smiling, and he’s got quite a few blocks to go before he’ll get off, and then, impatiently, he’ll look for a cab in a deserted street. The clock in the Santa Felicitas convent will ring out twice and Funes will imagine that all those gathered at his house will be worried about his delayed arrival. New people are expected at the get-together that night and, just like every Thursday night, he’ll be expected to tell them how he resisted being tortured at the hands of the Special Unit. But before all that, there is still a good 30 minutes to go.

[1] In Argentina some time ago, passengers taking public transportation would buy a numbered ticket from a conductor. If the number on the ticket was a palindrome, it was considered good luck.


Translated by Dario Bard from “Esta noche, reunión en casa” as printed in Los Muertos, published by Editorial Jorge Álvarez, out of print. The original Spanish version is available here.

Vicente Battista is a writer from the Barracas neighborhood of the City of Buenos Aires. He was a staff member of the literary magazine El Escarabajo de Oro (1961-1974), which published his first stories. His first short story collection, Los Muertos, won prizes in Argentina and Cuba, and was published in 1968. In 1970, he founded the literary magazine Nuevos Aires together with Mario Goloboff. In 1973, he relocated to Barcelona, Spain, where he had been invited to work on a series of screenplays. Due to the military coup of 1976, he delayed his return to Argentina until 1984. Over the course of his career, he has written several short story collections as well as novels, theatrical scripts, screenplays and essays.

His latest book, Enlaces y cabos sueltos, an anthology of essays and stories, was published by Editorial Desde la gente in 2013. In this video, he discusses his latest novel, Ojos que no ven (2012), on the radio program La Libroteca (in Spanish):

“The Final Days of Daniel Knopoff” by Pablo Besarón

Download pdf: The Final Days of Daniel Knopoff

 To Ariel Korob (Z”L)

The morning of Thursday, February 7, 2007, was a typical summer morning. With suffocating heat settling in for the rest of the day, it was inadvisable to walk or take the subway.

Daniel backed out of the garage on his way to temple. The last week in Buenos Aires; on Sunday, he would take Katia and their three children to Mendoza. A stream with a magnificent canyon in the background, a good way to relax for two weeks after a year-long stretch of demanding work.

2009018_Clouds_and_wheat_WEB LISA MCSHANE

“Clouds and Fields” by Lisa McShane, courtesy of the artist.

He backed out of the garage and up the driveway ramp. He looked in the driver’s side mirror. No one in sight. In reverse out onto the street. A young man on a bike grazed the driver’s side mirror. Daniel did not move forward but the guy threw himself on the hood, the bicycle caught up in his legs. He looked like a bad actor rehearsing a scene that called for a simulated accident. Asked the question, the script would read: Yeah, it hurts like a son of a bitch.

Their conversation was brief and muddled. It seemed he was fine, that the acting intended to introduce a gradual and hidden brutality.

Daniel thought of calling a doctor or the police. He wanted to call a doctor, but the guy suggested reporting the accident to the police.

At the station, a tall, short-haired officer behind the counter asked them why they were there. Motor vehicle accident involving a cyclist.  The officer looked at a policewoman behind him and at the deputy commissioner, a bit farther back. He went over to the deputy commissioner and explained the situation. A poorly concealed smirk that read Here’s a sucker for the taking appeared on the deputy commissioner’s face. He approached and asked Daniel if he had brought the car along and the cyclist if he had seen a doctor. The deputy commissioner’s tone was emphatic; he was talking about a serious matter. The vehicle, he said, will be impounded for inspection. You’ll need to make a statement. The victim is to be taken to Fernández Hospital.

This was an unknown world to Daniel. He had only been in a police station once before, and very briefly, to report the loss of his wallet and cellphone. The procedure seemed reasonable.

While the policewoman took his statement, he saw a man in a suit sitting in the waiting area, observing attentively. It seemed he had been there all along, but Daniel only noticed him then. And now? What happens next? Daniel asked of the policewoman. You’ll have to wait for the medical report, see if the kid presses charges, and wait 48 to 72 hours for the car to be inspected; you should file a report with your insurance company. She advised him to call a lawyer.

If they hold the car for 72 hours, thought Daniel, I won’t get it back until the day before we leave for Mendoza. He knew many lawyers. Some were donors, generally second and third generation attorneys, mixed in with public notaries and accountants. He thought of calling Katia, telling her everything and having her find a lawyer, but then he remembered Fabian, who was fresh out of law school and sometimes came to temple on the Sabbath. Fabian had told him of a similar case: he had accidentally run into an empanada delivery motorcycle. Besides, he was coming out of a deep depression. It was a good idea to give him a call.

He signed the police report and was free to go, but before leaving, he called Fabian. Did you make a statement? Did you sign it? Yes. I’m on my way.

The officer who had first spoken to Daniel asked him to stop by the commissioner’s office. The door was ajar. Come in, Knopoff.

He was surprised to be called by his surname and recalled how Katia reproached him for forgetting other people’s names. Calling someone by name is to recognize that person, to distinguish the individual. We all need to be recognized.

The commissioner’s face was as he imagined a commissioner’s face would be: hard lines, strong and protruding teeth, mussed up hair and perforated skin, scars sketching a map that read shit happened here. The commissioner looked serious. Come in, Knopoff … yours is a complicated case … I’m not saying that to scare you … but you know … a young man of limited means … lawyers fishing for a quick settlement … a traffic accident report signed by the driver … who knows what the vehicle inspection will turn up …

He was amazed by the commissioner’s sincerity. It was as if, by happy fortune, he had a friend on the other side of the counter. Everything was taking on a scripted appearance, and he was just now beginning to discern it.

The commissioner spoke with emphatic discomfiture, like the deputy commissioner had, as if both received the same instructions from the director of a staged scene. Daniel wasn’t worried about himself, but rather about how concerned the commissioner was.

The commissioner offered him a drink. Coffee? … Tea? … A bit of whiskey? Daniel figured that if he accepted a bit of whiskey, he’d have the commissioner on his side. But it wasn’t advisable to go through life being a sycophant; he opted for tea. Fabian arrived. He was notified by a knock on the door. The commissioner saw Daniel off with a firm handshake and accompanied him part of the way out.

As soon as he saw Daniel, Fabian said: They’re impounding your car and we’ll have to wait for the doctors to examine the kid and file their medical report; we can go. Everything seemed to be on the track of bureaucratic logic, a matter of paperwork and signatures. Daniel cordially said his good-byes to those at the precinct and sent his regards to the commissioner. They telephoned his insurance company to report the accident.

Fabian instructed Daniel to notify him should the police call him in to testify … When they tell you the car is ready for pick up, I’ll go with you … any news, you call me …

The rest of the day transpired with anxiety but without incident (meek and uneasy); it wouldn’t do any good to get upset. After all, in less than four days, vacation.


 Early the next day, the doorbell rang at the Knopoff household. It was the man in the suit from the police station, the same one he noticed in the background the day before. The young man from the accident waited by the sidewalk.

The man greeted Knopoff and introduced himself as the victim’s lawyer. The medical expert reported that my client suffered injuries … physical traumas that will keep him out of work for a few weeks … my client is considering whether he’ll mention these results in his statement to the police … but if we can come to an arrangement, you know, clean slate …

Knopoff, without inviting the lawyer in, asked him to wait a few seconds. He closed the door and called Fabian, but no one answered. Daniel opened the door again and asked the lawyer what they were asking for. Ten thousand pesos, and it’ll be like this never happened.

He didn’t have that kind of cash, but he also didn’t see the matter as negotiable. Besides, it was perhaps a way to help somebody who needed the money. After all, currency was meant to circulate; who knew where it would end up. They agreed to meet at the house in an hour; that would be enough time for him to make the necessary withdrawals, part from their vacation savings and part from a bank account in the red.

At the established hour, the lawyer rang the doorbell again. Daniel had managed to pull together five thousand four hundred pesos. The lawyer took the money, wished him a good day and left.


 In the days that followed, Daniel cancelled a dinner with donors and two meetings with couples who were about to get married. It was time, he told himself, to shut things down and leave on vacation without a worry in the world (meek and at ease).

The day before he was to depart for Mendoza, Fabian called. Daniel told him how things had ended. Fabian was concerned that they hadn’t had the chance to speak beforehand, but he didn’t express any misgivings. They agreed to arrange to go and pick up the car together later.

But Daniel did not wish to bother Fabian. The episode had definitely concluded. Retrieving the car would be a simple matter.

When he entered the police station around two in the afternoon, the officer from the previous day greeted him naturally. The policewoman who had taken his statement did not address him, but gave him a look that tried to transmit something.

He had to sign some papers acknowledging receipt of the vehicle in the same condition he had left it. The deputy commissioner shook his hand; the commissioner handed him the keys and indicated where the car was parked.

This little nightmare is coming to an end, thought Daniel with a sigh as we walked to the car. Put it in gear and take her home to the garage.


The day went by and night fell, but he remained anxious. Collateral effects, he thought, like when they pull a splinter from the sole of your foot … good-bye splinter, but the pain persists a while longer until it subsides and things return to normal.

With Katia, he communicated only what was necessary. She noticed he was nervous, but they were about to go on vacation and she didn’t wish to upset him.

In a few hours, bright and early, with the first rays of sunlight, the family would depart for Mendoza.


In the morning, Daniel Knopoff loaded the car with their things. He wanted to leave right away. Spatial distance would create emotional distance.

Daniel, Katia and their three children climbed into the car while it was still in the garage, and when he put it in reverse, he was afraid the cyclist would reappear. He tried to laugh at himself for having thought such a thing.

For the first time, it crossed his mind that he hadn’t had the car for the past few days. When Katia posed the question, he had responded that he took it to a mechanic after having retrieved it from the police. He didn’t want to worry her or let her know that he didn’t think it necessary (honestly, the idea hadn’t even occurred to him).

From that moment on, the chain of events that followed was irreversible and fatal. What happened was reported by the press:

“Rabbi Daniel Knopoff of the Grand Temple on Lavalle Street in the neighborhood of Once died in an automobile accident on a highway in northern La Pampa. The man of faith was at the wheel and lost control of the vehicle, possibly due to a blown tire. The car collided with an oncoming truck.

“Knopoff, 37, was driving with his wife and three children, all of whom were seriously injured and spent the night in the ICU at General Pico Hospital. Medical sources indicate that the condition of all four is improving. The truck driver was unharmed.” (Clarín newspaper, Tuesday, February 12).

Accounts varied: he nicked the shoulder, he was speeding, he got a flat.

At the police station, the officer who had first handled Knopoff’s case saw the news on Crónica TV.

“Hey, Deputy Commissioner, you have to see this. Check out who died on the highway,” he said.

The Deputy Commissioner had already heard the news. He regretted that they had taken advantage of that sucker. He appeared to have been a good, upstanding fellow. We have to get rid of the guys who swap out the tires, thought the Deputy Commissioner, and replace the parts, and even the hood ornaments on the cars in the impound lot. What assholes. They take such stupid risks for nothing. They’ll end up fucking things up for all of us.

Efectos  colaterales pablo besaron

Translated by Dario Bard from “Los Ultimos Dias de Daniel Knopoff” as printed in Efectos Colaterales, published by Ediciones Simurg, 2013, available from Cuspide.

Pablo Besarón is a writer and essayist from the City of Buenos Aires. His literary essays have appeared in a variety of publications, and in 2009 Ediciones Simurg published La Conspiración, a collection of his essays on Argentine literature. Efectos Colaterales is his first work of published fiction. Presently, he is working on his second short story collection and a documentary on Jewish Argentine cinematographers.

In an interview with Radio del Buen Aire, Pablo Besáron discussed his writing in Efectos Colaterales