“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.

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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.

“Where?”

“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.

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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.”

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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.

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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 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

“The Velocipedist Social Club” by Norberto Luis Romero

Download pdf: The Velocipedist Social Club

Along the town’s main street, there were no more than 400 meters from his home to the fledgling Velocipedist Social Club and Mr. Garcia walked them with his head held high and his eyes set forward, guiding his brand new velocipede beside him by its impeccable, polished handlebars, like someone proudly leading angelic, clean and well-dressed offspring to mass by the hand. But Garcia was a bachelor by inertia and his immediate plans, which had him completely absorbed, did not contemplate marriage but instead other more daring and novel ambitions. With each step he was aware that, behind the lace curtains of every kitchen window, the eyes of housewives were on him until he disappeared from their field of vision: out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the poorly concealed movements in the curtain folds, and even an incredulous face now and then suddenly veiling itself behind lace trimmings and embroidery. He knew that their curiosity wasn’t stirred by his person, despite the tight, flashy orange velocipedist outfit he wore, which was strikingly audacious in and of itself, but rather by the surprising object of his devotion, the true protagonist of that peaceful gray morning: the velocipede. Almost as tall as he was, with a front wheel measuring 1.2 meters in diameter; seen through its spokes, the scenery, the houses and the few people heading to the bakery for a hot loaf of bread at that hour, looked like images in a kinetoscope. That morning, as in previous days, the sky was overcast, but it frequently happened that the threatening clouds failed to deliver the expected rains. There were long spells without a single drop falling from the sky, and that was why Garcia, sure there would be no precipitation, hadn’t bothered to cover up the velocipede with the checkered oilcloth as he led it by the handlebars to the club. Besides, it was not his intent to keep it hidden under an oilcloth from prying eyes, but rather to exhibit it proudly so as to provoke curiosity and arouse interest.

“The Velocipede” by Sarah Northcott, courtesy of the artist.

“The Velocipede” by Sarah Northcott,
courtesy of the artist.

The velocipede had arrived a couple of weeks before, meticulously packed in a wooden crate reinforced with metallic supports that had been shipped by cargo train from the city, where he had acquired it via catalog from the renowned and recently established Michaux Company, which, a year earlier, had introduced its invention at the Paris World Fair; and since Garcia lived from rents and was free of family obligations and the financial commitments such entail, he dedicated his considerable free time to keeping up-to-date on the latest scientific and technological advances through magazine subscriptions and brochures from Europe and the United States. The cost hadn’t been miniscule, by no means, but for a man like himself, austere and free of vices, it didn’t require financial sacrifice or the assumption of debt; he merely used the sum he had set aside for that purpose, an amount that wouldn’t take him long to recover if his plans, as commercial as they were altruistic, came to fruition. He concluded his disbursements with the purchase of an old and spacious barn located on the edge of town, on which, once he had cleaned, readied and stocked it with the basic essentials, he hung a sign that read “The Velocipedist Social Club,” of which he was president and member number one, as indicated on the membership card he had issued himself the night before in an intimate and modest, yet solemn act at his home in front of his wardrobe mirror. As for the official inauguration, it would take place once he had learned to ride the velocipede and after he had given a simple but convincing demonstration.

No one was around for leagues, but Mr. Garcia was certain that in no time, when people realized the advantages and charm of this revolutionary means of locomotion, none would hesitate to buy one, if not two or more, according to the number of adult members in the family. He figured, for example, that his neighbor, Mr. Bustos, wouldn’t have any second thoughts about purchasing at least four, because beside his wife, who was fit, young and fond of strolling, he had raised two now fully-grown sons who were as clever and spirited as their parents. His own brother, without looking any further, had always been a man inclined to educate himself and one who admired all sorts of scientific and technological advances, having gone so far as to have subjected his two daughters to various rounds of a treatment that relied on electricity to eradicate certain dubious illnesses; the results turned out to be unexpectedly adverse and the girls had to be interned in a mental ward from which they had yet to be released. With the velocipede, however, the risk would be no more than a bump here and there of no major consequence.

And his dream—all men have the right to dream—was to lead this association or club and grow it until it became the biggest tourist attraction in the region. To this end, he would, first, set modest monthly dues payments, and as the number of members increased, he’d collect a modest income, an income he would reinvest in the association to expand its facilities and services to members and their respective families. Mr. Garcia was convinced that his generous idea would bring tourists to town and, with them, imminent progress. Perhaps other towns would even follow their example. What’s more, he had no doubt that history would reserve a special place for him due to his creative talent, brilliance and persistence. In all likelihood, in the not too distant future the municipal authorities would propose to name a plaza after him, and maybe even an avenue. Although the town didn’t presently have one, he was sure one would have to be built due to the imminent proliferation of velocipedes that was bound to commence once he opened the doors to the club and, before a gathering of the townspeople, delivered the inaugural speech he had been preparing for months and painstakingly practicing before the same wardrobe mirror that had witnessed his ascension to the club presidency. But in the remotest recesses of his heart hid a desire for a wish that made him blush: to see himself immortalized in bronze, atop a velocipede, in the fashion of heroes mounted on their horses.

Mr. Garcia had not taken into account that he had never ridden or even attempted to mount a velocipede, but he was sure that, following the instructions in the manual to the letter, he would become a perfected velocipedist in a couple of days. For his training grounds he chose a spacious and level area in the valley, an almost treeless and extensive field with only one inconvenience that he deemed of little importance: he would have to keep his distance from the bluff known as the Barranca of the Spirits, its eerie epithet derived from the legend that specters lived in the small but dark lake at the bottom, so dark and dense that it was really more of a bog than a lake, but that the townspeople mercifully took to calling a lake. The specters, it was said, were the souls of victims of chance accidents, unwitting hunters, passers-by and lovers who got too close to the edges of the bog, or ancient casualties of dubious and forgotten wars; it was said that their yellow skeletons wandered along the bog’s perimeter, shaking their long hair. The only thing Mr. Garcia had to do was stay away from the barranca as he practiced and learned. Also, despite being a meticulous and well-organized man with good foresight, he had failed to consider his own body. Mr. Garcia was obese, very obese. And the velocipede, as the manual explained, required the ability to achieve balance, the key to maintaining a vertical position, and that then, and only then, should one attempt to move forward on the different-sized wheels. He was sure that it must feel like flying, that riding a velocipede must generate, as the catalog put it, the thrill of flying like a seagull, although Garcia had never seen a seagull.

Having arrived at the barn shed, he leaned the velocipede lovingly against its side to display it, opened its doors, retrieved a chair and placed it on the broad sidewalk. Then he sat down to wait for the arrival of the first visitors to show interest in this new means of locomotion, of which, from then on out, he was the district’s exclusive representative. The public, dazzled by the velocipede’s novelty and convinced of its benefits, would buy the contraption without reservations and, consequently, join the Club. His face, reddened by the walk and the grandeur of his plan, looked as fresh as an apple, and under his blonde moustache, its ends arched up to the sky, a wide smile of satisfaction appeared. Every now and again, eager to race off speedily, he glanced at his velocipede with a possessive and dumbstruck look to make sure it was still there, splendid like a jewel.

This, Mr. Garcia thought, was the happiest day of his life. He was convinced that his enterprise would meet with success and that he had begun his definitive realization as a man. He sighed, marveling that he sat before his Club, the name of which, just thinking of it, filled him with satisfaction. Ah, if my father could only see me now, he thought, he’d be the happiest man on Earth! He’d say: “That’s my boy, yes sir, the family’s pride and joy, a man who sees the future.”

He entered the shed and wrote the day of the inauguration in large letters on the blackboard—he gave himself a week to learn to ride—and then he carried the board out onto the street and placed it next to the velocipede.

A few hours passed and no one came by; his hopes began to fade. What if no one had any interest in the velocipede? What if people didn’t even know it existed? He hadn’t thought of that; he hadn’t factored it into his plans. He hadn’t anticipated the need for a marketing campaign, so effective and necessary to the success of any business. Except for the handful of neighbors who had seen him walk past their windows, no one knew of the existence of the velocipede or the Social Club he had just founded. And, truth be told, he had also completely forgotten about the town’s casino, where surely the neighbors were gathered at this hour for a charity fair, this being that time of year and people being in the habit of partaking in such insipid entertainment instead of taking a chance on a novel invention … their loss.

Unexpectedly, the overcast sky, typically harmless, began to dissolve in a fine drizzle. The rain was welcomed, but his velocipede was still there, leaning up against the shed, the eaves too short to offer shelter. He quickly left his chair and hurried to protect it from the intensifying rainfall. He got it inside just in time, as roaring thunder triggered a downpour unlike any the town had seen in years. Now he was sure no one would come to his newly found club, at least not until the storm let up, and he reasoned that all was not lost if he attributed the absence of curious and interested onlookers to his lack of perspicacity; they had sensed rain in the morning air, whereas he, wrapped up in his enthusiasm, had failed to do so. It took a while for the sky to clear; by the time it stopped raining, night had fallen. Mr. Garcia lit the kerosene lamps he had purchased, for the town’s electrical lighting did not extend as far as the Club, and sat down again to admire his velocipede, doubly beautiful now and transformed into an exoticism under the glimmering lamps. As he contemplated this miracle, his doubts dissipated, his optimism returned and his appetite stirred as he realized he hadn’t eaten a bite all day. He left the velocipede in the shed, taking special care to lock the doors, and returned to his house.

The next morning there was barely a trace of the storm left, except for a puddle here and there along the way, which, with the warm rays of the sun, emanated an almost pleasant sense of stupor. Because it was Sunday, he only opened the doors of the club to retrieve the velocipede and the instruction manual. He would take advantage of the day of rest to commence his training. Leading the velocipede beside him with a firm grip and dodging puddles that were becoming increasingly scarce, he headed to the level field he had chosen for his training grounds. He leaned the velocipede up against the only tree in the area and performed a dozen leg-stretching and waist-bending exercises, always sticking to the manual’s recommendations. Once finished, slightly out of breath and sweaty, he took the velocipede firmly by the handlebars, placed a foot on a pedal and swung his opposite leg and body over the machine. But he didn’t make it as high as the leather seat, lost his balance and fell flat on the ground, dragging the invention down with him. Mr. Garcia was not the sort of man that was easily daunted; despite finding his clothes soiled with mud, he attempted it a second time, and a third, and a fourth, and many, many more times afterwards. Quietly, sweating and muddied like a pig, he leaned the velocipede once more against the tree and took various deep breaths before setting his mind to the discernment of the problem.

I’m too fat, he said to himself, and the instruction manual didn’t make any mention of this condition, nor did the magazine advertisements or the brochures warn of it. Two tears of impotence and rage dropped from his eyes as he was overcome with a sense of abandonment similar to that of a little boy lost in the crowd at an amusement fair. He looked around until he found a rock he could sit on in order to recover his strength and lift his dashed spirits. He consulted the manual again, going over the instructions step by step, as if they were the Via Crucis, and wondering where he had gone wrong. How was he going to convince potential clients of the superior qualities of the velocipede if he couldn’t ride it? How could he attract new members to the club if he couldn’t provide a demonstration? Fortunately, he was alone in that wasteland and no one had witnessed his failure. There was nothing left to do but to keep trying, persevere day after day until he managed to master the velocipede.

Every morning, as the sun rose promising ever warmer weather with the approach of summer, Mr. Garcia arrived at the meadow with his virgin velocipede, performed his elaborate stretching and warm-up ritual, left the manual open on the same rock he had used to rest, meticulously went over it page by page, and took to the challenging task at hand, always making sure he kept a prudent distance from the Barranca of the Spirits. His concentration and resolve were so intense that he did not become immediately aware of a group of children who had appeared on a neighboring hilltop, their little eyes watching his exercises and training with great interest initially until their interest turned into amusement and then outright mockery every time his obese anatomy ended up on the ground next to or on top of the velocipede. His first reaction was to ignore them, pretend they didn’t exist, but when a pair of adults joined the children, and then the following day half the town appeared on the hilltop, cackling with laughter and egging him on, half in earnest and half in jest, he felt humiliated, his sense of self-worth deeply offended; he was brought to the very verge of tears. But far from losing heart and enthusiasm, and maybe to show them his determination even if his life depended on it, he kept at it, day after day, falling, muddying himself again and again, bruising himself, hurting and holding back tears of rage. Finally, one afternoon, when the townspeople, tired and bored with the repetitive spectacle, had opted to stay home, the miraculous happened: he felt himself lifted up into the sky as he got a leg over the iron crossbar and his enormous rear end landed softy in the leather seat, causing the velocipede to vibrate; he wavered for a moment, and it almost cost him his balance and the verticality he had longed for, but then he put his pudgy feet on the pedals attached to the axel of the big front wheel. The world seemed to tremble all around him, but there he was, yes, mounted on the velocipede, and it was like riding a cloud in the sky. Without thinking about it, he executed the next step, just as indicated in figure number four, which was to apply gentle and rhythmic pressure on the pedals while holding on firmly to the handlebars. Yes, God had worked a miracle and he was rolling forward, zigzagging a bit, like a teetering child, but he was moving without losing his balance. He advanced several meters, with his confidence and faith restored. Any fears of renewed failure evaporated and his enthusiasm gave way to blind faith. He let out a shout of joy, closed his eyes and applied greater pressure to the pedals, increasing his steadiness and stability as he gained speed. Now he did indeed experience exactly what a seagull felt as it glided over the surface of the ocean: the wind in his face, the thrilling sensation of floating a meter above the hard ground. He let out another shout of joy and opened his eyes to look at the ground below him and watch it disappear, vanquished, behind him. Then, in an act of bravado, he turned his head over his shoulder, expecting to see his malicious neighbors on the hill behind him so that he could now laugh at them. But instead he discovered that there was not a soul there, and turning his head back in the direction in which he was moving, he was surprised to see the Barranca of the Spirits directly before him. He applied the brakes, following the procedure as indicated in step number 7 of the instruction manual, but he was going so fast that he went over the bank before he could even voice dismay; he rolled a few meters into the muddy sludge until the velocipede got stuck at the bottom of the bog. In the next few seconds, which seemed eternal, Garcia was able to feel the velocipede, which remained upright, sink until he was submerged up to his chest. Disconcerted, his mind was capable of only one reaction, to repeat, as if it provided some consolation, the inaugural address he had committed to memory:

“Ladies and gentlemen, admirers and aficionados of the velocipede … ”

With great effort he was able to lift himself off the seat, make his way through the bog (which tried to suck him down into its depths), push his way to its edge and, clawing at the rocky slope, climb up to safety. But the velocipede had been gulped down, greedily devoured by the muddy bog, submerged below half a meter of dark, foul-smelling water; the bog released a bubbling belch to the surface, satisfied with the feast. Out of danger, Garcia began walking, and with every step he moved more and more like an automaton as the sludge he was covered in hardened into a shell around him. Because it was dinner time, he had the good fortune of making it home without anyone seeing him.

Garcia stayed out of sight and kept quiet about what had transpired. What’s more, none of the townspeople asked why he was melancholy, or inquired about the numerous bruises that still adorned his forehead and cheeks, or about the fate of the velocipede and the club, where they had on rare occasions gone to have a look around in a gesture of incredulity and pity. Garcia became a somber and spiritless man who was typically seen lingering by the shed, where, after a few months, a neighbor had set up a pig farm, but had also kept the sign on which one could still read the words: “The Velocipedist Social Club.” The pig farmer hadn’t even bothered to take the sign down when he purchased the property from Mr. Garcia at a bargain price, including the barn shed and its contents: twelve folding chairs, two tables, a chest to store books and file folders, a box with several dozen blank membership cards and a lovely blackboard that preserved the written vestiges of Garcia’s failure.

Years passed, and when the velocipede had become but a distant memory (and even that only in the minds of a very few) an especially dry summer with extremely high temperatures was visited on the town. The bog at the bottom of the Barranca of the Spirits saw its waters retreat, and concentric circles of mud served as recorded testimony of its shrinking, until its very bottom was transformed into a great big plate of cracked porcelain. Little by little, the townspeople, with a mix of curiosity and compassion, approached the bog and lowered themselves onto the brittle surface to get a closer look at a rusted skeleton with shriveled lichen for hair. It was as if evidence of the legendary specters had been revealed and only one person did not go to see it.

norberto-luis-romero-L-mA0bPZ

Translated by Dario Bard from an unpublished manuscript titled “Club Social de Velocipedistas” provided by the author.

Norberto Luis Romero is a short story writer and novelist, and also a director and professor of cinema. He was born in Lanus, a suburb of the City of Buenos Aires, and was raised in the Province of Cordoba. In 1975 he relocated to Spain where he lived until 2013, when he moved to Germany.

Norberto Luis Romero’s short stories have received critical acclaim and have been published in periodicals, anthologies and literary magazines in several languages throughout the Americas and Europe. His published stories have been translated into English by H.E. Francis. Two short story collections featuring H.E. Francis’ translations are available from Amazon: The Last Night of Carnival & Other Stories and The Arrival of Autumn in Constantinople and Other Stories. Since 2010, Norberto Luis Romero has dedicated himself to creating graphic art with photographic collages.

More information is available at his website.

At the launch of Norberto Luis Romero’s most recent novel, El lado oculto de la noche (2012), the Spanish poet Jesús Urceloy spoke of and with the author. See video (in Spanish):

“The Contest” by Liliana Heker

Download pdf: The Contest

The contest, said the woman from the bank, would be open only to local bank employees and their families; he would certainly discover, she assured him, some shoo-ins among them. Remus’ mind lingered on the word “shoo-in.” When he was a boy, his parents bought him shoes that were too big for him, and he had to use inserts until his feet grew into them, sorry? I was saying that you will find Professor Lusarreta of invaluable assistance, said the woman. Ah, yes, he said, and thought melancholically of how old and worn his shoes got by the time they did fit him. It will be most inspiring for the writers at the bank, said the woman. Remus figured that in the world of the living, there couldn’t be more than fifteen short story writers worth reading; it was improbable that the banking sector of a seaside town—family included—would harbor even one of them, but given the state of depression he found himself in lately, the woman’s offer didn’t seem all that bad: roundtrip deluxe bus service, his honorarium and a three-day hotel stay. The idea of looking out to sea for hours, getting drunk off the pendular roar of the breakers until his soul dissolved and the tribulations of heartbreak and failure were reduced to what they really were—a drop in the universe—made a few days of reading bad writing seem worthwhile, and so he said yes, he’d accept.

St Ives

St. Ives, Herbert Barnard John Everett, 1935. Courtesy of the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

The box arrived two weeks later. It was bigger than he had imagined, and so for days he couldn’t work himself up to opening it. He glanced at the package as if it were an object of guilt, and promised himself that any day now he would call the woman from the bank and tell her, under some pretext, that it was impossible for him to judge the contest. He knew he would never actually do it, but the mere possibility offered relief. Professor Lusarreta’s call caught him off guard. She was loquacious and expressed her enormous confidence in his criteria; in fact, it had been she herself who insisted that she shouldn’t serve as co-judge, but rather as an auxiliary genius (tee hee) to the sage; after all, what could she, a simple professor, contribute to the opinion of someone of his stature? He found her disarming and was soon agreeing with the professor that the submitted material showed some highly promising signs; what diversity, what uncharted worlds could be revealed by a writer of no renown, what crap was he saying? Was he so starved for faith, even if borrowed from someone else, that he was capable of acting contemptibly in order to keep it alive? When he hung up, it was clear there was no turning back. He walked over to the box as if he were inflicting some form of self-punishment, but he didn’t open it right away. He looked at it, afraid, waiting for some cataclysmic event to free him of the commitment. Finally, cursing himself under his breath, he got some scissors and cut the packing twine.

This was no small feat. For the past several years, he required colossal effort even for the smallest of actions. He lived with drawers stuffed with papers that he didn’t have the energy to go through, clothes in jumbled piles made the mere act of dressing himself a nightmare, the bookcase was invaded by books he didn’t want but couldn’t bring himself to throw away, along with misplaced beloved books he was incapable of returning to their proper place. Now this is a big problem, he said to himself on several occasions, paralyzed in the act of searching for a certain book, looking at the disordered mess like a mountain that he would never dare climb: when chaos interferes with the only thing one cares about, it’s time to hang up the gloves. But that wasn’t an option. He didn’t even have gloves to hang up, or a towel to throw in. He only had this thing languishing inside him, dying so gradually as to be invisible to others, and so women from banks and Lusarretas of all stripes continued calling on him in the name of who-knows-what past glory, and he didn’t even have the energy to say no.

Reading the stories is worse than I had anticipated, he wrote on the back of one form, a poison of stupefying effect that I can only neutralize by plunging myself up to my nuts in Stendhal (he had taken to doing that in recent years: immersing himself in the re-reading of certain authors as if looking for some solid footing while the world collapsed under his feet). What motivates them to take the trouble? Do any of them really think they can write a page of something worthwhile? He thought that it would be possible to come up with a story based on characters like these contestants: puerile and devoid of charm, but fully believing in themselves. He suspected mischievously, however, that it wouldn’t be he who would write it—not that story or any other—because, coincidentally, he had lost all confidence in his own way with words. Had he ever really had it in the first place, or was it all a dream? Or was it one of the many excesses of his greener years?

He read with care and grief, sloshing for days through insipid episodes and trite adventures, taking the phone calls of Professor Lusarreta, anxious to exchange impressions with him, and the woman from the bank, desperate to print the award certificates. And he prepared them for the idea that maybe the material didn’t lend itself to honorable mentions … or even to a runner up; that in order to add prestige to the contest, only excellence should be recognized, didn’t they agree? And they agreed with whatever he thought was best, of course, as long as he made his decision in time for the certificates to be printed; there was a lot of excitement about the contest in town, did Remus realize it? Remus said he did and promised that yes, he’d have a decision in time. He certainly didn’t lack motivation: he needed to liberate himself of that nightmare—he felt that for the past week, he’d done nothing but read hogwash—and, above all else, he needed to find a passable story submission to justify his trip to the sea. Without a winning story, there would be no trip, he understood, and he needed the sea; the more the task of reading wore him down, the more he hung his hopes on that trip to the sea. Perhaps, in that peaceful place, away from everything that tormented him, that something which seemed dead inside him could come alive again.

Maybe it was that desire for the sea or a passing attack of benevolence, or maybe it was that the virtues, modest though they were, were real. Whatever the case, with only three or four stories to go, he came across one that he deemed acceptable. It was nothing out of this world, but at least it had a plot, the rough framework of a structure and a premise less uninteresting than the others. He quickly verified that the remaining stories didn’t offer anything better and called Professor Lusarreta. He explained, with an eloquence that was impossible to refute (that was one thing he still did very well), the distance that existed between this story and the others, and a short while later, he felt he had earned the pleasure of curling up in bed with The Red and the Black.

Two days later, after a pleasant trip on a bus with fully reclining seats, he arrived at the sea. He was only able to give it a quick look, however, because he had just enough time to get to his hotel, shower and dress for the awards ceremony. He had worked out the agenda with the woman from the bank the day before. Won’t the ceremony be a bit poor with just one award? asked the woman. By no means, replied Remus, and he thought that it didn’t much matter; he couldn’t imagine more than twenty people, if even that many, showing up for what the woman called the “ceremony.” He promised to first make brief introductory remarks explaining the contest’s rules, and then announce the winner, pointing out the story’s virtues; after that, the author would be invited on stage, handed the first prize certificate and … (he dithered, realizing that the event really was quite poor; fortunately, however, ever since he had finished reading through the entries, he had been feeling inspired) … and then the winning author would be asked to read his story, he concluded brightly. The plan seemed to comfort the woman from the bank and now Remus walked toward the Association building, promising himself that as soon as the event was over (it couldn’t last more than an hour), he’d go for a walk along the coast before sitting down to dinner. He thought his game plan—wrap up the event, walk by the sea, dinner—quite delightful. He felt light and jovial.

He arrived punctually at the Association. In the lobby, the woman from the bank, Professor Lusarreta and other bank officials were there to greet him. He was unusually friendly; he realized he was in a good mood for the first time in ages.

It wasn’t until the woman from the bank said they should go inside that he noticed all the people; they were pouring inside the building, the men wearing ties and the women dressed as if for a gala. There must be some sort of special performance, he thought, but as soon as he was led through a curtain, he realized he was on the stage of an auditorium and that the people in their Sunday best were filing into the seats. He was seated between the woman from the bank and Professor Lusarreta. By the time the bank manager began to speak, there wasn’t an empty seat. The manager’s tone was formal and moving. Remus easily fazed out the words (it was a well-practiced skill of his) and busied his mind with speculations about what could have brought such a large audience to such an insipid event. Perhaps the prize-winner was a very popular guy, he thought, although he didn’t find the possibility very convincing. Now Professor Lusarreta was speaking. Of the honor it was for her to assist someone as blah blah blah as he, and that she was like an ant helping—an elephant crossed Remus’ mind, and he wanted to laugh wildly and also write about all this because suddenly the world became an absurd and surprising place, set before his eyes so that he might tell others about it; how long had it been since he had felt that wonderful sensation?—and that, with a figure as celebrated and blah blah blah as his, what could she possibly add. It was best if she put an end to the great suspense and handed the microphone over to Remus for him to announce the results of this laudable contest that had far surpassed the expectations of their dear banking family. Applause.

Remus started off diplomatically; he spoke of the ponderable number of entries, of the effort that that must have implied for every contestant, and of what a good sign it was for such a small community to have so many people who wrote. Then he explained why, although the original rules said otherwise, the judges (he felt like the Sun King) had decided to award a single prize. He spoke of Maupassant, of Poe, of Quiroga, of epiphanies and loaded guns, of the terror or beauty that any minor incident can convey. And something that exceeded the vicissitudes of that contest began to grow inside him, something like passion which he, at that very moment, swore to nurture so that it would not die but instead grow and multiply, and. He abruptly came down from these inspired heights and named the winner. The applause was less enthusiastic than expected. The winning author walked up on stage (he was a rather young man), the bank manager handed him the first place certificate and an envelope, and Remus invited him to read his story. It was a bit tiresome for him to hear it recited in full, but he found comfort in thinking of it as the final act of his obligations.

When the prize winner finished reading his story, Remus’ applause was genuinely enthusiastic. That impeded him from recalling, a moment later, if the audience had also applauded. He was rising up from his seat when a man from the audience said stiffly:

“I demand an explanation.”

“Excuse me … ?” said Remus.

“I said I demand an explanation as to why that story won first prize.”

“Well,” said Remus with a short laugh, “it’s clear that if it won first prize, it’s because it was the best, right?”

“That remains to be seen,” said another voice from the audience. It wasn’t the same man who had spoken previously.

“Excuse me,” Remus said again, “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“If you don’t understand,” said a woman with a high-pitched voice, “I’d like to know what makes you think you’re qualified to judge this contest.”

Remus sat down in his chair again. He saw the prize-winning author discreetly leave the stage.

“Ma’am, let me inform you that it’s not that one thinks he or she is qualified to judge,” said Remus, taking great pains not to lose his patience. “One is invited to judge.” With a sweep of his arm, he indicated the woman from the bank. But she looked at him anxiously, as if pinning her hopes on Remus to resolve this unexpected turn of events.

“Well, how about that. So the gentleman was invited,” said the man who first spoke up; he was standing now. He turned around with his arm extended, appealing to the audience for support. “But, you know what? If it were me,” he continued, pounding his chest, “if I were invited to a crocodile breeding congress, you know what I’d say?” Pause, dramatic effect. “I’d say no!”

An enthusiastic round of applause. A good number of other audience members now stood up. Some shouted.

Remus felt an unbearable desire to wrap his hands around the man’s neck and squeeze and squeeze until no sound could be heard coming out of his mouth. Instead, he asked:

“Would someone care to tell me what the problem is?”

“The problem, sir,” said a man whose voice was heard over the crowd and who lifted an admonishing finger (Why don’t you stick that finger up your ass? thought Remus), “is that I’m not leaving without an explanation that validates why that story that was read aloud is better than mine.”

Same here! Same here! was heard from all corners of the auditorium.

Finally Remus understood what was happening and why so many people had come to the event: all the contestants had been invited without being told who the winner was, and each one of them had come, with their supporters, certain that they had won.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said in a tone that he felt was persuasive, “it just so happens that literature is not an exact science; there are various imponderables that make … ”

“Imponderables my ass!” said a woman. “Tell me this instant why my story didn’t win.”

Remus looked around desperately for the woman from the bank, but she was no longer on stage and nowhere to be seen in the audience. Professor Lusarreta, on the other hand, was still there, looking out into space with a catatonic expression on her face.

“You must realize, ma’am, that I can’t possibly have the slightest idea of which story was yours.”

“It’s the one about the woman who is fed up with her husband’s … ”

“Ma’am, there were one hundred and forty three submissions; you must see that I couldn’t possibly recall the details of all of them.”

“Then I’ll read it to you; I have it here with me,” she said, holding up some sheets of paper.

“I want to read mine, too!” said a very short man.

Other voices were raised. Among them was heard the voice of the man with the admonishing finger.

“I have the solution!” he said. An expectant silence fell over the crowd. “Let’s all read our stories aloud and decide publicly which is best.”

The auditorium howled in approval: Yes! Right on!

These people are crazy, thought Remus. Right then, Professor Lusarreta whispered timidly in his ear:

“I don’t believe there’s any other option.”

“You’re as crazy as they are,” said Remus. He slammed his fist on the table. “I don’t have to explain myself to anyone!” he shouted. “I’m the judge and the judge’s decision is final!”

“A perfect fool,” said a teenager. “That’s what you are.”

It felt as if a dagger had stabbed him in the heart. That teenager was now making her way out of the auditorium and she would always harbor the memory of that clownish declaration of his.

“Don’t leave,” he said. “Please, don’t leave without hearing what I have to say.”

And he explained blindly, almost as if he were confessing, that he didn’t feel, he had never felt, that he had the right to judge anyone but himself, and it was that, that fierceness with which he judged himself when it came to something he considered noble and beautiful, and the fastidiousness he felt when too many words were written for nothing, that had impeded him from writing a single page, and perhaps authorized him to be implacable with his fellow writers.

But the teenager was no longer there. Only the enraged crowd, shouting: He feels he has no right to judge anyone but he judges us! He’s a failure! Let’s read our stories under his nose so that the truth can finally be known!

A woman stood up with the intent of reading. Various others shouted: Me next! And waved their pages in the air.

My God, I don’t deserve this, thought Remus. And at the same time he thought that maybe he did, because of his arrogance and his pride, because he thought he had the right to speak in the name of a noble and beautiful art form that he could never achieve.

He looked over and saw that Professor Lusarreta had gone. Let them read to the devil, he murmured, as for me, I’m not putting up with this. And with surprising agility, he jumped off the stage intending to escape.

He didn’t get very far. Someone seized him by the lapels and prevented him from fleeing; someone else punched him in the solar plexus. As he fell, he saw an infuriated horde of authors, all thinking highly of themselves, pounce on him, hungry for fame and glory.

La muerte de dios by liliana heker

Translated by Dario Bard from “El concurso” as printed in La muerte de Dios, published by Alfaguara, 2011, available from Amazon.  

Liliana Heker is a novelist, short story writer and essayist from the City of Buenos Aires. Her distinguished professional writing career began at the age of 17. She has won several awards and was a founding member of two of Argentina’s most influential literary magazines, El Escarabajo de Oro (1961-1974) and Ornitorrinco (1977-1986). Heker is also well known for her literary workshops, which have been attended by several critically acclaimed writers.

Practically all of her short stories have been translated into English by Alberto Manguel. The Stolen Party and Other Stories, a short story collection translated by Manguel, is available at Amazon. “The Stolen Party,” a translation of Heker’s short story, “La fiesta ajena,” is available online from the Syracuse City School District. The End of the Story, a translation of her novel Fin de la historia, is also available from Amazon. Yale University Press is presently planning an English-language collection of Heker’s short stories.

Liliana Heker was interviewed on the Argentine public television program, Los 7 locos, on November 24, 2011. Watch the interview (in Spanish) below: