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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

Translated by Katie Jacoby

The literal truth was that I was in love with Mariana. I could never find the words, however, to confess my love to her; the mere letter of a word would begin to come together in my mind and a knot would immediately form in my throat. My mother used to tell me I was a prodigy with words, seeing as I spoke Spanish and French. My grandmother would simply scoff and say ironically, “All-knowing prodigy, what good does it do you to have your nose stuck in Don Quixote all day if you can’t even work up the nerve to talk to a girl?”

At that time, I was engrossed in a translation that I was doing of Don Quixote from Spanish to French. It was a good exercise to let me see how words change along the course of history: regrettably, some had died out; alternately, others had been born; there were still others that had turned their backs on their original meaning and now meant something entirely different. The words were dependent on time and location. In my case, however, despite being sure of my time, location, and communicative intention, my shyness kept me from being able to find the right words to talk to Mariana.

Mariana was my neighbor, and I would always spot her from my balcony. My grandmother would observe me with something of pity, and one day when she couldn’t take it any longer, she said to me, “Give her a flower—it’s the best gift for a woman. A flower means love, tenderness, and affection. That’s how your grandfather won my heart.” I decided to follow her advice, thereby wholly circumventing the problem of the knots in my throat.

I went to the flower stands outside St. Peter’s Cemetery. I encountered there a whole arsenal of flowers, but although I looked and looked, I couldn’t make up my mind. Pointing at a flower and asking what its name was, I learned that there were roses, chrysanthemums, carnations, dahlias, pansies, sunflowers, and orchids. Noticing my indecision, the old woman that was assisting me asked me, “Who are the flowers for?” I didn’t know what to say. She continued, “Each flower has a meaning, just like words themselves. Red roses mean love; white roses mean commitment; orchids, respect; carnations, luck. Make sure you choose carefully in order to send the right message.”

“A red rose, please,” I said.

“Red roses mean love,” I said over and over to myself on the bus ride home. I was satisfied; the rose would perfectly express what I felt inside. What’s more, words had become so trite—everyone everywhere goes around saying I love you this, I love you that. Or when they feel that a mere I love you doesn’t quite say enough, they’ll say it in another language. No one gives flowers anymore, though. My grandmother had said to me, “No one gives flowers anymore because young people these days are so unromantic.”

I arrived at Mariana’s house and knocked on the door. Her mother opened it. When Mariana stepped out, I held out the rose to her. She took it and said to me, “Thanks, but you should show a little more respect for nature.”

Felipo Zaná

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Translated by Katie Jacoby

I couldn’t decide between Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky—the salon discussions of the first or the poor bastards of the second; one was a collector’s edition, the other a little battered by the years. I already had García Márquez, Mishima, Kafka, Neruda and Mutis under my arm. Six was the maximum number of books I was allowed. I decided to take both of the Russians for the time being and later decide. I continued examining shelf after shelf.

Besides good authors, I was looking for good books, the kinds I’d never be able to buy new because of the high prices at bookstores, or those rare ones that you can never find, even if you scour all the bookstores in the city. That’s what book swaps are for, the perfect opportunity to divest yourself of books long-forgotten in your house, those ones covered in dust or that prop up a wobbly table, those ones that when you lend them to a friend, deep down you hope to never get back. We don’t actually admit this out loud, though, being as obsessed with numbers as we are. Although no one else notices, it pleases us that our collection expands, that our bookshelves are admired. Ah, you have this gem! I’ve been looking for it all my life. Yes, I have it, and just let me tell you, it was quite the task to get my hands on it. And in exchange for those books we hold such little affection toward, we leave with, for example, a magnificent copy of Tomás González or Sophie’s World.

In France, I didn’t manage to read much, fully concentrated as I was on my advanced studies, so I was naturally dying to read good prose.

When I was just about to scan all the shelves again, I saw it—the book responsible for the trajectory that would end in me scribbling these lines. It was Miracle of the Rose by Jean Genet, an author I’d never read but whose name I’d heard many times in various literary discussions. An alcoholic, drug addict, thief and homosexual: those were the first words that came to my mind. Still, I don’t let my judgment be clouded by details like those. The author had been recommended by Victor—you must read him—and the times are few and far between when he recommends me something that’s not good. Now with another book to add to the ones I was already hauling around, the final decision would be tricky. Neruda and García Márquez were safe, but not Kafka, the other Colombian author, the Russians, the Japanese or the French. Heads would have to be put on the chopping block—two to be precise.

It all happened when I opened to the first page of the book by Genet. It’s possible that it’s happened to you, dear reader; it’s possible that it takes place when you buy a used book or if you are also a fan of book swaps. It’s something completely normal and, what’s more, it had already happened to me before. How can I put it? Miracle of the Rose was on the shelves at the book swap, but it didn’t belong there—it belonged in Daniel’s hands.

I immediately took note of the other people there, scrutinizing them. Before, I saw them only as rivals that might beat me to some treasure; now I looked for a Daniel among them. I wanted to ask him how he had been capable of being such a jerk; I wanted to tell him that Joy didn’t deserve such low treatment. It’s true that I didn’t know his side of the story, but I wanted to tell him that he was a son of a bitch nonetheless. No one at the book swap had the kind of face befitting such a scoundrel. I wanted to be sure, however, so I called Daniel’s name out loud. Nobody looked up. Everyone just continued staring at the shelves, looking for whatever they were looking for.

When it comes to books, I usually go into a sort of trance and barely notice the outside world; the people around me seemed to be the same way, so I said “Daniel” again, this time louder. This time it had an effect, and someone lifted their head up, but maybe because they didn’t recognize the face calling them, they want back to browsing. I went up to him and, touching his arm, said, “Daniel, I need to ask you some questions.” No, you’re mistaken; I’m not Daniel. He wasn’t Daniel. I went back and reread the dedication penned in the Genet book, which went like this:

Finally, you’re about to take off. How time flies! I remember you talking about all your expectations just a few months ago: “Independence, time to think…” Those expectations are now within reach and your dream has become reality; you’re leaving… Daniel, I admire you for always being yourself, for fighting and standing up for your causes. You made me think, made me stop mid-journey, made me take a long look at myself and ask that total stranger: Who are you? What do you want? Why do you long for what you’ve lost?

In my heart, you’ll always remain just as you are, your zest for life, your fascinating way with words, your obsessive loves, your Machado, your Homer, your Cavafy, your literature, your revolutionary heart, your music; your passion for writing, for expressing through words every fiber of your being and every hair on the heads of those around you; your hatred for conventionality and the values entrenched in this society, your unique craziness, your Borges, your oversights.

I never told you this, but I grew to love you, although our friendship never went any further than your visits to my house, strange and unique… I liked it. I hope that you learn a great deal, but more than anything that you come back some day… The first piano concert will be dedicated to you. All that’s left for me to say to you is “Good luck.”

Love, Joy

Write me at: Cll 4 # 15a – 97

I reread it a few more times. I felt sad for Joy and a tremendous hatred for Daniel. Now there were three books that were safe: the French book had joined the ranks of the first two.

I went back to the book swap the next day, hoping to see Daniel. I took Miracle of the Rose with me, hoping that he’d notice me, approach me and say to me: Hey, that’s a good book you’ve got there. This time I wasn’t paying attention to the books, but instead watched all the people there closely. I realized that it’s more difficult to read a face than a page. I couldn’t tell which one was Daniel. Later on, however, I realized that I had seen him, that Daniel had been there after all, and I learned the reasons why he hadn’t said anything about the book.

The book swap lasted only two days, so at the end of the afternoon I felt unsatisfied. I would no longer be able to look for Daniel. Just then, as that door slammed shut, I thought of another that perhaps should have been more obvious from the beginning: Joy. I had her address. But what could I say to Joy? With Daniel, it was clear-cut: How could you get rid of this book so easily, knowing that it was given with so much love? You’re a real douchebag. With Joy, it was totally different. What could I say to her? Do you remember Daniel? Well, look, he gave away the book that you gave him; it didn’t even matter to him, look. No, I could never say such a thing to Joy! But it’s also possible that she had suspected as much—maybe Daniel had come back, they had continued their fling and then for whatever reason had broken it off bitterly, so then the logical thing would be that my news would come as no real blow. However, it could be that she was oblivious. She might not even know that Daniel had come back, seeing as he had never written or called. No, I couldn’t break that kind of news to Joy. The best thing would be for her to devote herself to the piano. Yes, her love and dedication to her art would surely help her forget that prick.

I didn’t want to read Miracle of the Rose immediately, wanting to forget about the whole thing, so I started with Mishima, and later came García Márquez. I was so wowed by him that I checked out all his works from the library. With Mishima and García Márquez, I became eager to read Kawabata, later returning to Mutis, Neruda, and Dostoyevsky. When I finished reading all of them, I went to Victor’s house and he lent me other authors—I didn’t like them as much.

Of all the state prisons of France, Fontevrault is the most disquieting. It was Fontevrault that gave me the strongest impression of anguish and affliction, and I know that convicts who have been in other prisons have, at the mere mention of its name, felt an emotion, a pang, comparable to mine.” I had begun reading the novel so long intentionally forgotten: Miracle of the Rose. I read it in one sitting and when I finished, I immediately ran out of my house, caught a taxi, handed the novel to the driver and told him to take me to that address.

Now that I think about it, Joy wasn’t all that joyful. When she cracked open the door, a sad face said to me without much emotion, “Daniel, when did you get back?”

Felipo Zaná

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Translated by Katie Jacoby

I was taken aback when I learned that she had committed suicide. Fourteen years before, we had promised to let each other know when we made that decision. That was during our college days, back when we lived from one depression to the next, those sorrows being precisely what had brought us close. We reveled in our talks about loneliness and the futility of life, and we patted ourselves on the back for all kinds of sophisms. We would stay up all night crying inconsolably over a bottle of wine while listening to music or reciting poetry. We read of Werther and he became our lone hero. Sometimes we would also read María Mercedes Carranza’s poems. We would talk about the different ways to die, from the most painful and bloody options to simple carbon monoxide, making our way through the most distressing methods. Be it by letter or phone call, we decided that we would inform the other when we finally made the fatal decision; I received neither letter nor call. After college, we fell more and more out of touch. Years later, she told me she was getting married. I didn’t attend the wedding.

It was a friend of ours from the university who told me about her suicide. I happened to run into him in the street, and the first thing he said to me was, “Did you hear about Andrea?” Seeing me shake my head, he dropped the news on me together with fourteen years’ worth of memories, memories so intense that they knocked me over. I refused to ask for details, nor did I let him tell me them. I felt sick. The last thing I’d heard from her was that her marriage was going swimmingly. Her getting married had been another broken promise; we had sworn to never marry. I thought to myself that she very well could have gone ahead then and committed suicide after all, that the whole deal about the promises had been from a time long behind us, and that I was the only sucker still living in those memories.

That night I went to the bar that we used to go to all the time during our days of mutual turmoil. Sure enough, the bar had the same message for me: “Everything changes: places, things, and people alike.” It still had the same name and location, but the management had changed. The tables and chairs had been moved around, now arranged as if in position for battle, ready to attack the memories and nostalgia of the former regulars who came back to visit. Still, I stayed, it being the place where I had the most memories of her. That night I got drunk and wept. Tormented, I felt that I couldn’t take any more. Everything hurt, much more than the old aches ever had. I felt like a coward for still being alive, but I hadn’t broken my promise, and that was one thing I couldn’t forgive her for: her failure to keep her word. Her words still felt warm in my mind: “I’ll let you know the day I decide to kill myself.” So, what happened, Andre?

I cried harder, despising everything. I had every intention of killing myself. But it wasn’t the right time yet; there was still a lot to remember about her. I wondered what her marriage must have been like. I saw it pass through my mind in a second’s time: the proposal would have been first, then the “yes,” later the wedding night, followed by the children, and of course at every turn the promises and the past utterly forgotten. I remember that she once called to ask me if I wanted to be the godfather of her first son. I was drunk—I was always drunk in those days—and I remember that I asked her why she thought her children were anything to me. Yes, the children and the happy marriage served to blot out the promises, immersing her in a life very distinct from the one of our youth. Our friends from college would tell me how well Andrea’s life was going for her, that she had really won the lottery with that husband of hers, and that her two kids were absolute darlings, especially the older one. I left the bar, swearing that I’d never return because of its betrayal of the past, and decided to go to another bar unconnected to her, wanting to think about her in a different place. With every glass of wine, I cursed her over and over again. “What happened to your charmed life?” I screamed. I knew that her suicide didn’t have anything to do with the past because she had betrayed it; I also knew that there couldn’t have been any remorse for having betrayed that past because you don’t feel remorseful over something you’ve completely forgotten.

After college, I called her on various occasions to tell her that I was finally ready to go through with it. And she would tell me to be mature, that if I was going to stay stuck in that phase all my life, I needed to grow up. And I would tell her through tears that fine, I wouldn’t do it then, I’d grow up. So, what happened, Andre?

I feel that I did stay in that past, and everything from that time still surrounds me. I didn’t move on. I still remember when I met Andrea Arenas, later Andre, later Doctor Arenas, later Mrs. Ramírez, but I have very few recollections of those last two, hardly knowing them. Ah, what a despicable way for you to treat our past, Andre. Andre, I’ve always remained faithful to the past, continued in my sensibly senseless bohemia, in my teary depressions, kept navigating the lagoons of cheap wine. Andre, if you only knew how much I long to end my life, but you’ll see that I keep my promises. I’m faithful to our past. I can’t call you, can’t write; I just remain with this desire to kill myself. Oh, Andre; oh, my Andre—why?

Felipo Zaná

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