The light of day so soon dark (fragment)
The hooded man passed the rope over his head, and he felt its chafing on his skin. The knot tightened, pressing on his throat, provoking an impulse to raise his hands and tear it apart, a tension in his muscles that was useless against the bonds immobilizing his hands at his sides. The scaffold planks creaked: someone, hidden under them, was sliding back the bolts that held up the trap door. The crowd – the rabble – awaiting the execution became restless, moved by a base emotion; a hiss imposed silence. He was struggling against those ropes, against the constriction that was stopping him from breathing; and striking out with his arms like a swimmer he managed, or so it seemed to him, to struggle out of the nightmare, to toss and turn soaked in sweat in a bed that wasn’t his, in a bed that wasn’t even the one that had become familiar for the last eight months and seventeen days, the bed in which he’d slept or in which he’d lain awake ever since he’d been put into prison, a few days after his arrest.
Without opening his eyes he knew that the bed was different, and that on the parade ground of that barracks with a name that evoked his grandfather’s fruit trees, the trees bowed down by the weight of the red apples, there was no scaffold. Hours earlier the priest who visited had asked, after Pedro had refused what he was coming to offer, if he wanted anything material, a cigarette, a glass of brandy. I’d like an apple, he’d said, a camoesa, and he was about to add that it had to be one from his grandfather’s farm. A scaffold wasn’t needed, there wouldn’t be any ropes, or trap doors. Puig, a year before, had been garrotted, but this time it would be a rifle shot. In the barracks with the name of an apple tree there weren’t any apples.
He’d talked about apples once, a long time earlier, with the comrade they called Quintana, a peculiar nom de guerre, in a cadre in which they’d all chosen first names for themselves. The group leader, a lad with thin, perpetually tensed lips, had accused Quintana of wanting to set himself apart by using that surname.
‘This isn’t a spy film, brother, why don’t we call you something normal, like Pepe or Vicente?’
‘Quintana was a liberal poet, whom Fernando VII locked up in a castle – wasn’t this all about reviving history?’
Quintana had the virtue or the defect of disconcerting the group leader. They’d talked about the apples used for cider, and how they need cross-pollination, honeycombs among the apple trees so that the bees – beekeepers affectionately call them beelings, and little herds – carry the pollen from one tree to another. One summer day the bees had found their way in through a hole in Quintana’s mask and he’d been close to dying from the stings. Pedro knew about it, although he thought Quintana hadn’t told him. They’d talked about apples early one morning when they went to the Induyco factory to hand out pamphlets. This conversation had made Pedro curious to know if the other man was from cider-making Asturias, but these things cannot be asked. All this had happened a long time earlier, when Quintana was one of the comrades, before he left the party, before he lost his faith and became a traitor, a rotten apple.
In From the beginning of the sea. Anthology of contemporary Galician short stories. Foreign Demand, Brighton, 2009. (From the volume Wolves on the islands; Translated by the Translation Workshop at the University of Oxford, under the direction of John Rutherford)
Wolves on the islands (fragment)
They say there’s a wolf on the island, Dona Lucinda tells them one night, her eyes buried in her knitting, in the needles that shine like knives in the glow of the oil lamp. The electricity’s often cut off at night, we must go to the River Xallas power station and complain. Who’s seen it? – asks Amalia looking at Miguel’s wide-open eyes. Nobody’s seen it, it stole a piece of goat-meat that Paco’s children were going to cook there last Sunday. Rita and Amalia never went to the island on Sundays. We, says Amalia, have never seen any wolves; how could there be any wolves on the island? There might be, says Dona Lucinda, or there must have been once, hence the name. Their father doesn’t believe in these folk etymologies, names like Lobeira come from being the property of people called López, with so many of them in the place, or in other places around the ria, and then people don’t distinguish between the ‘p’ of López and the ‘b’ of lobo, who knows; wolves on the island, how silly!
I don’t like you going to the island, Dona Lucinda repeats. We’ll go to Sardineiro instead, says Rita, throwing a glance towards Amalia, a glance that belies her words: don’t you worry, the wolves won’t eat us.
In Lobeira there are mothers who don’t frighten their children by talking about the bogeyman, or threatening them with the wolf, but with Foucellas. Not all of them, there are others who were anarchists during the war, and for them Foucellas isn’t a bandit but a hero, although one can only speak about these things in hushed tones. Foucellas can’t frighten anyone anymore, except those who fear ghosts, because on the twenty-sixth of July four years ago they garrotted him. They killed Pancho, too, a year ago, but there are other fugitives in the wilds, like that one they call the Pilot and a few others, competing with wolves for prey. On the way to Corunna, just past Lobelos, lives a girl who has more reason to mourn for Foucellas than the others; at least that’s what Flora says.
Ever since Paco’s children saw wolves there, the island has to be visited in secret. Previously it was a little trip, now it is an adventure; if Dona Lucinda finds out she will have the skiff locked up. You’d better not say anything, says Rita to Amalia, you’re no good at lying. Excited by the adventure, Amalia doesn’t sleep, she just turns over in the sand, uneasy, waiting for something to happen. It’s muggy, there are low clouds, as if a storm was brewing, and Amalia stands up calling for Rita, puts her sandals on, and heads inland looking for Rita. She searches for Rita in the reed-beds, in the scrub, taking care not to scratch herself on the gorse; she follows the path that leads to the lighthouse, to the ruined tower. The first drops of rain are falling, and she goes through the door, not knowing why, there isn’t any roof in there to protect her from the storm. On an old blanket there are two intertwined bodies, Rita’s breast is a sandy white where her bathing costume has always covered it, the man’s beard and hair are thick, just like wolves’ hair must be. The opposite of what Amalia had always imagined, she is on top and he is underneath. She turns and runs, runs in the rain back to the beach, puts on her dress and, wrapped in a towel, pressing Rita’s dress to her body so that it does not get wet, waits an interminable time for her.
In Breogan's Lighthouse. An anthology of Galician Literature, Francis Boutle, 2010. (from the volume Wolves on the islands, Translated by the Translation Workshop at the University of Oxford, under the direction of John Rutherford)
Death in the chest (fragment)
‘Across that stream, there’s a cave,’ declared Marcos, pointing to a slope covered in heather and broom. We’d been walking for almost two hours, and these must have been the first words he’d said.
‘A cave of badgers?’ I asked.
‘Of badgers or of men.’
He fell silent, and I didn’t dare ask anything else. He’d never talked to me about his relations with members of the Maquis, if he had any. Up until then, I’d doubted whether it wasn’t just some local gossip. True, he did disappear for days, but I was fifteen years old and was too concerned with my own affairs to worry about the presence or absence of others. Now I think he was starting to feed me information in case one day I had to end up doing the same as him.
The snow, so white, is treacherous. It can be a new sheet flapping in the wind. Or a shroud. But death isn’t always announced and, even when it is, we don’t always understand the signs.
My uncle had one obsession that autumn: to hunt down the boar. It had ruined the crops in the summer, digging up the soil between the potatoes, rummaging with its lively snout. It was the middle of November, the birches had lost their leaves. Why he hadn’t gone after it at the start of the hunting season, why he’d had to wait until November, when it was already cold, is something I cannot explain. There may have been a reason and, with the passing of time, I’ve forgotten.
I’d never seen a boar, even though at home it was invoked to make us children afraid. On outings with my father in the mountains, we’d come across timid-looking rabbits, hares, field mice. I’d once caught a dormouse with a white stripe on its face, like a mask. I’d kept it in the wood hut in a bird cage for ten days. But it wouldn’t settle, it went mad and ran around its prison like a creature possessed, until I decided to let it go. Wild animals don’t get used to being in cages. The boar, however, was a difficult animal to find. With my father, I’d learned to recognize the signs of its presence, the loose bark of a tree where it had sharpened its tusks, the double mark of its hooves when it came down to the river to drink. But I’d never actually seen one.
I don’t know why Marcos was so obsessed with killing a boar. He was my mother’s brother, but much younger, only six years older than me. He worked in a sawmill in town and wasn’t much given to talking. I’d never dared ask my mother if he really had relations with members of the resistance. These were things one didn’t talk about. It may have been true, and the guards had killed one of his companions. Maybe that was why he wanted to pepper a boar with his shotgun.
That early morning in November when Marcos and I left in the direction of Ernes to hunt down the boar, the sky was a dark bedspread and the wind cut like a knife. We had prepared our own cartridges, stuffing them with powder and adding pellets. The cartridges weren’t new, we used them again and again by straightening out the cardboard. It took time, but back then time was all we had. Or so we believed.
A boar needs large-calibre ammunition like pellets. Marcos was carrying his 12-gauge Víctor Sarasqueta gun, a weapon from 1927 with a stock made of walnut that came from the mythical factory in Eibar and had somehow landed in his father’s hands, while I had a smaller, 16-gauge gun, probably also made in Eibar, but without a name. The Sarasqueta was what I envied Marcos the most, apart from the six years’ difference in age, which made him a man, while I was treated like a child. I didn’t even have a firearms licence. Just a dog, Ney, a cross between a griffon and a hound (with the blood of a mutt thrown in), hairy, not pretty, according to my mother, but capable of stubbornly following a scent and flushing out a rabbit or a boar, I hoped.
The gusts of wind were getting stronger and it was starting to snow when Ney picked up a scent and began to follow it. Following the scent of a boar or any wild animal when it’s blowing a gale is madness, but Marcos’ face, when I glanced at it sideways, had such a look of determination that there was no option but to keep on going, despite the snow that, as it fell, erased the boar’s tracks. We climbed up hills, clambered down gullies, crossed streams carrying water between boulders, I slipped on a wet rock and grazed my hand, and even so we didn’t say a word. We’d been walking for five or six hours, perhaps more, by which time I didn’t know what we were chasing and sensed that, even if the boar was ten or twelve feet in front of us, we wouldn’t see it.
Suddenly the wind changed direction, stopped blowing from the boar towards us and started blowing from behind us. Ney stopped, dropped his ears and looked at us in confusion. Marcos also came to a halt and by the look in his eyes, without the need for words, I knew that we were lost. We’d fallen into the boar’s trap, it had led us into the heart of its territory and now it was going to abandon us somewhere between a grey sky and some equally grey mountains. I realized the snow, which until then had fallen as dry as mill-dust, sweeping the land without wetting us, was now flying in our faces, mixed with water, and in no time at all we would be soaked.
We had to walk, it was all we could do. Marcos kept quiet, just gestured with his head and started walking, and I followed. Ney came behind, feeling humiliated, though from time to time he insisted on sniffing at the grey snow in search of the lost trail. I don’t know for how many hours we wandered aimlessly – or so it seemed to me – over those mountains, turned from pursuers into pursued, threatened by gusts of wind that made us blind, by sleet that cut through to the bone, by darkness that grew thicker much faster than we could flee from it.
It may have still been early, but the dark sky heralded the arrival of night. And, with night, despair. How on earth, in the dark, were we going to find a path we hadn’t been able to locate during the day? How long would we be able to carry on walking before we were overcome by exhaustion? I was just about to surrender to the blackest thoughts when I heard Marcos utter an inarticulate sound and saw him pointing into the distance, in a direction where all I could make out was darkness.
‘Finally!’ he muttered.
I thought he’d gone mad. The cold, darkness and hunger had caused him to see a mirage. But, gazing in the direction of his hand, I spotted what might have been a light glinting between two spirals of mist. Was it possible that Marcos hadn’t been lost and all this time we’d been walking in a set direction? The idea gave me renewed strength and I hastened after him. Even Ney let out a muffled bark, sensing a change in our rhythm.
It may have taken us half an hour to arrive, but, unlike the time before that, this went quickly. Once we were by the light, it seemed impossible we could have spotted it from so far away, so weak was the flicker coming from the only window not covered by shutters. Before Marcos could knock at the door, the dogs had already announced the arrival of strangers.
In contrast to the darkness of the inhospitable exterior, the girl who opened the door was framed by the light of the fire behind her, like a virgin in a box that travelled from house to house. She opened her eyes in surprise and to me her cheeks seemed to acquire a rosy tint, though this may have been the impression of entering a warm room, where a fire was blazing.
‘Can we come in, Dora?’ asked Marcos. ‘This is Román.’
A moment later, we were sitting in the warmest corner, next to the fire, with bowls of steaming broth in our hands. Marcos explained what had happened to us in a few words (I’ve already said he wasn’t keen on long-winded explanations) and I realized he’d visited this house before. There were five other people sitting around the fire: Dora’s father and mother, the latter now busy preparing some pancakes for supper; Dora, the girl who’d opened the door and must have been a couple of years older than me; and two older men I imagined were her brothers, though nothing in their features, which seemed to have been carved by an unqualified carpenter using an axe, or their behaviour, which was somewhat unsociable, suggested they shared the same blood.
from The knife in november, 2010; in the web “Portico of Galician literature” (translated by Jonathan Dunne)