Translated from the Spanish by RICHARD GWYNappears below in English and Spanish
I translated Inés Garland’s “The Old Dog” shortly after publishing one of her best-known stories, “A Perfect Queen,” in a special Argentine edition of the New Welsh Review, a few years back. I first came across Inés’ short stories on a visit to Buenos Aires in 2011, and was immediately drawn to her portrayal of individuals—almost always women—either at moments of self-realization brought about by the actions of others, or else struggling against an impending sense of loss or betrayal. But there is also a kind of detachment in her writing, as though her characters were teetering on the edge of some other, unknown revelation.
“The Old Dog” attracted me because of the tension between the two elderly human characters, and the way that the animal interloper seems to bring them together, however clumsily. The anecdote about the man’s former wife abandoning the family dog on the roadside—which, it is implied, has also been the fate of the dog in this story —is a horrible reminder of human cruelty, and helps us re-evaluate, perhaps, our initial lack of empathy for the male character.
My father was killed on a spring night four years ago, while I sat in the corner booth of a new bistro in Oakland. Whenever I think about that moment, these two contradictory images come to me: my father struggling for breath on the cracked asphalt, and me drinking champagne with my roommate, Margo. We were celebrating because Margo had received a grant from the Jerome Foundation to work on a new chamber piece, her second big commission that year. We’d ordered steamed mussels and shared an entrée and lingered late into the night. The waiter was trying to convince us to get the chocolate mousse for dessert when my phone rang.
It’s been obvious from the beginning who are Broadway Babies and who aren’t. Those who truly can sing, who can give them the old razzle-dazzle, who live for that one singular sensation, have for the most part drawn attention to themselves from the first day of school. They cluster around the Black Box piano during rainy-day lunchtimes and sing The Fantasticks. They wear the Cats sweatshirts to school that they got on their holiday trip to New York. Some of them, like the Junior named Chad, are enviably serious musicians who can not only sing but play Sondheim, for real, from sheet music. Some of them, like Erin O’Leary, don’t just sing but dance like Ginger Rogers, having apparently put on tap shoes at the same time as they took their first steps.
Sometimes I think I understand everything else more than I’ll ever understand Leonie. She’s at the front door, paper grocery bags obscuring her, hitching the screen and kicking it open, and then edging through the door. Kayla scoots toward me when the door bangs shut; she snatches up her juice cup and sucks before kneading my ear. The little pinch and roll of her fingers almost hurts, but it’s her habit, so I swing her up in my arms and let her knead. Mam says she does it for comfort because she never breast-fed. PoorKayla, Mam sighed every time. Leonie hated when Mam and Pop began calling her Kayla like me. She has a name, Leonie said, and it’s her daddy’s. She look like a Kayla, Mam said, but Leonie never called her that.
The other day I was visited by a memory from the early days of my marriage, when my wife and I still lived in the old house on the south side of San Antonio. This was when we were both in our early twenties and nearly broke all the time, always on the verge of eviction from the house we rented for $520 a month. Still, we had a lot of friends back then—more friends than we have now—and these friends were always coming over with bottles of wine and half-finished paintings they wanted to show us, poems they wanted to read us, songs they wanted to play for us. There were a lot of parties back then—parties almost every night—and Madeline and I, still in the early years of our marriage, still childless, were somehow always hosting these parties in our house, though I can’t remember ever sending out formal invitations or even ever shopping in advance for them. They were more like spontaneous affairs, and all we really provided, aside from good will, and a kind of open door policy when it came to strangers, was the house itself.
Originally published in French in the collection En enfer, mon amour, Editions de l’Aire, 1990.
Story appears in both French and English.
I first encountered the work of Marie-Claire Dewarrat when I read her novel Carême, the story of a grieving father which the author wrote following the death of her own daughter. I was entranced by the book’s sweet strangeness and the way it wove dark, violent realities into the slow rhythms of grief and healing. In the short story collection from which “Rising Sap” is drawn, that darkness often takes a fantastical, surreal turn. Dewarrat’s fiction is deeply tied to season and landscape, more specifically to the countryside of French-speaking Switzerland where much of her work is set. Her wise, often teasing narratorial voice playfully and skillfully blends poetic language with informal, local turns of phrase, vividly conjuring that particular place.
Simon Marshall (interning tour guide, Art History, ABD) stands in the empty gravel yard of Donald Judd’s museum in Marfa, Texas. The sun dips below the high walls of the compound, illuminating a perfect half of the courtyard. Behind Simon a wide expanse stretches, interrupted only by Donald’s outdoor dining table, still holding two copper pots, as if the artist has just stepped inside to catch a call and has not been dead for decades. Simon, having shooed away the final tourist of the day, crosses the courtyard to lock the gates. The gate rears far above his head, solid wood aged to black and buttressed by iron. He feels medieval whenever he does this—who else but a feudal lord would need such protection? Tonight, there’s a moment of resistance before the door shuts and a figure, shadowed and slightly blurred around the edges, pushes through him. Literally right through him.
The first time Caleb said it, Mitch vaulted the arm of the couch and was on the telephone in an instant, faster even than he’d cut on the field. Cindy remembered when her son moved purely for the joy of movement. Not today. Today it was all about the draft. How high he would go, where he would go, and how much money he would get. Cindy watched him listening, bug-eyed, the receiver to his ear, and thought to herself, Dallas—okay, yes, I could live in Dallas. They’d just won the Super Bowl.
Neither pretty nor homely, fat nor thin, Bernice Gardener was a middling girl, all her fenders straight but no chrome or pinstripes. With a few ounces of vinegar, some colored powders or a curling iron, she might have done well with boys. Bernice, though, didn’t alter her pale skin and left her brown hair straight, aside from an occasional colored hairband. She wore jeans and print blouses or modest dresses her mother constructed from dime-store patterns. Though she tripled the outside reading assignment and earned the highest score in her English class, her teachers dismissed her as a mind of no consequence because she read The Thorn Birds, Peyton Place, and Gone with the Wind. She had pondered the term “making love” until she bought Valley of the Dolls in a used bookstore because she wondered why the girl on the cover seemed so pleased to be in a martini glass.