Translation: The Men Go to War

Story by TOMÁS DOWNEY

Translated from the Spanish by SARAH MOSES

The piece appears below in both English and Spanish.

 

Translator’s Note

When I first read Tomás Downey’s story, “Los hombres van a la guerra,” I reread it. This was the ending’s doing: it called into question all that came prior, as the best endings do (I think here of Alice Munro). So I had an ulterior motive for translating the story: I wanted to understand how Tomás had put it together, how he’d written towards that ending. I’m not convinced I’ve figured it out. But in a sense, translating the story was studying it, and I hope that something of the circular way it works makes its way into my own writing. I hope, too, that readers of “The Men Go to War” have a similar experience: that the ending directs them back to the beginning for a second read.

— Sarah Moses 

 

To María

The afternoons no longer seem so long. Josefina is reading next to the woodstove. She almost feels okay in its orange light, the window covered in snow, her mug steaming. It’s still possible to get tea. Though it can be hard to find, tea is one of those things that never seems to run out.

Not even the war is a threat. Combat has moved to outlying areas farther and farther away. Bombs no longer fall, nobody has to run to a shelter, nobody wins or loses. Though confusing, the news broadcasts are translucent and calm. One week, the independents occupy an encampment, shoot generals, take prisoners. The next, the nationalists regain ground, decapitate rivals, and place their heads on spikes by the side of the road. Who dies or how many die no longer matters, nor do the bloody details. Every afternoon carts full of cadavers go by, the contours of one body blurred with the next.

There is also hunger. Even if shipments do arrive regularly, whether through official or clandestine channels. And if they don’t, there are reserves, tin cans and jars that everybody hides during inspections. If there are shortages, someone is always willing to share an item in order to later receive one when they need it. But even this solidarity has a rancid flavor, people give away food as though it were something to get rid of. And those who don’t have any receive it without asking, almost as if it were a burden.

The telephone’s low and muted ring distracts Josefina and she loses her place in the poem. She lets it ring but eventually gets up. It’s Lena, Manuel’s mother, whose voice falters and then cuts out. Half of the antennas came down during the bombings. A few twisted metal poles remain, rising up to the sky like monuments.

How are you? Lena asks when the call reconnects. Any better? Josefina nods. But better than when? She’s not sure. Her own voice sounds strange to her. She’s used to silence, to talking to herself with gestures, to recognizing her face in the mirror. Sometimes she doesn’t know if she’s sad, tired, or bored, until she looks at her image and sees the tense corners of her mouth, the furrow in her brow, the absent gaze that Manuel liked so much.

I’ll stop by for a visit, Lena says. I picked up some almonds, walnuts. They’re brought in from the north, they’re the good ones.

I have things to do, says Josefina. She’s not in the mood to see anybody, talking tires her out. I’ll call you tomorrow or the day after, she continues when Lena insists. Save some for me, but just a handful, keep the rest for yourself.

All right, Lena says, her voice trembling like a taut and flimsy string. During the silence that follows, Josefina intuits the restrained tears, the same questions asked over and over. How could it have exploded in his hand? Was it faulty or did he not throw it in time? And the most painful, which has different versions but is always the same question: What was the point of him enlisting? Of them occupying the ravine? Of defending that strip of dead land nobody cares about? Josefina hates these questions, she hates considering the possibility that it all could have been predicted.

I have to go, she says, and imagines Lena nodding silently, her eyes moist.

Okay, talk later, Lena answers quietly after a few seconds have passed.

Josefina hangs up. She’s annoyed, with herself and with Lena. Whenever they talk she’s left thinking about Manuel’s stubbornness, about that will of his to always step up. If there’s work, the men work. And if there’s war, they die, again and again.

Josefina doesn’t want to talk about this, and she’s not looking for relief. She doesn’t care that there was no burial, that his body went flying in pieces no one bothered to gather. War leaves no time for trivialities such as these. That’s the way it is and there’s no use thinking about the details. Better to hold on to that raw pain that’s perpetual but bearable, like a child who’s sick and in need of constant care. It’s better this way, it’s better for Josefina to have something that occupies all her attention, something that holds her focus and prevents her from looking at the destruction around her. And for time to pass, one day and then another, for there to exist at least the illusion of a future.

Josefina reaches for the kettle kept warm on the stove. She serves herself more tea, wraps her feet in the blanket, and returns to her reading.

There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little, perhaps not a word.

She rereads the sentence two, three times. Then she imagines Manuel by her side. They’re both reading silently, and she only has to raise her head to smile at him, to reach out an arm and touch him. But no, she tells herself again. She closes the book and looks at the photo of Whitman on the cover. When the war began, or when it became clear the war would never end, the elderly began to let their beards grow. They swore they wouldn’t shave until their sons and grandsons returned. Now they’ll never be back. Josefina sees Whitman everywhere, his white whiskers stained yellow with tobacco. She sees the hats, perhaps the men feel protected by them, even if it’s an illusion. Again she imagines Manuel, who insists on being remembered. She sees him in old age, seated on the same couch. He strokes his beard and stares at the fire as though he were studying the shifting hues. She sees the wise and attentive man he will now never be.

Two knocks on the door bring her back. Josefina sighs wearily and after a few seconds stands up. Her legs are asleep and she waits for the blood to circulate again. She hears two more knocks and the door, which is old and solid, resounds with a low echo.

Josefina opens it. Two men in uniform greet her with a military salute and ask to come in. Without saying a word, she steps aside and points to the table. She sees the men move past her and sit down. She sees their badges, the men appear to be of a high rank. Lieutenants, perhaps.

She offers them tea, and they shake their heads, thank her, tell her to take a seat. She looks at the chair as one does an object whose use isn’t known. I’m fine as I am, she says.

The men give each other a sidelong glance and one of them, who has a strong jaw and penetrating gaze, begins to talk. We regret to inform you that your husband, Colonel Manuel Leighton, was killed in battle.

Josefina nods, perhaps without listening. She’s used to condolences and accepts them with barely the hint of a smile, trying to downplay their importance. Her response is always a look that’s melancholic and resigned. She waits for the moment to pass, for nothing further to be said on the subject. Whatever it takes, she needs to believe that Manuel’s death is one fact among many, that it’s not of great importance. Thousands have died, all the women are widows, all the children orphans, winter is almost over, and the roofs of the houses need to be repaired, and this week there were bananas at the market. When was the last time there were bananas at the market?

A grenade detonated, says the other man, who’s thinner and blond, has a moustache. It was during the battle of the ravine, we took control of a strategic position. We’re winning.

This was his, says the man with the strong jaw. On the table, he places a knife with a mahogany handle and leather sleeve that had belonged to Manuel’s father. For a second, Josefina is overcome with emotion as she remembers Manuel sharpening the knife. But she holds back the tears she feels in her throat and removes the sleeve, raising the blade, to look at the polished surface.

It’s the only thing we were able to recover, says the blond man. We came in person, explains the other lieutenant, because of your husband’s rank and bravery; in the name of the movement we offer you our deepest condolences.

Josefina nods and the men rise. She opens the door, looks outside. The snow is beginning to pile up and the winter drags on. She thinks of the soldiers marching on the frozen earth. There’s an image she’s been unable to get out of her head. Manuel described it in a letter, in too much detail. A soldier had fallen asleep against the trench wall. Overnight the temperature had dropped below zero. They found him there when they heard his screams, his arm stuck to the frozen mud. It had to be amputated at the shoulder.

Josefina wonders if the two men who visit her have come from the front or if they’re bureaucrats. Did they fight alongside Manuel? Did they see him kill enemies? Did they see him die? A thought returns, and it disturbs her. It’s the moment before the explosion. She imagines the expression on Manuel’s face. How long would that instant have lasted for him?

I’m fine, thank you, she says. The two lieutenants stand there for another moment, looking at her as if the ritual has been cut short, as if something were missing. Perhaps they had been expecting her to cry and were prepared to console her, to place a firm hand on her shoulder and repeat that Colonel Leighton was a hero, that he died for the cause, that it wasn’t in vain.

But she expects nothing, and the men, disappointed, step out into the cold. Josefina closes the door, and in the kitchen, she leaves the knife in the bottom drawer. Afterward, she serves herself some tea, sits down, and opens her book. She rereads the last line.

Perhaps not a word.

 

It stops snowing and the sun comes out, mud covers the streets. Then the temperature drops again and the mud freezes. Lena slips on her way home from the market and ends up bedridden with two fractured ribs. She calls more often, it’s almost impossible to get medication for the pain, and she says that talking takes her mind off it. She asks Josefina to visit, there’s a photo album of Manuel she’s never shown her.

Josefina promises to stop by, though she knows she won’t. The memories are too intense, they tire her out. It doesn’t matter how hard she tries to think of something else, whenever she closes her eyes, Manuel’s face appears so sharply it’s unreal.

The freezing gusts of wind blow at up to fifty kilometers an hour. The windows rattle. The pantry is full but Josefina hardly eats. There’s enough wood for a while, and there’s tea, books to read, books to reread.

It was colder than usual overnight, and the house won’t warm up. Josefina stokes the fire, looks through the window. The trees are dried out and frozen, they look to be of stone. A car stops in front of the house. Two men in uniform get out and walk to the door. Josefina hears two knocks. She doesn’t move. After a minute, they knock again. One of them, who’s tall and has a dark complexion, walks over to the steamed-up window. His face is a blur. Josefina wipes the window with her hand, looks him in the eye. The man’s eyes are green with dark flecks, like Manuel’s. They wear badges, appear to be of a high rank. Lieutenants, perhaps.

She opens the door and the men ask to come in. Before they enter, they knock their boots against the doorframe to remove the dirty snow. She points to the table and the lieutenants move past her, sit down.

We hope we’re not interrupting, says the younger of the two, who’s Manuel’s age. His jacket looks old, the patches are visible. Lena told her that the uniforms of the dead are reused. The war is expensive, and it’s been going on for too long, there’s no point having new ones made.

The man doesn’t finish his sentence, perhaps because it seems that Josefina isn’t listening to him. The other lieutenant, the one with green eyes, clears his throat. She looks at him. We regret to inform you, he says, that Colonel Manuel Leighton, your husband . . .

Josefina nods. I already know, thank you, I don’t need anything. The men seem confused, they look at each other. She walks toward the door, but they don’t get up. There’s also this, says the younger man, and he takes out a knife with a mahogany handle, its blade inside a leather sleeve. The man holds out his hand but Josefina doesn’t move. He leaves the knife on the table.

Thank you, she says again. The men understand and rise. One of them says something about the battle of the ravine, that they’re winning. The other man adds that it was a strategic position. But Josefina isn’t listening, she looks outside. The wind blows the snowflakes. The men walk to the door, and before they leave, salute her with a gesture of respect. We’re at your disposal, says one of them, or maybe both at the same time.

Josefina closes the door and goes over to the table, looks at the knife. It’s only after a minute that she can bring herself to touch it. She holds it in one hand and is surprised by how much it weighs, by the cold handle against her fingers. She opens the bottom drawer in the kitchen and leaves the knife there.

She adds a log to the stove, stares at the fire for a little while. Afterward, she sits down, serves herself some tea, opens a book.

 

Lena’s fractures are slow to heal, perhaps because she won’t keep still, because she’s alone and has no choice but to get out of bed. Josefina decides to visit her. The craters left by the bombs force her to take several detours through areas she doesn’t know well and that have changed. She walks through the deserted streets feeling like a foreigner, looking at the buildings in ruins, the rooms like sets on a stage. A bathroom missing the fourth wall, a third-floor bedroom with a shelf full of dolls.

At Lena’s house they look at photographs and eat nuts. Manuel at age twelve running through a sun-filled park, about to kick a ball, smiling and pointing to the hole where his last baby tooth used to be.

If you’d had . . . Lena says, and her weak voice trails off. Josefina takes Lena’s hand, her long, bony fingers.

This is the way it is, she wants to tell Lena, he’s not here now. But Josefina doesn’t say this because she’s afraid she’ll be talking to herself. Instead, she says something else, it’s a thought she can’t recall having had before, and it comes to her with the spontaneity of an epiphany: Manuel is an idea now. He’s still here, like these photographs. He’ll never leave.

Lena smiles with teary eyes and nods.

 

At the market, there are still bananas but they’re no longer a novelty. Josefina is asleep on the couch. She’s woken by two knocks on the door.

We regret to interrupt you, says one of the men. He has a scar on his mouth, across both lips. So does the other man. Josefina looks at them. It’s as though they were identical and at the same time not. Each man, in his own way, reminds her of Manuel. Their posture, certain gestures, the line of their jaw. Maybe it’s the uniforms, the badges, the military air they exude.

Josefina walks toward the table and points to the chairs. The men sit down. One of them takes out a knife with a mahogany handle and leather sleeve. They look tired, as though this visit were one of many they had to pay that same day. Josefina lets them speak: the ravine, a strategic position, the accident. When they’re finished, she thanks them. The men get up to go and she takes the knife to the kitchen, leaves it in the bottom drawer, and for the first time thinks about counting them. She sits down on the floor and takes the knives out one by one. After some time has passed, she realizes she’s crying, loses count, begins again.

 

Los hombres van a la guerra

 Las tardes ya no parecen tan largas. Josefina lee junto a la salamandra, casi se está bien con esa luz naranja, la ventana cubierta de nieve, la taza humeante. Todavía hay té. Aunque a veces cueste conseguirlo, es de esas cosas que parecen no acabarse nunca.

Ni siquiera la guerra es una amenaza. Los combates se fueron trasladando a las afueras, cada vez más lejos. Ya no caen bombas, nadie tiene que correr a los refugios, nadie gana ni pierde. Las noticias son confusas pero se transmiten con una calma diáfana. Una semana, los independientes ocupan un cuartel, fusilan generales, toman prisioneros. A la siguiente, los nacionalistas recuperan terreno, decapitan rivales y plantan sus cabezas en picas al costado del camino. Ya no importa quiénes o cuántos mueren, ni los detalles sangrientos. Todas las tardes pasan los carros cargados de cadáveres, los límites entre un cuerpo y otro confundidos.

También está el hambre. Pero siempre llegan cargamentos oficiales, o clandestinos. Y si no llegan hay reservas, latas o frascos que todos esconden por las requisas. Si hay escasez, siempre alguien invita para luego recibir cuando no tiene. Pero hasta esa solidaridad tiene un sabor rancio, la gente regala comida como si se la sacara de encima. Y los que no tienen la reciben sin haberla pedido, casi como una carga.

El timbre grave y apagado del teléfono la distrae, Josefina pierde el hilo del poema. Lo deja sonar pero finalmente se levanta. Escucha la voz entrecortada de Lena, la madre de Manuel, y luego una interferencia. La mitad de las antenas se derrumbaron en los bombardeos. Quedan algunos hierros retorcidos que se elevan al cielo y parecen monumentos.

¿Cómo estás?, pregunta Lena cuando la llamada conecta, ¿mejor? Josefina asiente. Pero mejor que cuándo, no lo sabe. Su propia voz le resulta extraña. Está acostumbrada al silencio, a hablarse a sí misma con gestos y a reconocerse en el espejo. A veces no sabe si está triste, cansada o aburrida, hasta que se mira y se ve la rigidez en la comisura de los labios, el ceño fruncido, el gesto ausente que tanto le gustaba a Manuel.

Te voy a visitar, dice Lena, conseguí almendras, nueces. Las traen del Norte, son buenas.

Tengo cosas que hacer, responde Josefina. No tiene ganas de ver a nadie, hablar la agota. Te llamo mañana, o pasado, dice cuando Lena insiste, guardame algunas, pero un puñado nada más, aprovechalas vos.

Está bien, responde Lena, la voz vibrando como un hilo tenso y delgado. En el silencio que sigue, Josefina adivina el llanto contenido, las mismas preguntas una y otra vez. ¿Cómo pudo haberle explotado en la mano? ¿Estaba fallada o no la tiró a tiempo? Y la más dolorosa, que tiene sus variantes pero es siempre la misma: ¿para qué se alistó?, ¿para qué se quedaron en la quebrada?, ¿para qué defendieron esa franja de tierra muerta que no le importa a nadie? Josefina odia esas preguntas, odia considerar la posibilidad de que todo podría haberse previsto.

Tengo que cortar, dice, e imagina a Lena asintiendo en silencio, los ojos húmedos.

Bueno, hablamos, responde Lena en voz baja después de unos segundos.

Josefina corta. Está molesta, consigo misma y con Lena. Siempre que hablan se queda pensando en la obstinación de Manuel, en esa voluntad de ir siempre hacia adelante. Si hay trabajo, los hombres trabajan. Y si hay guerra van a morir, una y otra vez.

Josefina no quiere hablar del tema, no busca alivio. No le importa que no haya habido entierro, que el cuerpo volara en pedazos que nadie se molestó en juntar. La guerra no deja tiempo para esas minucias. Es así y conviene no pensar en los detalles. Mejor quedarse con ese dolor crudo, perpetuo pero soportable, como una cría enferma que requiere cuidados constantes. Mejor así, mejor tener en qué ocupar toda su atención, algo que la mantenga concentrada y que le impida mirar la destrucción que la rodea. Y que el tiempo pase, un día y luego el otro, que dé al menos la ilusión de que existe un futuro.

Josefina se estira hacia la pava, que se mantiene caliente sobre la salamandra. Se sirve más té, envuelve sus pies en la manta y retoma la lectura.

There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little, perhaps not a word.

Relee la frase dos, tres veces. Entonces imagina que Manuel está a su lado, que ambos leen en silencio y que con solo levantar la cabeza podría sonreírle, extender un brazo y tocarlo. Pero no, repite para sí misma, y cierra el libro, mira la foto de Whitman en la portada. Desde que empezó la guerra, o desde que vieron que nunca iba a terminar, los ancianos comenzaron a dejarse la barba. Juraron no cortársela hasta que volviesen los hijos y los nietos que ya no van a volver. Josefina ve a Whitman en todos lados, los bigotes blancos teñidos de amarillo por el tabaco. Los sombreros que quizás se sientan como una protección, aunque ilusoria. Y otra vez imagina a Manuel, que se obstina en ser recordado. Lo ve envejecido, sentado en ese mismo sillón. Lo ve acariciar su barba y mirar el fuego como si estudiara los matices. El hombre sabio y atento que ya no va a ser.

Dos golpes en la puerta la hacen volver en sí. Josefina suspira con hastío y se levanta tras algunos segundos. Tiene las piernas entumecidas y espera a que la sangre circule otra vez. Escucha dos golpes más y la puerta, vieja y sólida, resuena con un eco grave.

Josefina abre y dos hombres de uniforme la saludan con gesto marcial, piden permiso. Ella se corre a un lado sin decir palabra, les señala la mesa. Los ve pasar y sentarse. Ve los distintivos, que parecen de alto rango. Tenientes, quizás.

Ofrece té y ellos niegan con la cabeza, agradecen, le piden que se siente. Ella observa la silla como se mira un objeto cuyo uso se desconoce. Estoy bien así, dice.

Los hombres se miran de reojo y uno de ellos, de mandíbula fuerte y ojos penetrantes, toma la palabra. Lamentamos traerle esta noticia. Su marido, el Coronel Manuel Leighton, falleció en combate.

Josefina asiente, quizás sin escuchar. Está acostumbrada a los pésames. Los recibe con una sonrisa apenas insinuada y trata de quitarles importancia. Responde siempre con una mueca melancólica y resignada. Espera que el momento pase, y que nadie le hable más del tema. Necesita creer como sea que la muerte de Manuel es un dato entre tantos otros, sin mayor importancia. Murieron miles, todas las mujeres son viudas, todos los niños son huérfanos, y el invierno está por terminar, y hay que reparar los techos de las casas, y esta semana llegaron bananas al mercado. Hace cuánto que no llegaban bananas.

Una granada detonó, dice el otro hombre, más flaco, rubio, de bigote. Fue en el combate de la quebrada, una posición estratégica que logramos tomar. Estamos ganando.

Esto era de él, dice el otro. Y apoya sobre la mesa un cuchillo con mango de caoba, con funda de cuero, que había sido del padre de Manuel. Josefina, por un momento, se emociona, recuerda a Manuel afilándolo. Pero reprime el llanto que siente en la garganta y desenfunda el cuchillo, levanta la hoja, observa la superficie pulida.

Es lo único que pudimos recuperar, dice el hombre rubio. Vinimos personalmente, explica el otro, por el rango y el valor de su marido; en nombre del movimiento le ofrecemos nuestro más sentido pésame.

Josefina asiente y los hombres se ponen de pie. Ella abre la puerta, mira hacia afuera. La nieve empieza a acumularse y el invierno se estira. Piensa en los soldados que marchan sobre la tierra congelada. Hay una imagen que no logra sacarse de la cabeza. Se la relató Manuel en una carta, con demasiada precisión. Un soldado se quedó dormido, recostado contra la pared de la trinchera. Durante la noche heló. Lo encontraron por los gritos, con un brazo adherido al barro congelado. Tuvieron que amputarlo a la altura del hombro.

Josefina se pregunta si los dos que la visitan vendrán del frente o si serán burócratas. ¿Habrán peleado junto a Manuel? ¿Lo habrán visto matar enemigos? ¿Lo habrán visto morir? Esa idea vuelve a perturbarla, el momento anterior al estallido. Imagina la expresión de Manuel, ¿cuánto habrá durado para él ese instante?

Estoy bien, gracias, responde Josefina. Y los dos tenientes se quedan un momento más, mirándola como si el ritual hubiese quedado trunco y aún faltase algo. Quizás esperaban que llorara y fueron preparados para contenerla, para poner una mano firme sobre su hombro y repetir que el Coronel Leighton fue un héroe, que murió por la causa, que no será en vano.

Pero ella no espera nada y los hombres, desilusionados, salen al frío. Josefina cierra la puerta, deja el cuchillo en el último cajón de la cocina. Después se sirve té, se sienta y abre su libro, relee la última línea.

Perhaps not a word.

 

Deja de nevar y sale el sol, las calles se cubren de barro. Luego cae otra helada y el barro se congela. Lena se resbala volviendo del mercado y queda en cama con dos costillas fisuradas. Llama más seguido, conseguir analgésicos es casi imposible y dice que hablar la distrae del dolor. Pide que Josefina vaya a visitarla, hay un álbum de fotos de Manuel que nunca le mostró.

Ella promete ir pero sabe que no lo va a hacer. Los recuerdos, demasiado intensos, la agotan. Por más que trate de pensar en otra cosa, cada vez que cierra los ojos la cara de Manuel se le aparece con una nitidez irreal.

Las ráfagas heladas llegan a los cincuenta kilómetros por hora. Las ventanas tiemblan. La despensa está llena y Josefina apenas come. Queda leña para un tiempo y hay té, libros para leer, libros para releer.

Durante la noche hizo más frío que de costumbre y la casa no llega a calentarse. Josefina alimenta el fuego, mira por la ventana. Los árboles, secos y congelados, parecen de piedra. Un auto se detiene frente a la puerta. Bajan dos hombres de uniforme y se acercan a la casa. Se escuchan dos golpes en la puerta. Ella no se mueve. Al minuto golpean de nuevo. Uno de los hombres, morocho y alto, se acerca a la ventana empañada. Su cara es una mancha. Josefina pasa una mano por el vidrio, lo mira a los ojos. Los del hombre son verdes, con manchas oscuras, como los de Manuel. Los distintivos parecen de alto rango. Tenientes, quizás.

Abre la puerta y los hombres piden permiso. Antes de entrar, golpean las botas contra el marco para quitarles la nieve sucia. Ella les señala la mesa y los tenientes pasan, se sientan.

Esperamos no interrumpir, dice el más joven, de la edad de Manuel. La chaqueta parece vieja y se le notan los remiendos. Lena le contó que reutilizan los uniformes de los muertos. La guerra es cara y pasó demasiado tiempo, no tiene sentido confeccionar nuevos.

La frase del hombre queda inconclusa, quizás porque Josefina parece no estar escuchándolo. El otro, el de ojos verdes, carraspea. Ella lo mira. Lamentamos traerle esta noticia, dice, pero el Coronel Manuel Leighton, su marido…

Josefina asiente. Ya lo sé, gracias, no necesito nada. Los hombres parecen confundidos, se miran. Ella camina hacia la puerta, pero ellos no se levantan. También está esto, dice el más joven, y saca un cuchillo con mango de caoba, dentro de una funda de cuero. El hombre extiende la mano pero Josefina no se mueve. El cuchillo queda sobre la mesa.

Gracias, repite ella. Los hombres entienden y se ponen de pie. Uno dice algo sobre la batalla de la quebrada, que están ganando. El otro agrega que era una posición estratégica. Pero Josefina no escucha, mira hacia afuera. El viento empuja los copos de nieve. Los hombres se acercan a la puerta y antes de salir saludan con un gesto respetuoso. Estamos a su disposición, dice uno de ellos, o quizás ambos a la vez.

Josefina cierra y va hacia la mesa, observa el cuchillo. Recién después de un minuto se atreve a tocarlo. Lo sostiene en una mano y la sorprende que sea tan pesado, el frío del mango en sus dedos. Abre el último cajón de la cocina y lo deja.

Agrega un leño en la salamandra, se queda mirando el fuego un momento. Después se sienta, se sirve té, abre un libro.

 

Las fisuras de Lena tardan en sanar, quizás porque no se queda quieta, porque está sola y tiene que levantarse de la cama sí o sí. Josefina decide salir a visitarla. Los cráteres que dejaron las bombas la obligan a tomar varios rodeos por zonas que no conoce bien y que han cambiado. Camina por las calles desiertas sintiéndose extranjera, mirando los edificios en ruinas, los ambientes como decorados en un escenario. Un baño sin la cuarta pared, una habitación en un tercer piso, con un estante lleno de muñecos.

En lo de Lena miran las fotos y comen nueces. Manuel a los doce años corriendo por un parque soleado, a punto de patear una pelota, sonriendo y señalando el agujero donde estuvo su último diente de leche.

Si hubiesen tenido…, dice Lena, y el hilo de su voz se corta. Josefina le toma la mano, los dedos largos, huesudos.

Es así, quiere decirle, ya no está, pero no lo dice porque teme estar hablándose a sí misma. Entonces dice otra cosa, algo que no recuerda haber pensado y que le surge con la espontaneidad de una epifanía: Manuel ahora es una idea. Sigue acá, como estas fotos, no se va a ir nunca.

Lena sonríe con los ojos húmedos, asiente.

 

En el mercado sigue habiendo bananas pero ya no son novedad. Josefina duerme en el sillón y la despiertan dos golpes en la puerta. Suenan de nuevo, y otra vez.

Lamentamos interrumpirla, dice uno de los hombres. Tiene una cicatriz que le cruza la boca, ambos labios. El otro también. Josefina los mira. Parecen idénticos, pero a la vez no. Ambos, a su modo, le recuerdan a Manuel. La postura, ciertos gestos, la línea de la mandíbula. Tal vez sean los uniformes, los distintivos, el aire marcial.

Josefina camina hasta la mesa y señala las sillas. Los hombres se sientan. Uno de ellos saca un cuchillo con mango de caoba y funda de cuero. Parecen cansados, como si esta visita fuese una entre muchas que les toca hacer el mismo día. Josefina los deja hablar: la quebrada, una posición estratégica, el accidente. Cuando terminan agradece. Los hombres se van y ella agarra el cuchillo, lo deja en el último cajón de la cocina y por primera vez piensa en contarlos. Se sienta en el piso y saca uno por uno. En algún momento nota que está llorando, se pierde, empieza de nuevo.

 

 

Tomás Downey (Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1984) is a translator, screenwriter and the author of three short story collections, Acá el tiempo es otra cosa (2015), El lugar donde mueren los pájaros (2017) and Flores que se abren de noche (2021). His stories have received numerous honors (Fondo Nacional de las Artes, Premios Nacionales, Fundación María Elena Walsh, Concurso Hispanoamericano de Cuento Gabriel García Marquez), and he has received grants from institutions such as the Fondo Nacional de las Artes (Argentina) and Looren Translation House (Switzerland). His work has been translated into English and Italian, and it has appeared in magazines and newspapers in Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Costa Rica, Spain and the United States. He has translated books by Kelly Link, Jamel Brinkley, M. John Harrison and Richard Flanagan, among others. As a screenwriter, he co-wrote the screenplay for the film A Common Crime, which premiered at the 2019 edition of the Berlinale.

Sarah Moses is a Canadian writer and translator of French and Spanish. Her work has appeared in journals including Asymptote, Brick, Event, and Harper’s Magazine, and in the chapbooks as they say (Socios Fundadores, 2016) and Those Problems (Proper Tales Press, 2016). Recent and forthcoming translations include Tender Is the Flesh (Pushkin Press / Scribner, 2020) by Agustina Bazterrica, Camering: Fernand Deligny on Cinema and the Image (Leiden University Press) and Death by Water (Quattro Books), a collection of poems by Alberto Manguel. Sarah is also the co-translator of Sos una sola persona (Socios Fundadores, 2020) by Stuart Ross (with Tomás Downey) and Die, My Love (Charco Press, 2017) by Ariana Harwicz (with Carolina Orloff), which was longlisted for the International Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Premio Valle Inclán and Best Translated Book Award, among others.

 

 “Los hombres van a la guerra” was originally published in Tomás Downey’s second collection of stories, El lugar donde mueren los pájaros (Fiordo, 2017).

Translation: The Men Go to War

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