Thursday, June 13, 2013

Translation: Part II

Part II of "Silent Stone" by Marta Brunet
translation by M. Romo-Carmona

                  A week later, Bernabé arrived. He had already digested, but badly, the news given to him at the first-daughter. With a grunt he greeted the old woman who answered with a similar one. And then stayed mute. The man figuring that he wouldn’t speak of Esperanza if she didn’t ask him, the old woman bent on not asking a thing if he didn’t spontaneously give news.
                  It was Venancia who intervened.
                  “Is Mami better?”
                  “Better. More relieved--” and added no details.
                  “Does she get up yet?”
                  “No... and I don’t want no more questions. Get me a maté.”
                  The man sent through the ranch a slow, wary look. It all looked the way it did when Esperanza was healthy, a time so remote that he didn’t quite place it. When they had just married, about then. And there weren’t so many kids. Birthing and birthing. Poor Esperanza! ... And his Adam’s apple wavered in sudden emotion. What he needed was for her to die on top of it. She was so thin, so white, without strength when he said goodbye to her. The doctor told him to come back for her after a month. Well... that was life... and now the old woman was in the ranch. Why did el patrón butt into other people’s business? Why had he sent the old lady to the ranch? His ranch was his own. That’s all he needed... he took another look around, noticing everything. When he got to the sewing machine, without turning, he said slowly and straining:
                  “Looks like you brought yourself all your junk. What do you think, you’re always gonna live in the ranch?”
                  “While el patrón says nothing different...”
                  The man blurted something and kept looking. It was also true that he, alone with the pack of kids and with that Venancia who didn’t know how to do anything, so slow about everything, no point... he frowned now, at the candle the old lady was lighting.
                  “I don’t go for them luxuries--” choking even more on the words, because he was furious.
                  “I pay for them,” answered the old lady firmly.
                  A week later came a message from the hospital that Esperanza was in extremely grave condition. Both the messenger and Bernabé left, and days later the man returned as if his head had dropped between his shoulders, his arms dangling. Esperanza had died.
                  Life spun for a time around the one absent. There was talk of “the deceased,” the children had long confidences with the grandmother and even the man. Suffocated by the memories, he would say a few words upon which he emptied his sadness.
                  But in the grandmother, the re-weaving of what had been Esperanza’s existence in those years, gathered from the interminable stories of the children, turned into punches, scrubbing, washing, towards which she felt with a sort of cold fear, that anytime it was going to ignite the fire of her old anger, that was now hatred towards the man.
                  One of the boys said: “Over there, in the mountains under the oak with red flowers, papá buried the babies.”
                  Or, Venancia would say: “But he was forever on top of her and then it was the complaining because she’d get pregnant.”
                  And another of the children would add: “Sometimes she cried a lot and she screamed, remember?”
                  “And the time Venancia went and yelled at him, ‘leave her alone, leave her alone, can’t you see she’s dying?’”
                  “And the beating he gave her.”
                  “Who?” asked the grandmother.
                  “Venancia, for butting in.”
                  Eufrasia didn’t talk of leaving. Bernabé didn’t tell her to go. No news  came from the houses.
                  The winter began. Wind that came down from the Andes, sharp and whistling, cutting the leaves and mocking the bare branches on the trees. One couldn’t hear the insistent song of the cachañas and only some slow bird of prey crossed the sky in menacing flight. Birds which were of no account with Eufrasia, her slingshot and her prodigious aim that reached them, and then there was the shouting of the children looking for the dead bird through valley and mountain.
                  The clouds came from the north, black, gray, white; they blended, formed and dissipated monstrous shapes, they’d blow away. But sometimes they’d thicken until they formed just one cloud, low and gray and then the rain fell, persistent, interminable, despairing. It would clear up, barely a day or two, three at the most as a bonus, and the game of the wind would begin anew with the clouds, until another storm made the mountain and the lagoon disappear in the threads of rain, isolating the family in the confinement of the ranch, in slow, interminable hours, days, weeks, indistinct, growing heavily into stupor.
                  For the grandmother there was always activity, domestic tasks, sewing, knitting, teaching the children. The man would go to one of the shacks and with the ax in a constant gleaming flutter, would split wood for the hearth that must be kept constantly burning, keeping the cold from seeping deep into his bones with his movements.
                  But every chore became mechanical. It was done without pleasure. Without displeasure as well. It was done. The rest was the stubborn falling of the rain, the shouting of the wind, the booming fall of a tree up in the mountain, and waiting until the rain became less oppressive, until the pull of the south wind would drag away the clouds.
                  The worst storm began within the ranch one afternoon when the grandmother said:
                  “When you marry again...” looking at the man straight in the face.
                  Bernabé loosened his head, with difficulty of movement and thought.
                  “Marry again?”
                  “Sure. A widower is useless. You’re young still. A man with a ranch should have his own woman.”
                  “Hm!” he grumbled, stunned.
                  “You must have your eyes set on someone,” continued the grandmother, rolling a cigarette.
                  “The things you say... what notions”
                  But Eufrasia impudently put her cards on the table. “As for the kids, don’t trouble yourself. I’ll take them all to the houses, Venancia, too. You’ll be free just as if you were single.”
                  The man finished sipping the mate slowly, and handed it to Venancia who waited, immobile, standing by.
                  “The kids are mine and no one takes them from the ranch. That’s all I need!”
                  “For you it would be an advantage--”
                  “I already told you the kids don’t leave the ranch. Got it?”
                  Eufrasia finished rolling the cigarette with calm, she grabbed the tongues and took an ember, giving birth to a sudden glow that illuminated her features of hard and cracked earth.
                  “And you think you’ll find a woman to bury herself in here, to take on six kids on top of it? What nonsense...”
                  Through the man’s chest, like something alive running in his blood, violence began to grow, trembling in his muscles, glowing through his numb, staring eyes, fixed upon the fire.
                  “And you’re not a man to go without a woman, what I think is strange is that you haven’t gone to find one. ‘Course you’re not gonna find another like Esperanza...”
He heard her without understanding the words, deafened now by the violence that beat within his brain. Suddenly, he did feel the need to do something, to shake the ranch until it crumbled, to grab the old woman and throw her head first into the lagoon... brusque and sudden, one of his hands extended and upset the mate that Venancia offered him.
                  “Will you shut up? Will you shut your mouth? Will you mind your own business?” Eufrasia turned her profile, supported her elbows on her knees, joined her hands letting them fall almost to the floor and remained mute and still, with the cigarette dangling from her mouth, stuck there and marking now and then a red dot of fire.
                  The man moved his head from side to side, mumbling curses, throwing furious looks around him. Venancia picked up the cup that rolled to a corner, the sipping straw from another spot. But how to pick up the mate herb strewn around? She turned to the grandmother who didn’t look at her although she knew she was desperately consulting her; with the cup in one hand, the sipper in another, she timidly turned to the father and asked him finally:
                  “Should I brew you another maté?”
                  “No. And no one drinks anymore maté tonight. Everybody to bed.”
                  The five kids, peeling potatoes in the corridor, raised their head an instant and looked through the door, where night already tarred the room in darkness and the fire licked in long and smoky flames. One elbowed the other and whispered:
                  “He’s fit to be tied!”
                  “Shut up...”
                  “It’s a good thing that abuela...”
                  “Shut up...”
                  The man shouted as if violence again pumped him full of its corrosive venom, “To bed I said. Didn’t you hear?”
                  The kids brought in the basin with the peeled potatoes, the bucket with the potatoes not yet peeled; piled up the rinds, put away the knives. The grandmother yelled without annoyance, surprising them. “You know very well you’re supposed to wash the knives. Stubborn...”
                  The five pairs of eyes, expectant and tender, turned to look at her. They smiled, took out the knives, they washed them and put them away again.
                  “To bed!” insisted the man, obsessed with his idea-- “Why do you take so long!”
                  They came in on the sly, bumping into each other, then disappeared through the door that opened onto the room with the small cots and in a corner, the wider one where the grandmother slept with Venancia. The man stood up and went to the front door that reverberated in the whole ranch. He turned, looked at the old woman, still immobile, and said, stumbling upon his words.
                  “I already got my way once, and married Esperanza. Don’t think that you’ll get yours and take the kids. The kids stay in the ranch... the extra one in the ranch is you... now you know it--” and he turned to the door of his bedroom where the french bed and headboard stood pompously, wedding gift from la patrona, the pride of the ranch.
                  The old woman didn’t answer or make a move. She gnawed her resentment. He’d won once! Well, they would see who won now... but at the same time that he swallowed those bitter scrapes, she was alert to the noises emanating from the bedroom. When silence fell, justifying only the crackling within the hearth and the insistent whistling of the wind outside, Eufrasia rose slowly, brewed the yerba maté, took out bread and began to come and go with the precision of a nocturnal critter, serving the children, silent, enchanted with the adventure.
Maté gourd and sipping silver straw
                  The violence didn’t leave the man’s chest. It was always there, persistent. At times, in the midst of work, in that fluttering of the ax above his head, he felt it so alive that, disconcerted, with that late understanding that was his, he’d put down the tool and stand there, staring at his hands, because within them as within his chest he felt something crawling that drove him to make a fist and to hit, to smash.
                  He barely spoke with his family. He hated the boss. Hated the old lady, hated the children, hated Esperanza, so feeble, not enough of a woman, incapable of bearing children... and who died, leaving him alone with the kids and the old woman... That was the main thing, for that he was a man, to settle and have children. She went and died... and the old woman who wanted to take his kids, why, if they were his? Busybody... the kids were his, for him to do with them as he pleased. All of them. The kids and Venancia. To beat them if he wanted. To leave them without supper. She’d learn, the damned hag...
                  He fell into the habit of beating the children. Over anything. Over nothing. Horrible beatings. With his huge hands like hammers. At first the old woman didn’t wish to interfere. When she did, the man looked at her in a rage and yelled at her:
                  “Remember when you used to hit Esperanza...”
                  “I probably should have killed her then. She wouldn’t have lived the dog’s life you put her through, you animal...”
                  The man approached her, menacing, but the woman straightened and looked back with her eyes so full of hateful flames, the mouth so hard, her being writhing with utter indignation, that the man could not finish his gesture.
                  “Just try to lay a hand on me and see what happens...”
                  He didn’t know what could happen to him, capable of annihilating her with no other tool than his powerful hands. He didn’t know what the old woman could do to harm him. But the thing is that he suddenly lowered his head, he turned, his arms hanging at his sides, and he left the ranch.
                  She had won this time. Owing to what grace, Eufrasia didn’t know. But what about other times? Outside, the rain continued at longer and closer intervals. The wind was always the same, hard and sharp. It seemed to lull at times, to swoon in an unexpected warmth, in a sort of reprieve with thin clouds.
                  One morning, the sky woke up clean and the sun glittered in crackling crystals, in sudden iridescence all the ice that the cold formed in complicity with the night.
                  The children ran frantically over the slippery white surface. Venancia stretched out like a cat, letting the sun run over her face. Eufrasia bustled around quickly and in silence.
                  Bernabé was distant, checking the dock. The bridge extended over the drop and united the two sides of the mountain over the uproar of the waters, the fences of tall stakes, tree trunks fractured and interred one next to the other, in interminable lines marking out the pastures.
                  The man came back at mid-afternoon, cranky, and unusually communicative.
                  “There are only a few pilings left of the dock.. It’s all got to be done again. At least the fences and the bridge didn’t fare too bad. There’s enough work at the dock for a while.”
                  One of the kids said, “Can you take me to the mountain tomorrow to help you, Papi?”
                  “And us, too, please...?” said the rest all at once and with great excitement.
                  Eufrasia, sitting in her habitual spot by the fire, silently and with her profile turned, tightened her lips expressing her disapproval.
                  “Me, too, Papi,” added Venancia coming closer to the man, wheedling, smiling because the dimples were always there, in her cheeks, smiling although a smile didn’t shape her mouth and her small eyes shining, lost in the black shadow of the long, arching lashes, just like her mother.
                  “Esperanza,” mumbled the man, and he stared with his mouth open and his Adam’s apple wavering. “Esperanza... my God, it’s scary how she looks just like her...” he added, as though talking to himself.
                  The old woman, still sitting sideways, spied him out of the corner of her eye. The kids and Venancia shouted in a chorus: “He’ll take us, he’ll take us...”
                  The man seemed to follow something that occurred within. He looked at his hands, where the violence bugged him. He made fists. Suddenly he threw himself over the kids, chasing them with blows that fell indiscriminately over any of them. Over Venancia. The girl began to bleed through the nose, crying in shouts, and she didn’t manage to escape like the others.
                  “God help us!” said the grandmother and rose to help her.
                  But the man had frozen again staring at his hands and, just as suddenly, he felt that something melted in his chest in a warm avalanche, as if he cried inside. Exactly: a warm tide. And he approached Venancia, almost at the same time as the grandmother.
                  “You beast... leave her alone... one day you’ll end up incriminating yourself with one of your children...”
                  The man shook, because the violence returned and ran through his muscles, nestling there, next to his throat, and bubbling in his hands. He yelled.
                  “That’s why she’s my daughter... to do whatever I want with her... with her, with the kids and with you, too...” This time he managed to hit her once, but no more, because the old woman, prodigiously agile, thinking faster than he, avoided him and left the ranch.
                  She went to huddle next to the oven, hard, her head sideways, outward profile, her cheeks burning where she received the blow. But her rage burned hotter inside. The stakes, the mops, the logs piled up, they were no longer a weight. What was Venancia doing inside the house? Was he hitting her, that animal? No, because she couldn’t hear screams and she could separate noises, classify them, a necessary labor of her job at the mill; she could tell from the rumble if it was working well, if it wasn’t running well, and where the problem was. The kids were far away, playing in the field, forgetting the blows. The girl had a bloody nose, but, what was she doing there, bleeding? The girl, didn’t she look so much like Esperanza! Well. But, why didn’t she go and find her? What to do? She decided suddenly. She returned to the house.
                  The girl was rubbing her nose with a rag. Bernabé had dropped on a chair, undone, and his Adam’s apple was wavering more now. He didn’t seem to be aware of Eufrasia’s presence.
                  Straight ahead if possible. If not, through rough terrain, crawling. Once she had lost, yes, but this time she would win. Straight ahead would mean going to the houses and telling the boss what went on at the ranch. And letting him intervene, take the kids away from the man and give them to her. She needed no other rooms, the two by the back courtyard were big enough and they could all be accommodated perfectly. It was the only hope.
                  Time was slowly settling into the thaw, the waters also receded and in two more weeks it would be possible to traverse to the first-daughter land parcel. Of course, the man wouldn’t go with her, and that was a bad road. Although beasts know better than anyone how to find the way. She would go. It was best.
                  But it was dangerous to leave the kids alone. If she could sneak out with Venancia! Impossible. Venancia, so slow, backward, now she beheld her father with panicked terror after he hit her... and if she left alone and something happened in the ranch? But, what was going to happen, what? Nothing... And, she would shrug her shoulders.
                  Something fearful, dark, and pulsating immobilized her there. She didn’t know what. Fear of something undefined. Irrational fear.
                  At the next row, another afternoon, when Bernabé beat everybody up, including herself, without apparent motive other than to satisfy that itching in his hands and sometimes, almost the aching in his loins, Eufrasia yelled as she ran off:
                  “You’ll work things out soon enough with the boss--” and she froze when she heard him answer, biting and choking on the words, his hands hanging and the eyes lost in the flesh of the lids.
                  “El patrón... when he sees me... I’ll take the kids and leave. El patrón... big deal, the boss. Let him mind his own business, el patrón!”

                  It had become a habit with Eufrasia, now that the weather was clear, to go sit under the lean-to by the oven. She’d bring a bench, the sewing or knitting, and there she’d live out the hours, alone, waiting for the man and the children, because it had also become a habit with him to take them to work at dawn. Which filled the kids with mirth, forgetting the blows and the curses while going by the lagoon to cross over to the mountain boundaries, or waiting for the salmon to bite, or helping the father choose the trees to be felled and chopped to make more fences, or the other marvelous adventure that consisted of crossing-- testing their equilibrium, the bridge that lay over the chasm, a primitive and dangerous setup.
                  They returned hungry and tired. Eufrasia had dinner ready, Venancia served it awkwardly, the man ordered everybody to bed soon afterwards, and the kids were so tired, so absolutely spent with the walking, the air and the sun, stuffed with dinner, that they fell like stones to the bottom of their sleep, without a chance for the grandmother to obtain the least bit of information about what they’d done during the day.
                  Again, the man had won... and there she was. The perfect fool, working the whole day so that “his lordship” would find the golden bread, the savory chowder, the roasted potatoes and the water boiling to brew the mate. And clean clothes and the ranch spic and span... fool.
                  She began to wander around. She made careful trips along the trail until she reached the bridge over the drop. She was hidden in the maze of trees, of the bushes and vines, appearing suddenly in front of the ranch, looking for straight paths between the bridge and her usual spot under the lean-to by the oven. She vented her bad humor on the birds, even the smallest ones always found by the pebbles of her slingshot. Wanderings without witnesses, because she always made sure that the echo carried no traces of the others, faraway in the mountains.
                  They returned from the woods. That morning the man had laid out the net and the kids waited impatiently to see the catch. Venancia had made herself a crown of little leaves and she walked ahead. She crossed the bridge first, as if her bare feet adhered to the gnarled log, firm and secure. A boy passed, whistling, giving no importance to the chasm below, deep and green, alive. The rest of the kids came with the man who carried the ax. It looked like he was going to cross first, but he let the kids by, who crossed and caught up with the others and went running to the boat ramp to see the net. The man set foot on the bridge. Like the kids he seemed adhered to the bark of the tree. But in the middle, suddenly, he hesitated, hurt by the stone on the forehead, hesitated, wavered and disappeared into the walls of the precipice, submerged in the humid uproar.
                  The children waited for him at the boat ramp.
                  “Must have gone straight to the ranch--” one said.
                  “Do we pick up the net?” proposed another.
                  “Let’s just do it,” said Venancia. “And if he gets mad, let him.”
                  They struggled a while. Pulled out the fish. They stuck them through long branches from the water making skewers. And they started off towards the ranch with their load.
                  The grandmother awaited them quietly under the lean-to by the oven, with her hands crossed over her sewing.
                  “Look, abuela: trouts and a small salmon.”
                  “And, Papi?” asked one of the kids.
                  “He hasn’t gotten over here--” said the grandmother and turned her profile.
                  “Bah! He must have forgotten something and gone back to the mountain.”
                  “Why don’t you go after him? It’s pretty late and he must be hungry.”
                  They came back a while later. The father wasn’t there. What should they do? Should they go look for him on the other side of the bridge?
                  “No,” said the grandmother. “It’s night already. Go inside and eat. He’ll be coming.”
                  They ate and this time it was the grandmother who immediately gave the order to go to bed. They were dropping from exhaustion. Dropping from exhaustion in the midst of their sleep.
                  The grandmother remained a long time in her other usual place, the one of the long winter nights, near the hearth, her head turned onto her shoulder, a marten in watch, her profile steady in the twilight, in her hand the cigarette, rolled slowly, slowly ignited and glowing, from time to time in a red dot. Then she turned towards the door of the man’s room.
                  “Now I won... and forever... hm!” she said it, she thought she said it, but with her mouth closed, as though barred by the lower lip, she didn’t move a muscle, nor did she utter a sound.
She rose then, to close the front door. But she didn’t close it, she left it open. Open, because for the others, the man could still come back.

On Translation: The Ultimate Literature

When I first began to teach creating writing and comparative literature at Goddard College, in 1994, I often spent days on end preparing materials for workshops. The chief reason was that, when I presented workshops on Latin American literature, the poems and stories I wanted to use were not found in one single anthology, or even two or three. Quite often what I wanted had not been translated into English-- or worse, the available translations were very poor quality. If we were lucky and the story I was after had been translated by a virtuoso, such as Gregory Rabassa, then it was wonderful. I felt certain that the experience my students would have would be genuine, and they'd be able to enjoy a reading that would come as close as possible to the original.

But when I wanted to teach little known writers, or newer writers whose work had not been translated yet, or obscure poems that would never end up in an anthology, that's when I had to get to work and do my own translations. Before this, I had translated for technical or non literary publications over the years, and on occasion for the Conditions: Feminist Literary Journal. Translation of poetry in particular is very difficult, and I'm not sure one really ever succeeds (nor should one hope to, since that is the sad beauty of language). Teaching literature was my gateway to the necessity of translation for the sheer love of the thing I wanted to share with other people.

This is how I came to translate this short story by Marta Brunet, a marvelous Chilean writer whose first novel, Montaña adentro (1923) surprised critics who did not expect such sophisticated and strong prose from a woman writer. The short story I've translated here, "Piedra callada," is from a short story collection: Soledad de la sangre, published in 1967, the year of Brunet's death. I received these two books from my mother, who knew I loved to read and that I would someday write as well, and I'll always be grateful for this. Brunet became my favorite Chilean narrative writer as I grew older-- my first love was Marcela Paz, author of the young adult series, Papelucho. Later I read the work of María Luisa Bombal, and I would have another favorite.

What I love about this story is the way it seems to stay with the reader as a perfect composition: smooth,   swift, accurate, just like the silent stone of the title... which be read as a metaphor for many things. The strong characterization, the masterful exposition, the unforgettable descriptions of the southern Chilean valleys, hidden in the mountains under the majestic peaks of the Andes: I think you'll like this story.

Here is part I of "Silent Stone," by Marta Brunet.

Silent Stone

Translation by M. Romo-Carmona

When Esperanza said she wanted to marry Bernabé, her mother gave her a beating for an answer, a simple way, but a way she deemed infallible, to drive the idea out of the girl’s head. The girl didn’t utter a single cry and as soon as she could she escaped to tell her troubles to the boss’ wife, la Patrona.
                  “When is she gonna let me get married! Every time I have a prospect she chases him away. She just about took a slingshot to the youngest of the Machucas... not to mention the beatings I get. Talk with her, if you’d be so kind, and reason with her. I’m nearing twenty-- is she aiming me for an old maid?”
                  La Patrona looked at the girl, looking vaguely thoughtful. It was not unusual that she would be sought after. She was pretty, well mannered, almost a small-town servant, living always near the house and her protection.
                  “But, what does she tell you?”
                  “This time she ain’t said nothin’. She just beat me. But other times she says she ain’t brought me up like a flower for the mules to eat. Her old lady notions… ‘Cause after all, Patrona, I’m nothin’ more’n a country girl, fit to marry someone from around these parts".
                  “And, who wants to marry you now?
                  Esperanza hesitated a moment before answering: “Bernabé, the Vellares’ son, the real good-lookin’ one, the one who works along the fences.”
                  “But, he’s a beast...” la Patrona concluded after she remembered the young man.
                  “I love him a lot... I know he’s like that, a little dense-- but good, hardworkin’, anybody at the ranch can swear to that! And he ain’t got no vices, keeps his things neat... he’s a little thick, that’s all.”
                  La Patrona looked at her in suspense, at a loss for what to do because it wasn’t the first time that the matter came up, that the girl came to ask for help to stand up to her mother who allowed no will but her own. She couldn’t systematically oppose that Esperanza eventually marry. These were jealousies of the mother who had only one daughter, widowed herself and struggling desperately to bring her up, helper to the miller when her husband died, who had held this position for years and operating with such skill that it was actually she who now supervised the mill. The ambition of a mother who perhaps wanted a man of greater means as husband for the girl, not rough peons who would never be anything else. But, where to find such a husband? Her world, of course, would have to be in the country, in the mountains. Her destiny, to marry a young man born there. To own a ranch. What else? Because more than that, than the young sons of the renters, there wasn’t another single man in the vicinity. Where, then, could a husband be found for Esperanza who, in truth, was immensely superior to her surroundings?
                  Weary, then, from brooding so long upon something that concerned her slightly, not very much, she wasn’t sure whether it was slightly or greatly, la patrona put forth a definitive question.
                  “But, you’re sure you love that Bernabé?”
                  Esperanza performed the classic gesture of rolling up and unrolling the corner of her apron, answering without preamble: “Patrona, he’s the one I’ve loved the most. The others, I loved them just a little. I love this one a whole lot. He’s good and he loves me a lot, too. Of course he is a little thickheaded--” she hurriedly concluded, because la patrona sustained her gaze, as though she wished to see into the depth of her soul.
                  In reality, she wasn’t looking at her, given, as usual, to her own vague thoughts.
                  “All right, then. I will speak with your mother.”
                  “Of course, if you’d be so kind--” and she turned very charming, enchanting she was that way, with her eyes very small and shining, with two dimples on her cheeks so much like fuzzy peaches, and such a turned up nose, and a pout for a mouth of a girl who knows herself pretty and speculates around her appeal. “If you would be telling the patrón to give us a parcel of land, because that way my mother wouldn’t have much to say and, having a ranch assured, no one would look down on Bernabé and, everything would start off better... you’d be so kind to tell the patrón, no?”
                  “Yes, yes, I know you, how good you are at buttering up, don’t worry.”
                  She remained thinking, going from one cloud of ideas to another, which was her way of thinking, that perhaps she could take Esperanza with her to the city as a maid, or send her to school, or let her help the nurse who cared for her own mother. She gestured with her hand, as though erasing something in front of her eyes, no, that was too much responsibility. How pretty the girl was... perhaps, instead of marrying her off-- she suddenly though of the chauffeur, an excellent man with a sister, single, who might fall in love with Esperanza and marry her if-- instead of marrying her off, one of those ugly things that happen, that only exist in novels or films and suddenly happen in real life... and the mother, old Eufrasia, she’d never just let her go. Of course she wouldn’t take on both of them. Although the old woman would be useful as a washerwoman, or to make preserves, or to open the gate when the coaches arrived. Again, she made the gesture of erasing something before her eyes, something that hung there, without shape. She finished by going very quickly to her room, remembering suddenly that it was now time for the radio drama that was so full of unexpected events.
                  Of course, she forgot to speak with Eufrasia, but Esperanza came the next afternoon and didn’t let up until she called the mother in and had a session with her.  Out of this, she derived nothing because that day la patrona was even more lost in the clouds than usual, in her own limbo, and the old woman left triumphant with her answers and arguments.
                  She was a tall, old woman, curved profile and a thin mouth, tight lips with the lower sealing a will that knew its goal, but that also knew how to arrive there through shortcuts, crawling, in between long waits, if the direct way turned difficult with obstacles. Returning to the mill, without major explanations, she gave Esperanza a beating. With this, the latter understood she would have to find another means of support if she wanted to marry Bernabé.
                  She went, then, to try the boss, el patrón. Stamped out of an old block he was a replica of the grandfather who fought in the war of independence. To him, Esperanza said the same she had said to his wife. Immediately, he called Eufrasia to him. Ten minutes later, out of the study came an accessible old woman who crossed Bernabé on her way-- also called by el patrón. She eyed him coldly.
                  To which the man only managed to respond with an unintelligible grunt. Inside, el patrón told him:
                  “Well, then, Eufrasia agrees to your marrying Esperanza. You are serious and you work well. Since you will need a home, I will give you the ranch of Don Valladares by the lagoon. Valladares wants to come here, to be near the school and educate his flock of kids, a wish I deem very sensible. You marry and you go up there. The ranch is new, and there you have work enough for years; that whole boundary needs to be fenced off. I will speak with the administrator about the conditions of your leaving, and now, to be a steady fellow and to behave very well with Esperanza.”
                  Bernabé answered with another grunt, flipped his straw hat two or three times in his huge hands, put his head down and charged towards the door. He seemed almost rectangular, with horizontal shoulders and enormous feet whose toes turned out, the arms hanging and all of him knotted into strong muscles. Upon this giant’s body the small head, round, rose above the neck disproportionately thin, the Adam’s apple huge and wavering. A narrow forehead, the stiff hair of a brush, slits of eyes barely gleaming under the heavy cautious lids, a mouth of thick lips, a beardless face and in this negative ensemble in which a spirit seemed to find no harbor, the bizarre beauty of impeccably white, shiny teeth.
                  Back at the mill, Eufrasia spoke coldly and firmly to the daughter, who awaited her alarmed and anxious.
                  “El patrón wants you to marry Bernabé. You can marry whenever it strikes your fancy. But from this day you have a mother no longer.”
                  It was a short engagement among the hostile silences of Eufrasia, the chatter of the daughter akin to that of a bird frantic with sun and, the other silence, of the man, a presence that incensed the mother with rage while signifying for Esperanza two ears attentive to her words, the acceptance of all her projects, a latent defense of-- finally!-- the actualization of her will, omitting that of her mother.
                  Bernabé went to the ranch, already vacated by don Valladares. He came back saying, with his scarce slices of words, that it was just fine, that it needed no adjustment, that the menagerie he had carried by mule had arrived in one piece.
                  They married in the small neighboring village, and from there-- they had only been accompanied by witnesses and attendants, since Eufrasia had clearly stated she wanted no celebration-- the just-married headed towards the ranch, next to the blue orb of the lagoon, deep in the range of the Andes.
                  Eufrasia made herself harder, more cavernous, more resolved in her work. Nothing was known of the new couple. The lagoon was at the edge of the property. The road was only accessible up to a certain height by vehicles, and from that point at which one entered fully between virgin mountain forest, there was a trail for horses, tortuous, avoiding downward streams, going from one side to the other of the river that slowly widened its current, until one arrived at that amphitheater of peaks, and the river bedded down to form the smooth face of the lagoon. From one side it was edged by the mountain, thick, sliding into the water at the base; from the other a small valley opened, and there, upon a small plane, the ranch had been placed, wooden, squat, surrounded by stalls and shacks. The lagoon seemed blind. But on one end, the mountains curved, opened up a narrow splice and through there, noisily, through lichens and vines, in an ambience of green moisture, the water threw itself down a cliff in order to continue its tumultuous search for the sea.

                  No one could bring any news from the distant ranch. Eufrasia seemed not to expect them. She never mentioned the daughter. With a deaf rancor towards her, with a deaf resentment toward the patroness who imposed the marriage. Let her be happy or wretched, it was the same to her. She entrenched herself in indifference.
                  “It doesn’t matter... it doesn’t matter at all. Let her suffer if she’s got to suffer... why did she get married? She knew very well what she was doing...”
                  But, the “let her suffer...” was the repeated singsong of her heart, rhythm of her blood, a wheel like the mill, never still and milling the renewed grain.
                  Bernabé didn’t even need to come to the houses for provisions because in that enormous property, having been a territorial assignment of colonial times, there were five stewardships under the supervision of a general administration and the man was now under the orders of the first daughter-parcel, where he must go for his replenishment and everything concerning his job. He made a journey every few months and once a year, the majordomo went to the lagoon to take a look at the fences. From the visits that Bernabé made to the first-daughter land parcel, little was obtained-- that the man continued to be reticent and answered questions with stumbling words and not many of them. It was the majordomo who brought news:
                  “Esperanza is very thin! She looks like a stick of garlic! With so many kids, and never leaving the ranch. A good worker, though, the same as he. A beast like that has never been seen! You should see the dock he’s built himself at the lagoon, and a dandy boat, and since there’s so much fishing, there’s always a trout chowder, or salmon. You should see! And the ranch is well fixed up because she’s such a lady, Esperanza, it’s good to see. If she weren’t so thin. The oldest girl is just like her, like Esperanza, the same eyes, the same ways about her...”
                  The majordomo’s wife, doña Cantalicia, found pretext for visits to the houses, especially to tell the news to Eufrasia, who tightened her lips, enhancing that gesture that likened her to wilful mask; that hardened the edge of her jaw, sealing with her lower lip the upper that disappeared under its pressure. But she made no comment, none, to the great annoyance of doña Cantalicia.
                  “Because even beasts must want to know about their children...” she said to herself, very upset inside. And she would take relief in endless chatter with the womenfolk in the other houses.
                  Eufrasia completed thirty years in the mill. Thirty years! A lifetime. The boss called her and in his straightforward way, without discussion, told her that she was being retired with full salary and that she could choose between staying at the mill in the apartment she had always occupied, but without any intervention in the work, or living in the house of the employers in some rooms that would be given her, free to do whatever she wished. How well she  had earned the right to rest!
                  “I am not tired. I need no rest--” she protested, adding rapidly: “But if el patrón has already decided what he wants me to do... there’s but bowing my head and, amen.”
                  “Do you want to stay at the mill?”
                  “To me the mill is the job. I don’t need to stay there with my hands folded.”
                  “Talk with my wife, then, and arrange the move. There are two rooms in the back courtyard that will be comfortable for you.”
                  “Thank you,” said the old woman, dryly, and forcing herself to greater amiability added, “Thank you very much for everything.”
                  She installed herself in those two rooms that were assigned to her. She spent days on end hostilely locked within them and herself. But finally she began to abandon her corner and to take part in the activities of the enormous house. One day, without anyone asking her, she washed, without help, all the windows of the gallery around the courtyard. Another, she went with a mattress on her back to an end of the yard and there organized a veritable shop, fluffing wool, washing tapestries, re-stuffing, sewing. As soon as she finished one of these tasks, she sniffed around the house and its outbuildings until she came across another one.
                  The years didn’t take toll on her energy. The same years had accentuated certain characteristics in others, and so, la patrona, sweet and absentminded, explained upon seeing her working, with the singing accent of a refrain:
                  “What a pearl is Eufrasia! What a pearl is Eufrasia!”
                  When returning from his rides on horseback near dusk, el patrón would often see her helping to round up the pigs or the calves, using a slingshot to wake the ones lagging behind.
                  “That one, Eufrasia, good shot!” And with one of his sudden smiles added the authoritarian tones that time hadn’t mellowed-- “Watch that you don’t use big stones and leave an animal lame.”
                  One day, doña Cantalicia came, as usual, with her basket of news.
                  “Esperanza is pretty sick. So many kids and so many abortions. What can one expect, that’s what my husband says. And Bernabé wants nothing to do with taking her to town so the doctor can see her. He’s such a beast, poor man! No wonder you didn’t approve of this marriage. But the thing is that Esperanza is all bones; sometimes she spends days without being able to get up, and when she gets up, she drags herself, barely. I know you don’t like talk of these things, but it’d be a sin not to come and tell you.”
                  “Thanks for the soap opera--” answered Eufrasia, turning her profile, ending the conversation. It squirmed inside her like a bug. Sick, in bed. Dragging herself. But she’d become furious with herself and try to impose the rancorous old tones, “let her suffer! She’ll know what’s good! Tough luck!” But she couldn’t fit the words in their old rhythm of a refrain, suffocated by waves of anxiety, each time crashing louder within her, darkened by a storm.
                  A short time later the boss called her in.
                  “Look, Eufrasia, the majordomo of the first-daughter tells me that Bernabé went to town with Esperanza very ill. She’s in the hospital. The kids are alone at the ranch. I think you should go take care of them.”
                  “I don’t go where nobody calls me.”
                  “But you go where your boss sends you.” Their eyes met and the old woman finally shifted hers, as always, before the will of man and landlord.
                  “Very well, patrón.”
                  “Gather your things. I’ve ordered a boy to guide you there at dawn. You’ll go by coach up to the first-daughter, from there you’ll continue on horseback with your gear on mules. See how things are there, stay as long as you deem it necessary. I already telephoned the majordomo to tell him to warn Bernabé that I ordered you to care for the children.”
                  “Thank you.” She seemed relieved, as if the waves that kept hitting her chest had turned soft. She spoke not another word.
                  The boy traveling with her was a bit uncomfortable with that silent company; he looked at her out of the corner of his eye at the same time he admired Eufrasia’s drive, who endured a jostling ride, dust and wind, heat, thirst and fatigue without protest.
                  Doña Cantalicia had brought more recent news.
                  “My husband phoned the hospital, ordered by el patrón, don’t think it was our aim to snoop. He spoke with mother superior who told him, after many delays to consult the doctor, that they’d have to operate on Esperanza, internal you know, and that the doctor said that after the operation she’d be at least a month in bed and after that month, he’d see if he’d let her go back to the ranch or not. That it isn’t really serious what she has, but that it’s serious.”
                  The old woman tightened her lips, presented her profile perceiving the damp breath of a well passing, and said nothing.
                  Exhaustion had apparently made no dent on her when she arrived at the lagoon. She immediately straightened the mess that was everything, dirty and disarrayed. Starting with Venancia and the five little ones. Taken by surprise, knowing not what attitude to assume before that grandmother who appeared unannounced and of whose existence they had only a vague inkling, a grandmother who looked long at them, who placed over the head of each one a hand that was not quite a caress, but a sort of possessive gesture, while she asked their name. Right away she examined ranch and surroundings and began to give directions, to work herself, with that method that turned speed into a miracle.
                  Before leaving at dawn of the next day, the boy saw a ranch perfectly neat and children clean and docile to the grandmother’s command. He carried back a list of things absolutely necessary, a list that Eufrasia sent to the boss with a letter, asking that they be charged to her own account and to please send them right away, besides other things of her own menagerie.
                  El patrón understood this and sent the boy back with a loaded pack of mules.
                  This is how the children saw a sewing machine for the first time and each one slept in a bed and had clothes that could be called such and not rags.

Continued next post.