Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Fiction

The Sense of the Circle

Trafalgar

This story also appears in the author’s novel-in-stories, TRAFALGAR, out now in translation from Small Beer Press.

Have you seen those houses on Oroño Boulevard, especially the ones that face east, those dry, cold, serious, heavy houses, with grilles but without gardens, maybe at the most a tile patio paved like the sidewalk? In one of those houses lives Ciro Vázquez Leiva, Cirito. Great guy, a little weary, tolerably rich, married to a tiresome and exasperating woman, Fina Ereñú. Every time Fina goes to Salta to visit their daughter and the grandchildren, and fortunately she goes often enough that he does not fall completely silent, Cirito stops going to the Jockey Club and that is when a few friends of the kind who correctly interpret the signs go to the cold, dry house and play poker in the dining room. Exclusively masculine, even somewhat solemn gatherings at which they drink whiskey in moderation and a coffee or two, or liters of coffee if Trafalgar Medrano is there, like last Thursday.

Not that I have ever been there, because as I mentioned, women are just in the way, but Ciro often shows up at Raúl’s with the Albino Gamen, who was there. Cirito has incredible luck. At least that’s what his friends say who don’t want to recognize the truth that, obliged by circumstances, he has developed an infinite sense of opportunity and an infinite ability to distort the truth as necessary, just exactly as much as necessary. And that night, although they play with the same moderation with which they drink whiskey, he won piles of money. Most of all at the expense of the Albino and of Doctor Flynn—the physician, not the lawyer. Trafalgar Medrano, who is more circumspect, came out even. After a catastrophic rematch, the Albino said enough and Flynn said you’re an animal Cirito and Trafalgar Medrano said is there no more coffee? There was. The others served themselves whiskey and Cirito put away the cards. The Albino said that the next day he was going to bring a new deck and someone suggested it should be a Spanish one, let’s see if playing truco Cirito kept sweeping everything before him.

“Bring whatever deck you want,” said Cirito, who was happy, “Spanish or Chinese or whatever else.”

“Playing cards are Chinese,” said the Albino.

“Could be,” said Flynn, who is cultured, “but it was the Arabs who brought them to the West. Viterbo says that at the end of the fourteenth century, the Arabs carried them to Spain and that they were called naib.

“And who is that, Viterbo?” asked the Albino.

“And that,” Flynn continued, “the coins are the bourgeoisie, the cups are the clergy, the swords are the army, and the clubs are the people.”

“As always and everywhere,” said Cirito.

“I met some guys who were all of that and nothing at the same time,” said Trafalgar.

“I know,” said the Albino, “and then who made the revolutions, huh?”

“There were none,” said Trafalgar. “Not revolutions, not anything.”

“Tell,” said Cirito.

A rhetorical request, because when Trafalgar begins to tell something like that very slowly, almost in spite of himself, no one can stop him.

“Were any of you ever on Anandaha-A?”

No one, ever, as was to be expected. It isn’t easy to go to the places where he goes.

“It’s horrible,” he said. “The most horrible world you can imagine. When it’s day, it seems like it’s night, and when it’s night, you turn on the strongest light you have and you can barely see your hands because the darkness swallows everything. There are no trees, there are no plants, there are no animals, there are no cities, there is nothing. The land is rolling, with stunted little mountains. The air is sticky; there are a few narrow, lazy rivers and the few people that live there, and at first glance one wonders if they can be called people, take some gray leaves or some worms, I don’t know, from the bottom of the rivers, they squash them between their fingers, they mix them with water, and they eat them. Disgusting. The ground is cold and damp, like tamped earth. There is never wind, it never rains, it is never cold, it is never hot. A purplish sun the color of wine sediment always makes the same circuit in the same dirty sky without it mattering to anyone and there are no moons.”

“You must have had a lot of fun,” said the Albino Gamen.

“Quite a bit,” Trafalgar admitted. “A few years ago, I had earned a truckload of dough selling little light bulbs on Prattolva where they have just discovered electricity and as I knew something about the useless sun of Anandaha-A, it occurred to me that I might earn another truckload selling them lamps, lanterns, those things that would eat the darkness. But of course what I did not know was that those people had no intention of buying anything, anything at all. I went to Prattolva with another load and on the way back I set down on Anandaha-A close to what seemed to be a small city and which was not a city, small or large, but rather an encampment, but something is something. The welcome could not have been more effusive: the people in the camp had become as bored as penguins and I was a big novelty. I don’t know why people choose to study such disagreeable things. Unless it’s the usual: the hope of earning something, an attitude to which I adhere and which I consider quite laudable. And that is how there were twelve or fifteen people in the camp, all with ostentatious titles but they luckily also took the trouble to cook, fix a faucet, play the harmonica, or tell dirty stories. And friendly and courteous, all of them. There was that Swedish geologist, Lundgren, who was quite disappointed when he learned I didn’t play chess but whose disappointment lifted when I told him I was going to teach him the three varieties of sintu—the combative, the contemplative, and the fraternal—which are played in the Ldora system, one on each of the three worlds. Next to that, chess looks like tic-tac-toe. And I taught him all three and he beat me in just one match, a combative one. I prefer fraternal. There was Doctor Simónides, a little bald Greek who did everything, even psychoanalysis, and who enjoyed everything. There was a chemist, I don’t really know what for, Doctor Carlos Fineschi, specialist in river waters, you tell me. An engineer, Pablo María Dalmas. An anthropologist, Marina Solim. A sociologist, an astrophysicist, mechanical engineers, all that. The League of Nations, enough to try to convince God the Father that we’re good and we love one another. And there was Veri Halabi, I don’t know what her nationality was but what a beauty, please. Almost as pretty as the matriarchs of Veroboar, but with black hair. Expert in comparative linguistics—there is no justice. After five minutes one realized they were all infatuated with her and Fineschi most of all because, as for Marina Solim, she is efficient and maternal and incredibly nice, but she in no way has a figure to inspire erotic daydreams. But between the fact that Halabi was gorgeous and she didn’t make you say it, and that Doctor Simónides could take someone aside and convince them of just about anything, people got along well and were relaxed. And if they had begun to get bored, it was because they had finished what they had to do, or what remained could be done back here in the university offices and on the kitchen table at home. Save for Veri Halabi, who kept discovering things but who didn’t know what they meant, poor girl.”

And Trafalgar plugged in the electric coffeepot again and waited. He’s like that: when he told Páez about the affair with the machines for making love, he practically drove him crazy, and Fatty Páez is really pretty unflappable. Afterwards he returned to the table and he drank his coffee and the others didn’t make a sound, waiting for the next chapter.

“The first day, they just wanted to get the idea of selling anything out of my head. I didn’t pay any attention because the doctors know a lot about science, I’m not saying they don’t, but about buying and selling, nothing, old man, nothing. Marina Solim grabbed me and told me the inhabitants of Anandaha-A were practically an extinct species—unfortunately, according to her—although frankly it was hard to understand what she saw in them, but as far as that goes, it was also hard to understand what happened afterward. Marina told me theirs was a primitivism bordering on the bestial. They did not build tools, they lived out in the open, they had forgotten about fire if they ever knew how to light a fire, they didn’t even speak. They dressed, men and women alike, in these shabby sacks open at the sides that they took—that’s what Marina believed—from the dead, because as for weaving, they didn’t weave them. They ate, slept wherever, did their business, and even copulated in sight of everyone; there were almost no children or pregnant women, and they spent the days lying down without doing anything. And they danced.”

Flynn was surprised about the dancing and the Albino says he tried to give a lecture on the dance as a refined expression, that’s just what he said, refined, of a system of civilization, etcetera, but Trafalgar didn’t let him say much.

“If you want,” he told him, “I’ll give you the address and phone number for Marina Solim. She’s Chilean but she lives in Paris and she works at the Museum of Man. You go and ask her and you’re going to fall flat on your back at what she tells you.”

“The only thing I’m saying is . . .” Flynn began.

“They were like animals, I saw them,” Trafalgar said. “Those in the camp, which wasn’t called a camp but rather an Interdisciplinary Evaluation Unit, said they were ugly, but to me they seemed very beautiful. Of course, I have seen many more things than those good doctors and lady docs and I know what is ugly and what is pretty. There is almost nothing that is ugly, on that Marina and I are in agreement. Very tall and very thin, with white skin and black hair, long, narrow faces, and very big, very open eyes. Toad eyes, said Veri Halabi, who hated them. The others didn’t hate them; worse, they were indifferent, save for Marina Solim. At the beginning, Doctor Simónides told me, they had tried to speak with them, but it was as if they neither saw nor heard them. Afterward they had realized that they had either never had or had lost the capacity to communicate and they began to treat them like little animals: They took them food and they clicked their tongues and snapped their fingers at them. But the other guys, nothing: didn’t look, didn’t sniff, didn’t turn their heads when they approached, didn’t eat—and that even though Dalmas made some crazy good fish stews. Then they decreed they were animals and washed their hands of them. Even Marina Solim was a little disheartened, because the only thing she could do was sit down close to them and pass the hours watching what they did, which was nothing. Live, that’s all, if to live is to breathe and eat and shit and copulate and sleep.”

“And dance,” said Flynn.

“And dance. Until one time Lundgren and Dalmas, who sometimes worked together, found something. Do you know what they found? A book, that’s what they found.”

“I know,” said the Albino, “the Memoirs of a Russian Princess.”

“What an imagination you have, man. No. Something very different, although of course it wasn’t a book, either.”

“So what was it?” said Flynn, who I already told you is cultured, but who is also impatient.

“Something like a book. Some very thin leaves, almost transparent, of a metal that looked like shiny aluminum, perforated on one of the longer sides, the left, and bound there with rings of the same material but thick, filiform, and soldered no one knew how, or possibly cut from a single piece. And covered with something that anyone could see was writing. They found it while digging at the foot of a hill. They turned things over all around looking for something more but there was nothing. And then it occurred to Lundgren, and he does have imagination because otherwise he would not have been able to learn the three versions of sintu and even beat me in a combative match, the big cretin—and I still wonder how he did it because in sintu there are no coincidences—to dig directly into the hill. All of them practically died: They weren’t hills, they were ruins. Covered for thousands and thousands of years by the hard mud of Anandaha-A. Busy taking things out, they didn’t even have time to celebrate. Every hill was a house or, better put, a complex of various houses that were connected. There were not only utensils but equipment, machines, furniture, more books, dishes, vehicles, decorations. Everything quite past its prime but recognizable, although not identifiable. They really went to town, especially Marina Solim and that precious Halabi. Dalmas and the mechanical engineers racked their brains studying the machines and the artifacts but they couldn’t make sense of anything. They classified everything and they prepared it all to be brought back and Marina began to reconstruct, as she said, a prodigious civilization and the only one who was still stymied was Veri Halabi who, expert in comparative linguistics as she might be, did not understand a thing. She worked morning, noon, and night and she got into a bad mood and Simónides gave her little pats on the back, literally and figuratively. She was only able to decipher the alphabet—the alphabets, because there were five although all of the books (according to Fineschi, who applied the I-don’t-know-who reaction to them) were from the same period. I warn you that this from the same period for them meant four or five centuries. Finally, they stopped digging around in the hills except to take out the books Veri Halabi said she needed, because things were repeated more or less in all of them and they couldn’t carry any more. The girl kept working, the others did what they could or what they felt like, and then I arrived.”

He seemed to remember the coffee and he offered it to the others, but the only one who accepted was the Albino because Flynn had a glass of whiskey and Cirito drinks little.

“In all this, Marina divided her attention between the prodigious civilization and the skinny monkeys who danced. The day they heard the music for the first time, they almost had heart attacks because they didn’t expect it and they went to see what was happening. Armed, just in case. All but Veri Halabi, who from the outset had felt an aversion toward them and who said the music was irritating. And every time she heard it, she shut everything and stayed inside and if she thought she heard something, she covered her ears. Simónides told me that later. By the time I arrived, they were used to the music and the dance and they liked it. Marina told me that now and then, not every day, but once in a while and at irregular intervals, without there being any sign or anything happening, they took out sticks, strings, some very simple instruments that she described and that I saw but don’t even remember, and some played music and all the others danced. They danced for hours and hours without tiring, the stamina they had was incredible, they were so skinny and sickly, nourished on ground up worms and water. But they danced sometimes all day, sometimes all night. Have you ever tried to dance a whole night without stopping? Well, they could. They danced in the most complete darkness, without seeing each other, without pushing each other, without falling. Or they danced during the day, what passed for day under the purple sun. Or they danced partly during the day and partly at night. And suddenly, just because, the music stopped and they threw themselves down anywhere looking at who knows what and they did nothing for hours or days. Impressive. I swear to you, it was impressive.”

At that point in the evening and in the story, no one thought it necessary to keep drinking anything, but Trafalgar did not abandon the electric coffeepot. It was cold and Cirito stood up to turn on the heat while Flynn and the Albino waited and Trafalgar probably thought about the dark days of Anandaha-A.

“I liked the dance, too, as I liked them, although I was unable to sell them anything,” he went on when he saw Cirito come in. “And the people in the camp liked it, too. I’m not just saying Marina Solim, who is disposed to like everything, or Lundgren who learned sintu and already speaks in favor of the good disposition of any individual, nor the sociologist who accepts what comes and immediately composes a synoptic chart and I don’t remember his name but I do recall he passed the hours smoking Craven A’s and typing. Everyone liked it and every time they heard music, they went to watch. All save Halabi. The music was sharp, harsh, almost boiling, and with a rhythm that if the rockers heard it, they’d commit suicide from envy. It was. Damn, it is not easy to describe a music. It was not inhuman. Look, I think if someone played it at one of those dance clubs, the kids would start dancing happy as can be. That’s it. It was a music that transformed everything into music, although Lundgren said it was tragic and, yes, it was tragic. It seemed as if it were the first time you realized that you were alive and that you had been alive long before and maybe you were going to be again but you were going to die at any moment and you had to dance so your legs and arms and hips and shoulders wouldn’t get mixed up in a single rigid body, immobile. I thought that was why they danced. Instead of making things, screws or cities or philosophical systems, they danced to recognize and to say that they were alive. I asked Simónides and he told me that was exactly one of his theories about the dance. The others were that the dance was a language, that it was a rite of worship, that it was the memory of something lost. Following on that last, like the sociologist and like Marina Solim, he had asked himself if the inhabitants of this dark and almost dead world might not be the descendants of those who had built and occupied that which now was in ruins. But Veri Halabi had become furious. Violently, inexplicably, and disproportionately furious, Simónides told me, and she had said that to think those brutes belonged to the same race as the owners of the alphabets was almost sacrilegious. They left her in peace because they knew she was having a hard time with the tension of a project that could not be resolved. But not Simónides. The little bald doc was never deceived. At that moment, he didn’t know what was going on, he couldn’t know that, but he did know something more was cooking there than the self-respect of a beautiful, persnickety expert in comparative linguistics.”

“She probably liked the guys who were dancing and didn’t want to admit it,” said the Albino Gamen.

“Albino, you’re a genius,” said Trafalgar.

“She liked them?” asked Cirito, very alarmed.

“Liked them?” said Trafalgar. “Now I’ll tell you how things happened. The thing that had caught Simónides’ attention was that Halabi said the music was irritating and she didn’t want to go see what it was that very first time. And she had remained alone in the camp darning stockings, I imagine, or memorizing the fourth chapter of some treatise on comparative linguistics because they hadn’t yet found the books. The doctor stored the fact away in his little gossipy brain because that was his occupation: to pay attention to what the others said and did, put it all together, draw conclusions, and then have a chat with his victim to explain that they had to work out their frustrations or else another one of the things those guys say. I don’t say it’s not useful, on the contrary, and the proof is that everything ran smooth as silk, even poor Fineschi who, apart from drooling on himself when he looked at the little brunette, was reasonably happy. And outside of the work each of them had to do, the dance was the main attraction. The only problem was that there was a performance only seldom. And when there was one, Halabi got nervous and started to close herself in as soon as the music could be heard and the others went to see. And then they found the ruins and all of them set to work like dwarves and she more than any of them. Things were resolving themselves, except for the writing part, and when I arrived the people of Anandaha-A had begun to dance more frequently all the time. When I saw the spectacle, I was left dumbstruck and I think I even dreamt and from then on I didn’t miss one. Simónides told me his theories, Marina too, I played sintu with Lundgren (who cheated, if you ask me), I tried my luck like everyone else with a few discreet verbal passes at Halabi who, if one could pull her away from linguistics and her hatred of the natives, was very sociable and smiling, and I resigned myself to not selling anything, but I stayed.”

The dining room was warm and full of smoke and the Albino took off his jacket. Cirito had on an old sweater that was worn through at the elbows, which if Fina saw it, she’d die on us. In the room facing the street the clock struck three but they didn’t hear it.

“One time,” Trafalgar said, “we spent almost the whole day watching them dance. There were only two musicians, one who blew and another who scraped and beat. All the rest danced. It was an obsession: We could not move from where we were. We went to lunch very late and Marina went to see her and told us Halabi was sleeping shut up in her room. It seemed strange to me, and to Simónides, too, because lately the girl slept very little, crazy as she was with trying to decipher the books. We went back to keep watching the dance and when we were too worn out we went to sleep and they kept dancing and Veri Halabi’s room was still closed and the light was off. Simónides peeked in and he told me yes, she was sleeping, but she was very restless. The doctor told me a few things, I don’t know why; maybe because doctors also need someone to listen to them sometimes. The next day, in spite of having slept so much, the girl had circles under her eyes down to here and was pale and haggard. I won’t say she was ugly, because she had a long way to go for that, but she was less pretty. That day there was no dance. The next day she couldn’t take it anymore and she told Simónides that she had dreamed about the texts for hours and hours and Simónides told her of course she did and there was nothing strange about that. He didn’t understand her, she said, it was about the texts deciphered and translated. But she said no, it couldn’t be, everything was nonsense and she started to become hysterical. Simónides took her to bed, not with libidinous but with therapeutic intent, now that is professional ethics, my God. He talked to her for a while and calmed her down and then she told him that shut up inside and everything, she kept hearing the music and even if she covered her ears she kept hearing the music and she had almost started to dance. And so as not to dance, she lay down and she had fallen asleep immediately and she had dreamt about, guess what, you got it, about the music and the people dancing. And as happens in dreams, the people dancing had become the unknown letters of the five alphabets, only in the dream she knew them and she could read them. Simónides told her what anyone would have said: Sometimes, not often but it does happen, in dreaming one encounters the solution to a problem about which one has thought so much that one can’t even see it clearly while awake. But she told him—she told him, note—he was crazy and he should open the desk drawer, her drawer. The doctor opened it and he found a pile of papers written by Halabi: It was the translation she had dreamt and that, upon waking, she had rushed to record, though she didn’t know why since she was still convinced it was nothing but a nightmare. Simónides didn’t manage to read everything, unfortunately. He remembered only a few things. There was, for example, the description of a circle.”

“The description of what?” burst out Flynn.

“Of a circle.”

Flynn tried to pull his leg: “A geometric figure formed by the interior points of a circumference, if I am not mistaken.”

“I am sorry to inform you that you are mistaken. I am going to tell you what a circle is according to the protocol of the sense of Anandaha-A.”

Here all of them interrupted because no one understood that about protocol of the sense. But Trafalgar Medrano didn’t know what it meant. Simónides didn’t either, and at that moment, neither did Veri Halabi. It was in the texts and that was all.

“A circle,” said Trafalgar, “is formed in the kingdom when the oil lamp burns out in the perceptible game.”

“Just a minute, just a minute,” said Flynn. “If in a dark world like that you light a lamp, in a certain way it forms a circle, but it isn’t formed when you turn out the light, do we agree?”

“Will you let me finish? I am not explaining anything to you. I am telling you what was in the texts Simónides read, which were the translation Veri Halabi did while dreaming, based on a quintuple alphabet that she did not know.”

“What a mess,” said the Albino.

“A circle,” Trafalgar began again, “is formed in the kingdom when the oil lamp burns out in the perceptible game of every distant precinct. As quartz is unaware of the howl of the wild animal, and if it rains on the high grasslands it is improbable that the roots will know, all precincts come in contact at the rough edges until knowledge erases that which has been constructed. Its measure depends not on the rocks but on the torrent.”

“And what does that mean?” asked Cirito.

Flynn served himself more whiskey.

“I don’t know,” Trafalgar said. “Simónides had a theory, he always had theories for everything and I think sometimes he was not mistaken. Almost triumphantly, he told me that Anandaha-A was a world of symbols. I allowed myself to suggest that all worlds function by symbols the way all tricycles function by pedal, but he told me there is a big difference between of symbols and by symbols. It seems to me he’s right. And he said that to burn out the oil lamp is to leave the mind blank, to not think of anything, and that this is something that is very easily said but is difficult to do because it is nothing less than the elimination of the conscious to leave room for the unconscious, how’s that? The kingdom is the quality, the essence of being human, and the perceptible game is consciousness and every distant precinct is each individual. When the oil lamp is lit, the precincts are far from one another, each one is alone. The part about quartz and the wild animal and the rain and the high grasslands and the roots means, according to Simónides, that although the universe apparently functions divided into infinite parts, or not so infinite, depending how you look, it is all unique and one, indivisible and the same in all of its points. Understand?”

“No.”

“Nor I. I’ll continue. So, as the universe is one and unique in all of its points, if each individual suspends its consciousness and puts out the oil lamp, everyone meets, they are not alone, they unite and they know everything with no need for and in spite of the great intellectual creations. And knowledge is deeper in proportion to how total each individual’s effort is and not how many individuals there are. That would be the part about the measure.”

“Ingenious,” said Flynn.

“Shit,” said Albino, “I don’t understand a thing.”

Cirito said nothing.

“And so on like that,” continued Trafalgar. “There was a text about how to project statues, but Simónides didn’t know if it was project in the sense of drawing prior to the task of sculpting or project through space. There was also a dialogue between God and man in which of course the only one who spoke was the man. A list of harmful volitions: Don’t ask me, Simónides didn’t know what that was either and if he had a theory he forgot to tell me. Theorems, a pile of theorems. A travel diary. A method for folding, but I don’t know folding what. And stacks of other things. But all of that was lost. Simónides recorded the little he remembered and somewhere I must have a copy he gave me. Because while he was reading, Veri Halabi had some big attack, she stood up and started to shred papers and she even grabbed the papers Simónides had in his hand and ripped them to bits.”

“What a crazy,” said the Albino.

“Uh-huh,” said Trafalgar, “that is what one thinks every time someone does something one does not understand. But wait a little and tell me afterward if she was crazy. The doc put everything aside and took care of her and he gave her something to let her sleep. He told me there had been no such attack, that simply and unfortunately, at that moment the perceptible game had fully invaded her and she had abandoned the kingdom. I preferred not to ask for explanations, but I asked him if it wasn’t possible to reconstruct the texts and he told me no, they were confetti, and anyway they weren’t texts in danger of being lost. I also asked him if he thought they were the concrete translation of the metal books and he looked at me as if I had asked him if he believed two plus two makes four and he told me of course they were. And what can I tell you, the next day Halabi gets up fresh as a daisy and devotes herself to continuing her work on the translation.”

“But how?” said the Albino. “Hadn’t she already done it and ripped it up? She did it again?”

“No. It was the first time. She didn’t want to believe that what she had torn up was the translation and, awake, she worked by putting into operation logic, reasoning, information—which is to say, outside the kingdom, in the perceptible game—now without knowing and without trying to form a circle. Then life goes on as always and nothing’s happened here and for two days there are no dances. On the third day, it occurs to Romeo Fineschi Montague to propose that we all go on an outing. An outing on that lousy world, imagine. But of course, if he goes and invites Julieta Halabi Capulet alone, he comes up empty, because she says no. We went. Dalmas, Lundgren, Marina, Simónides, me, Fineschi, Halabi, two other engineers and even the sociologist. Very fun it was not, because as I already told you the natural attractions of Anandaha-A are pitiful. We talked nonsense and Simónides described imaginary monuments and parks in the voice of a tour guide until he got tired because we weren’t paying too much attention. The only one who was having a ball was Fineschi, who was talking to Halabi a mile a minute, I imagine about such romantic topics as the degree of saline saturation in the water of the lower Danube. We were on our way back when the music started and Veri Halabi cried out. It was a cry to stand your hair on end, like a cornered beast, as the science fiction writers say.”

“And others who don’t write science fiction,” Flynn noted.

“I don’t doubt it. Apart from science fiction and detective novels, I read nothing but Balzac, Cervantes, and Corto Maltese.”

“You’ll go a long way with that ridiculous mishmash.”

“Ridiculous, how? How? They are among the few that have everything one can ask of literature: Beauty, realism, entertainment, what more do you want?”

“Give it up, guys,” said the Albino. “Why’d the girl yell?”

“One cries out from pain or fear or surprise,” said Flynn. “Less frequently, from happiness. Although I think that was not the case here.”

“It was not. She cried out. A long cry that seemed to come up from her heels and that scraped her throat. She stood there a moment planted like a stake with her jaw dropping down to her knees and her eyes like the two of coins and afterward she ran off toward the camp. The music sounded very sharp, urgent, but instead of going to see, we followed her, Fineschi at a trot and the rest walking quickly. Simónides went to see her and he found her sitting on the bed, stupefied. This time she hadn’t shut herself in nor did she cover her ears. The good doctor kicked out Fineschi, who was just a pain in the neck trying to talk to her, he looked at her for a while, took her pulse, did all the things quacks do, and left her alone. She didn’t bat an eyelid. We were all a little overwhelmed and the music continued and a few went to see. The rest of us stayed and ate. Fineschi paced and smoked a pipe that went out every two minutes. The others came back, they ate, and all of us sat down for a kind of dismal after dinner talk. From time to time, Simónides would go to see her and when he came back he said nothing. Then, when we were about to go to bed, she appeared in the doorway. The music continued and the girl started to talk. The catch was we understood nothing. She talked and talked in an unknown language in which there were many more vowels than it would seem there should be. We listened to her without moving and when Fineschi tried to approach her, the good doctor did not let him. She talked the whole night.”

“That can’t be,” said Flynn.

“What do you know? She talked the whole night and we listened to her the whole night. Fineschi cried from time to time. Marina Solim was sitting at my side and she grabbed me by the arm and she didn’t let go until her hand cramped up. When it dawned, which is a pretty literary figure to stick into this story because it doesn’t dawn there, the little violet sun rises and it is less dark and that’s all; when it dawned, the music was still playing and she was still talking. And suddenly she stopped talking but the music did not stop. I was numb and even cold and the others must have been as well, but when Veri Halabi went out, we got up and went after her. She walked as if she had to deposit cash at the bank and it was one minute to four and the rest of us followed behind, toward where the music was. There at the foot of one of the excavated hills, beside the blackish river, the Anandaha-A folk were dancing with so much enthusiasm it seemed as if they had just begun. And Veri Halabi ran and thrust herself among them and danced, and while she danced she tore off her clothes and shook her head until her black hair covered her face like all the rest and we could no longer tell her apart. Another hour passed and, crazy with sleepiness and fatigue and with the sense that something more inevitable than death had happened, we retreated to the camp. Simónides and Dalmas had to drag Fineschi, who did not want to leave. We went to bed and we all slept, Simónides last because he went around handing out pills and he gave Montague an injection. I slept for ten hours and was one of the first to wake up. Marina Solim set to making coffee and the sociologist smoked but did not type. Afterwards, Simónides appeared and little by little the others. We drank coffee and ate sausage sandwiches. And the music that had kept playing—and I don’t know how, because I slept like a log, but I know it had kept playing all day—the music stopped with the last crumb of food. Fineschi announced that he was going to look for the girl and there we all went again, in procession, but it was useless.”

“She wasn’t there?” asked the Albino.

“Yes, she was there. At first we didn’t see her. The natives had sat down or lay down wherever like always, staring fixedly at some point. It was hard to pick her out. Now she was dressed in a sack open at the sides and seated in the mud with her legs crossed, between two women and a man, so similar to them, with her eyes very open, without blinking, mute and more beautiful than before because she had become beautiful like the lords of Anandaha-A. She looked straight ahead but she didn’t see us. We called her and I was sure we were behaving like a bunch of idiots. She didn’t hear us. Simónides grabbed the sociologist and Lundgren and went to get her. I restrained Fineschi. As soon as they put their hands on her, the music started again and everyone stood up and danced, Halabi as well, and dancing they rejected the three men who backed hurriedly out of the whirl and we lost sight of her. In three days we made five more attempts. It was no use. Finally it was Fineschi, and that surprised me, who said we had to admit defeat.”

The Albino said can’t you see she was crazy and Cirito said who knows and Trafalgar drank more coffee.

“She wasn’t crazy,” he said. “She had returned to her home, to the circle. Look, if I think about it a lot, I have no alternative than to say yes, she went crazy. But if I remember her dancing, telling us by dancing that we should leave her in peace because she had stopped searching, resisting, studying, thinking, writing, reasoning, accumulating, and doing, I recognize with some satisfaction—a sad satisfaction, because I don’t carry that marvel in my blood—that she had crossed the kingdom from end to end and she was swimming fresh and lovely in the torrent. Simónides explained it another way and Marina Solim supported him with very concrete data. The people who danced were in fact the descendants of those who had left the ruins. Anandaha-A knew, perhaps, a yellow, hot star and a clean sky and fertile soil and they manufactured things and wrote poems long before we treated ourselves to the stegosaurus and the scaphites. Perhaps they had jewels, concerts, tractors, wars, universities, candies, sports, and plastic material. They must have traveled to other worlds. And they reached so high and so deep that when the star died, it no longer mattered to them at all. After visiting dead worlds, worlds living or to be born, after leaving their seed on a few of them, after exploring everything and knowing everything, they not only stopped caring about the death of the star, but about the rest of the universe and they had enough with the sense of the circle. They preserved nothing but the music that they danced to and that was all Simónides had supposed and much more. We don’t know what more, but if someone told us, we wouldn’t understand. And Veri Halabi recognized her own, but the light of the perceptible game prevented her from seeing them and entering the kingdom where there is the possibility of putting out the oil lamp, and torn between the light and the nostalgic urgency of a few of her cells which bore the seal of the Argonauts of Anandaha-A, she hated them. When the light went out by force of the music and she spoke all the words of her race, those she had learned in dreams, she no longer hated them or loved them or anything. It was enough to return.”

The Albino says they were all quiet. Even Flynn, who is argumentative and likes to take the opposing side, found nothing to say. When Cirito remarked that Fina had called on the phone to let him know she was staying in Salta another week and they talked about other things and drank more whiskey and Trafalgar more coffee, Flynn admitted that Trafalgar could be right, that the matter, if you thought about it carefully, seemed preposterous, yet he had the impression that it wasn’t all that strange. Cirito said:

“I’d like to go to Anandaha-A.”

“It’s all yours,” said the Albino.

“Was Veri Halabi that pretty?” asked Flynn.

“Now she is prettier,” said Trafalgar.

© 1979 Angélica Gorodischer. © 2001 Emecé.
Translation © 2013 Amalia Gladhart.
Translation first appeared in the book Trafalgar,
published by Small Beer Press.

Angélica Gorodischer

Angelica GorodischerAngélica Gorodischer, daughter of the writer Angélica de Arcal, was born in 1929 in Buenos Aires and has lived most of her life in Rosario, Argentina. From her first book of stories, she has displayed a mastery of science-fiction themes, handled with her own personal slant, and exemplary of the South American fantasy tradition. Oral narrative techniques are a strong influence in her work, most notably in Kalpa Imperial, which since its publication has been considered a major work of modern fantasy narrative. She has received many awards for her work including most recently the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Translator Amalia Gladhart

Amalia GladhartAmalia Gladhart is the translator of two novels by Ecuadorian novelist Alicia Yánez Cossío, The Potbellied Virgin (2006) and Beyond the Islands (2011). Her chapbook Detours won the 2011 Burnside Review Fiction Chapbook Contest. Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in Iowa Review, Bellingham Review, Stone Canoe, and elsewhere. She is Professor of Spanish at the University of Oregon.