Gesell Dome

Guillermo Saccomanno, trans. by Andrea G. Labinger

August 12, 2016 
The following is from Guillermo Saccomanno’s novel, Gesell Dome. Saccomanno is the author of numerous novels and story collections, including El buen dolor. He is the winner of the Premio Nacional de Literatura and a two-time Dashiell Hammett Prize recipient. He also received Seix Barral’s Premio Biblioteca Breve de Novela for El oficinista, and his book Un maestro won the Rodolfo Walsh Prize for nonfiction.

When the last tourists disappear, those who had hoped that the season’s two months’ worth of work would save them must go and beg the manager of Banco Provincia for mercy. It’s true, though: at the end of the season, few people are in the same place they were at the beginning of the story. And you can see couples regrouping. Between dumping and getting dumped lurks a silence that brings on gloomy thoughts: now loneliness is even lonelier. And so: alcohol. Or a line of coke. By the time you react, it’s too late. You’ve got to let off steam with someone. Suicide starts dogging you. So close at hand. Some folks reject the idea of financial motives, blaming emptiness instead. Before we realize it, one morning the Villa is a grayish blue. Deserted houses, deserted hotels, deserted shops, deserted streets. And on top of that, the fog, the drizzle. Melancholy rots the spirit like humidity on fallen leaves. Women choose gas, pills, or opened veins. Men, in general, hang or shoot themselves.

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Suicides increase when temperatures begin to drop. Dante can prove it. He doesn’t need to keep track of the suicides he reports on in El Vocero. An elderly couple. A retiree. A grandfather with aches and pains. It’s not true that winter only carries off the old folks. It also sweeps away the kids. Loaded with dope, drag racing while high, screwing around with guns. There are also those attention-seeking kids. Hanged from the cross in church or with their brains blown out by swallowing a gun on top of the German’s grave. Two methods that are becoming quite popular these days. And they’re trying to say something. I’ll bet winter cleans out more teens than seniors, Dante ventures.  

*  *  *  *

And while the cabins were multiplying, Don Evaristo Quirós, the shyster, the crow, came to the Villa, he who never turned down a lawsuit no matter how sleazy, as long as it promised to be juicy. A real visionary, Doctor Don Evaristo Quirós: in fifteen, twenty years at the most, the dunes would pay off. And who better than Alejo, his nephew, putative son, and future heir to his law practice. Alejo, his right-hand man, skillfully trained in all bureaucratic shady deals. Alejo: shiny new law degree, which evil tongues said was purchased by his uncle, framed in gilded wood and placed beneath his Uncle Evaristo’s diploma.

*  *  *  *

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It’s like Dante wrote here: The Villa is a labyrinth that not even the pioneers control, Remigio reads this morning. There’s no denying that our reporter is a cultured man. Every so often he cranks out one of these articles. I don’t know if it’s to educate the simple people or to show off that he’s been to school and is a great reader. Avid reader, as he likes to say. You may have heard him: I’m an avid reader, Dante always says.

The other drivers, nodding off or drinking a watered-down mate, don’t pay too much attention to Remigio’s reading.

Dante had written: Despite having lived here for decades, many residents of our Villa still get lost. The winding streets of sand, which follow the zigzagging foot of the dune, form a genuine labyrinth where streets cut each other off, come together, twist and turn. And whoever gets lost might well fear an encounter with the mythical and terrifying Minotaur.

Remigio repeats that: Minotaur. And then: Anybody who’s heard of the Minotaur, raise your hand. Not one of the drivers responds. Remigio lets them stare at him, intrigued. It was a monster from Crete, he explains, the capital of Ancient Greece. Very avant-garde, those ancient Greeks. More advanced than us. They already had gay marriage. But let me tell you, they were no ordinary faggots. Homosexuals, but serious homosexuals, not fairies like the ones today. And philosophers, too. Warriors, that’s what they were. Once in a while they boned the women. Mostly just to preserve the species, keep them happy for a while so they could occupy themselves with the kiddies while the men discussed important matters. There, in the labyrinth, lived the monster, half man, half fierce bull. The lower part, up to the waist, was a man, and the upper part a bull. But the human part had something of the bull: that Minotaur had a pretty good-sized sausage on him. Anyone who committed a crime—no kidding—they stuck him in the labyrinth. As soon as the condemned man began to lose his way in the labyrinth, the meat-locker smell would nauseate him. From outside, the cries of the crowd, screaming, applauding. The shouting was a sign to the monster that they’d tossed in his food. And he acknowledged it with a roar that made your blood run cold. And so the Greeks, once the Minotaur had responded to them, called for silence. And they waited and waited and waited. As soon as you entered the labyrinth, the shouting outside began. Then the roar. The monster could’ve been on the other side of the wall, in the passageway on one side, in a corner, lying in wait. You had to walk with lead feet. And that stench of entrails, of blood. The only thing you could hear was the buzzing of the flies. As you walked, you jumped over human remains. The condemned man would be saved if he found the exit from the labyrinth. But hardly anyone ever escaped. Because when you turned down a passageway, there was the Minotaur. It was the Minotaur’s habit to fuck the condemned man’s ass wide open and then gobble him up.

After a thoughtful silence, Remigio pronounces:

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That’s what should be done to the people who raped the kindergarteners. Throw them to the Minotaur.

*  *  *  *

Maybe it’s a good story to tell some other time, if anybody cares, says Dante. It seems that Don Evaristo and Doña Pola, his wife, had no children. Don Evaristo blamed Doña Pola, who had turned out to be as dry as an old raisin. And she, in turn, replied that if they didn’t have a baby it was because of that bullet that had split open one of his testicles when he was working in Ayacucho. Don Evaristo never  explained to her where that shot had come from. It wasn’t necessary, considering that he had amassed a fortune by rescuing crooks from their involvement in shady politics. Don’t clarify, Eva. You make things more obscure, said Doña Pola. I told you not to call me Eva, Don Evaristo bristled.

But then there was that nephew of his. His brother Justo had baptized him with the same name: Alejo’s middle name was Evaristo. The fact that Justo had honored his brother by giving the boy his name marked his destiny. The nephew would compensate for Evaristo’s lack of a little calf of his own.

Rumor had it that Alejo’s parents had burned to death trying to put out the fire at the ranch in General Guido. But it wasn’t true, like so many stories that don’t tell how things really were. It came out that the fire had been no accident. Alejo told Dante the truth, the whole truth late one night after dinner at the German Club. It was closing time. But no one was about to kick out Dr. Alejo Quirós and his scribe, Dante.

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The way it went down was that Justo, his father, had found Leonor, his mother, on all fours beneath a laborer. He walked into the room, pistol in hand; didn’t say a word. Neither did the lovers. It wasn’t yet time to wake up the kids. The laborer silently allowed himself to be tied up. He knew it: for him there would be no mercy. Then Justo shoved him under the bed. Leonor was emotionless, not resisting what was about to come. Justo ordered his wife to wake the kids, dress them, and pack their bags. Alejo and Alba would go to Madariaga, where Uncle Evaristo lived. Composed, the mother stifled her distress while the father prepared the carriage. After the mother had given them a kiss, the father sent them off into the darkness of night. He forced the woman back into the house. He tied her to the bars of their marriage bed. And next to her, also bound, he laid the laborer. He was gone a long time. He took his time irrigating the foundations of the house with gasoline and kerosene. He went back inside and walked to the bedroom. He poured fuel on the  lovers. He sat down to watch them as he took a swig of gin from the mouth of the porrón. The fire enveloped them. The bodies in the bed, shrieking, scorching, writhing. The roar of the flames and the screams. Justo watched them calmly as the crossbeams began to collapse. By the time the fire had consumed the roof, exposing the open sky, it would be nearly daybreak. And the children would be far away. That’s what he must have been thinking when a burning beam fell on top of him.

Alejo once told this story to Dante. How at dawn, when they turned back to look, they saw the glow of the fire. How Alba wanted to go home. But he, Alejo, seemingly aware of what that fire meant, tugged on the horse’s reins. They had to obey their father, he told his sister.

Without irony, Alejo said to Dante:

There’s some truth to it when they call me a son-of-a-bitch.

*  *  *  *

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Since the Villa pins its mission on the forestation of what had been once only sand and wind, many people take credit for participating in that imaginary pioneering effort, because here even someone who arrived just last month feels like a pioneer, worrying, like everybody else, about protecting nature, preserving a harmonious life and a deep relationship between human beings and the landscape. That’s how some folks talk. To recap: It was decreed that anyone who cuts down one tree during construction must plant two. Four or five businesses devoted to macrobiotics and homeopathy have prospered in the last few years. The hippie legacy of the seventies has now combined with New Age tendencies and Eastern thought, alternative medicine and yoga. Meditation and martial arts alternate with floral and musical therapy. One curative technique that’s both mental and physical is listening to oneself through the reverberations of bowls. To a greater or lesser extent, we are all supporters of a healthy, quality lifestyle. That’s why we oppose the construction of the Twin Towers. If the thundering din of Dobroslav’s—our Speer’s—machinery deafens us, imagine the terrible effect it will have on the birds in  the forest, forcing them to migrate. Most of us, I’d say some eighty percent of the Villa, came here to get away from concrete. And now those two huge skyscrapers are an assault on our quality of life. Because if there was one reason for our migration to the Villa, it was to find a better quality of life. Sure, what happened to the los abusaditos at Nuestra Señora also compromises the quality of life by generating negative energy. But that mess, like everything else in this Villa, will be forgotten. The Twin Towers, on the other hand, are turning out to be a more serious abuse because they’re forever. God knows how many birds will lose their homes because of concrete.

*  *  *  *

We still have to tell this story, and it’s important that we do: Alejo, the boy, made two important friends in the Villa: Julián Mendicutti, the son of Don Néstor the hardware dealer, now an official who supervises the shenanigans at City Hall; and Braulio Ramos from the real estate office, who, with information supplied by Julián, can tell you which house or lot you can arrange to take over for a few pesos. The entire Villa, from one end to the other, belongs to the Kennedys, as some people call the three of them, a nickname, we should emphasize, that makes them proud. We’re more like brothers than if we really were, Braulio, the weak one, likes to say.

It’s interesting to see how identities are formed in a family. Don Evaristo soon recognized his nephew’s aptitudes. Alejo had turned out to be a crouching little criollo, lying in wait, who wouldn’t leap out till he found the best opportunity. Silent, slippery. It was hard for Don Evaristo to fault him for anything. That boy ought to have been his son. Then, Don Evaristo says to himself, the dynasty would be well-served. And he set Alejo up to train in legalistic tricks and to succeed him. He took the boy everywhere. He was his shadow.

*  *  *  *

The Villa’s business community is shocked by the heavy fines imposed by the Provincial Ministry of Labor following safety and health inspections. In a meeting between representatives of our Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Ministry officials, it was alleged that the amount of the fines was an attack on the Villa and its expansion. After a heated discussion between the parties, it was agreed to establish an interim period in which the businesses involved would commit to improving health and safety conditions within 48 hours.

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In their own way, our local Kennedys have blood ties. As kids, romping in the dunes, they swore a blood oath. They cut themselves with a little knife, a gift from Don Evaristo to Alejo. The legend the three kids wanted to establish claims that on a November noon, atop one of the dunes, on the burning sand, Alejo took out the knife and cut the palm of his right hand. Then he passed it to Braulio. And Braulio grabbed it. Clenching his teeth, he cut himself. With his bloody hand, he shook Alejo’s. Julián, not to be left behind, slashed his own palm. And so the three of them comingled their blood. Then they looked toward the Villa, the red roofs of the chalets peeking out between the green groves. Suddenly, Julián recalls, it grew dark and night descended in the middle of the day. The sky began to crackle. Thunder, too.

They didn’t have to say so, but Braulio, the most timid, who always needed to emphasize things to boost his own self-confidence, did: Three against all. No one will stop us.



Excerpt from GESELL DOME by Guillermo Saccomanno © 2013, translated from the Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger © 2016. Published by Open Letter Books in August 2016. Published with permission from Open Letter Books.

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