Fiction · 09/21/2016

Absit

Translated by Amalia Gladhart

Things happened more or less like this: the guy came walking down the neighborhood sidewalk. It was early Saturday afternoon and the sun was at his back. He stopped in front of a railing painted green. Oh no, he thought, oh no, please, not again, how old could she be? Seven, eight at the most, oh no, I don’t want this.

The railing enclosed a small garden with a bit of lawn, not too well kept, an azalea bush, a gardenia, and almost nothing else—that’s not counting the remains of a few impatiens and geraniums—and the little girl was playing with a stuffed animal that had a lot of fur, not a bit of tail, and a lot of whiskers. She was talking to it.

The guy spoke to her.

“Hi,” he said.

She didn’t answer.

“Hi,” he repeated. “What’s your name?”

“My mother told me not to talk to strangers.”

“That’s why I’m asking your name, so we won’t be strangers. You tell me your name, and I’ll tell you mine.”

Six years old, he thought. No more than six, oh, what can I do, six years old, no more, at that age they’re soft, smooth, oh, no.

“I won’t tell you anything.”

“Fine, don’t tell me anything. Is your mother home?”

“No, she went to the store.”

“Then you’re with your dad.”

Let her tell me yes, say she’s with her dad and I’ll go, I’ll go.

“No.”

“Or with the maid.”

“What?”

“The maid who works in your house.”

“We don’t have a maid.”

“So who are you with? Your grandma, your aunt?”

Not only smooth, not only soft, little, everything’s so little.

“No.”

“Are you all by yourself?”

“Yes.”

“Look, I have a candy. I’ll give it to you to make you feel better, since you’re all by yourself, do you want it? It’s strawberry.”

“Okay.”

“I have a doll, too. She’s very pretty, with a porcelain face and she has little shoes and a cap.

“Let me see her.”

“Here, I have her in my coat pocket, you want to see her?”

What they have between their legs is so, so small that it’s difficult, you can’t do it, you can’t do it on the first try and they cry and that makes it worse.

“Yes.”

“Well, open the gate and I’ll show her to you.”

“It’s open, it doesn’t have a key, so I won’t get locked in.”

“Well then, that’s good.”

The guy pushed the gate and went into the garden. He was still thinking no, no, I hope not, but he knew it was yes. He could almost feel the girl’s skin under his fingers: silk, satin, sweet, warm, I don’t want to, he said to himself, I don’t want it to happen to me again, but he was already alone, alone in a world in which there was nothing but the garden and he asked himself where he could take her.

“Let me see the doll.”

“Come here, I’ll show her to you in a minute, give me your hand and we’ll hide behind the plant, that way no one can see us, because if one of your neighbors sees, she’s going to be jealous.”

“Then let’s go out back.”

“Out back?”

Careful, he told himself. You don’t know the place, be careful, you don’t want what happened with Lucy’s little sister.

“They’re going to put a building on the lot in back, but since it’s Saturday, there’s nobody there.”

“Do we have to go in the house?”

“No, we go this way, on the side, come on and you can show me the doll.”

“Ah, there are trees and everything.”

“They’re going to take them out. My mother says they’re idiots.”

“Your mother is right. She’s always right, isn’t she?”

The mother. Why doesn’t the mother come? No, not now; don’t let her come.

“I don’t know. She says I shouldn’t take candy if someone gives it to me. And that all men are bad. They’re pigs, she says.”

“Well, it’s not all that bad. There are good people and bad people. Isn’t your dad good?”

“My dad doesn’t live with us. Show me the doll. Does she have a blue dress?”

“What? Yes, blue. The truth is I left her at home, but. . .”

“You’re bad, too. You told me you had the doll in your pocket and you don’t have her.”

“Well, no, but you’ll see how nice I am, come here, let’s go behind that tree and I’ll show you something nicer than the doll.”

“Well, careful, there’s a well there. They say it was a stern.”

“A cistern.”

“That’s it. A stern and that it’s very, very deep. They’re going to cover it up with cement and dirt and rocks, Mr. Laws said.”

“Mr. Laws?”

“The foreman. And he says there’s water down there. And toads. And my mother said she hopes they cover it up soon because there must be rats and corpions.”

“Scorpions. Come on, let’s go over there.”

“Careful, there’s the well, see?”

“Hmmmm. Yes. It doesn’t look that deep.”

“Oh, it’s very, very deep, right to the other side of the world.”

“Sure it is, little girl, sure, come on, let’s go.”

“Look, look how deep.”

“Yes, yes, fine, fine, I see, it is verrry deep.”

The guy leaned over, he looked down, down to the depths of the well. The guy’s heart was galloping down in the depths of the well that was his own body. The girl pushed him: she put her two little hands on his waist and pushed with all her strength. The guy cried out as he fell and the girl knelt at the edge of the well and looked down.

“Are there corpions?” she asked.

“Little snot-nosed shit, get me out of here!”

No, how was she going to get him out? The guy realized the girl was not going to be able to get him out of there. He looked up: the girl’s face was outlined clearly—very clearly—over the edge, against the blue sky of a Saturday afternoon, a lonely Saturday, with no one around. No one save for a soft, smooth little girl.

He looked up: six meters easy, easy, much higher than a room’s ceiling. How was he going to get out of there?

“Go find someone, go on, hurry!”

The girl didn’t move.

“Go on, listen to me, little girl, go find someone, the neighbor or the fellow from the newsstand out front.”

“There isn’t a newsstand out front, there’s a newsstand on the other block.

“Go on, go on, little girl, go tell the fellow at the newsstand there was an accident, tell him to come, to bring a rope, no, a ladder, no, better a rope, go on.”

“Okay,” said the girl, “but, are there corpions down there?”

“No, no there aren’t. Go on, sweetie, go look for the newsstand man, tell him to bring a rope, to bring a rope because there was an accident.”

The girl’s face disappeared and the guy was truly alone: there weren’t even scorpions.

He looked at his hands, looked around him. Dark, it was very dark. He realized he was standing in the mud, a loose, watery mud, and his shoes had gotten soaked and the water was getting in and making his feet cold, that snot-nosed shit better come back soon, the newsstand guy, will she tell him about the rope? And what do I say to the newsstand guy when he gets here? An accident. How did I fall, why was I here? I’ll tell him I came in from the other street, I came in to take a piss because I was about to wet myself and I saw there was nobody here and I came in and I stepped on the edge and I fell in, that’s what I’ll tell him and I hope that snot-nosed brat doesn’t tell him anything or talk about the candy or the doll, oh, man, hurry up, what is she waiting for, goddamn little brat.

He looked up and that was a mistake: his throat closed when he thought about those bare stone walls that could fall down on top of him and bury him alive, why not, it was like a—a cellar, like a cell, a grave, the girl, that evil girl better hurry up, no, look officer, what happened was I was about to wet myself and I saw there wasn’t anybody on the lot but first I need a rope, someone, someone who’s strong and can pull on the rope.

Two hours passed and it began to get dark outside, up there. Meanwhile the guy ran his hands over the walls of the well and found they were made of stone. Rough, irregular stones that crowded in on him, but offered no holes where he could put his feet or support himself and try to climb. The girl, the worthless little snot who had pushed him, where was that crazy imbecile who hadn’t gone to find the newsstand guy. It was getting dark.

Yell, he thought. I’m going to yell, someone is going to hear me. He yelled and yelled, he yelled help and save me and other things and he called the girl and no one heard him. It was Saturday, it was a Saturday afternoon. No, no, it can’t be, they can’t leave me here until tomorrow, tomorrow is Sunday and there won’t be anyone then either, that snot has to come back, she has to tell someone what she did, if she tells her mother, for example, the mother will surely come and see—but if she doesn’t believe her? says, stop making silly things up, dear; what if she doesn’t believe her and they eat and they go to bed and I’m down here?

“Maaa’aaam!” he yelled.

“Maaa’aaam! Laaaady! Heeelp, over heeeere, come heeeere!”

And the night sky was black like the guy had never seen it, black and full of stars, many, so many, many stars, oh my God, let somebody come, let that woman believe the girl, please, God, I will never, never, ever again grab another girl, never ever, I am never going to hurt another girl, I promise when I have the urge I’ll find hookers but never, never little girls, no, I can’t stay here in this well until Monday when the builders come, no, but no, I’m going to die, dying is nothing but not here, not this way, no, please God, hear me, make someone come.

And he kept yelling. He yelled for a long time, until his throat was dry and he started to swallow saliva to try to moisten it again and be able to keep yelling. But he couldn’t any longer, and the sky stayed black with many stars, the throne of God they had told him but no, not God, God didn’t hear him either. He was soaked, soaked with water and mud and sweat and his whole body ached. His belly ached. He needed to go to the bathroom—to the bathroom, what a joke! He laughed out loud. A bathroom! He was stuck down a well six meters deep and he wanted a bathroom, wanted to lower his pants and push out everything he had in his guts, believe me, officer, all I wanted was to take a dump and I saw there was nobody on the lot. He felt a sharp cramp and had an attack of retching. Something inside him was moving and trying to get out. The disgust, the fear, all that, the muddy water, the sides of the well.

“Laaaaaaady!” And he knew she was not going to hear him.

Not her, not anyone. Not even the girl.

The girl appeared up above at the rim of the well.

“You finally came back,” the guy said. “Did you tell the newsstand man to bring a rope?”

The girl didn’t move, she didn’t speak, she did nothing against the black, black sky full of stars. She changed, though, she changed. The stars came like a spoonful of soup, they came and they spilled a soup of stars over the little round head leaning over the rim of the well. Suddenly she was white, or silvery, that’s it, and full of light, like the sky. Oh, the angels, it was the angels, he knew God was going to hear him, they were coming to rescue him.

“It doesn’t matter!” he yelled. “No need for a rope! They’re coming!” he yelled. “Get me out of here! Laaaady! Laaady!”

He sobbed. He felt something painful and hot in the seat of his pants and he began to cry. He cried and he yelled. The worst wasn’t feeling that he was dying, the worst was hoping that he wouldn’t die. Not knowing what to do or how so as not to die.

“Lady,” he said, no longer yelling, “lady come and get me out of here, I’m not going to do a thing to your little girl, nothing, but get me out of here, tell God to come, to send me his angels to lift me up, there are no scorpions, they shouldn’t be afraid, there are none, lady, come.”

Afterward there was silence and Sunday was like every other Sunday. The girl and her mother went to Grandma Emilia’s house and they came back very late but the mother didn’t worry because Monday was a holiday and the girl didn’t have to go to kindergarten, so they slept in until quite late. It was cold, that’s true, unexpectedly cold for that time of year and it rained a little toward evening.

“Ma’am,” said Mr. Laws, “may I use your telephone?”

He had asked her other times before and she had let him into the kitchen. He was a good man, Mr. Laws, big, dark, with a pleasant smile, very polite. He had even apologized for the noise they sometimes made
with the excavator or the saws.

“But of course, Mr. Laws, come in. Would you like coffee? I just made it.”

“Thank you, ma’am, but we were just having a mate with the engineer, see, and now I need to talk to the company office and find out what we should do, there’s something in the bottom of the well, it looks like a large animal, I say it’s a dog.”

“Oh, what a nuisance.”

“Yes, it’s not moving, it must be dead but we have to take it out, we had planned to start filling it in this afternoon.”

“Well, you go ahead and make your call, I already took the girl to school and now I’m going to the office but I’ll be back at midday.”

“Thank you, ma’am, and I’m sorry to bother you.”

A good man, Mr. Laws. Hopefully they’d be able to get the dog out of the well. Of course, it will be a problem if it starts to rain again. That well has always been a danger, always.

+++

Angélica Gorodischer is the author of some thirty books, including novels, short story collections, and essays. Her innovative use of the conventions of science fiction and the detective story have made hers an important voice in contemporary feminist fiction. Three of Gorodischer’s books have appeared in English translation, all with Small Beer Press: Kalpa Imperial, translated by Ursula K. Le Guin (2003); Trafalgar (2013); and Prodigies, translated by Sue Burke (2015). Born in Buenos Aires in 1928, she has lived most of her life in Rosario.

+

Amalia Gladhart is the author of Detours (Burnside Review Press) and translator of Trafalgar (by Angélica Gorodischer) and of The Potbellied Virgin and Beyond the Islands (both by Alicia Yánez Cossío). Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in Oblong, Eleven Eleven, Necessary Fiction, Literal Latté, and elsewhere. She can be found at amaliagladhart.com.