Die and You’ll See
(Muérete y verás)
by Pedro Escamilla
What in this world can be more terrible than doubt? What crueler torment could be invented to slowly destroy humanity?
I don’t know how the multitudes endorse so many facts in spite of the evidence that seems to destroy them.
This is about the testimony of a physician and a priest, of those who in such extreme and solemn circumstances should not—I will say more—cannot lie. This is about destroying an absurdity, a thing implausibly implausible, if you will allow me to use this phrase. This is, finally, about the most momentous event in the history of a mortal.
A man can live without virtue and without shoes, without a cloak in the winter and almost without a shirt.
But to live without life!
In what tolerably organized society do they admit a fact of nature so strange? What philosophical system admits the material existence of a dead person? Because now it’s not a question of the soul, of the spirit; it is no longer about the uncreated part, of the moral entity.
It’s a much more intricate and arduous question…Damn it!
For at the end of the day I can’t find words to express this absurdity.
Read on, and judge.
On May 2, 1868, the physician of one of the leading towns in the province of León affirmed everything he knew scientifically: that Gil Asverus, of German origin, had died of an aneurysm, after having been subjected for three months to a medical treatment that must not have been very effective, judging by the result.
On the following line, and with the same date, the pastor of the Church of Santa Marina signed a certification of death, which must be recorded in the parish records of the aforementioned church.
Furthermore, should further proof be required, several residents of the town affirmed that at three in the afternoon of the indicated day, they accompanied a coffin to the cemetery, which, according to the doctor’s voluntary certification, held the remains of what in life bore the name of Gil Asverus, of German origin.
And even Anton Barrientos, the gravedigger, confirmed, with the word of an honorable man, that on the cited day, he buried in the most Christian and artistic way that he knew, the very same Gil Asverus.
Now then; this dead man whose death is so well proven—is I.
I am that same Gil Asverus.
But am I dead?
I don’t remember more, except that one afternoon, strolling through the town gardens, I fainted, and fell down. How, I don’t know, though I presume it was face-down, because some days later, when looking at myself in the mirror, I noticed certain scratches on my face, that I certainly would not have had if I had fallen on my back.
How long was I unconscious? I can’t tell exactly; I can only say that a light was burning in my room when I opened my eyes and heard the inappropriate murmur of happy voices, a strange sound in the house of a sick person.
I sat up in bed and jumped to the floor. As I started to walk through the room, I was halted by the following conversation, between an old servant, long in the household, on whom my entire family had lavished their affections, and the town piper.
My God! What was the piper doing in the house of a sick man?
Here’s what they were saying:
“C’mon, Auntie Basilia, it’s been a good day’s work; surely you can help out this poor piper with some of the cash that Gil Asverus left you in his will.”
“Hush, smart-ass! Do you really think Old Man Gil was a man who got along with his good servants?”
“But you’ve been in the household so long…”
“I’m telling you, he was stingiest man in the world.”
“Pfft! Throw that bone to another dog!…”
“Luckily, he’s already rotting in the earth, and won’t come bother us with his nastiness.”
“Well, anyway, it seems like the widow got over it quickly… it’s been barely six months since Gil Asverus died, and today she just got married, and went all out on the wedding, too.”
“And I heartily approve.”
“Gonna give quite a hit to the dead man’s savings!”
“What do you want?!… she’s young, good-looking… and she doesn’t have to resign herself to spinsterhood, when she can spin around with the children that she’ll certainly have with her new husband.”
At this point, I could no longer listen calmly to that stream of nonsense. Basilia and the piper must surely have been drunk to speak so freely of my death and my wife’s marriage.
I came out of my room, thinking to startle them; but my presence had no effect on them; in fact, they didn’t even notice me.
“Basilia!” I shouted as hard as I could.
And Basilia kept on laughing and chatting with her companion.
Then I went out front to see if I could find Camila, my wife, and explain to myself this incomprehensible puzzle, more complicated than the riddle of the Theban Sphinx.
I went out to the entrance hall, and there another conversation stopped me in my tracks.
Two of my closest friends were talking. To one, I had lent eight thousand reales, to redeem his son from military service; the other one ate at my table every day.
“The truth is that Gil Asverus did the perfect thing by dying.”
“He was a man full of vices, and wouldn’t let anyone owe him a cent.”
“And later, always watching what one ate and drank, as if he begrudged the bread he didn’t even knead.”
“Poor Camila suffered so much with him!”
“Good heavens, yes! He gave her a miserable life…”
“Well, she’s over that now, with her new husband.”
“I swear, this wedding banquet couldn’t be more splendid.”
“Tell me about it! That fool Asverus’s soul would suffer a thousand hells to see how hard they’re celebrating the big day…”
And the house was indeed hell.
Everywhere, lights, music, and loud laughter. Strewed through all the rooms were signs and remains of the feast, which must have been as costly as Camacho’s wedding in Don Quijote!
But what caught my attention the most was to see that no one noticed my presence.
I rubbed shoulders with all the people of the town who had known me since my childhood, and not one turned their head to look at me. Nor did they give the least sign of recognition when I called them by name.
Wasn’t this enough reason to despair, hearing them talk about my death and my wife’s marriage? What I’d just heard made me lose my mind.
In my desperation I reached the point of touching and feeling myself all over, even though I was fully conscious of my own being.
Can anyone doubt their existence without being insane? Good God, what an idea! Crazy! Had I actually lost my mind? Was all this the fruit of an aberration of my senses?
But no; it wasn’t possible.
I spoke in a loud voice and I heard myself, and I understood the sense of my words, which were definitely not those of a madman. I looked at my image reproduced in a mirror; I saw that I found myself in my own house, with my faithful servants and my dear friends, who spoke so kindly of me when I was gone…
And yet, those people spoke of my demise; I had been dead for six months. In other words, from that date, making a careful calculation of the number of worms that could have emerged in my grave, I should be no more than a clean, fleshless skeleton, suitable for mounting on wires to decorate the anatomical cabinet of some skillful doctor.
In short, I must have passed into the category of ghost.
Then, by some perceptive force, purely instinctive, and quite natural under the circumstances, everything that must have happened unrolled before my eyes; since it wasn’t logical that among all the honorable people who had attested to my death, only I would be assisted by reason.
I saw myself sick and prostrate on my bed, the doctor taking my pulse, then becoming terminally ill, receiving Extreme Unction from the hands of the priest, who recited penitential psalms, and commended my soul to God.
I saw my wife, who cried with one only eye, on account of her youth and the prospect of a respectable fortune.
I saw myself placed in a casket and taken to the cemetery, followed by the priest and the sacristan with the parish cross.
I heard the tremendous Requiesacat and the noise that the earth made as it bounced off the wooden coffin.
And I heard also the steps of those who had accompanied me up to this point, leaving me alone… alone forever!!!
I gave a hideous wail and began to run, fleeing myself in all directions, passing among my wife’s wedding guests like the gust of a hurricane…. I crossed the ballroom, cutting between the couples, who danced happily, without suspecting the presence of a dead man.
I eventually traversed the entire house, from the cellar to the granary, like a furious madman, trampling whatever blocked my steps. Always pursued by the infernal shouting of the wedding guests, by the shrieks of the children and the barking of the dogs, who had also taken a little part in the festivities.
And there was not a single friendly voice of recognition to drive from my mind the terrible idea that was taking shape. The idea that I was mad.
I arrived at a run to the room from which I had emerged. But what was inside was not my sickbed.
It was a bed that was practically luxurious, in a town where luxury was unknown, with its hangings and its embroidered bedspread. A nuptial bed!
A faint light revealed the objects in the room surrounded by a fantastic and phosphorescent aura. None of the things here belonged to me: everything was new.
It was as if someone had determined to erase so much as the faintest trace of my poor personality. Even the painting that I had given to my wife on our wedding day was replaced by a picture that awakened I don’t know what kind of erotic ideas. I was a stranger in my own house, and didn’t rule in my dominion.
A sigh laced with amorous anguish made me turn my head.
There was the ungrateful, unfaithful woman, the adulteress.
Her face had an expression of complete bliss. Nor was she dressed in the black robes that signify a sorrowful widow, faithful to the memory of her deceased spouse.
Camila was radiant with joy and beauty.
She had never seemed so lovely to me! I had never felt for her what I felt at that moment.
Her eyes held a languid and voluptuous look; her lips curled in the tenderest of smiles, and her mouth had an expression that would have made the most skeptical and jaded man of our times tremble and perish for love.
And that look, that smile, that poignant expression was not for me. I was dead! Her heart didn’t hold even the faintest memory of her first husband.
At least, if only to insult me, my servants and friends had said my name. But Camila!…
She was speaking at that moment with a man on whom she lavished all those signs of pure affection. He took her hand, embraced her with a tender and ravishing gesture, and kissed her lips…
And those kisses were so many more knives that pierced my heart.
What! My rival had the same name as I!
“Camila!” he said again.
And his voice was an echo of my accent, an intonation identical to mine…
That began to pique my curiosity more. I wanted to know him, to see the face that at that moment was lovingly covered by my wife’s hands, making of them a warm and intoxicating mask. I wanted to know my rival at all costs.
Could I have wanted anything less? The serpent of jealousy bit my heart, destroying me without pity.
Though after all, that man who excited my ire wasn’t to blame. Because in his mind, and according to everyone who knew me, I was dead.
Oh! Dead and jealous! How does one combine those two words, without one negating the other?
I couldn’t contain myself any longer; I couldn’t make out that man’s face, and I had the burning desire to see it.
I advanced through the room in great strides, making as much noise as possible to attract the attention of my wife and prove to her that I was not still in the cemetery.
I arrived beside them, without either he or she perceiving my presence, just as had happened with Basilia, with the piper, and with all the guests at the wedding banquet, which only agitated me more.
I angrily grabbed Camila’s hands and tore them violently from the face of that abhorrent man, discovering….
Ha ha ha! My God!
That man… was I, Gil Asverus, spending his wedding night at Camila’s side.
First published in El Periódico para Todos, No. 16, 1875
Translated by Nina Zumel