The Artificial Hell (El infierno artificial)
by Horacio Quiroga
On nights when there is a moon, the gravedigger advances through the tombs with a singularly stiff step. He is nude to the waist and wears a large straw hat. His fixed smile gives the impression of being stuck to his face with glue. If he were barefoot, one would notice that he walks with his big toes turned down.
There is nothing strange about this, because the gravedigger abuses choloroform. The hazards of his trade led him to try the anesthestic, and when choloroform bites a man, it rarely lets go. Our acquaintance waits for night to open his bottle, and as he has great common sense, he chooses the cemetery for the inviolable theater of his binges.
Kassim was a sickly man, a jeweler by profession, though he had no established shop. He worked for the big houses, his specialty being the mounting of precious stones. There were few who had hands like his for delicate settings. With more ambition and commercial ability, he would have been rich. But at the age of thirty five he went on as he always had, a fixture in his workshop under the window.
Kassim, with his wart-covered body, his bloodless face darkened by a sparse black beard, had a beautiful and fiercely passionate wife. The young woman, a child of the streets, had hoped to use her beauty to marry up. She had hoped this for twenty years, provoking men and the other neighborhood women with her body. But, fearful at the end, she had nervously accepted Kassim.
But now, no more dreams of luxury. Her husband, though skilled—an artist, even–completely lacked the character for making a fortune. So while the jeweler worked hunched over his tools, she, leaning on her elbows, would maintain on her husband an intense, drawn-out stare, later to abruptly tear herself away and turn her gaze through the window at some passerby who could have been her husband.
The Feather Pillow
(El almohadón de plumas)
by Horacio Quiroga
Her honeymoon was one long frisson. Blonde, angelic, and timid, her husband’s stern character had chilled her childish girlhood dreams. She loved him very much; yet at times, when returning at night together with him on the street, she would glance furtively and with a light shiver at Jordan’s tall stature, silent for over an hour. He, for his part, loved her profoundly, without realizing it.
For three months—they had married in April—they lived in a special bliss. No doubt she would have preferred less severity in this rigid paradise of love, more expansive and reckless tenderness; but her husband’s impassive countenance remained self-contained.
The house in which they lived contributed to her shivers. The whiteness of the silent patio, its friezes, columns, and marble statues, produced the autumnal impression of an enchanted palace. Inside, the glacial brilliance of the stucco, without the slightest scratch on the high walls, reinforced the sensation of bleak cold. When crossing from one room to another, one’s footsteps echoed throughout the house, as if a long abandonment had made the house more sensitive in its resonance.
In this strange love nest, Alicia passed the entire autumn. By the end, she had cast a veil over her long-ago dreams, yet still lived somnolently in the hostile house, not wanting to think of anything until her husband arrived home.
My retelling of the Punjabi Folktale Mirza Sahiban, previously posted to the Non Stop Bhangra blog.
During the time of the Emperor Akbar the Great, in the land between the rivers of Ravi and Chenab (now part of Pakistan), there were two villages, Khewa and Danabad. Mahni Khan was the chief of Khewa, and also of his clan, the Sayyal. Sahiban was his daughter. Fateh Bibi, Mahni’s “milk sister” (they were both nursed by Bibi’s mother as babies, because Mahni’s mother had died; and so they were considered siblings), lived in Danabad, where she had married into the Kharral clan. Fateh Bibi’s son was Mirza.
My retelling of Sohni Mahiwal, originally posted at the Dholrhythms blog.
Once upon a time, on the banks of the river Chenab, near the city of Gujrat, lived a potter named Tulla. Tulla’a pottery was famous, and in demand all through Punjab, and even in lands beyond. Tulla had a daughter who was so lovely that he and his wife named her Sohni (“Beautiful”).
Since Sohni grew up in her father’s shop, she learned how to decorate the pitchers and pots that came off his wheel with beautiful designs: flowers and elaborate patterns. And so the family flourished.