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Four Stories

By Pablo Katchadjian


Published:
Translated from the Spanish by Heather Cleary

With one hand pressed to my heart, I step forward to speak with Q, the enemy leader. Q listens as though he understands me, but I know this is impossible because we speak different languages. When I finish my speech, Q raises a hand and one of his aides draws near. The aide listens to a series of orders and runs off. Behind me, my aides are uneasy. Q begins to talk, gesturing energetically and with a generous expression, which I find suspicious. At the same time, Lilo, one of my aides, approaches and whispers something in my ear, but I don’t understand him because Q’s voice is too loud. Regardless, to avoid any unpleasantness, I gesture to my aide that his words will be taken into consideration. Q, meanwhile, goes on talking as though nothing had happened. This makes me even more suspicious: under most circumstances, Q would have gotten angry and yelled, feeling threatened by my aide’s interruption. In that moment, it crosses my mind that Q wants to draw the moment out as much as possible, that he wants to buy time. But why? I suddenly understand, and draw my sword. At that moment a vast army appears behind Q, under the command of the aide he called over before. We are only ten, so we run. Pleased, Q lets out a hearty laugh and I watch arrows pierce the bodies of my aides as I flee. A few minutes later, only Lilo and I are left amid the arrows, which seem to be running alonside us. Lilo asks me, “Why did you ignore my warning?” Just as I am about to answer, an arrow sinks into his neck and comes out through his eye. Lilo, however, keeps running, and repeats: “Why did you ignore … my warning?” as another arrow pierces his leg. He keeps running and I decide to answer him, but just as I am about to improvise something, the point of an arrow appears in his mouth. Lilo looks at me, and forms the words “Why did you ignore my warning?” around the reddened arrowhead. This time the question is unintelligible; I only understand it because it is the same one he asked me before. Just as Lilo falls dead, an arrow pierces one of my ears and comes out the other. Though my pain and surprise are immense, I do not die. I keep running and make it to the citadel. Right away, they lay me down and start asking questions, but I can’t hear anything. A doctor carefully removes the arrow and, instead of nothing, I hear a humming sound. “What’s that humming sound?” I ask, but can’t hear his answer: I see the doctor’s mouth moving, but all I can hear is that steady hum. I perform a few tests and discover that the hum is coming from inside my head, that is, the sound is not coming in through my ears. I stand up and fall down; they pick me up and carry me outside. Somewhere in the hum, a crowd is cheering for me: they raise their hands high, open their mouths, draw near, try to touch me, and so on. Suddenly a path opens in the crowd and the princess, my wife, appears, crying and yelling something I identify as “My love!” She wraps me in an embrace, saying something I miss because I can’t hear it. Everyone is laughing, but I cry and suffer. I feel distant from the group, but not only because of that: the treaty with Q was a failure, my nine men died pierced by arrows, I am wounded and deaf and my wife does not even realize it, and my people live in a state of idiotic happiness. So what can I do? I will fight again, because I know that Q is preparing an attack and I want to surprise him. I also know that he already knows I am deaf, because so many of my aides are informants.

***

The poetess Telesilla saved the city of Argos in the 5th century B.C. It was Cleomenes who led the attack. Telesilla also wrote poems to Apollo and Artemis, of which only a single fragment remains. I was about to read it when you called to ask if I would help you commit a crime. I said no, but you insisted and as usual I couldn’t resist, partly out of admiration for you, and partly out of curiosity. I thought, what did you come up with this time? And it’s true: the plan was completely new and worthy of your brilliant mind. You really are a genius, a superior being; sometimes, when I think that you might never call me again, I suffer terribly and start to cry. But somehow, every time… With the money you gave me I was able to enjoy the pleasures of the city—drugs and prostitutes—for a few nights. Then I took a little trip to clear my head, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing: I’ve got a fat scar the size of an earthworm on my arm. My current girlfriend loves to run her tongue along it. Typical. She’s totally crazy, and a big fan of the poetess Telesilla. I showed her the fragment and she thought it was adorable. Every time she reads it she laughs, thinking about how Telesilla fought dressed as a man. Or, at least, that’s what we think; the fact is that little is known about her, and the information we do have is not very reliable. This is the fragment: “Here, maidens, is Artemis / fleeing from Alpheus.”

***

We have no idea what’s behind what happens to us, which means we only know it by its effects; since we don’t understand how it works, either, we have no way to anticipate it. This means we’re condemned to do ridiculous things we can’t justify or foresee, and then to end up thinking about what we did, and why, and so on. One day we went to the doctor to explain our problem, but he didn’t want to listen to us, so we went to a smarter doctor who did listen to us and who said that our problem was unique and interesting, but that, given its nature—that, at its core, it was a complete mystery—there was nothing he could do. We got the point, so we went to a witch. The witch was fascinated by our problem and told us that she specialized in that sort of thing. We were thrilled. Then she asked us if were willing to do whatever it took to fix it. “Well, there are probably some things we wouldn’t be willing to do,” we said. “In that case, I won’t be able to help you.” “No, wait. Tell us what you want us to do and we’ll tell you if we would do it or not,” we said, a little desperately. “No,” she said, “that won’t work. I need total trust and commitment.” “Oh, well, we can’t offer you that,” we said, and left. We went from one specialist who couldn’t offer the slightest hope to another, and so, after a while, we thought of the witch again and went to find her, prepared to fully commit. She made us beg a little at first because, as she explained, we had offended her; finally, she agreed and stuck us in a wooden tube. We’ve been here for a few months, now.

***

Heracles was no stranger to madness or lesions; Lisandro to ulcers; Ajax to madness; Bellerophon wandered across deserts. Empedocles is known not as a poet, but as a “physiologist.” A bat in flight is seen as a symbol of man’s attempt to overcome his impossible condition. Marcus of Syracuse was best as a poet when he was out of his mind. Beneath the surface of our courtesies lurk the seeds of unpleasantness. If fear is not to blame, then laziness probably is. Do I think this is a good thing? I think nothing of it. If there is no beauty anywhere, then we are not going to find it. And if there is, we either find it or we don’t; if there is and we look for it for a long time without finding it, we might eventually think that there is none anywhere. So the best thing would be not to look for it and assume that there is none anywhere, and then wait and see if that makes it appear. It’s an idea, at least. The same goes for money and love. It would be best to take a different approach to health, though not too different. There is a song for those who suffer; there is another for those who do not. You can go back and forth between them, or listen to both at once. And what about you? You told us to go to Aldo’s house and inquire after his wife, but we didn’t listen. We didn’t listen to you about those payments and debts to the stores in the area, either. I couldn’t say why we did it: it wasn’t that your orders seemed wrong or that we didn’t want to carry them out; to the contrary, everything seemed perfect, as always, and we were enthusiastic about the work. It was just that we didn’t want to listen to you, on a whim, let’s say. But it’s not just that we didn’t do what you asked; we did more or less the opposite. We went to Aldo’s house and inquired after his mother, and then we went to where Aldo’s wife works and inquired after Aldo, which sparked a terrible fight between them. Later, we paid the shopkeepers you wanted to owe, and ignored the ones you wanted to pay. The shopkeepers all seemed surprised, because your orders are usually predictable; the ones whose debts were paid in full couldn’t believe it was by your instruction. We had to convince them to take the money, because they didn’t want to accept any that you had not allocated to them. “Are you sure there’s no mistake, that you’re not reading something wrong?” they would ask. “Yes, we’re sure,” we’d reply, showing them the papers we’d faked and brought with us. The whole time our phones kept ringing with calls from the shopkeepers who expected to have their debts paid in full. “Are you sure you’re not supposed to pay us?” “Yes, we’re sure.” I bet you’re probably more surprised than the shopkeepers to read all this. And more surprised than Aldo, who felt as though you, his Master, had sold him out. Even more surprised than Aldo’s wife, who probably doesn’t understand how she suddenly came into your good graces, why she was on your mind, when you normally care so little for women. We would like to be able to explain ourselves so you would understand, if it is possible to understand what we did. We can’t seem to, but surely you, in your infinite wisdom, can.

This story first appeared in MAKE #15, “Misfits.” 

Illustration by David Alvarado


Pablo Katchadjian is an Argentine writer. He has published novels including La libertad total (Bajolaluna, 2013); Gracias (Blatt & Ríos, 2011); Qué hacer (Bajo La Luna, 2010); and several books of poetry.

Heather Cleary has translated the work of Sergio Chejfec (The Planets and The Dark, Open Letter) and Oliverio Girondo (Poems to Read on a Streetcar, New Directions), among others, and is a founding editor of the Buenos Aires Review.

David Alvarado is an illustrator and cartoonist from the Chicagoland area. He’s interested in zines, printmaking, comics, and the months of summer. For commission and project inquiries, visit hello-david.com.

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