Juan Rulfo – Tell Them Not to Kill Me!

Juan Rulfo

Juan Rulfo (1917–1986), was a highly influential Mexican writer, screenwriter and photographer. He is best known for two literary works, a collection of harshly realistic short stories entitled El Llano en llamas [The Plain in Flames] published in 1953, and the short novel, Pedro Páramo from 1955, which tells the story of a man named Juan Preciado who travels to his recently deceased mother’s hometown, Comala, to find his father, only to discover a literal ghost town populated by spectral figures.

Within a few years of publication Pedro Páramo was recognized as a Latin American masterpiece and it had a tremendous influence on the later generation of writers such as Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes and Julio Cortázar, to name a few.

“Tell Them Not to Kill Me!” is one of the stories in El Llano en llamas which center on life in rural Mexico around the time of the Mexican Revolution (1910 to 1920). It is the most popular story in the collection and was written in 1951.

Note: this is a re-posting from October 2015 with a corrected translation of Rulfo’s short story

Tell Them Not to Kill Me!

      “Tell them not to kill me, Justino! Go on, tell them that. Please! Tell them. Please tell them.”
      “I can’t. There’s a sergeant there who won’t hear a word about you.”
      “Make him listen. Use your wits and tell him they’ve scared me enough. Tell him please for the love of God.”
      “It wasn’t just to scare you. Seems they really mean to kill you. And I don’t want to go back there.”
      “Go once more. Just once, to see what you can do.”
      “No. I don’t feel like going. Because if I do they’ll know I’m your son. If I keep pestering them they’ll find out who I am and they’ll decide to shoot me too. Better leave things the way they are now.”
      “Go on, Justino. Ask them to take a little pity on me. Just tell them that.”
      Justino clenched his teeth and shook his head saying no. And he continued to shake his head for some time.

Justino got up from the pile of stones on which he was sitting and walked to the gate of the corral. Then he turned to say,
      “All right, I’ll go. But if they decide to shoot me too, who’ll care for my wife and kids?”
      “Providence will take care of them, Justino. Go off now and see what you can do for me. That’s what matters.”

They’d brought him in at dawn. It was well into the morning now and he was still there, tied to a post, waiting. He couldn’t keep still. He’d tried to sleep for a while to calm down, but he couldn’t. He wasn’t hungry either. He wanted nothing. Just to live. Now that he knew they were really going to kill him, all he could feel was his great desire to stay alive, as only a man just brought back to life would feel. Who’d have thought that that affair, so old, so stale, so dead and buried as he thought, would crop up again? That business when he had to kill Don Lupe. Not for no reason either, as the Alimas tried to make out, but because he had his reasons. He remembered: Don Lupe Terreros, the owner of the Puerta de Piedra, and his compadre besides. The one that he, Juvencio Nava, had to kill, because being the owner of the Puerta de Piedra and his compadre too he’d refused to let his animals graze on his land.

At first he’d done nothing because of the relationship. But later, when the drought came, when he saw how his animals were dying off one by one, plagued by hunger, and how his compadre Lupe continued to refuse to let him use his pastures, that was when he began breaking through the fence and driving his herd of skinny animals to the pasture where they could get their fill of grass. And Don Lupe didn’t like it and ordered the fence to be mended, so that he, Juvencio Nava, had to cut open the hole again. So, during the day the hole was repaired and at night it was opened again, while the cattle remained there right next to the fence, always waiting, his cattle that till then could only smell the grass without being able to taste it.

And he and Don Lupe argued time and again without coming to any agreement. Until one day Don Lupe said to him,
      “Look here, Juvencio, if you let another animal in my pasture, I’ll kill it.”
And he said to him,
      “Look here, Don Lupe, it’s not my fault that the animals fend for themselves. They’re innocent. You’ll have to pay for it, if you kill them.”

And he killed one of my yearlings. This happened thirty-five years ago in March, because in April I was already up in the mountains, on the run from the summons. The ten cows I gave the judge didn’t do me any good, or the mortgage on my house either, to pay for getting me out of jail. Later on they still took all the rest, so they wouldn’t hound me, but they kept after me all the same. That’s why I came to live with my son on this other little plot of land I had which is called Palo de Venado. And my son grew up and married my daughter-in-law Ignacia and had eight children. So it happened a long time ago and ought to be forgotten by now. But I guess it’s not.

I figured then that with about a hundred pesos everything could be sorted. Dead Don Lupe left just a wife and two little kids still crawling. And his widow died soon afterward too, they say from grief. They took the kids away to some relatives. So there was nothing to fear from them. But the rest of the people insisted that I was still wanted and had been found guilty in my absence just to scare me so they could keep on robbing me. Every time someone came to the village they told me, “There are some strangers in town, Juvencio.” And I’d take to the hills and hide in the bushes for days on end with nothing to eat but herbs. Sometimes I had to leave at midnight, as though the dogs were after me. It’s been that way my whole life. Not just a year or two. My whole life.

And now they’d come for him when he no longer expected anyone, confident that people had forgotten all about it, believing that he’d spend at least his last days in peace. “At least,” he thought, “I’ll have some peace in my old age. They’ll leave me alone.”

He’d clung to this hope with all his heart. That’s why it was hard for him to imagine that he’d die like this, suddenly, at this time of life, after having fought so hard to ward off death, after having spent his best years running from one place to another because of the scares, now when his body was all dried up and leathery from the bad days when he’d had to go into hiding from everybody. Hadn’t he even let his wife go off and desert him? The day when he learned his wife had left him, the idea of going out in search of her didn’t even cross his mind. He let her go without trying to find out at all who she went with or where, so he wouldn’t have to go down to the village. He let her go as he’d let everything else go, without putting up a fight. All he had left to take care of was his life, and he’d do that, if nothing else. He couldn’t let them kill him. He couldn’t. Much less now.

But that’s why they brought him from there, from Palo de Venado. They didn’t need to tie him up for him to follow them. He walked alone, tied by his fear. They realized he couldn’t run with his old body, with those skinny legs of his like dry kindling, paralysed with the fear of dying. Because that’s where he was headed. Towards death. They told him so.

That’s when he knew. He began to feel that burning sensation in his stomach that always came on suddenly when he saw death nearby, making his eyes big with fear and his mouth swell up with those mouthfuls of sour water he had no choice but to swallow. And that thing that made his feet heavy while his head felt soft and his heart pounded with all its might against his ribs. No, he couldn’t get used to the idea that they were going to kill him. There had to be some hope. Somewhere there still had to be some hope left. Maybe they’d made a mistake. Perhaps they were looking for another Juvencio Nava and not him.

He walked along in silence between those men, with his arms drooping at his sides. The dawn was dark, starless. The wind blew gently, carrying back and forth the dry earth, that stank of the odour of piss that dusty roads have. His eyes, that had developed a squint over the years, gazed down at the ground, there under his feet, despite the darkness. His whole life was there in the land. Sixty years of living on it, of grasping it tightly in his hands, of tasting it like one tastes the flavour of meat. For a long time he’d been sifting it with his eyes, savouring each piece as if it were the last, almost knowing it would be the last.

Then, as though wishing to say something, he looked at the men who were marching along beside him. He was going to tell them to free him, to let him go; “I haven’t hurt anybody, lads,” he was going to say to them, but he kept silent. “A little further on I’ll tell them,” he thought. And he just looked at them. He could even imagine they were his friends, but he didn’t want to. They weren’t. He didn’t know who they were. He watched them moving at his side and squatting from time to time to see where the road continued.

He’d seen them for the first time as the afternoon turned grey, when everything seemed colourless. They’d crossed the furrows trampling over the tender corn. And that’s why he’d gone out there: to tell them that the corn was just coming through. But they didn’t stop. He’d seen them in time. He’d always been lucky enough to see everything in time. He could’ve hidden, wandered up into the hills for a few hours until they left and then come down again. Already it was time for the rains to come, but the rains hadn’t come and the corn was beginning to wilt. Soon it’d be all dried up.

So it hadn’t even been worth going out there, getting among those men, as in a hole he’d been unable to pull himself out of. And so he walked on beside them, holding back how much he wanted to tell them to let him go. He couldn’t see their faces, only their bodies, which swayed toward him and then away from him. So when he began to talk he didn’t know if they’d heard him. He said: “I’ve never hurt anybody.” That’s what he said. But nothing changed. Not one of the bodies seemed to pay attention. The faces didn’t turn to look at him. They kept right on, as if they were walking in their sleep.

Then he thought that there was nothing else he could say, that he’d have to look for hope somewhere else. He let his arms fall again to his sides and walked through the first houses of the village, between those four men, shrouded by the black color of the night.

      “Here’s the man, colonel.”
      They’d stopped in front of the narrow doorway. He stood with his hat in his hand, respectfully, waiting to see someone come out. But only the voice came out,
      “Which man?”
      “From Palo de Venado, colonel. The one you ordered us to bring in.”
      “Ask him if he ever lived in Alima,” came the voice from inside again.
      “Hey, you. Ever lived in Alima?” the sergeant facing him repeated the question.
      “Yes. Tell the colonel that’s where I’m from. And that I lived there till not long ago.”
      “Ask him if he knew Guadalupe Terreros.”
      “He says did you know Guadalupe Terreros?”
      “Don Lupe? Yes. Tell him that I knew him. He’s dead.”
      Then the voice inside changed tone: “I know he’s dead,” it said.
      And the voice continued talking, as if it was conversing with someone there on the other side of the mud wall.
      “Guadalupe Terreros was my father. When I grew up and looked for him they told me he was dead. It’s hard to grow up knowing that the thing we have to hang on to to take roots from is dead. That’s what happened to us. Later on I learned that he’d been hacked to death with a machete and then an ox prod stuck in his belly. They told me he lasted more than two days and that when they found him, lying in a ditch, he was still in agony and begging for his family to be looked after. Things seem to be forgotten as time goes by. You try to forget. What you can’t forget is discovering that the one who did it is still alive, feeding his rotten soul with the illusion of eternal life. I couldn’t forgive that man, even though I don’t know him; but the fact that I know where he is makes me want to finish him off. I can’t forgive him for being alive still. He should never have been born.”

Outside you could clearly hear every word he said. Then he shouted:
      “Take him away and tie him up for a while, so he suffers a while, and then shoot
      “Look at me, colonel!” he said. “I’m worthless now. It won’t be long before I die all by myself, crippled by old age. Don’t kill me!”
      “Take him away!” the voice from inside said again.
      “I’ve already paid for it, colonel. I’ve paid many times over. They took everything away from me. They punished me in so many ways. I’ve spent almost forty years hiding like a leper, always with the fear they’d kill me at any moment. I don’t deserve to die like this, colonel. At least let the Lord pardon me. Don’t kill me! Tell them not to kill me!”

There he was, as though they’d beaten him, beating his hat on the ground. Crying out.
      Immediately the voice from inside said:
      “Tie him up and give him something to drink until he gets drunk so the shots won’t hurt him.”

Now at last, he’d found peace. There he was, slumped at the foot of the post. His son Justino had come and his son Justino had gone and he had returned and now was coming again.

He slung him on top of the donkey. He cinched him tightly against the saddle so that he wouldn’t fall off onto the road. He put his head in a sack so that it wouldn’t scare those who saw him. And then he brought the donkey to a canter, and away they went, hurrying to reach Palo de Venado in time to arrange the dead man’s wake.
      “Your daughter-in-law and your grandchildren will miss you,” he was saying to him. “They’ll look at your face and won’t believe it’s you. They’ll think a coyote has been chewing on you when they see your face full of holes from all the bullets they fired at you.”

Translation by John Lyons

To purchase a copy of Juan Rulfo’s stories click here.

Augusto Monterroso – a fable and a tale

Augusto Monterroso (1921-2003)

One of the most delightful writers I met in Latin America was Augusto Monterroso. A Guatemalan, he lived for much of his life in Mexico, where he taught in the UNAM university. Before leaving London, I had been given the telephone number of a Nicaraguan poet, Ernesto Mejía Sánchez, and I called him as soon as I got to Mexico City. We agreed to meet one lunchtime at Sanborn’s café, which was where all the artists and writers usually met. At that time Mejía Sánchez was going through a difficult patch in his life, and the conversation was rather strained and dull until Augusto Monterroso turned up. He had with him copies of three of his published works and in each of them he wrote a very individual dedication to me. “I hate to burden you,” he said as he handed them to me. “But you can chuck them into the Atlantic when you fly back to London if you like.” Naturally, I held onto them, still have them today, and they are among my most prized possessions.

mont_dedicAugusto, was extremely warm and jovial and the conversation soon became filled with laughter and great stories and even managed to draw poor Mejía Sánchez out of himself. Monterroso’s writings tend to be short pieces, fables and short stories but always with a humorous and satirical slant. The Colombian Nobel Prize Winner, Gabriel García Márquez said of one of his works: “This book should be read with your hands in the air: its danger is based on its sly wisdom and the deadly beauty of its lack of seriousness”. With a sense of humour very much in tune with that of Julio Cortázar, it was no surprise that when the latter died in 1984, his apartment in Paris was ceded to Augusto Monterroso.

Years after that meeting in Mexico, I was asked by Index on Censorhip to translate a story by Monterroso, entitled “Mister Taylor”. This was a satirical tale about the export of shrunken Guatemalan heads to the American market where they had become fashion accessories. The tone, of course, was very much that of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”. In a subsequent book, Augusto touchingly singled out this publication with these words: “I’ve just received a copy of Index on Censorship from London where I story of mine, “Mister Taylor”, translated by John Lyons, has just appeared. Most surprising!” The circle was thus complete!

The frog who wanted to be a real frog

There was once a frog who wanted to be a real frog, and every day she struggled to be so. First she bought a mirror into which she gazed for hours hoping to see her longed-for authenticity. Sometimes she thought she’d found it and sometimes she did not, depending on the mood of that day or hour, until she grew tired of this and put the mirror away in a trunk.

Finally she thought that the only way to be sure of her own worth was through the opinion of others, and she began to do her hair and to dress up and undress (when she had no other option) to see if others approved of her and recognised that she was a real frog.

One day she noticed that what they most admired about her was her body, especially her legs, so she started to do squats and jumps in order to have to better legs, and she felt that everyone applauded her.

And so she continued to push herself harder and harder, and was willing to go to any length to get others to consider her to be a real frog, she even allowed her thighs to be ripped off for others to eat, and as the others devoured them she was still able to hear bitterly when they said, “Excellent frog. Tastes just like chicken.”

The mirror that could not sleep

There was once a hand mirror which when left alone with no one looking into it, felt absolutely dreadful, as though he didn’t exist, and perhaps he was right; but the other mirrors laughed at him, and when at night they were put away in the drawer of the dresser they slept soundly, oblivious to the neurotic’s worries.

Translations by John Lyons

Beau Visage Belle Vie

Below is another of the stories I wrote in the early nineties. As I have explained before, at that time I was in the thrall of the American short story writers, Raymond Carver and Richard Ford. One of the things I discovered from reading their work was that nothing really had to happen in a story in order for it to work as a story: after all, they were not writing action stories but really meditations on life, on what it is to be human, to struggle, to fall in love, sometimes to lose that love, to fail and to come to terms with one’s failures, with the fact that life is not perfect, or at least we as human beings do not lead perfect lives but we can always be honest and try to do our best. The stories of these two writers were subtle and they often contained pearls of worldly wisdom drawn from observation and particularly in the case of Raymond Carver, from experience, some of it quite bitter. The bitterness, however, is always offset by the nobility of the story telling art.

No matter what means of expression we choose, be it drama, poetry, painting or fiction, art always rescues us, it always adds dignity to our lives and to our experiences, and this is because it always separates out something good in our lives, whether it is a bison drawn on a cave wall, or a simple refrain from a song that comes from the heart. Art is always from the heart. And we can fail in our art too, it can fall short of our own expectations, but it is always there, always something upon which we have focused our attention and which therefore has been salvaged from the endless drift of time. We see this in its most innocent form in the work of young children who at the school gate rush to show to a parent a painting or a sketch that they have done in class. Their pride in their production stems from the emotion of having made something of the moment, something true and something beautiful.

No worldly wisdom here below, I’m afraid, but I did my best at the time.

Beau Visage Belle Vie

ChicagoI was completing my final year at college in Chicago when my mother walked out on my father. The news came as no surprise to me, I have to admit. I had heard them quarrel throughout my teens and if anything, the surprising thing was that they managed to last as long as they did. I received a letter from my mother just before my exams started. The letter was posted in Dallas where she was now living with a man named Alvin who owned a string of donut shops. Finally, she said, I’ve met someone who appreciates me for what I am. I was happy for my mother but at the same time I knew that my father would find it difficult to get by on his own. My mother’s letter made no mention of him. It was as though he no longer existed. That part of her life was gone forever. Although she said that she loved me and promised to keep in touch, I suspected that this letter was in reality a fond farewell.

When I returned home to Helena, I found that my father was drinking again. He was still able to control it, but only just. He’d lost weight and looked older and more tired than before I had gone away and he was reluctant to talk about what had happened, about what had finally brought things to a head. These were difficult times for me. I loved my father. I knew he had his faults but that was no reason not to feel sympathy for him.

Having been away more or less for three years, I’d lost touch with almost all of my local friends in college and so most evenings I would stay in and talk with my father. Sometimes we would play chess. My father is a superb player and I have never once managed to beat him but he taught me a great deal. Often though he would not be in the mood for games and we would just sit and talk. Mainly he would talk and I would listen. Life was his theme. Life and its complexities and surprises. I expected him to be morose but in actual fact, despite the drink, he managed to retain a certain amount of optimism. He was still a good-looking man: tall and slim and with the sort of thick grey hair which gave him a certain aura. I felt sure that sooner or later he would find himself a divorcee or a widow if only he would make the effort and get out of the house a bit more often. He just needs time, I told myself. Events like these can damage a man’s confidence. It’s going to take him a while to get back on the road, to find his way again. The fact that he had also lost his job did not help. For as long as I can remember he had worked at the hydroelectric station. But the installation two years ago of new computerized equipment had made his job unnecessary. He was not unduly concerned. The terms of the settlement he’d reached with the electricity company were such that his financial security was more or less guaranteed. But work would have taken his mind off things, mixing with people would have forced him to make an effort to be sociable. I was looking for work myself as a newly qualified engineer, but in Montana there was little on offer. It occurred to me that I might have done better to remain in Chicago. Still, Chicago was always there and it could wait.

As I said, the nights when we didn’t play chess or merely sit in front of the television, my father would talk. He always was a good talker. The more whisky he took the more he opened up, and for the first time in my life I began to get a picture of the man. At first I used to enjoy our conversations, I felt I was learning something that would stand me in good stead. My father spoke with such assurance that everything appeared to have the ring of truth to it. Life, he would say, life is about coming to terms with loss. When you’re young you have so much, you gain so much, you grow so much, in so many ways. And you get to thinking that this is the pattern, that learning and growing and adding to your general stock of things is what it’s all about. Wrong! Dead wrong. That’s only a phase, an immature phase which sure we all have to go through. But it’s only a preparation for what’s to follow. And what follows it loss. I thought when he said this that he was referring to his own life, to the loss of my mother, but he made no mention of her. Life is learning to be a good loser. Life is knowing when you’re beat and not fighting battles you can never win. But after many evenings of him talking in this vein I began to recognise these sentiments for what they really were: an expression of his own helplessness. Even now I distrust any sentence that opens with the word life. The problem with those general statements is that they can give you a false sense of security, they can make you believe that there is somehow, somewhere, a perfect solution and this I simply do not buy. I’d look at my father topping up his glass of whisky or lighting another cigarette and think to myself: He’s just a lonely man, desperately talking to fill the void in his life. The game he’s playing is a game of make-believe.

When I was growing up, people would often comment on how much my father and I were alike. And we were very close. He would often take me fishing when I was old enough and he promised also to let me in on one of his hunting trips but this he never got around to. He used to go off for whole weekends with Jim Douglas and Phil Baines, two friends from work. Occasionally I would remind him of his promise: Sure thing, son, he’d say. One of these days, you can bet on it. But then something happened. Jim Baines got blinded in a shooting accident and though my father was not at all responsible for this, he took it very much to heart and the hunting trips stopped. I could see that physically I had a lot in common with my father, but hearing him night after night going on about life, I sure did hope that I would not end up in such a state.

One night the conversation we were having did turn to my mother. I can’t recall now whether it was me or him who brought up the subject of her departure. Whatever the case my father appeared to take it all very much in his stride. The trouble with your mother, he said, was that for years she wanted too little out of life. I know she blames me for that, but it really was none of my doing. I tried to encourage her but she always insisted that she was happy the way she was. The truth is, she allowed herself to be squeezed into a space that was so narrow it left her eventually with no room to breathe. And when this Alvin came along and offered to let her out, she just jumped at the chance. Then he paused and stared into the bottom of his whisky glass and rattled the ice. I just hope she’s happy, he added. That’s all. I don’t miss her. Fact is, I’m glad she’s gone. That may shock you, but then you young people are always so much easier to shock. I’m glad, I tell you. Perhaps now she’s getting what she’s wanted for all these years. What she maintained she was missing out on.

Then I met Glenda. Glenda was working as a beauty therapist at the Beau Visage Belle Vie parlour just off Main Street. She had just turned twenty-two and she was the prettiest thing I ever did get my hands on. About my height and with long brown hair and hazel eyes, I fell for her straightaway. She rented the small apartment above the parlour and I soon began to spend more and more time there with her. She was everything I ever wanted from a woman. She had spirit and a great sense of fun. I’m telling you, from the moment I first slept with her I felt like a man who had just struck gold.

What is this beauty therapy, my father asked me one day when I called in to see how he was doing. Just another term for getting you to look good, I told him. Glenda says that looking good makes you feel good and anything that makes you feel better than you felt before is a kind of therapy. He thought about this for a while and then he said: I’d like to meet her. Bring her over sometime? Introduce her, perhaps a lunch one Sunday. I couldn’t see the harm in that and so I promised him I would put it to her. Naturally she had no objection. Sure, she said, I’d like to see where you came from. But for several weeks I did nothing about it. There were interviews to go to—not that I was successful at any of them. And there were other things. And there was the simple fact that Glenda was so special, so precious to me, I didn’t feel like sharing her, not even with my own father. And Sundays. . . Sundays were for lying in bed all day with Glenda.

Then late one Saturday afternoon things finally came together. Glenda and I picked up some steaks and burgers and a few bottles of wine and drove over to my father’s place without warning. It was a warm summer’s day and the idea of a barbecue on the back patio really appealed to us. I found my father sitting in the living room with a bottle of whisky on the table and a glass in his hand. He was still in his dressing gown and he hadn’t shaved. But he was pleased to see us. While Glenda and I began to set things up on the patio he went off to shower and shave. By the time he appeared again the smell of charcoal and burning grease was thick in the air. I offered my father a glass of wine and we all toasted his health.

The evening turned out better than I had expected. Glenda and my father talked as though they’d known each other for ages. And my father seemed to be enjoying every minute of it. So tell me about this beauty therapy, he was asking her. Glenda immediately launched into a sales pitch. You should try it, she said. She was teasing him but I think that underneath that she did think a little therapy could do no harm. Come into the parlour one day and we’ll see what we can do for you. My father laughed. I hadn’t heard him laugh in ages, but he laughed talking to Glenda. I can’t see myself wearing a mudpack or any of that nonsense, he was saying to Glenda. And she was laughing too. Things have come on a long way since mudpacks, she told him. We have machines that can work wonders. She was playing it up and he was enjoying every moment of it. Or what about a manicure, she said, taking hold of one of his hands and holding it up to examine the cuticles. You’d be surprised what we have to deal with, she said. Farmers’ wives who’ve abused their skin for forty years and who suddenly come into a little money and want to repair the damage. I’m telling you straight, miracles is our business. Again my father laughed at the sales pitch Glenda was adopting. Then, for the first time in ages I thought of my mother. I wondered what she might be doing at that precise moment, whether she was at the rear of some palatial Dallas mansion, enjoying a rare steak with Alvin by her side, and laughing. I hoped she was. Life felt good and I wanted everyone to be happy.

© John Lyons, 1991

Bleeding Hearts – a foray into fiction

carverOver twenty years ago I began to write a collection of short stories called Bleeding Hearts. I took my inspiration from the short fiction I was reading at the time, in particular the brilliant stories by Raymond Carver (pictured) and Richard Ford. Written in a spare style, these narratives were about failure and loss, about life and lives falling apart, about dead-ends and dead-beat jobs, and in the case of Carver, hopeless addictions. They were human stories on a par with the best of Chekov and they dealt with the tragedies of everyday life which are every bit as profound as those of Sophocles or Shakespeare, God rest his soul.

I completed thirteen of my own stories, all set in the USA in places like Montana or Oregon. I knew nothing about these states other than what I’d picked up from the stories I was reading, but in a sense it didn’t matter: it was all theatre and the dramas could be staged anywhere, not excluding the moon, anywhere that human dreams and aspirations could come tumbling down, anywhere that love could slip through your fingers like a cool mountain stream, anywhere that heartache could burn through the soul like the royal waters of aqua regia.

I took the stories with me when I went to live in Central America for a couple of years in the early nineties, and I translated all thirteen into Spanish. A number of them were published in the Saturday supplement of the Sandinista newspaper, El Nuevo Diario. Shortly after, I ceased writing prose and concentrated on my poetry, which at the time I was writing and publishing in Spanish.

A dear old friend of mine read a handful of the stories a few months ago and when she’d finished she said: “Yes, all right, but when I get to the end of them I always want to know what happened next.” “Don’t we all,” I replied. She’s going to be even more frustrated if she reads today’s post.

Below is a fragment from a story which I never completed but which will convey some idea of how I was writing in those days. At some point in the future I will post a complete story, but for now this is it. Life is full of fresh beginnings and false starts and wrong trails, and it takes courage to press on to the end, and sometimes we just have to accept that we may never get there. So best sit back and enjoy the journey, one day at a time. . . .

Good Fortune

montanaI wake at dawn. Gayle is still fast asleep. My throat is dry. I reach for the glass of water on the bedside cabinet and drain it. My hands are shaking. I put down the glass. Gayle turns over and for a moment her eyes open. She looks at me and smiles. I lean across and kiss her on the forehead. She mutters something in a sleepy drawl which I cannot understand. I pull the covers up around her shoulders. You go back to sleep, I say. She smiles again and closes her eyes. I run my fingers through her grey hair. The hair is dry and brittle. Her soft skin is marked now with fine deep lines like a spider web of pain.

Years ago I used to think that we would never grow old, that somehow time would pass us by, we were so happy. Time did pass us by, but not in the way I imagined! This much I have learned: that nothing goes the way you think it will. When we were young, just starting out, we both believed that we would make it, that loving each other the way we did would be enough to get us through. We were both wrong. Gayle would say to me: I’ve got you, Luke, what more do I want? And I would say the same thing. We were that happy, and that naive. This is Montana, the Treasure State, and we haven’t a dollar to our name. We still have each other, still love each other. That’s something.

I slide out of bed and walk across to the window. I open the curtains a fraction and peer out. The sky is already a soft cerise. The world outside is silent but for the chorus of birds in the trees across the way. I know what I have to do. There is a sick feeling in my stomach, as though I have swallowed a great quantity of lead in the night. I let the curtain fall back. It’s going to be a fine day, a fine summer’s day, and for me, for me and Gayle, a make or break day. I skirt around the bed but before I leave the room I stop and stare at Gayle once more. In two months’ time she will be sixty. On the cabinet her side of the bed, her reading glasses are lying on top of a open copy of Fortune Magazine. Last night we read the story of a retired plumber in Milwaukee who made a million bucks in one year. After a lifetime attending to burst pipes during the winter months, he hit upon the idea of electrified lagging which would switch on automatically once the temperature dropped.

In the corner by the wardrobe is Gayle’s walking frame. Her hips are getting worse. . .