This is the thirteenth in a series of posts featuring speculative flash fiction in translation. The series highlights both new and established spec fic writers from around the world.
The winner of Mexico’s prestigious Premio Nacional del Cuento, Alberto Chimal is one of Mexico’s most celebrated writers of short fiction. He is the author of over two dozen books, including the novels Los esclavos (Almadía, 2009) and La torre y el jardín (Océano, 2012).
George Henson’s translations have appeared variously in Words Without Borders, The Kenyon Review, Asymptote, and World Literature Today, where he is a contributing editor. Most recently, Deep Vellum Publishing released his translation of Sergio Pitol’s The Magician of Vienna. He currently teaches Spanish and translation studies at the University of Oklahoma.
“The Waterfall” by Alberto Chimal, translated by George Henson
They hold the baby above the baptismal font, small and fragile, his head still naked. He’s awake: he feels the moisture and senses the cold that pierces the stone even though he doesn’t know them or know what to call them. All of the sudden, the parents seem undecided. Seconds go by. The priest looks at them. We pile on top of each other, interrupt each other with trembling whispers, hesitate; speculate. What will they do? Are they going to name him (after all) Hermenegildo? Or will they name him Óscar, Diocleciano, Ramachandra? Piotr, Leonardo? Humberto, Lloyd, Sabú, Carlos, Antonio, Werner, François, Pendelfo, Abderramán, Fructuoso, Berengario, Clodomiro, Florian, Jasón, Guglielmo, Lee, Clark Kent, Martin Luther, Rocambole, Cthulhu . . . ?
“Mauricio,” they say.
“They said Mauricio.”
“And Alberto. As a matter of fact, Mauricio Alberto.”
“Say what?” Some don’t want to believe it, they hesitate in their disbelief, but it’s true: the water flows from the bowl over his so very young skin, and we all fall with it, we’re all desperate, all wanting to swim with at least an illusion of tiny arms and legs, with body strength and a real body, but because we don’t have one, we have no choice but to fall, faster and faster, until we land on his forehead that doesn’t understand anything, that only the most detestable Mauricio and the cur Alberto are able to hold on to with the claws that the rite gave them, and they become a brand on his body, they become the child, and they look at the rest of us as we slide, rejected; as we return, all of us, Óscar, Diocleciano, Ramachandra, Piotr, Leonardo, Humberto, Lloyd, Sabú, Carlos, Antonio, Werner, François, Pendelfo, Abderramán, Fructuoso, Berengario, Clodomiro, Florian, Jasón, Guglielmo, Lee, Clark Kent, Martín Lutero, Rocambole, Cthulhu, Peter, Terencio, Goran, Emil, Cuauhtli, all us names that return to the tiny waterfall toward the bottom of the font, the bottom of memories and possibilities, to sleep until the next ceremony.
Mauricio means “dark” and Alberto means “bright”: the choice, we tell ourselves, has its poetry:
“Although they sound horrible together.”
“They’re going to make him unlucky!” Belerofonte shouts, but the parents and Mauricio Alberto, who are leaving now, don’t hear us. Our voices are the murmur of splashing water. Down below, deep inside the darkness, beat dreams and monsters.
– first published in Kenyon Review Online, 2014