The Composition of the Story - Carlos Chernov

Texto en español en Antología del cuento latinoamericano del siglo XXI Las horas y las hordas: "La composición del relato".
También integra el libro de cuentos Amores brutales.

Traducido al inglés por Aaron Hawn.

"And I Tiresias have foresuffered all

Enacted on this same divan or bed;

I who have sat by Thebes below the wall

And walked among the lowest of the dead."

The Waste Land

III The Fire Sermon

T. S. Eliot

Everyone agreed that these cold winter mornings, windy and clear, were best for the meetings. The windier the better, for him, since usually the outings settled on the rankest of sites. The club - if one could call it that - would meet in the hinterlands or a Held of the green belt. Though that day they met on an abandoned farm, on a huge, uncultivated Field where the fennel and thistle flourished. Both plants cheered him, their scent of aniseed floating on the breeze.

In any case, the foul odors no longer bothered them; they were used to it. Obviously, back when they had just enlisted with the Bureau of Anatomy, things had been different. They had all cried through the practical, and not because they felt sad about the dead, but because they could not escape the penetrating odor of the formaldehyde.

The beautiful morning lifted his spirits. I-le was excited to get out of the city. They had traveled by bus 150 kilometers to a small farm near the town of Baradero. Now, spread before his eyes, was a field divided into equal plots of nine square meters, each plot separated by a red cord, with a pennant in the corner – a painted number and letter marking each small square - and plank footbridges for moving between them. He was assigned sector “C-7.” This meant column. “C" and

row “7.” Most of the “Identifiers” had already taken their places, each in the sector he or she had been assigned. They all knew that a human cadaver, separated into small pieces, had been distributed randomly across the terrain. They would find the piece hidden on their plot of land and would reconstruct, in detail, the circumstances of death.

All the Identifiers were searching: rummaging, picking, scraping the earth, digging, shoveling, raking the Farmland, brushing off their discoveries like archaeologists. They studied their materials like detectives, like forensic specialists. They used magnifying glasses, small spatulas, plastic shovels, different-sized scrub and paintbrushes to clean and identify their discoveries. Continually bent over, they examined some possible remain, or they chatted - without looking up - from one

plot to another, while thoroughly studying every centimeter of their designated ground. (It is worth noting how an area of nine square meters becomes enormous when obsessively inspected.)

His plot of land presented two problems: a pool of water - which he could not filter due to its clayey thickness - and a surplus of low vegetation. Mostly, a kind of yellowing grass, extremely fibrous and difficult to weed. He heaved a sigh of frustration; it looked like a hard task before him, of clearing and stripping away before the real search could even begin.

A few Identifiers were walking along the footbridges, hauling their cut weeds. Others had already met with incredible luck: they strutted along, proudly swinging nylon bags with their preemptive discoveries tucked inside. From one side of the field and another, they were walking out to the Caravan, set up 200 meters away at the edge of the farmland- These Identifiers who (despite the earliness of the hour) had already discovered their remain, were carrying it to hand over to

the “Assemblers” - who were always complaining that there was not enough time to properly reconstruct the body.

After three hours of looking, he had found nothing of interest. Only the usual cockroach carapaces with the elytra detached; some dried up snails; the rear legs of crickets and beetles, serrated along the borders; a toothbrush discolored by the sun; hen feathers, or perhaps clove or sparrow; a fan belt, the rusted remnants of a can of preserves; animal hair; human hair; and a few living ants, escaped from the exterminators who had prepared the land - the ants always survived. (Standard

policy was to exterminate everything visible to the naked eye.)

The only remain he had discovered so far resembled a putrefying piece of octopus or chicken. It broke up between his fingers, friable like brain matter, but with a reddish tint and a viscous consistency. It appeared to be tissue without any muscle or capsule structure, possibly a fibrous support, probably gland. It reminded him vaguely of a boiled thymus. He did not believe that the “Chicken” – how he had baptized this foul-smelling scrap - was of human origin. Often, the

“Seeders” left traps to confound them. But, with no other discoveries, he put it into his bag. He had little hope for it.

Perhaps a little too early, he began to get anxious about the meager results of his search, He felt disheartened. He thought of how anxiously he spent every Saturday night before these Sundays, pleading that it not rain, and now, after all this time searching . . . to come up empty-handed. He knew that only half of die plots contained pieces of the body. He also knew that the Seeders fabricated clues - those precious indicators needed to reconstruct a scene of death - on an

even smaller percentage of the remains. That night, as usual, between eight and ten scenarios would be presented.

He was afraid that his plot would be empty again, just like the last two Sundays. Each time, he had been so bitter that he decided to return to Buenos Aires on the first possible bus, the three o’clock. The bus of the failed. He could not bear to stay till night and listen to the stories of the other members. The air he breathed on those trips back reminded him of the Sunday-afternoon melancholy of his entire life: drinking mare and listening to the yells of the soccer

announcers on the radio.

Now, he was resting on one of the planks that framed his plot, looking distractedly to his left. A young Oriental was sitting on her heels.

She had those incredibly flexible joints that he admired so much in Asians. She was analyzing a handful of hair.

He suspected that, perhaps, she herself had brought it. Some, in their desperation not to remain excluded, introduced into the Held the remains of other bodies. There were always pieces that were difficult to identify and would never seem redundant when it came time to reconstruct the cadaver: arts of viscera, hollow or solid; fragments of skeletal muscle; and more rarely—for the possible differences of pigmentation - remnants of skin in the minimum fraction permitted: four square centimeters. (Any less than that wm termed “Mincemeat.” Besides the obvious difficulties with identification, any remains below this size decayed more quickly because of the higher ratio of surface area exposed to the air.)

It was improbable that she would attempt to pass it off. If they discovered the trick, they could suspend her from several meetings. The Assemblers were equipped with a modern digital balance, precision-type, with which to weigh hair and even lighter materials, The woman used a baseball hat with two brims.

One shaded her nape, and the other kept the sun’s reflection from her eyes. Even though it was winter, it was imprudent to stay outside all day without a hat. Her black hair was sticking out from underneath the brims. She scraped the earth delicately with a tiny plastic rake, like the ones children use to play in the sand.

At last, with enormous reluctance, sighing, he continued the search. He was eagerly waiting for the moment when the trailer sirens would sound, calling them to eat. Ever since he smelled the barbecue, his stomach had begun making gurgling noises, more urgently every hour. He was waiting for lunch to rescue him from depression, it had helped before. He tore out the weeds from another sector of his plot and then, on hands and knees, with his nose twenty centimeters from the ground, he raked and explored. At such a close distance, everything became gigantic.

“The Sapper,” a.k.a., “The Psycho with the Shovel,” came walking by along the planks. He always dug with such energy that, routinely, he was disqualified from the competition for ruining his own evidence. He pulverized it beyond recognition, reduced it to a pulpy mass impossible to use in assembling the “Puzzle.” At the end of the day, his plot always resembled a bombed-out field with dried clods of dirt scattered to all four corners. He argued that this was die only way to do the job quickly. The story goes that on one particular occasion, me Seeders buried a dog poisoned with strychnine inside his plot. At first, he had no idea how to interpret the discovery, until it occurred to him to slit open the dog from top to bottom. inside the stomach, he found a nose. He easily reconstructed the account of a vagrant attacked by a pack of hounds and won that week’s competition.

What did The Sapper do in his everyday life? In the club, no one knew even that innocent information about the other, For obvious reasons, the members kept their names secret; everyone used a nickname. Almost all the members of the club were doctors. Others were employed by

funeral homes or morgues; others were professionals from health-related fields: kinesiologists, veterinarians, nurses. Others were simply anatomists by vocation.

The Institution had no set headquarters. Every Sunday the site changed. The activities were secret, received no publicity, could not even he carried out at a regular meeting place. All of the arrangements were made over the telephone, with a short summons, and only one member knew the location of the next meeting.

The Sapper was blond, his face was very large and equipped with wide and powerful porcine mandibles. He had a deformation of the spine, scoliosis or something similar. He had twisted legs, twisted vision, twisted everything, a beveled frame: a hunchback. The Sapper had always seemed unpleasant company to him, but unfortunately, the sentiment was not mutual. For some unknown reason, the Sapper always came over to say hello.

This time, the Sapper said something about the barbecue, and then made lustful, complicitous faces, indicating the Sinitic woman with lewd bobs of his head.

“That Japanese girl is a doll,” the Sapper said, winking an eye.

“Shall we avenge Pearl Harbor,” he responded dryly.

“The Psycho with the Shovel” showed him an eye that he was carrying in his

bag. “it’s my mute witness, the dumb evidence, the eye that saw the murderer. I haven ’t come up with anything yet,” he smiled

“Blood in the conjunctiva,” he advised. “Death by asphyxia.”

“Could be . . . I’ll think about it . - . ,” the Sapper said doubtfully and moved on, walking between the plots. It was amazing that an organ as delicate as an eye could have survived undamaged in the hands of the Sapper.

He continued to rake over the parcel for another hour. His Asian neighbour chewed on some kind offish sticks, white meat with a red exterior – imitation lobster or spider crab, He was tempted to ask her for one until he remembered The Chicken. The similarity of the two meats made him think twice. In just a bit the call to eat would sound and, even if she didn’t eat the barbecue, she would have to leave her plot like everyone else, No one was permitted to stay in the area when all Identifiers were not at their posts: no doubt anyone left behind would steal from his neighbor’s plot.

Finally, he was fed up with searching and went to take a walk around. He hefted a bundle of weeds and began to walk towards the Caravan, guided by the smell of the barbecue. Fifty meters on, he bumped into an acquaintance, a proctologist who treated his patients with sadism.

Years ago, he had watched this same doctor use a cigarette lighter to burn the leg of a girl having a

nervous breakdown - in the proctologists opinion it was a case of simulation.

Now, the doctor was sharing his discovery. “I didn’t have to look for long,” he said, smiling. Inside his bag, the left foot of a woman was easily recognizable. The transverse section of the tibia and the fibula could be seen in the cross section of the call. Her white ankle, flabby and swollen, protruded from a black pump with a low heel, a practical shoe, a touch severe. “I don’t know what to invent yet.”

“I’m sure you’ll come up with something,” he responded and continued on his way. The proctologist was an idiot. Bragging about his discovery gave away clues.

It wasn’t prohibited to show your End, but it wasn’t advisable.

He hadn’t gone another twenty meters when he ran into an old girlfriend: Daisy. He remembered the insistent gazes they had exchanged in the operating room, underscored by their surgical masks. She was English, with a long nose, rose-white skin and blond hair. She was always cold and distant. “I don’t know if this wound is port mortem or if the tissues were still vital,” she said. She held out

her piece-to him with a smile, but only showed him half of it. “Sometimes the blood gets so thick that when they cut the skin the wound doesn’t bleed.” And without a change of tone she told him, “I did a liposuction on Patricia” (his latest girlfriend).


“It’s just that something strange happened to me in the operating room. All of a sudden I had this thought that all of Patricia’s feminine curves . . . well, let’s just say it . . . all her curves of fat,” she flashed him a fake smile, “had filled up the canister. It was yellowish at first, but when it cooled it got white and hard, just like a cow’s. You should have been there. imagine men going crazy for all those curves.

Amazing, don’t you think? Sexual attraction based completely on the distribution of body fat.”

He agreed in silence. Daisy had always been jealous. He thought about coming back at her with something, telling her how when they had been sleeping together something even worse would occur to him. He would begin to caress her and be unable to avoid a definite feeling of revulsion, only canceled out in rare moments by sexual desire. He hadn’t been able to stop. From imagining her layers: the skin the subcutaneous fat, liquid and pale; the reddish muscles-—he had imagined them exposed to the air - the tendons and the aponeuroses streaked with white; the

bones saturated with blood.

But, he wasn’t in a warring mood today. instead he said, “I haven’t found anything yet, I just came out for a walk to relax .”

She gave him an understanding look. “Something will pop up when you least expect it."

He walked away slowly. Behind the wheeled Caravan, he threw the weeds onto the heap and walked back along the trail to his plot, Farther ahead, at a distance, he saw the man they called “Piranha.” He was examining what, at first glance, appeared to be a neck. Did his eyes deceive him, or was that a “hangman’s mark”? What perfect proof for a suicide story. He was tortured with envy. “With that the swollen foot . . . the cadaver must be of an old woman ,” he thought.

“Clearly, I could add to my statement some statistics on the increase of suicide among the aged .” He felt a chill of distress. So far he had found nothing. He urgently returned to his plot and began a desperate search.

At 13:00 hours the sirens rang, calling them to eat. The Identifiers abandoned their plots of land, walked along the boards, and converged on the Caravan zone. To one side, tables on sawhorses and benches had been set up, Before night, he would have to hand over any discovered remains at these same tables. At the moment, they were cleared for lunch.

Countless dogs prowled around the barbecue. He petted one, sprawled on the ground with his front paws crossed. The dog’s gentle, wet eyes and black muzzle reminded him of a musk deer. It always surprised him when the face of dog reminded him of a deer’s. Only the fiercest dogs were kept on the site. For discouraging the occasional onlooker.

By unfortunate coincidence, he was sitting beside the “Cisco Kid.” They called him the “Kid” because he went around slapping the shank of his riding boots with a whalebone prod. He didn’t use standard - issue yellow boots like everyone else, the nautical ones made from rubber. He could never compose a decent story, but he was almost always on the jury: a founding member. Rumor had him as an ex-military doctor. He was polite to the point of violence. According to one story,

a tight broke out when he and a man with similar values found themselves simultaneously in front of the same door. With various gestures, each invited the other to proceed. Neither would surrender in their contest to prove the most well-bred.

The showdown ended in shoves and punches.

The Cisco Kid ate all the meat served him in silence and, after dessert, satisfied and chewing on a bit of tar to whiten his teeth, he told how he kept a retarded aunt at home because his father considered her a Fresh bank of organs, well-preserved. She was consanguineous along both progenitor lines. Some said that she owed her deficiency to this lack of crossbreeding, but others slandered the family, claiming that she owed her idiocy to the chronic alcoholism of her grandfather.

“It’s like when you buy an imported car and you want to have another one just

like it to get any spare parts you might need .”

He provided the aunt with room and board. It seemed like a good deal.

Next to him, two members commented on the astonishing growth of the club and on the recent separation by some of its members to start a new institution.

“Almost a tumorous growth?

“It’s just that death sells, you know, much better than comedy or sex, It attracts them like flies.”

“I don’t know about other places, but Argentina has a passion for its necrophilia.”

“We do take to it:,” the first said with a knowing look.

He sadly returned to his plot. It was very cold. The sky was clear blue, dry and crystalline. There was nothing for it but to put his hands into the pool, that eye of water in the middle of his lot. If he didn’t find anything digging up and turning over the bottom, he would be obligated to excavate across the surface of his parcel. The prospect depressed him. He put on a thin pair of latex gloves,

though no one considered them adequate protection against what might lurk in muddy water. Unfortunately, the thick black rubber of electricians gloves would limit his sense of touch.

With caution and disgust, he put his hands into the freezing water. He groped for the bottom but discovered only a few subtle irregularities in the mud. He felt around with more confidence. He continued for a long while until, inside the surgical gloves, his hands were numbed by the cold. He took them out of the water and clapped them together to force the heat into them.

He felt like crying, and in that moment of desperation, he discovered it along the edge of the pit. It was a wormlike object, and at first sight, he thought it might have been a worm — pale and ringed — but it was a finger.

A whitish finger, dirty from the mud, especially in the folds of the joints. He cleaned it by shaking it in the water. He put it on the ground and grabbed a page of newspaper. (Underneath, the newspaper was black and damp, already transforming into a fertile pulp- On top, though, the face exposed to the sun was dry, haloed in yellow, arching like an old parchment-} He breathed a sigh of relief into the fresh afternoon air; a finger was the optimal remain from which to devise an account of death. He folded the newspaper into a “U” and pushed the finger inside with a stick.

He sat up stiffly — he did not enjoy the docile joints of the Oriental — and began to study the remain carefully.

Before him was the left ring finger of a chubby woman, short and in her fifties. (Though it belonged to the same body, the finger showed less age than the foot that the proctologist had shown him that morning.) The nail was painted a rosy pink, and in the sunlight, little silvery flecks gleamed inside the lacquer. He noticed a small white quarter moon, rising just above the cuticle. He guessed that this woman must have lived ha exuberant fantasy, to make such overdone makeup a necessity. According to his amateur sociology, before him was a lower middle-class finger, elaborately painted, tacky.

After some observation, he concluded that the woman did not work with her hands. The size suggested someone with little physical strength. The fleshy part was wrinkled and gray, as if it had been submerged for a long time in water. Perhaps this was the product of old age, the formaldehyde, or even the morning dew. He reasoned that the finger had belonged to a housewife, and therefore

smelled bad and that this odor had provoked a certain adverse effect on any hunting animals. The scent might have stopped any dogs from eating it, as well as any cats or rats. He brought it to his nose expecting to find the smell of garlic, onion, Furniture cleaner, pine-scented floor cleaner, nicotine, detergent. But the finger didn’t smell at all.

His triumphant mood only sharpened his detective and forensic inclinations. In the old days, all these conclusions would have been considered superfluous, but now, with a new Directive Commission, the “historicist” line had triumphed. The first members, the founders, were more concerned with anatomical discoveries, with the peculiarities of death; materiality interested them and, only as a secondary matter, the speculative exposition of circumstance. The latest trend, though, privileged historical reconstruction over the elaborate ins and outs of the body, which were, after all, only an excuse to narrate.

The finger, like all human remains - like the skull to Hamlet — invited meditation. But he did not deliberate over any abstract meaning of life and death; he asked about the concrete.

He judged that the cut was caused by a heavy instrument with a dull edge. The wound was anfractuous, with irregularly scalloped borders. The skin withdrew from the splintered bone, like lips separated by a too-large incisor. It was not the type of clean cut that a scalpel makes, or a sharpened blade, or a pair of nail clippers. The amputation was performed with a blow, like the one a butcher uses to cleave the bones of an animal.

The problem was lack of support, lack of a smooth, flat surface, which would have provided for a straight wound. In this case, the finger was cut against the earth and then sank, together with the cutting instrument, a few millimeters into the ground, reducing the force of the weapon. (Like a boxer turning his head, with his opponent’s punch to cushion the blow.) The mud clinging to the transverse section of the phalange supported this conclusion as well.

It was encouraging that the Seeders had left all the indications of a common and plausible story. Laid out before him was the forensic account of the theft of a ring and, afterwards, the murder of the victim. All evidence clearly pointed in that direction. The logical sequence of events would be easy enough to follow.

The thief had wanted to take her wedding ring. With age, though, the fingers swell, fatten, deform. He imagined the woman ’s desperation to rid herself of the ring, a ring which did not want to be rid of her—nervousness never helped in these cases. He figured that the assailant had threatened her with a knife. (He clearly visualized a heavy butcher’s knife, one with a rust-stained, iron blade and a

wooden handle with bronze rivets, leftover greasy dirt in its cracks.)

The woman, meanwhile, without soapy water to take off the ring, would wet her finger with saliva -the little she could gather with her mouth dry from fear. She would also spend her energy begging compassion from the delinquent. She would promise him the money and the jewels that she kept at home.

Possibly he had assaulted her in the street, robbed her purse and watch, and unable to remove the ring, had driven her to a separate place. In keeping with the marks of dirt on the finger bone, he would have to describe the event as open country robbery.

(He knew that the Seeders had cut the cadaver to pieces - surely stolen from the judicial morgue or some recent burial - at a separate location. But they had disposed the indications and clues towards the composition of such a story.)

The robber would have forced her at knifepoint to some city hinterland, goading her in the small of the back. They would have walked along, avoiding the rotting tires, the plastic bottles dried out in the sun, the treacherous barbed wire.

Out there, far from the streetlamps, while she continued to beg, he would have grabbed her by the hair and pulled her down to her knees. He would have placed the left hand of the woman on the ground, with the knuckles down, and to keep her from removing it, he would have stepped down hard on the palm. Then he would have rested his knife over the roots of her fingers.

Only at that moment would she have fully realized what he was about to do to her. (Even though she had already known it, the idea had clarified late in her mind, too horrible to contemplate.) Even now she rejected it. She would continue to fight, with only her free hand, like a proud child who, denying reality, struggles with an adult.

He would order her to do something, something which would paralyze her, make her abandon all defense. He would tell her to remove the rest of her fingers from under the blade or he would have to cut them all. (His tone would be friendly, as though he were worried about her, as if he wanted to avoid any unnecessary damage. He would also lead her to believe that the sentence was irrevocable.) She would cry and moan, but in the end she would obey. Upon complying, she would have tacitly accepted that to save the others she would lose her ring finger, the finger of the heart.

With some pain, she would have tightened the little finger, the middle finger, and the index finger against the palm of her hand - it was not easy, her fingers were short and old, and, besides, all human fingers were used to moving as a block. He would allow her to raise them, lifting the tool for an instant. The backs of the rescued fingers would remain supported against the blade of the weapon.

Then, when he was happy that everything was the way he wanted it, he would tamp down hard on the thick back of the knife - as if he were breaking ground with the blade of a shovel - and the finger would be separated from the hand.

For a moment, he looked back at the finger that he held inside the newspaper. Almost distractedly, he observed the ring’s empty furrow in the sausaged meat. He hypothesized that, in the middle of her fear and struggle, perhaps the woman hadn’t been in quite as much pain as it seemed. He reviewed the reconstructed scene again. He still didn’t know how or why she had been killed. Suddenly, he intuited that the robber, before he had killed her, had raped her. At first, he rejected the idea: it seemed improbable. But then, he noted that, rejecting the notion, he was being influenced by his own tastes: chubby fifty-year-olds did not attract him. He should have considered that, after these circumstances, she would have been transformed. She was no longer the same woman. She had screamed, desperate from the pain, humiliated, on all fours like a dog. Having mutilated her, he had totally possessed her. An instant after the amputation, she would feel a kind of melancholy relief: the worst had passed. “It’s done. It’s done . . . ,” she would say, trying to calm herself. Her hand would bleed into the ground. Her blood would appear just as another shade of the dark, since at night it is impossible to distinguish between colors.

Meanwhile, he would have stowed the ring in his bag and would have her subdued, kneeling in the dirt. His hand would be intertwined with her hair, like a jockey’s holding the reins. The clasp on the woman’s skirt would have broken with the quick throw to the ground—through the gap, a petticoat or a pair of satin knickers would be visible. Perhaps this would have attracted him. Against both their wishes, she would have become desirable. He would be drawn by a mixture of disgust for the mutilated woman and a terrible pity for what he had done to her. Possibly it excited him to possess her in such an absolute way. Again, he would force her down by the hair, he would raise the skirt above her waist, and he would rape her. She would plead with him, would beg him: “Please no, please no . . . ,” and in that way she would stimulate the sadism of the robber to such a degree that he would hit her in the mouth to silence her and enjoy it, and he would penetrate her with an erection that would have become more than he could bear.

These images mixed and mingled like photographs in his head. He guessed that the delinquent was a young man. He deduced that living in that way no one lives to retirement age, and that, more importantly, long life would not have been a high priority. The robber’s absolute disdain for the pain of others fascinated him. He was overcome by a sudden attack of hatred. He remembered his grandmother, she was also a little fat, with soft and oily hands. She spent her days in the kitchen.

To complete his story he needed to explain how the robber came to kill her.

He imagined that after the rape both lay on the moist ground of the hinterland. She would press a handkerchief against the wound to contain the loss of blood.

She would be weak from the hemorrhage, nauseous, confused, sobbing to herself, trying to sit up. He considered the chance that the woman, in her fury and indignation, would attack the robber, but dismissed it as remote. In any case, he constructed the scene. The woman, emboldened, would deal him a strong and desperate blow, or she would pick up the knife from the ground. The delinquent, angered, would grab her arms, after which he would slap her or hit her directly with his fist - until now the man had proven extremely effective in matters of violence. He would disarm her immediately and without further ado would hit and stab her until she was dead. Nevertheless, this did not seem likely.

It was impossible that she had provoked him, giving him some pretext for a new series of punishments. He surmised that instead the thief had killed her for two reasons. Like all professional criminals, he knew that robbery at knifepoint is one thing and mutilation and rape something else entirely. The woman was the only witness to the crime, she would be able to recognize him in the lineup of suspects - the assailant obviously had a record. The other motive was subjective: seeing her repelled him. She had transformed into a being that aroused sympathy. Surely now the woman would never be the same. She was his creation, in some way he had engendered her. To destroy her was almost an act of pity.

He was astonished by the logic of the changes that had occurred. Through humiliation she became desirable; later, for witnessing a serious crime, she became the victim of a greater one.

The finger had also changed: as a part of the woman’s hand, it had had no great distinction, just another finger. Amputated, it left a hole; it became important for its absence. (When she went out, no passerby would be able to keep his eyes off that hand and its lack of a finger.)

The finger had acquired the sinister air that any piece of anatomy acquires separated from its body and, like the rest of them, it was a curious object, it begged attention. Conversely, it was not good for anything. It was fascinating and useless. Amputated, it had become a miniature cadaver. It was repugnant; even through the rubber gloves he was disgusted to touch it, so he suspended it inside the newspaper, like something impure, contaminated.

Curiously, he intuited that excitement — stimulation — brims over when a someone converts into a something. It was the application - sexual and primitive - of Einstein’s equation for the transformation of mass into energy. A small quantity of material liberated a large quantity of energy. He remembered the cases of accidental hangings. People that played at entering and exiting from asphyxiation. In those moments, half dead, they metamorphosed into things, searching for the limits of sexual stimulation.

Around four in the afternoon, he awoke from his fevered forensic daydream with his story prepared. He was sure that his narration would win the week’s contest and, perhaps, the month’s. He might even receive a promotion. In any case it was good practice to continue the search, sometimes the Seeders scattered false clues deliberately — it was, after all, a game. In certain plots they disseminated various remains, some completed the story or confirmed it, others contradicted it. As a precaution, he reluctantly kept exploring. The afternoon dragged on interminably in his boredom and his eager expectations for the night’s events. Far away, someone yelled out, celebrating a goal.

He gave up at six o’clock and went to drink mate with a group that had also abandoned its search. They heated a kettle on a brazier over the coals. They had already handed in their material to the Assemblers, each one of them separately, as the rules demanded. Hidden behind the Caravan, they washed their pieces and were directed to the area that corresponded to their discovered remain. He went to the table labeled “Arms,” handed over his fragment and was given a receipt that read, “Left annular.” The woman’s cadaver would be restored piece by piece, and they would exhibit it on a board. As he moved away from the Caravan, a thought surprised him; “What did they do with the reconstructed bodies after the game was over?” At nine years old, he had asked the same question when his tonsils were taken out. His father explained that they had been thrown into the hospital incinerator. He supposed that animal remains suffered an identical end after they had been experimented on. He told himself that it didn’t matter what happened to the cadaver, probably cremated or buried out of the way somewhere. In either case, the only thing that remained, immortal, was the name, that was nor one’s.

He knew that it was the Assemblers’ job to get rid of the body. It was rumored that they had an enigmatic custom: all the cadavers, whether of men or women, were re-baptized with female names.

He walked slowly back to his parcel of land, he should wait a little longer, at least until the sun went down. At the Caravan they had loaned him The Bugle. He didn’t like to get his fingers dirty with the ink and generally wasn’t interested in the newspaper’s events, but he was bored and impatient. Around him the remaining Identifiers were finishing the last check of their lots. Those who had found a piece and had managed to articulate a story reviewed it with their eyes closed or with their gaze at the sky, like children reciting a lesson.

He sat down on a large board in front of the Chinese woman ’s parcel. She continued a painstaking search with her tiny plastic rake. “What patience,” he thought. He gathered together his few instruments and put them into a bag. Underneath the bag he discovered The Chicken and smiled to think of the morning’s discouragement.

He spread the newspaper out on his knees and began to read. After a moment, though, a sound distracted him. The Oriental let out sharp exhalations and dissonant wails, slight moans that, to him, sounded appropriate for an Asian funeral. She was sitting on her heels, which angled up into her buttocks. He murmured to himself that this ass was so flat that it was not a pity sitting on it.

”What’s wrong?”

“I didn’t find anything. This is the third Sunday that I’ve been left out,” she answered, discouraged.

“And even after you inspected absolutely everything. When I saw you working, I said to myself: this girl is a good Identifier, perhaps your attention to detail comes from the ikebana and bonsai .”

She agreed, while fat tears rolled down her cheeks. She vented the tension of an entire day of sterile searches. He couldn’t stand to see a woman cry. It was getting dark; the air was cold and wet from some nearby flow of water.

“I found this piece of gland, but it seems too much like one of the typical Seeder traps. I don’t think it’s human”

“Let me see,” she said impatiently. He handed her the bag, and the woman examined the piece by the light of her flashlight.

“I don ’t know if it will pass inspection. They’re always missing some part of the pancreas,” he commented, “but it’s too fragile. They’ll never get it out without breaking it. They might take it from you. Or maybe it’s something else entirely. She might have died from an adrenal insufficiency, or from cancer of the thyroid .”

“I’m going to try,” she said, decided.

“Yes, well . . . I’ve always noticed the flexibility of your joints, they’re incredibly . . .aren’t they? Could I take a look?"

She nodded, without saying a word. In the growing half-light, he couldn’t see her face. He crawled to her parcel. Across the planks some straggling Identifiers walked toward the Caravan. The woman, seated on her knees and insteps, studied the piece. She touched it in the dark, inside the bag. He came up behind her in the freezing country twilight and held her by the neck. Both pairs of hands were dry and red, and their noses red and wet from the cold. He pushed her forward, holding on at the base of her neck, until she placed her palms on the ground. Without letting go of her hair, he searched her with his penis, blindly, in the quilted fabric of her clothes, until he found a natural orifice, and he put himself inside it. The intercourse was rapid; afterwards they got up without comment. They gathered their things and were guided in by the sodium reflectors, casting their bright, raw light over the Caravan zone.

Carlos Chernov

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