In Translation: The Death of Pirate // La Muerte del Pirata

A short story by Agustín Cadena, translated from the Spanish by Patricia Dubrava. The original Spanish follows the English translation.

The Death of Pirate

“Pirate died,” was the first thing my wife said to me when I got home to eat, at nearly four in the afternoon. I didn’t say anything. I was tired and dying of hunger. I took off my hat and jacket, tossed them on the easy chair in the living room and went to sit at the table, impatient for la Gorda to serve me.

“Pirate died,” she repeated, sadly, putting a plate of fideo with bananas in front of me.

Again, I didn’t say anything. This was the neighbors’ business, why should I let it bother me? I got up to turn on the TV we have there in the kitchen, on top of the fridge.

“At least lower the volume. Don’t you know they can hear it over there? They’re going to hear it and say you don’t give a damn about their grief.”

That put me in a bad mood. There was no privacy in that apartment building. Our doors all faced the long narrow courtyard hung with laundry. Anyone walking through there or passing in front of our window could overhear our conversation. And even worse for us, because our apartment was near the outdoor washtubs and sinks.

“Turn it off then,” I told la Gorda.

She did and then sat facing me. She stared at me the way dogs stare at you when they want you to say something to them.

“When are they burying him?” was the only thing that came to me.

“Why you want to know? You aren’t going to go.”

“Oh, what the—”

“What, you’re going?”

I finished eating and went to sit in the living room. We have another TV there, a bigger one. I turned it on and lowered the volume. Spider Man was on. Well, yeah, it was crummy to be watching cartoons when Pirate had just died. Although I never liked him. The noise his wooden leg made in the courtyard woke me up in the mornings.

~

During a party for the neighbors at his place one night, I hid it. We were already drunk, him more than anyone else; he passed out in his chair, didn’t even twitch when I took it off. The other lushes only laughed. It was a joke, but he didn’t take it that way the next morning. His daughters helped him look for the leg all through the apartment. It wasn’t there: I stuck it behind a washtub, out in the courtyard. They finally found it that afternoon. One of the drunks must have squealed on me, because neither Pirate nor his family talked to me for many days. In other words, we never got along. One day I was on the verge of stomping him because he kept looking at my Gorda’s ass. But then, why not, since his old lady was already a fat crone. On the other hand, though, he had three daughters who are real dolls.

~

Without meaning to, I fell asleep. When I woke up it was already getting dark. La Gorda was gone, certainly to help the widow with the wake, obliging like always. I changed the TV channel and raised the volume. I watched TV until I got hungry, then got up and went to the kitchen for a roll and a glass of milk. It annoyed me that my old lady wasn’t there to take care of me. So finally, I crossed the courtyard to look for her at the neighbor’s. I wasn’t thinking of attending the wake; I only wanted to peek in to see if La Gorda was there. And yep, there she was: the cream of the crop. I also saw one of Pirate’s daughters, who was serving coffee. She was the oldest, the one who was really fine, the one who never wanted to forgive me for that peg leg trick. Since they were all occupied with the body, I took my time eyeballing the scene. After a while the women began to feel me looking, who knows how they do it. But the pretty little orphan didn’t. Before the neighbors could start thinking it was strange that I was parked there in the doorway, I went back home.

The news was on. I sat down to watch it a few minutes, but then I got bored and changed to an old Cantinflas comedy. I was thinking that La Gorda was going to spend all night at the wake and tomorrow she would be beat, in a bad mood.

I got up and went to the bedroom, resigned. I was going to take the kitchen TV with me, but then I thought it would be better to go to sleep early. Of course, La Gorda was going to wake me up when she came in with her ruckus, like at six a.m. She was going to demand to know why I didn’t go to give my condolences, even for a little while. And the truth is I would’ve gone, although only to take a gander and show the girls my sympathy with a big hug. Offer them consolation, moral support. Tell them what you always say, “You know, Irmita, I’m here for you. That’s what neighbors are for.” But I didn’t want to be a hypocrite and besides I still felt ashamed with those girls, for what I did to their father.

I couldn’t get that business with the peg leg out of my head. I thought that one day its sound would return to the patio, by itself: the ghost of Pirate, who would do that to get me back for having hidden it. I went to bed with the light on, thinking that when La Gorda got home I’d ask her if they’d left the wooden leg on the corpse or if the girls had kept it, as a remembrance. I would’ve liked to burn the damned thing. It scared me. I didn’t dare close my eyes, imagined coming home from a party one night and the leg would be walking by itself in the patio, maybe without making noise, as if it were made of rubber. But it was made of wood: a bitter and baleful wooden leg, just waiting for me to drop my guard to jump me and split my skull.

La Muerte del Pirata

—Se murió el Pirata —fue lo primero que me dijo mi mujer cuando llegué a comer, casi a las cuatro de la tarde. No contesté nada. Estaba cansado y me moría de hambre. Me quité el sombrero y el saco, los dejé en el sillón de la sala y fui a sentarme a la mesa, impaciente porque la Gorda me sirviera.

—Se murió el Pirata —repitió, triste, mientras me ponía enfrente un plato de fideo con plátanos.

Otra vez no le contesté. Ésos eran asuntos de los vecinos, ¿por qué iba yo a dejar que me afectaran? Me levanté a encender la tele que teníamos ahí en la cocina, encima del refrigerador.

—Siquiera bájale el volumen. ¿No ves que todo se oye allá afuera? Se van a dar cuenta y van a decir que te vale madre su desgracia.

Eso me puso de peor humor. En esa vecindad no tenía uno privacidad. Cualquiera que anduviera en el patio o pasara por enfrente de nuestra ventana podía enterarse de lo que estaba uno diciendo. Y más que nuestra vivienda quedaba cerca de los lavaderos.

—Apágala pues —le dije a la Gorda.

Ella lo hizo y luego se sentó frente a mí. Se me quedó mirando como miran los perros cuando quisieran que uno les dijera algo.

—¿Cuándo lo entierran? —fue lo único que se me ocurrió.

—¿Pa qué quieres saber? No has de ir.

—Oh, qué la…

—Qué, ¿sí vas a ir?

Terminé de comer y me fui a sentar a la sala. Allá teníamos otra televisión, más grande. La encendí y luego le bajé el volumen. Estaba el Hombre Araña. Pues sí, era feo estar viendo caricaturas cuando el Pirata acababa de morirse. Aunque a mí nunca me había caído bien. En las mañanas me despertaba el ruido que hacía en el patio con su pata de palo. Me acuerdo que una noche, durante una fiesta de vecinos que precisamente fue en su casa, se la escondí. Ya estábamos borrachos, y él más que nadie; se había quedado dormido en su sillón. Ni siquiera se movió cuando se la zafé. Los otros borrachos nada más se reían. Fue una broma, pero él no lo tomó así a la mañana siguiente, cuando se dio cuenta. Sus hijas le ayudaron a buscar la pata por toda la vivienda. No estaba ahí: yo la había atorado debajo de un lavadero, en el patio. La encontraron ya en la tarde. Alguno de los otros borrachos debió haberles ido con el chisme de que yo fui el de la gracia, porque ni el Pirata ni su familia me hablaron en muchos días. Total, nunca nos llevamos bien. Un día estuve a punto de madrearlo porque se le quedó viendo a las nalgas a mi Gorda. Pero pues cómo no, si su vieja ya estaba bien carcamana. Eso sí, dejó tres hijas que eran tres manguitos.

Sin darme cuenta me quedé dormido. Cuando desperté ya estaba oscureciendo. La Gorda había salido, seguro a ayudarle a la viuda a organizar el velorio, como siempre de acomedida. Le cambié el canal a la televisión y le subí el volumen. Me quedé viéndola hasta que me dio hambre y entonces me levanté a la cocina por un pan y un vaso de leche. Me molestaba que mi vieja no estuviera para atenderme. Así que fui a buscarla con los vecinos. No pensaba entrar al velorio; nada más quería asomarme a ver si la Gorda andaba por ahí. Y sí, ahí estaba: ajonjolí de todos los moles. También vi a una de las hijas del Pirata, que se había puesto a servir el café. Era la más grande, la que estaba más buena, la que nunca quiso perdonarme lo de la pata. Como todos andaban ocupados con el difunto, me eché mi taco de ojo con tranquilidad. Las mujeres luego luego sienten las miradas, quién sabe cómo le hacen. Pero la huerfanita no se dio cuenta. Antes de que a los vecinos sí se les hiciera raro que yo estuviera parado ahí nada más, me regresé a mi casa.

En la tele estaba el noticiero. Me senté a verlo un rato, pero luego me aburrió y le cambié a una película de Viruta y Capulina. Me quedé pensando en que la Gorda se iba a pasar la noche en el velorio y al día siguiente estaría toda desvelada, de mal genio.

Me levanté del sillón y me fui a la recámara, resignado. Iba a llevarme para allá la televisión de la cocina, pero luego pensé que sería mejor dormirme temprano. De seguro la Gorda me iba a despertar cuando llegara con su desmadre, como a las seis de la mañana. Me iba a reclamar que por qué no fui siquiera un ratito a dar el pésame. Y la verdad sí hubiera ido, aunque sólo fuera por echarme un taco de ojo y expresarles a las muchachas mis sentidas condolencias con un buen abrazo. Ofrecerles consuelo, apoyo moral. Decirles lo de siempre: “Ya sabes, Irmita, lo que se te ofrezca. Para eso estamos los vecinos.” Pero no quería ser hipócrita y además todavía me daba vergüenza con ellas, por lo que le hice a su padre.

No podía quitarme de la cabeza el recuerdo de la pata de palo. Me imaginé que un día iba a volver a sonar en el patio, sola: el fantasma del Pirata, que así me recriminaría por habérsela escondido. Me quedé acostado con la luz encendida, pensando que cuando llegara la Gorda le iba a preguntar si le habían dejado la pata puesta al difunto o las muchachas la habían guardado aparte, como recuerdo. Hubiera querido quemar la maldita pata. Me daba miedo. No me atrevía a cerrar los ojos porque me veía llegando de una fiesta, una noche, y veía la pata caminando sola en el patio, sin hacer ruido, como si fuera de goma. Pero era de madera: una pata de madera maligna y rencorosa que sólo esperaba a que yo me descuidara para saltarme encima y romperme la cabeza.

Translator Note

This is the eighteenth Cadena story I’ve translated, and fifteen of them have been published. Working so regularly with a writer, one gets familiar with style, syntax, vocabulary, each translation a little easier than the last. Nonetheless, every story has its own challenges and this one was no different.

Because of the way Cadena’s protagonist talks and his 50s TV shows, I gave him a bit of Runyonesque, 50s slang, such as “crummy,” “lushes,” and “dolls.” His 50s TV includes the Viruta y Capulina comedy duo, a Mexican version of our Martin and Lewis, but Viruta y Capulina are too obscure for most English readers and Martin & Lewis are too estadounidense. I settled on a Cantinflas comedy, more widely known in the U.S. and of the same era.

“La Gorda” is a cariño, a term of endearment: I couldn’t come up with anything equivalent in English and liked the Spanish flavor retaining it gives. This guy obviously loves and admires his wife, even if he’s puro macho about it. I decided to keep it. It is, after all, the only name she has in the story.

image001Cadena was enthusiastic about all of the above but didn’t think I had the location right. He sent me these photos, which enabled me to clarify the text. I knew lavaderos were not laundry rooms, but until I saw the photos, I couldn’t visualize the place.

Cadena has “patio,” but “narrow courtyard hung with laundry” seems more evocative of the poverty dwelling he has in mind. image002.jpgThey are building things they call “slot apartments” in Denver these days, but that is too modern and too middle-class for this story.

Once I sent him the present version, Cadena wrote, “Yo creo que ahora está perfecto. Me gusta mucho. El espacio se visualiza muy bien como lo hiciste. Me encanta.”

About the Author

Agustín Cadena.jpgAgustín Cadena was born in Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo, México and teaches at the University of Debrecen, Hungary. Essayist, fiction writer, poet and translator, Cadena has won national prizes for fiction and poetry. His books include collections of short fiction, essays and poetry, three novels, and six young adult novels. His work has been translated into English, Italian and Hungarian.

Cadena blogs at www.elvinoylahiel.blogspot.com

Author photo by Roberto Garza.

About the Translator

Patricia-Dubrava-by-Ella Dascalos.jpegPatricia Dubrava teaches writing and translation at the University of Denver. She has two books of poems and one of stories translated from the Spanish. Fifteen of her translations of Agustín Cadena’s stories have been published, most recently in Mexico City Lit, Exchanges, Fiction Attic, Asymptote and Numéro Cinq, 2015 – 2017. Her translation of a Cadena story was a finalist for Lunch Ticket’s Gabo Prize in 2017.

Dubrava blogs at www.patriciadubrava.com

Translator photo by Ella Dascalos.

Appears In