Enrique Anderson Imbert (1910–2000) was born in Cordoba, Argentina in 1910 and studied at Universiy in Buenos Aires, where he graduated and received his doctorate in philosophy and arts and where he later taught at several universities. He was a brilliant contemporary critic of Hispanic-American literature and became known for his short-stories, essays, novels and collections of parables, many of which were published under the title The Other Side of the Mirror. He became Professor of Hispanic-American Literature at Harvard University.
El Fantasma is one of many stories that deal with fantasy and it remains one of the more popular. The Spanish language versions of this and many more can be read or downloaded at http://www.ciudadseva.com/textos/cuentos/esp/anderson/eai.htm His microcuentas (flash fiction) features prominently there and he was a pioneer in this field of writing.
Enrique Anderson Imbert
EL FANTASMA (The Phantom)
By Enrique Anderson Imbert
Translated to English by Kenny Beechmount
He realized he had just died when he saw his own body; like if it wasn’t his, but more like a double, collapsed in the chair that he had overturned when he fell.
The body and the chair were located on the carpet, in the middle of the room.
So, this was death!
“What a disappointment! He had wanted to find out what the journey to another world was like and it turned out there isn’t another world! The same opaqueness of the walls, the same distance between furniture, the same sound of the rain falling on the roof… and above all, how immutable, how indifferent to his death the objects were that he had always been familiar with. The lighted lamp, the hat on the hanger…everything, everything was the same, except for the overturned chair and the body, facing the ceiling.”
He leaned over and looked at his body, like before, when he usually looked in the mirror. “How old!, and those wrinkles of worn-out skin!” – If I could open the eyelids, perhaps the blue light of my eyes would once again ennoble the body – he thought. Because this way, without the look of the chubby cheeks and wrinkles, the downy curves of the nose and two yellow teeth, biting the bloodless lip, they were revealing his detested mammal condition.
Now that I know that there are neither angels nor abysses on the other side, I returned to my humble residence.
With good humour, he approached his empty corpse and went to enter it, to animate it again, and how easy it could have been, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t, because in that instant, the door opened and my wife came in, alarmed at the noise of the falling chair and body.
“Don’t come in,he shouted, but no sound came out.
It was late. The woman threw herself on her husband and on sensing it lifeless, cried and cried.
“Shut up, you have ruined everything,” he shouted, but without voice.
“What bad luck”, why hadn’t it occurred to him to lock the door during the experience. Now, with a witness, he couldn’t revive; he was dead, definitely dead. What bad luck?”
He watched his wife almost fainted over his corpse; his own corpse, with the nose as a bow between the waves of his wife’s hair. His three children burst in, running, as if they were in dispute over a candy, stopped in their tracks, and little by little approached and all at the same time they began to cry.
He also cried, seeing himself there on the floor, because he understood that to be dead is like being alive, only lonely, very lonely.
He left the house saddened.
Where would he go?
He did not have any hopes of a supernatural life. No, no there was no mystery.
He began descending the stairs, step by step, with great sorrow.
He stopped at the landing. He noted that, dead and all, he had persisted in believing that he was moving as if he had legs and arms. He chose, as perspective, the height where earlier he was seeing with his eyes! Pure habit. . He wanted to test the new advantages and began to fly around in the air in curves. The only thing that he could not do was penetrate solid objects, so dense bodies were as impenetrable as always. He collided with those. It wasn’t as if it hurt him, he just couldn’t cross through them. Doors, windows,hallways, all the openings that man uses for his activity, kept on imposing directions to his flying. He could slip in through the keyhole of a lock, but with difficulty. He, a dead person, was not a sort of penetrating virus which could pass through anything without limits; he could only penetrate perceptible cracks, even if they were only the size of the pupil of an eye? Nevertheless, he was feeling as when he was alive, invisible yes, but disembodied. He did not want to fly any more, and went down on the ground to return to his normal height. He recalled the memory of his absent body, of the customary positions, of the precise distances to where would be his skin, his hair, his limbs. He remembered this all over his body; and they were inserted where earlier they had resided.
This night, he flew over to his body, alongside his wife. He also closed in on his friends and listened to their conversations. He saw it all, right up to the last moment, when the cemetery soil, sounding lugubrious on the coffin, covered it.
He had all his life been a domestic man. From his office to his house, from his house to his office and had no-one else, outside of his wife and his daughters. He did not like to mingle with the teaming crowds. He preferred to imagine sitting in the old armchair, enjoying the peace around him.
Soon he resigned himself to not being able to communicate his presence to them. It was enough for him that his wife was lifting her eyes and looking at his portrait high upon the wall.
Sometimes he regretted not meeting other dead persons on his excursions, to exchange impressions with, but he didn’t get bored. He accompanied his wife everywhere and went to the movies with the children.
During the winter, his wife fell ill, and he wanted her to die.
He was hoping that upon her death, her spirit would join him for company. She died, but her spirit was invisible to him, the same for the orphans.
He was alone again, more alone, since he could no longer see his wife. He consoled himself with the fact that her spiritl was on his side, perhaps contemplating their children. His wife would know that he was here. Yes, of course…how could he doubt it? It was quite natural.
Until one day he had, for the first time since he had died, that sensation of the great beyond, of mystery, that he had sensed so many times when alive; as If the house was populated by shadows of distant relatives, forgotten friends, and of snoopers, who entertain their eternity spying on the orphan girls?
He trembled with disgust, as if it had put his hand in a hole full of worms. Spirits, spirits, hundreds of strange spirits mingling, blind amongst themselves, but with their malicious eyes open in the air that his daughters were breathing!
He could never get over that suspicion, although with time it stopped worrying him: What was he going to do!? His sister in law had taken theorphans. He felt at home again. The years went by and he saw his three children die, one after the other. The burning sensation inside him, which, in extensive families, keeps spreading like a wildfire the country, extinguished forever.
But he knew that even in the invisibility of death, his family kept on triumphing, that they all liked to be visible together, inhabiting the same house, clinging to his sister-in-law as shipwrecked people on the last life raft.
His sister-in law also died.
He approached the coffin, where they were watching her, looked at herface, which was still shown as a mirror to the mystery, and he sobbed, alone, alone, how alone. Now there was nobody alive that would attract everyone with the force love. Now there would be no possibility of meeting somewhere in the universe. Now there would be no hope.
There, between the burning candles, must be the spirits of his wife and of his daughters. He said goodbye to them, well knowing that they couldn’t hear him, he went outside and flew out into the night.
Translated by Kenny Beechmount, April 13, 2011
To site this translation, please quote: beachmount.wordpress.com/El Fantasma translated to English.