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This is a story about Argentina, England and love.  It will be published in several parts as it is being written, so follow the story as it develops. You can find me on facebook as Kenny Beechmount.

 

 

The Journal

By Kenny Beechmount

Roger had been busy for days going through the contents of his father’s estate. Earl had left him a sizable amount of money and his house with all its contents, which proved to be very substantial. It wasn’t just the furniture and the large number of books in the library, but also all the boxes that were filled with old files, documents and correspondence. Roger and Vivian had decided to sell their own house, which they had bought more than 15 years ago, and move into his father’s house, named “Brighton House”, after his great grandfather, who had built it. Vivian had always loved that house because of its ample size and classic architecture. She thought It was much more suited to their lifestyle than their own house.

He had to decide what to do with the many boxes of documents, but he didn’t want to arbitrarily discard them without going through their content first. Vivian was super busy with her architect business and Roger was working long hours as a bridge design engineer for the consulting civil engineering firm he worked for. He decided to take his time and go through them when his schedule permitted, which was mainly on weekends.

Earl Brighton’s career as a specialist in tropical agronomy had brought him to many different parts of the world and he would frequently be away for more than a year at a time. The long absences created a feeling of lonesomeness for both Vivian and Roger, but it was the way life turned out for them.

Some weeks after Earl’s funereal, Roger and Vivian moved into Brighton House. They had given away some of the furnishings plus odds and ends they didn’t need and some of the boxes with his files and work records had been looked through and burned, not having any relevance to anyone. Earl’s laboratory had also been cleared out and the rest of the boxes had been stored there.

Weeks went by and nothing unusual happened, that is, until Roger was going through some of his father’s boxes on a Saturday afternoon. Inside one of them, he found a shoe box with a couple of letters and what appeared to be a journal of of some kind. He thought it was letters Earl had written to his mother, when he was overseas, but both letters were dated 1929, 14 years after he had married Carissa, and nine years after he was born. He opened the first one it and began to read.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Sep 18, 1929

Dear Earl,

First, I want to thank you for the lovely dinners and the lovely time we had together. You are such a gentleman, so marvellously funny to be with and I look forward to your return later this year- in fact, I can hardly wait.

The office of the Department of Agriculture is arranging your next contract, which will include some soil surveys and an assessment of the fruit growing areas north of here. You must prepare yourself for some extensive travelling by car and, as you have already experienced, the roads are not the best.

You asked me to keep you abreast of the political situation here in Argentina. I can tell you that President Hipólito Yrigoyen was only elected last year. This is his second time, as he was first elected for a term in 1916. Both houses of congress are controlled by his party, the Radicals, most of whom are middle class political professionals, who favour social reform. There is a lingering unrest amongst the conservatives, who feel the experiment in democracy threatens the socioeconomic net in the country, but the government’s agricultural policies have been quite successful and for the moment, things appear stable. The military have undergone changes in the last decade and it seems the officer core, many of whom are sons of the landed aristocracy, is unhappy with the entire political system, as are scores inside the church hierarchy, who also represent the old elite. Many of them own huge estates (estancias, as they are called here) with impressive mansions. You will see some of them when you come again.

As you know, Carlos Gardel, our national tango idol, is back in Buenos Aires again. He returned after touring Paris and Madrid in June together with the two guitarists Barbieri and Aguilar and they are now playing in all the best restaurants and bistros here in the city. I love the songs “Adiós Muchachos, Cuando tú no estás, Lo han visto con otra” and so many more. Too bad there wasn’t time to go and dance when you when you were here. Gardel is immensely popular.

As soon as I receive the contract proposals from the Minister of Agriculture’s secretary, I’ll will look them over and send the documents to you. Don’t forget to address any correspondence related to the contract to me at the following address

Srta. Andrea Zucaro, Abogado

Derecho Departamento Legal

Ministerio de Economía

Avenida Del Libertador 2800

Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Please send personal letters to my home address. My secretary opens all my mail (my instructions) before she gives it to me and she is quite inquisitive.

I can’t wait to see you and hold you in my arms again.

Con mucho amor

Andrea

“Vivian! Come in here” Roger shouted. You’ve got to see this”. Vivian came running into the old lab. “What is it, Roger, what’s so important?” she asked.

“Look, I found a shoebox with some letters that appear to be some kind of personal correspondence of dad’s. There is also a journal of a kind. I just read the first letter from 1929, and it looks like father had a love affair in Argentina”, he said

He handed the letter to Vivian who began to read it. “Oh my God she said, it’s clear as crystal he had an affair with this woman, Andrea.” She looked into the box with the letters and grabbed the second one. “Well, let’s see, the next letter, she said. It is also postmarked 1929. She unfolded the pages in great anticipation and began to read it aloud.

Brighton House,

Farnborough, England,

October 8, 1929

Dearest Andrea,

Thanks for your letter, which arrived yesterday. The marvel of the new transatlantic ocean liners surely do speed up the mail service between Europe and the American continent. In the old days, your letter would not have arrived for another two weeks or more at the best. SS Bremen, a German ocean liner, made the trip from Bremerhaven to New York in four days, 17 hours, and 42 minutes in July of this year. I guess the mail to Argentina is then forwarded from New York to Montevideo and then to Buenos Aires via mail steamer. There is talk of perhaps getting trans-Atlantic flights in the near future. Some flights have already crossed the Atlantic between continental Europe and America, but no announcements of commercial flights have been made yet. Time wise that would be a huge advantage over travel by ocean liners and think about the affect it would have on international mail service

Let me hasten to say that meeting you was one of the most exciting things that ever happened in my life. You are an incredibly beautiful and gracious woman, someone I have dreamt of meeting all my life. I was completely honest with you when I explained I was married and had a nine-year old son, but there is much more to tell, especially after I made love to you the night before I left. You have no idea how wonderful it was. I never have I felt as happy in my life.

After my son Roger was born in 1920, my wife changed in ways that are hard to explain. Our love life fell apart or perhaps I should say “crashed into a wall” and never recovered. No matter how hard I tried to revive it, nothing worked. For the last nine years, I have outwardly projected being happily married, but the truth is quite the opposite. I thought about divorcing Carissa, but I think Roger is too young yet. He needs a father as well as a mother. I’m essentially quite unhappy about the whole depressing situation.

I have worried a great deal about the stock market the last few of month and decided to cash in all my investments. I bought gold instead and stored it in a security box in a bank in Zurich, Switzerland. Since I made a very handsome profit on my investments, the amount of gold bullion I bought was very substantial, although I had to pay a premium over the world price of $21.00 per ounce. Don’t ask me how I managed to acquire the gold, since there are some questions yet as to the legality of a private citizen owning gold bullion here in England. If you or your family have any investments in stocks or bonds, you should consider cashing them in. The stock markets around the world, especially in New York, are running wild with uncontrolled speculation. Surely, this cannot continue and sooner or later some kind of adjustment to the inflated values must happen, which will mean losses for a lot of people.

You said your family was in the cattle business. Do they have a ranch? Since Britain imports a lot of beef from Argentina, one never knows if perhaps our next roast beef came from your family’s cattle business (I’m joking). We also import a lot of grain from your country. Britain never could grow enough of their own to satisfy the market.

Before I return to Argentina, is there anything I can bring you from Europe or New York? I may book on that ocean liner “Bremen” if the departure time fits with my plans.

I’m anxiously awaiting the contract documents so I can plan my next trip and be with you again. I’ll sign off in the same way as you did.

Con mucho amor

Earl

“I’m astounded”, said Roger. “I had no idea there was anything like that going on, I mean Earl having a lover overseas, and this is before mother died- it’s unimaginable to me. I don’t think mother had any inkling about anything untoward”. “If she did, she never let on to me”.

“Look, Roger, there’s something odd going on here”, said Vivian. “We just read a letter that Earl had sent to Argentina”. “Look at the stamp; it has been cancelled, so it must have been sent”. “How can the letter be here then?” “There is no indication it has been returned from Argentina”.

“I have no idea” said Roger and picked up the next letter from the bundle marked “A-2” 1929 and began reading.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Noviembre 3, 1929

Querido Earl,

I received your letter two days ago and how right you were with the stock market. The New York stock exchange crash that culminated on October 29th must have been a horrible situation for thousands of investors all over the world. I’m uncertain just how bad the crash has affected investors in Argentina. Many of the wealthy people here own land, rather than stocks and bonds and few if any amongst the working class have any investments and if they did, it would be in Argentinean businesses. My father is a land owner, having inherited the family estate from his father and he in turn from my great grandfather, who came from a small village called Dicomano, north of Firenze in Italy. He married the daughter and only child of a wealthy landowner and thus came into possession of the estate. I’m also the only child of my parents. The estate is near the town of Tres Arrollos, in the province of Buenos Aires.

The department of agriculture have approved the contract for the soil surveys and economic assessment of specified fruit growing regions. I should have the documents on my desk within a week and will forward them to you pronto. If you have any questions, please cable me. Assuming all goes well, you should be able to depart for Argentina in January next year and frankly, I can hardly wait for your return. Will you be staying at Hotel Castellar again?

On the political scene, things are much the same. There is uncertainty with respect to exports of grain and beef, given that the crash no doubt will affect the international markets and some reduction in exports has already been noted. There is upward pressure on interest rates, but no run on the banks as of yet.

You may want to investigate the possibility of flying from Panama to Buenos Aires. A company called Panagra now provides air transportation for passengers, mail and cargo over a 4,251-mile network of routes from Panama, Through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. The service only began this year, but seems to be growing in popularity. It would probably cut your travel time by one week, since you will only have to sail from New York to Panama and then fly from there.

All girls like to be spoiled, but you don’t have to bring me anything, Earl- just yourself.

Con mucho amor

Andrea

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El Leve Pedro

by
Enrique Anderson Imbert

Translated to English by Kenny Beechmount

FOREWORD:

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.

The story about Peter, who through a mysterious illness lost most of his body weight and eventually became so light tha he was unable to stay on the ground , is a classic Imbert short story, dealing with the mysterious and surreal. His story “El Fantasmo” (available on this blog) is similarly surreal in it scope.

—————————————————————————————-                Weightless Peter

By
Enrique Anderson Imbert

For two month, he appeared near death.  The doctor grumbled that the disease was new and there was no way to treat it and he didn’t know what to do… fortunately the patient, was recovering on his own.  He had not lost his good humor, his complete and easy calmness. Too thin, and that was all, but when he got up after several weeks of convalescence, he felt very light.

“Listen”, he said to his wife, “I feel fine but-I don’t know- my body seems absent, as if my flesh was stripped off, leaving my soul naked”

“Wilting”, his wife responded.

“Perhaps”

He continued recovering. Already he walked around the House, feeding the hens and pigs, put a coat of green paint on the bustling Aviary and even dared to chop firewood and haul it to the shed on a wheelbarrow.

As the days passed, Peter lost more weight. Something very rare was removing, reducing -emptying his body. He felt as if he was weightless. It was the weightlessness of a spark, a bubble or a balloon.  It was effortless for him to jump over the gate, or climb the stairs five steps at a time, or jump to catch an apple high up in the tree.

You’ve improved so much observed his wife – you’re like a child acrobat.

One morning Pedro got scared. Until then his agility had preoccupied him, but everything happened as God intended.

It was extraordinary that, inadvertently, he became the leader of a triumphant human career in the air above the country house. It was extraordinary but not miraculous. The miraculous appeared that morning.

Early that morning, he went to the pasture. He walked with hesitant steps because he already knew that as soon as stamped his feet, he would bounce by the corral. He rolled up his shirt sleeves, put up a log, grabbed the axe and struck the first blow. 

Then, still Impacted by the blow of the axe, he was briefly suspended, levitating at the height of the roofs; and then slowly fell, like a soft, feathery seed of a thistle.

His wife came when Peter had already fallen, and with a deathly pallor, shivering and holding on to a stout log.

“Hebe (Evelyn?) I nearly fell into heaven.”

“Nonsense! You can’t fall into heaven. Nobody falls to heaven. What has happened to you?”

Peter explained the situation to his wife and she, without astonishment, declared:

This happens to you when you want to act like an acrobat. I have already warned you. One the day, when you least expect it, you are going to break your neck.

 “No, No” insisted Peter. This time is different. I stumbled.  The sky is an abyss.

 Peter let go of the log which held him down, but took a strong hold of his wife. Thus embraced, they returned to the house.

-“Man!” -said Hebe, who felt the body of her husband stuck to hers like a strange, wild young animal, longing to escape. “Man, stop straining yourself, you are dragging me!  You are taking such great strides as if you wanted to fly.”

“-Did you see, did you see? Something horrible is threatening me, Hebe. A twist and I will begin to  ascend.”

That afternoon Peter was sitting on the patio, lazy, reading small stories in the newspaper. He laughed convulsively and with that cheerful motion, rose as a devil, , as a diver without his flippers. The laughter turned into terror and Hebe again, on hearing her husband’s voice, reached up and managed to grasp his pants and brought him back down again. Now there was no doubt. Hebe filled his pockets with large nuts, pieces of lead pipe and stones.

The most difficult was to take his clothes off. When Hebe removed the lead and iron, Peter began hovering over the sheets, but interlaced with the bars of the headboard of the bed, thus avoiding it.

“Careful Hebe, let’s do this slowly, because I don’t want to sleep in the ceiling.”

“Tomorrow, let’s call the doctor.”

As long as I remained still, nothing happened. Only when I moved, did I become airborne.

With a thousand precautions, he could go to bed and he felt secure.

“Do you want to get up?”

“No, I’m fine.”

He bade her goodnight, and Hebe shut off the light.

One day, when Hebe opened her eyes, she saw Pedro sleeping like a blessed saint with his head stuck in the ceiling.

He looked like a balloon that had escaped from the hands of a child.

“Peter, Peter!” she yelled terrorized.

Finally Peter awoke, sore after having been squeezed up in the ceiling for several hours.

How horrible. He tried to jump in the opposite direction, to fall down from above, and to rise from below. But the ceiling pulled at him, as the floor pulled at Hebe.

-You will have to tie my leg and rope me to the closet until you call the doctor and we’ll see what happens.

Hebe got a rope and ladder, tied it to her husband’s foot and began to pull with all her might. The body stuck to the roof, came down slowly, like dirigible.

He landed.

A gust of air came through the door and the air current lifted the slight corporeity of Peter and, like a feather, he drifted through the open window. It happened in a second.

Hebe cried out and the rope disappeared. He rose up on the early morning air, like a swaying, colorful balloon, lost on a day of celebration, lost forever, in a journey to the infinite. At first, he was a small point in the sky, and then nothing.

 

 

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FOREWORD

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.

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