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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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