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« Roman de Gare | Main | La noche boca arriba (part 1) »

La noche boca arriba (part 2)

The conclusion to a work ("The night face up") by this Argentine.  You can read the original here.
Then came a cup of gold filled with marvelous broth and scents of leeks, celery, and parsley.  A little piece of bread, more beautiful than an entire banquet, was chewed bit by bit.  His arm no longer hurt any more, and only on his brow, where they had sutured his wound, he felt at times a hot and rapid piercing.  When the large windows opposite swerved back to spots of dark blue he thought that it would be rather easy to fall asleep.  A little uncomfortable there on his back, but when he passed his tongue over his dry, hot lips he felt the taste of the broth, and he took happy and carefree breaths.
At first there was some confusion, an attraction for an instant of all the dull and confounded sensations towards him.  He understood that he was running in total darkness, although the sky above, crossed with treetops, was less black than the rest.  “The road,” he thought. “I’ve gone off the road.”  His feet were sinking into a mattress of leaves and mud, and he couldn’t take another step without getting his torso and legs whipped by the shrubbery’s branches.  Panting, he realized that that he was cornered despite the darkness and silence, and he crouched down to listen.  Perhaps the road was nearby; were things different, he would have caught sight of it at daybreak.  But now nothing could help him find it.  The hand which had instinctively clung to the hilt of the dagger now rose like a swamp scorpion up to his neck where it seized his protective amulet.  Hardly moving his lips he mumbled the prayer of the corn which bore the happy moons, and the supplication to the Most High, the dispenser of Moteca goods.  Yet at the same time he sensed that his ankles were sinking slowly into the mud, and the wait in the darkness in the unknown chaparral made it unbearable.  The war of flowers had begun with the moon and had already lasted for three days and three nights.  If he continued to take refuge in the depths of the forest, abandoning the road more in the region of the swamps, perhaps the warriors would not be able to pick up his trail.  He thought about all those prisoners who could have done that.  But it was the sacred time, not quantity that mattered.  The hunt would continue until the priests gave the signal to return.  Everything had its order and its end, and he was in the sacred time on the opposite side of the hunters.

He heard the shouts and stood up straight, his dagger in hand.  Just as if the sky were burning on the horizon, he saw torches moving between the branches very close to him.  The smell of war was unbearable, and when the first enemy leapt upon his neck he almost took pleasure in sinking the stone blade into his chest.  Now lights and happy screams had already surrounded him.  He managed to slice through the air once or twice before a rope caught him from behind.

“It’s fever,” said the man from the bed beside him.  “The same thing happened to me when they operated on my duodenum.  Drink some water and you’ll see that you’ll sleep well.

Compared to the night from which he returned, the lukewarm darkness of the room seemed marvelous.  A violet lamp kept vigil at the top of the wall in the back of a room like a protective eye.  He heard coughing, heavy breathing, at times a dialogue in low voices.  Everything was pleasant and safe, without this harassment, but … He didn’t want to keep thinking about his nightmare.  There were so many things to keep himself occupied.  He began to look at the plaster on his arm, the pulleys which so comfortably held it in the air.  At some point during the night they had placed a bottle of mineral water on the table next to him.  He drank gluttonously from the neck of the bottle.  Now he was able to discern the shapes in the room, the thirty beds, the glass display cabinets.  His fever had to be lower now, and his face felt so fresh.  His brow hardly hurt at all, as if it were just a memory.  He pictured himself exiting the hotel and getting his motorbike.  Who could have thought that things would turn out this way?  He tried to concentrate on the time of the accident, and it really annoyed him to notice that it was like a gap that he couldn’t manage to fill.  Between the collision and the time they lifted him off the ground either his fainting or whatever it was didn’t let him see anything.  And at the same time he had the feeling that this gap, this nothing, had taken an eternity.  And not even time, but more like he had passed through something and traveled across great distances. The collision, the brutal hit against the pavement.  In any case, getting out of that cesspool he had almost felt relief while the men got him off the ground.  Considering the pain of his broken arm, the blood from his brow that was split open, the contusion in his knee, considering all of that, it was certainly a relief to return to daylight and feel taken care of and helped.  And it was strange.  He would have asked any time for the office doctor.  Now sleep began to take him over again and slowly pull him down.  The pillow was so soft, as was the freshness of the mineral water in his feverish throat. Perhaps he really could have rested if it hadn’t been for those damned nightmares.  The violet light of the lamp up high was starting to go out little by little.

Since he was sleeping on his back, the position in which he came to didn’t surprise him.  But instead the smell of humidity, of stone oozing with leaks, forced him to close his throat and understand the matter.  It was useless to open his eyes and look all over the place; he was enveloped in total darkness.  He tried to stretch out straight and felt the ropes on his wrists and ankles.  He was tethered to a floor on a cold and humid slab.  The cold had taken over his naked back, his bare legs.  His chin searched awkwardly for contact with his amulet, and then he knew that they had ripped it off him. Now he was lost, no prayer could save him from the end.  From a distance, as if oozing between the stones of the dungeon, he heard the kettle drums of the celebration.  They had brought him to the teocalli.  He was in the dungeons of the temple.  And he was waiting his turn.

He heard screaming.  A hoarse scream that reverberated within the walls.  Another scream ending in a moan.  He was the one screaming in the darkness, screaming because he was alive.  His whole body was defending itself by screaming about what was about to come, the inevitable end.  He thought about his companions who would fill other dungeons, and about those who were already ascending the steps of sacrifice.  Suffocated, he screamed again.  He was almost unable to open his mouth.  His jaws stiffened as if they were made of rubber and opened slowly with incalculable effort.  The squeaking of the bolts shook him like a whip.  Convulsed and writhing, he struggled to free himself from the cords which were sinking into his flesh.  His right arm, the stronger of the two, kept pulling until the pain became intolerable and had to stop.  He saw the double doors open, and the smell of the torches reached him before the light.  With the loincloth of the ceremony barely clinging to their bodies, the acolytes of the priests approached, gazing upon him with disdain.  In their sweaty torsos and black hair full of feathers he saw the lights reflected.  Hot hands, as hard as bronze, replaced the slackened ropes; he felt that he was being lifted, his face still up, and pulled by the four acolytes who carried him through the passage.  The torchbearers were walking ahead, vaguely lighting the corridor of wet walls and a ceiling so low that the acolytes had to bend their heads.  Now they were bringing him, bringing him, it was the end.  His face up, a meter from the ceiling of living rock which at moments was illuminated by the torches.  Once stars emerged instead of the ceiling and he was raised up the burning stairway of screaming and dancing, it would be the end.  The passageway had not ended yet, but was about to end, and suddenly he would smell the free air full of stars; but not yet, they walked carrying him endlessly in the red darkness, pulling on him brutally, but he could not want for the center of life, because they had ripped off the amulet which was his true heart.

He exited with a start into the night of the hospital, into the sky, the high and sweet open air, the soft darkness which surrounded him.  He thought he might have screamed, but his neighbors were sleeping in silence.  On his night table the bottle of water contained something bubbly, a translucent image against the bluish darkness of the large windows.  He panted seeking to relieve his lungs and forget those images which continued to stick to his eyelids.  Each time he closed his eyes he saw them form instantaneously, and terrified, he straightened himself while enjoying the fact that he was now awake, that being awake protected him, that it would soon be dawn, as well as the good deep sleep that one has at this hour, without images, without anything … Now it was hard to keep his eyes open, he was no match for his sleepiness. He made one last effort: with his good hand he sketched a gesture towards the bottle of water.  He couldn't reach it, his fingers were trapped again into a black emptiness, and the passageway continued endlessly, rock after rock, with sudden reddish flashes, and face up he moaned lifelessly because the roof was about to end.  It rose, opening like a mouth of darkness, and the acolytes stood up, and at that altitude he was struck by the light of a receding moon which his eyes did not want to see.  He closed and opened them desperately trying to pass to the other side, to rediscover the open protective sky of the room.  And each time that they opened it was night and there was the moon as they lifted him up the stairway.  Now his head went downwards, and at this height there were bonfires, red columns of perfumed smoke, and suddenly he saw the red rock, shining with dripping blood, and the swinging of the feet of the sacrificial victim whom they were dragging in order to hurl him down the stairways of the north.  With one last hope he squeezed his eyelids together, moaning in desperation.  For a second he thought he’d done it because once again he was in his bed, unmoving apart from the swaying of his head downwards.  But he smelled death, and when he opened them again he saw the bloodied figure of the sacrificer who was coming towards him with a stone knife in his hand.  Once more he closed his eyelids, but now he knew that he wouldn’t wake up, that he was awake, that his marvelous dream had been his other state, absurd like all dreams, a dream in which he had ridden through the strange avenues of a darkened city with green and red lights which burned without flame or smoke, on an enormous metal insect that hummed between his legs.  In this dream's infinite lie they had also raised him from the ground, someone had also approached him with a knife in his hand, and he had remained face up, his face up with his eyes shut between the bonfires.

Reader Comments (103)

This was a great translation! I had to read the story for my Spanish literature class, and I had some trouble dissecting some important details, even after a couple close reads.

This helped a ton, and the translation was as good as it can get. Thanks for sharing!

October 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline

Thanks so much for your kind comments, Jacqueline!

October 3, 2008 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

Thanks a lot. It's so much easier to learn when you can compare two languages of the same story face to face. The method of looking half the words up in a english/spanish dictionary just can't compare :D.

October 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLector

Thanks for your kind remarks!

October 20, 2008 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

That's....really creepy.

Wow, now I know what I was missing when I tried to read it in spanish the first time! Thanks!

Out of the several sites I've tried to find for different story translations, this was definitely the best! Thank you.

October 23, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKira

Thank you, much appreciated. And creepy is the right word.

October 24, 2008 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

This is by far the best translation that i've found... It finally all makes sense now.
WOW! :)

October 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commenternicole ♥

Thanks very much for your nice comments!

October 27, 2008 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

Thank you so much!!!! i wasn't able to get all the minute details in spanish...this is a really great translation btw =]

November 6, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercharms

Thanks very much for your kind comments!

November 16, 2008 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

seriously, this translation was like a story itself. i don't know if you made up some of the parts, but you have a lot of talent deeblog, translating the story that well is like as hard as writing the story itself. it was amazing, thanks!

November 18, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjuicy

Thanks very much, juicy. No parts made up at all, because Cortazar's images are crystal-clear. Simpler than it looked, but I appreciate the comments all the same.

November 18, 2008 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

thank you so much this was a very informative translation that made it easy for me to understand a deep story for my spanish lit class.

January 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAundre

You're very welcome, Aundre, and thank you for your comments.

January 11, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

great translation! you seem to be getting some good feedback. just read it over to make sure im prepped for the spanish final tomorrow. great refresher,thanks!

Biggie Smalls

January 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBiggie Smalls

Biggie, biggie, biggie, many thanks.

January 15, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

Oh thank God you translated this. I have no idea how I am supposed to read and understand this in Spanish...I barely understand it in English (not your fault!!)...thanks soooooo much!!

January 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterL

L, you're very welcome and thanks for your kind comments.

January 26, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

Thank you for your excellent translation! It clears up so many questions. =]

January 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCJ

CJ, you are welcome. Thank you for visiting and for your comments.

January 26, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

Thank you so much for sharing this awesome translation! I had to read it for my Spanish class and I understood the general storyline of it but this helped to get a lot more of the details! :)

January 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKB

KB, you're welcome and your comments are much appreciated. Thanks!

January 30, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

This translation was really helpful and a life saver! you rock! thanks

February 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha

Thank you! I agree with everyone that you did a very fine job of translating!

February 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChristi

Samantha and Christi, thank you both for your kind comments!

February 9, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

wtf is this story about?!??!?! great translation by the way....

February 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterblahblahspanish

I think this was such an awesome translation. Thank you soo much! But question-- so was he just dreaming all of it then the entire time? The whole part with the Aztecs and stuff?

February 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAW

blahblah and AW, thanks very much! You could read the story as if he were living in modern Mexico City and dreaming of being sacrificed by the Aztecs, or more interestingly, you could imagine the reverse. The latter reading is the stronger one since it is supported with more detail, but this has always been a hotly debated topic.

February 10, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

I'd have no idea whats going on without this! this helped like crazy! i cant even tell u! lol
thanks so much!!!!!

February 10, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersteph

Steph, you're welcome and thank you for your kind comments.

February 10, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

Deeblog! what in the world does the ending mean?! what's the significance of this "dream"?... and what exactly is real life?
thx for the help!

February 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLau

Lau, thanks for your comments. The most likely reading would have the man as a prisoner of the Aztecs captured during "The War of the Flowers" (which actually existed) for sacrifice. In his mind's effort to escape this hideous reality, he dreams of a future Mexico City and a motorcycle accident, a hospital, and a gaggle of white-cloaked doctors. Some may read it in reverse, with the reality being in Mexico City and the dream being of Aztecs (that would be more logical, but is not as supported by the text).

February 17, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

This was super helpful. Thank you so much for this translation!

March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRenee

Thank you for your comments, Renee!

March 4, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

Awesome translation, very well done.

March 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBarzo

Thanks very much, Barzo!

March 5, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

I'm writing a paper for my Hispanic Literature class on this story, and as for the interpretations there are several options. Besides what you pointed out in a previous comment, there's the possibility that Cortázar wrote this keeping in mind the cyclical nature of the Aztec perspective of time. Reincarnation, maybe. The man's reality could have been in the hospital and his mind was having flashbacks of a previous life (or death) from many years ago.

The text leaves it open for a reader's own interpretation, but I like thinking that both "dreams" are actually true, and the man in the hospital is getting a glimpse of a past life.

March 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

Awesome translation, by the way! :) I hope to be a translator some day but have about 2.5 more years of school to keep working on my fluency in Spanish. Hope I get as good as you!

March 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

I agree, Katie, your interpretation is perfectly justified by all the textual detail. Thanks for your comments and good luck!

March 27, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

I am so impressed. Thanks so much for helping to get Cortazar out to us readers who can't get all the great details from the Spanish alone!

April 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbec

Thanks, Bec, for your comments!

April 23, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

great translation,
Thank You!

May 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercody

Thank you, Cody, for your kind comments.

May 6, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

Thank you very much!!! I had a very hard time understanding the story in Spanish even though Spanish is my first language. Your explanation was very thorough and helpful thank you very much! :)

May 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDPimentel

You're very welcome, DPimentel, and thanks for your comments.

May 27, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

nice translation! we were given a day in class to read and understand this for a quiz the next day and i would have been dead w/o this, so thank you!!

May 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmm

Thank you, Emm, for your kind comments!

May 28, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

Beautiful translation. This is helping me quite a bit writing my paper on dreams v. reality for my Hispanic lit. class. <3

June 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStacy

Thanks for your kind comments, Stacy, and glad to be of help!

July 1, 2009 | Registered Commenterdeeblog

wow, great translation!

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteracoh

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