Three Stories
by EDMUNDO PAZ SOLDÁN
translated by KIRK NESSET
I.
CAROLINA, HIM AND US


Although we didn’t altogether agree, we told him yes, when he asked—Carolina was pretty, maybe the prettiest woman in town.  We couldn’t tell him the truth; he was in love, and none of us wanted to be the one to dispel the illusion.  A year later he married, and children appeared, along with rumors.  When asked again, we replied as before.  No way, we said: she had not betrayed him.  How could we tell him the truth?  We were his world, and couldn’t admit we’d made the most of his loose, less-than-attractive, dim-witted wife.

Forty-three years later she died.  We approached at the wake as he wept without cease; we told him again we did feel his loss.  She was indeed a good person, a saint, we agreed, opting for the cliché.  Still weeping, he told us each the same thing, more or less: that he’d seen through our lies, he’d understood from the start, and allowed it because we were his friends.  It wasn’t our fault she was such an astonishing lover.





II.
ROMEO AND JULIET


One afternoon in a clearing in the woods, the sun stifled by edgy, elongated clouds, the little blonde girl with long tresses grips the knife firmly, and the boy with the large, sensitive eyes and delicate hands holds his breath.

     —I’ll do it first, she says, aiming the sharp tip at a vein in her wrist. —I’ll do it because I love you.  For you I’ll give everything, even my life.  There’s no love like ours, or ever will be.  That’s why we’ll do it.

The boy is crying quietly, lifting his arm.

     —Wait, Aleja . . . I’ll do it first.  I’m the guy.  I have to set an example.

     —This is the Gabriel I know and learned to love.  Here.  Why will you do it?

     —Because I love you like I never thought I could love.  Because my life is the most I can give you.

Gabriel raises the blade, drawing it close to his veins.  He hesitates, his dark eyes widen.  Alejandra presses against him, passionately kisses his lips.

     —I love you a lot.  You don’t know how much.

     —I love you lots, too—you don’t know how much.

     —Now, Romeo?

     —Now, Julia.

     —Juliet.

     —Juliet.

Gabriel considers the knife, inhaling, tears drying.  And in a flash the sharp steel finds a vein.  Blood begins to flow furiously.  He’s surprised; he’s never seen liquid so red. The pain rises, he lets the knife drop, easing onto the carpet of earth: the sun fills his eyes.  Alejandra throws herself on him, kissing him, licking up blood.

     —Oh, Gabriel!  How I love you!

     —It’s your turn now, he stammers, less able to breathe with each breath.

     —My turn, yes, she says, embracing him.

     —You . . . you love me?

     —Very much.

Alejandra turns, and then rising, heads home, thinking about the homework in literature she’s supposed to hand in in the morning.  Behind her, the uncontrollable red puddle swells.





III.
DELORES

Thursday’s the only day my father allows late-night TV—he knows tales of terror captivate me, and Hitchcock shows are my favorites.  Together on the sofa, he in his pajamas and I in my night shirt, we sit silent an hour, devoted to different ends, me to pleasing myself with twists and turns of terror onscreen, he to scaring himself with its pleasures.

When the program is over, we exchange the usual comments, and the fake goodnights.  Fake, because every Thursday before I’ve been in bed for ten minutes, he appears, timidly asking if he can join me.  Of course I accept.  Holding him, I feel his body tremble, feel the unfaltering fear that keeps him from sleeping alone in his room after Hitchcock.  He presses his body tight into mine and we drift off immediately.  It’s lovely, each morning, waking before he does, feeling his heat, our legs intertwined, hearing his hoarse, arrhythmic breathing, seeing him cushioned in sleep with such expertise.

I am fourteen, and I have heard of perverted fathers, perverted girls.  But in me no doubts exist: mine and his is a thing apart, a pocket of pure and sublime in a corrupt world, a magnificent moment untouched by sin.

And I stroke him until I see he’s awake, despite the closed eyes, and then closing my own, feel a hand grazing, discovering, and feel the lips grazing, discovering, and eyes closed, feel a body explore and discover, explore and discover, explore and discover.
EDMUNDO PAZ SOLDÁN is author of seven novels and three short story collections, including La materia del deseo, Desencuentros, Simulacros, Los vivos y los muertos and Palacio Quemado.  He has won the National Book Award in Bolivia, the prestigious Juan Rulfo Award, and was a finalist for the Romulo Gallegos Award.  He was born and raised in Bolivia, and lives now in the United States, serving as assistant professor at Cornell University.  One of the few McOndo writers who live in the U.S., he is frequently called upon as the movement’s spokesperson by the American media.  His work has been translated into eight languages.

KIRK NESSET'S translated selected anthology of Eugenio Montejo’s poetry and prose appeared in December 2010, a book titled Alphabet of the World (University of Oklahoma Press).  Individual translations of his from the Spanish have appeared in The Paris Review, Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, Agni, Michigan Quarterly Review, New England Review, Crazyhorse, Poetry International and elsewhere; his own fiction and poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Raritan, Gettysburg Review, Boston Review, Iowa Review and Prairie Schooner, to name just a few.  He is author of two books of short stories, Paradise Road (University of Pittsburgh Press) and Mr. Agreeable (Mammoth Books), Saint X (poems, forthcoming) and The Stories of Raymond Carver (nonfiction, Ohio University Press).  He is recipient of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and has received a Pushcart Prize and grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.  He teaches creative writing and literature at Allegheny College, and serves as writer in residence at Black Forest Writing Seminars (Freiburg, Germany).