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  • A Dark Day of Justice
  • Rodolfo Walsh (bio)
    Translated from Spanish by Cindy Schuster

When that dark day of justice arrived, the people awoke on their own, as one. The one hundred and thirty schoolboys washed their faces, put on their blue Sunday suits and lined up with the speed and precision of a military maneuver which was at the same time a joyous ritual: nothing could come between them and the downfall of Prefect Gielty.

In the shadows of the chapel, fragrant with cedar and freshly lit candles, Prefect Gielty remained knelt in prayer as he had been all night. Elusive God flowed and slid through his hands, caressing him like a sick child, cursing him as He would a reprobate, or slipping the intolerable thought into his head that it was not to Him that he prayed, but rather to himself and his weakness and his madness.

Because although the signs were not apparent to everyone, Prefect Gielty’s mind had been unraveling for some time. His brain flared like a blowtorch night and day, but that was not the cause of his madness; rather, it was the fact that he was being consumed in flashes of vision, like a blind piece of metal subject to an all-powerful current and blazing into whiteness as it sought its extinction and its peace.

And now he prayed, sensing Malcolm’s coming as he had sensed him coming through the mist of the days of the weeks, and perhaps even the months of the years, coming and growing larger to ascertain and to punish: the man whose face proliferated in his dreams and his diurnal presentiments, in the shapes of clouds or the reflection of water. Astute and unfailing he was coming, a finger to his lips, without breaking even the smallest branch of time.

In the small dormitory the twelve students under Prefect Gielty’s supervision were alone all night. They were the youngest boys in the School, except for O’Grady, Malone, and The Cat, who’d arrived late, when there were no beds left in the big dormitory, the place for friendship, grapes in the vineyard: sad discards of hidden stories of death and repudiation lost in the legend of summer. [End Page 630]

Prefect Gielty had gone up for just a minute to watch them kneel in their nightshirts and recite the nightly prayer imploring God for peace and sleep or at least the grace not to die in mortal sin, and when the word amen flew out through the only open transom, he went over to The Cat, who had not undressed and was waiting as usual, and said to him:

“You go to bed too,” and then Little Collins watched him draw near until he could feel his warm breath on his forehead, his look more desperate and terrible, mocking, or affectionate than ever. The prefect’s teeth glinted under his red mustache:

“There will be no Exercise tonight,” and he left, and went down to the chapel to pray.

This was the first indication the people had that Prefect Gielty sensed the arrival of Malcolm. Because until then the secret that Malcolm was coming for Gielty rested day and night against Little Collins’s heart, in the reliquary locket he’d emptied of the hairs and fingernails of dead saints to hold the scrap of paper on which Malcolm announced that he was coming.

There being no Exercise that night, and no visible authority, The Cat took out a cigarette and sat smoking on his bed, as his long eyes flashed yellow, half-closed lazily then opened wide against the bubbling ferment of rage rising from the neighboring beds, wanting to become something big and terrible, but lacking the force to keep from fizzling out in futile murmurs or in the stifled raspberries coming from Scally’s bed, the pillow where Scally was hiding his face. The Cat didn’t care, nor was he afraid. He was strong now, sure of himself, the stigmas on his head had disappeared along with the memory of past humiliations, his overall fit him better, and though he’d never be fat, he was filled out...


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pp. 630-647
Launched on MUSE
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