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  • The Beasts
  • Roberto Arlt (bio)
    Translated from Spanish by Sergio Waisman

I'll never be able to tell you how I sunk lower and lower, day by day, among other lost men—thieves and murderers and women whose faces are rougher than cracked limestone. Sometimes, when I reassess the low latitude I have reached, I feel great canvases of shadows falling upon my brain, I stumble along like a sleepwalker and it's as if the process of my decomposition were mounted into the architecture of a dream that never occurred.

It's been a long time, though, that I've been lost. I lack the strength that would be needed to escape the gears of indolence, which through succeeding nights sink me lower and lower in the depths of a corner of a whorehouse. Here, other wretches as bored as me hold an array of playing cards unfolded in one hand, indifferently moving black or green chips with the other, as time drips like water down the dirty well bucket of our souls.

I have never spoken to any of my companions about you, to what end?

The only one who knows of your existence is Tacuara. Clutching a roll of bills in her pocket, she enters the room after four a.m. Tacuara's hair is straight and pitch black; her eyes slanted and pampas green; her face round, as if coal-dusted, and her nose flat. Tacuara has one weakness: she likes to read the magazine Social Life; and one virtue—her taste for longshoremen from the San Fernando riverbank.

She prepares the maté while I lie on the bed, sprawled out, thinking about you, whom I have lost forever.

What's difficult is explaining to you how I sunk lower and lower day by day.

As the years go by, a heavy slab of inertia and the repetition of habits keep falling upon my life. The most despicable of attitudes and the most repugnant of situations seem natural and acceptable to me. I am no longer shocked by my own memory of the prison walls where I have so often slept.

But despite the fact that I have mixed with those from the lower depths, [End Page 45] never has a man lived as isolated among these wild beasts as I. I have not as of yet been able to fully join them, and yet this doesn't prevent me from smiling when one of these beasts beats to a pulp one of the wretched women who supports him, or commits some pointless savage deed, just so he can brag about it later.

Many are the times that your name has sprung to my lips. I recall the afternoon we spent together, in the church in the town of Nueva Pompeya. I remember too the sacristan's hound. His snout held high, his lazy steps as he paced sluggishly across the mosaics of the church, between the rows of pews. … But so many hundreds of days have passed since then, it now feels as if I were living in a very deep city, infinitely below sea level. A mist of coal floats permanently in this hollow of subhumanity, and from time to time we hear the crack of the firing of an automatic pistol. Then everyone goes back to whatever we were doing, as if nothing had happened.

And I have changed my name, so even if you were to ask for me here, no one would know who you were asking about.

And yet we both live here, in the same city, under the same stars.

With the difference, of course, that I run a prostitute, have a record, and will die with my back riddled with bullets, while you will one day marry a bank employee or some reserve second lieutenant.

And if to this day I keep your memory deep inside me, it is because it represents the possibilities of a life that I shall never actually live. It's terrible, but signed and sealed by certain declivities of existence, one does not choose. One accepts.

Your memory broke through one night, when I lay shivering, feverish in a corner of some jail...


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pp. 45-56
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