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  • Whale Fishing
  • João Alphonsus (bio)
    Translated by Darlene J. Sadlier

The siren whined. The little steamer, rocking from stem to stern, cautiously flanked the lines of little whisk brooms that surfaced from the waves, disguised as buoys buried in the banks of quicksand. Later it plowed swiftly through the arm of the sea, in the midst of the flooding tide. Extensive sandbars were on both sides. A knowledgeable sort pointed out:

"The Pontal do Sul lighthouse. Barra used to be a city. Today, not a single person … The sea lapped up most of the streets. There are remains of a church. Over there, those white things, they're whale bones".

"Do they fish for whales around here?"

"They used to. None have appeared for a long time."

The dismal scene that the fury of the old, green glutton had slowly licked away was soon out of sight. Then came a stretch of uninhabited beach looking like a great bald head. And in contrast to the large wooded areas, here and there were palm trees, many palm trees. The siren sounded again, more slowly. They arrived. The harsh faces of the passengers were remodeled by the journey's end. The prow rapidly ran towards the worm-eaten bridge. A slow attraction. A blundering bustling. Shouts. Obscenities.

Josefino looked. Squatting in the strong sun were some little sleepy houses on watch. The zinc roofs trembled in the sultry summer. A lazy weathervane rotated, squeaked. Throughout the whole countryside, palm trees, many palms, always palms … His fat, celibate uncle, a lumber businessman, greeted him with open arms and a huge smile on his scorched face.


The days of apathetic melancholy began. His uncle lived in front of the sea. The waters ran inland during the day and receded at night. The unceasing sea. Rarely did the little cargo boats dock at the old bridge. They stayed only a few days: a scurry of sailors and stevedores. At the station, trains arrived carrying logs. There was a wealth that passed through the ships' holds. Some of the inhabitants were put to work while others, those fishing for clams and mussels, remained indifferent. It was a wealth that traveled afar without benefitting the poor port. When the cargo boats departed, filled to the brim, everything reverted to the supreme inertia that the squeaking of the weathervanes made all the more unhappy, all the more intolerable. [End Page 5]

He was sad. It was there he had to cure himself of his disgust for life … He passed through the house anxiously or sat in the shade of the mango tree near the waves. An overwhelming desire to nirvanize himself. To identify with the surrounding inertia.

Now he wanted to get to know the inhabitants of that forsaken place. Before the pool of blood created by the sunset, a slender line was unfurling. Slow, slowly … On the beach, a dark woman was waving a handkerchief. Josefino watched from a distance. In the sad twilight, that longing … He walked to her. The woman was taking form. Her black dress was unbuttoned, stained. Her soiled high-heel shoes were made of velvet with red stitching. But her brown face was pretty.

"Do you miss him?"


"The one who just left"

"There will be others after him …"

She rotated agilely on one of her heels. She faced him, smiling with her bright teeth, in the center of which was a tiny cavity.

"Who knows—maybe it'll be you!"

She left with a chuckle. Her slender body did not sway. Masculine sobriety. Her blunt cynicism did not repulse Josefino. In her there was no soul.


Night always fell softly after a scorching day. From all sides came the silent, bright lights of the fireflies. He noticed the gradual dimming of the light. Any noise he might hear was like a command for silence, mysterious and imperative. A fecund silence.

The orchestra of bullfrogs interrupted from the ephemeral swamp, quieting only when the sea receded. The puffer frog kept the beat with continuous, melodious r-r-ribbits. Nevermoresquely howls, cries, barkings, groans, moans into the night …

Oh! The infinite nights of voluntary exile … Insomnia. He opens the...


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