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Ramiro Pinilla and that Moment When You Know You've Written Your Best Thing Ever [Month of a Thousand Forests]

Ramiro Pinilla is the next entry in the Month of a Thousand Forests series. I really like his explanation of why he chose this chapter from The Blind Ants. (And the story is pretty fantastic as well.)

Just a reminder, you can buy A Thousand Forests in One Acorn for only $15 by entering FORESTS at checkout on the Open Letter site.

Ramiro Pinilla (Spain, 1923)

If there’s anything good in Las ciegas hormigas, it’s this chapter. I wrote it more than fifty years ago, but I still remember what I thought when I finished it: why isn’t the whole novel like this, and why won’t most of what I write in the future be like this? It’s the felicitous fusion of narrative language with what I hoped for and still hope for, that synthesis of rhythm, continual forward movement, ideas and more ideas, humor, expressive transparency, something like the inescapable music of a deceitfully playful Mozart that we get hopelessly hooked on. A passion for my creations? Maybe. But here the protagonists are sketched out for the entire novel, their courtship, as recounted by Josefa, establishes the roots of Sabas, whose epic downfall you can already imagine, along with Josefa’s own unconditional surrender to Sabas’s impossible stubbornness. Which buttons do you have to press to yield something like this? I have no idea.

*

from Las ciegas hormigas

(The Blind Ants)

[A Novel]

I still remember it well. The priest said, “Sabas, do you take this woman as your lawfully wedded wife?” And then, without even turning to me: “Josefa, do you want this man to take you as his lawfully wedded wife?”

That’s what I heard, kneeling next to him, my hands and feet tied up without a rope, subjugated, defeated, and (why not?) devoted—perhaps not out of love, but controlled by some kind of irrational vertigo—furiously subdued, captured, and kidnapped while everyone watched impassively. No longer daring to rebel, even though I’d tried before, despite the fact that I’d known from the beginning it would all be useless, I contemplated what the priest had done, with his benevolent, distant face, loading the ship with cargo he wouldn’t travel with, muttering the words, unrelenting, without looking into my eyes, which were desperately asking him, “Why don’t you do something? Why don’t you ask me, like all the other women, ‘Josefa, do you take this man as your lawfully wedded husband?’”

He appeared one day in Berango, chewing on a piece of straw. Serious, skinny, calm, his hands in his pockets. All put together with his corduroy pants, white cotton socks, rubber-soled sandals, and checkered shirt. And an umbrella hanging on his arm.

It was a workday, a Monday, around twilight. I watched him from the garden plot my family had near the road. He was coming from Algorta, and his steps weren’t quick, but they were steady, insistent, active, each one promising another. By the time I noticed him, he was already looking at me. The distance between us wasn’t short, so he was able to stare at me for four or five minutes without appearing to, without even turning his head, chewing his piece of straw the whole time. When he reached a point where he had to turn his head, he stopped looking at me, walked past me, and continued down the road, and nobody would have said that he’d noticed me.

When I went back to hoeing, I realized who he was: Sabas Jáuregui, from the farm on the beach in Algorta, who’d lived alone ever since he found himself without a family. We all knew the story: a family of father, mother, and two sons, they were all very hardworking and had enough land to show it. Sabas’s brother died, and father, mother, and Sabas took on the work; not long afterward, the mother died, and the two men kept going as well as they could, preparing the meals themselves. When his father died, Sabas was already prepared for it, and he took onto his shoulders the work that used to leave four people exhausted. And he lived there, abandoned near the edge of the beach, completing all the chores every day before going to bed, when he’d no longer hear the undertow scraping the rocks, like before, when all his family members were still alive and he was able to rest a while before sleep would take him. Now he fell asleep before he even had time to lift his second foot off the floor.

I saw him on rare occasions, when I went to that beach with my family to gather coked coal and I’d find him with a scythe cutting grass for the cows, or carrying manure from the stable to the garden, or I’d simply see smoke coming from the chimney and figure he was frying something for dinner.

The following Sunday, six days after I saw him on the road, I discovered him among the couples who were dancing on the pelota court to the shrill music playing on the loudspeakers. He was wearing twill pants, a wrinkled brown jacket, and a white shirt with the collar unbuttoned (no tie, of course). He searched for me specifically, among the dancing couples, and finally spotted me and came over to my group of friends, rigid and deliberate, looking up, walking and moving naturally, pretending he wasn’t bothered by his shirt collar, which was stiff even though it wasn’t buttoned: he’d probably put too much starch on it when he ironed it.

He stopped in front of me and, without moving his lips, without appearing to speak, even though his words didn’t come out timid at all, but whole, determined, firm, said, “Would you like to dance with me?”

(Translated by Emily Davis)



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