Chac Mool by Carlos Fuentes Translated by Jonah Katz Not too long ago, Filbert died by drowning in Acapulco. It happened during All Saints’ week. Although he’d been dismissed from his job in the Ministry, Filbert couldn’t resist the bureaucratic temptation to go, same as every year, to the German pensión, to eat sauerkraut sweetened by the sweat of the tropical kitchen, to dance on the Saturdayof glory in La Quebrada, and to feel himself a “regular” in the dark anonymity of evening on the beach of Hornos. Clearly, we know that in his youth he had swum well, but now, at forty, and in as bad shape as he seemed to be; to try to cover, and at midnight, such a distance! Frau Müller wouldn’t permit his vigil –such an old client– to be held in the pensión. On the contrary, that night sheorganized a dance on the little suffocated terrace, while Filbert waited, very pallid in his box, for the morning truck to depart the terminal, and passed the first night of his new life accompanied by baskets and bundles. When I arrived, early, to watch over the shipment of the coffin, Filbert was under a mountain of coconuts; the driver said we should arrange him quickly on the awning and cover himwith tarps, so that the passengers wouldn’t get frightened, and to make sure we wouldn’t bring a curse on the voyage. We left Acapulco, still in the breeze. Toward Tierra Colorada the heat and light came to life. Over a breakfast of eggs and sausage, I opened Filbert’s briefcase, retrieved the day before, along with his other belongings, from the Müllers’ pensión. Two hundred pesos. An oldnewspaper; lottery stubs; a one-way ticket –only one way?--, and the cheap notebook, with pages divided into squares and covers of marble paper. I ventured to read it, in spite of the curves, the stench of vomit, and a certain natural sentiment of respect for the private life of my deceased friend. It would record – yes, I started with that– our everyday work in the office; maybe I would find out why he’dbeen in decline, neglecting his duties, why he was dictating official documents without feeling, or number, or “effective suffrage.”* Why, in the end, he had run away, forsaking a pension, with no regard for the payrolls. “Today I went to fix up all that business about my pension. The lawyer was very friendly. I left there so happy that I decided to spend five pesos in a café. It’s the same one wewent to when we were young and that nowadays I never enter, because it reminds me that I could afford more luxuries at twenty than I can at forty. In those days, we’d all been on the same plane, we would have rejected with energy any negative opinions about our comrades; in fact we waged war on those in the house who even mentioned bad breeding or lack of elegance. I knew that many (perhaps themost humble) would go very far, and here, in school, they would forge the lasting friendships in whose company we would cross the wild seas. No, it wasn’t like that. There were no rules. Many of the humble ones stayed there, many went further than we could have predicted at those lively, friendly gatherings. Others, we who seemed to have all the promise, we remained
“Effective suffrage, notreelection!” was the slogan with which Francisco Madero and the Mexican revolutionaries opposed the reelection of General Porfirio Diaz. The allusion is ironic, now that the revolutionary slogan has been transformed, according to the text, into a phrase devoid of meaning, which is ritually appended to official documents.
in the middle of the road, disembowelled in an extracurricular test,isolated by an invisible trench from those who triumphed and from those who never accomplished anything. Finally, today I came back to sit in the seats, modernized –also, like the barricade of an invasion, a soda-fountain— and pretended to read briefs. I saw many of them, changed, amnesiac, retouched by neon light, prosperous. With the café that I almost didn’t recognize, with the city itself, they...