The Slingshot

(A Parable)
Luisa Valenzuela
translated by Geoffrey O’Brien

Some words about Luisa Valenzuela

There is a trait in Luisa Valenzuela that all of us who know her appreciate and it is her unlimited generosity. Often I wonder how she can write so much, participating actively in the international literary life and making each person feel that she has also time for him or her.
        When she invites me to her house, where everything is beautiful and inviting, I look at her numerous masks and even they seem amiable and contented, suggesting there’s no better destiny than to be there, in front of a lush garden, listening to Luisa, who is now president of PEN Argentina, describing how she is organizing writing workshops for underprivileged children. When I ask her why she came back to Argentina, considering that in New York where she lived from 1979 to 1989 she had fame and recognition, she tells me that she was dreaming in English and was afraid that she would start writing in English and lose touch with her own language. She was also afraid that the pleasure she took in writing would give way to a Protestant work ethic. To my question of what was she writing currently, she answered that she had already written 25 books (I would count more in her bibliography) and that perhaps it was time to rest. When she was writing El Mañana, she thought it would be her last novel, but immediately afterward she wrote La máscara sarda.
        On other visits I have met in her house students from South Korea writing essays on her novels, a professor from Australia and another from South Africa who were planning books about her, and a Swedish lover of Valenzuela’s writing telling me that in her books she had discovered many similarities between the national Argentine being and the Swedish one. Not long ago there was a celebration of her work at the UNSAM (Universidad de San Martín), the Malba Museum, and the National Library in Buenos Aires where a large assortment of professors, writers, and poets gave lectures on her writing. With her generosity, she made a point to have also young stage actors performing one of her short stories, probably so that the appreciation of her work wouldn’t be too solemn or pompous, something that, with her exceptional sense of humor she would detest, and thus the resulting days, with all the variety of people celebrating her work, were days as full of vigor and creativity as her writing itself.
                              – F.O.

He was a happy little fellow during the summer, like all the others in his neighborhood on the outskirts of the provincial town. They played in dusty streets, in empty lots; all the no man’s land was theirs and they vied to see who ran faster or jumped higher or scored the most goals with the rag ball. Those kid things. Eduardito was turning eight and he already felt grown up because he was very good at games even though he was somehow a little fragile—but you will grow, his parents told him, you’ll get stronger, eat all your soup, his parents told him—and so he wanted to have his own sling, a real slingshot like the ones the kids eight or nine years old had. They helped him find the perfect forked wood and they polished it well because it was his birthday, and they even gave him the rubber band to put it together. It was a good sling in the end. Eduardito was happy and started doing target practice so tenaciously that after a month he already knocked over the cans from far away. He knew how to choose the little stones, so with only one shot it was bye-bye to the can that other kids had put over the pole. Then he summoned his courage, Eduardito, and with the oldest boys from time to time he shot at a flying bird, waiting for the day when he would get the approval of the others, those who had learned that celebration thing from watching so much soccer on TV and when one of them shut down a bird they all jumped on him to hug him and with some luck get on his back and gallop. Eduardito was smaller and thinner but they let him go with them because his aim wasn’t bad. That is why the afternoon when Eduardito shot the flying bird the celebration was enormous and they crushed him against the ground joyfully, and Eduardito couldn’t stand up again. His legs didn’t work. A total disaster. His dad had to pick him up and carry him on his shoulders and put him in bed because Eduardito’s legs were not responding, and first came Doña Eudivi the healer and then the town doctor and they didn’t find any cracked bones, but in the legs there was no movement at all.

With x-rays and everything, they couldn’t find what was wrong. The legs were not broken. It must be neurological, something in the brain, the doctor said to the father. And he told him to take him to the provincial capital to have some rare exams, tomography he wrote down, and magnetic resonance imaging, and words even more impossible.

Among the neighbors, mothers of the other children, who felt guilty, they collected some money for the trip. Thus scared to death, Eduardito was taken to the station in a horse drawn carriage, his father put him on the train, he couldn’t go with him but he consoled the mother, somebody will help you in the city, and Eduardito enjoyed the train trip, a little more than an hour long but full of things that were moving and changing, and when they got to the city a porter helped them and the mother had enough for a tip and for the taxi that took them straight to the hospital. Eduardito was dazzled by the big city and for a moment he forgot about his inert legs, until he was taken to the emergency ward in a wheelchair and deposited on a hard chair. Don’t move from here, I have to take care of the formalities, his mother admonished him, and she would have thought it a funny thing to say if the situation weren’t so serious, because don’t move from here, of course, as if the poor little guy could go anywhere with those legs that weren’t his or anyone else’s.

And Eduardito all alone in the waiting room tried to revived the memory of what he had seen from the train or his impressions of the city, in order not to think about what was in store for him, but suddenly he saw it, the window. It wasn’t a big window, but so very bright. It seemed full of light. And there a tree branch appeared with green leaves and some pink flowers, and on the branch, miraculous splendor, the most beautiful bird he had ever seen was perched on the branch, and it was like a magnet, something that attracted him inevitably. And without thinking about anything Eduardito stood up, and his legs supported him, and he could walk some ten steps to the window because he wanted to see this bird of dreams from close up, and to touch it, to caress it if possible. But only a half meter from his goal he remembered the sling that he still had in his pocket and he looked for it with his hand and right then he collapsed, his legs once more inert.

Neither the mother nor the doctors or nurses could understand how the paralytic boy had managed to reach that spot at the end of the hall, with a boarded up window, where he lay as if dead. And Eduardito, once he had come more to his senses and had all that time to reflect, could never figure out if the slingshot had saved him from death or had forced him to continue this shitty life condemned forever to paralysis. Anyway, just in case, he never wanted to hear the slingshot mentioned again.

LUISA VALENZUELA’s latest books are Entrecruzamientos Cortázar/Fuentes, Diario de máscaras and Conversación con las máscaras (microtexts, 2016).

GEOFFREY O’BRIEN has published seven collections of poetry, most recently In a Mist (Shearsman, 2015). His other books include Dream Time: Chapters from the Sixties (1988), The Phantom Empire (1993), The Browser’s Ecstasy (2000), Sonata for Jukebox (2004), and Stolen Glimpses, Captive Shadows (2013).