Issue #52

Fall 2014

Train Variations

by Agustín Cadena
(Translated by Patricia Dubrava)

I had rented a room in a house at the edge of the town. A town lost in the Carpathians, near the border between Hungary and Slovakia: the most isolated place, so I'd be able to write in peace. The family who live here—father, mother, grandmother and two adolescent daughters—is quiet: they work a lot, talk little and never listen to music. There's no television. However, they hear strange things, sometimes. At night. The three adults are already used to hearing them, and with the weariness of their long workdays, sleep soundly. But in their room whose wooden walls creak in the wind, the two girls are afraid to turn out the light. Because they hear the melancholy whistle of a train becoming more distant, but no train tracks pass through this town. There were, once, long ago.

The mother says that the train, conducted by German soldiers, is full of prisoners being deported to concentration camps. For seventy years it has run on rails of mist, with its crew of smoke. The passengers, condemned by some terrible curse to live the same history over and over again, travel packed together and full of anguish toward some place as phantasmal as they are. The father says that's not true, that the train got lost in the First World War and is full of soldiers and supplies destined for the trenches. And the grandmother has another version: the train came from Vienna at the end of the 19th century, heading for St. Petersburg. It carries an extinct aristocracy: ghosts in gorgeous costumes who raise their glasses in toasts, converse, laugh in dining cars with crystal chandeliers and heavy velvet drapes. Musicians accompany them, playing sad and beautiful waltzes.

I have always preferred to work at night, submerging myself in my stories until dawn, and here I can do it very well: the train whistle keeps me company. Although I know that there are no tracks here for any train.

Author and Translator Bios

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Agustín Cadena was born in Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo, México. He taught at UNAM; at Austin College, Texas; and currently teaches at the University of Debrecen, Hungary. Essayist, fiction writer, poet and translator, Cadena has won numerous national prizes, including those for short fiction in 2004 and 2005, and published twenty-four books, among them collections of short fiction, essays and poetry, three novels, and two young adult novels, most recently, Operación Snake, 2013. His work has been translated into English, Italian and Hungarian. Cadena blogs at

Patricia Dubrava chaired the creative writing program at Denver School of the Arts, where she also taught Spanish. She has two books of poems and one of stories translated from the Spanish. Recent translation publications include stories by Agustín Cadena in Aldus, Winter 2013, and The Cafe Irreal, August 2013. One of her translations of a Cadena story is in New Border Voices: An Anthology, 2014. Dubrava blogs at