The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 

Issue Seventeen

Selections from The Coconut Ape by TomᚠPřidal
The First Day of School by Steven Schutzman
The Fever by Gleyvis Coro
Reflecting Dreams by Peter Roberts
A Meal by Anca Szilagyi
Minor Renovations by Sean Adams
The Clafouti Syndrome by Adam Benforado
The Train by Alta Ifland
Viewing by David Zerby


irreal (re)views


The Fever
by Gleyvis Coro

To Jose, from utopia

His grandfather had taught him the art of divination with an egg. He would hold it in front of a light until its shell appeared to be an opaque cloud. Gualdo would have doubts about the procedure during the whole rest of his life; he only ever managed to temporarily blind himself by staring at the light.

Doña Nena would always protect him from the sunshine because he had green eyes, and the tropical sun understood nothing about light colors. Nevertheless, Don Ramón, in his obsession, would drag his grandson outside; those who raise chickens know that the stars govern the laying of eggs.

They had made their fortune with chickens. They lived in the land of the malanga, and no one around bothered with birds. They waited for dusk in the backyard because it was a good idea to rest at that time like people of leisure. They would read magazines from the city and think about things that were halfway possible.

It was a magazine that changed Gualdo's destiny, after reading in it, in vivid colors, that: "IN THE GRAN CHACO, IN THE NORTH OF ARGENTINA, GABRIELA THE FORTUNETELLER TALKS WITH CHE GUEVARA FROM THE GREAT BEYOND."

Since old Ramón hated Santeria, he faulted it for leaving the continent a legacy of misfortune. Gualdo didn't care. He explained himself in a letter and came down from the hills without saying goodbye.

On the coast he managed to book passage on a boat which he paid for partially with some money and the rest with his labor. Later, a rather short man offered to accompany him as far as Jamaica, because it was on his way, and because that trip by sea was a terrifying one to make alone.

As soon as he arrived on the island, Gualdo came down with scalp ringworm and had to shave his head. Charlie, the peasant, took him in out of pity. He gave him iodine baths, so that his family wouldn't become infected, and took care of him until his hair grew back.

Later, he continued his voyage. He was set upon by bad weather as he reached the 15th parallel, and it brought him to Colombia, where he found night at the very center of the capital. He was arrested for not having papers and was deported because some party animals from Belo Horizonte, who were in jail with him, included him in their group. To tell the truth, jail was the best place for him, but "bars are bars" as his mother used to say.

Providence took him to Porto Alegre, and with the money that he earned by hauling a truckload of cattle, he was eventually able to rent a basement apartment from a prostitute. When he first arrived in town, no one would dare give him lodging. He had a strange appearance and a nauseatingly rancid air about him. He was advised to try his luck with Gunivere. She took him in, either because she was short of cruzeiros or because her reputation was beyond repair.

He needed papers in order to assure his passage to Argentina without having to run the risk of being arrested again as an undocumented worker. That is why he became a fisherman; in order to become a Brazilian citizen.

As long as he worked at dawn, there were no problems. He had his afternoons free, and he never spoke with his landlady. However, as he gained the confidence of people on the dock, his lot improved, and he was able to get the morning shift.

It was then that he began to have doubts about Gunivere. Every night, he would hear different voices above his head. The voices belonged to men who stayed very late, yelled, ran, and didn't let him sleep. It was only when he shared his troubles with his workmate that he realized what the woman did for a living.

He promised to help her put her sinful ways behind her, purely out of good will. Gunivere was dumbfounded. She had fled Colombia and it was said that she had connections to the Medellín Cartel. To be honest, that's what they say about all Colombians that live in other countries. The truth is that she arrived in Porto Alegre on a Monday and by Tuesday she was already walking the streets. Given her experience, she didn't know what to make of the man that stood before her. She asked herself, with the innocence of a schoolgirl, whether this man was a gigolo or a simpleton. She was inclined to believe the latter, and so the following night, maybe out of respect, didn't receive any callers.

He would look at a map of Latin America, whose shape reminded him of the malangas from his native land, and of Doña Nena's legs, since the little blue rivers looked like varicose veins. He thought about Gunivere, went upstairs, and knocked on her door. She answered the door in a nightdress. She had bags under her eyes. Gualdo was frightened because he had never seen her look so ugly.

"Is this your first time?"

"There was another girl, Dalia, back in my hometown."

Gunivere laughed and gave him a kiss.

"Silly, you didn't have to say anything."

When they talked about their lives she couldn't bring herself to understand his obsession with a guerrilla who he had never even met.

"Are you a communist?"


"Why do you feel so connected to Che?"

"It's the South. We men of the South are alike."

Although she tried, Gunivere wasn't able to give up her life of ill repute. The money was good and, besides, it was the only way that they could keep alive their hopes of traveling.

Gualdo returned to working at dawn in order to avoid the indecent disturbances caused by his woman with their neighbors. He would return home and they would lay side by side as if nothing had happened.

They stayed in Brazil for two years and then headed north, but leaving the country was not easy. There were rumors of a guerilla attack and the authorities were frantic. To make matters worse, they got lost and went round in circles before finding their way to the Bermejo river.

The Gran Chaco turned out to be arid, with an impossibly dense brush. A hunger as dark as night awaited them.

The fortuneteller had settled near the border with Paraguay. They went to her more dead than alive.

Gunivere began to suffer from certain visual disturbances that she attributed to a lack of food. When she felt as if the roof of her mouth were coming loose, she called Gualdo and showed it to him.

"We have to go back," he said, terrified.

"Take me to your guerrilla," she asked. "Maybe he can save us."

He improvised a litter and dragged the body of the sick woman, but when they arrived, there was no one there. They found a one room wooden house. The walls were covered with paintings. On a small table lay Korda's most famous photo, illuminated by scattered embers of charcoal.

Gualdo prayed before the image while he had the strength. He asked for nothing more than for Gunivere's life to be spared. On the second night, he died of exhaustion. She remained laid out on the stretcher another three days. She had a crazed look on her face that frightened the Yankee tourists that came, drawn by the fetid smell of the corpses.

They were buried together to the cadence of a foreign language and under an indifferent soil that betrayed no sign that it embraced two souls.

"Latins," said one of the gringos as he shook the dust from his pants, "passion kills them."

(translated by Manuel Martinez)

Gleyvis Coro is a medical doctor and prize-winning poet. She lives and works in Cuba.

Manuel Martinez is a professor of Spanish at Ohio Dominican University.

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