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Three Short Shorts by Rafael Perez Estrada



The Labyrinth

Despite its appearance it wasn't a boarding house. The man sat tranquilly as he filled out the guest book. A receptionist kept saying how inconvenient it was to have to look at that bird constantly flying about. "It's not the bird," she clarified, "just the reflection of its flight, the trace of a tenacious bird, an illusion created by a winged fugitive."

Later, he stood alone before an endless hallway. Rooms stretched before him on either side. He become confused and asked for help. It was then he met the Philosophical Child, a taciturn yet intuitive boy who went along showing him the rooms one by one. The Child was conscious of the perplexity this provoked in the visitor, as the rooms were all full. In this fashion the man was able to see the woman living in a bathtub, a creature granted a permanent dream of the sea. He also saw Penelope abandoned, a consequence of faithlessness, the story's other possibility. He saw a serene Minotaur, who was the offspring not of a bull, but a gentle ox.

"He's a melancholy creature of myth," said the Child, "and a herbivore. Easily frightened. He refuses blood. He snubs whatever victims he's offered."

Only partly joking, he gave the visitor a shove toward the false Minotaur, which hopped away, frightened.

Halfway down the passage, the new guest was shocked to see a group of naked people pressed up against an emergency exit.

"The last survivors of the Anabasis," explained the little guide, "they're extras from a literature trying to repeat itself."

And when everything seemed to be making more sense, the corridor turned into a river. Nevertheless, at the end was a door eclipsed beneath the weight or fragility of the number One.

"Don't go in," warned the man's frightened companion, who until now had been so sure of himself. "Don't go in. Just run away with me."

But the new arrival, who was willing to try anything (even if the results were bitter), gave the door a quiet knock and waited.

"Maybe," he said, "at the end I'll find myself before the source of all mirrors, the delirium of things that are real."



The Assassin

The assassin seemed very charming, though his hands were stained with blood and he did nothing to hide the traces of his foul crimes. He was making a clear effort to be charming:

"You remind me," he said, "of a loved one." And he said it as if it were a revelation. Afterwards he kept silent. That's how it was until twilight came. I must confess his presence didn't intimidate me. Moreover, I was pleased by his deference and good manners.

"It's not easy," I thought, "to find an assassin so well-versed in the use of fish knives" (fond as I was of translating reality into similes and metaphors, I had instinctively closed my eyes to the flesh on the knives and all it meant). As night fell and the electric lights were turned on, the look on his face suggested he was undergoing some arduous trial. With a certain tenderness he suggested, "Perhaps you'd like to play with these." And he pointed to the tools of his trade, like a child showing off the roundness of his marbles to other children.

Perhaps because I was very lonely at the time, or perhaps because his gracefulness began to win me over, I acted interested. I knew with a premonition that I would soon become his accomplice.

On few occasions have I felt hate as strong as on that day toward the officer who came to interrupt a visit he decided had gone on too long. I knew that I would return, that I was obligated to learn all the lessons which that extraordinary being was willing to bestow upon me. I was determined to be, as I indeed became, a good student.



Simians in Dissent

According to Cecil Manning, Paradise Lost can be found in the anguished imagination of a group of Amazonian apes. They weep day and night at the disgrace of someday becoming--in the relentless decline of species--human. The clumsy and malicious signs they exchange while quarrelling appear to allude to the human condition. Many of these simians refuse to reproduce. They languish in an apathetic succession of daybreaks and nightfalls to which they are indifferent. Meanwhile, others carefully observe their offspring, putting to death those that show the first sign of intelligence.


(translated by Steven J. Stewart)


Before his death in 2000, Rafael Pérez Estrada was one of the leading figures of avant-garde poetry and narrative in Spain. A several-time finalist for Spain's Premio Nacional de Literatura, Pérez Estrada's work has been compared to that of Federico García Lorca and Rafael Alberti. His poetry and fiction have been translated into at least five languages.

Steven J. Stewart's translations of Pérez Estrada's work are forthcoming in various North American journals including Hanging Loose, Blue Unicorn, and International Poetry Review. His own writing has most recently been published in Apalachee Review, Quarter After Eight, and Cross Connect. He is also the fiction editor of The Southeast Review.


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story copyright by author 2002 all rights reserved
translation copyright by translator 2002 all rights reserved