The Sad Fate of the Graduate Rocamadour Muskaria
by Ignacio Padilla
our Most Illustriousness is a thousand times correct to say, as you have said, and your greatnesses know full well that I m'self would use my sword to put an end to anyone denying that the wafers of this hamlet are the most savory in the kingdom, given that their flour has come to us from heaven, in a manner of speaking. In fact, my lords, the benefits of our wafers are as clear as the water of the Darbás, and it is no surprise then that even Your Majesties Your Very Selves dispose yourselves from time to time to have us send to the palace three or maybe five white pounds of our precious flour, to which duty we respond with good intent and will continue doing so as long as the provision remains of that which the heavens have given us through no merit of our own.
Knowing all this, I pray that your greatnesses and the lord Reverend Alinski consider—if it be that the consideration might be raised, that one might be permitted to raise it—that there is no bread without someone to knead it nor savor without someone to appreciate it, and given that the good Silvos Trocastos already said that each people has the bread it deserves, I think in brief that these wafers are not to be esteemed as a strange devilish chance, as the slanderer would have it, but rather as a reflection of our very civilized goodnesses, or to put it better, as a divine reward to the well-earned fame which we have in all the kingdom, even among the most distant, among the naturally discreet in all these lands, and among all who come to this hamlet intending to cultivate in themselves the arts and sciences. The truth is, my lords, that praise from one's own mouth debases, but remember as an evidence of what I have already said that no more than five years ago, with the whole country in the midst of a frightening famine, we opened our assembly halls, our arms, and our walls to the unfortunate tribe of the Erilios, and that that same and frightening rabble—so lacking in beauty and grace, I know that you understand—recognized upon arrival that our famous pity is at all points an adjunct to our great civility.
But, oh! my lords, that Utopia is not of earthly seed, as it often said, and even in noble cities such as this one the demon of madness can find fresh meat. Any nation, no matter how small, retains in its annals extraordinary stories of its most vulgar denizens, and given that the insane of our hamlet, most illustrious lords, are so scarce that one has more than enough fingers to count them, not for this reason do we deny their existence, but rather we secure better fortune for them and try to alleviate their ills when it is in our power to do so. And if perhaps heaven should so dispose that at last the soul and the heart of some insane one be lost beyond anyone's ability to restore him, here in our hamlet we have to remind ourselves and tell ourselves of his misfortunes, in one case both to kill time and receive the castigation of his sufferings, in another to give pleasure and instruction to dinner guests as important as Your Most Illustriousness.
To sum up, my lords, it would please me greatly to end my time as your guest and give you an accounting, right now, while we sample the delicacies of these wafers, of a madness as novel as that of the unfortunate seneschal who, as the lord master Leanar Corracos has told us, lost all judgment and believed the end of the world had arrived. But then, thanks be given, our mistresses say that the madness in this hamlet, when the famine finished, where today it seems easier to find a demon than someone seriously insane at our hearths, let your lordships be agreeable in hearing from me a story which we here find admirable, seeing that it is already somewhat well-known in the palace, as I understand, and so much that if your greatnesses already have some hint of it, I pray that you not despair upon hearing another telling of it, since friar Uricles Particuela, never as praised as he ought to be, wisely wrote: Narratio Pura, Fabula In Perpetuam.
To save yourselves from this fate, my lords and lords of my spirit, and without other warning than the aforesaid, give your attention to the singular events surrounding Rocamadour Muskaria, freshly graduated from the university of this hamlet and very much crazy who—as many residents, worthy of belief, of Paliços Street, have told and still tell—secreted and cared for, under his bed, for a period of two months, an enormous orulon egg. One can easily see from the faces of your greatnesses how well you know this story, and even that you disapprove somewhat of it, as you very well may do, being who you are. Without a doubt, the behavior of the poor graduate I mention was bizarre and savage, and so it is with everything, and because the good judgment in which we so glory in this hamlet ought to be added to compassion, I pray once again to your greatnesses that at least for a moment you consider the madness of this graduate not yet as a sin, which it might be, or a flaccidity of character, of which it might also partake, but as a terribly sad illness due to his youth, as with so many other disagreeable circumstances.
May you consider, lords, that if we fairly put the cards on the table, this new graduate, with his enormous orulon egg and all, would have good reason to lose his senses in the way in which he lost them, even more if we recall that this misadventure of his took place during the worst days of the hunger and the drought, when the whole hamlet was walking, let's say it so, with their brains a little twisted around backwards. Haven't they told your greatnesses that the great hunger of those times had us all a little melancholickish and confused? And isn't it certain, lord master Corracos, that even the most notable magistrates of this hamlet were cursing their fate as the fear was growing that the winter would arrive without the least alleviation of our extraordinary pains? Isn't it true, to sum up, that we all lost our tranquility and fellow-feeling exactly when we needed for professors, students and even mendicants to line up, with no distinction, in front of the Market d'Alluminati to receive from the peace officers a barrel of foul water, a tin of preserves and a loaf of bread as hard as Ferran's bald head?
Verily, verily, it seems to me, lords, that all this would have been reason enough to cause riots in a hamlet less civil and studious than ours. Without doubt the patience with which we overcame that terrible test of Fortune was great. But not all are so strong; Nature is prodigal with some and niggardly with others, and so it was that she did not give the same patience and understanding to our poor young graduate. Once again then I ask your greatnesses to pardon him for a moment and take into account as well that Rocamadour Muskaria was performing as a scribe at the walls of our hamlet when the aforementioned Erilios were allowed to come in their thousands, when the hunger was pressing so. Imagine then, my lords, a common man, with only a few years to him and very greatly hungry as the wind passing in front of him, over the course of several days, so many and such monstrous beings as were the Erilios dragging themselves slowly in the disgrace of our beloved hamlet and entering into it by the Gate of the Scholars with no one able to hinder them. Do you see him filling up, with the little typewriter he used, hundreds or millions of letters, passports, safe-conducts and many other papers, now dealing with health, now with taxes, now with whatever pleases or is required by your greatnesses, and he, the poor graduate, never finding anyone to help him understand in the common tongue who they were, what they were saying and what these least agreeable of visitors were named. I happen to know, my lords, only half a day of working at such a frightening labor would suffice to dry up the brains of the most sensible doctor.
And if what I say seems an inadequate excuse, may your greatnesses keep in mind as well that, when he finished his odious shifts there at the walls, our graduate got onto his old bicycle and listlessly, tiredly returned to the tiny room they say he had in a house on the Plaza of San Wolfgamio. There perhaps he would let himself all to the floor, because there is no doubt he had no bed. There he would eat at a gulp several days' rations, there he would deliver himself to frightening dreams where the causes never squared with the effects, dreaming that the Erilios—yes, so torpid, so peaceful, if deformed and disagreeable to the look of human eyes—were coming to rob him of his food, of his knowledge, of his home, even of the grave, given that all of us know that those poor creatures, by some caprice of nature, which has all power, can feed themselves only with our feces, and that they were hardly becoming more numerous, and that they had agreed with the mayor to live only on the riverbank of the Darbás, there in the shooting ranges, where they wouldn't hurt anyone, and before you knew it they would have the city as clean as Traquía's mirror. In short, my lords, that there was no reason to fear them. But, oh! that we should never know the darkling designs that might come to birth in the infirm mind of a man like our Rocamadour Muskaria. And if your greatnesses find it inconvenient to believe, as I believe, that the Erilios caused his madness, attend to what I now wish to tell you, or—if it pleases you all—choose whatever explanation makes sense to you, because madness can have many roots: be it a less than sinless youth, a love gone badly, a remnant of childhood, a terrible vision like those that come in the Cave of Faust, or—finally—whatever pleases your greatnesses, because without any doubt we all have our vices, our sorrows, our haunted dreams that in a not unexpected moment can grow like a tare in the wheat and wither up our good sense.
But let us return to our graduate or, to put it more exactly, to what my mother—who is in paradise—said about him. She, my lord, also lived on Anathema Street and told me this story because she was always coming and going in the neighborhood and had many friendships among the ladies of San Wolfgamio and always knew everything that was happening there. My mother, I say, told me that a certain friend of hers saw young Muskaria walking one day along Cortasuerte Street, not far from the shooting range, hugging an old taffeta and leather valise as if it were the son of his loins who he feared would be taken from him by some bandit. Our graduate had his eyes down, five days' growth of beard, a tattered hood, and was looking back and forth suspiciously, now confused, now afraid, as if he needed the air that the peaceful Erilios, in breathing, were depriving him of. Perhaps, my mother would say, it was that afternoon and no other when he found the gigantic orulon egg, because the unfortunate soul had hardly seen that a crowd of tranquil Erilios were coming, off to the right, when—I tell you—the crazy man embraced that valise even more tightly and began to run through the streets as if he were the ensign of Koka himself chasing his lost shadow.
If memory does not deceive me, summer had already come that year, and in such a fashion that the hunger grew along with it, so that not only our graduate, but many others as well, as Mr. Corracos can verify, had fallen into the errant idea that the pitiful Erilios were the blame for our failings. And there were already murmurs of frightening stories about them and infamous crimes, and the mayor had to make it clear to us that those beings, monstruous as they were, were hurting no one; instead they deserved our compassion and gratitude for helping us keep the city clean by eating our garbage without the imposition of any tax for it, besides winning us the reputation throughout the kingdom for being generous with the neediest of all. But let me return to the unbelievable story of our graduate because it will already seem to your greatnesses, and not incorrectly, that I have gotten off the point:
I tell you, finally, that our graduate ran that afternoon like someone possessed, hugging his valise; he went up Anathema to the Great Plaza and at last arrived at his room in San Wolfgamio. He shut himself up and didn't come out of there for a long time. Seeing this, his neighbors, who were poorer than poverty itself, humanely began to worry about the unusual retreat of the graduate, and thus put their ears to the walls. And so it was that they heard the loving speeches which the poor man directed to that orulon egg, speeches in which he said to the egg not to be afraid, my child, I will make sure that no one hurts you, and I will keep you hidden until you are born, and I will cuddle you like a father, and I will fly with you over the towers of the temple, and together we will watch the sun set over Camöns' Rock, and we will fish in the Darbás until we have had our fill. . ." And there are even those, my lords, who say they heard him crying. Even so, given that for the first weeks the neighbors acted discreetly and tried to ignore the crazy man's words, at last the sun and the hunger cultivated their suspicion and their misgivings.
By then the Erilios were already established in the shooting ranges on the Darbás and, truth be told, they were fulfilling their commitment to keep us clean and, doing so, were winning for themselves a good report in the eyes of everyone for being friendly, honest and fortunate for living from our feces, may your greatnesses pardon me. Some had even taken to visiting the lecture halls of the University and gave clear signs of having understood everything, which was not in keeping with their ugliness. They showed themselves always at the ready, and having learned so quickly to speak our language, they were distilling our souls so tightly with those of your greatnesses that their happiness and their many graciousnesses came to seem offences to us, and more than once we abhorred each and every one of them as they greeted us and we waited to receive our rations of water and food at the gates of the market. Till at last, at last, your greatnesses already know from the report of Mr. Corracos how unreasonably offended we were by their monstruous smiles and their wisdom, and how we sought to blame them for our hunger, whose true source we have never been able to ascertain. I say all this, lords, so that you understand that the young graduate's neighbors, seeing like anyone that there were no faults or guilts in the Erilios, distrusted even more the crazy man of San Wolfgamio, as they began to call him, and so they ended up rushing to the authorities demanding that they arrest him, contending that the unhappy boy Rocamadour Muskaria was disturbing the peace and scaring the children by shouting to the four winds that they—the others—would take the city by force and eat everyone, and then they would go on to Camöns, Pasaxauxa, and even to Palacio. The neighbors of San Wolfgamio were so distraught before the authorities, they had gone so far beyond reason, and added so much to the insanity of the graduate, that the judges finally found it necessary to send two officers of the court to the young Muskario, ordering him to control himself under the threat of being taken against his will, once and for all, to the Castle of the Moon.
But Heaven, which puts its designs into effect in an unexpected manner, wanted it otherwise, and so it was that the officers had barely left city hall when they received the news that an enraged mob of citizens had gotten into it, without good reason and with great cruelty, with a family of Erilios who had the misfortune of passing that morning by the market. Their dying cries, reported people worthy of much consideration, were terrible. But worse still were those that a new multitude of frightened Erilios—seeing their colleagues done to death so unexpectedly—rushed by the thousands to the Great Plaza to demand justice from the mayor. No one, my lords, but no one will ever know if what was said is true—that the Erilios were armed—but I do not believe it. But it is true that these, as the most powerful Baron Lazrós Van Köberitz says, are not the times to ask questions: order is order, and we have to preserve it to the great glory of the kingdom. And if the mayor and his aides decided that the soldiers had to kill the mob of rebellious Erilios, well, the Erilios were not after all people like us, they weren't human, and it couldn't even be said that there was blood spilled in their deaths, because your greatnesses already know that the monstruous Erilios, seeing that they were not people, did not even bleed, but before they died they changed themselves into white dust.
Confound it—forgiving my outburst—that so many tiny details have not allowed me to finish the story of graduate Rocamadour Muskaria, and I see that I am boring your greatnesses with my useless digressions about the Erilios, which are well-known and, as it were, a thing of the past. Let me tell you, then—and with this I will bring it to a close—that the two aforementioned officers of the court arrived at last at the Plaza of San Wolfgamio and there learned, lord justices, that the graduate had become possessed at the revolt of the Erilios and, thus terrified, had climbed to the bell tower of the temple carrying that enormous orulon egg.
Hearing this, the officers went to the temple, climbed the bell tower, and when they tried to take the valise from him, the graduate screamed in a horrifying way and threw himself into space. The officers, as they were good men who liked to fulfill their duties, left the wounded man in the care of the friars of Godric, but in such a bad state that the unhappy man died very soon, crying out for his orulon egg and indeed convinced that the Erilios, poor things, finally dead, had taken the city. In short, my lords, that the graduate Rocamadour Muskaria—who might be with bad luck our very neighbor—died in the darkness and like a fool among the wise, just on the eve of that beautiful morning in which we learned that the cure for all our troubles had always been right before our eyes in the form of this white and agreeable flour, so welcome to the palate if properly cooked, which the Erilios left in place of blood when they died, like a gift of the gods to a people wandering in the desert of knowledge.
Already your greatnesses are sampling the blessings that destiny held for us. These divine wafers most certainly would have returned the graduate Rocamadour Muskaria to good sense if he had waited only a bit. But I have already told your greatnesses that nature is not prodigal with everyone and does not give patience and reason to all. To be sure, my lords, I do not know if you know the most extraordinary detail of the story, which is that when the aforementioned orulon egg broke in the fall, an egg truly as large as a watermelon, it revealed the contents of its interior at last—nothing but a putrid yolk which would have hardly filled the smallest thimble of the queen's least handmaiden.
(translated by Cooper Renner)
Ignacio Padilla was born in Mexico City and is the author of several award-winning novels and short story collections. Shadow Without a Name (2002) was the first of his novels to be translated into English, and Antipodes (2004: both published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux) the first of his short story collections.
Cooper Renner's translation of three works by Mario Bellatin will appear in May from Ravenna Press. "Chinese Checkers: Three Fictions" contains the novellas "Chinese Checkers" and "Hero Dogs" as well as the new story "My Skin Luminous."
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story copyright by author 2006 all rights reserved