Hernan Rodriguez Matte - Translations

A couple of stories by a Chilean writer that I translated as part of learning Spanish many (14, as I update this) years ago. I'm not a great writer, so don't blame Hernan if anything sounds odd....

Hot Water / Aguas Calientes

From `Cuentos con Walkman', editors Alberto Fuguet and Sergio Gomez; published by Planeta, Chile. Translated by Andrew Cooke, August 1994.

My older brother had got his girlfriend pregnant and had decided to go live with her. Nicols and I checked out his room to see if he had left anything we could use, but the only thing we found was a cardboard box (like they use for cereals) that said something in English. On the lid were some coloured seahorses riding bicycles and throwing themselves down slides. I asked Nicols what they were and he told me they were Sea Monkeys. I asked him what Sea Monkeys were and he told me they were powdered fish that grew with water.

- What would my brother want powdered fish for? - I asked Nicols.

- I don't know. Maybe he liked animals, but preferred to have them like this, powdered.

I stood looking at the box; you could see the seahorses skateboarding in a submarine city full of Sea Monkeys and I thought that all this was inside the box. Technology was capable of creating life from dust. But really it wasn't that spectacular because I too could create life from dust [untranslatable joke from an expression for having sex].

We locked ourselves in the bathroom and poured some powder into the bath. It was red and green and became brown when it mixed with the water.

- Now we have to wait 21 days - said Nicols.

- Twenty-one days for what?

- The Sea Monkeys need twenty-one days to reproduce.

- And why so much time?

- I don't know, that's what the instructions say. Also the water has to be kept at 18 degrees in the day and 24 degrees at night.

I couldn't stand the idea of waiting 21 days to see how Sea Monkeys were born when, according to Nicols, they were only tadpoles, so we decided to make `Sea Monkeys a la Chilena'.

We mixed the rest of the Sea Monkey powder with two litres of red wine, a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, some antidepressants and sleeping pills, some cough syrup, a box of vitamin C, and some toothpaste of my father's called Prolong.

We were stirring it when, in a moment, two little monsters, each about 20cm long, appeared before us. We couldn't believe what had happened. One was green and the other red and they looked at us with their big eyes and pointed ears, like those of Mr. Spock. Nicols moved a finger towards the red Sea Monkey which it began to suckle as if it was a teat. I couldn't hold my laughter and he pulled back the finger.

- It's incredible. It has tiny teeth. Nibbling.

The creatures looked at us with their wide open eyes and moved their tails as if they were saying `Thank-you, mummy and daddy, for giving us life'.

I felt like the hero in the film Gremlims 3 or ET or My Friend Mac, but nothing was comparable to these Sea Monkeys. The green one appeared to be the male Sea Monkey, and the red the female. The male was looking at the female and leaning his head to one side and the female was closing her eyes and moving her tail from side to side. Nicols told me that he would like the male, but before we could do anything the Sea Monkeys began tokiss each, making strange noises. It was an incredible sight. The most noisy, slippery and colourful sight I have ever seen.

As we were looking at our creatures, Nicols asked me if I knew the story about the girl who got pregnant in the bath. I told him that I didn't know it and he explained to me that if a girl uses the same water that a man has bathed in there is a good chance that she will become pregnant. I told him not to be an imbecile, that it was impossible, but he assured me that it was true. But while we were talking I saw that in the water things were getting heavy. Our Sea Monkeys were already no longer kissing like new friends, now they were grabbing each other as if the world was ending. The Sea-Monkey woman wailed as if he was pinching her nipples and we didn't know how to silence her without interrupting them. I brought the radio from my room and put on a tape of Metallica to drown out the screaming that was coming from these monsters, but it was worse because the Sea Monkey male began to follow the song and was trying to sing the lyrics while he banged away at his colleague. The female Sea Monkey didn't stop screaming and I knew that in a moment or two my father would hear us. I turned off the music and tried to cover them with my t-shirt, but Nicols wouldn't let me because he wanted to see how they reproduced. He told me that sex between animals was a beautiful thing, that he had no problems with it. I told him not to be an imbecile, that my father could come at any moment and if he saw this he would be furious, because my father hated sex.

I sank the monkeys under the water so that you couldn't hear the screams, but they were disgustingly slippery. With horror I heard that my little sister was knocking on the toilet door, saying that she wanted to come in. I turned on the shower and told her that she couldn't now because I was having a bath. The Sea Monkeys began to yell because the water was very cold, so I turned it warmer.

- What's happening to you? - my sister asked.

- Nothing, what happened was that i was squeezing a zit and it hurt me a lot.

I made signs to Nicols to submerge the monkeys, but he told me that they filled him with loathing.

- Daddy told me to ask you why Nicols is with you in the bathroom.

- Tell him that he's squeezing the zits on my back because I can't reach them.

- Are you sure that nothing's happening?

- Yes, I'm fine, thank-you.

We were trying to submerge the monsters but it was impossible. A moment later my sister returned.

- Hey, daddy says that you must come out of the bathroom immediately because he wants a talk with you.

I looked desperately at Nicols. I had no idea what to do. I told him that I was going to go out, that I would speak with my father and explain to him that everything was an accident that could happen to anyone who gave birth to Sea Monkeys.

As I went down the stairs I saw that my father was coming up, furious. He asked me what we were doing, me and Nicols, locked in the bathroom. I told him nothing, that we were doing nothing, but he walked straight towards the bathroom while I was begging him not to enter. But it was no use. He opened the door and there was Nicols, standing next to the toilet with his sleeves rolled up and hands wet.

- What were you doing in the toilet? - asked my father.

- Nothing, I am just washing my hands - said Nicols, smiling while he splashed with his fingers in the water.

My father stood us in his study and began to talk to us about the young people of today and how they must behave. He told us that he didn't want us locked in the bathroom again because it could lead to confusions.

- And what's more, these things aren't suitable for boys of your age. You are already old enough to know that. - He winked at us as if we understood what he was saying and we were able to leave.

As we went back up the stairs Nicols put an arm round my shoulder and told me that everything must come to an end. `The moment of pleasure is short but memorable', he told me. We climbed on, a little sad, and before entering my room I told him that I was going to go to the bathroom to look for my t-shirt. When I tried to open the door I heard the voice of my little sister who said:

- Now you can't come in because I am having a bath.

Life According to Benito / La Vida Segun Benito

From `Zona De Contacto', a supplement to El Mercurio, 23 September 1994; published by El Mercurio, SAP, Chile. Translated by Andrew Cooke, September 1994.

Everyone thinks spring is something sweet. People fall in love, hold each others hands, and go for happy walks in Providencia.

One of the most important things for me, ever since I was a child, has been to be the same as everyone else. So I called Daisy, to ask her to come for a walk in Providencia. Her mother answered and told me that Daisy couldn't come to the phone because she was working. I explained that we were on holiday, but she didn't believe me.

Anyway, I never liked walking in Providencia with Daisy. Everyone's eyes follow her down the street.

I called Pera, who was in Santiago, and he said that he couldn't meet me because he had to go play football, but, if I wanted, I could go and play too. `I can't do any sport', I told him, `I've got asthma'. `You've got asthma?'. `Yes, it's something that comes on now and then'. `OK', he said, `if you get better, call me'.

Pera thinks that because he plays football he's healthy. They're all the same. Each weekend they injure themselves and after half an hour of football say how they've got rid of `toxins'. The only place you can get rid of toxins is in the toilet. What's more, the worst toxins are in the heart and mind. Nobody can play half an hour of football and tell me that they are cleansed of all their sins.

The only thing left was to call Sable. The problem with Sable is that he doesn't have any problems. He's always able to go out, is never doing anything. His state of vegetation is chronic. So I wanted to do a good deed: it was better not to call him. I went to walk alone in Providencia.

It's spring, the women are out like daisies, everyone is happy: the ideal climate for trying on my new Aerosmith T-shirt.

I walked four blocks one way, three blocks back, and in a matter of seconds was at a table, chatting with a girl. She was called Michelle, was studying theatre at an academy whose name I can't remember, and worked as an extra in a tv series. She was very cute, with perfect teeth and clear eyes. She looked good.

She asked me why I was called Benito and I explained.

- Benito comes from the latin Benirius, which means kindness. My father was called Augusto Carmelo Roth and in his family there's nobody called Benito. In my mother's family there's an aunt called Belinda - that's the closest you get to Benito.

She laughed at the bit about my aunt called Belinda. It's a technique that never fails. I continued:

When I asked my dad why he had called me Benito, he told me that was the name of a friend in his office who won the pools one day and went to live in Miami.

That was why he called me Benito, but if it was because to have me was like winning the pools, or because they wanted me to go live in Miami, I never really understood.

Definitely, Michelle was very amused with me.

Suddenly she put her glass down on the table and stared at my T-shirt.

- `Hey', I said to her, `why don't we finish the drinks and go back to my place?'. `I don't know if I can' she replied. `Don't worry. I'll call you some time and we can meet up. How's that sound?'. `I don't know', she said. `What's bothering you? I'm not ugly, you're friendly, it's spring, everyone loves each other... Do you understand me?'. `Yes, I understand you, but I don't think you understand me'. `What's up? Do you have a disease?'. `No'. `Then?'. `The trouble is, I'm married'. `Married?'. `Married'. `Why are you married?'. `What's wrong with it?'. `Nothing's wrong with it, but it's strange'. `What's strange about it?'. `I don't know. It's strange to get married so young'. `I'm 28. And you?'. `Me too'. `You're 28?'. `No, I'm 19, but I think like I'm 28'.

-`Fine, if you want, you can see me on television. I'm the maid in the Vicencio family'.