83 Novels

By Alberto Chimal

(translated from the Spanish original)

© Mauricio Alberto Martínez Chimal, Mexico, 2011

PROLOGUE
The title does not lie: the following are 83 novels. Do not let yourself be deceived by commonplace notions. Instead, consider this:

  1. The narrated worlds are tiny on the page but they amplify themselves in the reader’s imagination.
  2. In the same way, characters have all of their lives around (above, below) what’s being said about them.
  3. Don’t let yourself be deceived by the way some beginnings and endings are alike, as you will see plainly when you read the series titled “Books” and “Adventures”. These extremely small novels tend to let themselves be written in sequences of versions and variations, and to be refined after the fact not by addition nor suppression, but by throwing the entire story away and starting over from scratch.
    • This is the reason why many of the novels contained in the three series titled “Crowd” have apparently random numbers in their titles: they are actually a selection of series in progress.
    • All series in progress attempt to create different versions of a world , or many slightly different worlds: what counts is the mutation.
    • More than three conventional writers would benefit from tossing at least nine of their eleven 748-page novels; they just don’t dare to.
  4. Don’t you often say that novels reveal the character of those who write them? That they are a product of their time? That you can read them easily?
  5. There are uglier, more unwieldy things out there, things with less heart and a lesser wit, that are sold as novels, and you go and buy them.
  6. Worst case scenario, you can always add water and shake violently until the cork pops and the other worlds rain on this one, turned into foam and smell of letters and visible sounds.

 

Alberto Chimal

Los Angeles, November 2010

 

***

Post Scriptum

When I began translating these stories, I decided I would take only one liberty: some of them were written originally in such a way that you couldn’t tell their characters’ genders, but that’s a trick you cannot do so easily in English. Therefore, I made some characters explicitly female and others explicitly male. The choices were random; you can always imagine the “other sex” version of those novels.

AC

Mexico City, December 2011

 


CROWD (1)

Crawl
The swimmer got rapidly to the far edge of the pool. He didn’t stop and kept stroking through the concrete. Now he goes on in your head.

Legend
They were tortured with knives and hot irons to make them reveal the secret of the world. One of them yielded: he slowly began to tell the story that contained them all.

Oracular 4
You will find the answer you seek by adding the sum of this note’s letters and this day’s Red Number. You will also find this prophecy: now that you read this it is already too late.

What For 8
A second ago these words didn’t exist. Now, pay attention: they will cease to exist again in 3, 2, 1,

Children’s Story
I’m not afraid at night: I close my eyes and my friends are already in here. They dance and sing and bring food and keep everyone else out.

Anthropology 1
The members of that meta-cult joined all other faiths and every week they met to compare notes, rites, and gods.

Anthropology 2
Another cult taught that only those who could perceive Fergueday — the holy, tenuous day between Monday and Tuesday — could hope to be saved.

Geography
We are patient: as we lay we saw them slowly build the railroad, the highway, and the cities on the bed’s sheets.

Anthropology 3
Still another cult taught that Brad Pitt was god without knowing it, and the Universe existed solely to make that fame and those boring afternoons possible.

Suicide
Since the Universe repeats itself, he only had to wait all time minus a few years to prevent his parents from having sex.

Contiguous Seats
They were so lost in thought (“Where, where will the love of my life be?”) that they didn’t notice at all that they were conjoined at the hip.

Pathology 2
The cannibal left only his victims’ mouths, so he could hear their complaints. He never heard any. He lived happily.

One
“Good evening,” the one I was twenty years ago (you could hear the forgotten songs) said just now.

The Storyteller
Images, not words, came out of his mouth: tiny figures that made war, kissed, spoke with strength and grace.
“Too visual,” a critic complained.

Test
She waited one second with her eyes closed, and then she opened them: as always, the world instantly existed again.

Fracture
“Good evening,” says the space between the bookshelf and the wall. It’s weird: the hole behind the bathroom door is usually the one to do the talking.

Biology 10
Those diaphanous creatures prefer sick persons who get better because they party in their rooms when they’ve been emptied and are still full of hope residues.

Biology 3
Storms are the noisy, thundering parties of angels, who own the world (we all are like the 99%, who look on and feel envy).

Cosmology 8
In one of the possible worlds language was never invented. Maybe its inhabitants are happy, but they really couldn’t tell.

One 2
The ghosts go to and fro in the house, use the fridge and the shower, keep saying I’m merely the youngest of them.

Neurosis
His skeleton fondles her soul. Suddenly it stops.
“My shrink,” it says, “thinks we’re not compatible.”

Imperfections*
Lisa is harsh, Alma thinks only about her body, nothing can turn Luz on, and Mía is not.

* “Lisa” means “smooth” in Spanish, “Alma” means “soul,” “Luz” means “light” and “Mía” means “mine.” This was one of those unsolvable problems you often hear about.  (Author’s note.)

Real Life
The bad stories leave the office, go to eat, return. They take consolation from the idea that one god is to blame for them all.

In actual fact**
The apple of Adam’s eye was the one that Eve ate.

** Another unsolvable problem. This text substitutes for a completely untranslatable one. (Author’s note.)

Soccer 2
When the first match is about to begin, 22 ants will play a “parallel” one on the same field. Their sacrifice, they’ve announced, is intended to raise awareness.

All Will Be Well
The doctor held the scalpel with one hand, the forceps with another and the anesthesia mask with the third one.


BOOKS

The books of earth soil the palms; they are sometimes fertile, black-full of ideas, and sometimes barren treatises.

The books of water are diverse in their forms, and inconstant, and sometimes turbid. The coldest ones are heavy and can hurt, while the most passionate ascend.

The books of fire look like the others; they don’t reveal their nature; those who discover it burn from the inside or, if they’re lucky, light up.

The books of air are like this one.


CROWD (2)

Ad
FOR SALE — Universes, used, with or without inhabitants.

Soccer 1
The ants have yet to figure out how to head the ball. And, actually, how to move it at all.

Spiritual 7
Reborn in death, humans are given a new destiny: either their worst enemy’s life, or that of their mawkish auntie.

Spiritual 2
Jesus spent the three days of His deaths asleep in Hell. And the devils, unable to continue their noisy parties, complained, but always in whispers, the cowards.

Ada 3
In the mirror, behind a veil of fog, one of the many I never was looks at me.

Is she happy for not being me? Or is she like me?

Spiritual 5
The faithful women and their preacher know he can’t really cast out demons. No one complains; they love leaving their houses at least once a week.

Pathos
Right when it’s about to be squashed, the fly has found the words with which to tell the tragedy and beauty of its life.

Spiritual 4
The faithful women give everything they have to their preacher after he has cast every demon out of them. Later, the preacher gives each demon its share before sending them back.

Spiritual 8
All the faithful women wish to marry the preacher who cast out their demons. For his part, he would have liked to be a soccer player.

Date 1
In secret, Judith meets Perseus. Both of them share fantasies about blood and severed heads.
“My Holofernes,” she says, clinging to him.

Anthropology 6
The language of the Barsu has only the five phonemes present in their name. Their words sound like rocks and waves.

Spiritual 11
In the temple she fell into a trance, spoke in tongues and (while the bystanders understood nothing) began, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

Spiritual 10
In the temple she fell into a trance, spoke in tongues and (while the bystanders understood nothing) began, “Gotta go pee.”

Spiritual 9
In the temple she fell into a trance, spoke in tongues and (while the bystanders understood nothing) began, “You fanatics! There is no God!”

Brutality
His heart in his mouth, he saw the police arrive. He got away because he made a great effort and managed to swallow it whole.

The End
The last man on Earth dropped the gun and yelled, “Now I really am the capo de capos!”***

*** The expression may seem Italian but it is actually Mexican. It refers, of course, to our modern drug lords. (Author’s note.)

“Politesse” 6
“Good evening,” said the mask behind which there was no face.

Plagiarism
X tried to defend himself using a speech Y had used a year before. Since 1999, Z has claimed he is the author of that speech.

Surprise
The castaway put the message in the bottle. Then he couldn’t take out his hand.

“Politesse” 4
They’re very nice in that restaurant: you only have to ask them and they won’t serve you meat cuts from anyone in your family, your congregation or even your country.

Date 2
At some point during the twentieth century, Annabel Lee dreamt her name was Dorotea, the sea was a desert and she had never loved.****

**** See Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo. (Author’s note.)

Affair
Knowing made him feel actual physical pain. He was beginning to feel like someone else. He reached her doorstep and everything went black.

She waited until the change was complete before opening the door.

Modern Art
Behind the Moon, a card glued to the void explained the meaning of everything.

Square
Time passed.
Time passed again.
The third time she went to me to tell me I was a lout. She was wearing that dress only for me!

What For 7
One morning in 1999, 6661 people felt the same weight on their shoulders and had the same vision of an undecipherable symmetry.

Undivided
Half naked in their quarters, the two of them became one.

Hermit
He lived precariously between two letters.

X
All dreams meet at the same point. Almost no one notices this. The point vibrates. A voice comes out of it, saying, “All dreams meet…”


ADVENTURES

A team of explorers got lost in my throat. I went in to look for them.

A team of explorers got lost in my throat. They found the missing celebrity. TV crews went after them for an interview.

A team of explorers got lost in my throat. Now people think I´m a prophet as I speak with many voices.

A team of explorers got lost in my throat. They were looking for the dinosaur. Idiots! It can’t be still here. I’d better go to sleep.******

****** Augusto Monterroso’s “The dinosaur” is a famous early example of Latin American sudden fiction. It reads, “On waking, the dinosaur was still there”. (Author’s note.)

A team of explorers got lost in my throat. It was for the best: their chief was a maniac, and he wanted to steal the apple of my eye.

A team of explorers got lost in my throat. One of them was Jules Verne. They were looking for some center. I felt too bad to tell them anything.

A team of explorers got lost in my throat. Now I eat without putting on any weight. Actually it’s horrible.

A team of explorers got lost in my throat. I drank hot coffee until I killed them. Now I can´t sleep and I don’t know why.

A team of explorers got lost in my throat. The found ex-girlfriends, enemies, dead relatives: I knew I tend to swallow anger and loss!

A team of explorers got lost in my throat. One of them reached the trunk. At once I drove to the desert, then called his family and asked for a nice ransom. *******

******* This story replaces another untranslatable original, which played with the fact that the uvula is called “campanilla” (little bell) in Spanish. (Author’s note.)

 


CROWD (3)

Denouement
Due to budget cuts we will have to stop at the first plot point. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Too late
Beware! One of these words can kill!

After Waiting Nine Months…
… nothing happened: she had to admit it was useless to go back inside and try to be “unborn,” as the pamphlet advised.

Non Fiction
I turned the corner and saw a woman who looked at me in awe. I don’t know how I knew: she had seen in my face the face of one of her dead.

Love Craft
His creative writing teacher mocked him. “Do you honestly expect anyone will believe a written diary can end with a scream?!,” the Primordial God said. “‘AAAAAAH?’, really?”

Spiritual 13
Our Lady of Complete fills hearts, houses and churches with so much love nothing else can ever enter them.

Spiritual 14
Our Lady of Crystal makes her faithful transparent. What startling revelations we see then, what trembling entrails!

Spiritual 15
Our Lady of Silly reveals useless secrets, like the PANTONE code to exactly describe the color of a morning sky in 1825. Or the date of your death.

Cosmology 10
In one possible world everything is this instant. In fact, there is such a world for each instant of every one of you.

What For 6
In the 19076322nd century, the story of your life, beautifully told, will be the sacred book of all religions.

What For 5
Clues began to appear, clear yet enigmatic, a century before the crime was committed.

Will Provide
Their prayers make dust and evaporated saliva (the only things God can take in) go up toward the heavens.

Oracular 1
They have concealed the secret of the world in the air you’re breathing just know.
(Did you hold your breath?)

N
The statue is escaping.
Very, very slowly.

Z
Terrified, the children of the dead heard the stories their parents told them about the living and their land of lights.

 

###

Image by Flickr user Wonderlane, used under a Creative Commons license.

Alberto Chimal is a Mexican writer. He has published the novel Los esclavos (Slaves, 2009), the essay collection La cámara de maravillas (The Cabinet of Curiosities, 2003), and several short story books, including La ciudad imaginada (The Imagined City, 2009), Grey (The Flock, 2006), Gente del mundo (People of the World, 1998) and Éstos son los días (These Are The Days, 2004), which won the National Short Story Award in Mexico. He has won several other awards. He is a very sought-after professor of creative writing and maintains the literary website/blog www.lashistorias.com.mx, from which he has launched several online literary projects.

Leave a Reply