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Superstitions that Pay

Fernando Sorrentino
Smaller text sizeDefault text sizeBigger text size Add to my bookshelf epub mobi Permalink MapBelgrano, Buenos Aires

I live from others’ superstitions. It doesn’t bring in much money and the work is pretty hard.

My first case was in a plant where they filled soda syphons. The owner believed, heaven knows why, that one of the thousands of syphons (but which one?) held an atomic bomb. He also thought that the presence of one human being could stop the tremendous energy inside from escaping. There were several of us hired, one per truckload. My job consisted in sitting on the bumpy top of packed soda syphons for six hours a day while they were being distributed. It was hard work: the truck jolted, the place where I sat was uncomfortable, even painful, the drive was boring; the truck drivers were a crude lot. Every now and then a syphon would burst (not, however the one with the bomb in it) and I’d receive several small cuts. Finally, worn out, I handed in my resignation. The boss quickly replaced me with another man whose mere presence, the same as mine, could stop an atomic explosion.

Almost at once I heard that a maiden lady in the suburbs, in Belgrano, had a pair of tortoises and believed, heaven knows why, that one of them (but which one?) was the Devil disguised as a tortoise. Since the lady, dressed in black, and constantly telling her beads, couldn’t keep an eye on them all the time, she hired me to do it at night. “Everyone knows,” she explained, “that one of these tortoises is the Devil. When you see one of them is developing dragon’s wings be sure to let me know; that one will be the Devil, no doubt about it. We’ll light a pyre and burn it alive and evil will be removed from the face of the earth.” I managed to stay awake the first few nights, watching the tortoises—and what senseless, graceless animals they are. Then it seemed to me that all that enthusiam for watching tortoises wasn’t justified, and as soon as the old maid went to bed I wrapped my legs in a blanket, curled up on a chair in the garden, and slept through the night. I never could see which of the two tortoises was the devil and told the lady that I’d prefer to give up the job since it wasn’t good for my health to spend all night awake, watching them.

Besides, I’d just heard that outside Buenos Aires, in San Isidro, there was a very old house on the edge of a cliff and that in it was a dear little statue of a sweet young French girl, very fin de siècle. The owners, a grey haired old couple, thought, heaven knows why, that the girl was lovesick and sad, and if they didn’t find her a fiancé she’d soon be dead. They made me an offer, and so I became fiancé to a statue. I started calling on her. The old couple left us alone, though I’m sure they secretly kept an eye on us. The girl received me in their melancholy drawing room and we sat together on a threadbare sofa. I took her flowers, candy, or books and wrote letters and poems to her; she played the piano languidly, and gave me gentle looks. I called her mon amour and kissed her furtively, and went farther at times than would have been proper with an innocent young girl from the late 1800s. And Giselle loved me too; she’d lower her eyes, sigh softly, and say “When can we get married?” “Soon,” I’d tell her. “I’m saving up for it.” And I am, but keep putting it off, because I can’t save enough to get married on. As I said already, you don’t earn much living off others people’s superstitions.

Translation: Alita Kelley
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Copyright ©Fernando Sorrentino, 1982
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Date of publicationJune 2005
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