Alexandra Joy Forman translating Ana Paula Maia

Dalkey Archive Press. Victoria, TX / Mclean, IL / Dublin, 2016

(Entre rinhas de cachorros e porcos abatidos and Carvão animal. Editora Record, 2009/11)

Book 1. Between Dogfights and Hogslaughter

"Clandestine Butchers and Hogs in the Truck Bed"

“How many can they slaughter?”
       “They said thirty in an hour,” responds Edgar Wilson, after a long drag on his cigarette.
       “Yep . . . never seen anyone break that record,” says Gerson, in admiration.
       “They say it’s the greatest slaughterhouse in the state.”
       “What’s your record, Edgar?”
       “Fifteen in an hour.”
       Gerson slicks back his hair, looks at the waitress passing by, looks at the sway of her butt in ratty jeans. It’s plump with many folds and adjacent curves and, this, for Gerson, is a phenomenal ass.
       Edgar finishes his coffee and asks for another. Gerson continues to sip his strawberry milkshake through a yellow straw.
       “It’s twice as many, isn’t it?”
       “Yes, twice as many and I accept the challenge.”
       “Edgar Wilson, you’re my idol,” says Gerson, punching his friend on the shoulder.
       “What’s the prize?”
       “The Golden Slaughtered Hog trophy. Mr. Tonico, owner of the largest hog pen in the state, awards it. Who’d have thought it, huh? It’s the dream of all butchers . . . fuck . . . what a prize!”
       A sweaty, nervous man enters the diner, turns his head from side to side until he sees the back of the place. He moves forward and sits with Edgar and Gerson.
       “You must be Edgar Wilson,” says the man extending his hand. “And you, Gerson,” he greets him next.
       The man doesn’t stop moving, his fingers drum on the table. He calls the waitress and asks for a shot of cognac with honey. The two just wait for the man to decide to speak.
       “So, boys . . . well, you must be wondering . . .”
       Gerson interrupts.
       “Who told you about us?”
       The man looks at Edgar Wilson, who doesn’t transmit any emotion in his eyes. He’s immutable, sipping his steaming coffee. “Mr. Chico Maminha . . . the fat baldy . . . from the Maminha do Rei slaughterhouse.”
       Gerson nods. The man is relieved. He breathes deeply and waits for another question before starting his prepared speech.
       “I know it must seem strange for someone to simulate their own abduction, but I need to test my girlfriend’s faithfulness . . . Just a minute.”
       He interrupts himself, grabs his wallet from his pants pocket, and pulls out a photo of his girlfriend.
       “This is my girlfriend, Shirlei Márcia. I know it’s weird, but before popping the question, I need to be sure . . . really make sure she loves me. She has five thousand reais in an account. It’s all of her money . . . if she pays my ransom with the money she’s taken years to amass, then I’ll know she deserves my love.”
       “You want proof of love?” asks Gerson.
       Edgar Wilson is mildly swayed. His girlfriend Rosemery left him a week after Pedro’s disappearance. Said she loved Pedro and was going to stay with him. Said she didn’t like Edgar Wilson. That she only wanted a new refrigerator. 
       Rosemery, like Pedro, didn’t get very far. Quartered, she was devoured by some hungry hogs at dawn. No remains or traces. He took back the refrigerator with berry magnets.
       Edgar sighs, and this makes space in his chest. He should’ve asked for proof of love from Rosemery. He perfectly understands the man’s motives and is overcome by their newfound, shared humanity.
       “I just want proof of love. It’s guaranteed. I have everything planned. Nothing can go wrong. I’ll pay each of you 200 reais, and it shouldn’t take more than two hours, max.”
       Gerson looks at Edgar Wilson waiting for a response, a reaction. He thinks they could ask for more. He values his hourly-fee at a higher rate.
       “But we’re not kidnappers, and this is crime. We’re pork butchers, and there’s no crime in that,” says Gerson.
       “I’m not ‘kidnapped,’ see? It’s only an act.”
       “Don’t know . . . Edgar?”
       “I think this man should have his proof of love.”
       “Do you really?”
       “I do,” responds Edgar looking at the man.
       “And I think 200 reais is an acceptable fee for two hours of work. I accept.”
       “Oh . . . well, then I accept too,” says Gerson.
       On a deserted stretch of road, the man uses a payphone and gesticulates as he speaks. Edgar and Gerson lean against their car, parked by a tree. There’s shade. Good shade to lessen the heat. They don’t hear what the man says, but they also don’t care.
       “What did you want to tell me?”
       “It’s about Pedro.”
       “That bastard . . . I hope he stays missing forever.”
       “It’s exactly about that . . . about him going missing forever. He was having an affair with Rosemery. I killed them both.”
       Gerson scratches his head and grimaces with his sweaty face.
       “He got what he deserved then. Don’t worry, Edgar, he was a good for nothing.”
       “I’m not worried.”
       “I’d do the same. I’d kill them and slop the hogs their remains.”
       “I threw them in like swill and they ate all of it.”
       “Starving beasts . . .”
       “You redeemed your honor,” says Gerson, inspired to give Edgar Wilson a hug. “Did you take back the refrigerator?”
       “I did and am paying it off in installments.”
       “That fridge is a real beauty.”
       “It makes ice on medium,” comments Edgar.
       “Mine’s a mess. It doesn’t work in this heat.”
       “If you need ice you can get it from mine. There’s space in it too. You can use it whenever you like.”
       Gerson looks at his friend, softened. Only someone who lives in the confines of the stuffy and suffocating 100-degree suburbs, far from the beaches, from humid sea breezes, swallowing dust, saving water, stepping on steaming asphalt every day, knows what a new, ice-making refrigerator means. Around here, it’s worth gold. Just like treated water and closed sewers, but unfortunately they still have to live with open-air shit and worms.
       The man returns animated and a little nervous. The time is now. No one knows about the simulated kidnapping, except Mr. Chico Maminha, who’s completely trustworthy. The man hands over a piece of paper with the name and number of his fiancée, the exact value to be demanded in ransom, and a short text to be read aloud. How little each of them can read worries him, but they’ll figure it out.
       The man is tied up, wrists and ankles cuffed. Total realism is necessary. He asks them to punch him. With a little blood on his face and some bruises, it’ll be even more convincing. Gerson socks him twice. It’s enough for blood to run.
       They put their kidnap victim in the trunk of his own brown Fiat Uno. They slam the door with force, turn half around, get in the same car and squeal out with the sound system on.
       “What’s his name again?”
       “I don’t remember, Edgar. I don’t think he said.”
       Gerson gets the note with his annotations. He checks but doesn’t find any name except Shirlei Márcia. Gerson lowers the volume on the radio and yells in the direction of the trunk for the man’s name. He hears a muffled groan in response.
       “What is it?” he yells again.
       Edgar Wilson shakes his head and squints.
       “Gerson, I think it’s Cleiton.”
       “No, he said Heraldo.”
       “Of course not. It was nothing like that. It’s Cleiton.”
       “I’m sure I heard Heraldo. Yes, it’s Heraldo. I heard him.”
       Edgar could deny it once more, but the man’s name didn’t matter very much just then. They’d ask later. There was time for this and time to eat something. 
       Dona Elza’s Mandioca Frita, the faded sign evokes the image of a robust Northeasterner with a manioc root in her hand. A good place to eat: prices that don’t empty pockets, and plates that always fill the stomach. A deal only found at Dona Elza’s Mandioca Frita, and so they stop to eat. They park the car between two heavy-load trucks; the place caters to truckers and travelers. Space to eat, take a nap, and fuck. Dona Elza also serves up this kind of pleasure. She manages yuca and yaya with dexterity and aptitude. The dish of the day is accompanied by forty-year-old cunt. Specials like that; only here.
       They climb out of the car, slam doors, and walk to the restaurant. The owner receives them with open arms.
A little while later, Edgar Wilson is disputing flies over the last pork rib with fried yuca on a tray on the table. Now and then he feels a warm breeze from a swinging wall fan that turns slowly and groans in agony. 
       Gerson returns from the bathroom and sits back down at the table. Edgar finishes eating the last rib and they go to the cash register.
       “You bought two specials. Will you want to fuck?”
       “Who fucks in heat like this? With one of these cunts?” Gerson asks the boy behind the register.
       “Can we exchange the cunt for one of those ice creams?” asks Edgar pointing to the freezer.
       The boy flips his cap around and looks at the owner.
       “I need to speak with Dona Elza. Are you sure? You’d prefer ice cream?”
       “Absolutely,” responds Gerson.
       In opening the restaurant door, the dry, hot gust of air softens their ice cream. Bowls with half a kilo of Neapolitan flavor. They lean on a railing and enjoy their desserts.
       “I’d trade three fifteen-year-old pussies for this,” says Gerson. “Who fucks in this heat?”
       “Only pigs.”
       He watches a truck maneuver a heavy load. The driver has had more than a few. His eyes are red, his face is droopy, and he’s probably got the taste of old yaya on his mouth. He attempts a number of times to nose out of a space, but breaks too quickly; the motor goes quiet. He seems confused. The two continue to eat their ice creams, which are already the consistency of soup.
       After a quiet moment, truck and driver decide to pull out of the parking spot once and for all, and that’s when he slams into the back of the brown Fiat Uno. The car plunges forward a few meters and the truck takes off for the open road. He finally got it in gear after banging up the rear end of their car.
       Gerson and Edgar go to the car and with difficulty lift the trunk door.
       “Now we’ll never know his name,” says Gerson.
       Edgar slams the trunk shut, and gets into the car, followed by Gerson, and they leave.
       Now he’ll never have his proof of love, is what Edgar Wilson thinks. Gerson picks up the note with annotations made by the man, tears it up, and throws it out the window. The car’s struggling on its journey since it’s quite damaged and after two kilometers it begins to smoke under the hood.
       They get out of the car and Edgar Wilson finds comfort as he admires a large leafy tree throwing wide and generous shade. On the other side of the road, there’s a public phone.
       “We’re close to Dona Maria das Vacas’s pigsty,” says Gerson. “Doesn’t her son own a junkyard?”
       “He does.”
       “So we can leave the car with him, and the guy in it . . . I mean . . .”
       “Slop to the pigs,” finished Edgar.
       “That’s it.”
       Gerson walks to the public phone, which isn’t working.
       “One of us’ll have to go there.” Gerson turns the dead man over in the trunk, grabs the license from his wallet, and reads his name there.
       “It’s Cleiton, his name. Shocking how good you are, Edgar Wilson. Shocking.”
       They walk five hundred meters to the junkyard. Dona Maria das Vacas’s son is lunching on a fried egg and two tinned sardines. They tell him about the car, the accident, and all three get into a tow truck.
       “I’d never ask something like that of my wife, Rosinete . . . ha . . . daughterofabitch’d let me rot,” says the man, driving, and he bursts out laughing. “She’d run away with the first guy she meets, sell my junk, and send my kids to an institute. Proof of love, who needs it? What shit.”
       They get out at the site, tow the truck, and leave the body in Dona Maria das Vacas’s hog pen.
       “These animals will eat anything and . . . anything,” says the man throwing the body to the hogs. “And they never leave a trace,” he adds, laughing, satisfied.
       “That’s what I always say,” Edgar agrees.
       And the sound of voraciously crunching bones reverberates between ravenous snorts.
       “I was raised in this hog pen, but I’m still impressed watching these brutes feed,” says the man, and the three sit quietly for some time.
       They lost a day of work. As payment for the favor, they leave the car in the junkyard. It was their loss that they didn’t kill pigs that day, but at least it was resolved in the end.
       The next day, Edgar Wilson stands beside other butchers and before dozens of pigs. The swine are agitated and helplessly entangled. Holding his sharpened blade, the handle of which perfectly fits his hand, he begins his slaughtering as soon as the shot’s fired. He feels nervous at first, but has a pretty good crowd. And who knew that between dog fights and slaughtered hogs he’d kill thirty-three, breaking the state’s record. Thirty-three is the age of Christ when he died. Thirty-three is the age he reached last year. He looks up at the sky and Divine Providence gives her sign once more.
       Edgar Wilson is the new record-holder. He wins the Slaughtered Hog trophy and a good sum of money. He never thought, never imagined that his ways and efforts would make him a winner. And life is really very good, he thinks. 

"Pigs Can't Look Up at the Sky"

A fighting dog is a dog that has no choice. He learned what his owner chose to teach him ever since he was a puppy. He’s recognizable by his short or amputated ears, scars, stitches, and lacerations. He’s had no choices in life. that’s exactly how it’s been for Edgar Wilson who was trained at a young age to kill rabbits and frogs. He has some scars beneath his arms, and on his neck and chest. There are so many lines and sutures on his skin he doesn’t remember where he got half of them. However, scars of violence and resistance to death on other animals have never dulled the glint in his eye while he contemplates a big sky. Night and day, he spends a good deal of time looking up. Maybe he expects something to happen in the sky or with the sky . . . maybe he’d like to cut up some clouds with his big knife.
       Despite having been raised like a fighting dog, he knows it’s better than being a pig. That’s because pigs can’t look up at the sky. They just can’t. Anatomically, pigs were made basically to look at the ground and to feed on whatever they found there. Edgar knows that he’s a fighting dog raised to kill pigs, rabbits, and men. However, every bit of a pig is relished. Rabbits can be eaten with green olives and almonds. Men are often given a mass. As an excuse to light a candle and pray.
       Tonight’s blood fight will be between Chacal and a new dog, a Dogo Argentino, called Eclipse. His name describes his ability to become nearly invisible to other dogs, finding his adversary’s vulnerability in its shadow. And it’s in the shadows that he attacks and devours. He was born on a hot night, when the moon hid behind clouds. Although, minutes later the moon appeared again, lacerated in the sky.
       “Who’ll you bet on, Edgar?”
       “On the bastard Chacal,” he responds.
       “I don’t know. The other one hides in the shadows, that’s what they say.”
       “Gerson, I saw this dog’s birth. I knew the wretched beast before he opened his eyes.”
       “I know, Edgar. I know.”
       “Sly as a fox, and violent as a wolf, Chacal’s the worst monster I’ve seen in life. So bad, he has no shadow. The Dogo Argentino doesn’t stand a chance.”
       “I’m going to bet on Eclipse,” says Gerson. “I’m going to put all my money on the Argentine sonofabitch.”
       “You know best. In addition to being a fighting dog, he’s Argentine,” says Edgar Wilson.
       “That makes him twice as wretched,” returns Gerson.
       “You’re right. But I’ll say it again—Chacal has no shadow. He leaves no trace. I’ll bet on him so long as he’s in fighting condition.”
       Edgar Wilson puts out his cigarette and gets up from the curb. He cracks his fingers and adjusts his cap, because he knows it’s time to go to the back, to the knacker’s yard. He calls the clandestine slaughterhouse a knackery because it’s a cut-and-cover for dismantling animals. He’s worked in a mechanics shop, and as cars came in they were dismantled, hung on hooks on the walls, and put on shelves. And parts were sold separately.
       He leaves the fattest hogs to day’s end. The sun at the end of the day always brings respite, a necessary repose, since it’s three-times the effort to work such fatty meat and three-times the sweat. 
       Gerson grinds his knife blade against the curb to make it sharp. He likes to impress the neighborhood girls who bat their lashes when the sparks fly. A pang at the height of his kidney makes him suddenly dizzy. He’s been passing mucus in his urine lately, and toward the end of the day he feels more pain. But at day’s end he should feel better: it’s happy hour, time to play billiards and shoot the shit at Cristóvão’s bar.
       The laborer’s day ends when the sun goes down. That’s when Gerson and Edgar Wilson get their recompense. A respite from the sun. A job accomplished. They feel welcome to enjoy life’s simple and practical pleasures.
       A bald-tired vehicle riddled with bullet holes pulls up and parks on the other side of the dusty road. It’s odd to see police around here. It’s not like anyone’s died or anything. That’s to say, they haven’t heard of any fatal accident, or failed robbery, or anything like that. Generally when police appear, when they come out this way, it’s because someone’s already dead. They’ll come out to write a report, have a coffee while they wait for a hearse, and go off again. Here, they rarely save a life. It was just too far, no one knew how to get here, they got lost along the way. That’s how they justify arriving too late on the scene. That’s why every citizen has a big knife, whether it’s sharp or not. The police arrive when it’s time to write up the occurrence and some pertinent facts concerning the deceased. It’s simpler to deal with the dead. Write up a report, open an investigation, and go home for dinner. Here, there’s also dinner. At least here, death doesn’t take away an appetite. They’ve dealt with it from youth. The manholes have no covers here, but are exposed, and only the careless fall down. This is how it is, here.
       “Good afternoon.”
       “Good afternoon.”
       “Good afternoon.”
       “Good afternoon.”
       “Boys, do you have a glass of water for us?” asks the senior policeman, an elderly sort.
       “Of course,” says Gerson.
       “Has something happened?” Edgar wants to know.
       “That’s right, boy. Something’s happened,” responds the police officer.
       “Can we help?” asks Gerson.
       “You can. Bring that water to begin.”
       Gerson runs to the knackery and returns with water. While they wait, Edgar doesn’t say a word. The policeman either. Then, the old man drinks water and clicks his tongue in satisfaction.
       “Water around here is worth gold, no?” he says.
       “That’s what my friend here, Edgar, always says,” responds Gerson.
       “You are Edgar Wilson and Gerson Batista, are you not?” he asks.
       “Yes, sir. Something wrong?” says Gerson.
       The other, much younger, policeman is mute. He’s seriously attentive to the conversation.
       “Well, there’s always something or other that’s not quite right, let’s just say. And we have a little problem here that’s quite irritating.” He takes a look at the notebook he’s just taken from his pocket. “Do you boys know a Cleiton Aparecido de Jesus?”
       Gerson puts his cleaver in his belt and covers it with his shirt. Edgar swats at flies. They seem to smell the odor of his soul.
       “I can’t remember,” says Gerson.
       “And you?” he asks Edgar.
       “Also negative, sir.”
       The policeman scratches his head a bit. Then he scratches his beard. Then he pulls up his pants. The pants are tight. The excess belly fat makes Edgar sigh about how much work awaits him out back. Three immense hogs are back there—still alive. He sighs again.
       “He disappeared a few days ago and was seen with you two.”
       “Did he work with pigs?” asks Gerson.
       “He was a civil servant. He worked in an office in the city center.”
       “I never met anyone who works in public office,” mutters Gerson.
       “What about you, Edgar?”
       He shakes his head, then lights a cigarette.
       “Are you sure this guy was seen with us?” Gerson prods.
       “Certain. They identified you at a bar two kilometers from here. He had a brown Fiat Uno, which also disappeared,” replies the officer, wiping sweat from his forehead with an index finger. A small puddle drops on the ground.
       “I know,” says Gerson.
       The four are silent for a while. A truck approaches and, before leaving them in its dust, the driver yells for Edgar Wilson to pick up his pig within two hours, giving no time for him to answer.
       “You guys seem to have a lot of work,” says the cop.
       “We do. We butcher hogs. Every day,” says Gerson, who then points to the other cop with a nod of his head and asks, “Doesn’t he talk?”
       “He can’t speak. He was injured during a police operation and left mute. But he’s an excellent officer, even without an active voice,” he responds.
       He looks at his friend and gives him a pat on his left shoulder. The old man seems like a satisfied guy. Really always satisfied. Gerson finds it odd. An old pig on the streets with a much younger, mute cop. What are mute cops good for? And the response comes immediately, as if his thoughts have been read.
       “It’s better to be silent. For a police officer, being mute is essential. After all, who listens in this day and age?” he says and utters a bray-like chuckle. He clears his throat, spits on the ground, and concentrates. “Are you guys certain you’ve really never seen this guy?”
       “Officer, I don’t remember the guy. But Edgar, here, and me, we meet all sorts all the time. You must not know this, sir, working with pigs requires a lot from us . . . that thing of . . . you know, sir, . . . net . . .”
       “Sociability,” the police officer finishes.
       “That’s it. We’ve got a lot of that. We’re here and there, and when we pay attention, we’re already somewhere else, unloading pigs or finding new pigsties. And also . . . keeping up to date with the techniques,” concludes Gerson.
       Edgar Wilson has finished his cigarette. He’s sufficiently irritated by the conversation and now he’s running late. He puts his cigarette out in the small puddle of sweat dashed on the ground by the old man, and decides to speak up.
       “Maybe he decided to split?”
       In saying this, Edgar Wilson feels a strong urge to go home and prepare for tonight’s dog fight. He feels like slaughtering hogs only tomorrow, but knows this is impossible. He needs to meet his obligations.
       “Sometimes I feel like skipping town,” sighs Gerson. “I’d like to know if anyone would go looking for me.”
       The policeman writes something in his notebook, clears his throat again, and spits on the ground.
       “We’ve not discarded any possibility,” says the cop. “We do our work competently.” 
       Gerson removes the knife from his belt and feels a pang at the height of his kidney. His urine is pure mucus. He wonders how much longer he’ll stay alive with just the one kidney. His hemodialysis sessions have become daily events and his earnings at work have diminished. If it weren’t for Edgar Wilson and his friendship, Gerson would’ve become unemployed long ago. Edgar’s been doing the work of two without complaint. He knows what it means to be a friend and makes sacrifices accordingly.
       Edgar Wilson puts on the pair of rubber gloves hanging from his back pocket. They stand side by side. Very serious. The older police officer doesn’t know what to do. Gerson speaks cautiously.
       “I had a cousin who disappeared. He left for work one day and never came home. Ten years later, they discovered he was living in Pará, happy as ever. The bastard left debt for my aunt to pay . . . that’s why she became a hooker. She needed to pay his debts and feed five children. She sucked so much dick that when she died she didn’t have a tooth left in her mouth.”
       No one speaks. The flies buzz around their heads. Large, disgusting flies. Edgar Wilson takes the cigarette pack out of his pocket. His last cigarette is on the ground, extinguished in the policeman’s sweat. He crumples the pack and throws it over his left shoulder. On sunny days like these, with stagnant air, smelling of sewage, and tripe stuck deep up his nose, he sometimes feels it will never end. He feels condemned to this place, to this situation. The stench and heat restrict his movements and complicate his thinking. All he can do is wait for nighttime’s more tolerable temperature and occasional breeze.
       “Okay, then,” says the policeman. “Edgar Wilson and Gerson, thanks for your attention and your help. I won’t take any more of your time, boys. I see you’re fine, hardworking folk.”
       “You’re welcome,” says Gerson, and Edgar Wilson nods politely.
       The police officers walk to the other side of the road. They climb into their vehicle and disappear around the corner. After breathing the dust left by the car, Edgar and Gerson go into the knackery.
       “Suppose it’s the guy from the kidnapping, Edgar?”
       “Could be.”
       “Do you remember his name?”
       “I can’t remember his face.”
       “Fuck him. The cop said it, we’re good and hardworking.”
       “That’s right, Gerson. That’s right. Now, hold that beast.”
       Edgar Wilson strikes a single blow with a club to the hog’s head. It’s only got time for a grunt before another blow is struck. It falls, dying, and the second in line is dragged to slaughter. Edgar dries the sweat from his forehead, grabs another pack of cigarettes from behind the deli counter, lights one and continues clubbing hogs. “We’re fine, hardworking folk,” is what he thinks when he singes one of the hogs until its hide crackles, and then he slits it open from one end to the other. 

Alexandra Joy Forman

Alexandra Joy Forman is author of Tall Slim & Erect: Portraits of the American Presidents (Les Figues Press), and she has translated Brazilian author Hilda Hilst’s first novel Phloem Flux (Nightboat Books/A Bolha Editora). She lives in Rio de Janeiro.

Ana Paula Maia

Ana Paula Maia was born in 1977 in the Nova Iguaçu suburb of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She has published five novels, among them: Entre rinhas de cachorros e porcos abatidos, Carvão animal, and De gados e homens. Her books have been published in Serbia, Germany, Argentina, France, and Italy, and are forthcoming in the United States and Spain. Her novel, A guerra dos bastardos was deemed one of the best foreign police-thrillers published in Germany in 2013. She is also a screenwriter.