“You’ll see, my girl is wearing such a pretty dress today,” Calderón says to Gorriti. “It looks so nice on her with those brown eyes she has – its color, you know. And those little feet…” They’re standing with the other parents, waiting anxiously for their children to be let out. Calderón is talking; Gorriti is looking at the still-locked doors. “You’ll see,” says Calderón. “Stay here, you have to stick close because they’re about to come out. And yours, how’s he?” The other man pantomimes pain and points to his teeth. “You don’t say,” says Calderón. “And did you do the tooth fairy? With mine it’s no good, she’s too smart.” Gorriti looks at the clock. The doors will open any second now and the children will burst out, laughing and shouting in a tumult of colors, some spotted with paint or chocolate. But for some reason the bell is delayed. The parents wait.

***

A brownish butterfly lands on Calderón’s arm and he quickly traps it. The creature struggles to get away, but he presses its wings together and holds it by the ends. He squeezes hard so it can’t escape. “You’ll see, you just have to see her,” he tells Gorriti as he shakes it, “she’s just adorable.” But he presses so hard he starts to feel the tips of the wings sticking together. He slides his fingers down and sees that he has marked them. The butterfly tries to get free, fluttering its wings, and one of them splits down the middle like paper. Calderón is sorry, tries to hold it still so he can get a good look at the damage, but he ends up with part of the wing stuck to one of his fingers. Gorriti watches him with disgust and shakes his head, gestures for him to drop it. Calderón lets go. The butterfly falls to the ground. It moves awkwardly, tries to fly but no longer can. It finally stays still, flapping one of its wings every now and then, but it doesn’t try anything more. Gorriti tells him to finish it off once and for all, and Calderón, for the butterfly’s own good, of course, stomps on it.

Some parents are still crowding in front of the doors and shouting the names of their children. Then the butterflies, all of them in just a few seconds, fly off in different directions. The parents try to catch them.”

He doesn’t even have time to lift his foot when he realizes something strange is happening. He looks toward the doors and then, as if a sudden wind had breached the locks, the doors open and hundreds of butterflies of every color and size rush out toward the waiting parents. He thinks they might attack him; maybe he thinks he’s going to die. The other parents don’t seem to be afraid, and the butterflies just flutter among them. The last one comes out, lagging behind the others, and joins them.

Calderón stands looking at the open doors and through the windows of the main hall, at the silent classrooms. Some parents are still crowding in front of the doors and shouting the names of their children. Then the butterflies, all of them in just a few seconds, fly off in different directions. The parents try to catch them.

Calderón, on the other hand, stands motionless. He can’t bring himself to lift his foot from the one he has killed. He is, perhaps, afraid of recognizing his girl’s colors in its dead wings.

from Mouthful of Birds, translated by Megan McDowell (Oneworld, £12.99)

 

Samanta Schweblin is the author of three story collections that have won numerous awards, including the prestigious Juan Rulfo Story Prize, and been translated into twenty languages. Her debut novel Fever Dream was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2017. Originally from Buenos Aires, she lives in Berlin. Mouthful of Birds, translated by Megan McDowell, is out now from Oneworld.
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Author portrait © Alejandra Lopez

Megan McDowell has translated books by many contemporary South American and Spanish authors including Alejandro Zambra, Mariana Enriquez, Gonzalo Torné, Lina Meruane, Diego Zuñiga and Carlos Fonseca, and her translations have been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s and The Paris Review. She lives in Chile.
meganmcdowelltranslation.com

Read our interview with Samanta about Fever Dream

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