Sunday, August 29, 2010

Short-a-Day: Oscar Colchado Lucio's "The House on El Pino Hill"

Originally published in A Public Space 03, Winter 2007. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 77.

Here's something I've never seen before: a story hidden within a description of a house: "The curtains are half closed over the small, barred window. A thin beam of light illuminates one side of the room and casts the rest in shadow. It's two o'clock in the afternoon." There are no characters, there is no narrator; everything is meant to be inferred from the significant objects--including the empty house. It's Peru, 1986, and the pamphlets and philosophy strewn around the room reveal this to be the home of several Shining Path members. Only in footnotes do we learn their names: "Underneath a large poster of Mao is an old photo, yellow with age but carefully framed. A couple is posing with their children, who are standing in front, two boys and a girl. They appear to be between six and nine years old.[6] [6]Hugo, Nancy, and Pedro with their parents. Pedro died in a traffic accident when he was an adolescent."

It takes some close reading--some investigating--to realize that this is Nancy's apartment. We are given three excerpts from her diary, in which she gives offerings to the god Huallallo Carhuincho "so that he can expel the whites along with their gods," starting with dog's blood and then "the best produce from the few remaining farms" before looking for "blood, Christian blood." The television happens to be on, and it's through that that we learn that German Cappelletti has been assassinated--we've seen the plans for the hit in this apartment--and that two of the five attackers were caught: "a young girl and a boy of mixed blood."
These may or may not be Nancy and the boy she has recently met, though this ambiguity doesn't make the loss on both sides any less. In this guerrilla war, told from the perspective of utterly neutral objects, it is not so much about the things they carried as the things they left behind, so much as it is about the things that made them. Pretty accomplished for such a short and rule-breaking story, but although we feel for what is missing, it does not change that the story still feels to be missing a part of itself, which is a danger of stunt writing.

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