Monday, January 03, 2011

Short-a-Day: Jose de Pierola's "In the Belly of the Night"

Originally published in A Public Space 03, Winter 2007. Personal enjoyment rating (out of 100): 68.
[Part of the FOCUS: Peru series.]

The only thing missing from this story, about a Peruvian soldier preparing to execute an Indian scholar, is the context for such an action. But even without that, de Pierola's writing is effective enough in conveying the fast-motion replay sort of stream-of-consciousness that tends to run through our minds as we wait and prepare to take a final action. The "How did we get here" and "How can we make sure we never end up here again" sorts. As the Indian attempts, quietly, to convey his own humanity (even as he digs his own grave), Ubilluz thinks of his wife, his son (the "little midget"), his own father (the reason for him joining the military), and his commanding officer. It reads like this:

Wouldn't it be nice if they never sent you on another of those missions that scare me so much? Yeah, it'd be nice, real nice, really, really nice. Ubilluz lit his cigarette. The sweet, heavy smoke warmed his throat. The Indian with someone else's voice was smoking leisurely, the asshole, as if he were waiting for the bus. The red ember of his cigarette, like a little piece of charcoal, turned yellow, lit up his cheekbones, then turned red again. It was only then, maybe because of the contrast, that Ubilluz could smell the wet earth permeating his whole body. Mmm, so good, it smells like wet earth, daddykins. That's what it's like in the mountains, brown sugar: fresh air, sweet water, everything so, so damn good."

de Pierola also plays with the vivid realization and revelation of sensations, from the cold metal of the trigger on Ubilluz's AKM, which becomes sort of a torture to keep putting his bare finger on, to the smell of the earth, and the sensations of the cold mud squelching through his torn boot. This is all prefaced by Ubilluz claiming that he will soon forget this night, but at the same time, such a careful cataloging of moments such as these seems to belie that. Is the story complete? Perhaps not -- this is just a fragment of Ubilluz's time here on earth. Still, as mental shrapnel, the tale works rather efficiently.

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