I Decided to Translate Horacio Quiroga's Short Story “El Hijo”

I decided to translate Horacio Quiroga's short story “El hijo” (“The Son”) partly for its low word

count: the amateur translator would be led to believe the story lends itself to a manageable project. But the story's brevity masks its philosophic weight, as well as the difficulty of its prose for the nonnative Spanish-speaker. Brilliantly and devastatingly, Quiroga's story dramatizes how we believe what we want to be true. Hobbyist literary translators are not immune. My lack of familiarity with Quiroga's style (I have not read his work in English), among other things, undermines a bit of my confidence in the translation. If anyone reading this blog has suggestions for improving said translation, feel free to contact me with those suggestions.

The Son
It is a powerful summer day in Misiones, with all the sun, heat, and calm the season can provide. Nature, completely unbounded, feels satisfied with herself. Like the sun, the heat, and the atmospheric lull, the father also opens his heart to Nature. “Be careful, kid,” he says to his son, with that sentence cutting short any discussion of the matter. His son understands perfectly. “Yes, Dad,” the child replies, as he grabs his rifle and loads shells into his shirt pockets, which he closes carefully. “Come back at lunch time,” the father says. “Yes, Dad,” the boy repeats. He balances the rifle in his hand, smiles at his fother, kisses him on the head, and leaves. For a moment, his father follows him with his eyes and then returns to his day's work, happy at his son's joy. He knows that his son, taught from his earliest infancy to be wary of danger, can handle a rifle and hunt anything. The boy is only thirteen years old, but quite tall for his age. Yet he seems younger, judging by the purity of his blue eyes, still fresh with childlike surprise. The father does not need to lift his eyes from his work to follow, in his mind's eye, his son's course: he has crossed the red path and headed straight toward the scrubland across from the opening in the sparta grass. To hunt in the scrubland – the boy hunts for pelts – requires patience beyond his young son's capacity. After crossing that island of scrubland, his son will move along the edge of the cactus growth to the marsh, looking for doves, tucans, or a flock of herons just like those his friend Juan has discovered so recently. Only now does the trace of a smile appear on the father's face at the memory of the boys' passion for hunting. Sometimes they shoot only a yacútoro or a surucuá, and return triumphant: Juan to his ranch with the nine-millimeter rifle he was given as a present; his son to the plateau, with the great sixteen-millimeter quadruple-locked Saint-Etienne rifle and white powder. He had been just like his son. At thirteen, he migh have given his life to own a rifle. His son, at the same age, already owned one – and the father smiles. It is not easy, however, for a widowed father, with neither faith nor hope but that for the life of his son, to educate him as he has, free in his short range of action, sure of his little hands and feet since he was ten years old, aware of the immensity of certain dangers and the limits of his own powers. That father has had to fight hard against what he considers his selfishness. How easily might a child judge wrongly and feel a footing in the emptiness! Then a son is lost! Danger continues to exist for a man at any age; but there is less of a threat if since earliest childhood he is used to relying on nothing but his own powers. That father has raised his son in this belief. And to achieve these ends, he has had to resist not only his heart, but his moral torment; because that father, weak-stomached and poorly sighted, has

suffered halucinations for a time now. He has seen memories of a happiness that should have risen no farther than the nothingness in which it is confined, concrete in its distressing illusion. The image of his own son has not escaped his torment. He has seen him stumbling, covered in blood, when the booy struck the workshop forge with a pistol bullet while smoothing over the clasp of his hunting belt. Horrible things. But now, with the ardent and vital summer day, whose love his son seems to have inherited. The father feels happy, tranquil, and sure of the future. In that moment, not far away, a shot rings out. The Saint-Etienne, thinks the father when he recognizes the blast. Two fewer doves in the forest. Without paying any more attention to the insignificant event, the father once again becomes absorbed in his work. The sun, already quite high, continues rising. Wherever the eye falls – on rocks, earth, trees – the air, rarified as if in an oven, throbs with heat. A deep hum fills the entire being and pervades the surroundings as far as the eye can see, and joins all tropica life at that hour. The father puts an ear to his wrist: noon. And he raises his eyes toward the scrubland. His son should be on his way back already. With the trust they place in each other – the silvertempled father and the thirteen-year-old boy – they no longer deceive themselves. When his son answers, “Yes, Dad, I'll do what you say.” He said he would return before twelve, and the father smiled when he saw him leave. And he has not returned. The man goes back to his work, forcing himself to concentrate his attention on his task. It is so easy, so easy to lose the notion of time inside the woods, to rest motionless for a moment on the forest floor! Suddenly, the midday sun, the tropical hum, and the father's heart stop at the same time. He has just begun to think: his son rests, motionless... Time has passed; it's now twelve-thirty. The father leaves his workshop, and when he rests his hand on the mechanic's bench, the pistol shot rises in his memory. In an instant, for the first time in the last three hours, he considers that he has heard nothing else since the shot from the Sainte-Etienne. He has not heard the stony ground moving along under a familiar footstep. His son has not returned, and Nature finds herslef help up on the edge of the forest, waiting. A shot, a single shot has rung out, and that was a while ago now. After it, the father has not heard a sound, has seen neither a bird nor a single person, and has not crossed the opening to anounce that great misfortune awaits he who crosses the wire fence... Head up and without machete, the father begins to walk. He cuts through the opening of sparta grass, enters the scrub, skirst the line of cacti without coming across the smallest trace of his son. But Nature continues, motionless. And when the father has covered the hunting paths he knows and explored the swamp in vain, he becomes certain that each step forward is taking him, terribly and inexoribly, to his son's dead body. Sadly, he cannot bring reproach on himself. Only the cold reality, terrible and consummate: his son has died as he was about to cross... But where, in what part! There are so many fences there, and the scrub is so dirty – oh, very dirty! How little care he takes not to cross the wires, gun in hand! The father suppresses a scream. He's seen, rising in the air...Oh, he's not your son! And he returns to the other side, and the other and the other. Nothing would be gained by seeing the color of his skin or the anguish in his eyes. That man has not even called to his son. Although his heart cries out for him at the top of his lungs, his mouth remains mute. Well he knows that the act of speaking his name, of crying it aloud, will be confession of his death.

“Chiquito!” escapes all of a sudden. And if the voice of a man of character is capable of crying, we must cover our ears in mercy before the anguish that sounds in that voice. No one or nothing has responded. Through the sour red of the sun, aged over ten years, goes the father in search of his son, who has just died. “My son! Chiquito mio!” he cries out in a diminutive that rises from the depths of his entrails. Before this moment, in the midst of peace and happiness, that father has suffered the halucination of his son rolling around with his forehead opened by a chrome-nickel bullet. Now, in every gloomy corner of the forest, he sees flashings of wire: and at the foot of a pole, with the unloaded rifle by his side, he sees his – “Chiquito! My son!” The forces that allow a poor halucinating father to step in to the most atrocious nightmare also have a limit. And ours feels that his are escaping him, when he sees all of as sudden a steep side path leading him down to his son. To a thirteen-year-old boy, it is enough to see, at a distance of fifty meters, the expression of his moist-eyed father, without a machete to speed up his step, inside the forest. “Chiquito,” the man whispers. And, exhausted, he lets himself fall to the white sand, wrapping his arms around his son's legs. The boy, though tightly held, comes to his feet. And as he understands his father's pain, he slowly caresses his father's head. “Poor father.” Finally, time has passed. It's already about to be three. Together, the father and son now begin the return to the house. “Didn't you pay attention to the sun to see what time it was?” murmurs the former. “I paid attention, Dad. But when I was going to come back I saw Juan's herons and followed them.” “What you've put me through, chiquito!” “Dad,” murmurs the boy as well. And after a long silence: “And the herons, did you kill them?” “No.” Trivial detail, after all. Under the burning airs through the treeless opening in the sparta grass, the man returns home with his son, on whose shoulders, almost as tall as his own, rest the father's happy arms. He returns bathed in sweat, and although he is broken of spirit and of body, he smiles with happiness. * * *

He smiles in a halucinated happiness. For that father goes alone. He has come across no on, and his arm leans on emptiness. Because behind him, at the foot of a pole with his legs raised, tangled in barbed wire, lies his well loved son, dead since ten in the morning.

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