The witnesses When I told Polanco that there was a fly in my house that flew on his1 back, one

of those heavy silences followed, like the holes in a large cheese floating in the air.2 Of course, Polanco being a dear friend, just asked me politely if I was quite sure. But I am not that foolish or naive. I explained to him in detail that I had discovered the fly on page 231 of Oliver Twist, that is to say, while I was reading Oliver Twist—with the doors and windows closed—and I glanced up exactly at the moment when that malicious Sykes3 was about to kill poor Nancy, and I saw three flies that were flying upside down. What Polanco said then was totally idiotic, but it is not really worth explaining before I explain some other things that had happened earlier. At first, it didn’t seem so strange to me that a fly would fly around upside down if he felt like it, because although I had never seen such behavior, science teaches us, that that is no reason to reject out-of-hand what our own senses tell us no matter how out of the ordinary. It occurred to me that the poor little creature may just have a defective sense of equilibrium or central nervous system. But what was striking to me was that the fly was so much more spirited and joyful than his two companions who flew in the conventional manner with their feet below them. Clearly, among other things, flying on his back allowed him to land comfortably on the ceiling because from such a position he could get closer and closer to the ceiling and then land. But everything has its drawbacks, each time he felt like resting on my box of Cuban cigars, he found that he was forced to perform a flying pirouette—as described in the English aviation texts that have been so well-translated into

His or its? As the story continues, a special relationship develops between the narrator and the The first paragraph has a very unusual simile “silencios que parecen agujeros en el gran

fly. He even calls the fly, “my fly”, almost like a pet or a person, so I think “his.”

queso del aire.”


Spanish in Barcelona—meanwhile his two companions sat regally like queens on the “made in Havana” label4 on the very spot where Romeo was enthusiastically hugging Juliet. Just as he was tiring of Shakespeare, the fly spread out on his back and he fluttered around in the company of the other two, demonstrating the phenomena that those two fools, Pauwels and Bergier5 insisted on calling Brownianos.6 This may all seem strange but curiously at the time it seemed perfectly natural as if it couldn’t have been any other way. Abandoning poor Nancy in the hands of Sykes (after all, what could one do about a crime already a century old?) I climbed into the armchair and struggled to lower myself into an uncomfortable reclining position and when Mrs. Fotheringham came to let me know that dinner was ready (I live in a boarding house) I answered her—without opening the door— that I would be down in two minutes. Because she was always quite concerned with matters of time, I asked her if by chance she knew the lifespan of a fly. Mrs. Fotheringham, who knew her tenants extremely well, answered without the slightest surprise “between 1015 days. Now don’t let that rabbit pie get cold.” That first bit of news was enough to make me decide quickly—a decision like this is like the sudden leap of a panther—that I absolutely must investigate this phenomenon and communicate my small yet alarming findings to the scientific world. Later, as I was telling Polanco as much, I realized that there were some practical difficulties. If flies were to take flight with their mouths down or on their backs, they could

Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels published a few books in the 60s (eg. Morning of the

Magicians that some consider the earliest expression of “new age philosophy”. The reference is ironically derisive because Cortázar is also questioning conventional beliefs and reality.
6 --- the

seemingly random movement of particles suspended in a fluid (i.e. a liquid or gas) or the mathematical model used to describe such random movements, often called a particle theory. Should this have a footnote? How well-understood is particle theory?


escape from anywhere due to their7 well-proven agility, but when imprisoned,8 a pitcher or even a glass box could disturb this natural behavior or could even hasten their death. Of the 10-15 days of his life, I wondered how many remained for this poor9 little creature--which was right now floating legs up in a state of pure bliss just two inches from my face? I knew that if I notified the Museum of Natural History, they would send some Galician10 armed with a net which might cause a horrible splat11 of my incredible discovery. If I filmed it (Polanco makes films—although with women) I would run the double risk of having the reflectors on the set ruining the flight mechanism of my fly and returning it to the state of any normal fly with enormous disappointment for Polanco, myself and even probably for the fly; apart from the future audience who would no doubt accuse us of shameful trick photography. In less than an hour (It must be understood that the life of a fly passes with incredible speed if compared to my human life). I decided that the only solution was to reduce little by little the dimensions of my room until the fly and I would be confined to the smallest possible space.12 This was essential from a scientific standpoint in order to ensure that my observations would be precise and indisputable (I would carry a diary, I would take photos, etc.) and this would allow

Another problem with the its or his, in this case although it seems “it” is appropriate because it Does this mean that even when imprisoned a fly can typically escape but a simple pitcher or a

refers to a generic fly but seems inconsistent so the plural works best.

glass could prevent this? Is this contradictory? Am I correctly interpreting the ST. Is it a simple punctuation issue?

I want to add poor, because the diminutive and the tone seem to call for it but is it adding too Gallician – a stereotype or joke here? 1. Plaf = smack! (From The Concise Oxford Spanish Dictionary (Spanish-English) in Bilingual There are many space and time paralells so choosing words that retain the secondary level

10 11

Dictionaries) “splat” of the fly by the net, squashing the flly?

space or time meanings is important like the art and science paralells.


me to create a scientific record—but not without calling Polanco first, so that he could testify for me, calmly not only about the veracity of the flight of the fly but about my sanity. But,13 I will abbreviate my description of the infinite tasks that followed in the struggle against time and Mrs. Fotheringham. I resolved the problem of entering and leaving the room so that the fly would always be far from the door (one of the other two flies had escaped earlier, which turned out was fortunate because the other fly was subsequently squashed violently under the ashtray). I began to transport all the necessary materials for reducing the dimensions of my space, but not before explaining to Mrs. Fotheringham that I was trying some temporary changes. Reaching through the door, just barely ajar, I passed her two porcelain sheep, a portrait of Lady Hamilton and most of the furniture, this last with the terrible risk of having to have the door wide open14 and all the while, the fly was sleeping on the ceiling or washing his face on my desk. During the first part of these activities, I was forced to observe Mrs. Fotheringham with more scrutiny than the fly, because, it seemed15 increasingly likely to me that she would call the police because she didn’t seem to be able to understand me through the crack in the door. It seemed that the most worrisome thing for Mrs. Fotheringham was the arrival of the large16 cardboard sheets since apparently she could not understand my purpose. I could not risk confiding in her because I knew her well enough to know that she could care less about the styles of flight peculiar to flies. I limited myself to assuring her that I was striving to create some architectural structure like an elliptical

13 14 15 16

But increases cohesion here but seems unnecessary in the Spanish. 2x2? 2 meters squared is too large for a doorframe, unless they are huge or double doors? I was noticing seems implied in English especially if I add to me after.


theater vaguely associated with the designs of Palladio17—a concept to which she responded with the same expression as a turtle might in similar circumstances. I also promised that I would reimburse her for any damages. In a few hours, I had already installed the sheets of cardboard, 8 feet inside of the walls and ceiling of my room, thanks to many modern miracles of engineering like scotch tape and hangars. The fly did not seem annoyed or alarmed; he continued flying upside down and he consumed a good part of the lump of sugar and thimbleful of water that I had lovingly placed within reach. I mustn’t forget to note (everything has been recorded extensively in my diary) that Polanco was not at home when I called and that a woman with an Panamanian accent had answered his telephone and professed complete ignorance about the whereabouts of my friend. Living such a solitary and retiring, I confided in no one but Polanco. While awaiting his reappearance I decided to continue closing up the fly’s “habitat” to create the optimal conditions for the experiment. I was lucky that the second layer of cardboard was much smaller than the previous layer, like a Russian doll and Ms. Fotheringham allowed me to cart it up and bring it into my room without taking any measures to stop me other than putting her hand to her mouth while twirling an iridescent feather duster over her head. Fearfully, I foresaw that the life cycle of my fly was rapidly nearing its end. The experiments were demonstrating that the fly was spending more time resting and washing his face, as if flight fatigued or bored him. I stimulated him lightly by waving my hand back and forth to check his reflexes and the truth was that the little creature could

Palladio's work was based on the symmetry, perspective and values of the formal classical

temple architecture of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. It could look like an old elliptical "Anatomy Theatre" with the layers of seats all around a central stage with an autopsy table.


shoot like a arrow upside down, flying over the space of the cubicle that was always smaller and smaller and always on his back. Sometimes though, as he was approaching the sheet of cardboard that was the ceiling attempting to land—and it hurts me to say this, but now he was lacking perfect accuracy and also when he landed on the sugar or on my nose. And still, Polanco was not in his house. On the third day, mortally terrified at the idea that the fly would meet his end at any moment (it was outrageous to think that I would find him with his legs up on the floor, motionless forever and identical to all other flies), I carried in the last series of cardboard sheets and reduced the observation space to such a degree that it became impossible to continue to stand up and I had to build myself an angle of observation level with the floor with the help of two pillows and a mattress that Mrs. Fotheringham brought up to me crying. At this level there was a problem of entering and leaving; each time I had to very carefully separate and reposition three layers of cardboard and not allow even the least opening until arriving at the door of my room, behind which some of the tenants were gathering around. Because of this, when I heard the voice of Polanco on the telephone, I let out a shout that he and his ear, nose and throat specialist later determined to be dangerous. I began a stammering explanation but Polanco cut me off and offered to come over to me house immediately but the two of us and the fly could not fit into such the small space and I understood that I had to make him understand the facts right away in order that he could become an observer and a witness that the fly was indeed crazy but not I. I met him in the café at the corner near my house and I told him the story over a couple of beers.


Polanco lit his pipe and looked at me for a while. Evidently he was impressed and it occurred to me maybe he was even a little pale. I believe I have already said already at the beginning that he asked me politely if I was sure about what I was saying. He must have been convinced because he continued smoking and meditating. He didn’t notice that I didn’t want to waste any more time (afterall, what if already he was dead, what if already the fly was dead?) I paid for the beer so that he would make a decisión once in for all. But he didn’t decide and I got mad and I alluded to his moral obligation to support me in something that would only be believed if I had a credible witness. He shrugged his shoulders as if a sudden overwhelming sadness had come over him. “It’s useless, kid,” he told me finally, “For you; it is best if they believe you although I don’t accompany you. But as for me . . .” “And you? Why wouldn’t they believe you?” “Because that would be even worse, my brother,” murmured Polanco “Look it is abnormal and unseemly that a fly would fly upside down. “The fact is, the case must be made that it does not follow logic. “I tell you that he flies that way!” I shouted, falling over some other customers. “I agree it flies like that. But actually, that fly keeps flying just like any other fly, it is only that, but he takes himself18 to be the exception. It is just that the rest have turned around19,” said Polanco. “Already you can understand that no one is going to believe this, or me, simply because it is not something one can prove, instead the fly is just there, it is very clear. At any rate, it is best that we go and I help you to dismantle the


le tocó el premio he got the prize; he is the exception, he gets to be the exception, he becomes the exception, he considers himself the exception 19 media vuelta face about; to do an about face, turn around


cardboard before they throw you out of the boarding house. It seems to be the best solution for you.


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