When she hears about the suicide of a local train driver who has jumped off the roof of a block of flats, leaving a suicide note confessing to four mortal ‘accidents’ on the train tracks, she decides to investigate. For the police the case is closed (suicide is suicide), for Veronica it is the beginning of a journey that takes her into an unfamiliar world of grinding poverty, junkie infested neighborhoods, and train drivers on commuter lines haunted by the memory of bodies hit at speed by their locomotives in the middle of the night. Aided by a train driver informant, a junkie in rehab and two street kids willing to risk everything for a can of Coke, she uncovers a group of men involved in betting on working-class youngsters convinced to play Russian roulette by standing in front of fast-coming trains to see who endures the longest. With bodies of children crushed under tons of steel, those of adults yielding to relentless desire, the resolution of the investigation reveals the deep bonds which unite desire and death
The building was at least eighty years old. Once it had been the Hotel Arizona, but Alfredo Carranza didn’t know that, nor would he have cared. For him it was the place where he went to see the psychologist the company had arranged for him. He didn’t know that the building at 1000 Calle Talcahuano provided space not only to psychologists and doctors but also to lawyers, small businesses and prostitutes offering a discreet service from rented apartments. For that reason, the number of casual visitors every day was considerable and security on the door was correspondingly lax, despite the presence of two employees in reception.
Carranza knew exactly where he was going. He had taken the number 39 bus from Constitución to a stop on Marcelo T de Alvear, just as he had twice a week for the last three months. As he turned onto Talcahuano he felt a cold wind hit him full in the face. It was one of those autumn evenings when you start to feel winter in the air, pricking your face. Carranza wore brown chinos, a checked shirt beneath a cream-coloured pullover and on top of everything a raincoat which was arguably too light for such a cold day. A storm was brewing. Flashes of lightning lit up the sky and any minute the downpour would be unleashed.
Carranza walked with his hands in his pockets, his head down, his gaze lost among the broken paving stones and dog shit. In the last few weeks he had familiarized himself pretty well with the building. He had noted the indifference with which visitors were greeted and been heartened by it. He couldn’t have coped with anyone catching his eye between the entrance and the therapist’s consulting room.
When had his plan for that day begun to take shape? Perhaps it was on the afternoon when he came out of his appointment with no stomach for the street, people, buses, the journey home, his family and his wife’s quizzical gaze. She was always trying to read in his expression if the therapy was working.
Carranza crossed the street, keeping a tight hold on the paper that he carried in his left pocket. It was a lined sheet of notepaper which he had taken from his eldest son’s folder. He had written on it while locked in the bathroom, before leaving home, in that uneven handwriting that he had never managed to improve, not since primary school. He had folded it four times and stored it carefully in his coat pocket.
Nobody but me is to blame for this.
A few yards before reaching the building, he bumped into someone, a young man who got annoyed and told him to look where he was going. The man looked ready for a fight, but he had to resign himself to continuing on his way, because Carranza apologized without even looking up.
I can’t go on any more. I killed them. All four of them.
Carranza entered the building and, as usual, nobody paid him any attention. The receptionist, short, dark-skinned, with a cheerful face, would later not remember having seen him at all, and – if it hadn’t been for the security camera at the entrance, the only one in the building – it would have been difficult to ascertain exactly when he came in. The people who took the elevator with him wouldn’t remember him either, nor would the lady who, on the fifth floor,
was about to get in and asked Carranza if he was going down to the lobby. Nobody saw him enter, or go up in the elevator, or get out on the top floor.
I thought that I could live with this. I thought that I could live with the deaths of the first three. But not with the child’s.
There was nobody on the roof. The lowering sky was lit up by periodic lightning and a few drops of rain began to fall. He walked to the edge of the terrace, which was contained by a low wall, not much higher than his waist. Leaning against the wet concrete, he looked down. He saw the cars waiting at a red light and people hurrying along the sidewalk. Some umbrellas moved from one side of the street to the other, like balls in an electronic game.
I knew that day that I would kill him. That it would fall to me. We all knew it. All the way round I was waiting to come across them. At that moment I wanted to kill them. Both of them. Just for being there, for wanting to ruin my life.
There was no time for anything else. It was all decided. He had thought about it a lot and, although he would have done everything in his power to avoid this, there was no other way out of the hell he was living in, the deep pit into which he had fallen years ago.
But when they appeared I didn’t want to kill them any more. I wanted everything to be different. I wanted to go back to Sandra and the kids. But I killed him, I killed the little one. I want to say that I’m so sorry, say it to everyone, to his family. Sandra, forgive me. Look after Dani and Mati. Forgive me. I just can’t bear it any more.
With difficulty he climbed onto the wall, which the rain had made slippery. He stood up straight, like an Olympic swimmer about to dive. It was simple. All he had to do was step forward and jump. But his legs wouldn’t obey him, he couldn’t bring himself to take the step. The body rebelled against the mind’s plan. Carranza had imagined that something like this might happen, so he reached into the right pocket of his raincoat and took out the pistol he’d brought with him. Then his hand accomplished what his legs had refused to do. He shot himself in the temple and his body fell like a rock, ricocheted off the top floor overhang and finally slammed onto the sidewalk. There were screams of panic, confused movements around the body, the sound of a police siren approaching, another siren, more distant, from an ambulance. And all of it beneath a rain that kept coming harder, crueller and more desolate.
Thank you, Sergio Olguín and Random Things Tours.
About the author
Sergio Olguín was born in Buenos Aires in 1967 and was a journalist before turning to fiction. Olguín has won
a number of awards, among others the Premio Tusquets 2009 for his novel Oscura monótona sangre (“Dark
Monotonous Blood“) His books have been translated into German, French and Italian. The Fragility of Bodies
is his first novel to be translated into English.
The translator Miranda France is the author of two acclaimed volumes of travel writing: Don Quixote’s
Delusions and Bad Times in Buenos Aires. She has also written the novels Hill Farm and The Day Before the
Fire and translated much Latin American fiction, including Claudia Piñeiro’s novels for Bitter Lemon Press.