issue 31: july -august 2002 

spanish original | author bio

half an hourHalf an Hour
Enrique Ferrari
Translated by Graham Thomson

"Nothing was solved when the fight was over,
but nothing mattered"
C. Palahnuik


Twelve noon. Every minute is a kick in the ass.
      I’m ten thousand kilometres away from all the people and all the places I care about, in a ball-breaking job I don’t know how to do, with false papers, surrounded by bosses and co-workers who talk the brutalized slang of a language I can barely stammer, in temperatures that might suit a lizard but not human life.
      Thirsty, tired, disgusted. An unbearable sun, huge, white, dirty. And the heat. Hell.
      Twelve noon.
      I wipe the sweat off my forehead and start up the machine again. I feel the motor judder. It feels like my arm is about to come off.
      It was a few months ago, just before I fled Buenos Aires, and the rack rents and the nights with no dinner, that I had the accident.
      After almost a year without work, since they fired me from the publisher’s, I had got a start driving a taxi. A Peugeot 504 in not bad condition.
      I was cruising around looking for fares that didn’t exist, slow, bored. Tabaco was on the radio. I had almost crossed the junction of Humberto 1 and Gálvez when I felt the impact. A rich kid going too fast in a blue Fiat had misjudged and crashed straight into the rear wheel of the 504.
      Fuck, I thought.
      I had my right arm draped on the wheel and my left arm hanging out of the window. I lost control. The Peugeot rolled over twice and ended up on its left side, on my arm.
      Eight in the morning. Panic, broken glass, pain, hospital, X-rays.
      Severed tendons? Just a bone broken? Gangrene? Smashed muscles?
      Can you move your fingers? Will we have to amputate below the elbow?
      The doubts went on for a couple of weeks. When they were sure the infection wasn’t going to affect the bone they operated.
      Twenty stitches, a platinum plate, eight screws. Pain, pain, pain.
      A few days before leaving, as she was taking out my stitches, Dr Splitz warned me emphatically not to make any effort until the arm had completely recovered.
      And when is that going to be? I asked.
      It’s going to take some time. When you feel that the damaged arm is functioning as well as the other one, you’ll know, don’t worry.
      But necessity, as popular wisdom tells us, has the face of a heretic. And here I am: still without enough strength in my left arm to lift a beer bottle and working this bastard machine that weighs three hundred kilos.
      Half past twelve. Lunch time. Half an hour.
      I pull off my T-shirt and go across the street.
      Nothing, I repeat.
      Nothing makes sense and I don’t know what the next play is or where to find the strength to make it. Until last night I was jiving away my troubles with music, beer, and the expectation of her imminent arrival.
      Until yesterday.
      Half past ten at night. Beer with whisky, always a brutal combination. A record, then another and another and another.
      Only a handful
      of dirty stories,
      afternoons at the track
      and nights with whores
      I was slumped in the armchair, eyes well open, the glass of poison in my hand, singing.
      Terrible jobs,
      crazy loves,
      loneliness, sadness,
      hangover and bad luck.
      The telephone rang. Static and echo on the voices.
      They refused my visa, she said.
      At least six months, she said.
      I don’t know what to do, she said and she cried.
      I love you.
      I love you, she said.
      I love you.
      Eleven p.m.; eleven o’clock at night and ten thousand kilometres. Loneliness, sadness, hangover and bad luck.
      Now I’m going into the supermarket. I go to the counter where they make the sandwiches. Sandwich-with-everything-that-can-go-in-it. There are four people waiting.
      At least for a few minutes the air conditioning screens me from the heat. My turn, my sandwich. I look for a pack of chewing gum and a can of Heineken.
      Check-out for less than six items. Three people in front of me.
      The first is buying two cans of peas, a box of hamburgers, ketchup. Got some problem with the debit card, can’t remember the number or something.
      I wait.
      After a while they get the card to work.
      Next customer. I can’t believe it. This lady is some incalculable age, a good few years more than anyone would admit to and a whole lot more than the recommended maximum. Her purchases: milk, two toothbrushes, shampoo, mints, a pot of cream.
      Eight fifty-seven.
      The lady doesn’t understand or isn’t in agreement, she argues about every one of the prices, shows some discount vouchers.
      Eight fifty-seven.
      She doesn’t accept the explanations, waves her coupons in the air.
      Eight fifty-seven.
      My half-hour for lunch is evaporating like a puddle of piss on the concrete.
      Eight fifty-seven.
      Somehow they convince her. She pays.
      Another person. My kind of woman. Under twenty, to start with. Black hair, mussed up, very long, looks sleepy and sullen. Two sachets of alka-seltzer, a bottle of Coke. Her T-shirt is inside out, sunglasses, frayed cut-off jeans. Hangover and in a hurry.
      But it’s time to change cashiers. They count coins, converse quietly, they separate the bills into two envelopes and write something on a time sheet.
      The girl with the hangover manages to pay and runs out, I imagine to hide in the dark. And I want to go with her.
      My turn.
      Sandwich, two forty-nine.
      Beer, one twenty.
      Chewing gum, twenty-five cents.
      Tax, twenty-three cents.
      Total four seventeen.
      I pay with a five. The cashier is nervous, he gets mixed up with the receipt and the change. He looks new, maybe it’s his first day or maybe he’s just subnormal. He’s got red hair and a face covered in freckles and pimples.
      I’m never going to get out of this place, I think, this is the hell my seventeen personal demons had lined up for me: waiting in a line, forever.
      Eighty-three cents your change, sir, acne-face says, have a nice day.
      I leave the supermarket and submerge myself in the empire of the sick whitish sun.
      Twelve fifty-three. In seven minutes I have to be working again.
      I cross the parking lot diagonally, to save a few seconds. In any case my steps are slow, my boots feel heavy, the heat of this tropical hell, the prospect of a rushed luncheon and another four hours’ heavy work, the absurdity.
      Sun, tedium, nothing.
      Without having noticed it I’m in the way of the cars trying to leave the parking lot. I walk across their path diagonally without looking.
      The guy is blond, he’s fat, he’s exaggeratedly American. He’s wearing a baseball cap that says Marlins, he’s got his two kids in the back of a grey Mustang, this year’s. Six cylinders in Vs, air conditioning, compact player for six CDs, Bose speakers, air bag, power steering, five-speed automatic shift, electronic windows.
      He doesn’t insult me, he doesn’t yell at me to run, he doesn’t sound the horn.
      He revs the engine to a roar and bucks the grey Mustang —fully-equipped— threatening to run it over me.
      The sun shines on my tired body. I can feel the disbelief and the hate building up in my chest, I can feel the blood thicken in my veins.
      I launch a nicely aimed kick that smashes into the grey fender. The fender is dented, the balance is broken; I’ve just annulled a form of perfection.
      Five to one. Nerves, tension, rage. I start to shake and my arm hurts. I clench my jaw.
      The fat guy tries to get out. Another boot —on the door this time— leaves him trapped, sandwiched: the door against his chest, his back against the body of the Mustang.
      I let go of the bag and the can of Heineken makes a dull noise on the asphalt. When I open it, it’s going to shoot a load of foam, I think.
      The first right connects full in the contorted blond face. Time for the left. I hit and it hurts, the rage swells under the arrogant white of the sun.
      The face of the guy from the Mustang disfigures and changes. Now it’s the former economy minister, father of the plan, one of the visible faces of the recession and the unemployment, a punch. Now it’s Zapata, the supervisor who fired me from the publisher’s, another punch. Now it’s every one of the people who trashed me when I was looking for work, another punch. The cartilage loses its shape and there’s blood. Now it’s the speeding kid who crashed into my taxi, punch. Now it’s the consul refusing her a visa, another punch. The old woman who didn’t understand eight fifty-seven, the red-haired cashier with the acne, me. Punch, punch, punch.
      The face is an amorphous red mush. My arm hurts a lot. The guy falls down.
      I kick the door again and hear the crunch of bones breaking and a moan. Tough luck, his hand must have got caught in the door.
      But the crunch brings me back to reality. I see the kids crying in the back seat, the swollen face, the flaccid livid hand. I see the stupidity of it all.
      I take stock of the situation: my visa expired three days ago, I’m working with false papers —for nine hours a day I’m somebody else, I’m Scott Zambrano— I’ve just broken the hand and nose of an American citizen. Eighteen to thirty-six months in the shade, then deportation.
      I look around and don’t see any gawkers. It was pretty quick, in any case.
      I pull on my T-shirt, cross the street fast and go a couple of blocks before sitting down in the shade of a tree to eat my lunch.
      Three minutes to one. Nothing has happened and everything has happened.
      I’m going to be late back to work, I think.
      Maybe they’ll give me a warning.
      Maybe they’ll suspend me.
      Maybe they’ll fire me.
      I open the can of Heineken. It isn’t cold any more and it shoots a load of foam. It doesn’t matter.
      I take a slug. Nothing matters.

© 2002 Enrique Ferrari
2002 Graham Thomson (translation)
spanish original

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author bio

FerrariEnrique Ferrari was born in Buenos Aires in the grey winter of 1972, which might explain a few things. His work has been published in Buenos Aires No Duerme 98 and in the magazines La Bota Literaria, Epopeya and El Cuento as well as on the websites Zapatos Rojos, La página de Charles Bukowski de Sergi Puertas, Perro Negro , El Ciruja and El Correo del Zar, among others. He is a regular contributor to the literary newsletter Sensibles del Sur.
      He is the author of two collections of short stories, Pero la noche es otra cosa and Nada, from which this story comes, and is currently working on his first novel, Operación Bukowski. He has also written more than thirty songs.
      To pay for food, beer and the vice of literature he has worked as a porter, a baker, a taxi driver, a dishwasher, a sub chef and an assistant gardener; and he has sold pensions, mortgages and jewelry, among other less legal things. Since late 1999 he has lived in the U.S., where he drinks and writes.E-mail:


 tbr 31           july - august  2002

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