Sunday, July 18, 2010

Miguel Delibes | "Azarias" from The Holy Innocents

Miguel Delibes
"Azarias" from The Holy Innocents
Translated from the Spanish by Thomas Deveny

Azarias's attitude bothered his sister Regula, and she scolded him, and then he returned to Jara, to the master, who was bothered by Azarias's attitude because she hoped that the kids would become educated, something that her brother thought was an error, since,
then they won't be good for anything,

he pontificated with his misty and slightly nasal tone of voice,

and on the other hand, in Jara, where the master was, no one worried if one or another knew how to read or write, or if they were learned or unlearned, or if Azarias roamed about from one place to another, with his patched corduroy pants down to the back of the knees, his fly without any buttons, murmuring and with bare feet, and even if suddenly he went over to his sisters and the master asked for him and they answered,

he went over to his sister's, master,

the master, so strong, didn't get upset, maybe he imperceptibly raised a shoulder, the left one, but he didn't inquire any more, nor did he comment on the news; when he returned, just as he was,

Azarias is back now, master,

and the master forced a half smile and that was that, since the only thing that exasperated the master was that Azarias affirmed that he was one year older than the master, since in reality, Azarias was already a boy when the master was born, but Azarias didn't remember that, and if on occasion he affirmed that he was one year older than the master it was because Dacio, the pigherd, told him so one New Year's Eve when he was going around a little tipsy, and it stuck in Azarias's head, and as often as they would ask him,

how old are you, Azarias?

he would respond,

exactly one year older than the master,

but it wasn't out of malice, nor out of a pleasure for lying, but rather out of pure childishness, since it wasn't right that the master complain about that and call him a rascal , and it wasn't fair either, since Azarias, in exchange for wandering around the ranch all God's day, murmuring and sort of chewing nothing, looking intently at his fingernails on his right hand, he would shine the master's car with a yellow cloth and he would unscrew the valve stem caps on the cars of the master's friends so that the master would never be lacking the day that things started to go poorly and things got scarce, and as if that were not enough, Azarias took care of the dogs, the pointer and the setter, and the three foxhounds, and if, in the wee hours of the night, the shepherd's mastiff began to howl in the middle of the oak grove, and the ranch dogs made a racket, he, Azarias, would calm them down with good words, he would pet them insistently between their eyes until they calmed down and would sleep, and with the first light, he would go out onto the patio, and stretching himself, he would open the gate and would let the turkeys loose in the oak grove, in back of the hedges, protected by the metal fence, and then he would clean the chicken dung from the coops, and when he finished, water the geraniums and the willow tree, and tidy up the owl's pen and caress him between his ears, and as night began to fall, everyone knew, Azarias, sitting on the three-legged stool near the fire in the desolate entrance way plucked the feathers from partridges or woodcocks or turtledoves, or pin-tailed sand grouses retrieved by the master during the day, and frequently, if there were an abundant number of birds, he would reserve one for the goshawk, so that the owl, each time that he saw him appear, would envelope him in his yellow round gaze, and would chatter with his beak, as if he were aroused, all out of spontaneous affection, and he would hiss like a cat at everyone else, including the master, and he would bear his claws, whereas he distinguished him, since rarely a night would go by that he didn't treat him, when lacking a more exquisite morsel, with a magpie or a buzzard or a half dozen sparrows that were trapped with a birdlime on the pond where the carp were, or who knows what, but in any case, Azarias called him the Grand Duke, everytime that he got close to him making his voice velvety smooth,

pretty goshawk, pretty goshawk,

and he scratched him between the eyes, and he smiled at him with his toothless gums, and in case he tied him so that the master or the mistress or the friends of the master or the friends of the mistress could entertain themselves, shooting at eagles or rooks through the embrasure, hidden in the hunting blind, Azarias rolled a piece of red flannel on his right foot so that the chain would not do him any harm, and as long as the master or the mistress or the friends of the master or the friends of the mistress stayed inside the hunting blind, he waited, squatting in the bushes, underneath the roof of the lookout tower, watching after him, shaking like a green stem, and even though he was a like hard of hearing, he heard the dry bangs of the detonations, and he shook and closed his eyes at each one, and when he opened them again, he looked toward the owl, and when he saw him unharmed, sitting straight and defiant, making himself like a shield, over the stone, he was proud of him, and moved, he said to himself,

pretty goshawk,

and he felt a vehement desire to scratch him between the ears and, as soon as the master or the mistress or the friends of the master or the friends of the mistress became tired of killing buzzards and rooks and came out of the hunting blind stretching themselves and restoring the feeling in their limbs as if they had abandoned a mine shaft, he would approach the Great Duke, moving his jaw up and down, as if he chewed something, and the owl, then, overflowed with satisfaction, fluffed himself up like a peacock and Azarias smiled at him,

you didn't act cowardly, goshawk,

he said to him,

and he scratched him between the eyes to reward him, and later, he picked up the downed eagles from the ground, one after another, he hung them on the hanger, he carefully unchained the owl, he put him into the large cage with wooden bars, he threw it over his shoulder, and ever so softly he took off toward the ranch house without waiting for the master or the mistress or the friends of the master or the friends of the mistress who walked slowly, wearily down the path behind him, chatting about their things and laughing without rhyme ot reason, and as soom as he arrived at the house, Azarias hung the hanger from the thick beam in the entrance way, and as soon as it became dark, he squatted down on the pebbles of the patio, and in the white light of the moon, he plucked a buzzard and took it to the window of the pen and,


he said,

making his voice solemn, searching for the darkest tone, and in a minute, the owl raised itself up to the grating without making a noise, in a paused a smooth fluttering, like cotton, and said in turn,


like an echo of the ooooh of Azarias, an echo from beyond the grave, and right away, grabbed the buzzard with his enormous claws and devoured it silently in the blink of an eye and Azarias

watched him eat with a slobbering smile, and he muttered,

pretty goshawk, pretty goshawk,

and as soon as the Great Duke had concluded his feast, Azarias walked over to the shed, where the friends of the master or the friends of the mistress parked their cars, and patiently, he would unscrew the valve stem caps with clumsy movements of his fingers, and when he finished, he put them together with the others that he kept in the shoe box, in the stable, and he sat on the ground and began to count them,

one, two, three, four, five

and when he got to eleven, he invariably said,

forty-three, forty-four, forty-five . . .,

and then he went out to the corral, already in the dark, and in the corner, he urinated on his hands so they wouldn't crack, and he fanned the air for awhile so that they would air out, and he did the same thing day after day, month after month, year after year, all his life, but in spite of this methodic routine, some mornings, Azarias would wake up limp and almost fiberless, as if during the night, someone had taken out his skeleton, and those days, he would clean out the chicken coops, nor would he give the dogs their food, nor would he clean out under the owl's pen, but rather he would go out into the countryside and would lie down under the cover of the pigsties, and if by chance the sun shone too hot, in the shade of arbutus, when Dacio asked him,
what's the matter with you, Azrias?,


I'm feeling lazy, you see,

and in that way, he would spend free time, and if the master ran into him and asked him,

what's the matter, man of God?

Azarias the same answer,

I'm feeling lazy, I'm telling you, master, without changing expression stretched out on the spurge flax, motionless, folded over himself, his thighs in his gut, his elbows on his chest, chewing some saliva or softly murmuring, like a pup keen on suckling, staring at the greenish-blue line of the mountains outlined against the sky, and the round huts of the shepherds and the Deer Range (where Portugal was on the other side) and the rocky ground covered with boulders like giant turtles, and the noisy and extended flight of the cranes on the way back from the marsh and the merino sheep marauding with their offspring, and if by chance Damaso , the Shepherd, passed by, and said to him,

Something the matter, Azarias?,


I'm feeling lazy, you see,

and in that way time passed until a sudden pressure occurred unexpectedly and he had a bowel movement at the edge of the arbutus or in the dark crack of some rocky ground, and as he relieved himself, his energy slowly came back to him, and once recovered, his first reaction was to go over to the owl and say to him sweetly through the grating,

pretty goshawk,

and the owl kept fluffing himself up and chattering with his curved beak, until Azarias would
reward him with a baby eagle or a plucked magpie, and while he devoured it, Azarias, in order to gain time, would go over to the stable, sit on the ground and begin to count the valve stem caps in the box,

one, two, three, four, five . . .

unitl he got eleven, and then he said,

forty-three, forty-four, forty-five,

and when he finished, he covered the box with its top, and stayed a long time observing the short fingernails on his right hand, moving his jaw up and down and mumbling unintelligible words, and suddenly, he decided,

I'm going over to my sister's

and on the porch, he came face to face with the master, lazily resting in the easy chair, half-asleep,

I'm going over to my sister's, master,

and the master imperceptibly raised his left shoulder, and

go with God, Azarias,

and he went off to the other ranch, to his sister's, and she, Regula, as soon as she opened the gate for him,

what brings you here, if I might ask?

and Azarias,

how are the kids?

and she,

oh, they're in school, where do you want them to be?

and he, Azarias, stuck out the thick, pink tip of his tongue, and withdrew it, savoured it a while
and said at last,

that's too bad for you, because later they be good for anything

and Regula,

oh, and did I ask your opinion?

but as soon as the sun had set, Azarias became drowsy watching coals, chewing nothing, and after a while, he raised his head and suddenly said,

tomorrow I'm going back to master's

and before daybreak, as soon as an orange line came up on the firmament delineating the outline of the sierra, Azurias had already hit the trail, and four hours later, sweaty and hungry, as soon as he heard Lupe open the great bolt on the gate, he already began,

pretty goshawk, pretty goshawk,

again and again without stopping, and not even a good morning to Lup, the Pigherd, and maybe the master was still in bed, resting, but as soon as he appeared at noon in the hall, Lupe gave him the news,

Azarias came in early this morning, master,

and the master squinted his sleepy eyes,


he said,

and he raised his left shoulder, as if resigned, or surprised, although Azarias could already be heard sweeping the coops or washing out the pen of the Great Duke and dragging the bucket through the gravel-covered patio, and in that way, the weeks went by until one fine day, at the beginning of spring, Azarias was transformed, a slow, ineffable smile came to his lips, and when the sun set, instead of counting the valve stem caps, he grabbed the owl and went out with him to the oak grove, and the enormous bird, motionless, perched on his forearm, looked over th surroundings, and as soon as it got dark, took off with a bland and silent flight and returned after a short time with a rat in its claws or a finch and right there, next to Azarias, devoured his prey, while he scratched between his ears and listened to the howling of the sierra, the gruff and sad bark of the she-fox in heat or the bellow of the deer in the Santa Angela Reserve, also coupling, and from time to time he said to him,

the she-fox wants it bad, goshawk, do you hear?

and the owl focused his round yellow pupils that glowed in the dark, slowly straightened his ears, and went back to eating and, not any more, but once upon a time you could also hear the mournful howl of the wolves in the Spanish broom on the spring nights but ever since the electric company men arrived and installed the electric line poles up and down the hillside, you couldn't hear them anymore, and in their place you could hear the tawny owl shriek every once in a while, and the Great Duke, in those cases, raised up his enormous head and pricked up his ears and Azarias would silently laugh, without making a sound, only with his gums, and he mumbled with a faint voice,

are you a coward, goshawk? tomorrow I'm going out to run the tawny owl,

and no sooner said than done, the next day, at dusk, he went out alone in the sierra, opening a path among the rockrose in bloom and the box-leafed broom, because the tawny owl held the strange fascination of the abyss over Azarias, a type of attraction enervated by panic, so that when he stopped in the middle of the bramblewood, he clearly heard the hard beats of his heart, and then he waited for a while to catch his breath and calm his spirit, and after a while he cried out,

hey, hey,

until, suddenly, twenty meters away, from a corpulent oak tree, the desired and hair-raising
howl reached him ,

buhu, buhu!

and when he heard it, Azarias lost his notion of time, the consciousness of himself, and began to run, crazed, grunting like a boar, trampling down the Spanish broom, scratching his face with the lowest branches of the arbutus trees and the cork trees, and behind him, implacable, jumping blandly from tree to tree, the tawny owl, howling and roaring with laughter, and every time he laughed, Azarias's pupils dilated and his skin stood on end, and he remembered the goshawk in the stable, and he went even faster and the tawny owl at his back howled and laughed again, and Azarias ran and ran, tripped, fell, and got up without ever looking back, and when he arrived, breathless, at the pasture, Lupe, the Pigherd, crossed herself,

where are you coming from, tell me?

and Azarias tenuously smiled, like a little boy caught doing something wrong,

from running the tawny owl, you see,

he said,

and she commented,

Jesus, what games! You've made your face look like Christ's,

but he ws alreafy going about in the stable, stopping the flow of the blood from the scratches with the cleaning rag, calmly, listening to the painful beats of his heart, his mouth half-open, smiling at the emptiness, drooling, and after a while, calmer now, he went up to the goshawk's pen, squatting, without making a sound, a suddenly he peeked into the window and said,

and the owl fluttered up to the window sill and he looked at his eyes, tilting his head, and then, Azarias told him very proudly,

I was running the tawny owl,

and the animal pricked up his ears and made a rattling sound with his beak, as if he celebrated it, and he,

I gave him a good run,

and he quietly began to laugh under his breath, hissing feeling protected by the hedges of the ranch , and so it was one time after another, one spring after another, until one night, at the end of May, he came up to the heavy bars of the pen and said like always,


but the Grand Duke didn't respond to his call, so Azarias was surprised and he did it again,


but the Grand Duke didn't respond to his call, and Azarias,


stubborn, for the third time, but inside the pen, not a sound, so Azarias pushed open the door, grabbed the lamp, and found the sad owl in a corner, and when he showed him the plucked magpie, the owl didn't move a muscle, and then Azarias left the magpie on the ground and he sat beside him, and he delicately took him by the wings, and he closely held him to the warmth of his body, insistently scratching him between the eyes and tenderly saying to him,
pretty goshawk,

but the bird didn't react to the habitual stimulae, so Azarias deposited him on the straw, went outside and asked for the master,

the goshawk is sick, master, he's got a fever,

he informed him,

and the master,

what can we do, Azarias! he's old by now, you'll have to look for a new chick,

and Azarias disconsolate,

but it's the goshawk, master,

and the master, with sleepy eyes,

and tell, what difference is one bird from another?

and Azarias, imploring,

does the master give permission to fetch the Wizard from Almendral?

and the master indolently raised his left shoulder,

the Sage? you're getting expensive, Azarias, if we have to call the wizard for a bird, where is it all going to end?

and after his reproach, a laugh, like the tawny owl, that gave Azarias goose bumps,

master, don't laugh like that, I beg you for the love of God,

and the master,

can't I even laugh in my own house?

and another laugh, like the tawny owl, each one louder, and the mistress. Lupe, Dacio, the Pigherd, Damaso, and the shepherd's boys came out at his laughs, and in the entrance way they all laughed together, like tawny owls, and Lupe,

that rascal isn't crying for that stinking bird,

and Azarias,

the goshawk has a fever and the master doesn't give me permission to fetch the Wizard from Almendral,

and then another laugh, and another until finally, Azarias, disconcerted, began to run, left the patio and urinated on his hands, and later, entered the stable, sat down on the ground and began to count the valve stem caps out loud trying to calm himself,

one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, forty-three, forty-four, forty-five,
until he felt more relaxed, he got a bag for a pillow and took a nap, and as soon as God woke up, he quietly went up to the grating of the pen, and said,


but nobody responded, and then Azarias pushed open the gate and saw the owl in the corner where he had left him last night, but fallen and rigid, and Azarias went over to him with sort steps, picked him up by the tip of a wing, opened his jacket, closed it over the bird, and said with a broken voice,

pretty goshawk,

but the Grand Duke didn't open his eyes, nor clatter with his beak, or anything, so that Azarias crossed the patio, went over to the gate, slipped open the blot, and with its squeaking, Lupe─Dacio's wife─came out,

what's gotten into your head now, Azarias?

and Azarias,

I'm going over to my sister's

and without more ado, he left, and at a rapid trot, without feeling the gravel, nor the thorns on the soles of his feet, he crossed the oak grove, the growth of Spanish broom, and the stream bed, sweetly clutching the cadaver of the bird against his chest, and as soon as Regula set her eyes on him,

back again?

and Azarias,

what about the kids?

and she,

they're in school,

and Azarias,

isn't there anybody at home?

and she,

oh, the Little Girl is,

and at that moment Regula noticed the lump that Azarias protected against his chest, opened the ends of his jacket, and the cadaver of the big ugly bird fell on the red floor tiles, and she, Regula, shouted hysterically,

you'd be getting that carrion out of this house, do you hear me?

she said,

and Azarias, submissively picked up the bird and left it outside, on the stone bench, came back inside the house, and went out again with the Little Girl, cradling her in his right arm, and the Little Girl turned her lost eyes without focusing on anything, and he, Azarias, picked up the goshawk by his foot, and an adze with his left hand, and Regula,

where are you going with those things?

and Azarias,

to dig a grave, I'm telling you,

and on the way, the Little Girl emitted one of those interminable and sorrowful bellows that would freeze anyone's blood but Azarias didn't change his expression, and he reached the foot of the hill, deposited the creature in a cool spot among the rockrose, took off his jacket and in the blink of an eye, he dug a deep hole at the base of a cork tree, deposited the bird in it, and immediately filled up the hole, pushing the dirt with the adze, and he remained watching the tomb, his feet barefoot, his mended pants at the back of the knees, his mouth half-open, and after a while, his pupils turned toward the Little Girl, whose head hung to one side, as if it were disarticulated, and her diffused eyes crossed and looked at the emptiness without focusing on anything, and Azarias squatted down, picked her up in his arms, sat on the edge of the slope, next to the fresh dirt, held her tightly to him, and mumbled,

pretty goshawk,

and began to insistently scratch her hair on the back of her neck with the index finger of his right hand, while the Little Girl, indifferent, let him do it.

Copyright ©by Miguel Delibes. English language copyright ©2010 by Thomas Deveny

The great Spanish novelist, Miguel Delibes, died in March of this year, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. I never thought it could be done. Nor of course did I think it would be done, since even the Spaniards don't read him and certainly don't read Los santos inocentes. Maybe they could be talked into reading Las Ratas, because they go for that kind of title. And they assume, since assume they must, that Los santos inocentes would somehow be vaguely religious.

    Ecologistas en Acción! These sell Delibes.

    If you knew how hard it is for a Wordpresser to comment on a Blogger blog.....