Saturday, March 8, 2008

A Letter to God

A Letter to God
Gregorio Lopez y Fuentes
Translated by Donald A. Yates

The house – the only one in the entire valley – sat on the crest of a low hill. From this height one could se the river and, next to the corral, the field of ripe corn dotted with the kidney bean flowers that always promised a good harvest.
The only thing the earth needed was a rainfall, or at least a shower. Throughout the morning Lencho – who knew his fields intimately – had done nothing else but scan the sky toward the northeast.
“Now we’re really going to get some water, woman.”
The woman, who was preparing supper, replied: “Yes, God willing.”
The oldest boys were working in the field, while the smaller ones were playing near the house, until the woman called to them all: “Come for dinner…”
It was during the meal that, just as Lencho had predicted, big drips of rain began to fall. In the northeast huge mountains of clouds could be seen approaching. The air was fresh and sweet.
The man went out to look for something in the corral for no other reason than to allow himself the pleasure of feeling the rain on his body, and when he returned he exclaimed: “those aren’t raindrops falling from the sky, they’re new coins. The big drops are ten-centavo pieces and the little ones are fives…”
With a satisfied expression he regarded the field of ripe corn with its kidney bean flowers, draped in a curtain of rain. But suddenly a strong wind began to fall. These truly did resemble new silver coins. The boys, exposing themselves to the rain, ran out to collect the frozen pearls.
“It’s really getting bad now,” exclaimed the man, mortified. “I hope it passes quickly.”
It did not pass quickly. For an hour the hail rained on the house, the garden, the hillside, the cornfield, on the whole valley. The field was white, as if covered with salt. Not a leaf remained on the trees. The corn was totally destroyed. The flowers were gone from the kidney bean plants. Lencho’s soul was filled with sadness. When the storm had passed, he stood in the middle of the field and said to his sons: “A plague of locusts would have left more than this… the hail has left nothing: this year we will have no corn or beans…”
That night was a sorrowful one: “All our work, for nothing!”
“There’s no one who can help us!”
But in the hears of all who lived in that solitary house in the middle of the valley, there was a single hope: help from God.
“Don’t be so upset, even though this seems like a total loss. Remember, no one dies of hunger!”
“That’s what they say: no one dies of hunger….”
All through the night, Lencho thought only of his one hoe: the help of God, whose eyes, as he had been instructed, see everything, even what is deep in one’s conscience.
Lencho was an ox of a man, working like an animal in the fields, but still he knew how to write. The following Sunday, at day break, after having convinced, himself that there is a protecting spirit he bgan to write a letter which he himself would carry to town and place in the mail.
It was nothing less than a letter to God.
“God,” he wrote, “if you don’t help me, my family and I will go hungry this year. I need a hundred pesos in order to resow the field and to live until the crop comes, because the hailstorm…”
He wrote “To God” on the envelope, put the letter inside and, still troubled, went to town. At the post office he placed a stamp on the letter and dropped it into the mailbox.
One of the employees, who was a postman and also helped at the post officer, went to his boss, laughing heartily and showed him the letter to God. Never in his career as a postman had he known that address. The postmaster – a fat amiable fellow – also broke out laughing, but almost immediately he turned serious and, tapping the letter on his desk, commented: “what faith! I wish I had the faith of the man who wrote this letter. To believe the way he believes. To hope with the confidence that he knows how to hope with. Starting up a correspondence with God!”
So, in order not to disillusion that prodigy of faith, revealed by a letter that could not be delivered, the postmaster cmae up with an idea: answer the letter. But when he opened it, it was evident that to answer it he needed something more than good will, ink and paper. But he stuck to his resolution: he asked for money from his employee, he himself gave part of his salary, and several friends of his were obliged to give something “for an act of charity”.
It was impossible for him to gather together the hundred pesos requested by Lencho, so he was able to send the farmer only a little more than half. He put the bills in an envelope addressed to Lencho and with them a letter containing only a signature:

The following Sunday Lencho came a bit earlier than usual to ask if there was a letter for him. It was the postman himself who handed the letter to him, while the postmaster, experiencing the contentment of a man who ahs performed a good deed, looked on from the doorway of his office.
Lencho showed not the slightest surprise on seeing the bills – such was his confidence – but he became angry when he counted the money. God could not have made a mistake, nor could he have denied Lencho what he had requested!
Immediately, Lencho went up to the window to ask for paper and ink. On the public writing table, he started to write with much wrinkling of his brow, caused by the effort he had to make to express his ideas. When he finished, he went to the window to buy a stamp, which he licked and then affixed to the envelope with a blow of his fist.
The moment that the letter fell into the mailbox the postmaster went to open it. It said;
“God: Of the money that I asked for only seventy pesos reached me. Send me the rest, since I need it very much. But don’t send it to me through the mail, because the post office employees are a bunch of crooks. Lencho.”

Friday, February 1, 2008

Short Story: The Open Window

The Open Window
H.H. Munro (Saki)

"My aunt will be down presently, Mr. Nuttel," said a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen; "in the meantime you must try and put up with me."
Framton Nuttel endeavored to say the correct something which should duly flatter the niece of the moment without unduly discounting the aunt that was to come. Privately he doubted more than ever whether these formal visits on a succession of total strangers would do much towards helping the nerve cure which he was supposed to be undergoing.
"I know how it will be," his sister had said when he was preparing to migrate to this rural retreat; "you will bury yourself down there and not speak to a living soul, and your nerves will be worse than ever from moping. I shall just give you letters of introduction to all the people I know there. Some of them, as far as I can remember, were quite nice."
Framton wondered whether Mrs. Sappleton, the lady to whom he was presenting one of the letters of introduction came into the nice division.
"Do you know many of the people round here?" asked the niece, when she judged that they had had sufficient silent communion.
"Hardly a soul," said Framton. "My sister was staying here, at the rectory, you know, some four years ago, and she gave me letters of introduction to some of the people here."
He made the last statement in a tone of distinct regret.
"Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?" pursued the self-possessed young lady.
"Only her name and address," admitted the caller. He was wondering whether Mrs. Sappleton was in the married or widowed state. An undefinable something about the room seemed to suggest masculine habitation.
"Her great tragedy happened just three years ago," said the child; "that would be since your sister's time."
"Her tragedy?" asked Framton; somehow in this restful country spot tragedies seemed out of place.
"You may wonder why we keep that window wide open on an October afternoon," said the niece, indicating a large French window that opened on to a lawn.
"It is quite warm for the time of the year," said Framton; "but has that window got anything to do with the tragedy?"
"Out through that window, three years ago to a day, her husband and her two young brothers went off for their day's shooting. They never came back. In crossing the moor to their favorite snipe-shooting ground they were all three engulfed in a treacherous piece of bog. It had been that dreadful wet summer, you know, and places that were safe in other years gave way suddenly without warning. Their bodies were never recovered. That was the dreadful part of it." Here the child's voice lost its self-possessed note and became falteringly human. "Poor aunt always thinks that they will come back someday, they and the little brown spaniel that was lost with them, and walk in at that window just as they used to do. That is why the window is kept open every evening till it is quite dusk. Poor dear aunt, she has often told me how they went out, her husband with his white waterproof coat over his arm, and Ronnie, her youngest brother, singing 'Bertie, why do you bound?' as he always did to tease her, because she said it got on her nerves. Do you know, sometimes on still, quiet evenings like this, I almost get a creepy feeling that they will all walk in through that window--"

She broke off with a little shudder. It was a relief to Framton when the aunt bustled into the room with a whirl of apologies for being late in making her appearance.
"I hope Vera has been amusing you?" she said.
"She has been very interesting," said Framton.
"I hope you don't mind the open window," said Mrs. Sappleton briskly; "my husband and brothers will be home directly from shooting, and they always come in this way. They've been out for snipe in the marshes today, so they'll make a fine mess over my poor carpets. So like you menfolk, isn't it?"
She rattled on cheerfully about the shooting and the scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the winter. To Framton it was all purely horrible. He made a desperate but only partially successful effort to turn the talk on to a less ghastly topic, he was conscious that his hostess was giving him only a fragment of her attention, and her eyes were constantly straying past him to the open window and the lawn beyond. It was certainly an unfortunate coincidence that he should have paid his visit on this tragic anniversary.

"The doctors agree in ordering me complete rest, an absence of mental excitement, and avoidance of anything in the nature of violent physical exercise," announced Framton, who labored under the tolerably widespread delusion that total strangers and chance acquaintances are hungry for the least detail of one's ailments and infirmities, their cause and cure. "On the matter of diet they are not so much in agreement," he continued.
"No?" said Mrs. Sappleton, in a voice which only replaced a yawn at the last moment. Then she suddenly brightened into alert attention--but not to what Framton was saying.
"Here they are at last!" she cried. "Just in time for tea, and don't they look as if they were muddy up to the eyes!"
Framton shivered slightly and turned towards the niece with a look intended to convey sympathetic comprehension. The child was staring out through the open window with a dazed horror in her eyes. In a chill shock of nameless fear Framton swung round in his seat and looked in the same direction.
In the deepening twilight three figures were walking across the lawn towards the window, they all carried guns under their arms, and one of them was additionally burdened with a white coat hung over his shoulders. A tired brown spaniel kept close at their heels. Noiselessly they neared the house, and then a hoarse young voice chanted out of the dusk: "I said, Bertie, why do you bound?"
Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the hall door, the gravel drive, and the front gate were dimly noted stages in his headlong retreat. A cyclist coming along the road had to run into the hedge to avoid imminent collision.
"Here we are, my dear," said the bearer of the white mackintosh, coming in through the window, "fairly muddy, but most of it's dry. Who was that who bolted out as we came up?"
"A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel," said Mrs. Sappleton; "could only talk about his illnesses, and dashed off without a word of goodby or apology when you arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost."
"I expect it was the spaniel," said the niece calmly; "he told me he had a horror of dogs. He was once hunted into a cemetery somewhere on the banks of the Ganges by a pack of pariah dogs, and had to spend the night in a newly dug grave with the creatures snarling and grinning and foaming just above him. Enough to make anyone lose their nerve."
Romance at short notice was her speciality.