chapter five of cela’s the family of pascual duarte

"my heart is more like a machine for making blood to be spilt in a knife fight . . ."


Camilo José Cela Sculpture in Guadalajara, Spain

IT WAS THE WILL of Heaven that two weeks should elapse since I last wrote anything. During that time, what with questioning and visits from the defense lawyer on the one hand, and being moved to this new place on the other, I didn’t have a free minute to pick up my pen. Now, after reading this batch of papers—not too large a pile at that—the most confusing ideas swirl around in my head, surging about in a great tide, so that no matter how I try I can’t decide how to begin again. A heap of trouble, that’s what this story amounts to, a deal of misfortune; as you will have observed, and there is always the danger that I will lose heart altogether when I get on with the rest of the story, which is even more miserable. I can only marvel at the awful accuracy of my memory in these moments when all the events of my life, none of which can be undone, are being set down as big as they might be on a blackboard. It’s funny—and also sad, God knows!—to stop and think that if all this effort of will I’m making these days had been made a few years back, I wouldn’t be locked up in this cell writing it all down, but sitting in the sun in the corral or fishing for eels in the creek or chasing rabbits over the hills. I’d be doing any of those things that most people do without thinking. I’d be free, as most men are free, without a thought of being free. I’d have God knows how many more years of life ahead of me, like most men, with no notion about how slow I should spend them . . .

The place they’ve brought me to now is an improvement. Through my window I can see a small garden, as well cared for and tidy as a parlor, and beyond it, all the way to the sierra, I can see the plain, as brown as a man’s skin. From time to time a line of mules crosses on the way to Portugal; donkeys jog along out to the small houses; and women and children walk by on their way to the well.

I breathe my own air, the free air that comes and goes from my cell, free because they haven’t any charges against it; it’s the same air that a passing muleteer may breathe’ tomorrow, or some other day … I can see a butterfly, a splash of color, wheeling around the sunflowers. It flutters into the cell, takes a couple of turns around the room, and makes its easy way out. as they’ve got nothing against it, either. Perhaps it will go on to light on the warden’s pillow . . .

I use my cap to catch the mouse nibbling at what I’d left for him. I look at him closely, and then I let him go—I’ve got no charge to hold him on—and watch him run off in his mincing way into the hole where he hides, and from where he comes to eat the stranger’s food, the leftovers of a stranger who stays in the cell only a short time, before he quits the place, most often, to go to Hell.

You would probably not believe me if I were to tell you that such sadness sweeps over me, such melancholy, I almost dare say my repentance is much the same as a saint’s. Probably you would not believe me, for the reports you have of me must be pretty bad, and the opinion formed of me by now the same, and yet . . . I tell you what I tell you, perhaps merely for the telling, perhaps merely so as not to give up my fixed idea that you will understand what I tell you and believe the truth of what I do not swear to on my salvation only because there would be little use swearing on that . . . There is such a bitter taste in my throat that I think my heart must pump bile instead of blood. It ‘mounts in my chest and leaves an acid taste under my tongue. It floods my mouth, but dries me up inside, as if it were a foul wind from a cemetery niche.

I stopped writing at this point, for maybe twenty minutes, or an hour, or two … Down along the path some people made their way. How clearly I saw them just now! They could not for a moment have thought that I was watching them, they walked so unconcerned. T
hey were a party of two men, a woman, and a little boy. They seemed happy just to be walking along the path. The men must have both been around thirty. The Woman was a bit younger. The boy could not have been more than six. He was barefoot, and he was romping along in and out of the bushes like a goat. All he had on was a little shirt that left him bare from the belly down. He would trot on ahead, then stop and throw a stone at some bird he’d flushed from cover . . . He wasn’t at all like little Mario, and yet how he did remind me of my brother!

The wo
man must have been the mother. She was dark, like all country women, and a kind of joy seemed to run through her whole body so that it made one joy­ful just to look at her. She was very different from my mother, and yet, why did she make me think of her? You must forgive me. I can’t go on this way. I’m very near to crying . . . A self-respecting man can not let himself be overcome by tears, as if he were a simple woman.

t will be best if I get on with my story. It’s sad, of course, but it’s even sadder philosophizing about it. And anyway I’m not made to philosophize, I don’t have the heart for it. My heart is more like a machine for making blood to be spilt in a knife fight . . .


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