The Spanish Riveter: FREAKS by María Fernanda Ampuero, translated by Frances Riddle

Look at the clock. Watch the big hand move until it reaches the twelve. Squeal because it’s time to go. Run to the family minivan and climb inside. Dodge your brothers’ punches. Ignore them saying fag, gay, queer boy, sailor boy, little fairy, big fairy, pillow biter, pretty boy, pansy, poof, nancy, sissy, pussy, wuss, dick licker, powder puff, homo, queenie until they get bored. Lift your head and feel the wind change, become purer, prettier. Smell the sea in the distance and smile. Dodge more punches. Listen once again to why are you like that, stand up for yourself like a man, what are you doing with your hand. Hug your grandmother. Eat dead fish so fresh its eyes are still gleaming. Run to the beach. Run like a dog. Run and run as fast as your legs will carry you. Dive into the water. Squeal with delight. Bathe in the foam. Sink into the deep. Hold your breath for so long that you feel like air is no longer necessary. Go down deeper and deeper. Touch the starfish, the coral, the sea turtles grazing like armoured cows. Beg for a little more time in the water. Give in. Dry off. Eat lunch. Take a nap. Wake up red from sun and heat. Visit the town market and the circus. Go into one of the tents and see the bigheaded kid for the first time. Scrunch your nose at the smell of shit. Cover your mouth with your handkerchief. Hold back the bile that pushes the undigested fish up into your chest and makes your eyes water. Look at the boy with the big head, get a good look. Be seen by him. Ask what’s wrong with that boy, why do they have that boy in there with the pigs and the pigs’ mess, where are that boy’s parents. Grip your mom’s hand in fear. Break the bigheaded boy’s gaze. Look back to see him crying, holding out his little arms to the people who stare at him. Repress a gag when a pig first sniffs the bigheaded boy and then shits on him. Shoo away the flies. Hear Mom say poor thing, and Dad say that’s brutal, and your brothers, fucking disgusting monster. Insist that someone has to help him, to call the police, to get him out of there. Shout. Understand that no one, none of the adults who stare at the bigheaded boy in disgust and hold their noses, are going to do anything. Hide your tears as you see that the bigheaded boy, after crying and wailing, is falling asleep with a filthy thumb stuck in his mouth. Feel fury over being too small to wade through the muck to pick him up, give him a bath and then something to eat. Refuse to leave. Get punched on the shoulder by one of your brothers and pushed by the other. Listen again the whole way home to the string of insults that starts with fag. Have a dream in which the pigs eat the bigheaded kid, then the dead boy screams at you, asking why you didn’t do anything, chasing you down the beach, wobbling on ridiculously small legs compared to the size of his head, a crab-boy. Wake up drenched in sweat and trembling. Dodge your brothers’ punches as they ask if the little girl was scared by his nightmare. Watch them do an impression of what they think a scared little girl looks like. Remain silent. Get up at dawn. Help your grand-mother make breakfast. Collect the eggs among swirls of feathers and angry clucking. Thank your grandmother for the coins she gives you. Eat breakfast studying your family members’ faces. Watch the bread vanish into your brothers’ jowls within seconds. See Dad’s forehead, always so wrinkled, behind the newspaper. See the sad way Mom holds her teacup. Exchange a look with your grandmother who knows, who understands, who says I love you without saying a word. Run to town. Find the drunk who guards the entrance to the circus. Drop your grandmother’s coins into his grimy palm. Recoil at his black-toothed, depraved smile, his tongue hanging out, his quick hand that tries to touch you. Enter the pigsty where the bigheaded boy sleeps. Shoo away the pigs, who shuffle off oinking. Pick him up in your arms. Feel surprised by how little he weighs. Hold him against your body. Smile. Run past the drunk, who shouts where are you taking the monster, if you want to do something to him you have to pay extra. Re-emerge in the sunshine with the bigheaded boy in your arms like a proud mother with her baby. Leave behind the circus and the drunk man shouting for someone to stop the little fag who’s stealing the bigheaded boy. Run to the cliff whispering that everything will be all right, that you’re both going to be all right, that it’s all over, all that horror, the pigs, the disgusted looks, the punches, the fear. Reach the edge with the circus people at your heels, shouting what are you doing, stupid fag. Look at the bigheaded boy smiling with his toothless mouth and his little gleaming fish eyes and without speaking he calls you brother, brother. Jump into the sea. Feel the fall as your legs entwine and merge into one, transforming, quickly and violently, into a tail that slaps the water, churning up an iridescent spume, blinding in its beauty.

by María Fernanda Ampuero

Translated by Frances Riddle


From the short story collection HUMAN SACRIFiCES

By María Fernanda Ampuero

Translated by Frances Riddle

Published by The Feminist Press (2023)

Read The Spanish Riveter here or order your paper copy from here.

Buy books from The Spanish Riveter through the European Literature Network’s The Spanish Riveter page.

María Fernanda Ampuero is a writer and journalist born in Guayaquil, Ecuador. She has lived in Madrid since The short story ‘Nam’ from her first collection, Cockfight, was awarded the Premio Cosecha Eñe. Her second collection, Human Sacrifices, will be published in English translation in 2023.

Frances Riddle has translated numerous Spanish-language authors, including Isabel Allende, Claudia Piñeiro, Leila Guerriero, María Fernanda Ampuero, and Sara Gallardo. Her work has appeared in journals such as Granta, Electric Literature, and The White Review, among others.

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