Fiction writer, poet, and video artist, Federico Falco is the author of four short story collections, a poetry collection, and the novella Córdoba Skies, recently published in English in Ploughshares. His book La hora de los monos was chosen as one of the best Argentine books of 2010 by the magazine Revista Ñ. His stories have been widely published and anthologized, including in Granta’s 2010 anthology of the best Spanish-language novelists under 35 and Open Letter’s 2012 book The Future is Not Ours: New Latin American Fiction. Volumes of his fiction have appeared in Chile under the title Flores nuevas and in Bolivia under the title Elephant. Falco is a graduate of the Spanish-language creative writing MFA program at New York University and, in 2012, he was a visiting writer with the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. His translated stories have appeared in various U.S.-based literary magazines including The Massachusetts Review and Kenyon Review Online.
School let out, and then it was Christmas, and then the town filled up with tourists. It had been weeks since it last rained, and the dry heat had gotten suffocating. The sun shone over the mountains and charred the roofs of the houses, the sidewalks, the crowns of the trees. From lunchtime till dusk there could be no question of going anywhere. Silvi would lounge in one of the easy chairs on the patio, keeping still, watching the street, waiting for things to cool off. Feeling the sweat on her body, the nest of moist hair that grazed the nape of her neck, the pleather of the pillows that stuck to your legs. Sometimes she took a book out, but it was so hot she couldn’t really read. She’d only flip through the pages, without actually paying attention, without retaining a single word.
Every once in a while a car would go by, or a dog, or a family of tourists going down towards the lake. One afternoon, Silvi saw two guys in button-down shirts and ties walking along the sidewalk, across the street. They were blond, tall, both in black leather shoes and full-length pants.
Mormons! thought Silvi. How strange. Why would they come here? And in the summer.
The guys buzzed at Cirino’s little apartment, but nobody came to the door. They buzzed at Widower Krausser’s big house, but he didn’t hear them—at that time of day he’d be out on the patio, busy trimming the grass. One of the guys took refuge in the shade of a tree. The other rang the bell at the next place. Silvi could see, from her vantage point, Miss Angélica watching them from in between the curtains, then racing to the door to let them in.
Finally! Silvi said. Something interesting: Mormons at Miss Angélica’s! And she went to the bathroom, washed her face and fixed her hair a little. She put on her check-print dress, made sure Alba Clara was still sleeping, picked a cup up and crossed the street.
She went in through the laundry room.
Miss Angélica? Miss Angélica? she called out.
Voices were audible, coming from the front part of the house. Miss Angélica came back into the kitchen.
Silvi, my dear, I have people over now. What is it you need?
Could you lend me a little sugar? said Silvi and held the cup up.
While Miss Angélica went into the pantry to look for the sugar, Silvi crept in towards the living room. The Mormons were sitting on the armchairs facing the window. One of them was only so-so, his hair slicked back perfect, pockmarks in his cheeks, big ears. But the other one was tall, with broad shoulders, beautiful, bearing a striking resemblance to a boy that she and Alba Clara had gone to visit once in the hospital, the most handsome boy Silvi had ever seen. He had been a tourist, in intensive care because he’d had a car wreck. The Mormon had his same blue eyes, the same clear nose, the open forehead, the same pale skin—very pale skin—and a breath of golden down peeking out from the cuffs of his shirt.
Would you all like some coffee? Miss Angélica shouted from the kitchen.
The Mormons looked up and over to her. Silvi darted back behind the door.
Oh, no thank you, answered one of the Mormons, the one with the big ears. We can’t drink coffee, our religion forbids it.
Some tea, then? Coca-Cola, Sprite? asked Miss Angélica as she pointed Silvi to the exit through the laundry room.
Time for you to go, she hissed.
I’m not going anywhere, said Silvi. I want to hear what they have to say, too.
No way, no how. Your mom needs the sugar. Here it is, so take it to her.
A glass of Sprite would be good, one of the Mormons said from the living room.
Miss Angélica opened the refrigerator door, closed it, opened it again, put both hands to her head: she had run out of Sprite. She got her wallet out of the cupboard and took a bill from it to hand to Silvi.
Thank goodness you’re here, she said. Can you run over to Ferrato’s and bring me a liter-five of Sprite? Get yourself whatever you want with what’s left.
Such a shame, said Silvi, but that’s one thing I can’t do for you, and she put on an artificial smile. As you know, Miss Angélica, my mother never likes me going to Ferrato’s. Even less so if I’m barefoot and in a dress as short as this one.
But the only one there at this hour is Ferrato! Miss Angélica complained. The super won’t be there until five!
Silvi shrugged, arched her eyebrows.
Please, please, begged Miss Angélica.
Fine, I’ll do it, if you let me go in and see them.
See who? The Mormons? But you’re a Catholic, you’ll get nothing out of it!
I’m not a Catholic anymore, said Silvi. I’ve recently become an atheist.
Well all the more so, then! As an atheist, what could you possibly hope to glean from them?
Alright, said Silvi, but then forget about the Sprite.
Fine, said Miss Angélica. But just a little while, okay? You introduce yourself, and you’re gone. Don’t you even think about making yourself comfortable, understand?
Silvi went to the stand and bought the Sprite. She placed the bill on the counter and asked to get her change in gum.
Tutti frutti or mint? Don Ferrato asked her, but Silvi was distracted, and she didn’t hear his question, so Don Ferrato had to ask again.
You want your gum tutti frutti or mint?
An assortment, said Silvi. Give me an assortment.
She couldn’t help herself from thinking about the boy in the hospital. His dry lips, cracked, the plastic tube that gathered his saliva, the golden down, his eyelashes, his lowered lids. His parents pacing in front of the entrance to intensive care. His little siblings, in tank tops and flip-flops, sleeping in the hallway on a bench. For the three blocks back Silvi could concentrate on nothing but that. Then she went inside again, through the laundry room. In the living room, Miss Angélica was showing the Mormons photos from when she was young.
Back then I loved to read, Miss Angélica was saying, showing off her library.
Silvi whistled from the kitchen and held out the bottle.
Oh, good! Our refreshments have arrived at last. Two Sprites, coming right up!
This is Silvi, the neighbor’s daughter, said Miss Angélica as she set out the glasses on a tray.
Silvi waved at them and smoothed her hair again. Before entering the house she’d pinched her cheeks to make them flush.
This is the Elder Bob and the Elder Steve, said Miss Angélica. Elder is the same as saying brother, the Mormons just prefer to do it this way.
Steve, Steve, Steve, chanted Silvi in her mind. The likeness was almost completely overwhelming. The same eye color, the same facial features, long thin eyelashes, almost transparent, lids a little swollen, as though from dreamy drowsiness. Tiny blue veins that shone through the pale skin at the temples. And bursting out of him a bright and spicy fragrance: the scent of damp bark, of resin, the smell of mist and wood.
Come sit with us, join our conversation, suggested the other Mormon—the one whose name was Bob.
Sit over there, Miss Angélica said, pointing.
Scent of fog and grass, fire of green wood, tinkling of dew.
I’ll just sit down here, said Silvi, sitting next to Steve, as close as she could get.
The Mormon whose name was Bob spread out some pamphlets on the table and explained to them how they believed in God, in Jesus and in the Bible, but in addition to this, since they were Mormons, they also believed in another book, a book that God had dictated to Joseph Smith, the first holy book written in America.
Silvi wasn’t listening to him. She couldn’t take her eyes off Steve’s hands, Steve’s fingernails, Steve’s knees bent beneath the fabric of his pants, his firm muscles, the taut gray seam. And his scent, his scent. That bright, fragrant aroma, the smell of moss, of stone in shade, of a crystal-clear stream.
As Bob talked, Steve unzipped his backpack, taking out some books with blue covers and setting them next to the pamphlets.
This is the Book of Mormon, he told them. These copies are yours.
Silvi nodded and picked up the book. It was like a bible but thinner, its pages made of tissue paper.
How beautiful! What a lovely edition of it! The publisher must just be the best! Miss Angélica effervesced.
Steve had left his backpack open, and from where she was sitting Silvi could see inside: a stack of other copies, a little Tupperware container and, resting atop it, a deodorant without a cap, a green Axe.
Fragrance of pine forest, getting all into Steve’s skin.
Bob talked to them for almost a whole hour about the collapse of the Tower of Babel and how the tribes had come across the ocean, and about some gold tablets that God had entrusted to Joseph Smith for him to translate, and Miss Angélica spent this entire time nodding emphatically and saying how interesting, how very interesting, how perfectly explained.
We’ll need for you to dedicate this week to considering all this and to consulting God, truly, sincere in your hearts, as to whether you ought to believe us or not, said Steve when Bob finally finished telling them the history of the Mormons in the New World.
If you ask Him faithfully, He will give you an answer, said Steve. Does that sound good to you?
Yes, yes, absolutely, Miss Angélica instantly replied.
Steve looked to Silvi.
And you? he asked her.
Yes, said Silvi and then lowered her eyes.
Yes to what? What does yes mean?
I don’t know, said Silvi, and feeling herself blushing, she covered her face in her hair.
That same afternoon she went to the drugstore and bought a green Axe. She hid it among her winter sweaters, and each night, before going to bed, she’d brush it lightly against her sheets and on the pillow and the headboard, and then she’d put it on her wrists and legs. Then she would close her eyes. In the midst of this smell Steve would smile at her. Steve’s pale fingers would caress her cheeks. Steve would hold her tight to him, seeking out her mouth with his lips, grasping her breast in his hands. Silvi, Silvi, Silvi, Steve would say to her, revealing the place under his arm.
Come here, Silvi, he’d say. Come closer, lick me.
From "Silvina and the Dark Night," in A Perfect Cemetery