Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Helena Dunsmoor’s translation-in-progress of Fandelli, a novel by Guillermo Fadanelli originally published in 2019 by Mexico City-based press Ediciones Cal y Arena. The translation is not yet under contract in either the United States or the United Kingdom.
This is the story of how nothing has turned into something: how it turned into suffering, a howl, joy and sickness; streets and signs, corners, stone plinths, perpetual miasma and metal shutters. Later that something, dirty and worn out, will return to nothing. And with so much coming and going from nothing to something and back again, that nothing has made a name for himself, of course: the haggard and pigheaded rascal, Willy Fandelli. A piece of brick fallen from a wall very close to being razed. This guy showed up early. Does he want to save face and be someone to remember? Does he insist on dying and leaving behind more than garbage in our memory? Yes, just like so many other human lumps that roll around and later take a big fall to the sound of a muffled, inconsequential echo: a hol-low-ech-o. He was born in a hospital on Calzada de Tlalpan, close to Avenida Ramos Millán, in Mexico City. This chunk of brick fell into the arms of Melina Cuevas, a nurse who danced the night away and led the whole floor at the California Dancing Club, and on Sundays, wrapped herself in mist within a chamber of the Rocío Steam Baths. When it fell, the brick or lump I mean, into Melina the nurse’s skillful young arms, the hospital spokesman told the mother that her son, Fandelli, had barely cried. There would be time enough for that and so much more. The damn kid didn’t bawl a single note, maybe just a couple of teardrops, not his own, upon his face. No screaming or birth scandal. Perhaps the newborn whispered an expiring breath as his eyes bulged against light for the first time, horrified.
“Now I’m done for. I’m a piece of a piece of a thing among things, and I’m bleeding from this worm hanging from my navel. I am born.”
Yes, he’s talking about the worm that connected him to that anesthetized fence, the lactating wall. What is a caesarean? There had to have been a knife cutting an orange into three pieces in the scene, it couldn’t have gone otherwise. A scalpel instead of a hammer or a baseball bat—oh! It would have been so great if they had caught him in an outstretched baseball glove. Yes. Let me introduce you to none other than Willy Fandelli, the product of a homerun, a great whack of the bat that sent the ball flying over the fence—oh! The trashy dolt would have loved that, embodying a homerun, a powerful fence flier. But we all know the ball ended up rolling slowly and getting stuck in some weeds in a corner of the playing field. A knife? Sure, but we don’t know just how clean the knife really was. No one could attest to it, neither Melina Cuevas, nor Fandelli’s mother. And that little worm covered in blood? Was it clean, too? No, not at all. The worm was already dirty, given heredity and the grime of certain ancestors.
“Nurse, dancer, steam whore, could you cut that worm into little pieces and keep it in a box for me until I’m grown? And, I beg you, make sure it doesn’t reproduce. I’ll return the favour, Señorita Melina, when I turn into a real brick and you are a stooped old lady with splintered bones like a heap of chopsticks, a tangle of noodles. I’ll help you then. I’ll help you, Melina! Don’t doubt it for a minute. I’m a grateful thing, which is a lot these days: Grateful Thing.”
And what has become of this W.F. stone through the years? He grew and studied and dropped his classes halfway through. Goals and boundaries didn’t exist for him; any class made him lose his drive and his point. Within a frame of reference, the stone would have made sense and had some direction. But no, there’s no way to measure the course of this stone, and the frame of reference has evaporated from his life. You know? Without the damn frame, a modest point has no beginning and no end. And so, the newly born and the old are not the beginning or end of anything. They are strange footprints, faint or deep tracks in muck. Who makes the tracks? Ghosts. Prostitutes who charge less than they should and take off to another galaxy. Failure is the great beauty nourishing the land. It’s a true human footprint, so thinks Fandelli, like any other romantic hick, a low barrio Schlegel, a Spanish-spouting Hamann no one can stand or understand. The decades, three or a little more—four?—broke off, and he has yet to find a steady job. Nearly forty and he can’t deliver in any other field, can’t go back to the original fence, because that womb fence has also broken off and come undone. His family is like a broken jug, a watering can from which only a few drops of water and life might still trickle.
“Remember, Mamá, how you called me weakling and blowhard and crybaby and romantic? You hadn’t read German Pietists or English poets, but you could pick out a liar who pisses blood and salt water. An out-of-place murmur that wants to get back to the night, a sickness that smiles and, most of all, an irony unimpressed by the laws of physics and their lousy determinism. Gravity wants to swallow me? Go for it, come on over, insipid scoundrel. Your green eyes switched off, Mamá, and the monument to disgust, that is, myself, continues here, on Calle de San Jerónimo, number 28, in the Historic Centre. Yes, I have to hurt myself with words, at least, some words that now aren’t worth even a half damn. Who cares nowadays about a good insult? Who can size up the shadows that bathe us in shit and chicken soup? I call myself ‘monument to disgust’ and I remain unwounded. I can’t even provoke my own painful smile, maybe some far-off sadness, expanding in the distance. Who can see me as I see myself? No one, and that’s where the story ends, just like jokes, philosophy, and any understanding among brutes. Only artists can transmit something to others before they are consumed by hate and failure.”
Art?! Come on now, quit showing off, fuck off with your fondled litany. That fop, W.F. Trashy, sliding through time like he’s immortal, back in his university days got himself a nurse who forgives him absolutely everything. When this woman wants to forgive everything she really does it. No long looks, no heaving regret or blame. Beautiful little tart, little harlot, steamy girl who danced with the Ballet Independiente, in a building close to the Colegio de las Vizcaínas, in the palace some Basques founded to worship Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Over there, just a block away, crossing Lázaro Cárdenas is the sexual jellyfish, going to practice under the gaze and direction of Raúl Flores Canelo and Manuel Hiram. She’s always smiling and radiant, the dancing nurse or the curative dancer, or the woman who loves the man because she loves herself. And of course, the only choice is to spruce up a ruffian with her body. What is the fucking difference? Dancing, healing, moving around, killing, fucking, curing. Or in another order, any which way: curing, killing, fucking and moving. What’s more, this woman brings in some money to the guy, that heavy jacket, that lazy fancypants tough guy showoff, and she lights up his bed. You’re a lucky one, Fandelli. You vehement turd. A stump covered in dead leaves and droppings. What do you deserve? It’s not enough that the little hottie spoils you and hides you between her legs. No, you want to be a writer. You want to provoke words, but don’t you know there’s no way out of that cage? They kicked you out of your mother’s stomach, but words will never let you go. Don’t you realise? Once you enter them no nurse can save you, latrine martyr, plugged up worm with an itch.