El agua viene de noche (Rain Comes at Night, Griselda García Editora, 2021) is a novel set in an Argentine barrio with a young boy, Atilio, as the main character. The streets seem to fill even further with trash and give off a stench each time it rains.
Guillermo Severiche’s debut novel explores the consequences of the inclement weather and the inner world of Atilio, but also delicately explores questions of social class, race, abuse, and sexuality. Further, it upends the conventions of naturalism, expanding on the meanings (both symbolic and literal) of the heavy rain afflicting the neighborhoods in the story, and delivers a powerful reimagining of childhood under particular forms of duress.
Ramón J. Stern
From Rain Comes at Night
“Inside the forge, the boy’s
eyes are closed”
Federico García Lorca
This was it: the rain. A dream that did not come from within. One drop on the window. Another. A mountain of rotten mud. A dead dog, bottles, a green puddle. The trash invaded his room. He opened his eyes and sat on the bed. The smell was unbearable. He lifted the steamy glass to let some air in; but only the cold crept in, and the damp morning, and more of the smell. He could see the sun spilling into the neighborhood behind the mountains: the black streets of the night remained black from the trash.
Get up, son, come drink some tea. This was his mother’s routine to let out a couple of yells in the morning. Get up, don’t make me mad, come on hurry up. He got out of bed: his new jeans, a t-shirt, a sweater, overalls, a coat, where could his shoes be, under the bed. You are getting up, come on we will be late. He cupped the shoes in his hands and went down barefoot. She had a backpack on her back and her jacket on, his sister Ángeles was on the phone. Listen to me, call the guys and let’s move the talk to today, yes here at my house will be best for everyone, yes let’s move it up, what I told you has already happened, the streets here have also filled up with shit, come on, do me this favor since I’m headed to campus, I don’t have time, dude, put it down, at 7 o’clock, cool then we’re on.
All of the windows remained shut. Mom rarely opened them anymore. Then he could sense the strong aroma of the tortitas in the kitchen, in the dining room and even in the living room leading to the street. What joy, what bliss to wake up to a cup of tea and the tortitas in the bread basket, to break free from the cool tiles, to hover over the chair, sipping tea, dipping the bread, watching the poplar trees swaying in the morning wind from the front window in the kitchen. Hurry up you’ll be late, we have to leave, drink your tea and do not forget the notebooks, but put on your shoes what are you doing barefoot you’ll get sick, this little boy doesn’t listen, Ma I’m headed to campus, bye sweetie don’t get a stomachache from all that eating, say hi to your sister, bye Ángeles, baby put on a scarf because it’s gonna get windy, be careful, and you hurry up come on. His mom put his jacket on him, his shoes and they left without clearing the table.
They walked in a hurry, which made it impossible not to drag his feet in the mud and stain his pants. Atilio watched how the scenery had changed during the night: dogs scavenging through the bags piled up in the corner, boxes and plastic bottles scattered across the street and mounds of rotten mud, a rat, another; and then, another rat scurried past. The panels surrounding the plaza under construction had moved in the rain and exposed the mountains of sand that had thinned out from the rainwater. Look at all this dirt, be careful, oh Miss can you believe how disgusting this all is. A woman approached holding her daughter by the hand. Now I’m going to have to spend all morning cleaning the sidewalk and with this stench, my baby got sick the other time, what happened to her, I got distracted and she put her hand in the mud to take out one of those knock-off Barbie dolls, I had to take her to the doctor and all, how awful, I already told her that if she won’t listen to me I will leave her there to get shots all day the brat, that’s terrible.
They hastened their steps. See what I tell you see that you have to listen to me if not you can catch something and who knows that it has no cure you have to listen to me got it, Mom, what, where does the trash come from because it has to come from somewhere, I don’t know, it must be hidden so it comes outside, they dig pits or throw it in the ocean, they must be large pits and large holes there must be a lot of old trash that mixes with the new trash because the trash does not go away that fast and it goes away together and the old and new trash goes away together, what are you saying, who knows when that bottle over there was used or the doll that the girl lifted out of here, Mom, what, but why, why is there so much trash, I don’t know son, where there are people there is trash.
Alright kids those of you with shoes covered in mud take them off and set them down next to the door in the hall, at recess go to the bathroom to clean them off, but Sirr it’s cold, it’s so we don’t get the classroom dirty, let’s go hurry up, Atilio come here, listen to me, move your things over and make space for your classmate, kids, alright please alright quiet, kids, all set, okay sit down, ok this is Iván, he will be your new classmate, so you show him the school, help him, you hear me, yes or no, you hear me, ok go ahead, sit down here. Atilio saw that Iván was not carrying anything with him, not even a backpack or a notebook. His coat was dirty, his socks were in tatters and he smelled bad. Maybe worse than the rotten mud. And Atilio could make out the wrinkles in Iván’s forehead, his swollen eyes with a dark bag under each one and dry and dusty skin on his cheeks and neck. When the teacher started to draw a map on the board, Atilio took out a piece of paper from his own notebook and gave it to Iván with a pencil.
I’ll lend you it here you go do you play with action cards yes do you have any no I have some I have many if you want I’ll lend you them at recess we will play we can also play with them at my house on the sidewalk come in the afternoon my mom will give us tea with pastries and tortitas where do you live who do you live with with my Mom and your Dad I don’t know how don’t you know he comes sometimes I don’t know and where do you live in the other neighborhood on the other side of the street where the bus goes do you know it no I have never been there is a lot of trash there more than here yes and do you know where it comes from it comes from this neighborhood and why did you change schools they kicked me out of the other school because I got into a fight I came to blows with them because they laughed at my tennis shoes they called me a cock sucking fag they made me mad and come to blows with them because they made me angry that time because they insulted my Mom what did they say I won’t tell you I thought they were my friends I don’t even fight I had never fought before I held it in I told no one but then I couldn’t hold back and I beat them up they hit me too but it didn’t hurt I had never come to blows with anyone before when the older people asked me why I said nothing I didn’t tell anyone not even the principal why because it was my business I let my Mom chew me out and hit me she cried when she hit me I’m glad I changed schools I’m glad I didn’t want to go there anymore it’s better that way it was a test to be hit to let yourself be hit to hit the others a test yes to grow up to get thicker skin to start to wrinkle or get harder from the blows if needed a test so it would not hurt to be hit or even throw a punch at other people to feel nothing to feel nothing to feel nothing anymore keep it keep what the pencil keep it tomorrow I’ll bring you a pen that has many colors the kind you can change the tips.
That night Atilio went to his room earlier. He wanted to see if he could make out the other neighborhood, Iván, the trash from up there. He said good night and went up to the third floor of the house. They had set the tiles in the living room, because the old ones had been very dark; they had finished fixing the bathroom upstairs, put in a new toilet; and when summer came they would put an air conditioner in the dining room, a big one so the whole lower floor could be cool. He didn’t care that he had to go up so many stairs, because it was his own space, only for him. He didn’t want to stay with his mom watching the soap opera or with his father who had gone to his room to watch the game. Now that he had his own place, he went to bed earlier to be there, alone, in front of the window; now that he was not sharing it with Ángeles, now that he was testing out a room that had just been built for him where there had once been a terrace, it was so much better, it was so gratifying to look out the window. He didn’t care that it was colder because he could see almost the whole neighborhood from up there, and what a show it was: the light posts, the square roofs, the backyards where the treetops poked out, and the rain transforming the scenery: the lights were tinkling and some went out, the trees shook violently, the cars passed through and made waves that flowed into ditches. It was like watching a dream. A mirror that had become a neighborhood, with purple clouds lurking through the skies. The other neighborhood was also there: a black plane pierced through with light, it must be there. More clouds. Surely the trash would come out and give off the smell. To sleep through the noise of the water and wake up with that smell. It would rain, and the rats would come out, the dogs would have food. A dream: a black field, the shiny grass, to walk and walk and walk, escape what was coming from behind, a wall of water swelling and falling from above. Surely it would rise up tonight. To go to bed alone and dream of one more thing shaking behind his back, ascending from the black mass of the hollow sound of the rippling water. One more thing inhabiting his body. He will be in bed, already laying down, waiting for his eyes to close the way that clouds close over homes. He leaned back holding the blankets tight. The rain had to stop. It could not come back tonight.
From a corner, Iván watched the entire backyard, improvised races and the lines sketching out an imaginary soccer field. The clouds had extended out since a very early hour and kept on displaying a shadow and illusion of night over the school. Atilio approached with an alfajor in his hand and a deck of action cards in the other hand. Would you like it. He looked at his face: a beard ready to burst out.
I put it in the large pocket of my backpack and it went in below the notebooks it is all smashed but yummy anyway would you like some ok do you like the one with white chocolate I like the black one more me too look grab these they are the action cards I have another set of them I’ll give them to you if you want them the harder ones I’ll keep them at home you want to play let’s play you know how to play I had action cards but they were all lifted from me Lucio has a bunch of them he filled a whole album of them I will tell him to give away to you the ones he doesn’t want he doesn’t need them come see you toss one first or we can play rock paper scissors let’s see who can start I always get beat I always lose me too my mom doesn’t give me any money to buy the action cards they are expensive and I always lose them all I lose them they are expensive and I lose them all but I want more and more my mom doesn’t give me money for them my mom has no money neither does mine she has no money my dad gives her money my mom doesn’t give me any more money to buy the action cards I lose them all I lose them all I lose them all I lose them all but let’s play let’s play but in the end we’ll be even even steven just to practice let’s practice and we’ll be even even steven we’ll be even just for practice even.
He tossed the first one. You were real close. Another. Almost. Another. It’s further up let’s see if you win. Another. You moved mine it’s further up you are winning now. Another. Another. Another. You won ok go ahead again we are practicing you start now.
The sun peaked out from the clouds and one of its rays stung the back of his neck. Your turn. Iván looked at him smiling. There it was: spread out on his skin and his face was the material that moved him. Dark skin, hair like wire sticking out of his head, black eyes black, look at me look at me from the front get inside cross the invisible inexistent border. You’re winning let’s see if I get closer almost almost damn che you’re winning your turn go ahead. Atilio looked at his hands: he had never seen through different eyes the color of his own skin, so brown, steeped in that almost forbidden story. We are not Indian, you are a Coya Indian from the highlands, I am from here damn it, you’re straight off the train, I’m straight from this land, Bolivian blackie, you are a mudeating blackie, farm worker, take a bath you’re all grimy, straight off the train carrying all your bundles, mudguzzling Bolivian get out of here. He looked back at him in the eyes, looking straight in his eyes. Toss it now. There it was. His face. In front of him. I see him I see me. In the other is what I cannot reach, all I can do with it is ponder.
The bell rung, the kids got in a line and went to class. Iván put away his action cards and Atilio put away his. The next one is for real no more practice alright come to my house and we can play on the sidewalk.
Translated by Ramón J. Stern