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PART OF THE The Green Issue ISSUE

‘Here everything’s hard, dry, spiky, covered in dust.’

Selva Almada’s powerful writing continues her novel Brickmakers, which looks at the troubled, violent lives of those who live and work in dusty, rural Argentina getting closer to ruin.

 

Extract taken from Brickmakers
By Selva Almada
Published by Charco Press

 

The Mirandas’ finances weren’t doing so great either. Elvio Miranda was a good brickmaker, maybe the best in town, shored up by his family history in the trade, but he was another man who liked to do things his way and didn’t keep up with the work. He preferred training his racing dogs to shovelling soil all day long and carting it to the pisadero. Every so often he’d hire some young guy to help, but since he didn’t keep up with the wages, either, the helpers all left in the end.

If they had enough to eat, it was only because Estela took charge of the household finances and started doing people’s sewing.

When she was a teenager, Señora Nena, her godmother, sent her to study dressmaking, and though she hadn’t made more than a couple of dresses – there was no need, she worked and her godmother never let her want for anything – she’d gone back to it later, helping with the costumes for the carnival dancers. She’d always been an enterprising woman, and though she let Miranda convince her to quit her job as a secretary when they married, on seeing the way things were going, she sent for the Singer from her unmarried days and put signs up in the local stores offering basic sewing services.

Señora Nena had told her that money worries could spoil even the best of marriages, and Estela, who had married for love and meant it to last, refused to let that happen to them. Elvio Miranda may have been useless, but she adored him, he was the father of her child and the man she hoped to grow old with: if he wasn’t going to earn any money, she’d make sure they had at least enough to get by.

Without Miranda’s addictions, which she indulged as if the man were a child, they’d have been better off: from alterations, hemming and mending, Estela quickly moved on to making clothes, and soon she was sewing her first wedding dress. It wasn’t that Miranda asked her for money or took any from her in secret, but rather she, not wanting her husband to feel like less of a man, always slipped something into his pockets to tide him over.

 

*

Marciano lifts one arm – the effort is agony – and strokes his father’s cheek, his stubble; he tries to reach his hair, which is longer than before, wavy and brown, but his arm falls back and hits the ground with a thud, like an old lady fainting at a funeral. He looks so young, his father. As if no time had passed.

‘Dad, remember when we went hunting in Entre Ríos?’

Miranda laughs.

‘’Course. In Antonio’s pickup.’

Marciano had loved it, it was like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the thick vegetation on either side of the river, the muggy heat, the insects. They’d taken a little motorboat and followed the water as it wound its way between the small islands.

He was eleven. The following year, in just a few months, in fact, his father would die. But at the time, his dad was full of life. Miranda had longer hair then and a longer beard, too, and the steam that came from the banks, or from the river itself, from the sun that beat down on the riverbed and warmed up the silt, the steam in the atmosphere, dampened his hair, stuck it to his head and face. He smiled and gazed into the distance. Antonio did, too. The older men didn’t speak and neither did Marciano. As if the landscape had left them breathless. All you could hear was the noise of the engine and the water the boat was slicing through.

Eventually they stopped and got out, wading through the water, then Antonio and his father pulled the boat up the little sandy beach and they made a fire. Night was beginning to fall, but where they were, with so many trees, it was already dark.

That evening they ate a rice stew. The men stayed up chatting till late, swapping stories from hunts gone by, their own and other people’s, comparing notes on how to catch a capybara.

Marciano lay on a mat and listened for a while, wanting to learn, to memorize all the stories so he could boast to his friends, until the men’s voices began to fade, merging with the rustling plants and the water, the squawks of nocturnal birds, the sound of a snapped twig now and then under an animal’s feet.

‘Remember when I said I wanted to go and live there?’

Miranda says nothing. He’s gazing into the distance, like that time on the boat, but he doesn’t smile.

‘Remember, Dad?’

‘Hmm?’

‘Me wanting to go and live in Entre Ríos…’

‘Oh, yeah, you going to? But you’re not looking too well, son…’

‘No, Dad.’

He wanted to live in a place like that. With all that green, all that water; even the birds were more beautiful than here, with brighter feathers, more colourful beaks. Here everything’s hard, dry, spiky, covered in dust. People were probably friendlier there, even. Here it’s different, here all anyone knows is violence and force.

 

Brickmakers by Selva Almada is published by Charco Press, priced £9.99.

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