Monday, May 22, 2023

The Crocodiles by Xánath Caraza

 The Crocodiles by Xánath Caraza


The real problem was the crocodiles. The sharks that appeared twenty years ago from who knows where were being caught one after another by the brave fishermen of Burano. They were sent for, less because of their own reputations than for their grandfathers’. They took photos with the hanging sharks and their harpoons, which served more as decoration than anything else. But the crocodiles really were a problem: suddenly the smallest pets and some stray cats, adopted by the houses facing Murano’s Grand Canal, began to disappear.

Suspicions arose when a woman who was walking her puppy very early one morning let her off the leash and the curious puppy, without knowing it would be her last time doing so, peered into the canal, attracted by the water’s unusual movements. The woman, unconcerned, turned away to smoke a cigarette, like she usually did, and to look at some red glass necklaces in one of the many storefronts near the museum. The puppy was never seen again. The woman wore herself out calling her, smoking all the while, but little Zucchini, as she was called, was never seen again.


First, they suspected some Americans who had recently arrived on Murano. They had already become known for jogging around the island early in the morning. The police interrogated them and never found a trace of little Zucchini.


And then there was high tide when the moon was full, that really was a problem. The crocodiles, now more accustomed to the landscape, familiar with people’s habits, began walking alongside the canal. Sometimes, like good crocodiles, they stayed between the boats and all you could see was their two bright eyes. At first, people thought they were red lightning bugs, but they would disappear all of a sudden and then reappear in the middle of the canal. Other times, a whole bunch of little red lights that were always moving around in pairs would be seen in the middle of the lagoon. Then the strange sounds at night, almost like a roar. When it rained for twenty-four hours straight, they were sure to be seen on the surface, stalking any possible victim, even in broad daylight.


The last straw was when the boats appeared, drifting loose down Murano’s Grand Canal. There was never a trace of blood. No one knew how they did it. People stopped walking near the canals at night. Or if they did, they went in groups of at least four, and armed with brooms, slingshots, hefty books or whatever they could find around. Some people even got the half-rusted harpoons out of their grandfathers’ cabinets.


The population of pigeons and seagulls started to decline in Murano, the crocodiles were slowing eating them all up in the absence of human flesh. No one said anything because they didn’t want to scare off the tourists. Fortunately, there were so many tourists that the noise they made scared off the crocodiles. The problem was when one of them would stay out until midnight on his or her own, those were the ones the crocodiles would almost always eat; but no one would say anything and very early the next morning the garbage boats would quickly sweep up the hats or cameras that remained as the only proof of their existence. There were rumors that the crocodiles had eaten another visitor, but no one would say anything.


One night, an old lady who lived in front of the Grand Canal, her hair the color of the foam on the Adriatic, tried to save one of those oblivious tourists who stayed out past midnight taking photos. The night was so hot and humid that the old lady was still sitting by the window. As soon as she saw what was happening, she turned on the light and began shouting to scare off the crocodile. She threw, from the window, everything she could get her hands on: a pot of pink flowers, a red crystal vase, a metal elephant. The lights went on in other houses, but only a few people dared to go out onto their balconies to watch in horror how the poor, lonesome tourist was dragged into the canal. There wasn’t a trace of blood the next day. No one said anything about the incident, not a single word, and the old lady was, mysteriously, taken off to a psych ward the following week. Everyone remained silent. No one said anything, not a single word.


The crocodiles have disappeared. You can now stroll the length of Murano’s Grand Canal at night. That’s what people say. Yesterday it rained all day and half the night. This morning someone found six books of poetry abandoned by a bridge. They were from the Murano public library. One of the glass vendors, who got up very early, took them back to the library, and they carefully removed the record of the Chicana poet who had gone to spend the summer writing a book of poetry on Murano Island. No one said anything about the incident. Not a single word. It appears that the crocodiles aren’t completely gone from Murano Island.


(Murano Island, Venice, Veneto, Italy, June 15, 2015).


The Crocodiles” is part of the Bilingual Short Story Collection Metztli (2018)

Translated into the English by Sandra Kingery & Kaitlyn Hipple



No comments: