Fiction: Eduardo Halfon’s “To Die a Little”
She asked what writing meant to me, and I took a swig of beer and a deep drag on my cigarette and, exhaling all the smoke along with my words, answered that to write was to die a little.
“That’s what it is, more or less.”
Sitting on her wooden stool, my friend kept taking pictures of the people walking in and out of the public cemetery, of the colored niches, of the guy selling slices of green mango and the guy selling sour oranges with salt and ground pumpkin seeds and the guy selling headstones.
“Oh,” she said, completely uninterested.
I don’t remember the name of the cantina. Maybe it didn’t even have a name. The air had a damp dog smell.
“If you want,” she whispered from behind her long lens.
I stubbed out my cigarette in the metal ashtray as I stood up. I went inside. I walked up to the bar and, almost shouting, because of the football racket coming out of a small television, asked the young waiter for two more beers. I went back out and was surprised to find my friend talking to a white-haired old man with skin so pale it almost looked pink. He was wearing a dusty black suit, several sizes too big.
“This gentleman wants me to take his picture,” she said.
I said hello. But the old man, still standing, his arms crossed, ignored me. He only looked at my friend.
“What do you say, miss? Will you take my picture?”
“The thing is I’ve never had my picture taken before, you know.”
“And so I want you to take one, if you’d be so kind.”
The young waiter came out and put the bottles on the plastic table.
“Well, I’d love to,” my friend said to the old man, already focusing her lens on him.
“And if you want, you can jot your address down on a piece of paper and then I can send you a copy of the picture.”
“Oh, no,” he said, very seriously.
My friend lowered her camera.
“What do you mean? You don’t want me to send you the picture?”
“No, miss,” he whispered, shaking his head.
“Are you sure?”
The old man just kept shaking his head.
“I don’t want to even see it,” he said emphatically.
“So why do you want me to take your picture?”
There was a moment of silence and I took advantage of this silence to drink a sip of cold beer and light another cigarette.
“Well, miss, you can just take my picture today and then later you can hang it on a wall in your house.”
The old man was scratching his white hair with his long sharp nails.
“So later,” he said despondently, raising his opaque eyes toward the sky, “people will I know I existed.”
Eduardo Halfon, author of “To Die a Little”, was born in Guatemala City. Halfon has an engineering degree from North Carolina State University. His novels include Esto no es una pipa, Saturno; De cabo roto; El ángel literario; El boxeador polaco; and La pirueta, which won the José María de Pereda Prize for Short Novel in Santander, Spain. His short fiction has been published in English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Serbian, and Dutch. He has taught literature at Guatemala; in 2007 the Bogotá Hay Festival listed him as one of “39 best young Latin American writers.”
Lea “Morirse Un Poco” de Eduardo Halfon