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Rewarding Superstitions

I live off the superstitions of others. I don't earn much and the work is pretty hard.

My first job was in a seltzer plant. The boss believed, who can say why, that one of the thousands of siphon bottles (yes, but which one?) harbored the atomic bomb. He also believed that the presence of a human being was enough to prevent that fearful energy from being released. There were several of us employees, one for each truck. My task consisted of remaining seated on the irregular surface of the siphon bottles during the six hours daily required in the distribution of the seltzer. An arduous task: the truck jolted; the seat was uncomfortable, painful; the route was boring; the truckers, a common lot; every once in a while a siphon bottle would explode (not the one with the atomic bomb) and I would sustain slight injuries. Finally, tired of it, I quit. The boss hastened to replace me with another man who, with his mere presence, would prevent the explosion of the atomic bomb.

Immediately, I learned that a spinster lady in Belgrano had a pair of turtles and that she believed, who can say why, that one of them (yes, but which one?) was the Devil in the form of a turtle. Since the lady, who always wore black and said her rosary, couldn't watch them continually, she hired me to do so at night. "As every one knows," she explained to me, "one of these two turtles is the Devil. When you see one of them begin to sprout a pair of dragon wings, don't fail to inform me, because that's the one, without a doubt, who is the Devil. Then we'll make a bonfire and burn it alive so as to make all evil disappear from the face of the earth." I stayed awake during the first nights, keeping an eye on the turtles: what stupid, clumsy animals. Later I felt my zeal to be unjustified and, just as soon as the spinster lady went to bed, I would wrap my legs in a blanket and, curled up in a folding chair, I would sleep away the entire night. So I never managed to discover which of the two turtles was the Devil. Later I told the lady that I was going to give up that job because it seemed it was bad for my health to stay awake all night.

Besides, I had just learned that there was an old mansion in San Isidro overlooking a deep ravine and, in the mansion, a statuette depicting a sweet French girl from the end of the nineteenth century. The owners, a very old, grayhaired couple, believed, who can say why, that that girl was sad and pining for love and that if she didn't get a beau she would die shortly. They provided me with a salary and I became the statuette's boyfriend. I began to call on her. The old folks left us to ourselves, though I suspect they spied on us. The girl receives me in the gloomy parlor, we sit on a worn sofa, I bring her flowers, bon bons or books, I write poems and letters to her, she languidly plays the piano, she glances at me tenderly, I call her "my Love," I furtively kiss her, at times I go beyond what is permitted by the decorum and innocence of a late nineteenthcentury girl. Giselle loves me too, she lowers her eyes, sighs slightly and says to me: "When will we be married?" "Soon," I answer. "I'm saving up." Yes, but I keep putting off the date since I can't save more than a little towards our wedding; as I've already said, you don't earn very much living off other people's superstitions.

[From En defensa propia, Buenos Aires, Editorial de Belgrano, 1982.]

Argentine writer known for his engaging stories with satire and elements of the fantastical.