Excerpt of The Invisible Mountain by Carolina De Robertis
(Page 3 of 12)
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Pajarita squatted at the red-hot cooking pit and heaped the beef
into the pot. It was flesh from a cow, not youngman flesh. Late sun lacquered
the dirt floor, the table, the sleeping hides; soon it would be time
to light the lamp.
"So there they were, El Facón and Esperanza, living in a countryside
torn apart by fighting. And then the Saravia brothers came. Aparicio and
Gumersindo—he was doomed, that Gumersindo—and grew their army
here in Tacuarembó. They were hell-bent on independence from the
latest tyrant, they were sure that they would win. Your abuelo, El Facón,
he believed everything they said. He followed them out of Uruguay,
to Brazil, into the battlefields. There are things he saw there that he
never uttered, that he swore he wouldn't say even in hell. The devil
couldn't stand it, he said. So we don't know. But we do know he buried
Gumersindo with bare hands, then watched the enemy dig him up, cut
off his head, and parade it everywhere. Well, after that, three years after,
El Facón trembled back to Esperanza. They built this ranchito,
this very one we stand in now, and your father was born here, and so was
your brother Artigas. And that's how Artigas got his name."
Tía Tita stirred the stew and fell silent. Pajarita teemed inside (with
severed heads and long long hair and gems from overseas) as she cleaned
the bowls and knives.
Pajarita's brother, Artigas, remembered exactly when Tía Tita moved in:
it was 1899, when Pajarita was born the first time, before the tree, before
That year, he had turned four and his mother, La Roja, had died in
childbirth. She left nothing but a sea of blood and a baby with big black
eyes. The birth before that had ended in death also, but it had been the
baby who had died, and Mamá who stayed to cook and sing another
day. This time she stopped moving. The blood soaked the pile of hides
the family used for sleep and they were clearly ruined, so Artigas was
afraid when he saw his father, Miguel, rubbing them against his face,
weeping, staining his skin red. The baby was crying. Miguel ignored her.
There was no sleep that night. In the morning Tía Tita came, and looked
around the hut. La Roja's cow-skull stool had been taken from its place
at the table. Miguel held it with both hands, sitting still, facing the wall.
Behind him, Artigas sat on congealed hides, holding a writhing baby.
The cooking pit was cold and empty; Tía Tita filled it with wood. She
scoured the bloodstains from the walls, made tortas fritas, hauled out the
ruined hides, and cleaned the clothes. She found a young mother four
hillocks over to nurse the unnamed baby. Esa bebita, that baby, they
called her over the wells of Tacuarembó.
Tía Tita stayed with them, and Artigas was glad; his aunt was like an
ombú tree, thick-trunked, alive with silence. He curled into the shade of
her. He slept against the warm bark of her body. The seasons churned
from cold to heat and back to cold. Miguel grew hard, like beef in
smoke. He didn't touch the baby. One night—as the winter wind swept
through the cracks in the walls, and outside the treetops arched and
swung against clear sky in which the moon looked big enough to spill a
calf out of its belly—the baby girl cried in Tita's arms.
"Shut her up, Tita," Miguel said.
"It's the wind. And her teeth are coming in."
"Then kill the little whore!"
Artigas crouched into the shadows. His nameless sister gazed at her
father with large eyes.
Tita said, "Miguel."
"Miguel. Calm down."
Excerpted from The Invisible Mountains
by Carolina De Robertis Copyright © 2009 by Carolina De Robertis. Excerpted by
permission of Knopf. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.