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The Black Cathedral

by Marcial Gala

The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala X
The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2020, 224 pages
    Jan 2021, 224 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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"Whatever you say … Look, Mr. Arturo, I'd like to share these beers with you, and these soft drinks are for the kids, since I know they don't drink, and I'd like to speak with your daughter, Johannes, just for a minute."

The old man let me unload all of that, but when I finished, he wouldn't let me in. He stood in front of the door like Barcelona's goalie and forcefully shook his head no. "This is a Christian family and we don't accept this kind of invitation." He said it just like that, strike me dead if I'm lying. That old coot was the biggest weirdo I've ever seen. Behind him was his wife, Carmen, who was almost as pretty as her daughter, but with a batty face that would give anyone the creeps. Where did he get her from? I thought. A cave? Anyway, I couldn't see Johannes until the next day, at the door to our school.

She was studying art at the city's art academy, the Benny Moré School, where she was the only black girl studying art; enough of her oil-colored kind were in music and dance, enough to make waves. I would go over there on my bicycle and they would look at me. That's Gringo, they'd think, what a good-looking guy, and they would come over to ask me, "Is that bicycle Italian? How many gears does it have?" I had a bunch of young black girls pining for me, and a few white ones, but to that Johannes, I didn't exist. What a proud black girl, I would think, who does she think she is? But the way she walked killed me, her agile gait that looked like she was dancing.

"You're losing it," Pork Chop told me. "That black girl is sharp, she won't suck off a black guy. Can't you see that she thinks she's better than anyone?"

"Pinga, don't be filthy, Piggy."

"The thing is, I need cash." He had already spent the ten thousand pesos I gave him after knocking off the guajiro. "We need to kill another one of these little cows … I have customers asking me, 'Come on, Salvador, if you get more veal like that, the really tender kind, the tourists were happy, we'll pay you double, but it has to be now that we're in peak season.' They're all coming after me, and I have to tell them to wait."

"You can tell that neither you nor they had to cut the guy up and make him into steaks. It's better to go to the countryside and kill a real cow."

"That's a lot of work … You have to walk a ton, and you can always get caught by a peasant. Besides, you have to carry off the meat in bags, which is really risky, and if they get you, they'll treat you just as if you offed some guy."

"Lower your voice, fucking Piggy. Or do you want everyone to hear you? If I get caught because of you, you'll be the one who ends up as tenderloin."

"No one's hearing a damned thing, everyone is here for the whores."

We were at el Ruso's bar, and one of his prettiest whores was dancing and showing off her tits. Pork Chop took a long drink, then gave me a piece of advice:

"If you want to conquer that Johannes, then you have to be more like her father … Become a Christian and that black girl is yours."


I just didn't have a head for reading, it was hard as hell for me. I sat behind Cricket in class and I just wanted to fuck around; I couldn't stay still, I started to bob my knees up and down quickly until Magali, who sat at the same table I did, would say, "Guts, please sit still."

"If you show me your panties," I'd say, and she would lift the edge of her skirt, and I'd lower my head so I could take in her skinny legs, until the teacher stopped the lecture and said, "Whoever is not interested in what I'm saying can leave."

I would go out to the hallway and smoke a cigarette while I waited for snack time, then I would go home. I had threatened that teacher, whose last name was Suárez; once, I kept watch as he entered the teachers' bathroom and I pulled a knife on him because he'd been on my back, he'd gotten it into his gourd that I should repeat the eighth grade, he told everyone what was going to be on the tests except for me, he was really tough on me and had already failed me on the midterms. That day I pulled a knife on him, it was a madhouse, he started to shout and went running straight for the principal's office; I flew out of there to my house, the police came to get me, they put me in their patrol car, took me to the precinct, and there were the school principal and the teacher. They accused me of selling pornographic cards and of masturbating.

Copyright © 2012 by Marcial Gala

Translation copyright © 2020 by Anna Kushner

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