Friday, July 06, 2012

Sweet Money by Ernesto Mallo (Bitter Lemon Press 2007)

Miranda, get your stuff!

Mole is sitting on the cot that won’t be his much longer, waiting to hear those words he’s dreamt about every single one of the one thousand four hundred and sixty-one nights he’s spent in that cell block. Now that the moment has arrived it feels unreal, and he’s afraid. Inside, you know when you’ve got to be on guard, when you might be attacked. Outside, you never know where it might be coming from, or what might go wrong. Chance is a bank robber’s worst enemy.

An air of mourning hangs over the Devoto Prison cell block. It’s always like that when a popular prisoner is released – wonderful, yes, but, on this side of the bars, not as cheerful as one might imagine. Prison promotes criminal behaviour, but it also leaves you numb. The same routine, day in and day out, slows down the reflexes, clouds the understanding, and, at the same time, provokes anger. Experienced criminals know how risky it is to go right back into action. It’s all too common for an ex-con to end up dead shortly after getting out.

Mole is a rich inmate. He is guaranteed a supply of goods and money from the outside. If you’ve got money, you can get virtually anything you need in prison. Miranda knows how to mete out his generosity; he shares his wealth only with the cell block’s leader, The Prick. He lets him carry out the distribution however he sees fit and take credit for it. Everyone knows where the goods are coming from, but Mole would never tell. Discretion is a cardinal virtue among prisoners. That’s how you garner respect. The Prick protects him and lets him have his very own prison bitch. If you’ve got a little smarts and you command a lot of respect, you can stay out of trouble, mostly. Anyway, riots are the most dangerous. That’s when anything can happen, but the chances of getting killed during a riot are probably not much different from those of getting run over by a bus or having a flowerpot fall on your head.

In a few short minutes those words will echo down the corridor: Miranda, get your stuff! Then he will begin the four hundred-yard trek that separates him from the street. He’ll stand up, pick up his bag – already packed – and walk down the aisle between the two rows of beds, without looking at or talking to anybody. Whatever he’s not taking with him has already been given away: this is the legacy he leaves. A few hours earlier he said goodbye to everyone he had to say goodbye to. Since then, he’s been slowly turning into a ghost. When you leave, you become the object of envy; when you walk out that door, you are the embodiment of everyone’s desire. That’s why you don’t leave the goodbyes till the last moment.

In the bed next to his, Andrés, who’s been his bitch for a while, is lying face down, stifling the cries that press on his throat like a tie tied too tightly around his neck. Andrés loves Mole, but the sorrow he feels is not only of lost love. Miranda was good and generous to him, he always treated him considerately, he never hit him or gave him to others. A lot of guys on the block want him, but nobody ever dared. He’s a green-eyed blond from Corrientes province, a guy who looks a lot like a girl. He’s got all the mannerisms of a young lady, he cooks like a dream and he refers to himself as a “she” in a sweet Guarani accent. He’s been inside since he was eighteen. His mother died when he was eleven, and the guy who claimed to be his father started taking advantage of him right away. One night, while the man was sleeping, Andrés tied his arms and legs to the bedposts and woke him up. He cut his penis off at the base and sat there watching him bleed to death. Then he turned himself in to the cops. At the trial, his lawyer – appointed by the court to defend the poor and the dispossessed – was too poor and too dispossessed and took the easy way out: he had him sign a confession, dictated to and written down with a large dose of animosity by the faggot-hating clerk at the police station. Nor did he bother to appeal the verdict that found Andrés guilty of first-degree murder or the sentence of life imprisonment. Miranda bought him from someone named Villar. After the transaction, Miranda made sure – without anybody finding out – that the seller got moved to a different block, just in case. A little later Villar got sick and died. Word had it that pancreatic cancer did him in.

Now Andrés is crying silently. He knows that as soon as Mole walks out that door, there will be a struggle over who gets him next. Two or three candidates are in the running, none of whom he likes. The future holds grief and suffering. Miranda tried to get involved, but The Prick advised him to keep his own counsel, to let things take their own course. He’s not a man to ignore good advice and, anyway: Who wants trouble when you’re about to get out, right? They said goodbye in a hidden corner of the prison yard. For the first and only time, Miranda let Andrés kiss him quickly on the lips… But no tongue action, okay… and that was the only time Andrés said to him: I love you and I’m going to miss you. Aw, man, don’t go there. Miranda patted him on his head as if he were forgiving a naughty little boy then turned his back on him. Andrés stood there for a long time watching him through the bars. Andrés’s whole body was shaking, anticipating his absence. The night before is always worse than the execution, dying much worse than death.

1 comment:

Darren said...

I know it's a longer than usual excerpt but it's a great passage and gives you a flavour of Mallo's writing style.