Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism/DOUBLE FEATURE: Two Flash Fictions from Paulo da Costa

Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism

D O U B L E   F E A T U R E
b y   p a u l o   d a   c o s t a   ~   p o r t u g a l

THE FOOL

FLORINDO RAMOS fell into the grey area between the town's fool and the town's saint. There were those, mostly women, who followed him listening to his every word as if it were gospel. There were the others, mostly men, who laughed at every word he uttered.

But believers and skeptics alike fled his company fearing the hand of fate and an approaching death sentence, when, in good faith, he offered to reveal the visions that crowded his mind.

The villagers remembered the time Ti Anastácio Farinha asked Florindo Ramos about the day of his death, adding teasingly that he planned to visit the tailor that same afternoon and may as well splurge on expensive silk, if the time for his last breath had arrived. He spat out his chewing tobacco in a spray of laughter.

Florindo Ramos was silent, chewing on a withered grass stem.

"Your days are numbered," he finally said. "On the market day of the thirteenth, you will die on the wooden bridge before reaching the crossroad to Oliveira."

There was silence. The crowd slowly dispersed and Ti Anastácio Farinha was left laughing alone.

On market day, Ti Anastácio ignored his foretold destiny. At the wooden bridge on his return home, however, Florindo Ramos' words echoed in his mind. He stopped, mortified. He glanced over his shoulder but there was no place to turn. The food tent was already folded away, only the ghost of its presence lingering in the odour of fried sardines and spilled vinho tinto In the distance the last trucks were being loaded with unsold merchandise: cloth, skinned rabbits, plucked chickens, headless pigs, bijouterie. Dusk. Night would soon follow. He was late. He had raised, in toast, a few glasses more than usual. His wife and children were waiting at home, potatoes steaming on the table. If Florindo's predictions were true he faced his last fifty paces ahead.

He stared the length of the bridge. What could possibly kill him in fifty paces? How could one stare death in the face and not recognise it? He gathered courage and dragged his feet on, slowly, painfully slowly. Halfway across the bridge he heard the cough of an engine. He was prepared, forewarned, for the cowardly arrival of death from behind. He sprinted in a drunkenly zigzagging course. He had gained a safe ten meters of distance over death when, in his haste, he forgot the gap between the planks at the end of the bridge.

THE SILENCE OF THE GRAVE

WALKING THROUGH the olive grove on an auburn summer evening, Florindo Ramos foresaw his death. He shivered like a harvest-shaken olive tree shedding its last fruit. Florindo lost his ability to speak and endured the ominous summer days squatting by the Rio Caima, in silence, watching its crystalline waters meandering through the verdant valley and out of sight.

Florindo enacted the scene in his mind, knelt over his own body, motioned closing of his eyes, followed the crowd home where they deposited his corpse, then helped them to remove his torn clothes and to bathe him, blushing for he was a modest man. Florindo's fingers traced the pools of bruises covering his skin. Deep bruises, the colour of ill ponds, lighter bruises, the colour of summer skies. Later, he sat vigil with the villagers, moved to tears by the inundation of flowers, the singing and the feverish prayers. He joined his own funeral procession singing louder than the rest, but no one noticed. He sat next to the priest at his Seventh Day Mass and joined the congregated in sacred communion.


That summer, Florindo Ramos dug his own burial pit and slept in his grave, becoming acquainted with his flesh's final abode, searching out the most comfortable position for his eternal rest. A man of tormented sleep, he laid on his back gazing at the stars, but his bones complained, heaven so far above beyond his reach. After a month of trials, tossing and turning, he settled on his belly, the best vantage point for observing the approaching worms.

The villagers watched Florindo Ramos veiled in the morning mists at the mouth of the Rio Caima, squatting without a fishing line, mesmerised by the current. By mid-day, during the sesta and while the others rested, Florindo paced from Oliveira's crossroad to his home, then to the graveyard and the church. A daily ritual performed in earnest silence. He walked about as if he were invisible in the world, already a shadow from beyond. Some speculated that he had seen the world's apocalyptic end. Some guessed that he might have encountered a ghost. Despite their musings, no one succeeded in extricating the truth.


The day of his predestined death, and for the first time since his vision, Florindo Ramos bathed in the Rio Caima and groomed himself, parting his hair to perfection. He dressed in his black suit, knowing it would be torn to shreds. He walked through the market crowd lifting his hat, thanking people beforehand for the splendid roses, lilacs and chrysanthemums each one would bring to his funeral. They would remember his wishes.


Before proceeding to his death, Florindo Ramos made a detour to the grave digger's house and voiced his special instructions, belly-down, no casket; stopping next door at the church, he pointed out to Padre Lucas the scriptures he wished to have read at his funeral, "Of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake," from the Book of Daniel and, "It is good and holy to think of the dead rising again," from the Maccabees.


By the time his errands were finished and his private good-byes given, hundreds of the villagers trailed Florindo Ramos like a procession. They were curious. How could one confront death on such a sunny and glorious day? Not a hint of a breeze to topple a tree like Cipriano Bispo's fate years before, not a thunder cloud in sight to fulminate him like Rossandra Ferreira. After completing a perfect circle around the town wall, Florindo stopped. His back to the crowd, he faced the hollow darkness of the village portal. The portal funneled a marble glow from the cemetery in the distance. He looked up for the omen. Out of the cloudless blue sky a jet plane crossed overhead. A roar louder than thunder shook the ground and a white apocalyptic line slashed through the air, convincing the religious-minded that Florindo Ramos had predicted the end of the world. In panic, the herd of villagers stampeded towards the protective walls trampling everything in their path.


Later, and on the rare occasion that the thunderous roar returned to slash the white apocalyptic line in their haunted sky, the villagers would drop their scythes, hammers or kettles and hurry to Florindo's headstone to huddle in prayer, freshening his grave with roses, lilacs and chrysanthemums. Florindo Ramos, they believed, averted the end of the world by offering his life to God. A saintly death, so that their lives could be spared. The villagers remembered Florindo's funeral scriptures and prayed by his graveside, waiting for the day when he would awaken and return to free their troubled consciences.

Florindo Ramos, awakening from his eternal rest, was moved to tears by the inundation of flowers. He would smell each flower and join his people in their feverish hymns, singing louder than anyone else, but no one ever noticed.

Years passed. The villagers returned less and less frequently until he was completely forgotten. Florindo Ramos, tired of rising up to the silence and neglect of his grave, finally succumbed to his end.

MORE ABOUT PAULO DA COSTA

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