Luisa Valenzuela's "The Verb to Kill"

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'Verbo matar' from Aquí pasan cosas raras --Luisa Valenzuela
translated by Ana Berlin


He kills - he killed - he shall kill - he would kill - he has killed - he had killed - he will have killed - he would have killed - he is killing - he had been killing - he has been killing - he would have been killing - he must have been killing - he will be killing - he must be killing - that he should kill.

We couldn't make up our minds on any of these moods or tenses. He killed, he will kill, he will have killed? We think that he is killing, every step of the way, every breath of the way, every... We don't like it when he comes near us, but we pass by him when we go looking for clams along the beach. We go from north to south; he comes from south to north and closer to the dunes, like he's looking for pebbles. He looks at us and we look at him - he killed, he will kill, he would have killed, he is killing? We leave the bag of clams on the ground and hold hands until he goes by and is far away. He doesn't throw even one little stone at us, and he doesn't look at us either, but after this we don't have the strength to keep on digging holes and looking for clams.

The other day, right after he passed us, we found an injured gull on the beach. Poor thing, we took it home and on the way we told it that we were good, not like him, and that there was no need for it to be afraid of us. We even covered it with my sweater so that the cold wind wouldn't hurt its broken wing. Afterwards, we ate it in a stew. A little tough, but very tasty.

The next day we went back to walk along the shore. We didn't see him or any injured gulls. As bad as he is, there's something about him that attracts animals. Like when we were fishing: not one bite for hours, until he appeared, and then we caught a huge tuna. He didn't acknowledge our catch or smile at us, which is good since he looked like more of an assassin than ever, with his long hair standing up on end and his shining eyes. He kept on collecting his little pebbles as though nothing had happened, thinking about those that he killed, will kill, kills.

When he passes us we get stiff with fright. What if it's our turn, someday? At school we conjugate the verb to kill and the shiver that runs up our spines is nothing compared to the one we get when we see him haughtily pass by us on the beach, picking up pebbles. We feel this chill on the beach come from somewhere lower down in our body, and it's more invigorating, like the sea breeze. He gathers all those little stones to cover his victims' graves, even though they're small, transparent stones, which every now and then he observes against the sun to reassure himself that the sun really does still exist. Mother says that if he spends all day looking for stones, it must be because he eats them. Mother is always thinking about food and nothing else, but we're sure that he feeds himself on something other than the pebbles. The last breath of his victims, for example. There's nothing more nourishing than that last breath, which carries with it everything that a person has stored up throughout the years. He must have some secret way of capturing that fleeting essence, which is why he doesn't need vitamins. My sister and I are afraid that he'll get us one night, and that he'll kill us to absorb all that we've been accumulating within the last years. We are especially afraid because we're so well-fed; Mother was always careful to balance our diet, and we were never short of fruit or vegetables even though they are very expensive in these parts. And clams have a lot of iodine, Mother says, and fish is the healthiest thing in the world, even though it's so bland--but how could it possibly taste boring to someone who does those horrible things that my sister and I suspect he does just for fun while killing his victims (always women, of course)?

My sister and I spend hours talking about the things he does to his victims before killing them, just for fun. The newspapers often feature degenerates such as him, but he's really the worst, since this is all he eats. The other day we spied on him while he talked to the lettuce growing in his garden (he's crazy on top of being a degenerate). He spoke to the lettuces very affectionately, and we are sure that they're poisonous. My sister and I never say anything to the lettuces; we just eat them with lemon juice and oil, even though they are disgusting, because Mother says they have a lot of vitamins. So now we have to swallow vitamins for him--a travesty, because the better fed we are, the more we will please him, and the more he will enjoy doing those horrible things to us that the newspapers speak of and which we imagine he'll do just before killing us, to swallow a mouthful of our last breath loaded with vitamins. He's going to do so many and such disgusting things to us that we are ashamed to even mention it, and we only talk about it in whispers when we are at the beach and there is no one within hearing distance of us. He is going to drink our last breath and it's going to make him strong as a bull so he can go kill other girls like us.

Hopefully he'll get Pocha. But he better not do any of those horrible things to her before killing her, because she'd probably like it, that pig. He ought to just kill her right away by sticking a knife in her stomach. With us, though, he will have a lot of fun because we are pretty and he will like our bodies and our voices when we scream. And we will scream, all sorts of screams, but no one will hear us because he is going to take us to a place very far away, and then he will stick that horrible thing that we already know about right in our mouths. Pocha has already told us about that, and he probably has a huge one that he uses to kill his victims with.

Huge, even though we've never seen it. To show how brave we are we tried to spy on him once while he was peeing but he realized we were watching him and chased us away. I wonder why he didn't want to show us. It must be because he wants to give us a surprise on our last day, and catch us while we are still pure to maximize his pleasure. That must be it. He is saving himself for our last day and that's why he doesn't even want to get near us. But not any more.

Father finally lent us his rifle, after we begged him for it to go rabbit hunting with. He told us that we are old enough to take the rifle alone now if we want to, just the two of us, but that we have to be very careful. He's lending it to us as a reward for doing so well in school. It's true, we have been doing very well in school. It's not all that hard to learn to conjugate verbs: He shall be killed - he is killed - he has been killed.

 Valenzuela, Luisa. "Verbo matar.' Trans. Ana Berlin. Kruller. Nov. 1998.
26 Oct. 2001. <>
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