The Hannemann House

Keter got undressed and, spreading out the wide mosquito netting, she got ready to sleep without being able to. She cursed the mission that had carried him to this place of torments. It was a mission of rough men, of many types of insects, and an odious heat. She uncorked the bottled that she had at her side and she took a long swig to the last Monk that was left. She had never wanted to have children. They made her feel panic. It was an inexplicable aversion. She would never understand why she had accepted a similar business. The north wind blew with force in that high zone of Puerto Casado, but it suddenly ceased, and a dangerous silence preceded the unpleasant cry of the fox. One after another left the camp, lantern in hand. The tallest foreigner carried a kerosene lamp. Keter was the only woman of the group and she was the first to arrive in this place from which the howls emanated. She was wearing an unfastened khaki shirt accessorized with a heavy breath, pure whiskey.

"What was that, Pit?" she asked, happily.

"You can assure yourself that it didn't have anything to do with a Great Dane." answered the gringo, tapping his pipe against the edge of a rock.

"Are you afraid, Pit?"

"Yes, but the carnivore doesn't know it."

"Maybe that's why he came here to pay us a visit. Don't you know fear has a scent?"

"And you're free of that sin, Keter?"

"Let's say that I'm not in conflict with it."

Pit got up and, in the glow of his lighter, he looked her in the eyes. Keter was no longer young. Robust physique, without a single curve. She played the guitar badly and sang with a hoarse and unrefined voice. When she drank, she was high-spirited, demanding. But, generally speaking, Pit had good moments with her.

"Come here, Keter. I'll show you a beautiful nocturnal flower, but be careful. Don't get too close."

"Why? Is it sacred?"

"No. It eats flesh." Taking her by the waist, he pulled her close, saying things into her ear. Keter burst out laughing and answered, feigning indignation.

"You, my dear, are no other thing but a desecrator of graves."

"What's wrong, Keter? Some sort of American itch?"

"Yes, three --" but Keter couldn't finish the sentence. They were both dumbfounded by the immense splendor that rose up from behind the hills. They heard gunshots and distant yells. They knew what was going on, but nevertheless, they kept quiet and returned to the camp. When they passed by the place where they were keeping the captive indigenous people, Pit told Keter to go to bed and that he would be there shortly. Only three natives survived what they called the "white plague." Scientists blamed the rice or some sort of bacteria. They warned each other. They were discouraged by the speed with which they died, without giving them a chance to take notes or fill out their forms. They didn't understand the cause of those rapid deaths. Impotent, they attended to the dying -- wild men who burned with a sour fever and they drank water like those who have been given water when they are about to fall face down, never to rise again. Or, simply, with clenched teeth, they refused to drink. Days earlier, the only woman captured in the group had died. The dogs had left her with deep neck wounds and she died after a long agony, when the cord of her woven dress gaped open for them to discover part of her leg where a tumor had formed. It was the only encephalitic mass that they had been able to measure and weigh because in the case of the others, the growths liquified due to the plague. It was hot, and even the stars seemed sick. Keter felt a growing disturbance, the hot air smelled of bitter resin. The woman twisted over and over in her bed, craving that Pit were there with her, helping dissipate her fear.

"Pit! Pit!" but Pit didn't answer. Then she heard the clatter of a rider coming toward her.

"Kettie, hey Kettie. Come here to see what I brought you." It was the voice of Colman, their ranch foreman. Pit and the other foreigners suddenly appeared. Their horses snorted restlessly, pushing against their bits and rattling their bridles, while Keter, quite drunk already, wrapped herself in clothes in the darkness. She knocked over a glass, cursed, and came out wrapped in a tablecloth. Colman dismounted and, lowering a sack from the hindquarters of the animal, he approached smiling, confident. He knew that Keter was not indifferent to him.

"Hello! I brought you something for your little monkey," he said, shaking the cloth by the edges, he let fall a dark little bundle that ended up under the table. Pit illuminated it with the flashlight, and the thing let out a snort like a wild cat. The light fell full in the round little face covered by a tangle of hair. The little girl was two or three years old.

"You like your little pet? For the price, there's no rush," he said, putting his foot again in the stirrup. And they were already leaving when he turned around, shouting, "Don't let it tie you down, Kettie. It can totally tear you up."

Lowering his voice, he said to his companions:

"These idiot gringos now know what the bite of a Guayaky means."

Pit hung up the lamp and moved toward the small little girl, who had managed to sit herself, and in spite of the gag and the tight ropes that held her down, she jumped, and without their being able to dodge it, she moved back toward the door. It was only then that Keter reacted. She couldn't get rid of it. After all, Corman had come through on his promise to deliver a live little girl. This time, she wasn't going to settle for a skull or a pair of bones like the ones in the national museum. She tied the tablecloth under her arms and shouted, "The dogs! Bring to the dogs!"

With the flashlight in hand, the woman ran from one side to the other, shouting orders. She went into the shelter after Pit, an employee brought in the dogs, and one of them began to bark frantically, eagerly sticking his snout into the hollow of a tree.

"Here it is!" shouted one of the boys.

"Careful! Get it out of there, but don't let the dog bite you," said Keter. Suddenly a fight broke out among the dogs for what was coming out of the hole. It was hard, like a ball of rock, and the dogs mauled it uselessly with their teeth.

"It's a little ball," said the boy just as Pit started shouting:

"Here it is, Keter. Come quick!" They went back to the camp and Pit carried the little girl, wrapped up in a jacket.

They got out at the edge of a shed. The creature's little swollen belly heaved up and down in response to the huge effort expended. In a state of permanent alert, she observed her captors. Her heart beat with so much violence that if someone had placed their ears on her chest, they would have heard the distressed pounding.

"If they don't want it to escape, they're going to have to tie it to this because if it's free, it's going to hit its head until it cracks open."

"It's okay. Take off the gag."

"If we take off its restraints, it will bite itself like a rabid dog."

"Nevertheless, we have to give it something to eat. Let's try with a little bit of water."

"There is no need. Look at her huge belly. And, also, these creatures don't eat like Christians do."

"Let's leave her alone like Aurelio says to do. Tomorrow we'll see how it reacts. Let's go to sleep, Keter."

They arranged the mat and left. A little later, Keter returned with some blankets and a notepad. The little girl continued being quiet but agitated in the darkest corner of the hut. Keter sat next to her and began to fill out a tag: appearance, sex, age. After midnight, she took off, mumbling something about "this country of savages and its disgusting climate." Keter felt tired, a fatigue that came from deep within. The scrapes and cuts she had gotten on their excursion into the jungle were aching, and yet she couldn't sleep. She was thinking of the little captive child.

From some nearby pit, the deep voice of an Urucurea shook the walls. The little child was completely alone in the hot, dark night. The humidity made droplets on the roof woven out of tartago leaves, and the baby struggled to take out its tongue, shackled by the rope that it was chewing, anxiously awaiting a droplet of bitter juice to fall from the plant. Later, it moved toward the wall, trying to recognize the nocturnal sounds that were familiar to it. Her lips were dry, swollen, and she searched for the softness of the tacuara which always whispered loving supplications to the heart of the woods, and licking the silky canote, she slept.

The next morning, a loud argument woke her up. Keter had found Pit taking photos and notes on the little girl, and she felt offended, violent, and unable to control herself. The man left the shed, visibly displeased. From then on, the disputes were more frequent. A bow, an arrow, a splinter or whatever comment about the girl formed sufficient reason for harsh quarrels.

After midday, Keter entered the little room to liberate the little one from her bindings, but she resisted, arching her back like a cat about to attack. Keter thought she heard a groan and at the same time, she saw a flash in her look. She became fearful and for a moment, she didn't know what to do. At that moment, Pit entered, and the child became distracted and she started to scold her. They did not agree on the method they would use to domesticate the captive. But Keter succeeded in imposing her method and she returned with the child, who was continuing to sit in the same spot, now converted into a puddle of urine. Keter observed her thoughtfully in silence. By the shine in her eyes, she suspected that the child had a fever, but she didn't dare risk taking it. At dusk, with the help of a peon, they were able to give her water and a rice soup which she vomited up later. She remained very pale and from time to time, she would begin retching again. She was languid but at the same time very agitated. From her tiny naked body arose a bitter odor, like rotten meat mixed with sweat. Suddenly the child began to cough, and shrunk down with a weak moan and slid toward the end of the room, dragging herself with one leg bent over and helping herself with the other. Only then did they realize that she had a broken leg. At the close of the night, the little girl sleep, prisoner of a high fever. She frequently awoke, saying things between whispers and little groans that no one comprehended. They called in the peon who knew the indigenous language, but since she was speaking in a voice which was barely audible, he did not manage to understand what the little was saying over and over in her delirium. They had given her a tranquilizer for the pain, but the pain did not let up, and for that reason, they resolved to submerge her in a vat of cold water, while Pit and the biologist prepared some splints in a desperate attempt to immobilize the leg that had swollen in an alarming manner and was taking on a violet color that was ascending rapidly up the thigh. In the first-aid kit, except for a few calcium vials and other sedatives, there was nothing left that would be useful to them in this emergency. The child had been calmly delivered to the strangers. Who would have laid her down in a cot with high legs? Keter went toward a chair and sat at her side, and, with certain hesitation, she took one hand between hers. The little child's eyes were closed and her breathing very forced. Keter leaned over her to change the wet cloth that she had over her forehead, and the child slightly opened her eyes and looked at her. Keter felt ashamed of something, but she wasn't sure what. She found herself completely overwhelmed and inadequate to express that new emotion that made her pulse race and put color in her cheeks. She realized that in that moment her mind was utterly blank. She didn't know what to say or to do. More in tune with herself, the shock she felt over her own emotions made her reflect with serenity over the difficult situation. The only thing she was sure of was that no one would move her from the side of that creature with the limp little neck which she occasionally looked at with resigned fear. She spent a long time shaken by shivers and convulsions, which with each wave of heat became more and more intense. At dawn, she did not complain any more. Her face was ruddy and her eyelids inflamed. Suddenly she gathered her strength, and looking around her after a pause, timidly and with a little thready voice that came from the bottom of her soul, she pronounced with insistence one word in which it seemed to encapsule all the energy that remained to her. Anxious, they looked at the peon, who finally deduced what she was saying:

"She is asking for her mama."

They saddled up three horses, and although Keter and Pit had no experience as riders, with the cowboy they tried to get there by the shortest route, but the child died in the arms of Keter without their ever even knowing what her name was.

On the little cross in the grave they carved the name, "Keter V."