“A La Deriva”
The man stepped on something faintly soft and white, and immediately he felt the bite on his foot. He jumped forward cursing and turned around to see the yaracacusú coiled around itself, ready for another attack.
The man cast a quick glance at his foot, where two droplets of blood were swelling arduously, and drew his machete from his belt. The viper saw the threat and hid his head in the middle of his coiled spiral but the machete fell with the dull spine of the blade, separating the snake’s vertebrae.
The man knelt down to examine the bite, rubbed off the drops of blood and thought for a moment. A dull pain spread from the two violet punctures and began to invade his whole foot. Hurriedly, he tied his bandana around his ankle and hobbled along the trail towards his ranch.
The pain in his foot spread with a sensation of flesh bulging out from his taunt skin, and suddenly—like thunder—pain irradiated out from the wound to the middle of his calf. He had difficulty moving his foot; a metallic dryness seized his throat, followed by a burning thirst, he let out another curse.
He finally arrived at his ranch and threw himself atop the wheel of his trepiche. The two violet dots now vanished in the monstrous swelling of his entire foot. His skin appeared to grow thin and tense to the point of bursting. He wanted to call to his woman but his voice broke in a coarse cry and was pulled back into his dry throat. The thirst devoured his voice
“Dorotea!” He managed to throw out in a powerful cry. “Give me brandy!”
She ran over with a full glass that the man slurped up in three gulps. But he tasted nothing.
“I asked for brandy, not water.” He bellowed again. “Give me brandy.”
“But that is brandy, Paulino.” She protested, frightened.
“No, you gave me water! I want brandy!”
The woman ran back, returning with the demijohn bottle. The man drank glass after glass but felt nothing in his throat.
“Well, this is bad.” He murmured to himself looking at his foot, already bruised in a gangrenous luster. Over the bandana-knotted limb, flesh flowed like a monstrous blood sausage.
The blinding pain continued expanding in flashes of pain that reached his groin. The atrocious thirst in his throat seemed to grow warm as he breathed. When he attempted to sit up, he was seized by a fulminant urge to vomit; for half a minute he vomited with his head rested against the wooden wheel.
But the man did not want to die, and made his way down to the coast where he climbed into his canoe. He sat in the stern and began to paddle towards the center of the Paraná. There, the current of the river, which runs six miles an hour in the vicinity of the Iguazu, would take him to Tacurú-Pucú in less than five hours.
The man, with somber energy, managed to arrive exactly in the middle of the river; but once there his sleeping hands dropped the paddle back into the canoe, and after vomiting again—with blood this time—he crooked his head to look at the sun that had already began to set behind the high hills.
His whole leg, until the middle of his thigh, had already become a deformed and hard block bursting the stitching of his pants. The man cut the bandage and opened his pants with his knife; the underside of his leg overflowed in large swollen lurid blotches that throbbed in pain. The man thought that he could no longer reach Tacurú-Pucú by himself, and decided to ask for help from his friend Alves, even though it had been a long while since they could be called friends.
The current of the river now rushed over to the Brazilian coast, and the man easily docked his canoe. He dragged himself up the trail that ran up the slope; but after twenty meters, exhausted, he stayed there flat on his stomach.
“Alves!” He yelled with as much force as he could, and he listened in vain. “Compadre Alves! Don’t deny me this favor.” He exclaimed again, lifting his head from the ground. In the silence of the jungle not even a whisper was heard. The man found the courage and strength to climb back into his canoe, and the current, scooping him up again, took him rapidly adrift.
The Paraná ran down into the depths of an immense canyon whose walls, more than a hundred meters high, mournfully boxed in the river. From the river banks, lined with black spires of basalt, rose the forest, black as well. In front of him, behind the banks of the river, the eternal melancholy wall of the forest went on forever; in those depths the swirling river rushed in violent, incessant waves of muddy water. The landscape is unforgiving, yet in him reigned the silence of death. As dusk approached, without fail, the calm and somber beauty of the forest formed a unique majesty.
The sun had already gone down when the man, laying half conscious in the back of his canoe, came down with a violent chill. Suddenly, and with astonishment, he slowly raised his heavy head—he felt better. His leg barely hurt, his thirst diminished, and his chest, feeling freed, opened in a slow breath.
The venom began to leave him; he had no doubt. He felt fairly well and even though he did not have the energy to move his hand, he counted on the dewfall to recuperate him completely. He calculated that in less than three hours he would be in Tacurú-Pucú.
His condition improved, and with it came a somnolence full of memories. He felt nothing in his thigh nor in his belly. Does his compadre Goana still live in Tacurú-Pucú? Perhaps he might also see his ex-employer, and the buyer of all the men’s production, Mr. Dougald.
Would he arrive soon? The western sky opened into a golden screen, and the river took on the same color. Onto the darkened Paraguayan coast, the mountain dropped over the river a faint freshness in penetrating aura of orange blossoms and wild honey. A pair of guacamayos flew high over head, gliding silently towards Paraguay.
Down there, on the golden river, the canoe drifted rapidly, twisting itself around at times caught in the bubbling swirling water. The man that went with the river felt better with each passing moment and thought in the meanwhile about how long it had been since he last saw his old partner Dougald. Three years? No, not that long. Two years and nine months? Close. Eight and a half months? That was it, surely.
Suddenly the man felt frozen up to his chest. What could it be?
And his breathing as well…
He had met the man who bought Dougald’s lumber, Lorenzo Cubilla, on a holy Friday. Was it a Friday? Yes. Or maybe a Thursday.
The man slowly stretched his fingers.
And he stopped breathing.