Guillermo Schmidhuber de la Mora
Translated by: Jesse Tomlinson
Artwork by Jesse Tomlinson
News of Tranquilino’s burial spread from mouth to mouth, corner to corner, and neighborhood to neighborhood. It travelled as swiftly as the dawning sun cast the shadow of the mountain over the town. The dogs even barked differently. Matilde had stepped out before daybreak and, without shedding a single tear, said to all those crossing the narrow, stony road: “Today we are burying Tranquilino.” Later, just as it was beginning to get light, Matilde stepped into her small house and closed the door, as if she wanted to stop the prying sun from getting through the cracks to illuminate the languid face of the deceased.
The town’s forty families agreed: Matilde was better off widowed than married, because Tranquilino had never liked that thing they call work—neither as a young man nor as an old one. Providence had given the family a bowl of soup and two or three tortillas each day along with a blanket to curl up with on the floor. They weren’t what you would call starving, and didn’t suffer unreasonably in the cold. Maybe it was divine kindness, an answer to the line Tranquilino repeated so often: “If God had wanted to sanctify work, he would have made six days of rest and one day to sanctify it.”
When the first mourning women arrived at the deceased’s house—in clothing faded from many years and much pain—they found Tranquilino in the middle of his hut, lying there among four candles, but alive! His sleepy eyes greeted the mourners, and only started coming to life when he saw the delicious platters of food each person had brought as a funeral offering, because people still get hungry on a day of death.
Matilde lifted her dry eyes from weeping and replied despairingly to the many questions: “Tranquilino sleeps so much he might as well be dead—it’s all the same to me. I can’t even remember what he was like as a husband. Today I decided to become his widow, because in this town only the widows seem happy. I’ve worked enough and I deserve widowhood. So, Tranquilino, either you work or you die. My daughters objected at first, but now share the painful loss of a husband and father."
Old Tranquilino didn’t seem to mind; he was actually enjoying the unsettled looks of the neighbors. “What can I do, if that’s what my Matilde wants?” he said, and lazily returned to tucking himself into his makeshift bed. At times he slept so peacefully his face could have been that of a dead man, but for his snoring that resonated now and then as if in answer to the Hail Marys and Our Fathers of the ladies, who said their rosaries without knowing whether it was really appropriate.
The whole town came to the funeral. The only one who refused to go was the priest, so there was no funeral mass nor prayers for the eternal rest of Tranquilino’s soul, that he’d so wanted. The funeral procession left the small house in silence. The coffin was paid for through the town’s endowment fund. The only carpenter in the village had nailed it together without sanding the rough wood inside, which struck everyone as a little inconsiderate. You could see Tranquilino wasn’t too happy about this as he lay down, but his widow dutifully tucked some old blankets and two very puffed-up pillows into the coffin.
The whole town followed the funeral procession with mounting curiosity. Four men carried the coffin on their shoulders. Matilde brought up the rear, dressed in black, but neither her dreary clothes nor her tired expression could hide a smile of relief. Her daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren accompanied her, some of them crying, which caused the little children to cry, too. A dozen dogs lightened the mood with their impertinent, exuberant barks and wildly wagging tails. None of Tranquilino’s sons followed the procession. More than one suspected they must be tired; all of Tranquilino’s male heirs seemed to have blood that ran slowly through their veins.
Halfway through the procession a strong male voice was heard. “Stop the funeral procession.” The four men and other helpful souls lowered the coffin to the ground with great care, trying not to interrupt the deceased’s sleep. It was the voice of a ranch hand who worked for Don José—the only rich man in the settlement. The whole town stirred uneasily. “José is moved by Tranquilino’s story and wishes to help so the burial does not take place. He sends twenty sacks of corn.”
Everyone began to rejoice, and even Tranquilino’s widow let out a big smile. Amidst the applause, someone opened the coffin and silence fell over the procession. The deceased sat up slowly and asked the ranch hand:
“Is it kernels or corn on the cob?”
“On the cob,” the ranch hand replied dryly.
Silence poured into the mouths, eyes and ears of each person in the crowd, as if the air had become water and then turned to ice. Not even the dogs moved. That was when Tranquilino spoke his last words: “Let the burial continue.”
Old Tranquilino Plasencia lived for many more years. I suppose he found the cemetery more agreeable than the hustle and bustle of his small house. He ate the offerings brought for the dead and drank water from the stream. Some of us gave him alms that he used to buy mescal. He attended every burial. He welcomed funeral processions at the gate and led us jubilantly to the corresponding graves. It seemed as though we, the bereaved, had gone to visit him. Tranquilino never went home, not even when Matilde passed away. Hers was the only funeral where anyone saw him cry. One day they found him dead, lying on the most comfortable grave. He had died in his sleep. They laid him to rest next to Matilde. Once again the whole town came to his burial. And so, at the end of their lives, Tranquilino and Matilde ended up resting together.
Guillermo Schmidhuber de la Mora is a Mexican author and critic who lives in Guadalajara, Mexico. His most notable works are: Obituary, The Useless Heroes, The Heirs of Segismund and Never Say Adiós to Columbus. As a playwright he has won several prizes. His plays have been translated into German, French, Portuguese and English.