Word Choice features original works of fiction and poetry. Read the first chapter of César Aira’s new novel, The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver, selected by Fiction Editors Rosie Parker and Rachel Mercer.
One day at dawn, Dr. Aira found himself walking down a treelined street in a Buenos Aires neighborhood. He suffered from a type of somnambulism, and it wasn’t all that unusual for him to wake up on unknown streets, which he actually knew quite well because all of them were the same. His life was that of a half-distracted, half-attentive walker (half absent, half present) who by means of such alternations created his own continuity, that is to say, his style, or in other words and to close the circle, his life; and so it would be until his life reached its end—when he died. As he was approaching fifty, that endpoint, coming sooner or later, could occur at any moment.
A beautiful Lebanese cedar along the verge of a pretentious little street lifted its proud rounded crown into the pinkish-gray air. He stopped to contemplate it, overwhelmed with admiration and affection. He addressed it in pectore with a short speech that combined eulogy, devotion (a request for protection), and, oddly enough, a few descriptive features; for he had noticed that after a time, devotion tended to become somewhat abstract and automatic. In this case, he noticed that the crown of the tree was both barren and leafy; the sky could be seen through it, yet it had foliage. Standing on his tiptoes to look more closely at the lower branches (he was very nearsighted), he saw that the leaves, which were like small, olive-green feathers, were partially coiled around each other, it was the end of fall, and the trees were struggling to survive.
“I honestly don’t believe that humanity can continue much longer on this path. Our species has reached a point of such dominance on the planet that it no longer has to confront any serious threat, and it seems that all we can do is continue to live, enjoying what we can without having to risk anything. And we keep moving forward in that direction, securing what is already safe. With each advance, or retreat, no matter how gradual, irreversible thresholds are crossed, and who knows which we have already crossed or are crossing at this very moment. Thresholds that could make Nature react, if we understand by Nature, life’s general regulatory mechanism. Maybe this frivolity we’ve achieved has irritated Her; maybe She cannot allow one species, not even our own, to be freed from its most basic needs . . . Of course I am personalizing this quite perversely, reifying and externalizing forces that exist within us, but it doesn’t matter because I understand myself.”
Such things to say to a tree!
“It’s not that I’m prophesying anything, especially not catastrophes and plagues, not even subtle ones, no way! If my reasoning is correct, the corrective mechanisms are at work within our present state of well-being and as a part of it . . . I just don’t know how.”