The Rapids

[translated fiction]

“Martín!”

“Ñoraa!”

“You think the river’s gone up?”

“Definitely, the snowmelt’s really letting loose down the sierra, bursting like you
wouldn’t believe.”

“Will the cows go into the woods?”

“I couldn’t hold them back even if I tried.”

“But be careful on the way back, son, the river’s treacherous.”

“The river won’t get me, mother.”

The boy had just untied the animals and was bravely driving them down a rocky path along the riverbank.

The sun had come up in the sky, lighting its radiant fire on the dense mountain snow, illuminating the whiteness of the distant fantastic landscape with its blinding morning rays. Already by the day before, the valley was clear of snow, which, now taking refuge in a few depressions along the uneven land, added a few strokes of white along the way.

The cattle, imprisoned in their pen during many days of severe weather, were diligently walking towards the fording place, longing for their tender and fragrant grazing grounds, the lush soil of the Ansar, the forested river island. Martín walked joyfully, his chest puffed out in pride next to his smooth-skinned but tick-infested cows, the most striking ones in the village. One of them, with the dappled-white coat of a foreign breed, was straggling behind the others and walking slowly. At the pebbly edge of the river, some fishermen commented on the animal’s arrogance in their usual exaggerating way, and the boy, affectionately patting its flank, said a few times, proudly, “Go on, Pinta!”

“She going to heave it soon?” they asked.

“Yes, before the full moon. Her calf is about ready to come out any minute now. . . . ”

The cows stepped into the ford, which was higher and noisier now, more turbulent from the melting ice, and the fishermen said to Martín the same thing his mother had told him: “Careful on the way back—the snow’s coming down at full speed from up there.”

The boy smiled self-confidently. “I know, I know.” And he climbed up the riverbank, at the top of which was a large plank thrown over the river, forming a makeshift bridge to the Ansar on the other side. Halfway across the teetering plank, the boy stopped to take in the majesty of that Cantabrian view with eyes that were greedy for beauty. The current, swollen and magnificent, roared out its tragic, devastating song; and the woods, turning green with glorious spring growth, gave the landscape a serene note of trust and sweetness, its smooth lawn standing out towards the wild foam and its flowered trees swaying back and forth over the furious rapids. In the distance, on the other side of the Ansar, hemming in that natural orchard was another branch of the river sparkling in the sun.

Martín didn’t want to admit how light-headed that marvelous and terrible vision made him feel, and, mockingly, smiling, he murmured as he closed his eyes over the dizzying waters, “Uf . . . what a racket you’re making!”

Then in one leap, he made it to the other bank, where the little hanging bridge known as “the alder bridge” was fixed to an alder tree. After that, the boy, somewhat shaky, turned his head to the river, and spit at it defiantly, as if to ridicule it. And, still chastising the river, he said, “Go ahead, scream, scream, show off!” And he went into the woods after his cows.

Martín was a handsome, young, agile, and strong cowherd; he was hard-working and determined. He often took the cattle out to pasture; the cattle were the pride and glory of the area, although they didn’t belong to his father outright since he was a sharecropper. From the mountains to the flatlands, Martín knew those easy roads like no one else did; he knew where the rich pastures were and where the clean watering places for the animals were. He knew that the family’s prosperity was dependent on these cows thriving, and living with the threat of poverty hanging over his tender heart, the boy kept vigilant watch over these beasts, with deep interest, at the bottom of which, by the way, was the pride of a fledgling cattle breeder and the greed of a campesino. But these sentiments were still weak in eleven-year-old Martín, and were eclipsed in that healthy little soul by a sweet fondness towards the animals, very characteristic of a good nature and a generous will.

*     *     *

The voracious cows grazed wholeheartedly, and with every bob of their heads, their cowbells added a musical note in the serenity of the woods. Martín sat on a downed tree trunk and smiled, gratified by the gentle tinkling that was the marcha real of this pastoral royalty. He entertained himself during the afternoon crafting wooden flutes, which he made by cutting young, willow stems free of knots and patiently hollowing them out. To peel off the juicy bark, it was necessary—according to the rules for Cantabrian children’s games—to accompany his methodical tapping on the flute with this tune: Squeeze out, squeeze out, crude willow stick; the crazy mule gave a big kick; the more you squeeze, the more you sing.

Martín repeated that magic spell an infinite number of times, and in his pack where he carried his meager daily meal, he now had quite a collection of sonorous flutes. He looked up at the sun and figured it must be around five. The cows were overjoyed and had had their fill; they were chewing their cud in pleasant abandon, drooling sleepily over the daisies, the graceful heralds of spring in the fields of Cantabria.

Halfway through the day now, the Witch’s Wind, which had begun at dawn with lukewarm puffs, began picking up steam. In the first days of March, only this southern wind had such strength. The river’s fearsome screaming was becoming louder, and reached all the way to the back of the woods now, where it was just a solemn whirring sound. Martín thought it was time to go back to the village; it would take the lazy cattle at least an hour to get there, and if they left now, they would arrive just before nightfall.

The boy stood up, and his high little voice interrupted the afternoon stillness and the river’s lullaby. “Let’s go, Princesa, Galana, go on, get up . . . Pinta . . . Lora, let’s go!” The animals began panting heavily, and the bells rang loudly as he tugged at their collars. The six cows began walking ahead of the boy.

After fifteen minutes of walking, Martín started to get worried; the river was roaring like a beast, much louder than in the morning. And as the boy made his way out of the dense woods, he looked at the mountaintops with terror and saw that not one tuft of snow was left from the recent storms; the sun’s fire and the stirring of the Southern Wind had done their magic.

The river must be making its bad-talk, Martín said to himself, The water is probably almost to the bridge by now, and maybe the cows will be scared to wade across. . . .

Impatient, he prodded the animals and quickened the pace. Soon, he was able to see the waters overflowing to the edge of the woods. He dashed for the bridge that would save him to see if it was still in place . . . yes, there it was! He calmed down. . . . Now it was just a matter of the cows wading across as usual. He pushed them forward; they were a little hesitant; they turned their noble heads to the boy, and in their big tired eyes, there seemed to be a flash of uncertainty. A few of them lowed questioningly.

The boy, anxious, prodded them more and more, and soon one of them went into the river determinedly. The others followed her in, meek but with confidence, all except Pinta, who, always straggling, hadn’t taken a step.

Martín pushed her forward, petting her on her back. “Go, stupid girl!”

The cow didn’t move.

The boy began pushing her insistently, but she lowed, obstinate and resisting, until finally, shaking him off with her solid frame, with an abrupt ringing of bells, she turned around and ran past the boy into the woods.

Martín was speechless and dismayed. But he didn’t hesitate for a moment—his duty was to save Pinta from this formidable flood, which would quickly inundate the entire area between the two branches of the colossal river.

The other five cows were more amenable; they were used to that route and valiantly finished wading to the other side. Martín, screaming and gesturing to them from the shore, saw them walking slowly towards the village. Then he ran in search of the stray animal, the best one of the herd, the apple of his family’s eye.

The cowbell tinkled melodically, its song as peaceful as an eclogue in the thick, dreamy woods, and, guided by the sound, the boy found the beast panting and stunned before the second torrent of the river, which was also overflowing into the woods. He tied a rope to her collar, which he had taken off his waist. He berated the beast, very annoyed, and forced her onto the right path.

Pinta did not resist—judging by the meek way she looked at her cowherd as he scolded her, maybe she regretted her insubordination.

“Can’t you see, stupid,”—he was upset but still reasonable—“we’re on an island, as they call it. Can’t you see that all this is going to be underwater any minute now? And if you drown, my father will lose at least forty duros. . . . I should have known you wouldn’t want to cross . . . you’re the fattest one of them!”

The boy’s incessant talking and the soft sound of the cowbell added a brassy note to the deep orchestra of the waters. The wind had died down; it was surely sleeping in some enormous crook of the blue mountains, under the pure, trembling evening star and the red cloud cover.

Martín’s ferocious little heart thumped every time he thought about that flimsy alder bridge.

In the time he lost chasing after Pinta, the river had widened terribly; now the foamy,
bubbling ford would not calm down.

The boy was agitated seeing that night was falling, seeing that tremendous onslaught of water. He tied the cow to a tree and climbed up to check on the bridge. But the bridge. . . . It was gone!

Stunned, Martín stood for a few minutes with his mouth open, completely dumbstruck before that irremediable, terrifying catastrophe. A veil of tears came over his innocent eyes. What was he going to do? He felt a terrifying need to scream for help, but the ominous solitude of the place and the thundering waters got the better of him as he panicked silently, overwhelmed. Automatically, he looked up to the sky, and the sudden hope of a miracle caressed his soul with a light graze, like a kiss. Maybe an angel would come and put the bridge back in its place! And the cowherd tried a few vague prayers, confusingly split between Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Anthony.

But the angel would not come; the river was still growing, and night was falling, undaunted and serene, in spite of his misfortune.

Then, grasping at his only chance for salvation, Martín went to Pinta, untied her, and caressing and caressing her with his trembling little hands, he spoke to her deliriously, begging her to wade across the river and save him. Slowly, very carefully, as he spoke, he mounted her back, gripping the rope he had used to tie her.

Martín began believing in miracles, because the obedient, obliging beast went into the water without hesitating, carrying him on its back. And the terrible incident came to its horrible, frightful climax. The animal sank in the foamy, roaring waters, and slipped and howled in a fit of fear, while the boy, with his arms around the solid mass of flesh, kissed it, sobbing, whimpering a few tremulous words, which were as much directed to God as to Pinta.

The thundering voice of the river overwhelmed that humble, crystalline little voice, when once again the cowherd’s innocent soul felt the kiss of a miracle. Rising above the noise of the water, some voices called to him insistently—there were definitely people on the other side. His parents, his neighbors had come for him. . . .

Martín knew he was saved now. He raised his head in the darkness in a movement of crazy joy, but when his arm let go of Pinta, a rush of water threw him off her and he rolled into the foamy rapids.

Still for a moment, Martín was vaguely holding on to the hope that he would live—he still had the rope in his hand that was tied to the cow’s neck. The current, with a barbaric strength, was pulling the boy down, to the abyss, to his death; and the massive cow, with the brute eloquence of its exertion and its howling, was pulling him to the shore . . . But the rapids were stronger, and now the animal was being dragged behind the boy!

Then the boy, brave and generous in that supreme moment, let go of the rope, and said with a strange, hoarse voice, “Go on, Pinta!”

And still he yelled, “Mother!” He opened his arms, opened his eyes, his mouth, and thought the whole turbid, bitter river was rushing into it; he felt how the screaming current, which had been harassing him all day, was now stridently laughing in his ears, cold and mocking like a threat that has been fulfilled; and finally, he saw how the peaceful evening star twinkled in the sky among red clouds….The rapids swallowed him instantly, helpless and defeated, that poor flower of sacrifice and humility. . . .

Pinta, finally reaching the coveted shore, looked with stupefied, gentle eyes at a group of people surrounding her, and a sad woman, who had heard Martín’s final words in the pit of her stomach, wailed in tragic reply, “I’m coming! I’m coming!”

And the poor woman ran down along the riverbank, sank into the flooded pastures, lost herself in the blackness of the night, and the depths of her pain. . . .

 

—¡Martín!

—¡Ñoraa!…

—¿Habrá crecida?

—Habrála, que desnevó en la sierra y bajan las calceras triscando de agua, reventonas y desmelenadas como qué…

—¿Pasarán las vacas al bosque?

—Pasan tan «perenes».

—Pero ten cuidado a la vuelta, hijo, que el río es muy traidor.

—A mí no me la da el río, madre.

El muchacho acabó de soltar las reses y las arreó, bizarro, por una cambera pedregosa que bajaba la ribera.

Había madrugado el sol a encender su hoguera rutilante encima de la nieve densa de los montes y deslumbraba la blancura del paisaje, lueñe y fantástico, a la luz cegadora de la mañana. Ya la víspera quedó el valle limpio de nieve, que, sólo guarecida en oquedades del quebrado terreno, ponía algunas blancas pinceladas en los caminos.

El ganado, preso en la corte durante muchos días de recio temporal, andaba diligente hacia el vado conocido, instigado por la querencia del pasto tierno y fragante, mantillo lozano del «ansar» ribereño.

Martín iba gozoso, ufanándose al lado de sus vacas, resnadas y lucias, las más aparentes de la aldea; una, moteada de blanco, con marchamo de raza extranjera, se retrasaba lenta, rezagada de las otras. Llegando al pedriscal del río, unos pescadores comentaron ponderativos la arrogancia del animal, mientras el muchacho, palmoteándola cariñoso, repitió con orgullo:

—¡Arre, Pinta!

—¿Cuándo «geda», tú?—preguntaron ellos.

—Pronto; en llenando esta luna, porque ya está cumplida…

Las vacas se metieron en el vado, crecido y bullicioso, turbio por el deshielo, y los
pescadores le dijeron a Martín lo mismo que su madre le había dicho:

—Cuidado al retorno, que la nieve de allá arriba va por la posta.
El niño sonrió jactancioso:

—Ya lo sé, ya.

Y trepó a un ribazo desde cuya punta se tendía un tablón sobre el río, comunicando con el «ansar» a guisa de puente. A la mitad del tablón oscilante, el muchacho se detuvo a dominar con una mirada avara de belleza la majestad del cuadro montañés; la corriente, hinchada y soberbia, rugía una trágica canción devastadora, y el bosque, verdegueante con los brotes gloriosos de la primavera, daba al paisaje una nota serena de confianza y de dulzura tendiendo su césped suave hacia las espumas bravas y meciendo sobre el rabión furioso los árboles floridos. Lejano, en la opuesta orilla del bosque, el río hacía brillar al sol otro de sus brazos que aprisionaba el vergel.

Quiso Martín ocultarse a sí mismo el desvanecimiento que le causaba aquella visión maravillosa y terrible de la riada, y burlón, sonriente, murmuró cerrando los ojos ante las aguas mareantes:

—¡Uf!… ¡cómo «rutien»!…

Luego, de un salto, ganó la otra ribera, en uno de cuyos alisos estribaba el colgante puentecillo, conocido por «el puente del alisal». Entonces el niño, un poco trémulo, volvió la cara hacia el río, le escupió, retador, con aire de mofa, y aun le increpó:

—«Rutie», «rutie», ¡fachendoso!…

Después, internóse en el bosque, al encuentro de sus vacas.

Era Martín un lindo zagal, ágil y firme, hacendoso y resuelto; pastoreaba con frecuencia los ganados que su padre llevaba en aparcería, que eran el ejemplo y la admiración de los ganaderos del contorno. Del monte y del llano, Martín conocía como nadie los fáciles caminos; los ricos pastos y las fuentes limpias para regalo de sus vacas. El pastor sabía que sobre la existencia próspera de aquellos animales constituía la familia su bienestar, y viviendo ya el niño con el desasosiego de la pobreza encima del tierno corazón, guardaba para sus bestias una vigilante solicitud, un interés profundo, en cuyo fondo apuntaban, acaso, el orgullo del ganadero en ciernes y la codicia del campesino. Pero inseguros estos sentimientos en los once años de Martín, aparecíanse en aquella almita sana cubiertos de simpática afición hacia los animales, muy propia de una buena índole y de una generosa voluntad.

*     *     *

Aplicadas habían pastado las muy golosas, y en cada cabeceo codicioso mecieron las esquilas en la serenidad del bosque una nota musical, mientras Martín sonreía, halagado por aquel manso tintineo que era la marcha real de su realeza pastoril; sentado en un tronco muerto, iba entreteniendo la tarde en la menuda fabricación de unos pitos, que obtenía ahuecando, paciente, tallos nuevos de sauce, cortados sin nudos. Para conseguir el desprendimiento de la corteza jugosa, era necesario,—según código de infantiles juegos montañeses—acompañar el metódico golpeteo encima del pito, con la cantinela: Suda, suda, cáscara ruda; tira coces una mula; si más sudara, más chiflara…

Martín había repetido infinitas veces este conjuro milagrero, y tenía ya en la alforjita que fué portadora de su frugal pitanza una buena colección de silbatos sonoros. Miró al sol y calculó que serían las cinco. Las vacas estaban llenas y refociladas; rumiaban tendidas en gustoso abandono, babeando soñolientas sobre las margaritas, gentiles heraldos de la primavera en los campos de la montaña.

Al mediar el día, había saltado el Sur, ya iniciado desde el amanecer en hálitos tibios, que sólo el ábrego puede levantar en los días primerizos de Marzo; iba creciendo el temeroso vocear del río y llegaba al fondo del «ansar», apagado en un runruneo solemne. Martín pensó volverse a la aldea; al paso perezoso del ganado tardaría una hora lo menos; el tiempo justo para no llegar de noche.

Se levantó el muchacho y su vocecilla aguda rompió el sosiego de la tarde, arrullada por el río.

—¡Vamos… PrincesaGalana, arre…; arriba, Pinta…; Lora, vamos…!

Hubo un rápido jadear de carne, con sendas sacudidas de collaradas y sonoro repique de campanillas; y los seis animales se pusieron en marcha delante del zagal.

Al cuarto de hora de camino, Martín empezó a inquietarse; el río bramaba como una fiera, mucho más que por la mañana. Y cuando el muchacho se fué libertando de la espesura intrincada del «ansar», vió con terror que no quedaba en las altas cimas de la cordillera ni un solo cendal blanco de la reciente nevisca; la hoguera del sol y los revuelos del ábrego realizaron el prodigio.

—Irá el río echando pestes—decíase Martín;—habrá llegado punto menos que al puentecillo, y tal vez el ganado tema vadear…

Impaciente, arreó vivo y apretó el paso; y a poco, alcanzó a ver el desbordamiento de las aguas en los linderos del bosque. Dió una corrida para asegurarse de si estaba firme su puente salvador… ¡estaba! Respiró tranquilo… Ahora todo consistía en que las reses vadearan tan campantes como de costumbre. Las incitó: estaban un poco indecisas; volvían hacia el muchacho sus cabezas nobles, en cuyos ojazos mortecinos parecía brillar una chispa de incertidumbre… Hubo unos mugidos interrogantes.

Ansioso el niño, las excitó más y más, y de pronto, una entró resuelta, río adelante; las otras la siguieron, mansas y seguras, menos la Pinta que, rezagada siempre, no había dado un paso.

Martín la arreó, acariciándola:

—¡Anda, tonta, tontona!…

La vaca no se movía.

El zagal, imperioso, la empujó; pero ella mugía, obstinada y resistente, hasta que, sacudiendo su corpazo macizo, con brusco soniqueo de campanillas, dió media vuelta alrededor del muchacho y se lanzó a correr hacia el bosque.

Quedóse Martín consternado y atónito. Pero no tuvo ni un momento de vacilación: su deber era salvar a la Pinta de la riada formidable que, sin tardar mucho, inundaría por completo el «ansar» mecido entre los dos brazos del coloso.

Las otras cinco vacas, dóciles a la costumbre de aquella ruta, acababan de vadear el río con denuedo, y Martín, hostigándolas desde la orilla con gritos y ademanes, las vió andar lentamente camino de la aldea. Entonces corrió en busca de la compañera descarriada, la mejor de su rebaño,
aquella en que la familia toda se miraba como en un espejo.

Sonaba el tintineo melódico de la esquila, con placidez de égloga, en la espesura del bosque soñero; y, guiado por aquel son, el niño halló a la bestia jadeante y asombrada delante del segundo torrente que el río derramaba en el «ansar». Le amarró el pastor al collar una cuerda que desciñó de la cintura y, riñéndola, muy incomodado, la obligó a tornar a la senda conveniente.

La Pinta no opuso resistencia: tal vez estaba arrepentida de su insubordinación, a juzgar por las miradas de mansedumbre con que respondía a las amonestaciones severas de Martín.

—¿No ves, bruta—decíale, afligido y razonable,—que estamos, como quien dice, en una ínsula?… ¿No ves que todo esto se va a volver un mar, mismamente, y que si te ahogas pierde mi padre lo menos cuarenta duros?… ¡Pues tendría que ver que no quisieras pasar!… ¡Sería esa más gorda que otro tanto!…

La charla afanosa del rapaz y el blando soniquete del esquilón daban una nota argentina a la orquesta grave de la riada. Habíase encalmado el viento; dormía, sin duda, en algún enorme repliegue de las montañas azules, sobre las cuales temblaba puro el lucero vespertino, arrebolado de nubes rojas.

El bravo corazoncillo de Martín golpeaba fuerte cada vez que el niño pensaba en el puente liviano del alisal.

Había ensanchado el río atrozmente sus márgenes en el tiempo que el zagal perdiera con la fuga de la Pinta; ahora, el vado espumoso y borbollante no remansaba.

Angustiado el niño, viendo crecer la noche en aquel asedio terrible del agua, amarró la vaca a un árbol y trepó a cerciorarse del estado del puente.

Pero el puente… ¡había desaparecido!

Martín, anonadado, estuvo unos minutos abriendo la boca, en el colmo del estupor, delante de aquella catástrofe irremediable y espantosa. Un velo de lágrimas cayó sobre sus ojos cándidos: ¿Qué hacer?… Sintió una necesidad espantosa de pedir socorro a voces; de llorar a gritos; pero la soledad medrosa del paraje y el estruendo de las aguas, le dominaron en un pánico mudo, aniquilador. Alzó maquinalmente la mirada al cielo, y la súbita esperanza de un milagro acarició su alma con un roce suave, como de beso; ¡si viniera un ángel a colocar otra vez el puente en su sitio!… Y ensayó el pastor unas vagas oraciones, repartidas, confusamente, entre la Virgen del Carmen y San Antonio.

Pero ¡el ángel no venía; el río seguía creciendo, y la noche cayó, impávida y serena, encima de aquella desventura!

Asiéndose entonces a la única posibilidad de salvación, Martín se llegó hasta la Pinta, la desamarró y, acariciándola mucho, mucho, con las manitas temblorosas, la echó un delirante discurso, rogándola que vadease el río y que le salvara. Despacio, con grandes precauciones, según le hablaba, se subió a sus lomos, asiendo siempre la soga con que la había apresado.

Martín empezó a creer en la realización del prodigio, porque la bestia, sumisa y complaciente, entró sin vacilar en el agua, llevándole encima. Y llegó a su apogeo el tremendo lance lleno de temeridad y de horror.

Hundíase el animal en el río espumoso y rugiente, y resbalaba y mugía, en el paroxismo del espanto, mientras que el niño, abrazándose a la recia carnaza vacilante, la besaba sollozando, gimiendo unas trémulas palabras, que tan pronto iban dirigidas a Dios como a la Pinta.

La tonante voz del río empapaba aquella humilde vocecilla de cristal, cuando el alma candorosa del pastor sintió otra vez el beso del milagro. Dominando el estrépito de la riada, unas voces le llamaban con insistencia: había gente, sin duda, en la otra orilla; le buscaban sus padres, sus vecinos…

Martín se creyó salvado. Alzó la frente en las tinieblas con un movimiento de alegría loca, y al soltarse del brazo que daba a la Pinta, un golpe de agua le echó a rodar en las espumas del rabión.

Todavía, por un instante, tuvo Martín asida una tenue esperanza de vivir: conservaba en su mano la cuerda que la vaca tenía atada al collar. La corriente, de una bárbara fuerza, tiraba del niño hacia abajo; hacia el abismo; hacia la muerte. La vacona, con la elocuencia brutal de esfuerzos y berridos, tiraba de él hacia la orilla… Pero, ¡podía más el rabión, que ya iba arrastrando al animal detrás del niño!

Entonces él, bravo y generoso en aquel instante supremo, soltó la cuerda, y dijo con una voz ronca y extraña:

—¡Arre, Pinta!

Aún gritó: ¡madre! Abrió los brazos, abrió los ojos, abrió la boca, creyó que todo el río se le entraba por ella, turbio y amargo; sintió cómo el vocerío de la corriente, que todo el día le estuvo persiguiendo, le metía ahora por los oídos una estridente carcajada, fría y burlona, como una amenaza que se cumple; y vió, por fin, cómo temblaba en el cielo, entre nubes rojas, el lucero apacible de la tarde… El rabión se le tragó en seguida, inerme y vencido, pobre flor de sacrificio y humildad…

La Pinta, dueña de la codiciada margen, miraba con ojos atónitos y mansos a un grupo de gente que la rodeaba, y a una triste mujer que, habiendo recibido en mitad del corazón la postrera palabra de Martín, en trágica respuesta, contestaba a grito herido:

—¡Allá voy, allá voy!…

Y corría la infeliz, ribera abajo, a la par del río, hundiéndose en los yerbazales inundados, perdida en las negruras de la noche, y en la sima de su dolor…

 

Translator’s Statement:

One of the things that makes Concha Espina’s writing so challenging to read is that, while she writes in Spanish, she intersperses her stories with certain Cantabrian words that would be unknown to the average Spanish speaker. The northern region where she is from, also known as La Montaña, is very different from the rest of Spain in terms of climate and vegetation, and it was also one of the only regions of Spain never to have been conquered by the Moors. Today, Cantabrian is classified as an endangered language.

Many of the Cantabrian words she uses have to do with rural life, and these words are very vivid. For example, ansar is the word for island. Towards the end of the story, the boy says to his cow, “We’re on an island, as they call it.” Here he uses the Spanish word.

But another, more difficult example is when the boy meets the fishermen. They say to him, in reference to one of his cows, “¿Cuándo «geda», tú?” which I somewhat unsatisfyingly translated as “She going to heave it soon?” “Gedar” means to calve in Cantabrian and “una geda” is a cow that has recently calved. This fisherman’s question in Spanish is five syllables (but the sounds can blend together so that it almost sounds like four). My translation, however, is seven syllables (or six if you say “gonna” in your head). It also doesn’t quite have that same staccato sound produced by the letters c, g, and t in “¿Cuándo «geda», tú?

The way these fisherman speak is very much connected to who they are—poor fisherman in rural Cantabria. They are “men of few words.” I see them as having that rugged, masculine quality that we also associate with the countryside in the United States.

In English, the question is not quite clear. Without any context, “heave” could mean any number of things here. But most Spanish speakers would also not know what “geda” means right away. The question is made clear by the boy’s answer.

 

Slava Faybysh was born in Ukraine and grew up in the United States. He translates from both Spanish and Russian. He is just starting out in the field of literary translation and has several manuscripts for which he is currently searching for publishers. His translations have appeared on Asymptote and Palabras Errantes.

Concha Espina (1869–1955) was a prolific author of poetry, plays, novels, and novellas. She was the first woman in Spain to be able to make her living exclusively from writing. Though she was a contemporary of the Generation of ’98 writers in Spain, her work is somewhat different from other writers of the period. Her main influences were Realism and Romanticism. Concha Espina was deeply Catholic, and although she did not identify as a feminist, much of her work does have certain feminist themes. Early in her career, she was mainly apolitical. She slowly drifted to the left by the 1920s, writing a book in support of miners. But by the time of the Spanish Civil War, she came to support the fascist Franco government. Concha Espina was a finalist for the Nobel Prize three times in the 1920s, and several of her novels were made into movies during the 1950s. “The Rapids” was one of her earliest works to be published in 1907.