Prophecy | Raül Garrigasait | Granta


Raül Garrigasait 

Translated by Mara Faye Lethem

That afternoon, on the table of the dissection room, there was a sow lying belly-up, spreadeagled. With gloved hands, Professor Garom examined her thick skin. He patted her gently, with admiration and respect: admiration for such corpulence, respect for the life that had been taken. He had tenderness in his fingertips. With that same tenderness, and a scalpel, he sliced the animal along her entire length, opened up her skin with a couple of firm jerks, leaving all the redness of her guts visible. He ran his fingers inside the animal, as if his eyes were on his fingertips.

‘Do you want to do it?’

Andrea stuck her hand inside. She felt it surrounded by a cold softness. She noted resistance and welcoming spongy spots. Then she stuck her other hand in: pressing from both sides, she could appreciate the entire body, its weight, the robustness of the joints that sustained the whole. Even dead, the sow was a powerful thing and it was as if Andrea couldn’t possibly dominate her, was merely a part of her, a still-living entrail.

Garom handed her the knife.

‘Go ahead, cut.’

Andrea diligently observed the organs, squeezed them, took them out one by one. Today her hair was shorter than the other night with Behemoth. She seemed more resolute, more sure of herself. They’d agreed to meet up at the dissection room to open up a boar, as a way of continuing the work they’d begun the other day. Contemplating her, he calculated the distance that separated them. He observed her with a slight tremble and impatience. He would’ve been all hers if not for the fact that he still had the morning’s meeting in his head, and it came back to him in flashes, with bursts of shame and incongruous phrases. He’d gone to City Hall for his first ‘high-level meeting’, as Hèctor Graus had called it. The mayor herself was there, two city councilmen, two district councilmen and four higher-ups. They’d previously cancelled and rescheduled the meeting twice because it was impossible to get everyone’s calendar to coincide. When Professor Garom arrived, they introduced him to those in charge of urban ecology, transport, tourism, to deputy mayors, members of dubious committees, to Lauras, Jordis, Sonias and Manels, all the names and all the faces blurred together. They sat down at a round table in a spacious room, with candelabras and gilded trim, that was impeccably clean. Everyone was chatting freely, except for Garom. When the mayor came in, the room fell silent. She was a tall woman, in her sixties or seventies, who walked with measured steps. Garom had only ever seen her on screens and she now seemed more serious, with a spark of sadness in her eyes. It seemed to him that she grew and became more respectable with each small movement of her body. She sat down in the only empty chair without taking her eyes off those gathered. No physical sign was necessary; it was abundantly clear that she was the one who bestowed, received and recognised. Professor Garom was impressed. After the greetings, Hèctor Graus offered him the floor and Garom started talking about the reproductive cycle of boars, the differences in diet between those living in the wild and those living in urban or semi-urban spaces, and their height and age curves. Half of the people around the table were looking at their cell phones. Garom stammered. Someone cut him off:

‘Will more boars be coming down into the city?’

‘I suppose so.’

‘You suppose so? Can’t you give us a solid projection?’

The professor squirmed in his chair. He explained the studies conducted in recent years, he reminded them of the efforts made by the city government itself to close off the paths from the mountain that led into the city with cattle grids and barriers. But what was happening now was new and disconcerting. When they asked him for solutions, he said that first and foremost he would have to observe and understand the situation. They’d have to let the boars come down, then follow them and find the meaning behind their behaviour. Nervous voices multiplied around him, demanding plans and action.

‘Well, there is one obvious factor that we can establish right off the bat: overpopulation.’

‘Of course, we’re a plague,’ said Hèctor Graus and the table filled with nods and approving words.

‘No,’ interrupted the professor, ‘I meant the boars.’

Everyone grew quiet. The mayor pushed her shoulders back and sat up straighter. The listeners sensed a problem and were waiting for Garom to clarify what he meant. The professor explained that, at this point in time, an inexpensive way to reduce the boar population would be hunters. An indignant murmur was heard.

‘There aren’t any hunters in Barcelona.’

Garom explained that while it was true that Barcelona’s city government doesn’t allow hunting, neighbouring towns do and that could alleviate the situation in the Catalan capital. If the population in Collserola was reduced, fewer boars would come down into the city. The head of urban ecology chimed in:

‘I’m afraid there are a few basic principles you haven’t taken into consideration. We have a responsibility and an obligation to find a solution based in respect. A solution that isn’t degrading or violent to non-human animals.’

‘Besides,’ said Hèctor Graus, lifting his hands, ‘we’re not Neanderthals. This is a twenty-first century city, we can’t just start shooting left and right. We have to come up with alternatives to violence. After all, this is a local problem, isn’t it? I mean, a problem of space. Maybe all we need to do is relocate them. Couldn’t we attract the boars and move them to rural Catalonia? That’s their natural habitat, isn’t it?’

The professor laughs out loud, seemingly out of nowhere.

‘Sorry, I was thinking about a meeting I had this morning.’

Andrea lifted a viscera with her right hand, very high, like a hallucinating priestess about to have the fate of the world revealed to her. They both looked at it for a short while: it was a bluish spongy thing with stripes of blood, swaying calmly. Then she placed it in a plastic drawer.

‘Look,’ said Garom, sticking his hand into the animal and palpating its skin from the inside.

Andrea leaned over the sow. They both had their heads almost inside the carcass, which gave off a whiff of life and of death.

‘Look at all this fat. There’s more than ever,’ continued the professor. ‘This fat is the city. You can see the future in it.’

Garom rummaged through that white material with his fingers and Andrea imitated him. They remained there for a while, with their heads leaning over the carcass. His hair brushed up against her hair. The scent started to take shape. It was already something more than the anguish of life and death mixed together, now it was the concentrated odour of urban air and hot rubber and the start of putrefaction. Andrea closed her eyes. It was the smell of the housing development where a former high-school classmate had a house; she went there the summer she was seventeen, they’d spent a week there alone, exploring each other, getting bored, laughing. They had gone out on the first day to buy meat, a pack of pork loin strips, and the boy had left it on the kitchen’s marble counter. Then they got distracted, went to the swimming pool and spent the day out, and when they came back the meat was alive, the flies and ants were working in it and the whole kitchen had that sweetish smell. They took the pork loin down to the trash bin, but the scent remained in the house and in Andrea’s nose; she gradually got used to it. The boy was cheerful and simple and had a childish sense of humour: the perfect personality for the mugginess of August. His parents were moving him to another high school since he’d failed every class, so they hardly ever saw each other again, and Andrea was able to hold on to a fun memory of that week, in the pool, sunbathing on the terrace, acting out being an eagle or a bear in the double bed, cracking up as the boy sniffed her thighs like a truffle pig and continued up her body, tickling her, all with the slight scent of putrid flesh in her nose.

‘Be careful, we don’t want to fall in, do we?’

She opened her eyes and saw the professor’s head right beside hers, both of them almost inside the boar, and now she burst out laughing. He took a step back, wondering what she was thinking. Andrea arched her eyebrows like a dog that knows what it wants but pretends not to. They pulled off their gloves and washed their hands. Garom talked about the lessons we can learn from cadavers. For hundreds of thousands of years, humans and boars had coexisted somehow; what had happened over the last century was new and strange. First, we’d practically exterminated them; then, they’d multiplied like never before, becoming urban parasites, indications of our excesses and of the forces beyond our control.

‘Think about how special they are, these animals,’ said Garom, gesticulating passionately, and Andrea stood before him, she didn’t back off or even move her face away, his eyes upon her. Garom extolled the strength of boars, even though he no longer really knew what he was saying, and he spoke increasingly softer, as if he didn’t want to project too much, so that Andrea would draw even closer. His words gradually became murmurs, floating syllables, Andrea responded in kind, confidently. They began to touch each other.

‘What about neutering them?’ someone had said, someone whose title he was unsure of.

Garom lowered his head. He’d been talking for more than half an hour, to that wall of politically correct people that no ambulance could get through. He made another attempt: there had been some experiments done with sterilising vaccines. In order to function on a large scale, that method required anesthetising and vaccinating thousands of gilts. And the whole operation would have to be repeated year in and year out. It would cost millions of euros.

‘Well, maybe we could consider it.’

‘What are you saying? And take the money out of environmental projects?’

‘Maybe a tourist tax. Consider the circle: the boars scare off the tourists, the tourists pay so there are no boars.’

‘But, wouldn’t sterilisation be degrading, too?’

The voices swirled, some drowning others out. Amid the noise, Garom caught a few isolated terms – ‘political opportunity’, ‘challenges’, ‘basic principles’, ‘governmental project’– but failed to connect them to anything concrete: they fell like empty skeletons and crashed onto the ground. It was then that the mayor took the floor. At first, more than sentences, what was heard was a deep vibrant voice that silenced everyone. It was as if the voice had emerged searching for words, and the words, before taking shape and definition, already revealed their inner meaning. The mayor said something about the great responsibility that Professor Garom had to take on, a mission that could seem small, tiny, laughable even, but that actually was rooted in the deepest foundations of life on earth. Because the professor, and not only with his actions, but also with his public presence, with his ideas, with his willingness to make a difference, had to take charge of the harmonious coexistence between human and non-human animals, he had to understand that he would be the point where the world’s gears connected, that deep down it was up to him to ensure the innate right to a dignified existence, of both humans and non-humans, with the highest possible camaraderie. It might seem like an impossible challenge, but he had all the energies of the era working in his favour: all the enlightened brilliance of the twenty-first century, more aware than ever before of injustice and the need to make reparations for it. He would no longer be a hunter, he wouldn’t be a primitive, ignorant carnivore: he would be an emancipator, because he would find a way to respect life. The mayor lifted her head and reasoned while looking up at the gilded accents and the candelabras, but she increasingly seemed a mere vessel for that voice which resounded more and more deeply, with a slight huskiness that lent gravity to the ideas it launched into the air. The boars, it said, came down into the city bearing the weight of a whole history of pain. Had there ever been a dignified coexistence between boars and humans? Was history ever anything more than a succession of centuries of exploitation and dominance? Perhaps what was happening now was merely the final crisis. The anthropogenic imbalances that had emerged in the city were being brought back to the city by those animals. They were the living signs of an existence that was out of joint. We had to gather them up, stop them, save them, relocate them. The voice was affecting: it had them all trapped, swaying with the inflection of each word, all ruled by a sense of reverence, as if that voice came from another, more elevated world and they could only receive it with limitless gratitude. And again it was directed at Garom:


It was like a hand shaking him awake, pulling him from a false reality.

‘Professor! This is your moment.’

They’d taken off their shirts. Andrea was kissing his neck, his chest, his arms; slowly moving down as Garom trembled with one foot in the implausible present and one foot in old blurry memories. When she took off his trousers, his response was abrupt, involuntary. Andrea smiled to see him so defenceless; then, when they were completely undressed and he began to lie down on the floor, she laughed. Her laughter had no ill will, but rather respect. The floor was cold tiles. Garom placed himself on top of her, heavily; he could feel his weight, his bones aching, and beneath him was all the delicacy of Andrea’s skin, all the inaccessible and impossible delicacy that was right there, making his breath catch. With a quick gesture that surprised him, she cloaked his anxious flesh and welcomed him into her. Garom was inside the past, inside the years that had passed him by, it was a memory that came to life and wheezed, stopped, returned more vividly and whined like a madman who has ceased to understand the world and is blissfully oblivious as to where his pleasure is coming from. Every so often his legs kicked, hitting the tiles and making his bones hurt even more. He himself was life redeemed, with no need for any vow, any prophecy, it was enough with that delicate skin, that downy fluff that was next to nothing yet gave him everything, along invisible and infinite channels. Surrounded by that improbable delicacy, the jolts came and went, in a hazy space between will and inertia. From within Garom emerged a brusque, half-forgotten force, like a chick from its egg; his entire body was inside that force which compelled him, and at the same time he saw it all with his eyes, he saw the table legs and the cold tiles, the somewhat dirty grout and the scattered clothes, and he could imagine he was seeing himself from the outside: an animal saddened by his inability to be just an animal, but he soon returned to his body because that old force embraced him completely, and he kicked the dissection table so hard it fell over. The sow rolled and stopped face down near him. Bloodied, with her snout agape, she seemed distracted, savouring a vacuous life after death. Her bristle touched Garom’s arm, tickling him. He looked into the sow’s eyes, at her snout, her fitted tusks. For a moment it was as if he were in another universe, but then he realised that there was nothing more than that force, that it cancelled him out entirely, that it no longer mattered what he saw or what he thought because everything continued along its path, until the force emerged from inside him, like an offering. It had all been as fleeting as a frightened animal scampering off. Andrea stifled a laugh. Garom again felt all the pain in his bones, the coldness of the tiles, that stiffness older than the force he’d summoned from within. The sow’s eyelids were half-open, revealing a slice of her morbid gaze.


Image © Ynot-Na


Raül Garrigasait 

Raül Garrigasait (Solsona, 1979) is an award-winning novelist, essayist and translator. His novel ‘Els estranys’ (The Others), translated into English by Tiago Miller (2021), won both the Catalan Booksellers Llibreter Award and the Òmnium Award to the Best Novel of the Year in 2017. He also contributed to the collective book The Seven Deadly Sins (2022). Garrigasait translates from Greek and German and has brought the likes of Plato and Goethe into the Catalan language. A doctor in Classical Philology at University of Barcelona, he also acts as the director of La Casa dels Clàssics, a project that works to promote the creation and promotion of universal classics in the Catalan language. ‘Profecia’(Prophecy) is his latest novel.

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Translated by Mara Faye Lethem

Mara Faye Lethem is a writer, researcher, and literary translator. Winner of the inaugural 2022 Spain-USA Foundation Translation Award for Max Besora’s The Adventures and Misadventures of Joan Orpí, she was also recently awarded the 2022 Joan Baptiste Cendrós International Prize for her contributions to Catalan literatureHer translation of Irene Solà’s When I Sing, Mountains Dance was a finalist for the 2022 National Book Critics Circle Barrios Book in Translation Prize and the 2023 Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize. Her forthcoming translations include Pol Guasch's Napalm in the Heart (Faber & Faber and FSG), Alana S. Portero's Bad Habit (HarperVia), Max Besora's The Fake Muse, and Irene Solà's I Gave You Eyes And You Looked Toward Darkness.

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