Victorio Ferri Tells a Story

Sergio Pitol Demeneghi, trans. Cynthia Steele

for Carlos Monsiváis


I know my name is Victorio. I know they think I’m crazy (a foolish story that sometimes infuriates me; other times it just amuses me). I know I’m different from the others, but my father, my sister, my cousin José and even Jesusa are different; it wouldn’t occur to anyone to think they’re crazy; they say worse things about them.

I know we’re nothing like other people, and we’re nothing like each other. I’ve heard it said that my father is the devil and, though I haven’t yet found any external identifying signs, my conviction that he is who he is has become indestructible. Although at times it makes me proud, in general it neither pleases nor frightens me to be part of the evil one’s progeny.

When a peon dares speak about my family, he says that our house is hell. Before I heard that assertion for the first time, I imagined the devils’ home must be different (I thought, of course, of the traditional flames), but I changed my mind and began to give credence to those words, when after arduous, painful meditation, it occurred to me that none of the houses I had seen is like ours. Evil doesn’t dwell there, but it does dwell here.

My father’s perversity is so prodigious that it tires me. I’ve seen the pleasure in his eyes when he orders some peon imprisoned in the dark rooms at the back of the house. When he has them beaten and contemplates the blood flowing from their lacerated backs, he bares his teeth in an expression of delight.


He’s the only one on the hacienda who knows how to laugh like that, although I’m learning how to do it too. My laughter is becoming so atrocious that, when they hear it, women cross themselves.

We both bare our teeth and emit a sort of delighted whinny when satisfaction envelops us. None of the peons, even when they’re three sheets to the wind, would
dare to laugh like we do. Joy, if they can remember it, lends their faces a fearful grimace that doesn’t dare become a smile.

Fear has erected its throne on our properties. My father has followed the work of his own father, and when he in turn disappears, I’ll become lord of the manor: I’ll turn into the devil: I’ll be the Whip, Fire and Punishment.

I’ll force my cousin to accept his share in cash and, since he prefers city life, he can go off to that Mexico City he always talks about, Lord knows if it really exists or if he just imagines it to make us envious, and I’ll keep the lands, the houses and the men, the river where my father drowned his brother Jacobo, and, unfortunately for me, the sky that blankets us each day with a different color, with clouds that are only clouds for an instant, before turning into others, and then turning into others again.

I try to look up as little as possible, since I’m afraid things might change, might not always stay the same, might spiral dizzily out of my view.


Carolina, on the other hand, just to annoy me—since I’m older, she should show me some respect—spends long periods contemplating the sky, and over dinner she remarks, wearing a stupid look that doesn’t quite dare be ecstasy, that at dusk the clouds had a golden color against a lilac background, or that, at sunset, the color of water succumbed to that of fire, and other such idiocies. If there’s anyone in our house truly possessed by dementia, it has to be her.

My father, indulgent, feigns excessive attention and urges her to continue. As if the foolishness he was hearing could have some meaning for him!

With me he never speaks during meals, but it would be silly for me to resent it, since I’m the only one allowed to share his intimacy every morning at dawn, when I’m just getting home and he’s sitting there gulping his coffee, about to head out to the fields to get drunk on sun and be brutally beaten down by the hardest labor.

You see, the devil (I can’t explain why, it just is) is compelled by necessity to forget his crimes. I’m certain that, if I drowned Carolina in the river, he wouldn’t feel the least remorse.

Maybe some day, when I break free of these filthy sheets that no one has come to change since I fell sick, I’ll do that.


Then I’ll be able to feel myself inside my father’s skin, I’ll know for myself what I intuit in him, though sadly, incomprehensibly, between us a difference always interposes itself: he loved his brother more than the palm tree he planted in front of the balcony, more than his sorrel mare and the filly his mare foaled; while Carolina is for me nothing but a troubling weight and a nauseating presence.

These days illness has led me to tear away more than one veil that had remained intact until now.

Though I’ve always slept in this room, I can say that it’s only now revealing its secrets to me.

For instance, I had never noticed before that the number of beams running across the ceiling is ten, or that, on the wall across from where I lie, there are two great stains formed by humidity, or that—and I find this oversight intolerable—under the heavy mahogany dresser, a multitude of mice have made their nest.

The desire to trap them and feel their dying heartbeats in my mouth torments me. But such pleasure, for now, is forbidden me.

Don’t think for a moment that the multiple discoveries I am making, day after day, have reconciled me to my illness, not in the least!

The longing, ever more powerful, for my nocturnal forays perseveres.

Sometimes I wonder if someone is taking my place, if someone whose name I don’t know is usurping my destiny.


That sudden worry vanishes the moment it is born; it overjoys me to think that there is no one on the hacienda who could live up to the demands of such a painstaking and delicate  occupation.

Only I, a friend to the dogs, horses, pets, can get close enough to hear what the peons are murmuring, without the animals barking, clucking, neighing, which would give someone else away.

I provided my first service without realizing it. I discovered that, behind Lupe’s house, a mole had dug a hole. Lying there, lost in contemplation of the hole, I spent several hours waiting for the disgusting animal to appear.

Despite myself, I couldn’t help but see how the sun was defeated once again, and with its annihilation, a drowsiness overcame me that was impossible to resist. When I woke up, night had closed in.

Inside the hut you could hear the soft murmur of rushed, self?confident voices. I pressed my ear to a crack and it was then that, for the first time, I found out about the rumors that circulated about my house.


When I repeated the conversation, my service was rewarded. Its seems that my father was flattered to learn that I, contrary to all expectation, might prove useful to him. I felt happy because, from then on, I held an undeniably superior position to Carolina.

Three years have now passed since my father ordered Lupe to be punished for slander.

The passage of time is turning me into a man and, thanks to my work, I’ve accumulated knowledge that, while only natural to me still seems prodigious: I’ve learned to see through the darkest night; my hearing has grown as acute  as an otter’s; I walk so silently, so wingedly—if you will—that a squirrel would envy my footsteps; I can stretch out on the rooftops of the huts and stay there for a really long time before hearing the sentences that my mouth will later repeat.

I have learned to sniff out those who are about to speak.

I can say, with some pride, that my nights are rarely in vain, since from their gazes, from the way their mouths quiver, from a certain trembling I perceive in their muscles, from an aroma emanating from their bodies, I identify those that will be dragged through the night by a final shame, or by the embers of dignity, of rancor, of despair, to confidences, confessions, murmurs.

I’ve managed not to get caught in these three years; instead they attribute satanic powers to my father’s ability to know their words and punish them as they deserve.

In their naîveté they have come to believe that it is one of the devil’s attributes.

I just laugh. My certainty that he is the devil comes from deeper reasons.

Sometimes just for entertainment I go spy on Jesusa’s hut.

I have had occasion to contemplate how her hard little body intertwines with my father’s old age.

The lewdness of their contortions transfixes me.

I tell myself, deep down inside, that Jesusa’s tenderness should be directed at me, since we’re the same age, and not at the evil one, who turned seventy long ago.

On several occasions the doctor has come. He examines me with pretentious concern.

He turns to my father and, in a grave, charitable voice, declares that there is no cure, that any treatment would be useless, that the only thing to be done is to patiently await the arrival of death.

I observe how, at those moments, my father’s eyes turn a brighter green.

A look of joy (of ridicule) grazes in them and, when that happens, I can’t suppress a shriek of laughter that turns the doctor pale with incomprehension and fear.

When he finally leaves, the sinister one also lets out a hearty guffaw, patting my back, and we both laugh like madmen.

It’s been demonstrated that, of all the misfortunates that can befall man, the worst ones are born of solitude.

I can feel how it tries to bring me down, to break me, to put thoughts into my head.

Until a month ago I was completely happy.

Mornings I devoted to sleeping; in the afternoon I would wander the countryside, going down to the river or stretching out face down in the grass, waiting for the hours to follow the hours.

At night I would listen. It was always painful for me to think and I avoided it. Now thoughts often pop into my mind and that terrifies me.

Though I know that I’m not going to die, that the doctor is wrong, that at El Refugio there must always be a man, since when the father dies the son must take his place: that’s how it’s always been and it can be no other way (that’s why my father and I, when we hear otherwise, burst out laughing).

But when, alone and sad, at the end of a long day, I start thinking, the doubts overcome me.

I’ve verified that nothing inevitably happens in just one way.

The repetition of the most trivial events produces variants, exceptions, subtleties.

Why, then, shouldn’t the hacienda be left without a son to replace el patrón?


A more troubling doubt has nagged me for the last few days, when I think it’s possible that my father believes I am going to die, and that his laughter may not be, as I’ve assumed, mocking science, but revealing the pleasure the idea of my disappearance gives him, the joy of finally liberating himself from my voice and presence. It’s possible that those who hate me have succeeded in convincing him of my madness. . .

In the chapel belonging to the Ferri family, in the parish church of San Rafael, there is a small tombstone that reads:


Victorio Ferri
        died in childhood.
        His father and sister remember him with love.


Mexico City, 1957


This is Cynthia Steele's translation of Sergio Pitol Demeneghi's short story. Click to read in the original Spanish: "Victorio Ferri Cuenta Un Cuento,"  or click to read the Translator's Note.