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Malena Salazar Maciá

 

In El Umbral Oscuro, Malena Salazar Maciá creates a steampunk-inspired universe reminiscent in many ways of the chaotic early years of the twentieth century, combining it with the best kind of crime fiction. Through the fluid, precise style that has to come to characterize her prose, the author places readers at the threshold of a fascinating world that never turned into a reality.

                                                                                   Raúl Piad, translated by Toshiya Kamei

 

Translator’s Note

Born in 1988 in Havana, Malena Salazar Maciá is a multiple-award-winning writer of science fiction and fantasy. She has authored several books, most recently the Young Adult novels Aliento de Dragón (2020) and Los Cantares de Sinim: La búsqueda (2020).

Malena credits her grandfather with instilling her love of literature. Despite the economic crisis that befell Cuba following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, her grandfather made sure that she always had new books to read. He encouraged her to pursue her dreams of becoming a writer and provided emotional support for her. Sadly, he passed away in 2004, more than a decade before she made those dreams a reality. Thus, her story Fragments of Memory is dedicated to the memory of her late grandfather. Don Manolo (as I would have affectionately called him) would have enjoyed this translation as Malena tells me he was a veracious reader of speculative fiction in English.

At school, she excelled at creative writing. Her classmates waited with bated breath for Malena to share her latest science fiction adventure. As an adolescent, Malena devoured the Harry Potter series and dabbled in fan fiction before starting to create her own fantasy universes.

A graduate of the prestigious Onelio Jorge Cardoso workshop, whose first graduating class included Yoss, she is considered a leading voice of Latin American science fiction. Along with Elaine Vilar Madruga, she is one of the first writers of her generation to be translated into other languages.

In 2016, she made her debut as a novelist with Nade, which won the 2015 Premio David de Ciencia Ficción. It was followed by Las peregrinaciones de los dioses, the winner of the 2017 Premio Calendario de Ciencia Ficción. This novel-in-stories shares the same universe as her debut novel Nade.

Since her first appearance here with Endless Inn in October 2019, she has kept herself busy churning out one award-winning manuscript after another. Her manuscript La ira de los sobrevivientes, which won the 2020 Premio La Edad de Oro, has cemented her place in the Cuban science fiction canon. To my knowledge, she is the only writer who has won the triple crown of the David, Calendario, and La Edad de Oro science fiction awards.

Recent years have also seen her incursions into Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction. In addition to the two YA novels published in 2020, she has three forthcoming titles under this category: the MG novel Mabel y el misterio del Cemí, the winner of the 2019 Premio Luis Rogelio Nogueras; the YA novel El Umbral Oscuro; the YA-Adult crossover novel La ira de los sobrevivientes, the winner of the 2020 Premio La Edad de Oro.

Her short fiction has been published in numerous Spanish-language anthologies and magazines at home and abroad. English translations of her stories have appeared in various magazines, including Clarkesworld, The Future Fire, and Mithila Review.

Both Nade and Las peregrinaciones de los dioses take place in Eastern Terra, where there are two kinds of inhabitants: Gentiums and Daonais. They coexist alongside the beast-gods, who communicate telepathically. Inpu, a beast-god with a dog's head, saves a Gentium girl and names her Nade, which means the Reborn.

The Goddess of the Lake, whose Spanish original forms part of her second book Las peregrinaciones de los dioses, appeared in Selene Quarterly Magazine 2.1 in slightly different form. The Goddess of the Lake will be reprinted in a future issue of 4 Star Stories.

Ever since her debut as a novelist, her Cuban publishers have made good use of her talent as an illustrator. Her original illustrations have graced the covers of her books. Some of her books such as Las peregrinaciones de los dioses feature her black-and-white interior illustrations.

Some of her illustrations appear in this issue on the Guest Artist page.

-- Toshiya Kamei (translator)

 

The Japanese translation of Fragments of Memory appeared in Sci-Fire 2019. The story has not been published in Spanish. The English version appears here for the first time.

 A young girl sits at the feet of her grandfather, who repairs watches in this magical story of a girl and her grandfather.

 

Fragments of Memory
By Malena Salazar Maciá
Translated by Toshiya Kamei

 

For my grandfather, Manuel Maciá

My grandfather always gave me good advice: “Learn to do as much as you can. An independent woman is always highly regarded.” That’s why he never got angry when I slipped into his workshop behind our house. There I sat on a wooden bench he made for me and observed him restore the tick-tock of watches.

They came from all over Havana: Santa Fe, Diez de Octubre, La Víbora, Vedado, and Habana del Este. A word-of-mouth recommendation from a satisfied customer traveled fast in the nineties. My grandfather was also popular because he didn’t charge dearly for his services. It was the height of the Special Period, when economic hardship befell those of us in Cuba. He always said other families also needed money to fill their stomachs and make their problems go away. However, they needed their watches back: to sell them, wear them, give them away or leave them as an inheritance. Engravings of baptism; inscriptions of love, hatred, and tenderness; curses; blessings; and even tiny pictures of the Virgin of Cobre were hidden in the lids of old pocket-sized artifacts.

Watches came to the workshop in the most dissimilar degrees of wear, destruction, and carelessness. Some were damaged after they were caught in unforeseen downpours, while others simply no longer wanted to tell time again. But my grandfather was a mechanical magician, a genius among mortals who, modestly, reserved his expert knowledge for the hours he spent in his workshop.

From the wooden bench, I saw him work miracles. He cleaned the pieces with tenderness and placed them one on top of the other with tweezers and the indispensable help of a magnifying glass that enlarged his brown eyes, which were as beautiful as those of a cat. Above all, my grandfather listened to the watches. He whispered to them and blew his own breath into them. And the damaged mechanisms responded. They quickly woke up and came back to life. They eventually went back to the owner’s wrist, pocket or watch chain.

According to my grandfather, the watches were alive and kept pieces of those who used them. Not physical pieces, such as a skin scrape or a nail splinter, but something intangible. Memories entangled to tiny gears, sighs, gestures, glances, greetings, and traces of personalities at every turn of the crown, at every tick, at every tock. Everything human was stored inside, for the heart ticked like a giant watch with its own unique rhythm, which measured life in seconds, minutes, and hours.

“By looking inside a watch, you’ll know what’s inside the person who uses it,” he told me one day while he worked on a Perrelet watch that had seen better days.

Of course, my grandfather also had his own watch. A Breguet watch that had never fallen behind, even by a second, nor had it ever been necessary to take it apart. A true jewel that could be worth millions in any currency in the world. If some conman had found out what my grandfather always wore on his left wrist, he’d surely have cut off his arm to make off with that piece of treasure. My mother once asked him how it had come into his possession.

“I didn’t steal it,” he answered with a smile. “Let’s just say it’s always been with me.”

And he never mentioned his Breguet again.

When my grandfather died of a heart attack, it was devastating. Contemplating how death affects those who are left behind is something no one should be forced to do. And if anyone ever dares to say you can overcome your loss and the pain will go away, it’s a lie. It doesn’t go anywhere. It just snuggles up to our chests and falls asleep. Whenever I smell the scent of machine oil, the grief comes racing back. Small, treacherous triggers recall the memory of the hole, the void that lurks inside us, and the one who once occupied it.

When my grandfather passed away, he took everything with him, including a piece of us. The only thing he’d left behind was the Breguet watch. My mother put it away in a deep drawer because she couldn’t help but tear up every time she saw it.

Many customers returned to pick up their watches my grandfather had left in the workshop. Some were fixed while others were still half-disassembled, without any future solution. Others forgot them because when 2006 came around, Cuba’s economy was on the mend. We managed to keep our heads above water, and some people now wore cheap plastic replacements that ran on batteries, which were the disposable offspring of consumerism. Without my grandfather, the watch wizard, no one had time for the old-fashioned automatic watches. The workshop behind our house remained closed. We sporadically went there only when we needed to store things that were cumbersome in the house.

I went inside again, years later, to look for a screwdriver when my computer went on strike. And I heard the weak, disparate ticking. At first I thought it was my own watch, an automatic Orient I’d bought after saving money for a long time. But the sounds came from several sources. They came from the watches, held captive by oblivion, screaming for help.

I found them scattered in dusty drawers and cockroach farms, covered in cobwebs. Broken, unopened, worn, dull watches. The clocks didn’t tick, but I held my breath. They rested on piles of tiny pieces scattered in cardboard boxes. The material my grandfather once worked with whispered and pleaded for help.

And I listened with great care.

The task was difficult. I didn’t have enough materials to do what the watches wanted me to do, so I turned to my grandfather’s business records to find his former clients’ addresses and phone numbers. Some had forgotten all about their watches, as can happen to something they consider expendable. Others, however, listened to me. They thought I was an avant-garde artist immersed in a project like any other young girl—or simply, that I planned to revive our family’s watch repair business. Many of those clients had seen me in the workshop, sitting on the wooden bench, eagerly watching how my grandfather worked with dedication. So they gave me the watches he had once touched with his agile fingers and breathed his wisdom into them like a magician.

“Yeah, take that junk with you. Nobody’s been able to start it again anyway,” they told me.

But I accepted the watches with love. They were happy to be with me, to contribute to something bigger, and reunite with their siblings. While working, I didn’t let anyone in my family come near the workshop. I worked at night and threw the bolt when I left. At first, my hands ached from the task of fitting one gear with another with the help of a clamp. I had to be careful because if I placed a piece out of place, then I wasn’t going to get any results. I’d have to disassemble them and listen to them again to interpret them correctly.

 Seated on the work chair, I built, from pieces of the watches he once gave life to, a replica of my grandfather. I asked turners, metal smelters, and jewelers to build me bigger gears to make up his skeleton. Carrying them home hidden in my backpack wasn’t easy, but I needed to keep my work secret. Using small, tight wheels that shone like polished metal, I molded his head without looking at a photo. I secretly disassembled my mother’s Seiko and my Orient and inserted them into his brain because my grandfather wasn’t just himself, but also consisted of the memories those of us still living kept of his person.

When at last finished, I felt something was missing. My grandfather didn’t wake up. His body was silent, like all those years that the watches remained undone in drawers and in clients’ homes. Then, I looked at the hole in his chest. I dashed back home and took out the Breguet watch from the drawer. Even after so long, it still ticked. It wasn’t behind, even by a second. By the time I returned to the workshop, my mother had found out what had consumed my nights, caused blisters on my fingers, and made me respond most of the time with grunts and half words.

“What are you making?” she asked, stunned. “Avant-garde art in memory of your grandfather?”

I said nothing in front of the unfinished work. When I took apart the Breguet watch, my mother stifled a cry. She was going to tell me something, surely upset over the fact that I’d ruined the only thing that was going to earn us a ton of money. She might have been worried that our lives would become unbearable. Even so, she kept silent while I fitted the disassembled watch into my grandfather’s chest hole.

     His clock-mechanism body began to work right away. The Breguet watch’s ticking multiplied with the subtlety of a sigh. It advanced from the center of his chest to the tips of his toes, his arms, and his head. His piles of tiny pieces suddenly turned into mobile metallic flesh. My mom and I held hands. She, too, heard it.

As my clockwork grandfather twitched his fingers as if searching for his tools, his eyelids made of tarnished shells blinked open. He gazed at us with eyes made of hundreds of tiny rubies and flashed a smile.

 

The End

 

 

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