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
Raúl Piad, translated by Toshiya Kamei
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
(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
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
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
which won the 2015
Premio David de Ciencia Ficción.
was followed by Las peregrinaciones de los dioses, the winner of
the 2017 Premio Calendario de Ciencia Ficción.
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
The Future Fire, and
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,
a beast-god with a dog's head, saves a Gentium girl and names
which means the Reborn.
of the Lake,
Spanish original forms part of
her second book Las peregrinaciones de los dioses,
appeared in Selene Quarterly Magazine 2.1 in slightly
of the Lake will
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
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.
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
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
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
And he never mentioned his
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
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
And I listened with great
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
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
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
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.