Chapter 11 – The Brightly Coloured Fish, by Jaime Rocha

©Mimi Tavares, Sem título, técnica mista sobre papel /mimitavaresartwork/

Translated by Annie McDermott

Edited by Charlotte Hammond Matthews

“I am a specialist in the speech of fish. They say things, they know what goes on in the world. That’s why I’m here, to give you some advice about how to behave from now on.”

Precisely three days after Professor Ricardo’s kiss of death, something happened which the reader will doubtless not believe.

A slender young man, impeccably dressed, with a black lab coat slung over his shoulder and a red band around his forehead, knocked on Teresa and Maria’s door, explaining that he had been sent by the Central Decontamination Institute:

“My name is Reboredo and I don’t take up much space. My task as a CDI employee is to give you some bad news, but don’t worry, everything will work out. Teresa is infected: that’s what the disease detector at the Institute showed.”

Then, after casting a quick glance at the living room, which was scattered with photos, syringes, masks, test tubes and two televisions, the young man unscrewed his left arm and placed it delicately on the table, moving aside the plates and glasses from dinner that had yet to be cleared away. Then he reached into the prosthesis and produced a jar with a brightly coloured little fish inside, wriggling around as best it could in the cramped space. Teresa and Maria were standing in the middle of the living room, frightened, not saying a word. Reboredo’s sudden entrance had given them no time to make sense of what was happening.

“I am a specialist in the speech of fish. They say things, they know what goes on in the world. That’s why I’m here, to give you some advice about how to behave from now on.”

The moment he took the lid off the jar, there was a power cut. The living room still smelt of dinner, of something cooked in the oven, but now darkness was everywhere, not the slightest glow filtering in from the street, as if the windows were closed and the shutters pulled down. Teresa and Maria remained motionless, silent, as if after a blow to the head. There was a scuffling near the ceiling and some shadowy shapes came fluttering down, letting out high-pitched shrieks like bats. The sound snapped them out of their shock and right away they switched on their phones. The light from the devices attracted a little bunch of white butterflies that flitted around the lamps and the furniture. A video played on all the screens at once, showing a forest where the trees were dancing together.

Then Reboredo said:

“Nature is more intelligent than we are, believe me. She’ll survive. The disease this new virus brings with it is regression. Whoever catches it goes back to walking on all fours and loses the ability to speak. They forget how to use their thumbs.”

Maria took a step towards the man as he was closing the jar and putting it back inside the prosthesis, and asked:

“Is that actually true?”

“It is,” said Reboredo.

The power came back as if nothing had happened, as if it had all been a dream, a mere lapse in the science. Maria’s tone was aggressive:

“Mr Reboredo, I don’t believe a word of what you’ve just told us. I think it’s time you were leaving.”

“Wait, not so fast,” said Teresa. “Let him stay a bit longer. Can I get you a coffee, sir?”

Read the original chapter in Portuguese

Jaime Rocha (Nazaré, 1949) graduated from the Faculdade de Letras de Lisboa and was living in France during the final years of Salazar’s regime. He worked as a journalist for overs three decades, and has written poetry, fiction and theatre. His poetic output includes the collections Zona de Caça, Do Extremínio, Lacrimatória, Necrophilia and Preparação para a Noite. He has also written the novels A Loucura Branca, Anotação do Mal, A Rapariga Sem Carne and Escola de Náufragos, and, in 2019, he published a short story collection entitled O Estendal. He is the author of the plays O Construtor, O Terceiro Andar (1998, winner of the Grande Prémio APE de Teatro), Casa de Pássaros, Homem Branco – Homem Negro (2005, winner of the Grande Prémio de Teatro Português SPA / Novo Grupo), Azzedine e Outras Peças, O Mal de Ortov, Agamémnon – A Herança das Sombras, Filoctetes – A Condição do Guerreiro and As Troianas (co-written with Hélia Correia).


Annie McDermott’s published and forthcoming translations from Spanish and Portuguese include City of Ulysses by Teolinda Gersão (with Jethro Soutar), Empty Words and The Luminous Novel by Mario Levrero, Loop by Brenda Lozano, Dead Girls by Selva Almada, and Feebleminded by Ariana Harwicz (with Carolina Orloff). She is currently co-translating Lídia Jorge’s novel O vento assobiando nas gruas with Margaret Jull Costa. She has previously lived in Mexico and Brazil, and is now based in London.

Listen to this chapter on Facebook read by Ben Slack

(video production by Gabriela Ruivo)

Listen to this chapter read by Ben Slack

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