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Nonfiction

The Presentiment

By Emiliano Monge
Translated from Spanish by Frank Wynne
In his new memoir What Goes Unsaid, award-winning Mexican author Emiliano Monge traces the tendency of male members of his family (himself included) to leave their homes and loved ones behind. The excerpt below, translated by Frank Wynne, describes how Monge's grandfather faked his own death to escape a life he could no longer tolerate.
Tarot cards from the Rider Waite Tarot deck
Photo by Viva Luna Studios on Unsplash

MONGE, DEPRAVED RASPUTIN! This headline, accompanied by a large photograph of my grandfather, appeared on the front page of the first populist newspaper published in Culiacán, Sinaloa on March 13, 1962.

Four years earlier, a few days after the youngest of his children turned seven, my grandfather had got up in the early hours, showered in freezing water, breakfasted on leftovers from the night before— without turning on a single light in the house, he liked to remind my grandmother—and walked out, convinced that he was doing so for good.

An hour later, while the sun was still hidden behind the Sierra Madre, Carlos Monge McKey would arrive at the quarry where he was foreman at the time, a quarry owned by the brother of his wife: to wit, my grandmother, Dolores Sánchez Celis. There, he would park his truck, grab a flashlight and get out. Ensuring there was no one else around, he would head to the tiny shack that served as a site office, where the dead body he had brought there the previous afternoon lay waiting for him.

Carrying the corpse over his shoulder, more a stiff plank than a dead weight, Carlos Monge McKey—who would very soon drop his first surname, clinging only to the one he had inherited from his mother—would slowly make his way back to his battered old truck. There, overcome by sudden fury at something he had failed to anticipate, and being unable to distance himself from his ancestral tradition of impulsive outbursts, he found himself forced to crack the joints and break a number of the bones of the deceased, whose remains had been overtaken by rigor mortis.

Perhaps because it’s how I would have reacted—I who have spent my life struggling against the avenging angel forced on me by my surname, attempting with every gesture, every shared moment and emotion, to disavow the solemnity others have built into a temple—I like to imagine that, in this defining moment, as my grandfather struggled with the dead man’s sinews, he was able to calm his rage for a moment and laugh.

Laugh at himself, forcing a comparison where someone else would force a consequence: that, as he was on the threshold of becoming another person, and as he was shattering the knees of a corpse whose death would forever remain a mystery, Carlos Monge McKey smiled and thought of his own grandfather, the Irish butcher, who in the late nineteenth century abandoned his native Ireland and his family to move to California. Or simply to change his surroundings: how else to explain the fact that, some weeks later, he would disembark in Sinaloa and settle there, until this day that he would never know, worse than he could ever have imagined?

For although Carlos Monge McKey would end up being a man who laughed loud and long, and made others laugh until they almost collapsed, according to his fellow inmates at the asylum where I went to collect his treasured possessions—a jar of marbles, the photos of half a dozen women, two packs of tarot cards, a stick of dynamite, a little bag filled with ashes, a handful of ID cards made out in various names, three half-filled notebooks that aspired to the status of a journal, a baseball signed by various players from the Houston Astros, a tiny leather hood, the shoes my grandmother had worn on their wedding day, and a little bottle filled with gallstones—he was no longer Carlos Monge McKey.

And so, no, I cannot imagine my grandfather laughing as he stuffed the corpse into what had been his seat. Because, although he was excited, Carlos Monge McKey remained cool and conscientious as he placed the dead man’s hands on the steering wheel: he had spent too many years play-acting, and he still wore the tragic mask that broken men are born with. And it was this same mask that made it possible for my grandfather to take out his pistol, tuck it into the dead man’s belt, take off the handbrake and watch as his truck rolled down the hard, dry, stony slope and crashed into the quarry’s precarious store of explosives.
 

“The true story is why my grandfather sensed—instinctively, as an animal might—that he had to leave.”

 
Moments later, with the dispassion of a man accustomed to gunpowder, with the suppressed joy of someone convinced he is turning his back on his fate, Carlos Monge McKey would stroll down to the site of the crash, place an explosive charge in the truck, and, walking away again, spool out the roll of fuse; and this time, perhaps, he smiled: he was about to blow up that man he had been by chance, by heredity, just because.

Sheltering behind a huge block of granite, my grandfather set down the fuse reel for a moment, slipped the hand not holding the flashlight into his pocket and took out a tiny box, struck the match and heard it sputter, held it against the end of the fuse, saw the spark race like a living thing across the ground and gazed at the explosion as a man might gaze on the ocean he was seeing for the first time.

After the thunderous explosion, which was unheard by anyone since the quarry was halfway to nowhere, my grandfather stood for a long time and watched as the flames soared, and later watched as darkness retreated from the earth to give way to day. He could not leave for some hours yet: he needed to ensure that nothing remained other than the evidence of his death.

And it goes without saying that there was no other evidence. Or, at least, not at first, not for thirteen, fourteen, fifteen months. Among other reasons, because, on the day of my grandfather’s first death, those witnesses who arrived at the scene of the tragedy, when questioned by his brother-in-law, Leopoldo Sánchez Celis, Constitutional Governor of the state of Sinaloa, recounted that, among the tangled wreckage, they had found the charred and twisted remains of the pistol that Carlos Monge McKey always wore tucked into his belt. A gun his family and friends had seen a thousand times.

But the scene that I have just sketched is not what matters. It is simply a list of events. And events are not the story. Even facts are not the whole story. The story is an invisible current in the depths that moves all things. The true story is why my grandfather sensed—instinctively, as an animal might—that he had to leave. Just as, many years later, my father would do the same. And how, in turn, my moment came.

In this case, the story, concealed as it is by the incidents and events that enfold it, as the heart of an onion is enfolded by its layers, is no more than an impression. The outline of a heartbeat: a presentiment, in the strict sense of the word. The same presentiment that, though never mentioned, never spoken aloud, moved from one branch to another of a family tree, in this case, my family tree.

I know that, in writing about this presentiment, I will be causing great distress to all those with whom I share a familial tie, whether voluntary or involuntary. They might well ask: Who are you to do such a thing, who are you to usurp our forefathers, our parents, our brothers, our children? For years, I thought the same thing: This is not my story. But then, one day, I too felt the presentiment. And this story became mine.


Excerpted from
What Goes Unsaid by Emiliano Monge, published by Scribe Publications. Copyright © 2022 by Emiliano Monge. Translation copyright © 2022 by Frank Wynne. By arrangement with the publisher. 

English

MONGE, DEPRAVED RASPUTIN! This headline, accompanied by a large photograph of my grandfather, appeared on the front page of the first populist newspaper published in Culiacán, Sinaloa on March 13, 1962.

Four years earlier, a few days after the youngest of his children turned seven, my grandfather had got up in the early hours, showered in freezing water, breakfasted on leftovers from the night before— without turning on a single light in the house, he liked to remind my grandmother—and walked out, convinced that he was doing so for good.

An hour later, while the sun was still hidden behind the Sierra Madre, Carlos Monge McKey would arrive at the quarry where he was foreman at the time, a quarry owned by the brother of his wife: to wit, my grandmother, Dolores Sánchez Celis. There, he would park his truck, grab a flashlight and get out. Ensuring there was no one else around, he would head to the tiny shack that served as a site office, where the dead body he had brought there the previous afternoon lay waiting for him.

Carrying the corpse over his shoulder, more a stiff plank than a dead weight, Carlos Monge McKey—who would very soon drop his first surname, clinging only to the one he had inherited from his mother—would slowly make his way back to his battered old truck. There, overcome by sudden fury at something he had failed to anticipate, and being unable to distance himself from his ancestral tradition of impulsive outbursts, he found himself forced to crack the joints and break a number of the bones of the deceased, whose remains had been overtaken by rigor mortis.

Perhaps because it’s how I would have reacted—I who have spent my life struggling against the avenging angel forced on me by my surname, attempting with every gesture, every shared moment and emotion, to disavow the solemnity others have built into a temple—I like to imagine that, in this defining moment, as my grandfather struggled with the dead man’s sinews, he was able to calm his rage for a moment and laugh.

Laugh at himself, forcing a comparison where someone else would force a consequence: that, as he was on the threshold of becoming another person, and as he was shattering the knees of a corpse whose death would forever remain a mystery, Carlos Monge McKey smiled and thought of his own grandfather, the Irish butcher, who in the late nineteenth century abandoned his native Ireland and his family to move to California. Or simply to change his surroundings: how else to explain the fact that, some weeks later, he would disembark in Sinaloa and settle there, until this day that he would never know, worse than he could ever have imagined?

For although Carlos Monge McKey would end up being a man who laughed loud and long, and made others laugh until they almost collapsed, according to his fellow inmates at the asylum where I went to collect his treasured possessions—a jar of marbles, the photos of half a dozen women, two packs of tarot cards, a stick of dynamite, a little bag filled with ashes, a handful of ID cards made out in various names, three half-filled notebooks that aspired to the status of a journal, a baseball signed by various players from the Houston Astros, a tiny leather hood, the shoes my grandmother had worn on their wedding day, and a little bottle filled with gallstones—he was no longer Carlos Monge McKey.

And so, no, I cannot imagine my grandfather laughing as he stuffed the corpse into what had been his seat. Because, although he was excited, Carlos Monge McKey remained cool and conscientious as he placed the dead man’s hands on the steering wheel: he had spent too many years play-acting, and he still wore the tragic mask that broken men are born with. And it was this same mask that made it possible for my grandfather to take out his pistol, tuck it into the dead man’s belt, take off the handbrake and watch as his truck rolled down the hard, dry, stony slope and crashed into the quarry’s precarious store of explosives.
 

“The true story is why my grandfather sensed—instinctively, as an animal might—that he had to leave.”

 
Moments later, with the dispassion of a man accustomed to gunpowder, with the suppressed joy of someone convinced he is turning his back on his fate, Carlos Monge McKey would stroll down to the site of the crash, place an explosive charge in the truck, and, walking away again, spool out the roll of fuse; and this time, perhaps, he smiled: he was about to blow up that man he had been by chance, by heredity, just because.

Sheltering behind a huge block of granite, my grandfather set down the fuse reel for a moment, slipped the hand not holding the flashlight into his pocket and took out a tiny box, struck the match and heard it sputter, held it against the end of the fuse, saw the spark race like a living thing across the ground and gazed at the explosion as a man might gaze on the ocean he was seeing for the first time.

After the thunderous explosion, which was unheard by anyone since the quarry was halfway to nowhere, my grandfather stood for a long time and watched as the flames soared, and later watched as darkness retreated from the earth to give way to day. He could not leave for some hours yet: he needed to ensure that nothing remained other than the evidence of his death.

And it goes without saying that there was no other evidence. Or, at least, not at first, not for thirteen, fourteen, fifteen months. Among other reasons, because, on the day of my grandfather’s first death, those witnesses who arrived at the scene of the tragedy, when questioned by his brother-in-law, Leopoldo Sánchez Celis, Constitutional Governor of the state of Sinaloa, recounted that, among the tangled wreckage, they had found the charred and twisted remains of the pistol that Carlos Monge McKey always wore tucked into his belt. A gun his family and friends had seen a thousand times.

But the scene that I have just sketched is not what matters. It is simply a list of events. And events are not the story. Even facts are not the whole story. The story is an invisible current in the depths that moves all things. The true story is why my grandfather sensed—instinctively, as an animal might—that he had to leave. Just as, many years later, my father would do the same. And how, in turn, my moment came.

In this case, the story, concealed as it is by the incidents and events that enfold it, as the heart of an onion is enfolded by its layers, is no more than an impression. The outline of a heartbeat: a presentiment, in the strict sense of the word. The same presentiment that, though never mentioned, never spoken aloud, moved from one branch to another of a family tree, in this case, my family tree.

I know that, in writing about this presentiment, I will be causing great distress to all those with whom I share a familial tie, whether voluntary or involuntary. They might well ask: Who are you to do such a thing, who are you to usurp our forefathers, our parents, our brothers, our children? For years, I thought the same thing: This is not my story. But then, one day, I too felt the presentiment. And this story became mine.


Excerpted from
What Goes Unsaid by Emiliano Monge, published by Scribe Publications. Copyright © 2022 by Emiliano Monge. Translation copyright © 2022 by Frank Wynne. By arrangement with the publisher. 

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