To drift

Horacio Quiroga
The man stepped on something soft and soft and then felt the sting in his foot. He jumped forward, and when he turned around with a curse, he saw the jararacuçu that was gathering over itself; prepared another attack.

The man took a quick look at his foot, from which two droplets of blood thickened with difficulty, and then drew his machete from his waist. The viper saw the threat, and merged its head further into the very center of its spiral; but the machete fell on her, displacing her vertebrae.

The man bent down to look at the bite, wiped away the droplets of blood, and for a while stared. A sharp pain was born from the two violet dots, and it started to spread all over the foot. Hurriedly, he tied his ankle with the handkerchief he was strapped to his waist, and followed the path to his ranch.

The pain in his foot increased, and suddenly, the man felt two or three glowing stabs that, like lightning, had radiated from the wound, up to the middle of his calf. He moved his leg with difficulty; a metallic thirst in his throat, followed by a burning thirst, brought out another bad word.

He finally reached the ranch, and hugged the mill wheel. The two violet dots disappeared now in the monstrous swelling of the entire foot. She seemed weakened, and on the point of giving in, she was so tense. The man wanted to call his wife, but his voice broke into a hoarse growl from a dry throat. Thirst devoured him.

  • Dorotea! – managed to shout. – Give me cachaça!

His wife ran with a full glass, which the man took three drinks. But there was no taste at all.

  • I asked you for cachaça, not water! He roared again. – I want cachaça!
  • But it’s cachaça, Paulino! Protested the woman, amazed.
  • No, you gave me water! I want cachaça, I tell you!

The woman ran again, returning with the bottle. The man drank three glasses one after another, but he felt nothing in his throat.

-Well, this is ugly … – he murmured then, looking at her livid foot and already with a gangrenous shine. Upon the intense bandage of the handkerchief, the meat overflowed like a dreadful black pudding.

The glowing pains came in continuous flashes, and now reached the groin. In addition, the atrocious dryness of the throat that the effort seemed to heat up more, increased. When he wanted to get fat, a sudden vomit kept him half a minute with his forehead resting on the wooden wheel.

But the man did not want to die, and going down to the coast, he climbed in his canoe. He sat at the stern and began to row to the center of Paraná. There, the current of the river, which in the vicinity of Iguaçu flows for six miles, would take you before five hours to Tacurú-Pucú.

The man, with tired energy, can effectively reach the middle of the river; however, there his numb hands dropped the paddle into the canoe, and because of a new vomit – blood this time – he looked at the sun that passed over the mountain.

The entire leg, up to half of the thigh, was already a misshapen and very hard piece that broke the clothes. The man cut the bandage and opened his pants with a knife: the bottom part overflowed swollen, with great livid and terribly painful stains. The man thought he could never reach Tacurú-Pucú alone, and decided to ask his friend Alves for help, even though they had been intrigued for a long time.

The current of the river was precipitating now towards the Brazilian coast, and the man can easily dock. He dragged himself up the path, but at twenty meters, exhausted, he lay on his back.

-Alves! – he shouted as hard as he could; and paid attention in vain.

-Compadre Alves! Don’t deny me this favor! He cried again, lifting his head from the ground.

In the silence of the jungle, not a sound was heard. The man still had the strength to reach his canoe, and the current, taking over it again, drifted it.

Paraná runs there at the bottom of an immense depression, whose walls, with a height of over one hundred meters, narrowly narrow the river. From the banks surrounded by black basalt blocks the forest rises, also black. Ahead, at the back, always the eternal dismal wall, in whose bottom the tapered river precipitates in incessant eruptions of muddy water. The landscape is aggressive, however, its dark and calm beauty takes on a unique majesty.

The sun had already fallen, when the man, lying at the bottom of the canoe, had a violent chill. Suddenly, with astonishment, he lifted his head heavily: he felt better. Only his leg ached, his thirst was extinguished, and his chest, already free, opened in slow inspiration.

The poison started to go away, there was no doubt. He was almost well, and although he did not have the strength to move his hand, he was counting on the coming of the dew to restore himself completely. He calculated that before three hours he would be in Tacurú-Pucú.

Well-being progressed and, with it, a lethargy full of memories. I no longer felt anything in my leg or belly. Would his friend Gaona still live in Tacurú-Pucú? Did he also see his ex-boss, mister Dougald, and the foreman?

Would it arrive suddenly? The sky, in the west, was now opening in a glow of blood, and the river had also turned red. From the Paraguayan coast, already in darkness, the mountain dropped its twilight freshness over the river, in penetrating effluvia of orange blossoms and wild honey. A couple of macaws crossed the sky very high and in silence until Paraguay.

Down below, on the golden river, the canoe drifted fast, turning from time to time on itself, before the eruption of a whirlwind. The man in it felt better and better, and thought of the right time he had spent without seeing his former boss Dougald. Three years? Perhaps, not so much. Two years and nine months? Perhaps. Eight and a half months? That certainly is.

Suddenly, he felt that he was cold to the chest. What would it be? And the breath …

Mister Dougald’s logger, Lorenzo Cubilla, had met in Puerto. Hope on Good Friday … Friday? Yes, or Thursday …

The man slowly extended his fingers.

-A Thursday …

And stopped breathing.

  • Translation by Jádson Barros Neves. Short story reproduced from Revista Bula (

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