The patience of water over each pebble
About the book:
A short-story writer by her own account, Alejandra Kamiya has achieved great acclaim for her unique capacity to create vivid and rich narrative universes. The Patience of Water over Each Pebble is no exception. In this collection of compelling and powerful short stories, Kamiya explores the relationship between animality and humanity, the mundane and the oniric, the explicit and the implicit. From these interstices, Kamiya’s style erupts, not with pomp and circumstance, but with the assured modesty of a water drop seeping through a piece of paper. Despite being an award-winning author, Alejandra Kamiya remains one of the best-hidden secrets of Argentina’s literature, awaiting to be shared with the rest of the world.
There is a rhythm to everything that happens. The long S of the breeze rippling through the branches strings along the children’s voices and the irregular whistle of a swing, and now a bicycle runs through the red gravel road, and it's not just a rhythm, but a sort of agreement between each part and the whole of the park. And in that calm agreement, Bear, the old dog, sleeps. His cheeks faintly quiver and then cave in. They cave in and quiver, they cave in again and again they quiver, the wind rippling through the branches and the children and the swing.
The other dogs move around: they walk, run, jump.
At five o’clock the girl calls out to them, puts on their leashes, pats Bear awake. Up we go, old guy, she says, and the dog stretches its legs, gets up.
Four dogs are tied up, Sasha and Papu always at the front, Bear at the back, and Rawson by his side. Pina is unleashed, hovering around them like a moon, almost floating.
Sasha’s hair is white and long, and he looks almost identical to other dogs in the park.
Papu, however, doesn’t look like any of them: he has pointy ears that stay upright despite their length, short black hair with a striped shadow underneath, as if he was wearing a catsuit that has been painted over twice, one layer on top of another, his elegance drawing on his slightly disproportionate body.
Rawson has spent the afternoon watching the park’s movements. He saw Sasha slipping underneath Papu, and Papu bending his legs and squashing Sasha, who then slid backwards and opened his mouth as if about to bite. But he left it open, and the gesture wound up resembling a human smile. Watching them, Rawson felt he could anticipate each of their actions, albeit to a small degree.
They make a stop on the way back, by a tree, and while the others sniff the earth and roots, Rawson tells Bear what he’s been thinking: “The other day you said,” Rawson says, “that we will always do the same, time after time.”
Bear nods with the sluggishness typical of heavy dogs, and answers: “We are still doing what we’ve always done.”
They mark the tree, the girl looks at her phone, waiting for them. Papu walks over as if to check what’s going on and makes his own mark as well. Pina trots back and forth.
When they arrive at Bear’s house, the girl rings the doorbell, the other girl comes walking down the stone path, opens the gate, and the dog enters. Before reaching the wooden door, he turns back and says to Rawson:
“Repetition, that’s all there is.”
Rawson can’t tell whether he’s saddened by the idea of eternal repetition or by the way Bear talks about it.
The next day, on the way to Bear’s house, Rawson looks at Sasha and Papu fighting, and knows that when they arrive at the park they’ll start playing, because fighting and playing are the two means they have to keep entangled. He keeps looking at them and wonders if they are the opposite of each other or if, deep down, they are the same. Then he picks up the pace to get to Bear’s house. Now the four of them are walking at the front. Three of them pulling, Pina, unleashed.
The girls say hi, Bear comes out, Rawson wags his tail.
They always walk that last stretch to the park slowlier. They all sniff the marked tree, they mark it again.
“Yes,” Rawson says, “all we do is repeat ourselves. What we do is repeat what other dogs have done, maybe all of them.”
Bear nods, and when they get to the park he says in a very deep and low voice: “It’s as if we were made of memories, or maybe of a single memory that holds them all.”
Then he sinks into his favorite spot, under an acacia tree.
Rawson lies down next to his friend and looks around, sniffing the air. He can smell the other dogs, the humans, the insects near his paws, and the birds.
Bear gives into his usual nap and Rawson keeps him company, though he doesn’t sleep.
It’s five o’clock now, same as every afternoon, and the girl pats Bear awake, ties everyone’s leash, and they all leave the park. Pina hops around the girl and stands on her hind legs.
Rawson follows a trail of scent yet slightly distractedly, his nose not touching the ground. He thinks about all the times he’s walked that path and about how he’ll do it again tomorrow, and how the important part of it all, the scents, is never the same. How sometimes he’ll look for a repeated trace, a sign of heat, and just when he’s looking, he can’t find it.
Bear has already gone into his house.
The next day, while the girls talk and laugh at the fence gate, Rawson tells Bear that perhaps the way to escape repetition was in fact to look for it.
Bear gets excited, raises his ears and says:
“You’re right, that would be a great way.”
Rawson wags his tail and repeats:
“If we try to repeat something the exact same way, something else will happen—it always does.”
The girl wraps the leashes around her wrist and says Let’s go. On the way to the park there are yellow leaves on the sidewalk.
Bear lies down underneath the acacia tree. Rawson, by his side. Papu and Sasha play fight.
Rawson looks at Bear’s whitened eyebrows, the upper part of his snout, also gray.
Not yet asleep, but with his eyes closed, Bear says: “But if we were trying to always repeat ourselves, I mean if we were doing it on purpose, it’d be because we have a choice.”
Rawson looks at Bear, he's about to tell him something, but Bear is already asleep, snoring gently.
The woman with the bag has come. She tosses breadcrumbs around and the pigeons crowd together. Papu always runs and barks at them and the woman gets mad, and Sasha imitates Papu, and the pigeons take flight, yet come back down again. Sometimes Rawson joins them, but not today. The woman with the bag gets furious with the dogs, the girl grabs Papu by the collar and tells him off. Sasha lowers his head and looks sideways at her.
Bear wakes up and, after yawning, says:
“The idea of repetition is dreadful, but it’s the other thing that scares me—the idea of endlessness.”
Rawson pictures a path that never gets to the park, a backyard without a gate.
Then he looks at Bear: he looks tired and has his tail between his legs.
So Rawson says: “Don’t be afraid, my friend, there has to be a way out of that sort of confinement.”
Bear has fallen back asleep. Rawson rests his head between his own front legs and sighs.
Papu bares his teeth and looks askance at Sasha, who pretends to bite him. They repeat the scene inverting the roles. The girl breaks them up, as usual. She picks up a stick and throws it away. Both dogs run to fetch it.
Rawson knows what’s coming, and perhaps, he thinks, that’s a good thing. He lifts his head, recognizes the scents, knows that the trees will shed their leaves, and the parrots will be replaced by other birds.
Heading back, they mark the usual tree and run around it for a while. Pina jumps.
The girl from Bear’s house opens the door and talks to the girl holding the dogs. Bear bids Rawson goodbye and goes alone into the house.
When the girl closes the iron gate, Rawson keeps staring through the fence at the closed door. The girl pulls on the leash and calls him on.
The next day, Bear looks a bit livelier. He’s the one who starts the conversation on the way to the park.
“I’ve been thinking,” he says, “about confinement. Maybe my exhaustion is a form of relief. That is, if I don’t move, I don’t feel confined. And you’ve seen me—I’m moving less and less every day.”
Rawson stops and stares at him, Bear continues:
“This white layer that blocks my sight, maybe it’s a good thing.”
Rawson stays still, staring at his friend.
The girl pulls on the leashes and says Come on.
“This constant weight I feel is here to help me stay stiller and stiller.”
Rawson thinks that this can’t be the solution to feeling confined, that what Bear says sounds like an even deeper form of confinement. He looks to one side and then to the other, as if sensing danger. He raises his ears.
The girl looks at Bear and stops pulling, she looks at her phone, waiting for them.
When they reach the park, Rawson says:
“Don’t you worry, there must be a way, there must be.”
They sleep against one another. It’s starting to get cold and, huddling close together, they don’t feel it as much.
Now and then, Bear’s snores awaken the other one, but the birds and the children lull him back to a dog’s calm sleep.
At five, the girl calls Pina and pats Bear awake. On the way back, both Rawson and Bear keep quiet. They mark the tree. At the gate, while the girls chat, they look at each other, smell each other. Bear steps inside alone, he doesn’t look back the stone path, he says nothing. Rawson watches him go into the house and watches the door close.
The next day, the girl doesn’t open the gate and tells the girl with the dogs that the mistress cried a lot. They don’t laugh, they don’t show each other their phones.
Bear doesn’t come out. Rawson jumps up against the fence and keeps pulling back when the girl says Let’s go.
Bear doesn’t come out.
At the park, Rawson lies down under the acacia tree. He looks up at the trees, the insects, the birds, the other dogs, and the humans. He’s cold and curls up, snuggling into himself. The cold won’t go away. The noise from the park doesn’t lull him to sleep, it keeps him here, alone.
After a while, he sees it: Bear has found a way, a way out of his confinement.
Translated by Rocío Molina Biasone - Edited by Paula Galindez