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Death by Dying

Jenn Díaz

Translated from the Catalan by Megan Berkobien

War happens to children, too, even though they don’t go off to fight. That’s what my brother knew because he’s older, but that’s not all, he’s also smarter, and I know that because it’s what my mother always says, and it seems like she hardly loves me at all, because my mother says things to annoy me, she says I’m always doing bad things, and maybe she’s right, but if I don’t do them I get bored. My mother says there’s no time to be bored in times of war, but I get bored a lot, and the other day my brother, who’s older and smarter, said, You bored?, and I nodded, and he grabbed my hand and said, Come on, and I went with him, and he said, Over there, and we went to a field where the school used to be, well, the school’s still there, but there aren’t any students, and an empty space stays the same no matter what you call it, a school or whatever you call it, if it’s stayed empty, it’s nothing at all. Anyway, in that spot, where the school used to be, there’s a field, and my brother brought me there with bad intentions, because I’m younger and I don’t know much about things, about life, just like my mother says, and I went there all calm but once we made it, I saw something that scared me, like a body, and my brother laughed, saying, Over there, Over there, and I shook my head because I wanted to go home, if you really thought about it, being bored isn’t all that bad, but my brother wouldn’t let go of my hand, and because he’s older and stronger (and smarter), I couldn’t get away from him, and we moved closer, and I decided to close my eyes, because no one can make me open them, just because my brother’s smarter doesn’t mean I don’t know anything.

There we were, me with my eyes closed tight and my brother saying ugly things, things I won’t repeat because I’m not sure how I’d feel if I did, and in the end I couldn’t close my eyes any tighter because I was closing them so hard that I saw blue and red and orange things, those things you see on the insides of your eyelids, and I was getting dizzy, and I opened my eyes, but slowly, and between my eyelashes I could see the thing that was a person, but like the school isn’t a school if it doesn’t have students inside, a person isn’t a person if they aren’t breathing, and that person wasn’t breathing, that’s why I couldn’t say it was one, but I’m not sure what it was, well, sure, I knew, it was a dead man, but those words scared me. When I saw it, I thought that my mother was right, I didn’t know anything about life, and now I do, because I know that life isn’t forever, and that’s a lot to know, too much and everything. And my brother told me, He’ll never be bored again, and started to laugh louder and louder, and when I asked why he died, he told me he hadn’t died but that others had made him dead, that it’s not the same, and I never knew a man could do that to another man, but you see it in war, and I couldn’t quite understand how a person could die of death, of killing, and could stop being a person, how a brother could do something like that either, and when we got back my mother said, Now you know better, and I can’t understand how a mother could say that either.

Megan Berkobien is pursuing a PhD in comparative literature at the University of Michigan. Her translations from Spanish and Catalan have been published in Words Without Borders, Asymptote, and Palabras Errantes.


About the author

Jenn Díaz is a bilingual writer in Spanish and Catalan, and has published five novels, including Es un decir (Lumen) and Mare i filla (Ara Llibres). She is the winner of the 2016 Mercè Rodoreda Short Story Prize. This is her first publication in English.

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