“Auction” - A Short Story by María Fernanda Ampuero - from her debut collection, Cockfight - 2020 - - Translated from Spanish by Francis Riddle
You may read today’s story here
“Auction” is part of what I call post Bolano Latin American fiction, works focusing on the consequences of terrible poverty, misogynistic cultures and machismo set within a violent society.
The narrator of the story, a young woman, has involuntary memories of her childhood trips to cockfights with her father brought about by odors. She is trying to figure out where she is being kept captive.
“There are roosters around here somewhere.
Kneeling, with my head down and covered by a filthy rag, I concentrate on hearing them: how many there are, if they’re in cages or inside a pen. When I was young, my dad raised gamecocks, and since there wasn’t anyone else to look after me, he’d take me along to the fights. The first few times, I cried when I saw the poor rooster ripped to shreds in the sand, and he laughed and called me a girl.
At night, giant vampire roosters devoured my insides. I would scream and he’d come running to my bed, and again he’d call me a girl.
“Come on, don’t be such a girl. They’re just roosters, dammit.””
She discovers her friendly cab driver has transferred her to an auction to be sold as a sex slave.
“I know that here, somewhere, there are roosters because I’d recognize that smell from a thousand miles away. The smell of my life, the smell of my father. It smells of blood, of man, of shit, of cheap liquor, of sour sweat and industrial grease. You don’t exactly have to be a genius to gather that this is some abandoned place, hidden away god knows where, and that I’m totally fucked.
A man speaks. He must be around forty. I imagine him fat, bald, and dirty, wearing a sleeveless white undershirt, shorts, and flip-flops; I imagine his pinkie and thumb nails are long. I can tell by the way he’s speaking that there are other people here. There’s someone else here besides me. There are other people on their knees, with their heads bent, covered by dark, disgusting sacks.
“Come on now, let’s all calm down—the first sonofabitch who makes a sound is gonna get a bullet in his head. If you all cooperate, we’ll all make it through the night in one piece.”
I feel his stomach brush against my head and then the barrel of a gun. No, he’s not joking. A girl cries a few feet to my right. I suppose she couldn’t handle the feeling of the gun to her temple. The sound of a slap.”
Young nubile women are not the most valuable items at the auction. The biggest prize is a man from a gated community who looks like he could be ransomed. The nightmarish auction begins with an innocent seeming woman, maybe a teacher.being stripped and raped in a kind of demonstration for the bidders. The narrator cannot see what is going on but she can hear enough to figure it out. After this, the rich man is auctioned. Then it is the narrator’s turn.
I will leave the ending untold other than say it was hilariously inventive.
María Fernanda Ampuero is a writer and journalist, born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in 1976. She has published articles in newspapers and magazines around the world, as well as two nonfiction books: Lo que aprendí en la peluquería y Permiso de residencia. Cockfight is her first short story collection, and her first book to be translated into English.
Frances Riddle lives in Buenos Aires, where she works as a translator, writer, and editor. She holds an MA in translation studies from the University of Buenos Aires and a BA in Spanish literature. Her book-length publications include A Simple Story by Leila Guerriero (New Directions, 2017); Bodies of Summer by Martín Felipe Castagnet (Dalkey Archive Press, 2017); Slum Virgin by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara (Charco Press, 2017); and The Life and Deaths of Ethel Jurado (Hispabooks, 2017).
I hope to read the full collection soon. If “Auction” is a fair sample, it should be a lot of dark fun. There are thirteen stories in the collection.