Death in the Gutter

Institute History

  • 1990 June Screenwriters Lab


An old man arrives at the cemetery in the city of Granada. He interrupts the praying to tell a secret that is burdening him. Abandoning the solitude of the tombs, he begins to remember his life.

"I spent my childhood running around the mountains in search of the hard red wood from mahogany trees that the yankis bought from us. My father, who suffered the life of a lumber worker, wanted to open a lumber yard. Hoping that I would run it, he put me in the Jesuit's school in Granada. When I arrived in the city, I discovered the radio, ice, and paved streets. I lived in a poorly ventilated room in the pension of a lady who was almost blind. I would never go beyond my street block, and I used to go to bed early. I was alone a lot until I met Giuliano.

Giuliano was a year or two older than me. He was born in Italy and his father came to Nicaragua to sculpt mausoleums that decorated the cemetery in Granada. He had two older sisters. I had seen one bathing in the lake naked, and since then I liked her. She reciprocated by teaching me about love. I don't know what tied me to Giuliano. We used to go out daily to the rivers and the fields hunting for iguanas until we reached the shores of the lake where we would swim or spend hours fishing while he told me about the wonders of Italy and the adventures of Eneas.

My friendship with Giuliano was interrupted, as was my life. We were drinking beer in el Cedazo, the local cantina, when Arteaga arrived drunk and in a huff. He was the leader of the gang of the other barrio, a resentful young man who played with knives. He was hostile towards me, and this time he challenged Giuliano to a duel with knives by the river at the Dardenelos. At that time, we all used pocket knives, more as a way of showing off. When the time of the duel came, Guiliano backed out and didn't want to go. I felt disappointed a took out a pocket knife that my grandfather had given to me and went to the barrios to find Arteaga. There was Giuliano's honor and mine too.

I went to wait at the river. I saw him come alone with a heavy step. I threw myself at him and we struggled in silence for a few seconds. We looked like two lovers wallowing in the water. When we stopped fighting, his body was still. He never knew who killed him. I ran until I reached the lake. I washed the blood off, but I couldn't take Arteaga's image from my eyes. At dawn I understood that I couldn't go back to my friendship with Giuliano or the life that the city of Granada had offered me . . . "

At the end of the story, some peasants approach the old man, who is now murmuring words incoherently. The old man, absorbed in another time and space, doesn't respond. The peasants run to call the priest to give him the final rites. The old man dies. Nobody listens to his secret; nobody will know what name to put on his flat stone.


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