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Authors: Patricia Melo

The Body Snatcher

BOOK: The Body Snatcher
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Born in São Paulo, Patrícia Melo has published eight novels including
The Killer
, which won the Deux Ocenas prize, and
, winner of the Jabuti Prize. More recently
Black Waltz
Lost World
were both longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Melo's plays include
A ordem do mundo
The Order of the World
) and
Duas mulheres e um cadáver
Two Women and a Cadaver
). She lives in Brazil and Switzerland.


First published in the United Kingdom in 2015 by Bitter Lemon Press, 47 Wilmington Square, London

First published in Portuguese as
Ladrão de cadáveres
by Editora Rocco Ltda, Rio de Janeiro, 2010

© Patrícia Melo 2010

English translation © Clifford E. Landers 2015

Published by arrangement with Literarische Agentur Dr. Ray-Güde Mertin Inh. Nicole Witt e. K., Frankfurt am Main, Germany

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission of the publisher

The moral rights of the author and the translator have been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

All the characters and events described in this novel are imaginary and any similarity with real people or events is purely coincidental.

A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library

eBook ISBN 978-1-908524-546

Typeset by Tetragon, London

Printed and bound by Cox & Wyman Ltd, Reading, Berkshire

Bitter Lemon Press gratefully acknowledges the financial assistance of the Arts Council of England

This work is published with the support of the Ministry of Culture of Brazil/ Fundação Biblioteca Nacional. Obra publicada com o apoio do Ministério da Cultura do Brasil / Fundação Biblioteca Nacional.

For Pedro Henrique

Cadavers cannot bear to be nomads.



Part I: The Cadaver

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Part II: The Thief

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39



Part I



We flounder in the heat.

I hear steps nearby on the neighboring terrace but don't have the energy to shout.

They whisper, trip, and break something. Laugh.

Downstairs, the bicycle shop is closed. The kids, in bands, amuse themselves by spying on the neighbors in the area. They hang from trees, climb on roofs, squeeze through gaps. In the distance I hear the sound of shopping carts ripping up the asphalt. They screech.

Those goddamn bogus Indians, says Sulamita, getting up nude and going into the bathroom.

Down below, the old woman yells. The Indian woman. Just yesterday she told me she knows how to braid acuri palm straw.

Sulamita gets irritated when she sleeps with me. She says I have to look for a job, get away from here, find another area to live. That shitty bunch of Indians, she says.

I like the place. And I like Corumbá. And I've gotten used to the children, who often take advantage of my absence to go through my things. I also like the old Indian woman and think of her when I go fishing.

I hear Sulamita filling a bucket of water in the bathroom. Don't do it, I say, to no avail. On tiptoe, she approaches the door and catches the children by surprise with their backs turned, perched on the window ledge.

I hear the kids running, shouting and laughing, after the soaking they got.

Only then do I open my eyes.

It's Sunday.


The reporter says: thirty-three thousand young people will be murdered in the next four years. In my mind I see a policeman opening fire on them. The blacks. Shot from behind, in my imagination. The poor. I see brain matter clinging to the wall where the massacre takes place. And the edges of the wounds. The reporter says: the dead, according to statistics, will be black and brown. Someone will have to hose down the sidewalks, I think.

I like to get in my clunky red van, turn on the radio, and in the comfort of the same-old, same-old, after a cold shower and some strong coffee, listen to the announcer talk about the drop in the stock market somewhere in the world, massacres, earthquakes, Taliban attacks, kidnappings, floods, homicides, pandemics, rapes, and mile-long traffic jams. It calms me down. It's part of my recovery to think like that. I hear all of it with the good sensation that I'm not the target of anything, I'm outside the statistics, I'm not rich, I'm not black, or Muslim, that's what I think, I'm safe, protected in my van as I proceed toward the town of Remédios and turn onto the Old Highway, always with the windows open for the smell of the woods to invade my nostrils.

Sometimes Sulamita sleeps at home, and on those days I run my private antivirus listening to the stories about what goes on at the police precinct where she's an administrative assistant. Drug busts, arrest warrants, raids, corruption, and
fraud. People fuck themselves up royally, that's the truth. Today, while we were eating freshly baked bread, she told me about the woman who showed up at the precinct with a knife sticking out of her ear.

That's how I began that Sunday. So far no problems, I told myself. At least I don't have a knife in my ear. We're doing well. Control, over.

I parked on the first bridge, got out and went down to the mouth of the canal and stayed there, listening to the croaking of the frogs and thinking about where I would go fishing.

I remembered the day Sulamita and I rode our bicycles to the grotto. A stupid idea, Sulamita said. The road was swamped from the rains, the mud was up to our ankles. Sulamita complained as she pushed her bike during the trip. Later, we bathed in the icy waters of the grotto.

From the bridge almost no animals were visible, not even cavies or alligators, because of the ranches in the vicinity. A few toucans and magpies were flying over the low vegetation in search of food in the pools of water reflecting the sunlight.

It was so hot that the trucks transporting cattle in the region weren't risking it. Sweat was pouring down my face.

I went back to the van and plunged into the woods, among the caranda palms. I continued as far as the trail permitted, taking the whole fishing caboodle – reel, pole, and hooks – along with a cooler full of beer, and some peanut candy.

After leaving the van parked under a tree, I walked to the Paraguay River, carrying my fishing materials and the net. I don't know how far I walked. My head was throbbing under the sun. On the way, I stopped at the mouth of the grotto, the same one I visited with Sulamita. Exhausted, I took off my clothes and for a long time floated, savoring the coolness on my body, until my forehead stopped throbbing.

Feeling better, I followed the trail to the river.

It was January, when the fish come up in schools to lay their eggs in the headwaters of the river. During that time, fishing is prohibited: you can't use cast nets, seines, or stake nets. The advantage was that I had the place all to myself.

I sat down, opened a beer. It was one of those calm, bright Sundays when your thoughts wander without destination or worry.

I spent the afternoon like that, a little groggy from the beer, watching the river flow. A warm breeze blew over my body.

I caught all the fish it was possible to carry on the trek back to the van. Less than ten kilos: two pacu, a
, and three

Later I stretched out in the shade, ate a bit of the candy, and dozed off, waiting for the temperature to drop for the walk back. I don't know how long I slept. I dreamed that I had to survey phone lines and coordinate the operators through the radio hookup, over, which was making a horrible squeal. All of that had been a long time ago, and yet the radio was still in my nightmares.

BOOK: The Body Snatcher
6.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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