Short Story Review – Martha Bátiz – In Transit

Please note – this short story collection was kindly provided to me by Martha Bátiz.  

In Transit is the kind of story that rises and falls on the strength of the protagonist’s voice, her vocal style, the way she communicates. Her method of expression is the story.  Her name is Eulalia and she has lost her son to the border crossing between Mexico and America.  Maybe not to death – maybe not.  It’s a hope to cling to, anyway.

Her son, Andrés, loves (loved?) books, and his eyes shine with he thinks about becoming a gringo.  He’s not built in the same way as Eulalia, or his father, something for which his mother is both grateful for and worried about.  But being different in this way means he is open to dangers, and challenges, and perhaps the potentially limitless opportunity provided by that enchanted place – the United States.  He’s not made for Mexico or menial work, but for America, where anything can happen.

Martha Bátiz is astute enough to avoid identifying what this ‘anything can happen’ is for either the reader or the characters.  Eulalia herself is ambivalent towards the idea of moving to America, except in that it will please her son.  He is everything to her, and so she sells her small plot of land, and they attempt to make the crossing.

They fail.

What are they attempting this for?  It’s unclear.  What does Andrés want, exactly?  Sure, a big screen tv.  Sure, some money.  Eulalia remembers that Andrés ‘promised me a cow’, because she always wanted a cow – these are not big dreams.

They still fail, though.

In the end Andrés, Pepe, and El Bizco managed to get across but they was caught by the Border Patrol.  When they phoned Don Manuel they told him that la migra had sent them back.  “Deported” was the word, I remember.  Now I know what it means, and how much it stings.  But back then I didn’t really get it, except for the money I had paid and lost.

What strikes me most about these sentences is their lack of colour.  Something ‘stinging’ isn’t really much of a description, and Eulalia’s memories aren’t deepened, here, with adjectives or really much in the way of personality or descriptive flair.  This is matter-of-fact writing, plain, a series of statements.  And why – well, because her son is gone.  To let emotion in would be to crack and become raw.  There’s a tiny, small, insignificant spark of personality here in the ‘they was’ – this is language that hasn’t been cleaned up, that has been left uneducated, raw, sloppy.  It works.

Much of the story is memory, situating the present pain with the circumstances that led to Eulalia’s current predicament.  Andrés as a boy, Andrés failing to cross the border once, and then twice.  And then he’s disappeared, gone, maybe dead, maybe not, and Eulalia follows.  This is her present, and here her voice strengthens, becomes ‘her’.

I don’t wanta stay in their country. I see who smiles at us; who lets it show that we disgust them.  Who doesn’t even want to look us in the eye.  I seem them – their teeth and beards and chins, hoping they’ll see me, too. Hoping they’ll listen.  I stare at my güero again.  Wanta beg him.  But he don’t even look at me.  All I’ve got left’s my own voice.  And my boy’s tireless whispers.

Here, her language has broken down quite a bit, become rough.  Eulalia remembers when her son was very young, he would correct her grammar and the grammar of the other adults when they fell into the easy traps of common, low speech, saying ‘is’ instead of ‘are’.  With him vanished and likely dead, she slips back to older patterns of speech, reverting to a time from decades past.

Her head hurts.  The sun beats down.  She has by now been captured more than once at the border.  She hears the voice of her son asking for water.  She can’t get rid of this voice, and is compelled to return again and again to the border where he tried to cross.  To find him.  To help him.  To water his bones?  Possibly.

In Transit was originally written by Martha Bátiz in Spanish and translated by her into English.  This collection was published by Exile Editions and is available from their website.

Other stories from this collection include:

Author Martha Bátiz (Twitter)
Title In Transit
Nationality Mexican
Publisher Exile Editions

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.

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