Mabel’s Library (La biblioteca de Mabel) 1. As the sufferer of a certain classificatory mania, from my adolescence I took the care of cataloguing the books in my library. By my fifth year of secondary school, I already possessed a reasonable, for my age, number of books: I was approaching six hundred volumes. I had a rubber stamp with the following legend: Fernando Sorrentino’s Library Volume nº ______ Registered on: ______ As soon as a new book arrived, I stamped it, always using black ink, on its first page. I gave it its corresponding number, always using blue ink, and wrote its date of acquisition. Then, imitating the old National Library’s catalogue, I entered its details on an index card which I filed by alphabetical order. My sources of literary information were the editorial catalogues and the Pequeño Larousse Ilustrado. An example at random: in some collections from the various editors were Atala. René. The Adventures of the Last Abencerage. Sparked by such profusion and because Chateaubriand on the pages of the Larousse seemed to have a great importance, I acquired the book in the edition of Colección Austral from Espasa-Calpe. In spite of these precautions, those three stories turned out to be as unbearable to me as they were so evanescent. In contrast with these failures, there were also total successes. In the Robin Hood collection, I was fascinated by David Copperfield and, in the Biblioteca Mundial Sopena, by Crime and Punishment. Along the even-numbered side of Santa Fe Avenue, a short distance from Emilio Ravignani Street, was the half-hidden Muñoz bookshop. It was dark, deep, humid and moldy, with wooden creaking planks. Its owner was a Spanish man about sixty years old, very serious, and somewhat haggard. The only sales assistant was the person who used to serve me. He was young, bold and prone to errors and without much knowledge of the books he was asked about nor where they were located. His name was Horacio. At the moment I entered the premises that afternoon, Horacio was rummaging around some shelves looking for heaven knows what title. I managed to learn that a tall and thin girl had enquired about it. She was, in the meantime, glancing at the wide table where the second hand books were exhibited. From the depths of the shop, the owner’s voice was heard: ‘What are you looking for now, Horacio?’ The adverb now showed some bad mood. ‘I can’t find Don Segundo Sombra, Don Antonio. It is not on the Emecé shelves’. ‘It is a Losada book, not Emecé; look on the shelves of the Contemporánea’. Horacio changed the location of his search and, after a great deal of exploration, he turned toward the girl and said to her: ‘No, I am sorry; we have no Don Segundo left’. The girl lamented the fact, said she needed it for school and asked where she could find it. Horacio, embarrassed before of an unfathomable enigma, opened his eyes widely and raised his eyebrows. Luckily, don Antonio had overheard the question: ‘Around here’, he answered, ‘it is very hard. There are no good bookshops. You will have to go to the centre of town, to El Ateneo, or some other in Florida o Corrientes. Or perhaps near Cabildo and Juramento.’ Disappointment upset the girl’s face. ‘Forgive me for barging in’, I said to her. ‘If you promise to take care of it and return it to me, I can lend you Don Segundo Sombra.’ I felt as if I was blushing, as if I had been inconceivably audacious. At the same time, I felt annoyed with myself for having given way to an impulse that was contrary to my real feeling. I love my books and hate lending them. I don’t know what exactly the girl answered, but after some squeamishness she ended up accepting my offer. ‘I have to read it immediately for school’, she explained, as if to justify herself. I then learnt that she was in the third year in the women’s college at Carranza Street. I suggested that she accompanied me home and I would let her have the book. I gave her my full name, and she gave me hers. She was called Mabel Mogaburu. Before starting our journey, I accomplished what had taken me to the Muñoz bookshop. I bought The Murders in the Rue Morgue. I had already the Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque and, with much delight, decided to dwell once again on the fiction of Edgar Allan Poe. ‘I don’t like him at all’, Mabel said. ‘He is gruesome and full of effect, always with those stories of murders, of dead people, of coffins. Cadavers don’t appeal to me.’ While we walked along Carranza toward Costa Rica Street, Mabel spoke full of enthusiasm and honesty about her interest in or, rather, passion for literature. On that point, there was a deep affinity between us but, of course, she mentioned authors who converged in and diverged from our respective literary loves. Although I was two years older than her, it seemed to me that Mabel had read considerably more books than me. She was a brunette, taller and thinner than what I had thought in the bookshop. A certain diffused elegance adorned her. The olive shade of her face seemed to mitigate some deeper paleness. The dark eyes were fixed straight on mine, and I found it hard to withstand the intensity of that steady stare. We arrived at my door in Costa Rica Street. ‘Wait for me on the pavement; I’ll bring you the book right away.’ And I did find the book instantly as, because of a question of homogeneity, I had (and still have) my books grouped by collection. Thus, Don Segundo Sombra (Biblioteca Contemporánea, Editorial Losada) was placed between Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Chesterton’s The Innocence of Father Brown. Back in the street, I noticed, although I know nothing about clothes, that Mabel was dressed in a somewhat, shall we say, old-fashioned style, with a greyish blouse and black skirt. ‘As you can see’, I told her, ‘this book looks brand new, as if I had just bought it a second ago in don Antonio’s bookshop. Please take care of it, put a cover on it, don’t fold the pages as a marker and, especially, don’t even think of writing a single comma on it.’ She took the book—with such long and beautiful hands—with what I thought was certain mocking respect. The volume, of an impeccable orange colour, looked as if it had just left the press. She turned the pages for a while. ‘But I see that you do write on books’, she said. ‘Certainly, but I use a pencil, with a small and very meticulous writing, those are notes and useful observations for enriching my reading. Besides’, I added, slightly irritated, ‘the book belongs to me and I give it any use I like’. I immediately regretted my rude remark, as I saw mortification in Mabel’s face. ‘Well, if you don’t trust me, I prefer not to borrow it.’ And she handed it back to me. ‘No, not at all, just take care of it, I trust your wisdom.’ Oh’, she was looking at the first page, ‘You have your books classified?’ And she read in loud voice, not jokingly: ‘Library of Fernando Sorrentino. Volume number 232. Registered on: 23/04/1957.’ ‘That’s right, I bought it when I was in the second year of secondary. The teacher requested it for our work in Spanish Lit classes.’ ‘I found the few short stories I’ve read by Güiraldes rather poor. That’s why I never thought of getting Don Segundo.’ ‘I think you are going to like it, at least there are no coffins or cursed houses or people buried alive. When do you think you’ll be returning it?’ ‘You’ll have it back within a fortnight, as radiant’—she emphasised—‘as you are giving it to me now. And to make you feel more relaxed, I am writing my address and telephone number.’ ‘That’s not necessary,’ I said, out of decorum. She took out a ballpoint pen and a school notebook from her purse and wrote something on the last page, she tore it out and I accepted it. To be surer, I gave her my telephone number, too. ‘Well, I am very grateful… I am going home now.’ She shook my hand (no kisses at that time as is the way now) and she walked toward the Bonpland corner. I felt some discomfort. Had I made a mistake by lending a book dear to me to a completely unknown person? The information she had given me, could it be apocryphal? The page in the notebook was squared; the ink, green. I searched the phonebook for the name Mogaburu. I sighed with relief, a Mogaburu, Honorio was listed next to the address written by Mabel. I placed a card between The Metamorphosis and The Innocence of Father Brown with the legend Don Segundo Sombra, missing, lent to Mabel Mogaburu on Tuesday 7th of June 1960. she promised to return it, at the latest, on Wednesday 22nd of June. Under it, I added her address and phone number. Then, on the page of my agenda for the 22nd of June, I wrote: Mabel. Attn! Don Segundo. 2. That week and the next went by. I continued with my usual, mostly unwanted, activities as a student in my last year of secondary. We were on the afternoon of Thursday the 23rd. As it usually happens to me, even to this day, I make annotations on my agenda that I later forget to read. Mabel had not called me to return the book or, is that was the case, to ask me to extend the loan. I dialed Honorio Mogaburu’s number. At the other end, the bell rang up to ten times but nobody answered. I hung up the phone but called again many times, at different times, with the same fruitless result. The process was repeated on Friday afternoon. Saturday morning, I went to Mabel’s home, on Arévalo Street, between Guatemala and Paraguay. Before ringing the bell, I watched the house from across the street. A typical Palermo Viejo construction, the door in the middle of the facade and a window on each side. I could see some light through one of them. Would Mabel be in that, a room occupied with her reading…? A tall dark man opened the door. I imagined he must be Mabel’s grandfather. ‘What can I do for you…? ‘I beg your pardon. Is this Mabel Mogaburu’s home?’ ‘Yes, but she is not here right now. I am her father. What did you want her for? Is it something urgent?’ ‘No, it’s nothing urgent or very important. I had lent her a book and… well, I am needing it now for…’—I searched for a reason—‘a test I have on Monday.' ‘Come in, please.’ Beyond the hallway, there was a small living room that appeared poor and old-fashioned to me. A certain unpleasant smell of stale tomato sauce mixed with insecticide vapours floated in the air. On a small side table, I could see the newspaper La Prensa, and there was a copy of Mecánica Popular. The man moved extremely slowly. He had a strong resemblance to Mabel, he had the same olive skin and hard stare. ‘What book did you lend her?’ ‘Don Segundo Sombra.’ ‘Let’s go into Mabel’s room and see if we can find it’. I felt a little ashamed for troubling this elderly man that I judged unfortunate and who lived in such sad house. ‘Don’t bother’, I told him. ‘I can return some other day when Mabel is here, there is no rush.’ ‘But didn’t you say that you needed it for Monday…?’ He was right, so I chose not to add anything. Mabel’s bed was covered with an embroidered quilt of a mitigated shine. He took me to a tiny bookcase with only three shelves. ‘These are Mabel’s books. See if you can find the one you want’. I don’t think there were one hundred books there. There were many from Editorial Tor among which I recognized, because I too had that edition from 1944, The Phantom of the Opera with its dreadful cover picture. And I identified other common titles, always in rather old editions. But Don Segundo wasn’t there. ‘I took you into the room so you could stay calm’, said the man. ‘But Mabel hasn’t brought books for many years to this library. You have seen that these are pretty old, right?’ ‘Yes, I was surprised not to see more recent books…’ ‘If you agree and have the time and the inclination’, he fixed his eyes on me and made me lower mine, ‘we can settle this matter right now. Let’s look for your book in Mabel’s library.’ He put on his glasses and shook a key ring. ‘In my car, we’ll be there in less than ten minutes.’ The car was a black and huge DeSoto that I imagined was a ’46 or ’47 model. Inside, it smelled of enclosure and stale tobacco. Mogaburu went around the corner and enter Dorrego. We soon reached Lacroze, Corrientes, Guzmán and we entered the inner roads of the Chacarita cemetery. We stepped down and started walking along cobbled paths. My blessed or cursed literary curiosity urged me to follow him now through the area of the crypts without asking any questions. In one of them with the name MOGABURU on its facade, he introduced a key and opened the black iron door. ‘Come on,’ he said, ‘don’t be afraid.’ Although I didn’t want to, I obeyed him, at the same time resenting his allusion to my supposed fear. I entered the crypt and descended a small metal ladder. I saw two coffins. ‘In this box,’ the man pointed to the lower lit, ‘María Rosa, my wife, who died the same day Frondizi was made president.’ He tapped the top several times with his knuckles. ‘And this one belongs to my daughter, Mabel. She died, the poor thing, so young. She was barely fifteen when God took her away in May of 1945. Last month, it was fifteen years since her death. She would be 30 now.’ He leaned slightly over the coffin and smiled, as someone who is sharing a fond memory. ‘Unfair Death couldn’t keep her away from her great passion, literature. She continued restlessly reading book after book. Can you see? Here is Mabel’s other library, more complete and up to date than the one at home.’ True, one wall of the crypt was covered almost from the floor to the ceiling, I assume because of lack of space, by hundreds of books, most of them in a horizontal position and in double rows. ‘She, methodical person that she was, filled the shelves from top to bottom and left to right. Therefore, your book, being a recent borrowing, must be on the half full shelf on the right’. A strange force lead me to that shelf, and there it was, my Don Segundo. ‘In general’, Mogaburu continued, ‘not many people have come to claim the borrowed books. I can see you love them very much.’ I had fixed my eyes on the first page of Don Segundo. A very large green X blotted out my stamp and my annotation. Under it, with the same ink and the same careful writing in print letters there were three lines: Library of Mabel Mogaburu Volume 5328 7th of June of 1960 ‘The bitch!’ I thought, ‘Think how earnestly I asked her not to write even a comma.’ ‘Well, that’s the way things go’, the father was saying. ‘Are you taking the book or leaving it as a donation to Mabel’s library?’ Angrily and rather abruptly, I replied: ‘Of course I am taking it with me, I don’t like getting rid of my books.’ ‘You are doing right,’ he replied while we climbed the ladder. ‘Anyway, Mabel will soon find another copy.’ [From: How to Defend Yourself against Scorpions, Liverpool, Red Rattle Books, 2013. - Translated from the Spanish by Gustavo Artiles Other versions Spanish (original text) La biblioteca de Mabel (2013). Delicias al Día (dir.: Agustín Díez Ferreras), Valladolid (España), marzo 2013, págs. 8-9. La biblioteca de Mabel (2013). Gramma (directora: Alicia Sisca), Universidad del Salvador; Facultad de Filosofía, Historia y Letras; Escuela de Letras, Buenos Aires, Nº 49, diciembre 2013, págs. 238-245. La biblioteca de Mabel (2013). En Fernando Sorrentino: Paraguas, supersticiones y cocodrilos (Verídicas historias improbables) (2013). Veracruz (México), Instituto Literario de Veracruz, El Rinoceronte de Beatriz, 2013, 140 págs. Italian La biblioteca di Mabel (2013). (translation of Inchiostro team). Inchiostro. Rivista di storie e racconti da leggere e da scrivere (direttore: Giampiero Dalle Molle), Anno 19, Nº 3-4, Verona (Italia), maggio-dicembre 2013, pagine. 11-14. German Die Bibliothek von Mabel (2014). (translation of Sandra Fuertes Romero y Jana Wahrendorff). In Fernando Sorrentino: Problema resuelto. Cuentos argentinos de Fernando Sorrentino / Problem gelöst. Argentinische Erzählungen von Fernando Sorrentino (2014), Düsseldorf, dup (düsseldorf university press), 250 Seiten.
Read Fernando’s bio HERE.