A NEW KIND OF PUZZLE
by José Luis Carrasco Sánchez-Algaba
Translated by Marco Fernández
He didn’t mind the voices. Not at all.
The child left the Rubik’s cube on the usual shelf, in the usual spot, complete, the solid white side towards him. He was a very tidy child. He studied tirelessly.
His parents waited downstairs, the electric car’s engine running silently. He took his seat and with a soft push, they floated onto the road.
A comic book and a cool puzzle were all it took to keep him entertained until they reached their destination. He needed nothing else, moreso this time. Nothing better than the echo of the cube and the voice to cradle his thoughts.
Dad and mom were always there to talk, listen, and seldom judge, but on this occasion he preferred to keep a cautious silence, and this wasn’t for lack of words. Tales, with their myriad fantasies, had accompanied him since before he was born. Every complex term the child learnt and repeated was attached to a tingling memory, the memory of having heard and conceived them from his mother’s womb. Through the comfortable darkness, outer life filtered like light through silk.
He hated math. Games, however, were something else. The subtle mechanisms of a complicated component, disassembled to the very last tiny cog or microchip, were his travelling companions until he went to bed.
Mom had a quiet pregnancy. Obviously, she suffered the classic textbook nausea and insomnia, but nothing else. Dad sold everything they owned, and they bought a house in the country, with a garden. Mom devoted her time to thinking. In their photographs, the young parents were pictured reading by the newborn trunk of a willow tree they had planted when she had become pregnant. It was now an adult tree that gave the child shadow to read in.
He signalled and named the sharp peaks of the mountain range. His father had been repeating them to him ever since he was being bottle-fed. He associated them with the promise of ice cream and jelly beans.
The child was not a genius. He had swiped the psychologist’s report. Disappointment – all normal. “IQ within average levels.” He cried when he read it. He wanted to possess the light. He wanted to inherit grandpa’s vision. Even with its drawbacks. He decided to become it, to laugh in the face of evolution. He decided to learn everything, and to live with his eyes open from day one.
He made a note to himself – Rubik’s cube solved, number of minutes and moves. Age, a few years.
They were a happy family. Dad and mom had become older with the willow tree. In photographs, they napped, joked, and hugged him. The child came from that garden. Laying on the lawn, the voice came to him, and while it told its story, the pieces flew about.
By the time the voice shut down, Rubik was biting the dust. He now needed a new, more difficult puzzle. According to the willow tree, he would find one, since the universe revolved in a spiral motion. He asked it what that meant, but it remained silent on this.
They drove off into the highway, and, as the car accelerated, things took on an uncertain turn, as if one could harbor doubts about their pulse. If he concentrated on the objects in the car without losing sight of the landscape, reality out there scattered about, turning into watercolor traces.
Dad and mom would deny it, but he knew for sure. A baby and a willow tree. Two living beings growing, maturing at the same time, twined in their sensations, why not? He imagined a hundred different re-enconters with his tree brother, after two weeks of what seemed an eternal absence, and he projected his life years, decades into the future.
Dad adjusted the rearview mirror to frame his face in it, and asked him if he was all right. Yes, the child was all right. Just as the willow tree, whose image glimmered in his mind.
At the first stop, the child took his soda out of the bar and sat beside the car, by a leafy chestnut tree. Maybe it was the damp and suffocating heat that made him sleepy, and as he drifted into slumber, a white veil swallowed up the parking lot and the cars, and planted a path instead, with luxurious vegetation on the sides. He heard the sound of horses’ hooves. He finished his drink and waited until, on the contour line of dawn, he spied a numerous army, made up of light and heavy cavalry, some sections of regular infantry and fusileers, and a half dozen of cannons, mounted on carts. Above the soldiers, clad in 19th-century uniforms, waved the French flag.
The child recognized the Napoleonic uniforms from his dad’s books. When he looked at them, a freckled-faced soldier of barely eighteen looked back at him.
He didn’t have time to speak. Dad’s voice beckoned him back into the car, and the order banished the vision into retreat.
‘Arrêtez-vous!’, said the soldier, and his voice was clear and vivid, free from the trappings of a dream. From this moment on, he would have to stay sharp.
He predicted, as he observed the complex shape of every tree along the way, the way their branches rose towards the sky as in full prayer, that the next summer he would find those chestnut trees a bit closer to Madrid, little by little, fully determined in their centenary travel, and he would dream again of the French army’s fanfare, imprisoned by leaves and branches, ready for conquest and bloodshed, in an endless, yet never repeating cycle. In a spiral motion, like the willow tree said.
He dreamt of having that encounter every night. With the only balanced and fair way to stop the silent advance of the troops. Seeking in parks and woods the soldiers of the rival army. He already knew the mechanisms. He knew the rules. Mom and dad would be proud.
He had found a brand new puzzle.
As a spanish science fiction writer, Jose Luis Carrasco has published short stories and novellas in online and print magazines from Spain (Futuroscopias), Argentina (Proxima), Cuba (Korad) and England (Schlock). He has been awarded for best story in a public libraries competition in 2009, and has been finalist in several others, including one for best short story anthology. He blogs about literature in his own site, linked below.