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Moldy Strawberries: Stories

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Caio Fernando Abreu is one of those authors who is picked up by every generation...

In these surreal and gripping stories about desire, tyranny, fear, and love, one of Brazil’s greatest queer writers appears in English for the first time

In 18 daring, scheming stories filled with tension and intimacy, Caio Fernando Abreu navigates a Brazil transformed by the AIDS epidemic and stifling military dictatorship of the 80s.

Tenderly suspended between fear and longing, Abreu’s characters grasp for connection:
  • A man speckled with Carnival glitter crosses a crowded dance floor and seeks the warmth and beauty of another body.
  • A budding office friendship between two young men turns into a surprising love, “a strange and secret harmony." One man desires another but fears a clumsy word or gesture might tear their plot to pieces.

Abreu writes the stories of people whose intimate lives are on the verge of imploding at all times. Even simple gestures—a salvaged cigarette, a knock on the door from the hazy downpour of a dream, a tight-lipped smile—are precarious offerings. Junkies, failed revolutionaries, poets, and conflicted artists face threats at every turn. But, inwardly ferocious and secretly resilient, they heal.

In these stories there is luminous memory and decay, and beauty on the horizon.

Translated by Bruna Dantas Lobato, currently an Iowa Arts Fellow and MFA candidate in Literary Translation at the University of Iowa.

ISBN-13: 9781953861207

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Steerforth Press

Publication Date: 06-14-2022

Pages: 200

Product Dimensions: 5.40(w) x 6.40(h) x 0.60(d)

Caio Fernando Abreu (b. 1948) was one of the most influential Brazilian writers of the 1970s and 80s, despite his work remaining underrecognized outside of Brazil. The author of 20 books, including 12 story collections and two novels, he has been awarded major literary prizes. During the military dictatorship in Brazil (1964–1985), his homoerotic writing was heavily censored and he was soon put on a wanted list, finding refuge in the literary counterculture and eventually by going into self-exile in Europe. In 1994, while living in France, he tested HIV positive. He died two years later in his hometown. He was 47 years old. Bruna Dantas Lobato was born and raised in Natal, Brazil. A graduate of Bennington College, she received her MFA in Fiction from New York University and is currently an Iowa Arts Fellow and MFA candidate in Literary Translation at the University of Iowa. Her stories, essays, and translations have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Harvard Review, A Public Space, BOMB, and elsewhere.

Read an Excerpt

The Day Uranus Entered Scorpio (Old Story with Benefits)

For Zé and Lygia Sávio Teixeira

and for Lucrécia (Lucas or César Esposito)

They were all relaxed when the guy in the red shirt suddenly stormed in and announced that Uranus was entering Scorpio. The three of them stopped what they were doing and stared at him without saying anything. Maybe they didn’t understand what he said, or they didn’t care to. Or they weren’t willing to interrupt their reading, leave their spot at the window, or stop eating their chicken thighs, to go pay attention to anything else, especially to something like Uranus entering Scorpio, Jupiter leaving Aquarius, or the Moon being void of course.

It was Saturday night, almost summer, and there were so many concerts and plays and full bars and parties and movie premieres at midnight and people meeting and motorcycles zooming by around the city, and it was so hard to give all that up to stay at the apartment reading, watching other people’s joy through the window, or trying to find some sliver of meat in the bones of the cold chicken left over from lunch. As they’d given up their Saturday, the three of them sitting there quietly listening to old Pink Floyd, so the neighbors wouldn’t complain like last time and then the police would come and the landlord would threaten to shut down that drug den (they didn’t like the expression, but that was how the neighbors, the landlord, and the police called it, tossing their secondhand books and Indian cushions everywhere, like they expected to find something illicit under them)—thus having given up their Saturday, and tacitly restored the peace with the low volume and almost no curiosity about each other, since they’d known each other for so long, they didn’t want to be thrown out of this peace that was so wisely and modestly earned, since the night before had revealed empty pockets and wallets. So they vaguely looked at the guy in the red shirt standing in the middle of their living room. And said nothing.

The guy who’d left his spot by the window made like he was paying close attention to the music, and said that he liked that bit with the organ and the violins very much, that it sounded like a medieval cavalry. The guy in the red shirt understood he was trying to change the subject, and asked if by any chance he’d ever seen a medieval cavalry. He said no, but with the organ and all those violins in the background, he pictured an armored warrior on a white horse, riding against the wind, all very Knights of the Round Table, the outline of a castle on top of a distant hill—and the warrior was medieval, he stressed, he was sure of that. He was going to keep describing this scene, he was thinking of adding some pine trees, a twilight, maybe a crescent moon, perhaps even a lake, when the woman who’d been reading a book lowered her glasses again, which she’d raised up to her forehead when the guy in the red shirt came in, and read a passage as follows, from Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death:

Men are so necessarily mad that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.” Necessarily because the existential dualism makes an impossible situation, an excruciating dilemma. Mad because, as we shall see, everything that man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny and overcome his grotesque fate. He literally drives himself into a blind obliviousness with social games, psychological tricks, personal preoccupations so far removed from the reality of his situation that they are forms of madness—agreed madness, shared madness, disguised and dignified madness, but madness all the same.

When she finished reading and looked around the room with delight, the guy who’d left the window returned to his spot, and the guy in the red shirt remained still and slightly out of breath in the middle of the room, while the other one stared at the bare bone of a chicken leg. He then said he didn’t really like thigh as much anymore, that he preferred the neck, at his house growing up everyone always fought, because he had three siblings and they all liked the thighs, except for Valéria, who found chickens disgusting; later, as a teenager, he preferred the breast, he spent five or six years eating nothing but the breast, and now he loved the neck. The others looked a little shocked hearing this, and he explained that the neck actually had many secret pleasures, exactly like that, very slowly, se-cret pleas-ures, and in that moment the record came to an end and his words echoed a bit provocatively in the silent air while he continued to stare at the dry bone.

The guy in the red shirt took advantage of the silence to scream very loudly that Uranus was entering Scorpio. The others seemed disturbed, less so by the information and more by the noise, and said shh, that he should lower his voice, didn’t he remember what happened last time. He said the last time didn’t matter, that now Uranus was entering Scorpio. To-day, he said slowly, eyes shining. It had been there for some five years, he added, and the others asked at the same time, it-which-had-been-where? Uranus, the guy in the red shirt explained, in my eighth House, the House of Death, didn’t you know I could be dying right now? and he looked relieved, if it weren’t for all the restlessness. The others exchanged looks and the woman holding a book started to tell a very long and convoluted story about a boy who suffered from schizophrenia who’d started just like this, she said, he took an interest in things like alchemy, astrology, chiromancy, numerology, things he’d read god knows where (he read a lot, and when he told a story, he never knew for certain where he’d first read it, sometimes he couldn’t even be sure if he’d lived it or read it). He ended up committed, she said, that’s how many schizoid processes go. He looked directly at her as she said schizoid processes, the other two seemed very impressed, it was hard to say if it was because they respected the woman and thought her very refined, or if it was simply because they wanted to scare the guy in the red shirt. At any rate, they were left with a silence full of sharp angles until one of them moved from his place by the window to turn the record over. And when the bubbles of sound started to burst in the middle of the room, they all looked relieved and almost happy again.

Then the guy in the red shirt took out of his bag a book that looked like he’d bound it himself, and asked if anyone spoke French. One of them threw the chicken bone in the ashtray, as if to violently say that he didn’t, and he looked at the man by the window, who wasn’t by the window anymore but on the rug, browsing their record collection. He suddenly stopped and looked at the woman, who hesitated for a moment before she said that she spoke a little, and everyone was a bit disappointed. The guy in the red shirt quietly said that it was all right, and started to read something as follows, from André Barbault’s Astrologie:

La position de cet astre en secteur situe le lieu ou l’être dégage au maximum son indiuidualité dans une voie de supersonnalisation, à la faveur d’un développement d’énergie ou d’une croissance exagerée qui est moins une abondance de force de vie qu’une tension particulière d’enérgie. Ici, l’être tend à affirmer une volonté lucide d’independence qui peut le conduire à une expression supérieure et originale de sa personalité. Dans la dissonance, son exigence conduit à l’insensibilité, à la dureté, à l’excessif, à l’extremisme, au jusqu’au’boutisme, à l’aventure, aux bouleversements.

He finished reading and slowly looked at the three of them, one by one, but only the woman smiled, saying that she didn’t know the word bouleversements. One of the men remembered that boulevard means street, and that therefore it must mean something related to a street, to walking in the streets a lot. They kept guessing, one of them looking for a dictionary, the guy in the red shirt looking from one to the other without saying anything. After all the books had been combed through and the dictionary was nowhere to be found and the other side of the record also came to an end, he read the passage again very slowly and emphasizing each syllable with a pronunciation the others admired, though they didn’t say anything:

L’être tend à affirmer une volonté lucide d’independence qui peut le conduire à une expression supérieure et originale de sa personalité.

Then he asked if the others understood it, and they said they did, it sounded very similar to Portuguese, lucide, for example, and originale, were incredibly easy. But they didn’t seem like they understood. His eyes shone again, he looked like he was about to cry when suddenly, unexpectedly, he jumped toward the window and yelled that he’d jump, that no one understood him, that nothing was worthwhile anymore, that he was so sick of everything he wouldn’t even bet his own shit on the future.

The guy in the red shirt went as far as to put one leg over the windowsill, opening his arms, but the other two men grabbed him in time and took him to the bedroom, asking very gently what had just happened, repeating that he was too nervous, that everything was fine, just fine. The woman with the glasses held his hand and stroked his hair while he cried, one of the men said he’d go to the kitchen to make some mugwort or chamomile tea, the woman said that lemon balm was good for stuff like this, and the other said he’d put on that Indian music he liked so much, though everyone else hated it, except he had to turn the volume all the way up so they could hear it from the bedroom. The tea came soon after, hot and good, and they appeared with a joint as well, which they smoked together, one at a time, and things slowly became more harmonious and calm, until someone knocked on the door with such force it sounded more like kicking than knocking.

It was the landlord, yelling at them to lower the volume and saying those same unpleasant things. The woman with the glasses said she was very sorry, but unfortunately that night they couldn’t keep the volume down, it wasn’t a night like the others, it was very special, she was very sorry. She took off her glasses and asked if the landlord knew that Uranus was entering Scorpio.

Back in the bedroom, the guy in the red shirt heard this and smiled a big smile before falling asleep with the others holdingppp hands. Then he dreamt he gently glided over a golden and luminous surface as if on a pair of skates. He didn’t know if it was a ring of Saturn or a moon of Jupiter. Perhaps Titan.