Colin James


I Needed A Sign.jpg

César Valdebenito (translation by Toshiya Kamei)

Chile; USA

Born in 1975 in Concepción, Chile, César Valdebenito is a poet, writer, and essayist. His books include the novels La vida nunca se acaba (2017) and Una escena apocalíptica (2016), as well as the short story collections El bindú o la musa de la noche (2017) and Pequeñas historias para mentes neuróticas (2018).

Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His translations of Latin American literature include My Father Thinks I’m a Fakir by Claudia Apablaza, South Exit by Carlos Bortoni, and Silent Herons by Selfa Chew.

I Needed a Sign

When I opened the door, I saw a stranger standing like a stick. The man, without preamble, told me he wanted to see Pamela.

“Who are you?” I asked.


“What do you care?” he replied, with admirable aplomb.


I thought he was a nutcase, who knocked on the wrong door or was playing a joke on me, but

he kept standing there, waiting for an answer. He was wearing a wrinkled shirt and his hair was all messed up as if he were drunk.


“Listen, I’m Pamela’s husband.”


“Well, call her. I want to see her. Right now.”


“Excuse me, sorry, what… What do you think you’re doing? Poor moron!” I shouted as if the phrase had fallen from the sky. Bewilderment and disbelief mixed like oil and water in my mind.

I’m a bald man, one metre ninety tall, robust, an intimidating type, but I received a violent slap in response. The man might be an unhinged person, but somehow he knew Pamela’s name and address. He might be a street drunk, although he could be anything. For a second I hesitated. How did this man know Pamela’s name and address? What did I know?


Without removing myself from the door, clinging to it with all my might, I shouted, “Pamela! Can you come down? Please!”


And I glared at him, my eyes ablaze with fury. When Pamela came down and stood between us, she looked at me, then back to him. She was really moved. Her fingers trembled.


“Come on, Pamela. Come here,” he demanded.


The man grabbed Pamela by the waist, with the impudence and confidence of people who have formed a deep friendship over the years, that closeness so deep and subtle because of hours of intimacy throughout the years.


“Do you know this guy, Pamela?” I asked.


“Well, Camilo…” she trailed off, looking scared. I examined those features, trying to assess that ghostly image.


“Come on, Pamela, honey. Let me buy you a drink tonight,” he insisted without shame.

The man kept his arm around her waist, stuck like a leech. Pamela looked at me, her eyes bright and wide open. She hesitated as a grimace of supplication and horror came over her face. Then I thought, “Some people do things without others finding out. They kill, divorce, marry, and have an abortion without anyone noticing. Some change sex, give birth, separate, remarry, have lovers, and abandon their children without anyone knowing. There are those who stab a monkey in the bathroom or, even chop up babies without people knowing.” Then, as if waking from a long sleep, I said, intending to give him warning, but, rather, sounding like a modest complaint:


“Hey, leave my wife alone.”


I knew right away what was going to happen.


“Isn’t she a cutie?” asked the man.


Pamela didn’t say a word. By now she had turned into a statue, a petrified woman.


“Come on, Pamela. Tell your husband you’re going out with me tonight.”

“Camilo… Camilo…” Pamela begged, as if waiting for me to do something.

Although my blood boiled, I found my feet glued to the floor. The situation immobilized me. I knew these things happened, but to me, precisely to me… My cheeks shivered. I was short of breath and the floor kept sinking under my feet, something I had only seen in movies.

“Come on, honey,” he said, then addressed to me. “Now I know you, pal.”

I wanted to see if he dared to do something else. I smelled him in the air. The man kissed her on the forehead and then, to my surprise, they turned their backs to me. The game was over.


Then they walked down the tiled path to the sidewalk while I waited for a sign from Pamela. She entered a car while I waited for her to turn to ask for my help. My eyes followed her shapely legs in lace pantyhose until she climbed in and was out of my sight. The car slid slowly along the avenue and disappeared around the corner. And I stood there by the door. Can you believe it? I don’t know how long I stood there, trying to digest what had just happened. Any life changes with an event like that. No one remains indifferent. It’s true. My life changed. I won’t say how because it doesn’t really matter.


The following morning I went to a laundromat to wash Pamela’s clothes and mine. I sat down in front of the washing machines and watched the clothes spin inside them. Then I took out my phone and looked for Pamela’s number. But I didn’t know whether I should call her. Maybe she had already returned home? Maybe she had called the police? Either way, I felt worried. I tried to find an explanation for all that and then a guilty party. I had no answers. I had no idea who was to blame or what to say.