Start Reading The Good Suicides

For the second time in a short period, Inspector Hector Salgado turns his head suddenly, convinced someone is watching him, but he sees only anonymous and indifferent faces, people who, like him, are walking on a packed Gran Via and stop once in a while in front of one of the traditional stalls of toys and games occupying the pavement.

It is January 5, the night before Reyes, though no one would think so judging by the pleasant temperature, ignored by some strollers conveniently dressed in overcoats, some even with gloves and scarf as befits the season, happy to participate in a sham of winter lacking the main ingredient: cold.

The parade has been finished for a while and the traffic fills the road under garlands of shining lights. People, cars, the smell of churros and hot oil, all seasoned with supposedly happy carols, their lyrics dipped in surrealism, which the loudspeakers launch against the passersby without the least decorum.

It seems no one has bothered to compose new songs, so for yet another year there are the same fucking tidings of comfort of joy. That must be what’s fucked up about Christmas, thinks Hector: the fact that generally it always stays the same, while we change and grow older. It seems to him inconsiderate to the point of cruelty that this Christmassy atmosphere is the only thing that is repeated year after year without exception, making our decadence ever more evident. And for the umpteenth time in the last fifteen days he wishes he’d flown from all the revelry to some Buddhist or radically atheist country. Next year, he repeats, as if it were a mantra. And to hell with what his son might say.

He is so absorbed in these thoughts that he doesn’t notice that the queue of pedestrians, moving almost as slowly as that of the cars, has stopped. Hector finds himself at a halt in front of a stall selling little plastic soldiers in bags: cowboys and Indians, Allied soldiers dressed in camouflage ready to shoot from a trench. He hasn’t seen them in years and remembers buying them for Guillermo when he was a kid.

In any case, the vendor, an old man with arthritic hands, has managed to re-create an exquisite military scene, down to the last detail, worthy of a 1950s film. That’s not all he sells: other soldiers, the traditional lead ones, bigger and in shiny red uniforms, march on one side, and a legion of Roman gladiators, historically out of place, on the other.

The old man gestures to him, inviting him to touch the goods, and Hector obeys, more out of manners than any real interest. The soldier is softer than he expected and the feel of it, almost like human flesh, repulses him. Suddenly he realizes that the music has ceased. The passers-by have halted. The car lights have been switched off and the Christmas lights, flickering weakly, are the street’s only lighting. Hector closes his eyes and opens them again.

Around him the crowd begins to vanish; the bodies suddenly disappear, evaporate without leaving the least trace. Only the vendor remains at his stall. Wrinkled and smiling, he takes one of those snow globes out from under the counter.

“For your wife,” he says. And Hector is about to answer that no, Ruth detests those glass domes; they’ve upset her ever since she was a child, like clowns do. Then the flakes clouding the interior fall to the bottom and he sees himself, standing in front of a toy soldier stall, trapped within the glass walls.
 
Excerpted from The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill. Copyright © 2014 by Antonio Hill. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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