Tuesday, 17 May 2011


The current assignment was to write precisely 500 words based on either the photograph in the previous post or alternatively on a quotation from a Jorge Luis Borges' short story, "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius."
The quotation is "Some limited and waning memory of Herbert Ashe, an engineer for the Southern Railway Line, still lingers in the hotel at Androgué, among the effusive honeysuckle vines and in the illusory depths of the mirrors."


Some limited and waning memory of Herbert Ashe, an engineer for the Southern Railway Line, still lingers in the hotel at Androgué, among the effusive honeysuckle vines and in the illusory depths of the mirrors. The hotel itself, like the station and the houses surrounding it, was imported wholesale from England during the boom of the late nineteenth century; the bathroom fittings and doorknobs, the mirrors and the honeysuckle, indeed the very bricks themselves, shipped the length of the Atlantic as the Great Empire turned its eye southward.

With them came Engineer Herbert Ashe, tasked with linking Buenos Aires to the vast and fertile cattle country of La Pampa and Rio Negro, and eventually to Rio Gallegos via La Trochita, the narrow gauge steam railway that a century hence was to achieve fame as The Old Patagonian Express.

Unlike the Scots and Irish labourers shipped over with them - who, on completion of the railway would become ranchers and leave a trail of Celtic names scattered across the pampas - the English engineers never intended to stay, least of all Engineer Herbert Ashe, whose limpid fiancée Daphne pined 'neath Lympne's bailey awaiting her consummation.

Engineer Herbert Ashe, however, would never return to the twin bosoms of Daphne and England. The telegram his distraught fiancée received informed her of his tragic death in a blasting accident on a Patagonian mountainside but delicately avoided the truth.

For Engineer Herbert Ashe had found himself one morning gazing into the illusory depths of those hotel mirrors, gratefully inhaling that effusive honeysuckle’s fragrance, when darting betwixt reflected vines he glimpsed a flash of eyes, a tremble of lace as black as the heart of darkness and was himself ensnared.
Unable, indeed unwilling to escape the mirror’s pull he stepped forward and found soft fingers stroking his own, enticing him deeper into lush foliage and heady aromas; on through verdant gardens she led him, ever on until at last the vibrant colours swirling around him resolved themselves into the streets of La Boca, the beating heart of Buenos Aires. La Boca: the Forbidden Quarter; rank with Criollo bordellos, replete with opium dens and, more seductive still, the sinuous rhythms of the Tango.

The authorities were never able satisfactorily to explain the presence of Engineer Herbert Ashe in a blood-filled bathtub on an upper floor of a dockside whorehouse in La Boca district, entwined as he was with the body of a beautiful Criollo prostitute, both of them naked and shot through the heart with the pistol that dangled still from the Englishman’s hand.
How could they know the pull of that rhythm, the allure of those kohl-rimmed eyes, the flashing scarlet of her lips, the whirlwind of lace as her hips ground against his to the breathless, frenzied strumming of guitars? How could they ever understand the intoxication of her perfume, the passion of her kisses, the wild ecstasy of endless nights in her arms?
How, in all honesty could he, Engineer Herbert Ashe, ever go back?


Vanda said...

Ooooh, that's so Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa. Humid, sultry, and melancholy.

dive said...

Vanda you are way too kind. I must admit to a love of Llosa, Marquez and Borges that goes back to college when I discovered Magic Realism for the first time.
And after Smythe's uptight and very English Englishman I felt the need to show the other side of the English abroad: our delight in being corrupted by the exotic.