The Son

By: Horacio Quiroga
Translated by: Alex Yager

The Son by Horacio Quiroga

It’s a beautiful summer day in Misiones, with all of the sun, heat, and calm that can comes with the season.  Nature, wide open, is satisfied with itself.

Like the sun, heat, and ambient calm, the father also opens his heart to nature.

-Be careful, child – he says to his son, communicating in this phrase all of his reservations and his son perfectly understands.

-I will, dad – responds the young boy while he hangs his shotgun and cartridges from his shirt pockets, which he closes carefully.

-Come back at lunch time – observes the father.

-I will, dad – repeats the son.

Balancing the shotgun in his hand, he smiles at his father, kisses him on the cheek, and leaves.  His father follows him with his eyes for awhile and returns to his chores of the day, happy with the joy of his son.

He knows that his son has been educated about the dangers and usage of guns since he was born, and he can manage a rifle and hunt easily.  Although he is tall for his age, he is barely 13.  And it seems as if  he’s younger, judging by the purity of his blue eyes, fresh with infantile surprise.  The father does not need to take his eyes off his work to follow the path of his son in his mind.

He has crossed the forest and is walking directly to the mountain via the trail.

To hunt on the mountain, it requires more patience than his son can muster.  After crossing the forest, his son comes across a row of shrubs in search of pheasants, toucans, or the pair of herons, like the ones that his friend Juan had discovered a few days before.  Only now, the father chuckles at the memory of the kids’ passion for hunting.  Sometimes, they only capture a pigeon or less and they return triumphant, Juan to his ranch with a nine millimeter rifle that he received as a gift, and his son to their plateau with his grand 16 caliber Saint-Étienne shotgun.

The son was just like the father.  At 13 years old, he would have given his life for a shotgun.  His son of that age, already has one and his father smiles.

It isn’t easy, however, for a widower, without other faith or hope than the life of his son, to educate him how he was educated, free in his short range of action, sure of his tiny feet and hands since the age of four, conscious of the immensity of certain dangers and the shortcomings of his own strength.

That father fought strongly against what he considers overconfidence.  How easy it is for a child to miscalculate, step foot in a crack and one suddenly loses that child!

Danger exists always for men of all ages; but the threat is lessened if, from a young age, one is accustomed to acting within his limits.

In this way, the father educated his son.  And to do so he has had to resist not only his heart, but his own moral torments; because that father, with a weak stomach and poor vision, has suffered for a long time from hallucinations.

He has seen, concrete in the saddest of illusions, memories where happiness no longer exists.  The image of his own son has not escaped this torment.  He has seen him once covered in blood.

A horrible case…but today, with the ardent and vital summer day, whose love of his son he seems to have inherited, the father feels happy, peaceful, and sure of the future.

In that instant, not far away, sounds a gunshot.

-The Saint-Étienne…- thinks the father at recognizing the detonation.  Two small pigeons on the mountain…

Without paying more attention to the gunshot, the man turns again to his work.

The sun, already very high, continues ascending.  Wherever he looks – rocks, earth, trees-, the air appears as if they were in an oven, vibrating with heat.   A deep buzz that fills the entire being and impregnates the field of vision, epitomizes at that hour life by the mountain.

The father glances at his wrist: noon.  And he raises his eyes to the mountain.  His son should be back already.  They have a mutual confidence in each other – the aging father and the young child of only thirteen years – they are loyal to each other.  When his son responds, “Yes, dad,” it is a promise.  He said that he’d return from his hunting trip before twelve, and the father had smiled watching him leave.

Yet he hasn’t returned.

The man continues his chores, forcing himself to focus his attention on his work.  It’s very, very easy to lose track of time on the mountain, and sit down for a moment on the ground while you rest completely still…?

Time passes; it’s already 12:30.  The father leaves his house, and, supporting himself on his work bench, the gunshot he heard earlier comes to the forefront of his mind.  and instantly, for the first time, he thinks that after the blast of the Saint-Étienne he hasn’t heard anything else.  He hasn’t heard the gravel crunching under his child’s footsteps.  His son had not returned and nature lies still at the edge of the woods, waiting for him.

Oh! His son’s mature personality and his own blind confidence in his son’s education are not enough to banish the specter of fatality that can be seen rising over the peaked horizon even by a man of poor sight.  Distraction, forgetfulness, fortuitous delay: in his heart, he knows that none of these possibilities slow the return of his son.

A shot, a single shot had resonated, and it was a long time ago.  Since then, the father hasn’t heard a sound, he hasn’t seen a bird, not a soul has crossed the open landscape to announce that across the fence, a great misfortune awaits.

Without a machete, the father goes after his son.  He cuts through the trail, enters the mountain, crosses a row of shrubs without seeing any signs of the boy.  But nature is still.  And as the father retraces the path of his son, exploring, bathed in vain, he senses that every step forward will bring him, fatally and inexorably, to the body of his son.

There isn’t a reproach, it’s lamentable.  Only a harsh reality, terrible and consuming: his son died when crossing a…But where, in what part!  There are many fences there, and the mountain is very, very dangerous!  Oh, very dangerous, for his son did not take care in crossing the mountain with a shotgun in hand…

The father stifles a scream.  He has seen standing in the air…Oh, it isn’t his son, no!  And he returns to the other side, and the other, and the other…

It’s difficult to watch the color of his skin and the anguish in his eyes.  The man has still not called out to his son.  Although his heart calms, he lets out a few screams, and his mouth continues moving.  He knows well that only the act of pronouncing his name, of saying it out loud, will be confessing that he is dead.

-Son!- escapes his lips.  And if the voice of a man of character is capable of crying, we have mercy on those who hear the anguish in that voice.

No one and nothing has responded.  Looking for his son’s body in the waning rays of the sun, the father aged ten years.

-My son…!  My Child…! – crying from a voice that rises from the bottom of his heart.

Already, in a calmer state of mind, this father had hallucinated his son surrounded by barbed wire with his chest opened by a metal bullet.  Now, in every somber corner of the woods he sees flashes of his son; and the foot of a post, with the shotgun discharged next to it, he sees his…

-Son, my Boy!

The forces that permit a poor hallucinating father to receive the most atrocious weight has a limit.  And ours feels that his escape him, when he sees suddenly the side of his child.

Seeing a thirteen year old boy from fifty meters, his teary-eyed father, without a machete, hastened his pace across the mountain.

-Son…-murmurs the man.  And, exhausted he lets himself sit in the sand in front of his boy, surrounding with his arms the legs of his son.

The child, held tightly by his father, stayed standing; and as he understood his father’s pain, he slowly turned his head:

-poor father…

Eventually, time passed.  It’s about to be three…

Together now, the father rand son begin their return to the house.

-How did you not look at the sun to keep track of time..? – murmurs the father

-I did it, dad,…but when I went to return I saw Juan’s herons and I followed them…

-You made me worry, son!

-I’m sorry… -murmurs the boy.

After a long silence

-And the geese, did you kill them? – asks the father


Details were not important, all things considered.  Underneath the sky and the warm summer air, led by the trail, the man returns home with his son holding onto the happy arm of his father.  The man returns covered in sweat, and although his body and soul is broken, he smiles of joy.

He smiles of hallucinated joy…because that father travels alone.

He found no one, and his arm is supported by empty space.  Because, across the mountain, at the foot of a post and with outstretched legs, entangled in barbed wire, his beloved child lies under the sun, dead since ten that morning.

About the Author

Horacio Quiroga was a Uruguayan artist who wrote many short stories and poems in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  His childhood was difficult due to the death of his family and friends.  His father died in a gun accident, his step-father committed suicide, his two older brothers died of disease, Quiroga himself murdered his best friend in a gun accident, and his wife killed herself using poison.  Later, his second wife and daughter abandoned him.  The tragedy throughout his life appears especially in “The Son,” through the father’s hallucination and his inability to grasp the death of his son.  Quiroga was also very interested in nature and actually lived in a jungle.  His writing often contains themes of nature, which “The Son” captures through the author’s detailed description of the mountain setting.

About the Translator

Alex Yager is a sophomore majoring in International Studies and Spanish at the University of Michigan.  To translate this piece, diction was chosen to reflect the father’s anxiety and communicate the story to an American audience (ex. “cactus” was replaced with “shrub” for a better U.S. understanding).  While some aspects of this translation are fairly liberal, others are more direct.  For example, the namelessness of the father and the son along with the structure of the piece were maintained to demonstrate Quiroga’s unique writing style.

Tagged as: