by H.V. Chao.
“The Recovery” was first published in a slightly different form in Strange Tales IV from Tartarus Press, edited by Rosalie Parker. It is forthcoming in a translation by Anne-Sylvie Homassel in Le Visage Vert.
H.V. CHAO‘s fiction has appeared in The Kenyon Review, West Branch, The Antigonish Review, Birkensnake, The Nashwaak Review, Epiphany, The Coachella Review, and Douglas Lain’s defunct Diet Soap. His stories have been translated into French in Brèves and Le Visage Vert. He is at work on Guises, a collection whose every story is meant to be as different as can be from the others.
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Tonight, I hiked to the chapel of the town’s patron saint. On the way, you pass something like a chimney sprouting from the ground. Topped by a Madonna, it marks the spot where the saint is said to have sauvé la terre, vanquishing a dragon by throwing his ring in its mouth. The chapel is flanked by pines and had been locked against vandals. On a nearby rise are the remains of a long, low barn: the fractured roof timbers, a wall of wattle and daub still whole but reeling as if from a mighty blow. The decrepitude bespoke neither neglect nor the cheap residue of expedience, but the weight of centuries withstood. From atop the hill, I could see the cemetery.
The whole town was there, gathered by a grave. Their backs were turned to me, and a tremor passed through the group: shoulders swayed, weight shifted to the other foot. I saw the butcheress draw closer to my landlady and further from the cheesemonger. I watched until the group slowly scattered, then I skittered down the hill to the graveyard. Wrought-iron masts and crosses, plaques, shattered flowerpots. On the tomb were a shovel and a bottle of wine, but the grave was empty. I was still standing there when it began to rain.
A village is a murder mystery. The conversation of townsfolk is rich in allusion; red herrings in shared histories you don’t understand. The air of conspiracy inspires you to imagine a crime. Everyone has something to hide, but you cannot tell if it pertains to the case at hand, or if it will merely prove a false lead: another skeleton in another closet, a private and irrelevant embarrassment. Yet surely this suspicion of wrongdoing is only a hallucination of exclusion. After all these months, I was still a stranger to the town, while my neighbour had found not only love, but he would abscond with it.