People are surprised, fearful and even indignant over the considerable proliferation of scorpions which threatens Buenos Aires, a city which until quite recently had been entirely free of this particular genus of arachnid.
Unimaginative individuals have recourse to an overly traditional method of defense against the scorpions: the employment of poisons. The more imaginative fill their houses with toads, frogs and lizards, in the hope that they will devour the scorpions. Both groups fail abominably: the scorpions firmly refuse to ingest poisons while the reptiles refuse to ingest scorpions. Both groups, in their ineptness and haste, succeed in one thing only: to exacerbate —even more, if possible— the hatred which scorpions profess toward all humanity.
I have a different method. I have attempted, unsuccessfully, to disseminate it; like all trailblazers, I am misunderstood. I believe my method to be, in all modesty, not only the best, but the only possible method of defense against the scorpions.
Its basic principle consists of avoiding a direct confrontation, of engaging in brief but risky skirmishes, of concealing our enmity from the scorpions. (Of course, I know that one must proceed with caution, I know that the sting of a scorpion is fatal. It is true that if I were to stuff myself into a diving suit I would be completely safe from the scorpion; it is no less true that if I were to do that the scorpions would know, with complete certainty, that I fear them. And I am very much afraid of scorpions. But one mustn’t lose his equanimity.)
An elementary measure, one which is effective while free from overemphasis on violence and ominous theatricals, is composed of two simple steps. The first is to tie the cuffs of my trousers with very taut rubber bands; this is to prevent the scorpions from crawling up my legs. The second is to pretend that I suffer greatly from cold and to wear a pair of leather gloves at all times; this is to avoid being stung on the hands. (More than one negative spirit has pointed out only the disadvantages that this method entails in the summer without recognizing its undeniable and more general merits.) The head, however, should be left uncovered; this is the best way of presenting the scorpions with a brave and optimistic image of ourselves. Besides, scorpions are not normally in the habit of hurling themselves from the ceiling onto the human face, although at times they do. (This, at any rate, is what happened to my late neighbor, the mother of four cunning little kiddies, now orphans. To make matters worse, these facts give rise to erroneous theories which only serve to make the struggle against the scorpions more arduous and troublesome. As a matter of fact, the surviving husband, with no adequate scientific basis, affirms that the six scorpions were attracted by the intensely blue color of the victim’s eyes and adduces as flimsy proof of such a rash assertion the fact, totally fortuitous, that the stings were distributed in groups of three to each pupil. I honestly believe that this is a mere superstition dreamed up by the cowardly mind of this pusillanimous individual.)
Exactly as when on the defense, it is necessary to pretend to be unaware of the existence of the scorpions while attacking them. As though by accident, I —as cool as could be— managed to kill from eighty to a hundred scorpions every day. I proceed in the following manner which, for the survival of the human race, I hope will be imitated and, if possible, perfected.
Appearing distracted, I sit down in the kitchen and begin to read the newspaper. Every once in a while I look at my watch and mumble to myself, in a voice loud enough to be heard by the scorpions: “Damn! Why the devil doesn’t Pérez call?” Pérez’ undependability angers me and provides the excuse to stamp my feet wrathfully on the floor a few times; in this way I massacre no less than ten of the innumerable scorpions which cover the floor. At irregular intervals I repeat my expression of impatience and in this manner I manage to kill quite a large number. This is not to say that I slight the equally innumerable scorpions which completely cover the ceiling and the walls (which are five quivering, throbbing, shifting black seas); from time to time I feign an attack of hysteria and hurl some heavy object against the wall, not neglecting to keep cursing that damned Pérez for taking so long to call. It’s a shame that I’ve already broken several sets of cups and dishes and that I live among dented pots and pans; but the price of defending oneself from the scorpions is high. At last, someone inevitably calls. “It’s Pérez!” I shout and rush to the phone. Naturally, my haste and my anxiousness are such that I fail to notice the thousands upon thousands of scorpions which softly carpet the floor and burst underfoot with the gelatinously harsh sound of an egg being cracked. At times —but only at times; it wouldn’t do to overindulge in this recourse— I trip and fall full length, thus appreciably enlarging the area of my impact and, consequently, the number of dead scorpions. When I get to my feet once more, my clothes are completely decorated with the sticky corpses of a great many scorpions; detaching them one by one is a delicate task but one which allows me to savor my triumph.
Now I’d like to indulge in a short digression in order to relate an anecdote, enlightening in itself, concerning an incident that happened to me some days ago and in which, without intending to do so, I played a heroic role, if I say so myself.
It was lunch time. As usual I found the table covered with scorpions; the silverware, covered with scorpions; the stove, covered with scorpions... With patience, with resignation, with my eyes averted, I gradually pushed them off and on to the floor. Since the struggle against the scorpions consumes the greater part of my time, I decided to fix myself a fast meal: a few fried eggs. There I was, eating them, every so often pushing aside some particularly bold scorpion that had climbed up on the table or that was walking on my knees when, from the ceiling, an especially vigorous and robust scorpion fell —or jumped— into my plate.
Petrified, I dropped my knife and fork. How was I to interpret that behavior? Was it merely a chance occurrence? An attack on my person? A test? I remained perplexed for some instants... What were the scorpions’ intentions toward me? Being a seasoned soldier in the battle against them, I understood immediately. They wanted to force me to modify my method of defense, to make me decidedly shift to the offensive. But I was very sure of the effectiveness of my strategy; they would not succeed in tricking me.
With repressed rage I saw the scorpion’s thick, hairy legs splashing in the eggs, I saw its body becoming impregnated with yellow, I saw the venomous tail waving in the air like a shipwrecked sailor calling for help... Objectively considered, the scorpion’s death struggle constituted a beautiful spectacle. But it made me a bit nauseous. I almost bungled it; I thought of tossing the contents of the plate into the incinerator. Still, I have a great deal of will power and managed to restrain myself in time. If I had not, I would have earned the abhorrence and the reproof of the thousands upon thousands of scorpions which, with renewed suspicion, were watching me from the ceiling, the walls, the floor, the stove, the lamps... Then they would have had a pretext to consider themselves under attack and who knows what could have occurred.
I steeled myself and, pretending not to notice the scorpion that was still struggling in my plate, I ate it distractedly together with the egg and even mopped the plate with a crust of bread in order not to leave even one bit of scorpion and egg. It turned out to be not as repugnant as I had feared. Just a trifle acid perhaps, but that sensation might have been due to the fact that my palate was still unaccustomed to the ingestion of scorpions. With the last mouthful I smiled with satisfaction. Later it occurred to me that the scorpion’s shell, tougher than I would have liked, might cause me indigestion so, delicately, in order not to offend the rest of the scorpions, I drank a glass of Alka Seltzer.
There are other variants of this method but, and this is the crux of it, it is necessary to remember that it is essential to proceed as if one were unaware of the presence —better yet, the existence— of the scorpions. Even so, I am now assaulted by some doubts. I think the scorpions have begun to realize that my attacks are not accidents. Yesterday, when I dropped a pot of boiling water on the floor, I noticed that, from the refrigerator door, some three or four hundred scorpions were observing me rancorously, suspiciously, reprovingly.
Maybe my method too is destined to fail. But, for now, I cannot think of any better method of defending myself from the scorpions.
(From En defensa propia, 1982)
Spanish title: “Para defenderse de los escorpiones”; translated by Clark M. Zlotchew