From the award-winning, internationally acclaimed screenwriter of Amores perros, 21 Grams, and Babel, A Sweet Scent of Death is Guillermo Arriaga's tale of deception, passion, and violence fused together by the tragic killing of a young girl in a small Mexican village.
Early one morning in a deserted field, Ramón Castaños is confronted with the dead body of Adela, a lovely young girl, whom he had only admired from afar. Within an hour, rumor of the death of Ramón Castaños's girlfriend has spread to every corner of Loma Grande. This powder-trail of gossip ignites further violence when the villagers, thirsty for revenge, cast about for answers and hit upon the nomadic José Echeverri-Berriozábal, known as "the Gypsy." Honor then demands that Ramón must now live out his imaginary past in a brutal reality and prove his manhood by avenging Adela's cruel fate.
Guillermo Arriaga is the author of The Night Buffalo and The Guillotine Squad. He has worked in television, radio, and film. Arriaga is the award-winning screenwriter of Amores perros, 21 Grams, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and Babel.
|Publisher:||Washington Square Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.31(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
Guillermo Arriaga es un escritor mexicano que ha alcanzado la fama mundial como guionista de la película Amores perros, de gran éxito internacional, y de las películas 21 Gramos, Las tres muertes de Melquiades Estrada, y Babel. Arriaga es también el autor de las novelas: El Búfalo de la noche y Escuadrón guillotina.
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A Sweet Scent of Death
By Guillermo Arriaga
Washington Square PressCopyright © 2007 Guillermo Arriaga
All right reserved.
Ramón Castaños was dusting his counter when he heard a faraway, piercing shriek. Listening carefully, he heard only the usual morning hum. He decided it was just the screech of a chachalaca, many of which flapped about the hill. He went on with his dusting. Taking down a shelf, he prepared to clean it, when there was another scream, much closer and clearer. This was followed by another, then another. Ramón put down the shelf, jumped over the counter and went out the door to see what was happening. It was early Sunday; he found no one. But the screams became more and more frantic and continuous. Walking out to the middle of the street, he saw three boys in the distance, running towards him, shouting at the top of their lungs.
'A dead woman...a dead woman...'
Ramón moved toward them and stopped one as the others fled among the houses. 'What's up?' he asked.
'They killed her...they killed her...' howled the boy.
Without another word the child raced off, back where he'd come from. Ramón followed him, running along the path to the river, until they reached a field of sorghum.
'There,' gasped the frightened child, pointing to one side of the field.
A corpse lay among thefurrows. Ramón approached slowly, his heart pounding at every step. The woman was nude, lying face up in a pool of blood. The moment he saw her he could not take his eyes off her. At sixteen he had often dreamt of seeing a naked woman, but had never imagined finding one like this. He surveyed her smooth, motionless skin more in shock than in lust, for it was a young body. With her arms stretched back and one leg slightly bent, she seemed to implore a final embrace. The sight moved him. He swallowed hard and took a deep breath, noticing the sweet scent of cheap floral perfume. He felt like giving her his hand, lifting her, telling her to cut out the pretense of death. She remained nude and still. Ramón took off his shirt, his Sunday best, and covered her as well as he could. As he bent over, he recognized Adela. She had been stabbed in the back.
A crowd of curious villagers, led by the other kids, arrived noisily, almost stumbling over the body. But the sight of it silenced them. They surrounded it quietly, some furtively examining the dead woman. Ramón realized that her body was still partly exposed. He broke off a few sorghum stalks to cover the bare parts. The others watched him, surprised, as if intruding on a private rite.
A fat, gray-haired man pushed his way to the front. He was Loma Grande's ejido delegate, Justino Téllez. He stopped momentarily, reluctant to go beyond the circle surrounding Ramón and the dead girl. He would have preferred to stay out of the way, in the crowd, but he represented authority and as such would have to intervene. Taking three steps forward, he spat on the ground and said something to Ramón which no one heard. He knelt beside the body, raising the shirt to look at the girl's face.
He crouched, examining the corpse for some time. Finally, covering it again, he stood up with difficulty and clicked his tongue. With a bandanna from his pocket he wiped the sweat trickling down his face.
'Bring a cart,' he ordered. 'We have to take her to the village.'
No one moved. Aware that he was not being obeyed, Justino Téllez examined the faces watching him and stopped at Pascual Ortega, thin, awkward and bowlegged.'Move it, Pascual; go get your grandfather's cart.'
As if he had been brusquely awakened, Pascual took one look at the corpse, then at the delegate, swung around and dashed off to Loma Grande.
Justino and Ramón stood wordlessly face to face. Among the whispers of the curious, someone asked, 'Who is she?'
No one really knew who she was, but an unidentified voice declared, 'Ramón Castaños' girl.'
A buzz of murmurs rose, then stopped, leaving a heavy silence, broken only by chirping cicadas. The sun began to bake the air, raising humid heat from the ground. Therewas not a breath to cool the inert flesh lying before them.
'She wasn't stabbed very long ago,' murmured Justino. 'She isn't stiff, and there aren't any ants yet.'
Ramón looked at him, bewildered. Téllez continued even more quietly, 'She was killed less than two hours ago.'
Pascual returned with the cart and parked it as close to the victim as possible. The circle drew back, but remained expectant for the long time it took Ramón to decide to put his arms under the corpse and lift it. Unexpectedly one of his hands touched the sticky wound and, repelled, he moved it brusquely. The shirt and stalks fell away, leaving the woman nude again. And again morbid eyes stared at the exposed skin. Ramón made an effort to spare Adela's vulnerable modesty by turning his back on the crowd and walking away across the furrows. The onlookers yielded with no effort to help him. Stumbling, he approached the cart and gently deposited the supine figure. Pascual handed him a blanket with which to cover her.
Justino came up to make sure that all was well and ordered, 'Take her away, Pascual.'
The boy took the driver's seat and whipped up the mules. The cart staggered along, shaking the body on its boards, followed by the crowd. The rumor was confirmed among those in the funeral procession: Ramón Castaños' girl had been murdered.
Justino and Ramón stood watching the cortège move away. Still affected by his brush with that warm flesh, Ramón felt his veins burning. He missed the weight of what he had just carried, feeling as if he had lost something that had always belonged to him. He looked at his arms, marked by faint bloodstains, and closed his eyes. He was suddenly seized by a dizzying need to chase after Adela and embrace her. The idea upset him and he felt faint.
Justino's voice brought him out of it. 'Ramón,' he said.
Ramón opened his eyes. The sky was a cloudless blue, the rust-colored stands of sorghum ready for harvest, and death was the memory of a woman in his arms.
Justino bent down to pick up the shirt still lying on the ground. He handed it to Ramón, who automatically accepted it. It too was stained with blood. Rather than put it on, Ramón tied it around his waist.
The delegate scratched his head. 'I've got to admit,' he said, 'I'm damned if I know who that woman is.' Ramón sighed softly. He might have said the same. He had seen her no more than the five or six times she had come to buy at his store. Since then, he had found her very attractive. She was tall, with light eyes, so he had asked around for her name, and it was Juan Carrera who told him it was Adela. That was all he knew about her, but now that he had held her close to him, so naked and so close, he seemed to have known her all his life.
'Adela,' murmured Ramón. 'Her name was Adela.'
The delegate frowned; the name meant nothing to him.
'Adela,' repeated Ramón, as if the name pronounced itself.
'Adela what?' asked Justino.
Ramón shrugged his shoulders. The delegate looked down and examined the spot where the corpse had rested, now the site of a large bloodstain. Footprints were barely visible among the hardened, cracked lumps of earth. Justino followed them into the sorghum until they disappeared in the direction of the river. He squatted and measured the footprints by handspans. One of the prints measured one span: Adela's. Another measured a span and three fingers: the murderer's. Her prints were barefoot, his those of a high-heeled cowboy boot.
Justino took a breath and made his decision: 'Her killer was neither tall nor short, fat nor thin, right?'
Ramón assented, almost involuntarily. He hadn't listened.
Justino moved a little earth with his shoe and continued, 'He killed her with a long sharp knife, because he cut through her heart with one stab.' He scanned the place in search of a weapon. Not finding one, he continued: 'She fell face down, but the killer turned her over to see her face and left her that way...as if in the middle of a sentence.'
A flock of white-winged doves flew over them. Justino followed them with his eyes until they were lost on the horizon. 'She was a very young victim,' he said as if to himself. 'Why the hell would he want to kill her?'
Ramón didn't even turn to look at him. Justino Téllez spat on the ground, took him by the arm and began to walk him along the path.
Copyright © 1994 by Guillermo Arriaga
Translation copyright © 2002 by John Page
Excerpted from A Sweet Scent of Death by Guillermo Arriaga Copyright © 2007 by Guillermo Arriaga. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The author is Mexican and this was translated. A tight chilling little novel of murder, and timeless lawlessness in a little Mexican village. It could have been set in the 1800s, except its era betrayed by info such as the selling and smuggling of tape recorders. Polished it off this afternoon in about 2-3 hours.