by Augusto Monterroso
Mister Taylor is bearded, blue-eyed, and battered by the elements. A homeless Bostonian in South America, he receives a curious gift from a salesman: a palm-sized, shrivelled human head. He is transfixed by the novelty, each of its puckered details perfectly preserved, ‘counting the hairs of the beard and moustache one by one’. Acquiring a steady stream of these grisly products, he brokers a deal with the ‘Executive warrior’ and ‘Legislative witch doctors’, exacting industrial quantities of dead flesh to export north of the border.
As the enterprise grows, malign intones of ‘the Company’ become ubiquitous. Capitalism and the corpse trade become business partners. Head-hunters are fully realised as monetary mercenaries, their job role living up to its title. Politicians fail to procure enough carcasses to meet demand; the markets must be placated by the enthusiastic execution of capital punishment and through picking off the sick. As the heads are shrunk, all else grows: mass public panic, the death count, and Mister Taylor’s wallet.
Words by Elizabeth Brown
‘Mister Taylor’ begins mid-conversation, but we hear only one comment before the speaker is whisked away from us. The quotation marks that frame his statement would suggest an epigraph, were the sentence not cleaved in two by an enigmatic phrase, ‘the other man said then’. He plays no part in the story that follows, and nor does his acquaintance. We know nothing about them other than their gender and fondness for recounting odd tales. They trade case studies, with Monterroso’s story considered ‘less strange, although surely more exemplary’ than an unknown text. What is typified is left for us to decide.
Monterroso’s satirical fable uses asides to great effect; each acerbic, off-the-cuff observation heaves with connotations. When the writer asserts that ‘there is no need’ to call a local man’s leap feline, he is scorning those who may depict the tribe members as animalistic, yet he is the one who presents the comparison. When incompetent doctors are nominated for the Nobel Prize precisely because they fail to cure patients, we understand that every society has individuals who are celebrated for turning a blind eye on exploitation. In ‘Mister Taylor’, they don’t stay big-headed for long.
Words by John Wadsworth
More to discover
You can read 'Mister Taylor', translated by Larry Nolen, here. Nolen has also written an article about the story for The Weird Fiction Review, and another on translating the story for The OF Blog. Below is another full story by Augusto Monterroso, 'The Dinosaur', given in the original Spanish and a common English translation.
Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí.
When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.
Question of the day
If it exploits the self, or manipulates its consumer, yes. If it exploits the vulnerable for the artist’s pride or consumer’s pleasure, no.
– Lisa McInerney, author of The Glorious Heresies (via The Brief →)