Jorge Onetti was the 1965 short-story winner of the Cuban Casa de las Americas prize open to writers from all Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America. (A report on the prices, as well as on current developments in Cuban culture, was presented by J. M. Cohen, the only Briton on the five international juries, in nlr 34). Born in Buenos Aires in 1931, but Uruguayan by nationality, Onetti studied medicine, which he later gave up, and has subsequently worked at a variety of jobs. His writing was described by the international jury as possessing a ‘technical mastery of the short story manifested in the precision of the situations described, and in the stylistic achievement’. We are grateful to the Casa de las Americas for permission to publish the following story from the prize-winning collection Caulquiercosario.

‘Marcial, may he rest in peace, was always concerned about the future,’ said the old owl adjusting her mantilla round her shoulders. Then she and the equally old woman who was visiting her fell silent.

The lamp which shone on the austere portrait of General Marcial Focilón accentuated the room’s darkness.

The General was dead. But the order in his household remained, and his marine clock continued to tick as regularly and precisely as had its owner’s heart previously.

‘Our doctor and friend, Dr Descuret’, said the owl, ‘attributed this concern to what he called his “bilious-nervous constitution” which worsened in his last days.’