Skip to main content



The Stone World

After the rehearsal, Bruno and his German friends went out for
drinks, leaving Martha with Pira in the garden.

Pira asked, “Why was Hitler funny in Bruno’s play?”

Martha said, “It wasn’t really supposed to be Hitler.”

“Who was it supposed to be?”

“Bruno was playing a crazy man who believes he is Hitler.”

“Like the man in El Rincón del Sosiego?”

“Sort of. That’s where Bruno got the idea.”

“But you said that man wasn’t funny. You said there’s nothing
funny about Hitler or about a crazy man who pretends he is Hitler.”

“That’s true. You’re such a clever boy, Peter. You remember

She was praising him but her eyes looked watchful as if his being
clever was maybe not altogether a good thing. But she was smiling.

“So he is funny!” he said.

“I still don’t think that man in the café is funny. But the crazy
man in Bruno’s play is not the same man. In the play, he actually
believes he’s Hitler, and he’s funny.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“I know. It’s confusing. It confuses me too. Maybe the man in
Bruno’s play isn’t really funny. Maybe he just looks funny. I don’t
know any German, so I can’t tell. Let’s ask Bruno.”

They asked him when he came home. His answer was surprising:

“He looks funny, he seems funny, but he’s a lost soul. So he’s to
be pitied. We laugh at him, and then we’re ashamed of laughing.”

Pira didn’t understand that. Was he funny or not funny? It
would be good to know.

“Why does he think he’s Hitler?”

“Because secretly—without even realizing it himself—he wants
to be Hitler.”


“Because Hitler is evil, and this poor crazy man thinks that evil
is the most powerful force in the world. Which it isn’t. And he’s not
evil at all.”

“What’s evil?”

Martha and Bruno looked at each other as if they didn’t know
what to say. Or was evil a secret, or not for children?

“Evil means bad,” Bruno said then. “But it’s worse than bad. An
evil person isn’t just bad, he’s really really bad. There’s nothing
good about him.”

“That’s not possible!” Pira said. Bruno looked surprised.

“I think you’re right,” he said.

Pira felt proud, though he didn’t know why he had said what
he said. But later he realized what evil meant, and it scared him.
He remembered seeing Snow White and the seven dwarfs. The
witch in that movie, the Queen who turned into a witch, was the
scariest person he had ever seen, so scary he didn’t want to think
of her ever again. She was evil. So he knew what evil was. His
fear knew.



When Pira and Chris or Pira and Arón played together, they played
as equals, but when the three of them played together, it sometimes happened that Chris became the leader and the two other boys followed. They would follow even when one or the other of them didn’t really like the games Chris was inventing.

Once when Pira and Chris and Arón were playing with toy soldiers and Indians, Chris decided that Arón should have only Indians because he was an índio himself, and that Pira and Chris would
have the soldiers. Arón thought that wasn’t fair because there
weren’t that many Indians. Pira thought so too, but Chris said he
had seen it in a movie.

According to the movie, the Indians fought brave battles even
when they were outnumbered. “That’s how we’ll play it,” he said.
“You’ll see. It’s a good game.”

They set up their men in fighting positions, some of them half
hidden behind a wooden block or next to a pillar. They couldn’t be
completely hidden, otherwise they couldn’t be shot.

The Indians were surrounded on three sides by soldiers. Behind
them was a wall. They couldn’t escape. They had to kill all their
enemies or die one by one. Most likely they would fight to the
death. That was Chris’s expression: “Hasta la muerte.” Pira and
Chris always spoke Spanish when Arón was there.

The shooting was done with marbles by flicking them with
one’s thumb over the crook of an index finger. It was an exciting
game at first. Arón thought so too because he liked having
brave índios to fight with and because he was good at shooting
marbles. But it soon became clear that no matter how well his
men shot, they didn’t stand a chance because Pira and Chris had
more men and they were fighting together. It was no fun being
brave if you couldn’t win. So Arón complained again that this
game wasn’t fair.

“Don’t be a llorón,” Chris said. “This is war. War isn’t fair. And
besides, in a war, Indians fight to the death.”

Arón looked close to tears.

“What if some of our soldiers take sides with the Indians?” Pira

“That’s not possible,” Chris said.

“Why not?”

“Because they’re enemies. It’s a war.”

He sounded so certain. He knew something. At this point, neither
Pira nor Arón were enjoying the game, but they didn’t know
how to stop it. So they shot at each other’s men, without pleasure,
until the last Indian was dead and the soldiers had won.


That evening, after Pira was in bed, Bruno came into his room.
They talked a little and then Pira asked, “When the Indians lost
against the Spaniards, did they fight bravely?”

“Yes, they did.”

“Why were they brave? Why didn’t they run away?”

“Some did run away. But others fought bravely.”


“Because they had hope. They hoped they would win.”

“But when they knew they couldn’t win, did they still fight?”

“A lot of them did.”


“Because they would rather die as brave men than live as slaves
to the Spaniards.”

“Hasta la muerte.”


“They were macho.”

Bruno nodded.

A drunken man walked past the window, cursing: “Me cago en
la leche!” I shit in the milk! The voice was shockingly near. The
man walked on, scraping the street with his sandals.

“Why did he say that?” Pira asked.

“Because he’s angry.”

“What is he angry at?”

“I don’t know.”

Farther down the street, the drunk cursed again: “Me cago en la
leche de la Madre de Diós!”

Pira giggled: “He’s really angry!”

Bruno agreed. Pira wondered about the man cursing the
Mother of God with such bad words. Would God punish him for
that? And the Mother of God, did she punish people? He didn’t
think so.

“Are women brave too?”

“Yes, some women are brave.”

“Women aren’t macho.”

“No, but they can be brave.”

“Is Martha brave?”



“Yes, always.”

“Are you brave?”

“Not always. Sometimes I’m not brave.”


“When I’m afraid.”

“What are you afraid of?”

“I’m afraid of pain.”

“Then you’re not macho.”

“No, I’m not macho. But sometimes I’m brave.”


“When people I love are in danger. Then I’m brave. I fought in a
war to protect people I loved. That was brave. If you were in danger I would protect you.”

“Would you hit someone to protect me?”


“Would you kill him?”

“If necessary, yes. But only if it were necessary.”

“Like if someone wanted to kill me?”


“That’s brave.”

“I think so too.”

“Sometimes I’m not brave.”

“When are you not brave?”

Then Pira told Bruno about the way Chris had made Arón fight
a losing war with a few Indians, and how Pira had helped Chris
do that with a lot of soldiers, even though it made Arón feel bad,
and as he described how it happened, a tear ran down one of his
cheeks, and that was the proof, it really didn’t need saying, but he
said it:

“I’m not brave.”

Bruno pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dried Pira’s
cheek with it.

“Peter,” he said. “You’re a very brave boy. You’re braver than
many men I have known.”

They were silent together. Why am I brave? Pira wondered. It
didn’t make sense. But because Bruno had said it, he believed it.
Still, the question remained. He didn’t want to ask it out loud. He
didn’t want to speak at all.

The Stone World
by by Joel Agee

  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House
  • ISBN-10: 1612199542
  • ISBN-13: 9781612199542