The Headless Woman

Gonçalo M. Tavares, Translated from the Portuguese by Francisco Vilhena

Read time: about 2 minutes

As I continue my journey to find short fiction from different countries in the world, I stumbled upon ‘The Headless Woman’.

This story begins as a horror story but continues as a dark one and ends like a fable. The narrative style is completely new.

Cover: The Headless Woman

The story is about a headless woman who roams around looking for her sons because she misses them. The sons too are frantically following the trail of blood left by the headless woman that’s dripping from her neck to find her.

The mother knows that the blood is the only way she can find her way back later. She is afraid of bleeding too much, but knows that it’d be dangerous to stop, too. Sometimes she raises her right hand, touches what is left of her neck, right there where they chopped the head off, and collects some blood just so she can drop some of it from time to time, to mark the way back. The smell of blood is intense, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get home.

They are embarrassed of the situation however. They want to keep the incident private therefore they keep erasing the blood trail as they follow it. Once they reach the body they are terrified. They want to know what happened to their mother.

– How did they chop it off? – asks the oldest one.
– Who chopped it off? – asks the Middle Son.
– Why? – asks the Youngest Son.
The mother replies:
– With an axe.
– It was father.
– He wanted more room in bed.

They then set out to find the head of the mother, promising to return when they find it. They take a long time and when they finally return the body has lost a lot of blood. While some life still remains in the body the eldest son goes mute or rather fakes it.

The plot of the story is very interesting, as you can read. One can understand a hidden references to patriarchy and violence in the society.

You can find ‘The Headless Woman’ on Granta.

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Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH