Fiction

Literature

St. John of Kuttenberg (Short Story)

St. John of Kuttenberg
Ryan Napier

Bosch-Wayfarer-v2.jpg

His father owned a silver mine in Kuttenberg. John was the second son—a good, obedient child. His father wanted him to be a lawyer, and John studied law at the University of Prague.

One Christmas, he returned to Kuttenberg to celebrate with his family. As always, there was a great feast—rabbit and venison, rich sauces, pastries and pies, barrels of wine. Before the meal, John’s father rose and prayed, thanking God for the feast and for their wealth. “We offer God our prayers,” said his father, “and in return, he blesses us. Our great faith is greatly rewarded.”

The dishes were passed, and the barrels of wine were tapped, but John did not eat or drink. The prayer had turned his stomach. For his father, John realized, faith was just another transaction, no different than a bargain with the butcher or the wine merchant: I pray to you, and you bless me. This was no faith at all.

That night, John dreamed that he was at an enormous feast, chained to his chair. He ate and ate until he was sick, but the feast would not end. Dishes were stacked on dishes, sauces dripped and congealed, flies buzzed and swarmed—and still the food kept coming. John woke before dawn, slipped out of the house, and rode back to Prague.

He tried to resume his studies, but the nightmare tortured him. Night after night, he sat at the endless feast. He began to read the gospels, and when he found Christ’s words to the rich young man—“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”—he feared for his soul.

Soon, he understood what he had to do. He wanted a pure faith—faith for its own sake, not for any benefit or reward. But only if his faith gave him nothing could he know that he truly believed. And so he decided to renounce the world.

He explained his decision in a long letter to his father, and his father replied, saying that if John became a monk, he would lose his inheritance. John was glad. In August, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, he joined the Cistercian brotherhood at Sedlec Abbey.

The brothers lived simply, tilling their fields and brewing their ale. Shoulder to shoulder with them, John sowed and plowed and prayed, and his soft white hands grew cracked and brown. He loved his life at the abbey—the dignity of the work, the satisfaction of his sweat, the low chants of the evensong, the fellowship with his brothers. He had renounced the world, and he was happy.

But as the years passed, he began to worry. If he was happy, how could he know if his faith was pure? He had renounced the world, but did that mean that he loved God? Perhaps he only loved life at the monastery. Had he made his own exchange, sordid as his father’s, trading earthly riches for this happiness?

The nightmares returned. The endless feast piled higher and higher.

John knew what he had to do. It was more painful to him than the break with his father, but that was how he knew it was right. After seven years, he left Sedlec Abbey.

With only the white robe on his back, he wandered east, into the forest. These were the lands of Count Czernin, famous for their white deer. John lived there alone, sleeping in the mud beside the river, eating acorns and grass.

He found himself thinking about the abbey, so he broke a branch from a wild rose bush and wrapped it around his thigh, and the thorns tore his flesh. Every morning, he twisted the branch to keep the wound from healing. He thought of little but his pain, and his faith became purer and purer.

The summer ended, and the leaves fell from the trees, and John grew weak and gaunt. His cheeks sank; his eyes bulged; his teeth dropped from his mouth one by one. Soon, his thigh was too thin for the circle of thorns; he twisted it tighter. The white deer no longer fled from him: he no longer seemed to be a living thing.

On New Year’s Day, the forest shone with frost. Count Czernin offered shelter in his castle, but John refused. He dug a hole in the snow-bank near the frozen river and pulled his robe around his body. The blood from his thigh stopped flowing, and the tips of his fingers turned black. He had never been more miserable, and he thanked God.

The sun set, and the wind screamed, and John wondered if he would survive the night. In a few hours, he might be in paradise.

At that thought, his soul sank. Paradise—that would be the reward for his faith. All his suffering would be exchanged for eternal bliss. It was yet another transaction. It had been there all along, tainting his faith, and he had not seen it.

John crawled out of his hole and put his forehead to the snowy earth. The tears froze on his cheeks. A prayer began to form in him: he feared it, but he knew that he had to pray it.

He shut his eyes and asked God to exclude him from paradise. For the purity of his faith, he renounced heaven.

He lay there for a long time. A strange warmth suffused him. Now that he had made his prayer, he was no longer afraid. He would be tortured forever in hell, but he was satisfied. It was finished. His faith could not be purer.

Finally, he raised his head, and there before him was Christ. The savior stood knee-deep in the snow.

“O Lord,” cried John, “see your servant! I have given up everything for your sake.”

But Christ frowned.

“What else can I give?” asked John. “I have renounced it all—even heaven! I have made my faith pure.”

“You must give up even that.”

Christ lifted John from the ground, untwisted the branch from his thigh, and kissed the black flesh of the wound. John fainted, and when he woke, the wound was closed, and he was alone. But a white stag stood on the opposite bank of the river. John crossed the ice and followed the stag to the edge of the forest. It began to run, and he lost it in a blinding field of snow.

On a hill, far in the distance, was Sedlec Abbey. John returned and lived a long life there among the brothers, content that God had taken everything from him.


Ryan Napier is the author of Four Stories about the Human Face (Bull City Press, 2018). His stories have appeared in Entropy, Queen Mob's Tea House, minor literature[s], and others. He lives in Massachusetts. Twitter: @ryanlnapier – Website: https://ryannapier.net/

Literature

People in General (Fiction)

Short Story from “People in General”

By John Colasacco

Pennsylvania_Station,_NYC,_Waiting_Room,_Cassatt_Statue.jpg

Once I tried to imagine what it would be like to have to say something to my best friend if she were dead. I spent the whole night by the open window, getting dressed and undressed, and it was almost as though many years had passed. After a while I no longer felt qualified to say anything. When I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror there was something awkward about my body, the way it looked and moved. I used to know what it was but the rain made me forget it. In the morning I went to school, and I moved through the crowd with a piece of fruit in my hand, looking for a table with an empty seat. When I found one I sat down and put the fruit on the table next to me. Suddenly it flew apart, disintegrating into a million little pieces. I listened to the voices all around me; some were laughing, and others were angry, or pretending to be. I asked someone what time it was, and they told me it was only nine o’clock. It felt like I was snowing inside myself. Now I am sitting in the train station again. My hands are freezing cold and I have a stranger sitting near me kicking his feet against the legs of his chair. A minute ago he leaned in close to me, as though he wanted to whisper something private in my ear. Am I thirsty? he wanted to know. I have the same few words going through my head over and over, he said. It’s maddening, but it’s how I learned to speak. I stayed very still and rigid while he told me this, never flinching or turning to acknowledge how close to me he was. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that he was holding something, and from the way he cupped it in his hands I knew that it was probably a lighter and a pack of cigarettes. Sure enough, a second later he settled himself back into his own seat and began tapping the pack against his palm. He peeled away the cellophane and opened up the box, then pulled the foil wrapper out and immediately crumpled it up. I kept waiting for him to put the piece of foil in his pocket or get up to throw it away. He never did though; he’s still holding it now, kicking his feet, with a very faint rumbling sound coming from the back of his throat. Oh, I see, I think to myself, noticing the huge globes of light on top of the old fashioned street lamps standing in the open waiting areas of the station. People file by on their way to the coffee shops and souvenir stands that line the edges of the concourse under these huge, swollen lamps, which don’t need to be as intense or beautiful as this. It reminds me of being home, and leaving the door to the attic open for just second or two, and in that moment while my back is turned feeling certain that one of the cats has just slipped upstairs.

Just then I see a little girl in a pink jacket standing by a white mannequin that’s been stripped of all its clothes. Her feet are pointing in one direction but the rest of her is turned toward me, and she’s looking at me with big, unfocused eyes. I stare back at her for a while, then I stop looking at her, and in my head I see the train station the way it was before it filled with people. There’s moonlight on the floor, pouring down from the skylights, and the huge antique clock on the wall says that it’s 2:40 a.m. There are a few passengers here and there, none of them close by. I watch them moving slowly toward the far end of the terminal. One is a blind man in a heavy winter coat being led by a service dog. When he disappears around a corner I realize that over the past few minutes I’ve gradually become afraid of something. The inside of my mouth hurts, and my hands are so cold now that I wish I’d brought gloves. Just when I feel like I can’t stand it anymore, I look up at the hole in the wall that I thought was a clock, and the last thing I notice is the smell of rice cooking.


John Colasacco’s books include Antigolf, The Information Crusher, Two Teenagers, and the forthcoming The Wagners. Other excerpts from the manuscript People in General can be found in Enclave’s #finalpoems and Dennis Cooper’s blog. Anyone interested in written/artistic collaboration can email at jacolasa@syr.edu.

Literature

Sand (Short Story)

Sand
by Rav Grewal-Kök

johnbrianking-sickcity

For eight years, or ten, the world outside her apartment was a stage. In the subway, people looked at her with envy or admiration—her slender ankles and wrists, her beautiful hair. At work, her colleagues listened for her voice in the hallways. Strangers held doors for her and offered their seats. Bartenders didn’t let her wait when she raised her hand at the counter. She led the kind of city life a teenager in a dying town might recognize from a television show, and want for herself.

Each August she left the city to go to the shore with a man. Often she didn’t know the man very well, but for two weeks they spent their days next to each other on plastic chairs on the sand wearing almost nothing. They read intelligent magazines, sipped fruit-flavored cocktails, rubbed lotion onto each other’s backs, and talked about the delightful weather. Twice each day during those two weeks—once in the morning and once in the afternoon—the woman walked from her plastic chair to the water’s edge. She let the waves lap over her toes but went no farther. At night the woman and man ate dinner at a restaurant. They drank another cocktail, shared a bottle of pink wine, and talked about the weather they hoped for the following day. Then they returned to their hotel room, took off all their clothes, and got into bed.

After these vacations, what the woman remembered most fondly was not the sun, the water on her toes, the cocktails, wine, food, or bed, and certainly not the man, but her walks from the plastic chair to the surf and back. Sometimes she slipped off her shoes while she sat at her desk and imagined that she was once again at the shore. She loved the fact that sand wasn’t anything more than rocks that had crumbled into dust. And she loved that when she walked on sand she sank only a little with each step, before the softness turned to steel under her feet.

• • •

One year, to her surprise, there was no man to go with her to the shore. So she went by herself to sit almost naked on a plastic chair on the sand. At first, she walked twice each day to the surf and back, as she’d always done. But with no one waiting for her in a plastic chair of his own, she began to wander. Soon she circled the beach for an hour at a time. Her mind was clear now that she was alone. As the days passed, she set aside her cocktails, lotion, and intelligent magazines. She realized that since walking on sand was the best part of her vacation, she should do more of the walking, and less of everything else.

The next year she signed up for a hiking tour of the desert near the city where she lived. The sand in this desert wasn’t as pure as the sand at the shore—it was marked by cactuses, boulders, and even the occasional coyote skeleton—but she was happy there was so much of it. Still, the other hikers distracted her with their chatter. She couldn’t keep her mind clear. On the third day of the tour, as she walked behind a man and two women who were talking about musical theater so loudly they were almost shouting, she decided she needed to visit a desert in a foreign country whose language she didn’t know.

A year later she flew to such a country and joined a tour through a desert much larger than the one near the city where she lived. This desert was flat and without shade. It would have been dangerous for tourists to walk under all that sun, so they rode camels instead. The other tourists talked among themselves. They gestured, laughed, and posed for pictures. One man sang arias from beneath a wide-brimmed hat. The animals emitted a terrible stench. Despite all this, the woman passed her first day in a state that was almost tranquil. Because she didn’t understand what the tourists were saying or singing, she found it possible to ignore them. After she sprayed perfume on her scarf, she could forgive her camel its smell. When the group stopped for the night, and while the guides boiled lentils and barbecued a goat, the woman took off her shoes to walk around the campsite. It was only then that she realized she hadn’t yet found the right desert. The sand was full of hidden rocks and even beetles.

For her next vacation, she planned a trip to the biggest desert she could find on the globe she kept on her bookshelf. She arranged for someone to meet her at an airport on the desert’s edge. She stepped out of the plane into a vast but empty terminal. A man in a blue jacket and cap stood waiting with a sign that had her name on it. She followed him to his car. Silently, he drove out of the airport and onto a highway that, within minutes, was empty of traffic. The sun dropped behind them. The land turned red, then black. The woman fell asleep.

She woke up the next morning with the sun in her eyes. They had stopped where the highway stopped, at the foot of a dune that seemed to her as tall as a mountain. The driver, who was already standing outside the car, held the door open. The woman got out, took off her shoes, and began to walk. The sand still held the night’s coolness. It was smoother and softer than any she had stepped on before. She had walked only a few yards from the car when she found herself sinking to her ankles. With each step of her climb she sank deeper. Soon the sand reached her knees. She was halfway up the dune when she realized that this desert—the greatest desert, formed of the purest sand—was an ocean. She hoped to reach the top, and to see it all, before she plunged beneath.


Rav Grewal-Kök’s stories and essays have appeared in the New England Review, Missouri Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Hunger Mountain, online at The White Review, and elsewhere. He was a National Endowment for the Arts fellow in 2016. He is a fiction editor at Fence and lives in Los Angeles, where he is working on a novel.

Featured image from the series “Sick City” by John Brian King.

Literature

Some Perspective (Short Story)

Some Perspective

By Ari Braverman

The jet arcs over the plains, carrying the woman toward her family obligation. The closer she gets to her native geography the more raw and receptive she becomes.

Once, years ago, her English teacher said, “If you poke me, do I not squeak?”

It’s like that, the woman thinks, except it’s the world poking, and she’s in public so she can’t make a sound. This is perhaps a side effect of contemporary living: she, a human animal, was never meant to travel so quickly.

Now everything hurts and feels good at the same time.   

The woman interprets the interior of the plane as a vast, communal living room.

Right before takeoff, a young man in a cropped Capote coat had sauntered toward her down the aisle. His khaki-colored hair swept back toward his crown. The passenger drew herself up taller in her seat, prepared to make conversation because his beauty convinced her he was a good person. But he had swung into row seven and the woman walking behind him—effortless, long-limbed, dark, chic even in sweatpants—folded herself into the same compartment. When she pulled a handful of natural hair out of her collar and pushed it over her shoulder, the woman could smell her perfume.

“Yeah, babe, you’re right as per usual,” said this other passenger. “But the point is that I didn’t know that I didn’t know those things. So how could I have done differently?” And she leaned over to kiss the handsome man with her whole mouth.

Hearing an admission of such a human foible from someone so glamorous, the woman decided she adored them both.

Now, twenty-thousand feet over the surface of the earth, instead of reading her book, she watches them cuddle and share a water bottle. From behind, she can almost believe their cheekbones convey a moral message. It is obvious they have money but it doesn’t matter whether it is earned or inherited; their grace remains the same.

After a while they settle down into a single shape, sharing a long gray scarf like a blanket.

With only thirty minutes from touch-down, they still haven’t moved. The passenger retrieves two mandarins from her carry-on, peels and eats them both, feeling furiously, swallowing the seeds.

Back home, she lives with her own lover in a small house on a cul-de-sac. She thinks of his small teeth and predictable sense of humor. Of his reliability and scrotum. Her phone contains a message in which he bids her a safe flight, as though his courtesy could prevent a plane crash.

Still staring at the couple in row seven, the passenger considers that such a finale might be the best way to go. The least-lonely option. A surge of filial adoration warms the inside of her body. She thinks about the community the three of them might make among themselves, if only they knew she was there, behind them, brimming with love. She imagines touching their bodies as the plane tumbles out of its trajectory, the imminence of death obliterating the personal boundaries that have always disappointed her.

She’d tell them: “I very much believe in God, but only when things are going bad for me,” and afterward her heart would be light. Her new companions would nod silently, thrust beyond language by the extremity of their situation, grateful for her honesty. The woman might smooth the hair away from her temples, or push a tear away from the bridge of her nose. She thinks of their arms around her amidst all the noise, the rushing air, the alarms, the nausea, the crying, the ugliness in everyone’s face.

Her row-mate, a fat person whose elbow has colonized the armrest for an hour, does not factor into this fantasy because it is erotic.

The peels have become sticky in the passenger’s fist but she can’t drop them onto the floor and won’t allow herself to hide them in the chair pocket at her knees. The barf-bag is long gone; she needs a trashcan.

She decides to take her refuse to the bathroom in order to walk past the couple, up and down the aisle, to force them, gently, to contend with her presence as she has contended with theirs. A tiny reckoning. To know for certain if she could ever belong to their little family, if only for the duration of the crash.

Standing, though, she can see their eyes are closed. She sits back down.

Looking out the porthole window, the passenger believes she can comprehend the vastness of the North American continent. Frontage roads parcel the winter farmland into squares, where thicker lines indicate an occasional highway, all of it bound by a single unknown county.

When she looks up again, the couple in row seven has shifted positions and she can see their hands again. The man’s wedding ring—big, custom-made—glitters in the overhead light. The passenger takes a photograph of it on her phone.

The voice, when it comes to her, resonates with the round tones of her own heritage.

“Cute, aren’t they?” he says.

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s nice, right? Seeing a happy couple. It’s a rare thing, anymore.”

“What?”

“Would you like something to drink? Coffee, tea, pop?” This final word strikes her. She wants to laugh until her jaw falls off. Pop. Pop!

“I have these.” Her voice cracks and she shows the flight attendant her sticky handful.

“I’m sorry, hon, I’m only doing beverage service right now,” he says. Wrinkles frame his mouth and deepen when he smiles. The skin along his jaw looks loose, like her mother’s. Is he laughing at her? She wants to touch his hand, explain herself and the photo, but says instead “Well I’ll probably be here when you come back.”


Ari Braverman is from Iowa City and Denver by way of New Orleans. She was awarded a 2015 De Alba Fellowship from Columbia University, was a semi-finalist in the 2016 American Short(er) Fiction Contest, and was nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize. Some of her recent stories have appeared in BOMB, in the newest issue of Tammy Journal and at SmokeLong Quarterly. She is an assistant editor for Conjunctions and lives in Harlem, New York.

Literature

The Black Sheep (Fiction)

The Black Sheep

by Gaurav Monga

I remember him sitting on a rock. We spent our shortened childhood among the poplar trees—features of an anonymous landscape so natural to a fabricated environment like the short story.

Our love for each other had not so much to do with any particular interest or affinity we shared but with the fact that we had the same nose, lips, cheeks, buttocks, although people, friends, would often say that he looked better than me.

I was the black sheep and I made sounds like one when I laughed. It has become increasingly difficult to refer to him when he is not around, which is why I have begun to draw pictures of him.

The person who has the same nose as me grew like a beanstalk in the same room I grew up in. I tucked him in the warm quilts of winter while he was asleep.

He has been away for many, many years, which is why I carry this image with me everywhere I go, because when I start speaking about him, no one, except for childhood friends and cousins who visited us in our room and played with our toys, knows whom I am talking about.

He sent me a telegram only yesterday saying that he was coming back home but that itself might take many, many years.

In the meantime there is a lot to do here, while waiting for him in the neighborhood. I must spread rumors about myself, showing photographs to even the old. I showed them his image. Then a photograph of me.

How is it that people who speak the exact same language don’t know each other already? We talk to each other as if we don’t know each other from a long, long time ago, speaking in the same language.

The man with the stick nose who grew up in the same room looks like me. Do you think we look alike because we grew up in the same room? A room is composed of matching furniture.

When he returns, he will carry on his face all the rooms he has been shacked up in. He will speak in a language I don’t understand.

 

He arrived yesterday afternoon at the doorstep of our house while I was looking for something. I was upset—I have spent much of my life looking for things and being upset—and could not give the attention I always wanted to give to this moment. What a stupid way of arriving. Should I have forgotten all about what I was looking for or should I have forgotten that he had arrived.

I continued looking but, distracted, forgot what it was.

I hopped around the porch while this tall, thin giant, whose nose had been pulled out even further, stood towering over my head in silence.

The moment was almost over, could have already been over, had we not suspended it so stupidly.

 

It was already morning and the image of our little blue house was now comprised of two noses sticking out of the windows on either side. Our mother had given birth to us on this bed. We still kept the same sheet, which both of us were born into, in one of the closets.

The umbilical cords were withering in my father’s drawers—as children we used to blow hot air into them—along with pens, visiting cards, pipes, pipe cleaners and dust. He spent the whole day inspecting the house, its articles, and didn’t pay attention to me. He stuck his nose into everything. He was probably wondering why nothing had happened here. 

Had it not changed at all?

Why did he not inspect me instead?

Did he not want to ask me how things were going with my new girlfriend?

Long noses are symbols of arrogance, everyone knows that. My grandfather had a squashed nose and was an extremely modest chap.

This man who grew up like a beanstalk in the same room as me began raising his voice and puffing hot air out of his nose and finally spoke, but his speech was soon disturbed by a burst of hiccups.

Before leaving, he loitered about on the front doorstep uselessly while I was busy looking for something.


Gaurav Monga studies East European cultures and Jewish studies at the University of Basel and teaches at the International School Basel. For the last five years he taught creative writing at schools and universities across South Asia. This current work is a part of a collection entitled Raju and Kishore. Some of his other work can be read at Birkensnake, Zero Ducats, Juked and Philistine Press. He has forthcoming work in the Fabulist and Hardly Doughnuts. He is the founder of a fledgling publishing house called Pan’s Library that specializes in books that explore the diverse relations between text and image and can be reached at panslibrary@gmail.com.

Featured Image: Two Children in Blue, attributed to Mary B. Tucker, American, 19th century, about 1840, Watercolor and graphite

Literature

The Port (fiction)

The Port
by Llucia Ramis
translated by Megan Berkobien

Alfred Kubin:  The Moment of Birth , 1903; Shepherd W & K Galleries

Alfred Kubin: The Moment of Birth, 1903; Shepherd W & K Galleries

 One

I remember a hedgehog devoured by ants; we found it near the house and wanted to feed it milk from the tetra-brik carton. It was dead by morning. I remember my brother wanted to see what an ant tasted like because the Chinese eat them, so he popped a live one in his mouth and spit it out because it stung. I remember my cousin pulled out a dock tire at the pier and that a crab jumped out, she got scared and let go and it crushed the crab, it pushed the guts right out through its mouth, sprtz. Afterward we hurled the body into the water and watched it float. I remember the time I grabbed a log and pinched a lizard hiding underneath; I could swear it cried out. We spent some time observing that detached tail, my cousin, brother, and I.

I don’t come here often and these memories have nothing to do with nostalgia.

Two

At night I would imagine I lived in a boarding house. I’d pretend my parents had just died and I was the new girl. Covered snugly by the comforter, in a room I didn’t share, not even with my brother, I’d invent other beds nearby with girls breathing softly in them. It made me sad when they misbehaved, and the teachers were awful, too. So I plotted my escape. Night after night I fantasized about being a poor orphan who fantasized about escaping. Afterward mamà would come give me a kiss goodnight, she smelled like night cream, and I’d fall asleep. In the morning she’d whistle to us from the hallway as if we were birds. She’d come into my room and pull up the blinds then go into my brother’s to do the same.

Three

She caught me peeing standing up, with one leg on either side of the toilet. She asked: what are you doing? I answered: I’m in training. She wanted to know what for. I told her since I’d be a boy when I got older that I needed to prepare myself. My mom, mumare, didn’t understand anything. I had to explain that when you’re born a girl, you turn into a boy at fourteen; just like if you’re born a boy, your sex changes then, too. She said no, her eyes as wide as saucers. What do you mean no? It isn’t like that, she insisted. I thought she was just treating me like I was stupid and I reminded her that my older cousin had been a boy before growing up. Mumare denied it; your cousin has always been a woman. I got mad, how could she say otherwise with evidence like that, I remembered perfectly well that my older cousin had been a boy and that his name was Joan. Mumare, astonished, laughed under her breath, but I noticed and demanded to know why she was laughing, what was so funny, why did she want to trick me about something like this, what did she think, that I didn’t remember, or maybe she thought I was an idiot. She told me I couldn’t say that word. Idiot, idiot, idiot, I repeated. And afterward I ran away so she couldn’t spank me with a slipper.

Four

I stopped feeling at age eleven, one day while coming home from school with Begoñita. We called her that because she only stood five feet from the ground. Really, she wasn’t my friend at all, but we were in the same class and she lived close to my bus stop, that’s why we went to school together. Sometimes I ditched her because her stories were boring and she always insisted we eat our afternoon snack at her house. Begoñita was really poor, or at least I thought so. She lived in an awful apartment with her sisters, a dog, four cats, six fish, two canaries, and a chameleon. That house smelled, everything was covered in hair and the blinds were always closed. I only saw her mother once, and now I realize she was drunk. My head always itched when I left her house. When I got home I would take a bath right away. I’d tell my parents that there had been an extra gym class; if I tell the truth, they’ll punish me for being prissy.

Five

We’d play superheroes at recess. We’d tie our school smocks around our necks like capes and pretend we were sixteen because then we could have boyfriends. We invented our own Prince Charmings, usually movie stars like Superman. Paula was really tall and clumsy, just hideous. She had a patch glued to one of the thick lenses of her glasses. Her hair was frizzy and grey, and she had long fingernails. Her teeth small with gaps in-between. She had a lisp. We called her “the witch” behind her back, but she was our friend. If she turned into a creature, she’d easily be a snake. One day she said she’d be the boy.

Six

The man hit her accidentally; afterward, he kept running without even acknowledging us. “Shit!” Begoñita cried out, which embarrassed me a little because we couldn’t use that word at home. She suddenly realized that her hand was bleeding. I didn’t know what to do; it grossed me out. She was crying from shock. To me it was the dirty blood of dogs, of cats or fish, of fur, chameleon or canary blood. It made me sick. A woman came over to see what had happened. She asked where Begoñita’s parents were, what insurance she had, things Begoñita didn’t know. She said she’d take her to the emergency room. Begoñita kept asking me not to leave her all alone. At eleven, I answered, very seriously, “No, Begoñita, I’ve got to go, my parents will get worried if I miss the bus. This woman’ll take care of you.” And I left her like that, with a stranger.

Seven

Do you want to get married? Wrapped up in my legs, both of us lying on a bed of white sheets, sweaty and naked—it was summer—he uses those words that so overwhelm me. I respond that the time for stupid questions is from six to six fifteen in the morning and now he has to take me home. I remember his name, but I won’t write it down just in case. Just in case his written presence is still as resounding as it is in my memory of that night.

I knew one day I would tell him yes. We’ll never meet again.

Eight

Yellow crates for hauling glass bottles. Our checkered butts sitting on those crates, Would you like some more coffee? We’d play house and I was always the guest. Yes, per favor. My knees, fully bent; the hammocks, our fort. Sometimes, the dolls too, but we didn’t usually play with dolls. And grandmother’s biscuits.


Nine

Is that a hand over there? It was my cousin who found it. We ran over to the rocks in flip-flops. The man reeked of fish and flies swarmed around his neck. His head was gone. I don’t remember us screaming or running away, or how we wanted to touch him with a stick. I don’t remember who we went to tell about it or when. I only know that the police came because they told me so afterward, and that I wet the bed that night. I was a big girl by then, already nine.

Now it’s my body that floats.


Llucia Ramis (1977) was born in Majorca, and moved to Barcelona when she was eighteen to study journalism at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Since then she has worked in radio, as editor-in-chief of the literary magazine Quimera, and at the newspaper Diario de Mallorca. She also directed and presented Això no és Islàndia (This isn’t Iceland), a television program about books. She has shared an apartment with fourteen people—not all at once, but almost. Ramis is a columnist for El Mundo and El Periódico. She has published three novels, the first of which, Things that Happen to You in Barcelona When You’re Thirty (2008), is now available as an e-book in English. Her second novel, Egosurfing, won the Josep Pla Award in 2010. Her latest project, Tot allò que una tarda morí amb les bicicletes (2013), traces her own journey home and has received wide critical acclaim. Follow her on twitter @lluciaramis

Megan Berkobien is pursuing a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan. Her work has appeared in Poets & Writers, Words without Borders, and Palabras Errantes, to name a few. When she isn't translating or teaching, she's trying to complete her dissertation on modernist periodicals and museums in late nineteenth-century Catalonia. She recently founded the Emerging Translators Collective.