Swiss

Literature

The Three Sneezes (Short Story)

The Three Sneezes
by Roger Duvoisin

Via The Public Domain  Review

Via The Public Domain Review

Jean-Marie the Farmer climbed up a tree to cut some wood for his stove. His donkey, standing below, closed his eyes and went to sleep. 

Just then a stranger on horseback happened to pass by. “Heh, there,” cried the stranger, “have you ever sawed wood before?”

“Why, if all the wood I have sawed in my life was gathered together it would make a fine forest,” Jean-Marie shouted back.

“One wouldn’t think so,” said the stranger.

“Why not?” demanded Jean-Marie.

“Because when you have sawed through that branch on which you are sitting, both you and the branch will fall to the ground.”

“Be off with you, stranger,” said Jean-Marie. “I can see that you know nothing about sawing wood.”

So the stranger went off, and Jean-Marie went on sawing. Presently there was a terrible crash, and both he and the branch fell to the ground.

Jean-Marie picked himself up, and when he had rubbed all his bruises and found that his back was not broken, he bethought himself of the stranger’s words. “Surely that was a wonderful man,” he thought, “for he told me that the branch and I would fall to the ground, and so we did. He must know the future. I will go after him, and ask him a thing or two.”

So Jean-Marie got on his donkey, and away they went after the stranger. Presently they came to a turn in the road, and there was the stranger, ambling along on his horse as though nothing had happened. 

“Ho, there!” cried Jean-Marie.

“What is it?” said the stranger, stopping his horse. 

“I see that you can read the future, so I want to ask you a thing or two.”

“What makes you think I can read the future?”

“You said that when I had sawed through the branch, both of us would fall to the ground, and so we did.”

“Oh,” said the stranger, smiling, “I see. Well, ask me your questions, but I warn you I can only answer one of them.”

“Very well,” said Jean-Marie, “just answer me this. When am I going to die?”

“That’s easy,” said the stranger. “You will die when your donkey has sneezed three times.” And with that he rode away. 

“My donkey never sneezes,” thought Jean-Marie, “so I shall live a long time.” And he started for home feeling very happy.

Now donkeys are very stubborn, and they always do just the very thing they should not. When they should walk, they will not budge, and when they should keep still they are always walking away. So it was not very long before the donkey opened his mouth and…

“Aatshoum!” he sneezed, loud and long. 

Jean-Marie was aghast. All his happiness was changed to terror. He jumped down and pressed both hands against the donkey’s nose to stop the next sneeze (for everybody knows one always sneezes more than once). When the danger seemed past, he resumed his trip, but now he did not dare to ride. Instead, he walked beside the donkey so as to prevent any more sneezes. 

Presently they came to a freshly plowed field, and there Jean-Marie paused to admire the rich brown earth. What a fine crop of wheat would grow there next summer. Forgetting all about the sneezes, he bent down to feel it with his hands, and…

“Aaatshoum!” sneezed the donkey for the second time.

Jean-Marie snatched his hat and put it over the donkey’s nose and held it tight.

“Two sneezes already! Two horrible sneezes!” he lamented. “I am only one single sneeze from death, one miserable donkey sneeze. Surely I am the most unhappy man alive. I am sure that stranger must have been the devil. He not only told the future, he is making my donkey sneeze. He bewitched my donkey!”

But he was holding the hat too tightly over the donkey’s nose, and the donkey, finding he could not breathe, reared up and kicked Jean-Marie very severely.

“Some other remedy must be found,” said Jean-Marie. “For if my donkey sneezes again I am a dead man.”

Then he had an idea. He picked up two round stones and placed them in the donkey’s nostrils, like corks in a bottle. “There, just let him try to sneeze that out,” he thought. But he had reckoned without the contrariness of donkeys.

“Aaaatshoum!”

The stones flew out like bullets from a gun. They hit Jean-Marie in the face.

“Ah! Ah!” said Jean-Marie. “I am dead. Very, very dead.”

And he lay down in the road, for it is not right for a dead man to stand up.

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, Publishing

Spurl Editions profiled in MobyLives

Chad Felix, of Melville House, wrote a wonderful piece about Spurl Editions and Henri Roorda’s My Suicide on November 13, 2015. It was published in MobyLives, and includes a sneak peak into our anticipated spring translation release.    

An excerpt of the work published in Asymptote reveals [My Suicide] to be a wry, self-aware affair.
[…] Suffice it to say, this is an exciting start for Spurl Editions, and good news for the world of literary translation.


Literature, Publishing

Excerpts from “My Suicide” in Asymptote

Excerpts from the forthcoming ebook My Suicide, by Henri Roorda, are featured in Asymptote’s October 2015 issue! Read them here. Asymptote is an international journal dedicated to literary translation.

The post is accompanied by short biographies of the author and translator, a letter written by Henri Roorda the day before his suicide, an illustration by Samuel Hickson, and the French text. 

Eva Richter, the translator of My Suicide, was the blog editor at Asymptote from 2014 to 2015. During that time she interviewed authors such as Luis Negrón and reviewed literature in translation.

We hope you enjoy this preview! The full ebook will be published November 18, 2015.