Stavroula Tsouprou: In its place


Stavroula Tsouprou

In its place


N HEIGTH and length, this flimsy piece of furniture, made from dozens of drawers, could have covered the entire wall of a large oblong drawing room. Its drawers, however, were not all the same. Some were small and others were large, some were locked and others unlocked, and in some the space inside gaped vacantly, yet ready to to be filled, like the scabbard that awaits the sword for peacetime. Some drawers among them were painted in vivid colours – to be precise, they had been painted, because now most of them had lost that old knack of capturing the bright light of the external source: the truth is that after a certain time this precious property disappeared and the drawers returned to their ordinary, indeterminate insipid colour, sometimes verging on grey, sometimes on beige and sometimes on leaden dullness. So, their outward differences were focused now on size or volume, and on the keyholes, and, of course, on whether or not they had managed to keep their shape after being placed in position; this last was fundamental.

        The larger drawers were at the base of the piece of furniture; but no one ever knew whether they were the heavier or the lighter ones (needless to say, the piece of furniture was not subject to the laws of nature and was therefore not in danger of toppling over), the richer ones or the most boring – their content was inaccessible, locked away for ever, kept safely away from prying eyes, but from well-intentioned ones too. The key of these drawers was nowhere to be found and their intellectual property rights were held by the Unknown, fragmented into pieces over the centuries. The higher the rows of drawers, the smaller they were; the composition of their contents varied, which is what differentiated them. This diversity was an internal difference, not visible to the outside observer, as was the case with their weight as well: only whoever opened them, one by one, could pass comment on these hidden contrasts or even hidden similarities, variations or fluctuations, and, then go on to judge (if he was interested in doing so) how much the composition of the content was expressed in the whole, in the behaviour of the piece of furniture during its movement in the space. Not even the key-holder himself must necessarily be involved with this laborious task, not least because he frequently left the keys hanging from their string outside the drawers, sometimes forgetting even to lock them, when their content was trivial or presented nothing reprehensible.

        So, the great external particularity was the state of the shape of the drawers, which, we forgot to say, were made of pliable material during the first phases of their life, which meant that the drawer could be compressed if it was bigger than its intended place, until it was finally wedged in there, before time rendered it rigid. However, these badly-formed drawers ruined the harmony of the whole (someone else might say, perhaps, that they simply enlivened its uniformity).

        The reason why some drawers lost their original shape, making them unsuitable for their predetermined place, was their essential dissonance with the animated heart of this particular macro-structure, which functioned from the outset on the basis of genetically-determined specifications. Foreseen, of course, in these specifications, was the possibility also of deviations, in much the same way as a statistical study takes into account the margin of error. But when the moment came for these deviations to go into the corresponding drawer, and for this in its turn to be put tidily in its place, the shape of the micro-structure, altered as it was, had to adapt as best it could. The wound – because deviations of this kind are wounds – suppurated, of course, but this happened inside the drawer and the unpleasant odours were trapped in its confined space, at least for as long as it stayed closed. What remained obvious was the clumsily neatened shape, indication that the flimsy piece of furniture was, once again, an unfinished and therefore tortured creation. In those cases in which the creation became aware of its suffering, the piece of furniture was often shaken by secret storms – but there were also the happy cases of obliviousness or of stoic forbearance; in these the shakings were rare and the piece of furniture continued its flimsy course, not harmonious, not perfect, but quite satisfied.

        In a final effort, the misshapen drawer was pushed into its place. The one next to it had already begun to fill up.

Translated by Alexandra Doumas

 

Source: And Tomorrow is Now (εκδ. Ρώμη, 2016)

Stavroula Tsouprou (Athens) holds a doctorate in Greek Literature from the National and Capodistrian University of Athens, as well as language diplomas in English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. Systematically involved with Literature Theory, she has published studies on earlier and contemporary prose-writers and poets. She is a regular contributor to the daily and periodical press. Three volumes of her essays have been published: Tasos Athanasiadis:”With the eyes of our generation”The “childis” stories of Cosmas Politis and Trial Readings. Her first fictional work is the collection of short stories They’re looking at you (Grigoris Editions 2013)


 

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Naya Koutroumani: The cruise


Naya Koutroumani


The cruise


THE SUN began to set and she thought how time had passed looking at the same sky. The clouds were so immobile they looked glued. It was closing time for most companies and herds of suits were trampling down the riverbank like a political meeting for penguins. Blue and grey suits with colourful nooses fluttering around dry throats dying for a pint of beer.

       It was nippy and their breath resembled baby dragon puffs, which thickened under their chin and fell down heavily on the frozen railings on the river.

       She could see all that while floating on her back, one arm half sunk and swaying like a swan’s wing. The other caught inside her soaked woolen jacket was unable to move. She could see everything clearly, because her eyes were wide open to the light and the movement around the Thames.

       But despite the images and colours and motion, the only thing she could think of was that she hadn’t found the time to do her Sunday chores. She hadn’t done the laundry nor tidied the kitchen cupboards, hadn’t fluffed the pillows, brushed the toilet bowl, hadn’t mopped the floor. But the worst thing was she hadn’t cooked for him. Hadn’t peeled the potatoes and arranged them carefully around the leg of lamb, like he likes, hadn’t seasoned the meat with salt and oregano and hadn’t squeezed any lemon on top of the surface shining with fat and oil. The oven was as cold as the railings above the water.

       The river carried her softly towards the right bank. A young couple overlooking the river saw her. The girl screamed and the people in suits turned and looked. She wished she still had her makeup on.

       The crowd continued to scream and point at her. It reminded her of how he’d shouted at her the night before. Barking like a dog with rabies because she hadn’t stitched the hole in his sock. He’d told her about the hole a week ago and she, being the absent minded person she is, forgot all about it.

       She gave him a glass of water after hearing how dry his throat was. He threw the water at her. She didn’t think that was very polite, water being so cold and all, but she said nothing. She started tidying up the wardrobe behind her, hoping he would calm down, sit on the sofa, watch TV and fall asleep like every other time.

       Not for a moment did she think he would open the drawer where she kept the knives, take the sharpest one of all, her knife, the one she never leaves behind even when they go on holidays, and slit her body the same way she does on the leg of lamb.

       She’d been taking care of him for three years now with all her love. She used to kiss him on the top of his head where his hair was thinning, straighten his collar, stroke him every time he sat close to her. There on the sofa watching TV.

       Look at her now, floating on the cold water like she is on that cruise he’d promised her. She hates wearing that grey woolen house jacket in front of all these strangers who point and shout improperly at her. She does the only thing she can. Pretends she doesn’t see them and looks at the clouds all glued and immobile. As the sun paints them pink and violet, she feels things are quieting down. The only sound she hears now is the splatter of the water on her body. A repetitive, self-assured sound that comforts her as the river pushes her gently towards the shore.



Source: First published on the blog Bonsai Stories (July 30, 2017).

Naya Koutroumani (Athens, 1963). Writes stories for advertising and for herself. Some of the latter have been published in literary magazines like Planodion, Diastixo and The Books Journal. She is about to take the plunge with a collection of short stories.

Translated from the Greek by the author.


Naya Koutroumani: Underground



Naya Koutroumani


Underground

 

IT WAS AFTER FIVE when they buried me. I tried to breathe deeply, but dirt covered me and I sank into darkness. Then it started raining. The water dripped all over me, around me, inside me. It talked: ‘Don’t worry. Soon you’ll see the light again.’

       Yeah! Sure. I didn’t need such kindness. They stuffed me inside a tomb, with no way to deal with that unbearable silence. Did I say silence? No. Not silence. When sight became obsolete, my ears started picking up sounds. There was a lot going on in there. First, an endless tramping of millions of ants digging catacombs, carrying loot, satisfying the queen. Then it was the hissing. Devouring worms trying to spot me. There was also something else which I couldn’t make out. Something was happening right inside of me. A kind of intestine swelling. My skin being torn apart. A disease of the darkness.

       Every day I heard voices coming from the world above the ground. They stamped on my grave with their heavy galoshes and laughed. Pigs! I’d like to see them in my place. My only relief was when rain soaked the ground, refreshing my bones, making me feel alive. Its voice became a balsam to my painful existence:

       ‘Soon now. You’re going to see the light in a few days.’

       During the endless hours debating with myself, I was wondering what the hell did I do to deserve such punishment. Even if I was a murderer, they would have given me the electric chair and everything would be over in a minute. But this torture was to last forever. There was no sense of time inside the bowels of the earth.

       Suddenly, I heard a girl screaming. Another soul had been buried there. I think even deeper. I suppose I should thank God, for there was worse.

       ‘Is anybody there?’ I yelled. ‘Do you hear me? Are you buried in here too?’

       A strangled sigh. I stretched my ears.

       ‘Help!’ I heard a woman crying clearly now: ‘Is anybody there?’

       ‘Yes! I can hear you!’ My heart filled with joy. ‘You’re not alone. I’m down here too. Next to you!’ And that next to you gave me the power to live. Because now I had to be strong for  her.

       ‘My skin,’ she cried. ‘It’s cracking open!’

       ‘Don’t worry! It happens. You have to be patient. I heard that in a couple of days we’ll be out of here.’

       I tried to make my voice soothing and convince myself the rumours were true. ‘The only thing you need to do is try to move as little as possible. Don’t let the worms feel you’re here. Do you understand? It’s just a matter of time. Try to hold on.’

       I knew I had given her hope. She wasn’t crying anymore. How I wish I could see her. Hold her tight against my body. But the ground was thick and I was weak. The rain, my redeemer, fell on me. ‘Tomorrow,’ it whispered. ‘You’re out tomorrow.’

       I wished it was right. ‘Will the girl come out too?’ I shouted, but there was no answer. Only dripping.

       ‘Do you hear me?’ I yelled to her. ‘We’ll be out of here by tomorrow!’

       There was no response. Just a sound coming right out of hell’s jaws. Worms were eating something or someone on my left.

       It wasn’t fair. I couldn’t lose my best friend like that. I bit myself hard, bones and muscles hurt, and I let out a scream that froze the pigs’ laughter aboveground, I’m sure. My body opened up like a ripe melon. Green stuff came out of my skin and moved straight up. Was I dying? I tore up the layer separating dirt from sky and burst out in the sunlight. Barely. But I could breathe the air again.

       A hand touched me. ‘Look, Dad! Here comes the first bean!’

       Oh my God! I was a bean. I was never going to walk, love, go to school. Never get married or have a dog or a car or spend lazy Sunday mornings reading my newspaper in the livingroom.

       I gazed at the open fields. The other beans would spring out any minute now. Except for the bean on my left. She didn’t have the chance. At least, I thought, she died without knowing. Who knows? Maybe she was the luckiest of us all.



Source: First published on the blog Bonsai Stories (October 25, 2010).

Naya Koutroumani (Athens, 1963). Writes stories for advertising and for herself. Some of the latter have been published in literary magazines like Planodion, Diastixo and The Books Journal. She is about to take the plunge with a collection of short stories.

Translated from the Greek by the author.



		

	

Stavroula Tsouprou: The interest or the ’phone call

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Stavroula Tsouprou

 

The interest or the ’phone call

(A true story)

 

01-Fiorty-five. Four for the decades and five for the years. For those units that fall once and for all each year, decreasing somewhat her stature – not only hers, of course, but everyone else’s; reducing the distance separating her from the ground, from the hospitable earth.

Forty-five. Strange – but again, not particularly, if you really think about it deeply – that these units, which are repeated in unchanging order to complete each decade, began after forty to burden her body and mind more, far more than in earlier days. The first was also a first great shock; but she got over it easily, because it was so near the beginning, almost the beginning itself. The second needed its own time in order to absorb the fact that middle age was here, present and merciless, but once again not too obvious. The third began to hum that the illusions are almost over and that we’re heading steadily towards the climax and therefore towards life’s downward path. The fourth, as if decided for some time now, predisposed one slowly but surely for the taste of bitterness, of the bitter awareness that many others are and look younger, are and look more desirable, and have and seem to have more time to fulfil themselves; provided they want to.

        The telephone rings, at a rather inconvenient moment, obliging her to stop the querulous counting and, after checking the caller, to pick up the receiver.

        — Hello.

        — Mrs Angelica?

        — Yes, she answered blandly. The caller identification be­fo­re­hand and now the professional politeness prepare her for yet another one-minute conversation.

        — How are you, Mrs Angelica, my dear? Are you well?

        The question, and mainly the way it was asked, somewhat took her aback. Even though the direct, personal, almost friendly address of today’s tele promoters of all manner of products and services had by now become an expected and explicable advertising strategy, the warm interest shown by the specific question and its surprising tone were rather unusual. So, was professional politeness evolving into nobility of soul? She found that difficult to believe.

        — “Where does the familiarity come from?” she thought to ask, but immediately regretted it. Instead, a much more irritating phrase passed immediately from her mind to her mouth.

        — The truth is, I haven’t been feeling too well recently.

        — But why? the tele promoter was obliged to continue the show of interest.

        — I’ll tell you – I assume you’ve got a little time to spare. But first, allow me to ask you a question. How old are you?

        — Twenty-six.

        — Married?

        — Newly-married, in fact.

        — A, how nice! I wish you well!

        — Thankyou!

        — So, you don’t have children. Or perhaps you had one of those wedding-cum-christening celebrations that are so popular nowadays?

        — Ha, ha.

        — You’re laughing, are you?

        — Yes, I’m laughing. It’s just, you know … I called you in order to tell you about a cheap package …

        — Yes, of course. I know, she interrupted her. They’ve told me before about such things. I wasn’t particularly interested then. But, you never know. Today you might persuade me, she added deviously.

        — Well …

        — Well, you didn’t answer me. Do you have children or not?

        — Not yet. So, about the package …

        — We’ll talk about the package too. You gave me the impression, Miss … Mrs … forgive me, you gave me, how to say, the impression, at the beginning of your call, correct me if I’m wrong, that you had a more personal interest. I must have been fooled …

        — No, no, you weren’t fooled.

        — On the other hand, now I come to think of it … Why would you have a more personal interest in me specifically? Since you don’t know me.

        — No, I don’t know you. But we’re interested in all our customers or, let’s say, potential customers. You understood correctly.

        — A, that’s good. Your customers are lucky.

        — I’m hoping that you too will become one of our customers. So, our company …

        — Oh no, not your company again, she reproached.

        — But that’s my job, the tele promoter replied meekly.

        — So, since that’s your job, Miss, Mrs, excuse me, please keep to it. And stop taking us in with your false interest – she pretended to be indignant. And she continued, raising the tragic tones of her acting talent (because, apparently, she had talent): I believed you, you know.

        — And quite right too. But the time we have for telephone calls is limited.

        — So, you’d like us to meet somewhere? For a coffee?

        A fiendish idea. The other woman must have been cornered good and proper. How much did she want to sell that damn cheap package?

        — Why not?

        — Unless you think I’m an old woman. I’m 45.

        — Old woman? What do you mean? Our package …

        — O, stop babbling on about your package.

        She hadn’t managed to finish her pretended indignant phrase, when she realized she’d been cut off at the other end. Her caller had become indignant – but truly so.

           Never mind. Twenty-six. Only two for the decades and six for the years. She’s plenty of time to get over it.

Translated by: Alexandra Doumas
 
 Source: And Tomorrow is Now (εκδ. Ρώμη, 2016)

Stavroula Tsouprou (Athens) holds a doctorate in Greek Literature from the National and Capodistrian University of Athens, as well as language diplomas in English, French, Italian, German and Spanish. Systematically involved with Literature Theory, she has published studies on earlier and contemporary prose-writers and poets. She is a regular contributor to the daily and periodical press. Three volumes of her essays have been published: Tasos Athanasiadis:”With the eyes of our generation”The “childis” stories of Cosmas Politis and Trial Readings. Her first fictional work is the collection of short stories They’re looking at you (Grigoris Editions 2013)

 

Andreas Karkavitsas: The Gorgon

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KarkabitsasAndreas-IGorgona-Eikona-01

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Andreas Karkavitsas

 

The Gorgon

 

02-Iota WAS SAILING amidst sea with the brig of captain Farasis that night. What an exquisite night! The first and last, I think, in my life. What did we have loaded in the hold? What else but wheat. Where were we going? Where else but the port of Piraeus. These two things, I had already done at least twenty times. That very night, though, I was feeling such a burden on my soul, that I thought I was going to faint. I didn’t know what was wrong with me; perhaps it was the serene seas, perhaps the unclouded sky, perhaps the biting sun; I could not tell. But my soul was so heavy and I found life so pointless, that if someone grabbed me and threw me in the water, I wouldn’t say no.

      The sun had already set now. The gold and crimson little clouds, accompanying the sunset, were stopped on their tracks and turned black, like the big black-rust. The evening star looked as shiny as the crystal snow in the dark. The constellations appeared high up in the sky one by one. The waters had acquired that dark white colour, the cold but desirable of the steel. The young sailor turned the lanterns on; the captain went downstairs to sleep; Bulberis sat on the wheel. Brahamis, our dog, crawled up at the base of capstan to get some sleep.

      I couldn’t rest at all. Neither sleep nor stay awake. I tried to make small talk with the helmsman; but the talk was so tasteless, that it was extinguished like fire lit with green wood. I tried to play with Brahamis; but the dog stuck its muzzle between its feet even more and it growled as if it was bored, as if it was saying: Leave me alone! I don’t want your games! Then, bored as I was myself, I went and lay with my face down in the middle of the deck and covered my eyes with my hand. I wanted to see nothing, to lose the feeling of life. And gradually I succeeded. I felt a spark of life inside me, like a dim lampion and my body started becoming one and get embedded in the lifeless wooden boards of the deck.

     I do not know how long I stayed in this position. I cannot remember whether I had any thoughts. All of a sudden, though, I started shivering; as if some kind of magnet was stimulating my nerves, like the humidity which forces the birds into twittering. And immediately a crimson wave poured all over me. I thought I was drowning in blood. And as the sleeping man in a dark room immediately awakes in the bright light of day, I too opened my eyes. I opened or closed them, I can’t remember. I only remember that I stayed still. My first thought was that I had woken up in the belly of a fish, which swallowed our boat. But it wasn’t a fish. The sky was still above and the sea below. Everything, though, above and below were covered with a bright red wavy garment, painting with a pleasant light even the kelson of our boat. Somewhere at the edge of the world, a fire was exploding its heat high up in the sky and was spreading its horrible crying around. But, where was the crying and where was its smoke? Both were missing.

      In the depths of northern wind, an amaranthine cloud reached and covered the stars in light blue colour and hidden them inside its thick head cover. And an arch spread white and yellow and poured dark and green rivers amidst the sky, and also golden red and blue, as if it wanted to paint the firmament. The arch, moving like a windblown curtain, was blowing the fringes forward, spreading its gossamery lace and proceeding, just like the flood proceeds and covers a sandy beach with foam and tongues of water. The airy rivers were running fast, swelling and flowing always dark or green, golden red or blue, glowing like electricity in fat and unexpended rays. The sea was still, reflecting all those colours that looked surprised within the bright glow. But I myself was more surprised. I did not know what to do and what to think. It is the end of the world, I said to myself. Such an end, though, could satisfy everyone. The Earth is willing to die in the rosy waves!

      I was suddenly startled. Deep down, from within the violet-coloured cloud, I saw a gigantic shadow appearing. A big body and the towering head looked like the Holy Mountain. Its two eyes were throwing bright circles and gazed proudly at the World before they kick it into doom. There he is, I said, the God-sent angel, the destroyer and saviour! I was watching him and my soul was trembling. I was anticipating the terrible blow to fall like a hammer on the world. There goes the Earth with its fruit, there also goes the sea with its wood! No more songs, no more travels, no more kisses!

      But I did not hear the blow. The shadow was walking the waters with fiery leaps. And the faster it walked, the smaller its body got. And suddenly the terrible huge body was turned into a woman of immense beauty standing before me. She was wearing a diamond crown on her head and her lush hair was falling blue on her back and touching the waves. The wide forehead, the almond shaped eyes, the coral lips were sending forth an immortality glow and a regal pride. From her crystal neck a golden scaly armour was hung and in her left hand she was holding a shield and in her right, a Macedonian sarisa spear.

       I had not recovered from my scare and I heard a voice sweet, soft and calm asking:

       — Sailor, oh good sailor, is King Alexander alive?

      King Alexander! I whispered even more surprised. How is it possible for king Alexander to be alive? I didn’t know what kind of question it was and what to reply, when the voice asked again:

       — Sailor, oh good sailor, is King Alexander alive?

      — Now, my lady! I replied without even thinking. Now, King Alexander! Not even the soil that covered him is on this earth anymore.

        Alas! What disaster befell upon me!

       .

      The gorgeous woman turned immediately into an abomination. A cyclops emerged from the water showing its scaly half body. The silky hair turned into live snakes, which rose in the air, stuck out their tongues and their poisonous stings and started hissing terribly. The armoured chest and the virgin face changed right away and she looked like the One-breast monster woman from the fairy tale. Now I realized who was standing before me! It was the Great Ripper of the Earth, the destroyer and saviour angel. It was the Gorgon, Alexander’s sister, who stole the water of immortality and was scouring the seas alive and almighty. She was the Glory of the great conqueror and emperor, untouched by time and eternal in both land and sea. And only for her coming, did the Pole poured its glow, so as to fill her ether with colour purple. She wasn’t of course asking about the mortal body, but about the memory of her master. And now, in my uninformed reply she furiously darted a bushy and heavy hand on the railing, she waved her tail and showed the ocean.

      .

       — No, my lady, I lied! I cried with shaking knees.

       She gave me a stern look and she asked again with a shaky voice:

       — Sailor, oh good sailor, is King Alexander alive?

       — He lives, he is lord, and dominates the whole world.

.

       She heard my kind words. As if my voice became the water of immortality and poured through her veins, she was immediately transformed into a gorgeous virgin. She raised her lily white hand from the railing and smiled, spreading rose petals through her lips. And suddenly in the purple air a war song started booming, as if the Macedonian army was returning from the lands of the Ganges and the Euphrates river.

       I lifted my eyes and I saw the airy rivers, the dark and green, the golden red and blue, meet high up in the sky and form a gigantic crown. Was it a weather phenomenon or was it a reply to the question of the immortal? Who knows? But slowly the rays started dimming and fade away one after another, as if the Gorgon was taking their beauty into the abyss with her.

        Now, neither crown nor arch could be seen anywhere. Some scattered clouds only, ash grey and pale, and inside my soul, dim and faded, the blood red of my homeland.

       I was sailing amidst sea with the brig of captain Farasis that night.

 Bonsai-03c-GiaIstologio-04

Source: From the short story collection Words from the Bow, Nefeli editions, 1991. 1st edition: Athens, 1899.

Andreas Karkavitsas (Lechaina 1865-Marousi 1922). Fiction and travel writer. He studied in the Medical School of the university of Athens and served as a military doctor. He was one of the pioneers of ethography. His first book was titled Short Stories (Athens, 1892). Other works: The Lissom Girl (1896), The Beggar (1897), Old loves (1900), The Archaeologist (1904).

 

Translated from the greek by

Vassilis Manoussakis (Athens, 1972). Poet, short-story writer, translator. He holds a Ph.D. in Contemporary American Poetry. He currently teaches at the Hellenic American University in Athens.

 

E.H. Gonatas: The Cows

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Gonatas,E.Ch.-OiAgelades-Eikona-01

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E.H. Gonatas

 

The Cows

 

01-W-Century_Mag_Illuminated_W_BarbizonE ARE SITTING at an outdoors cafe: five or six chairs scattered on the bank of a small river and further down, under a plane tree, a cabin covered with vines, and a sign that reads “The educated Spider.” We are drinking our ouzo watching the trouts leap in pairs out of the water, which foams like a white garland around their shiny heads. We enjoy the serene beauty of the scenery without uttering a single word.

         Only a few minutes pass by and three loud explosions one after the other make the glasses on the tables shake and deafen me. I snap out of my reverie leaping from the chair. Far away, in a farm, the sound of glass windows breaking is heard; voices and swearing idealised by the distance disturb the silence for a while. Then silence again. The others around me – local men – remain calm, as if they heard nothing at all, and they continue to sip their ouzo, wiping the drops lingering on their mustaches with their hands. Above their hair fly big evening mosquitoes. I can’t sit quiet and turn to the one sitting next to me. He is wearing purple robes.

         “Father,” I ask, “what’s going on? Did you hear the cannon shots?”

         The priest was struggling to push a chicken, that kept popping its head out, up his wide sleeve with his fat fingers. Without looking at me, he says:

         “God, my son, is punishing the miser cowmen.”

         Then, seeing that the bird calmed down and stopped popping in and out of his sleeve, he stands up and beckons me to follow him. The others don’t even notice us. We go past the backyard of the cafe, through a fence covered with vegetable marrows full of orange flowers, in the size of big brass trumpets, and we enter a vast field with many basins. You can hear animals snorting. We go from basin to basin. They are all deep and waterless, and brown cows are gadding on their bottom. They stoop every once in a while above the manger and start masticating. Their bellies are enormous and they pop out of their bodies perfectly round and swollen.

         “Look carefully at those over there, now that they are fanning their tail to drive flies away,” my companion tells me.

         I look and see a big white bung shoved well inside their asses. Straps tied under their legs and bellies and tightened around their back, hold the bung in place, making it impossible for the animal to get rid of it.

         “Using this method,” he explains, “which prevents cows from discarding from their bodies the unwanted residues of food, the cowmen believe they will succeed in fattening them faster. They won’t leave a single barleycorn undigested. “It is also weighed on the merchant’s scales and we paid for it,” they say, “it wasn’t a gift!”

         “And the animals never relieve themselves?” I ask, looking at the cows with pity, while they are picking with their huge lips some long weeds growing in patches on the wall of the basin.

         “Why yes! Every twenty five days when they unstrap the belts. I have seen many of them lasting longer. But there are others that even on the fifth day they become seriously ill; their belly starts swelling, it balloons within a few minutes and if the cowmen do not haste, they burst suddenly and their pieces scatter into the air with terrible noise, like bombshells.”

         At that very moment, we heard footsteps. Two unshaved men with dirty short aprons hanging above their knees, are approaching the basin. They are cowmen.

         “We don’t want them to see us,” the priest whispers to me. “You are a stranger in these parts and they might think that I brought you here on purpose to steal their method.”

         We quickly hide behind the terrace. The cowmen climb down the steps and enter the basin. One of them, holding a measuring tape, goes from cow to cow and measures the perimeter of their belly. The other one, in the dim light of a lantern, scribbles the measurements in a notepad.

         “They are panicking,” the priest whispers again. “Including today’s three, the count of the lethal cases reached number eleven this month. There is a God above and He sees. They are very worried, so they became careful. They are now checking upon their herd more often to see if the belly of the cows has reached past endurance level.”

         When they finished measuring, the cowmen climbed up and headed to another basin. Then, we come out of our hiding place and return following the same road with our heads full of thoughts but remaining speechless.

         At the very edge of the field, there shines a windowless hut, made of tin cans. Instead of a door, there is a round opening. Two more cowmen, with the same unshaved faces, but wearing aprons that reach down their heels, bend over a long wooden bench, where pieces of bloody skin are spread. They clean them up with big knives.

         “More slowly,” the priest says. “They are the ones that lost three animals this afternoon. They are counting the damage and seething with anger. In a while, when the moon rises, they will take the remains of the animals outside the cabin and bury them. They don’t want anyone to see them. When they get angry, they can become really mean.”

         We tiptoe away like ghosts. Crossing the edge of the field, I am beginning to see the river again. Big leaves travel slowly on the water. In the engulfing silence, we hear only the mosquitoes’ wings and our steps that crack twigs and branches as we walk.

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Source: From the short story collection The Cows, “Texts”. Athens 1980, 1st edition. Proti Ili editions, Athens, November 1963.

E.H. Gonatas (Athens 1924-2006). He studied Law and he is a poet and essay writer of the post war generation. He was mainly known as “a writer of the paradox.” He made his first appearance in Greek letters with the short story, titled “The traveller” (1945). His last book was the Three nickels (short stories, Stigmi editions, 2006). In 1994 he received the National Translation Prize.

Translated from the greek by

Vassilis Manoussakis (Athens, 1972). Poet, short-story writer, translator. He studied English Language and Literature. He currently teaches at the University of Peloponnese in Kalamata.

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Argiris Eftaliotis: The Dumb

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EftaliotisArgyris-OBoubos-Eikona-01

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Argiris Eftaliotis

 

The Dumb

 

09-Iota-Century_Mag_I REMEMBER the poor guy. Tall, lean and handsome lad. He was born dumb. Which means, he was also deaf. And as if these flaws were not enough, he was also an orphan ever since he was five. A neighbour took him and raised him, that is she taught him how to carry water, to buy things and to rock the baby, if he had no other chore to do.

         The Dumb grew with it; but when the baby grew up, it was wearing short dresses. For the baby the Dumb was rocking was a girl.

         They became siblings. And as siblings they were growing up. The little girl was the only one who did not tease him. Even his mother was mocking him, despite her kind heart. In the villages, there is no way for the mocking to stop. They would burst if they did not mock a dumb man. And sometimes, he may not even need to be dumb.

         I remember him until the age of fifteen and the little girl until she was ten. I remember them going to the fountain together. Somebody would throw a small stone or a melon skin to the dumb man. I do not forget his face, all bitter and sad, turning to the girl, as if he was saying: “See what it means to be dumb?” The little girl would look around then, with eyes flaring. Woe to the mocker, who threw the stone or the skin to her companion, if she set her eyes upon him.

         I also remember the poor Dumb in the fair. He was older then. A true lad. He was again with the daughter and her old mother. A true woman the daughter as well. Not very beautiful, but pretty, pretty and plump like an apple in May. I remember her dancing with the other women in the neighbourhood. The Dumb – his whole hearing and voice concentrated in his bright eyes and his cheery lips – would watch her to his heart’s content and encourage her with his kind nods. And the girl kept dancing, and the open-hearted Dumb was hopping lightly.

         Ah, I remember him the last time I saw him! I was walking alone one night down at the seaside. I went to the cape, stood on a rock, and started looking at the calm and deep waters. On my side there was another rock, a little bit further in the sea. And next to the rock, closer to me, something was floating, and it did not take me long to understand what it was. It was floating serenely and heavily and every little while a wave would dash it against the rocks. I reached closer and I was not mistaken. It was a man, it was the poor Dumb!

         Just after the little girl got married!

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Source: Argiris Eftaliotis, I mazoxtra and other stories * Vourkolakas, Special Edition for the newspaper “Vima”, [1st edition 1900].

Argiris, Eftaliotis (Molivos, Lesvos, 1849-Aix La Pain, France, 1923). Poet and prose writer. His first book: Nisiotikes istories (1894, short stories).

Translated from the greek by

Vassilis Manoussakis (Athens, 1972). Poet, short-story writer, translator. He studied English Language and Literature. He currently teaches at the University of Peloponnese in Kalamata.