The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation and Vagabond, Bulgaria's English Monthly, cooperate in order to enrich the English language with translations of contemporary Bulgarian writers. Every year we give you the chance to read the work of a dozen young and sometimes not-so-young Bulgarian writers that the EKF considers original, refreshing and valuable. Some of them have been translated in English for the first time. The EKF has decided to make the selection of authors' work and to ensure they get first-class English translation, and we at Vagabond are only too happy to get them published in a quality magazine.
Enjoy our fiction pages!
Christos Chartomatsidis (1954) lives in Komotini, Greece. His first literary publications were in Bulgarian: Srednoshkolsko Zname, Rodna Rech, Studentska Tribuna, and Pulse. He has received several literary awards in Bulgaria, including Second Prize in the Republic Short-Story Competition for student work (Shumen), Second Prize in the Bulgarian National Short-Story Competition for Tsvetan Zangov (Sliven), and Second Prize in the Novel Competition ("H. G. Danov" publishing house and the community of Plovdiv). He is also the author of four novels, two collections of short stories, four theatre plays, and two poetry collections, as well as publications in several literary magazines. One of his novels and one of his short stories were nominated for the prizes of the literary magazine Diavazo. He is a member of two Greek writers' unions and the translator of the poetry and short stories of more than 15 Bulgarian writers, including Lyubomir Levchev and Georgi Grozdev.
translated from the Bulgarian by Velina Minkoff, Rayna Rossenova, and Borislava Velkova
Right across the street lived Alicia, the fat old witch. When she had nothing else to do, she would fornicate with the Devil. Loaded with bags and old-fashioned suitcases, she had come all the way from Kazakhstan. Her real name was Alyona Kashcheevna. She knew all sorts of magic and spells, so in no time she managed to ensnare an old widower, Mr Stavros, who used to be a butcher. As soon as darkness fell and the honorable citizens settled in front of their TV sets, Mr Stavros would start clearing his throat suggestively towards Alyona: "Come on, come on!"
"You're really a devil, aren't you!" The witch would immediately get the hint and shake a finger at him. Then she would ask him to draw the blinds.
"God forbid people see your behind!" the old butcher would laugh, but Alyona/Alicia would look at him coyly and he'd quickly correct himself: "OK, OK, fine!" and stare at her greedily as she undressed slowly, alluringly. He would leave his undershirt and long-johns on, though, because everything has its limits.
"Do you want to play ridey-horse?" Alyona asked him facetiously. "Or is it too tiring for you?"
"Not at all!" the butcher declared, happily offering his back. Everybody knows that witches' favourite pastime is to ride their victims, making them gallop around until they drop. She would mount him with surprising swiftness and they would gallop all over the room, the old guy in his long-johns, flushed with the effort his eyes bulging, his bald head sweaty. The look in his eyes, however, reflected the pride of a man who still had his dignity. He would deliberately pass by the mirror, in order to ogle Alicia's voluptuous flesh. Only once in his life had he seen anything like it. It was some kind of a flyer with a picture of a Rubens' painting, which the gang at the pensioners' club had admired and snickered at like schoolboys. The painting was of a nymph, stark naked and as fat as Alyona, with lavish, flowing flesh but no flab – a strong, healthy body.
"The artist must have had a taste for meat," the young employee at the club had said, and her words had excited Stavros even more.
"I like my women slutty, bossy and beautiful!" he would say and indeed, Alyona met all his requirements. Sure, she was fat, but she never neglected her appearance. Her hair was expertly colored and fashionably cut. She was elegantly made-up and applied all kinds of creams and lotions to her skin. Her nails were always well-manicured and she wore expensive clothes. Mr Stavros, with a strange determination, would bring her around and introduce her to people he knew: "Look at how I've dressed her up! I'll buy her a fur coat, too, and more gold jewellery!"
He once took her to a baptism and the fat witch lit a candle and started crossing herself piously without the slightest hint of shame. She then helped herself to the lace-wrapped candy keepsakes and everyone present exchanged uneasy looks.
"They're jealous, Stavrie! They're jealous!" Alyona said to him back at home, as she brought him a small cup of coffee. She sure knew how to spoil him. Besides coffee, she would serve him hot chocolate, sour cherry juice and homemade kefir.
All these things were served elegantly with napkins and all kinds of ceremonies as if he were at the Hilton. That's why Kir Stavros adored her. That's why he prepared his grilled specialties for her steaks, bacon, skewers, meatballs, and a very tasty meat pastry. In return, Alyona gave him all her love because, as she often liked to say: "All you need is a compassionate soul to understand you and treat you kindly!"
"Don’t forget the screwing!" – Mr Stavros, who thought that the word "sex" sounded like the shriek of some wild bird, would add sharply.
Oh, how envious everyone was when they saw the couple go out for a walk! Mr Stavros, wearing a suit and carrying an umbrella, looked so stern and serious! Alyona, in her expensive fur coat, hung on his elbow, heavy as an overloaded ship! Everyone envied them, because people just can't stand the happiness of others.
Particularly ill-disposed to their idyll was Mr Stavros's daughter, the pretty Anastacia, nicknamed Nastacia. Nastacia was relentless and categorically refused to accept poor Alyona into the family. On the day of the baptism, she didn't miss the chance to carp at them.
"We are looking forward to your own offspring's baptism!" she insinuated caustically and then shouted at Alyona: "Don't you understand you don't belong here?!"
Her husband tried to stop her from making a scene, but she snapped at him, too: "Leave me alone!" and he withdrew, visibly upset.
"I respect you," Alyona tried to flatter her, but Anastacia wasn't buying it.
"To hell with you and your respect!" she answered and lunged at her. Mr Stavros stopped his daughter just in time and even raised his hand to slap her but managed to restrain himself.
"Damn you!" he shouted theatrically, then added: "Children cannot judge their parents!"
After that he left with Alyona. Poor Nastacia yelped in pain as if someone really had hit her and doubled over on a bench. One might even say she was wailing over a grave!
"Oh, mother, my dearest mother!" she cried out, and everyone present was won over to her side. Afterwards, the women even said: "You really put them in their place!" and told Nastacia all that went on behind the drawn blinds. They even added some juicy details. Such as how the fat cow supposedly mounted Mr Stavros and spurred him on with the fly-swatter! But there was some debate on this issue. Some thought that Alyona used the long shoehorn with the plastic finger for back-scratching. And with that finger she poked Mr Stavros in the groin, making him squeal in ecstasy!
"Poor dad," cried Nastacia. "Whipped with a fly-swatter!"
As if those silly stunts weren't enough, some relatives even hinted that the old man was planning to sell the house. Nastacia rushed over to their place, and though the witch offered her some coffee and kefir, Nastacia wasn't moved at all. She would talk only to her father.
"I spent my childhood in this house," she began fiercely, "I won't let you sell it! Your doll will dump you the moment the money's gone. She's not the nursing type, you know, she's using you!"
But there was no point in trying to talk sense into the old man. He was so pig-headed.
"I don't care!" he said. "The house is mine, I'll do whatever I want with it!"
And so… he sold it. Then he and Alyona rented a place. Soon the money was all gone and they had to live on his government pension.
"Now I've got them!" Nastacia gloated maliciously. "Now we'll see how deep her love is!"
However odd it might seem, the fat witch Alyona was ready to give up some of her luxuries, even her expensive fur coat, just to stay with the old butcher. This really puzzled Nastacia.
It also set her thinking. But she recovered quickly.
"No, she won't fool us!" she said to herself and swore never to rest until she got rid of Alyona once and for all.
Perhaps because he was worried about the quarrel with his daughter, perhaps because he was exhausted by his daily gallops behind the drawn blinds, Mr Stavros soon took to his bed. The witch tried to help him in her own way – applying cupping therapy, brewing special herbal tea, and murmuring spells. She gave in before long: "They must have poisoned you, that's why my white magic won't work!"
So it was time for modern medicine to try to fight the illness. And guess what it was his daughter and kindly son-in-law who took the old man to a hospital, where, thanks to the doctors' care, some cardiotonics and diuretics, he recovered in no time. Anastacia had hired a nurse to take away the bedpan, while the son-in-law borrowed a TV set for him. Alyona came to see him only once. She almost fainted when she saw the old man covered with tubes from head to toe.
"Were you waiting for him to die before you came to see him?" Nastacia asked her sternly. Then she added: "The moment he's discharged from the hospital, you two are breaking up!"
"But, Stavros, Stavrie darling!" Alyona whimpered, falling to her knees. The old man's slippers and bedpan were under the bed. The ex-butcher lay silent. He avoided looking at her, his eyes firmly fixed on the ceiling. A lot of things had passed through his mind during the long hours between life and death.
"Okay, I get it" – Alyona murmured, and in her eyes one could read the pain of all those humiliated and wronged by Russian literature. She stood up slowly. She wanted to hide somewhere, to run away. But clever Nastacia took the lead one more time: "And make sure you take the bedpan on your way out!"