The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation and VAGABOND, Bulgaria's English Monthly, cooperate in order to enrich the English language with translations of contemporary Bulgarian writers. Through 2008 we will 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 will be 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!
The following is an excerpt from Sabazius, winner of the national contest of Ink (Imprint of Locus Publishing Ltd.) for the Bulgarian participation in the Myths series, launched by Canongate.
...and then ORPHEUS descended into hell...
Our Friday gig went totally lame. The plum of our show was my black eye. Bellerophon was once again slapping the bass and blowing kisses to the audience, I was taking my revenge on it, and Pegasus was trying to mediate between all sides. When this is done by drums, the result defies description. People evacuated themselves with headaches. Bellerophon bid us goodbye at the earliest possible moment and left us "to square our accounts." Pegasus and I decided to drink a shot of vodka. We both knew we would never come back here again. We collected our payments. Pegasus's tongue swelled up from the vodka immediately. He started lisping about the Chinese Zodiac and I had to make sure he found the way to his place.
A third surprise for the week was waiting for me at home. Eurydice was gone. She had left me during the three hours I tortured the crowd at the Vinyl Club. I found a note saying: "Don't look for me." The flat was empty, clean and meaningless, as if it hadn't been used for a long time. Even her clothes were hanging in the wardrobe. Didn't she want to take at least one dress? I went around the rooms several times. I switched on all the lamps. Eurydice's flowers stirred contentedly like babies well fed. ᴀey had enjoyed her full attention. I crushed them one after the other and threw them out of the window. Down on the ground, in front of the entrance door, somebody had written HELL with a red spray. The flower parts fell over the letters.
In the distance the cars kept on roaring in opposite directions and I couldn't ἀgure out where all those people came from to keep this permanent show running.
It was my turn to drink myself to complete unity with the cosmos and I still cannot remember whether this happened before or after I threw the flowers away. The last sensible thought in my head was about the awful coincidences which suddenly beset me. As if fate, which had long ago lost my attention, had made a point to tell me something.
I also knew who had the inborn instinct to hide behind the mask of fate.
When I called him he said he would send a car for me. He was spending his weekends with his family, so this was a good chance for us to drink a glass of absinthe. And I'd better take my swimming trunks.
"You have a family?"
"Of course I do," Sabazius said. "Just like you."
I wasn't so sure about myself.
Half an hour later the bodyguard with the tight suit was waiting for me downstairs. The sun was shining timidly but I hoped it would manage to make him feel hot and itchy under the jacket. He didn't look too tortured, though. He had parked the car by the dusty playground, between the wheelless Ladas, mounted on logs, and the rusty road veterans, imported in more recent times. It wasn't diffcult for me to spot him. Dodge Viper, orange satin coat. Or, like the ad says, grab life by the horns. Sabazius showed no deep contradictions of taste. On leaving the parking lot the car went down a curb and bumped its belly.
"Fucking roads!" my chauffeur said in way of an extramural insurance against the boss.
The home of Sabazius appeared to be outside the city, at the southern foot of the mountain. The area was secured with concrete fencing, like a military base. Surveillance cameras were pointed at cross directions. The wdouble wrought iron door presented a tangle of grape clusters and vine leaves. The purpose of the intertwined vegetation was to divert attention from the fact that nothing could be seen behind it. Not even an inch of emptiness gave visual access to whatever lay behind. The bodyguard pressed the remote and the double wings of the door moved aside like the curtains of a dramatic theatre. A drive of tiny cobbles led us through a tunnel of trees and garden lanterns with bowed heads. I thought I was hearing children's voices. In the distant house a veranda door was left open, an inner draft swelling its tulle curtain.
My escort silently left me by the entrance. I looked around. Some of the bushes were in bloom and their yellow branches waved in the breeze. A stone path meandered between them to a rockery with fresh ferns. Water welled from its top down to an irregularly shaped pond in whose edge a toy sail ship had landed. A magnolia was shedding its white blossoms like handkerchiefs on the grass. Spring had come long ago here. Or maybe it never left.
I got on the veranda, but just before entering the house I heard the children's voices again. They were coming from the inner part of the garden so I went round the house. A two-level pool was spreading far and wide behind the corner. Several boys between four and twelve were scuffling in it, while woman in sunglasses and bathing suit was throwing their ball back to the water. On seeing me they all went silent, but after a moment they went on with what they were doing, having learned to ignore people who didn't come for them. Leaning on elbow on a low wicker table, Sabazius was sitting behind my back.
He was in a bathrobe and rubber slippers. The wind was ruffling the pages of his newspaper. Wicker chairs, forsaken in different positions, formed a rough circle around him. His feet, reddened by the early sun, were supported on a tricycle. Two odd protuberances above his forehead bulged under his baseball cap. Maybe what they said about the horns was true. He left the newspaper aside and smiled at me. I sat at the other side of the table.
"Did you put any ice on it?"
"On your eye."
"That's OK. It will heal just as well."
"Sabazius, I left Hebros TV."
"I know, I know. So they said."
We both ἀxed our eyes on the swimming pool, which was bubbling with six boys and a mother.
"You could have told me that you owned Hebros TV.
"I didn't want to put pressure on you."
"But your friend the director did put pressure on me."
Sabazius produced a bottle of green liquid, two stemmed glasses, a bowl of sugar-cubes and a jug with ice. A cry rose from the pool. Naturally, the youngest one was hurt.
"My friend the director has responsibilities. He gives financial reports."
Everything seemed to exist on its own account in Sabazius's world.
"Sabazius, aren't you ashamed to protect a scumbag like Silenus? People like him must be in prison, not in the Parliament. How could you insist on Hebros TV lying to people? Tomorrow they'll be voting for Silenus, won't they? For a freaking pedophile!"
"Exactly, he turned out to be just like my second foster father. Silenus screwed up big time. A very bad investment, indeed. I had such a hard time getting him out of the mess. Now I wonder where to dispatch him to get my money back as soon as possible."
This guy could always make me mad. On the other hand I never managed to get even close to the way he affected me.
"Sabazius, you deprive everybody's life of meaning."
"Well, it's not exactly like that," he said quietly. "You are the son of Apollo, you can choose how to make your life meaningful. But I have no other choice except to win. Zeus dragged me out of the gutter. I am useful to him only with what I am."
I wasn't of the opinion that I had as much choice as Sabazius was seeing at my disposal. Or rather, was leaving me. At the moment, nobody knew why, we were talking about his choice.
"Zeus is just an old geezer."
"Sure he is, if we compete in arm wrestling. ᴀose who work for Zeus, however, do not ἀght with him but with his enemies. ᴀey might be a bunch of mortal jerks, yet they are dangerous enough. I must make no mistakes."
"You don't have to dance to Zeus's tune."
"Zeus is a god. He keeps a low profile, but he runs everything. As for me, I have a half-and-half statute, you know that. The moment something happens to me, everything around here will melt and flow back to him. So I have to take care of my own business too. Look around. What do you see?"
"A golden serving cart."
"Wrong. You see a mirage."
While talking, his whole attention was focused on pouring the absinthe. He succeeded in filling the glasses with exactly the same quantities. Their depths beamed with herbaceous smiles. Without further ado Sabazius added water to his own drink and it clouded. He passed me the jug.
"The green fairy. If it's too bitter for you, add some sugar."
There are two kinds of people – those who begin with the most important thing and those who spit it out at the end. As a child I imagined I was of the first type. I was deluding myself. I drank the turbid thing to the bottom.
"Once you get used to the bitterness, you even start to like it."
"Sabazius, Eurydice left me."
He nodded, looking down at his glass. His blue eye was to my side.
"Do you, by any chance, know where she is?" I finally asked my question.
It seemed to me he flinched.
"Right now? No, I don't. I guess she is… someplace she wants to be."
One of the boys, about five years old, climbed out of the pool and ran with his hands spread wide towards his father. He was crying at the top of his voice. His forehead was chafed. A trail of water followed his footsteps for a while, soaking into the heated stone slabs. Sabazius hugged him.
"Come, my boy. Come to daddy."
He stood up with the child in his hands and shouted towards the pool. Within the capacity of his voice, it came out as a hiss.
"Hey, be careful there. Tauropolus, do you want me to come down and smack you?"
I guessed who Tauropolus was by the whine that rose from one of the children, quietly at ἀrst, and then with all the unrestrained woe of the wrongfully accused. On the whole, the play toned down a bit. Suddenly the drink, which I thought had passed me by, returned with vengeance through the back of my skull. Probably I had messed up the dilution. The fairy was speeding about my cardiovascular system like a jet-fighter. My mind cleared up and my body refused to obey its whims. I just sat, unable to move.
"You always know something more. Tell me where to find Eurydice."
"What if she doesn't want you to look for her?"
"How do you know?"
"That's what people say to each other, don't they? Goodbye. Consider me dead. Don't look for me. Water my plants. Stuff like that."
"Please, Sabazius. Don't torture me. I've heard that you keep mistresses, paying for their apartments, cars, trips…"
"Oh, I'm so fed up with them all. If you want me to give you a key… No, you can't be thinking…"
"Yes, I'm asking you about Eurydice."
He went silent and bit a piece of skin from his nail. Finally he said:
"In three months time, in the beginning of summer, we'll have a gathering. If you haven't found her until then, come. Everyone will be there. You'll surely learn something."
"I'll go to hell if I have to."
Sabazius turned to me his dark eye too. "Orpheus, we've been living there since long ago," he said, or I thought he said. I never really found out.
The woman in the pool waved at us. She was acknowledging my presence for the first time, though she obviously wasn't too keen on a closer-range meeting. From the distance we waved at each other I could only notice that her skin was as pale as the surface of a milk rice pudding. I didn't see what she was hiding behind her shades.
"Ariadne" Sabazius introduced us to each other from afar. "She has no trust in people. When she gets used to you, she'll start coming. ᴀis is my family."
"Does Ariadne know about the women you keep?"
"I don't know. Should she?"
"Perhaps not. But how would you feel if you discovered that Ariadne had cheated on you?"
Sabazius looked at me in disbelief.
"Nobody cheats on me."
I couldn't help but notice the all-embracing sound of "nobody." I wanted to remain numb forever, staring at the swimming pool. Like the only spectator in a movie theatre, who cannot see from the screen light how dark everything around him is.