from Smoke

Original by Efrén Ordóñez
Translated, from the Spanish, by Robin Myers


His daily trip to the Depot had become the only possibility of seeing her. Every day, he’d make a wrong turn; some unrecognizable building would appear before him; he’d double back onto the same street and get lost for a few minutes. But he’d find his way. Right-right-left-left. He knew that if he stopped going, if one day he’d forget to check the lists, to suffer through the endless faces, Emma could slip away from him in the multitude of bodies, and if no one went to identify her, she’d end up in the mass crematorium—and he’d never see her again, and he’d never get these images out of his head.

The bureaucrats were never suspicious of him. They didn’t care. No one could know about the images of Emma looping around and around, some new ones (or old ones, really) finding their way onto the undesired carousel. And so, after several days, when the employees finally recognized him, they stopped coming up to give him instructions. It wouldn’t have crossed their minds that he’d spent two or three weeks searching for the same person. Most citizens made their final visit on the third day, and if they couldn’t find the individual in their charge, they assumed that the authorities would take things from there and send the body directly to the Oven. They rarely returned after that.

After so many trips, he’d started to study the chimney of the Oven. Especially at night. From his apartment, he could see its perpetual blue flame, the smoke condensing hundreds of bodies as they escaped the city, gradually forming the veil that many hailed as protection from the sun. But the pavement still burned. The high temperatures in the shade made life in the city feel like it was always on the verge of a storm.

One of those days, after he’d reviewed lists and faces, he fell prey either to courage or to desperation, left the front halls, and went into the next building, the unit that housed the old oven now restored and equipped to meet new needs. A rusty mass. The Oven, in addition to the body-collection project, was an initiative launched by one of the governors, though it was an advisor who’d come up with the idea: it would be a way to stay in voters’ minds and go down in the history of Monterrey. Physically, that is. Each of the adjacent buildings bore the governor’s surname and the years of his administration on a golden plaque.

The unit had two entrances: a large one for the collection trucks, and a small one that could accommodate only a single person at a time. He entered through the second. The building didn’t typically receive individual citizens, but it wasn’t some sort of secret or forbidden act. Apathy has always been the most effective lock.

The temperature was higher inside. Closing the door behind him, he found himself trapped in a dark space, a kind of vestibule or passageway. He was hit by the rhythmic clatter of metal curtains opening and closing, the groan of burning matter, the blowtorches spitting flames. Seconds later, someone opened a door in front of him. A crooked, skeletal shadow cut across the opening. The door stayed open. He moved toward it. He emerged into the unloading area, facing several wordless workers whose sole task was to offload bodies and pile them up onto forklifts. As soon as they filled up the pallet, they headed into a dimly lit tunnel. He climbed the stairs to his left so he could get a look at the whole scene.

He passed a row of downcast, leathery men, their eyes clouded, dressed in denim overalls. He walked around like just another worker and walked up the interminable spiral staircases that reached up alongside the machine rooms—spaces that were incomprehensible to him despite his training as an engineer. He continued upward. He crossed bridges with screeching handrails, protesting under the weight of passers-by. Their creaks sounded more like human screams disappearing into the void. Distant echoes. He stopped to examine the structure, but he couldn’t figure out the intention of the design. He kept going. He walked through doorways whose thresholds opened out onto nothing, crossed others where he found men resting, or hidden, ghosts with menacing eyes. He opened the door to a stockroom and saw a small group of overcalled workers kicking at a sack that was an imperfect sphere with dark stains. His presence didn’t interrupt their game. In the end, after making his way up several levels, he found himself at a stark lookout point with a view of various mouths of the Oven. Below, at least a dozen men—some with their own arms, others driving forklifts—emptied their content into each mouth, all of which opened and shut their steel doors to a steady cadence. Most of the bodies were still clothed. One. Two. Three. Four. Five seconds to toss in a corpse or two. They fell hard. He stared, transfixed by the rhythm of the curtains, the disposal of the bodies. Emma’s name hadn’t appeared on the lists, nor her face on the monitors. He wondered. She could have slipped through his fingers. His stomach turned at the thought of finding her piled up on one of those machines and he didn’t know why. With the metal clack of the curtains still echoing in his head, he made his way out.

His experience at the Oven left him with a sense of fear that quickly morphed into urgency. He intensified his evening searches, but he still hadn’t seen her in any of the dozens of white pick-ups he kept following, spurred by police fantasies and sleuthing speculations. Whenever he caught sight of one, he’d drop everything and track it until he was sure it wasn’t heading downtown, or that a woman who looked like her wasn’t getting in our out. Once again, every effort was in vain.

After several days, he was out of ideas, and he felt that his whole life was being diluted into a stream of identical hours. He returned to the living room couch and fixed his eyes behind the curtains, past the window. Beneath that painting, on a couch where she used to sit, with the horizontal lines running behind her head and the city in the background.

One Wednesday morning, sitting on that very couch, he looked at his books for the semester, stacked up on the coffee table, and regarded them with a certain suspicion. He picked one up. He flipped to a page at random and read the first few words. Finding them entirely senseless, he went to the bedroom and turned on the TV. His thoughts drifted into the colors and dances of a half-dozen presenters on some magazine show. Framed by a ballet of fluorescent demo girls, their choreographies repeated every five minutes without explanation. He watched an interview with a local dentist, the step-by-step preparation of pasta with tuna (quite affordable), and the testimony of a housewife and mother of sextuplets. Nothing caught his attention. Until, in the middle of a commercial, a sequence left him open-mouthed: a swelling melody accompanied the image of a sun glimmering its way into daylight, illuminating the many structures built during the current governor’s administration. The time lapse showed bridges springing into existence, buildings stretching toward the sky, miles of roads where there had once been only open fields. Cranes appeared along the city streets to arrange rows of panoramic ads displaying faces in motion. They smiled. The image faded into white and the glow became a dazzling sun. Beneath the zenithal light, latest-model cars and trucks, doors printed with the state seal, advanced along the roads that flanked the River, single-file, shifting and passing each other in a complex vehicular choreography. Then a group of garbage trucks broke rank and detached from the group, and the camera focused in on just one until it filled the screen. Then a transition to an urban neighborhood. The garbage truck, now sheltered by dusk, stopped at the foot of a mountain, the Cerro de la Silla. Two smiling men, tall and fit, picked up a body wrapped in a black plastic bag stamped with the state seal. They adjusted their load between them, then tossed it gracefully into the back of the truck, still smiling. They got in. The truck revved up and they slipped back into the dance of traffic. One by one, the vehicles progressed toward a shadowy structure with smokestacks looming under columns of smoke. The sun started to disappear behind the mountain. Another long shot of the city, now softened by dusky light; then the tune repeated, proposed, and imposed by the state government to end the commercial.

He jumped up. The answer was suddenly so clear to him. This was how he’d be the first to find her. He could guarantee she wouldn’t be lost; he could take her away right then and here and avoid the humiliating formalities to which the city’s hundreds or thousands of blotted-out residents were surely subjected. In any case, after several days, the idea of seeing her dead had become almost a reality, or at least a possibility. Without dwelling on it much, his goal had changed from finding her alive to finding her, period. And as soon as he found her, Emma would replace the images in his head: they’d stop hurting him, stop forcing down on his chest and emptying his stomach. The images were a substitute for the person, obviously, and so if he could just see the person…He made some calls until he tracked down a well-connected relative, who was a bit unsettled by the request, but nonetheless came through and pulled the necessary strings. The Cadaver Collection Service hired him within hours. The next day, when he signed the contract and the euphoria had passed, he realized what finding her first would mean.

de Humo

La vuelta diaria al Depósito se había convertido en la única posibilidad de verla. Todos los días daba una vuelta equivocada, aparecía algún edificio irreconocible, volvía sobre la misma calle y se perdía unos minutos. Pero llegaba. Derecha-derecha-izquierda-izquierda. Sabía que si desistía, si un día se olvidaba de repasar las listas, de sufrir los rostros, Emma podría escurrírsele entre la multitud de cuerpos y, si nadie la reclamaba, ella terminaría en el crematorio común, y él, sin verla de nuevo y sin que se le borrasen las imágenes de la cabeza.

Los burócratas nunca sospecharon. No les interesaba. Nadie podría saber sobre las imágenes de Emma repitiéndose en bucle, algunas nuevas (o viejas, en realidad) abriéndose paso e incluyéndose en un carrusel no deseado. Por eso, luego de varios días, cuando los empleados por fin lo reconocieron, dejaron de acercársele para darle instrucciones. No les hubiera pasado por la mente que, después de dos o tres semanas, siguiera buscando a una misma persona. Por lo general los ciudadanos hacían la visita al tercer día y, si no se encontraba su carga, asumían que las autoridades se encargarían y llevarían a la persona directo al Horno. Rara vez alguien regresaba.

Luego de tantas vueltas, había comenzado a tomar en cuenta la chimenea del Horno. Sobre todo por las noches. Desde el departamento veía su eterna flama azul y el humo que condensaba los centenares de cuerpos que escapaban de la ciudad y poco a poco iba formando el velo que muchos celebraron como protección contra el sol. Pero el pavimento seguía ardiendo. La alta temperatura bajo la sombra producía la sensación de un perpetuo preludio de tormenta.

Uno de aquellos días, luego de revisar listas y rostros, víctima de un desplante de valentía o desesperación, salió de las salas y pasó al siguiente edificio, a la nave con el antiguo horno restaurado y adecuado a las nuevas necesidades. Una mole de óxido. El Horno, junto con el proyecto de las recolectoras, fue iniciativa de uno de los gobernadores del estado, idea impulsada por alguno de sus asesores para quedarse en «la mente» de los regiomontanos y colarse en la Historia de la ciudad; es decir, de forma física. Cada una de las estructuras aledañas llevaba los dos apellidos y el periodo de su administración sobre una placa dorada.

La nave ofrecía dos entradas: una grande para los camiones recolectores, y otra diminuta por donde apenas cabía una persona. Entró por la segunda. Si bien no se acostumbraba darle entrada a los ciudadanos, tampoco era una actividad secreta o prohibida para la gente. La indiferencia siempre ha sido el mejor candado.

Adentro aumentó la temperatura. Luego de cerrar la puerta quedó atrapado en medio de un espacio oscuro, una especie de recibidor o área de paso. Lo invadió el sonido del abrir y cerrar de cortinas de acero cayendo rítmicamente, del crujir de los materiales ardiendo, de flamas que escupían los sopletes. Segundos después alguien abrió una puerta frente a él. Por la abertura atravesó una sombra esquelética y corva. La puerta quedó abierta. Avanzó. Se encontró en el área de descarga, ante varios trabajadores enmudecidos con la única tarea de bajar cadáveres para luego apilarlos sobre y el testimonio de un ama de casa madre de sextillizos. Nada le llamó la atención. Hasta que, en medio de un bloque publicitario, lo deslumbró una secuencia: las notas de una melodía in crescendo sobre la imagen de un sol asomándose por la mañana cuya luz descubría las muchas construcciones erigidas durante el mandato del gobernador vigente. Con un time-lapse se levantaron puentes, edificios estirándose hacia el cielo y kilómetros de calles en donde antes sólo se veían llanos. A los costados de las avenidas llegaron grúas para acomodar hileras de anuncios panorámicos que enmarcaron rostros en movimiento. Sonrientes. La imagen fundió a blancos y el resplandor pasó a ser un sol brillante. Debajo de aquel sol cenital, varios carros último modelo y camionetas con escudo del estado sobre las puertas avanzaban por las calles aledañas al Río, en fila, cambiaban de lugar, todo como parte de una coreografía vehicular. De ahí, un grupo de camiones recolectores se desprendió del grupo, rompió filas y la cámara encuadró a uno solo que llenó la pantalla, luego la transición a una de las colonias de la ciudad. El camión recolector, cobijado ya por el atardecer, se detiene a las faldas del Cerro de la Silla. Dos hombres sonrientes, altos y en forma, recogen un cuerpo envuelto en una bolsa negra con el escudo del estado al frente. Balancean su carga y, sin dejar de sonreír, la arrojan con gracia a la caja. Suben. El camión arranca y se une a la coreografía que ha llegado a esa altura de la avenida. Uno detrás de otro enfilaron hacia una oscurísima construcción con chimeneas debajo de columnas de humo. El sol comenzó a esconderse detrás del cerro. De nuevo un plano general de la ciudad, ahora con la luz difusa del atardecer y la tonada repetida, propuesta e impuesta por la administración estatal, para cerrar el comercial.

Se levantó de un brinco. La respuesta se revelaba tan clara. Así podría ser el primero en encontrarla y garantizar que no se perdiera, podría llevársela ahí mismo y evitar los penosos trámites a los que seguramente fueron sometidos los centenares o miles de borrados de la ciudad. De todas formas, luego de varios días, la idea de verla sin vida se había convertido casi en una realidad, o al menos en una posibilidad. Sin reparar mucho en ello había pasado de encontrarla con vida a encontrarla y punto. En el momento en que apareciera, Emma tomaría el lugar de las imágenes en la cabeza, dejarían de hacerle daño, de oprimirle el pecho y vaciarle el estómago. Las imágenes eran un sustituto de la persona, claro, por lo tanto al ver a la persona… Hizo algunas llamadas hasta dar con un pariente bien conectado y, aunque a éste le desconcertó su petición, habló con algunas personas para posicionarlo. La Recolectora de Cadáveres del Noreste lo contrató ese mismo día. Cuando al día siguiente estampó su firma en el contrato y pasó la euforia, cayó en cuenta de lo que «encontrarla primero» significaba.

Efrén Ordóñez is a writer from Monterrey, México. He is the author of Humo (NitroPress, 2017), a novel which was awarded the Nuevo Leon Prize in Literature in 2014 and published under the title Ruinas (CONARTE/Conaculta 2015). He also wrote the short story collection, Gris infierno (An.alfa.beta 2014), and the children’s book, Tlacuache: Historia de una cola (FCAS 2015). In 2017, he created Argonáutica, a literary translation press, alongside Marco Antonio Alcalá, for which he translated the short story collection, Melville’s Beard || Las barbas de Melville, by Mark Haber. In 2020, he and Alcalá are launching Red Velvet Goat (RVG), a more ambitious publishing project that will encompass a broader selection of books. He is currently living in New York City and finishing his second novel, Productos desechables (Disposable products)—which he started writing with a grant from the Young Creator’s Program in Mexico—and the collection of fictional biographies titled La maestría del fracaso, with a grant from CONARTE in the state of Nuevo León, México.

Robin Myers is the translator of, recently, The Restless Dead by Cristina Rivera Garza, Cars on Fire by Mónica Ramón Ríos, and Animals at the End of the World by Gloria Susana Esquivel; forthcoming translations include books by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara, Tedi López Mills, Leonardo Teja, and Daniel Lipara. Other work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, The Common, the Harvard Review, Two Lines, Waxwing, World Literature Today, Asymptote, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among other publications. She was among the winners of the 2019 Poems in Translation Contest (Words Without Borders / Academy of American Poets).


Colours of Sage

Original by Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu
Translated, from the Turkish, by the author

 Turning Purple

Everything, but every single thing is cat hair, hanging in the air. Voices grouped up at the narrowest curve of the spiraling street. We are standing behind the crowd, all the way back. You have marks on your hands, stitches on your neck, your head. Drawn… You’re wearing the trenchcoat that makes your shoulders look wider, the one that you picked with your ex wife ten or so years ago. Your stance, your looks, old. Maybe that’s good, for me to get used to you once more. Quick… Summoning the memories back, just like that.

We were both crushed under the weight of tree. Carrying ourselves, carrying a husband and a wife. Hearts and hands full. The days when our freedoms of silence coincided, despite the window sills that wuthered with wind of the cheap apartment we rented in a neighborhood with walls around, the tirades that we both memorized with different decorations of two other houses at the background. Floors are always cold, don’t walk barefoot. It’s, too much.

I wasn’t expecting to see you like this either. Or that there were encounters freezing everyone and everything around. I actually took a step or two back, you saw it for sure. Each memory that I buried deep blasted as tornados, a catastrophic storm, I held on. Oh the stories that poured down from your gray face, I read it all in your moustache. I measured your distance. Without return, ice cold, no reparation. I leaned in to your neck, smelled the inside of your collar. Odors of I’m not coming home tonight, kids’ tuition, your father’s orange garden, underside your wife’s nails. Luckily, down under all my nose picked your ginger lemon essence. I used to recognize your face in magazines, you weren’t out in the middle much, but I catched you in places where I could hear your voice. You had ugly women with you, and veterans whose beards turned yellow from tobacco. After you finished reading your poem and gathered your papers, you would chat with those around. I waited in corners, for your eyes to find mine, or hid just when you turned your head towards me. One night I followed you until the tavern you went, mixed in the crowd and sat at your table. After a while I felt bad about what I did, and decided to leave. I was about to get up, and you noticed me. I let go of my bad that I was holding tightly, and told my name. 

We shared beds. We even stopped changing sheets in time. Fell asleep with yesterday’s moans. Her in your arms, I’m in his. You wanted a room, a world, a place to put our bodies in. You hired that apartment. It had your name in the contract. You hanged the curtains and bought a couch. I chose the bed. Glasses, plates, ashtrays. Crooked, each one is different. Your books piled in there, a desk. Razor, lotions. I went ahead and fill the cracked tub with water. I spent time there even if I was alone, at noons. You bought me slippers.

When I look at you, hands black as ink squeeze my heart. I suffocate myself with wires. I see colours disappearing, harmony breaking, and a heart rotting. My insides stink. Flies fill my mouth. My head leaves your neck and I vomit on your shoes.

I didn’t know what to do when we were first alone together. To pass that doorstep, enter the house from its balcony. Which desire was I going to admit, which urges was I going to allow, how was I going to present me to you? My eyes, were they going to stay open as I leaned to kiss you? To moan or to scream, or to stay silent? To rewind back to the original or to create another, a newer version of all the women I had transformed into until then? I just laid there, as I couldn’t decide whether I should let you lead and act like a novice, unaware of all anatomy, or be an exaggerated whore. You gave a la. You pulled my hair from the back of my neck, with all your force and straightened me up. My eyes stayed wide open after that.

Two children happened to me that you held straight. Onions turning pink, beautiful sofas, manicures. To me, who you slapped and had sit on the sidewalk, insomnia, dehydration, and hunger happened. Numerous shortened sentence, lack of poetry, lots of walks by the beach, organs locked. Pictures of the Siberia trip that we would have taken stayed. Even your face was erased from memory. I forgot about your crude affection, tying my hands, hanging me to ceiling. I deleted your descriptions telling what you would do to me in the couchette compartment. You were before, you had dust on. 

You grab my face and try to take what’s in my mouth. You’re scared that I’ll choke. You carry me to a cab. We’re in a second class hotel. Why didn’t we go to a hospital?

You formed something else out of me, out of the skin that I’d known to be mine, of what was under it, of my hair, my veins, sweat glands. I don’t remember much of it now. I remember anxiously trying to understand where you are in the room, with my eyes covered. Cold, goosebumps. But I do have slippers. You’re behind me, curled up on the couch. Then slippers are taken off of my feet, one by one. Everything that you’ve scraped off me, clogging the drain . Water, won’t just go. Gray, filthy, soapy. I see your legs between my legs. Your sweat like the water running.

I’m cold, pale. You try to warm me up, take my clothes off and rub. Lemon, ginger. The more you sweat the more lemon, and ginger. I want you to rub harder, my skin. I want it to have your mark. I’m shaking but I pretend to be shaking even more. So that you worry. Rub me more, I say, I’m getting warmer. You do. Where you rub turns green, I bruise. Days pass and I turn purple. 


Turning Yellow

They differed so much. There wasn’t even a slight chance that they would meet. They wouldn’t like each other even if they did. They were that apart, that distant. They didn’t stand side by side in the street, not even by coincidence. They just turned yellow around the same time. One sensed in his wife’s face, the other in her husband’s; the secrecy. They played along. After a while, the husband forgot about the night he changed colour, even. The woman, however, pressed on her cramping stomach.


Turning Red

They talk about what they would do at each Trans-Siberian Express stop, after they’re done with sex. About tundra, ice, horses, meat… Slant-eyed children, girls and their pink cheeks, swords, myths, shamans… They feed the censer, and sleep. Their toes entangle while they sleep, and woman’s thigh pushes onto man’s concaving crotch. She falls on her but in her sleep again, she kicks and slaps the one next to her when she’s dreaming, might pull his hair, scratch his face, choke. The man who thinks she’s sleeping with one eye open, wakes up in the middle of the night to pee, and no matter how much he pees he cannot de-erect. He wakes her up. Same as what happened in the evening, but wilder now.

If more than one day are to be spent, the sun rises in the house in walls at three a.m. After eight there’s always the moon.

Door is locked twice, and the key rests in the hole.

Woman makes the bed with newly washed sheets that she brought rolled in her bag every time, man pulls from corners and straightens creases. Pillow case, duvet. Washed illicitly. The blanket on the couch. Stains, cigarette burns, crumbs. A whole day goes by in yoga poses. 

Downward dog. 

Child pose.

Ardha uttanasana. 

From downward dog to her side, wide open to salute the sun, then to warrior, that’s when he can’t resist -the most- and throws himself on her. He likes to get a hold of her at the beginning of the sequence though. At the downward dog.

They cook sage. She walks every room with the enamel cup in her hand. They cough in the strong smell. After the licking, biting, scratching that last for hours, the pose is the same: Savasana. They place their palms on the fuzzy carpet, and wait to find a force that would fix their spines. Incense burns out, leaving ashes behind. It’s this mess that frees them the most. Far from highboys wiped clean.

The woman, she’s done asking why. She’s dizzy in the steam of her sex. She moves in harmony with the textured, deep voice of the poem that spirals around the phallus. The poet looses names, verses, measures while she does. She stops all of a sudden, a realization of some sort. That’s when he starts to tie hands. Behind her, in front of her. To the ceiling, to the floor. A short chain, a long chain. Pain. He buys an electric foot warmer to keep her feet warm in all the nakedness. Nice and warm air flow under her feet, as her crotch covers her head.


Asthangasana. An eccentric music in the background. Its mantra the poet. Toes on lips, groins on back, teeth in an armpit, thighs around the head. The stillness of entanglement. The only time they forget to leave the key in the hole. Chipboard door. Dirty door. Weak. Cheap. Trashy, its lock useless versus a credit card jiggle.

No matter how densed the passion, how strict the taboo, shame finds its way through the surface.

 Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu is a Turkish author, now full-time resident in Georgia, who recently escaped from the political, cultural, and gender oppression in Turkey. She helped create the #MeToo movement within the Turkish publishing industry, from which she was then excommunicated. With an M.A. in Turkish Language and Literature from Bogazici University, Karabiyikoglu has five published books in Turkish and has recently completed translations of two new books for international publication. Having won six literary awards in her country, she has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in Fiction in 2019.


Original by Ana Maria Machado
Translated, from the Portuguese, by Elton Uliana


She didn’t sleep well. She woke up very early, in a sweat.  The air conditioning wasn’t working. It would make a loud noise but nothing of fresh air. Twice the technician had promised to come and fix it but never turned up. Just as the joiner had assured her that he would come and have a look at the cupboard’s door and finally put an end to that horrible creaking noise that it made every time that it was opened. Did anyone come? Not a soul. We rely on people, we wait, the time passes, and no one ever shows up. They’re all flakes. Incapable of sticking to their word.

A short while later she was ready to get up. She had struggled to find a comfortable position, tossing and turning from one side of the bed to the other and had been doing so even before the birds had begun singing their morning song. She thought of her granddaughter and smiled in the darkness. She remembered how the little girl had once told her how much she enjoyed staying at grandma’s house because if she awoke before everyone else, she would hear lots of birds singing in the garden. On hearing their song, she could be sure that it would soon lighten up outside as their melody was a sign that dawn was already upon them. In her own house, she never knew if dawn had already broken or whether she would have to wait a while longer for the birds to arise as it was still the early hours.

Well, on that very day, grandma had woken up in the early hours, before dawn. And she was sick and tired of lying in bed doing nothing. She decided to read for a while. She turned on the lamp which lay on the bedside table, picked up the Bible and opened it randomly, as she often did. She made sure to open it somewhere near the beginning of the book. She found the Old Testament more entertaining, and spent lots of time reading those lively stories brimming with mischief and treachery, when she finally realised that a good amount of time had passed.  The tempting fragrance of the meal that Herminia was preparing in the kitchen wafted in. The aroma of the fresh coffee that evaporated from the filter paper as the liquid dripped into the thermos. The perfume of the freshly squeezed oranges, that would later be left to chill in the fridge. And the tempting scents of bacon sizzling in the frying pan, all awaiting Lydia’s morning call which was generally the go-ahead for her two eggs to be fried. Eggs with bacon, cholesterol on a plate. For so many years Lydia had deprived herself of them. Now, from time to time she left a note to the maid the day before so that she could enjoy the indulgent treat. What would it matter at this point? She knew full well that nothing would make a difference.

She got up and went to wash her face. Soon she would dip the crunchy French bread fresh from the bakery into the sunny yolk. 

Before sitting down at the table, she put on her glasses, chose a CD (today it was Mozart), and glanced over the front page of the newspaper. Like always. But this time she brought the newspaper to the table. She liked to read the opinion articles, following one journalist or another. When Ernest was alive, the two would discuss the daily news over the breakfast that she used to prepare for them. Now the conversation was a silent dialogue with some journalist whom she had never even met. But now at least she didn’t have to make the meal herself. It was already on the table waiting for her. All ready. With a nice slice of seedless papaya. With butter, jam and honey for the bread. And a handful of pills, the first dose of the day to remember all that couldn’t be forgotten. 

Her reading surpassed breakfast time. She continued reading on the chair on the veranda, under the mild heat of the morning sun. The future of the country worried her. There was no way out, she couldn’t manage to detach herself from the events taking place in the country even though she herself had enough on her plate. She ended up taking longer than expected to read the paper. After that she went for a walk in the back garden. She knew that she was lucky to still live in that same house in which she had raised her children and where she had lived to see each plant grow. She would not miss out on the pleasure of enjoying it. Soon when she would be dead and gone, the inheritors would sell it and share the money amongst themselves. Perhaps that was the only way that she could continue to support them. 

She turned the tap on, adjusted the force of the jet that came out of the hose. She reduced the strength of the water to a light drizzle that barely dampened the leaves. She noticed that the bed of marigolds and daffodils had returned to their golden yellow colour like they always did. That vibrant reds had exploded in the geranium pot. That the touch-me-nots in the shaded corner by the wall did justice to their profuse nature, growing wildly throughout the foliage.

She checked the jasmines that had fallen during the night; yesterday the kiss-me-quicks were purple, today they were lilac and tomorrow they would be white. To her pleasant surprise she saw that both bushes still had their buds, a sign of rejuvenation yet to come in the scented corner that enchanted her at night.

In the vegetable patch the shoulders of the carrots had begun to show, sprouting from the ground surrounded by grass that looked like green hair. In the newest bed of lettuce, a few gems were almost ready to be picked already, perhaps helped by the dim shade provided by the sugar-apple bush, where two premature ones were covered by a little cloth bag which she herself had made, a skill taught to her by her grandmother, to deter any pest from affecting the perfect form and the sweetness of its taste. 

–   Madam, the children have just arrived – Herminia called. 

She stopped watering the plants and went to the veranda where the children had come to find her, full of beans waiting to receive their morning hugs. They all sat down. 

–   Do you want a massage, grandma? – her grandson asked, as he always did, knowing that the response would always be affirmative. 

 –  I’ll go and find the flaky-skin lotion – the little girl announced. 

In a snap of fingers she was on her way back, bottle of lotion in hand. Lydia laid down on the hammock, she stretched out her legs, as the children sat on either side of her, and each took a leg between their hands. She closed her eyes and begun to feel the little hands of the children rubbing the lotion into her legs. She smelt the faint aroma of lavender. Once again, she felt the tender touch of the children’s fingers around her legs. Gentle, but capable of provoking a deep pleasure, every touch was full of affection, tender yet vigorous. Life in its plenitude. I wish it would never end.

–  Today we can stay longer. There’s no school, it’s teacher’s training day – said the boy, as if he could guess her thoughts.  – We can stay all day.

A full day with the grandchildren. What a gift! Lydia remembered the magazine she used to read on the plane when she accompanied Ernest on his business trips. There was a section called ‘A Whole Day’ which detailed the schedule for a full-on 24 hours of activities, making the most of everything the city had to offer, a new adventure in each edition. 

–  Excellent! – she said to the children. We can play games and do interesting things all day. 

–  Great! But only after we finish rubbing this lotion on your flaky skin.  – said the girl, as she smoothed the scented lotion onto her grandma’s ankles. 

Lydia wasn’t in a rush to go anywhere. She wanted to fit all the time in the world into that one day. With every stroke, she allowed herself to be transported to another dimension, with her eyes closed, listening to the kids talk amongst themselves, and answering them from time to time. After that, she would arrange a special lunch, full of the simple things that kids enjoyed. With fried bananas and ice-cream for afters. 

While they waited, the children played in the garden. Digging the soil, sowing some seeds, and tidying up.  They inspected earthworms and even a snail. After all that, a good wash was in order. They sat in front of the TV watching cartoons until lunch was ready.

Their bellies full, sure enough, they all felt lazy. Lydia was just about doze off for a nap and suggested that the kids carried on playing. But she couldn’t resist her granddaughter’s request

–  Tell us a story grandma…

They all got cosy in the hammock on the patio with grandma in the middle, all nice and snug. As she talked about princes and princesses, remembering from the stories that her own grandmother had told her, the children began to doze off. It didn’t take long before they were fast asleep. Lydia stroked their hair, gave each a cuddle and ended up falling asleep herself. 

When she woke up it was already late, her daughter was standing in front of her. She had come to collect the children.

–  What did you guys do all day? – She asked.

 ‘We made memories’ could have been the answer that Lydia didn’t get to say, because her grandson jumped in saying:  

–  We played games and looked after each other all day. 

–  Grandma treated us to stories and we treated Grandma to a foot massage – explained the granddaughter.

The two women smiled.

–    They even rubbed moisturizing lotion into my flaky feet and everything – said grandma.

The daughter sat in the wicker chair holding her mother’s hand, and they chatted for a while. Since being a little girl, she had never felt so close to her mum as she had in the last few days.

–  How does it end, grandma? Asked the girl suddenly. I fell asleep before the end of the story. 

–  In that case I will tell you, so that you can learn and tell your granddaughter one day, just as I learned this story with my grandmother. 

And she did, weaving the words while the afternoon faded, and the night came, in a story that would last much longer then she herself. And one day, who knows, perhaps it would be told in the form of a farewell, to a little girl by an older woman who would recall this perfect day whilst she could still remember it. 

Translator’s Commentary 

Ana Maria Machado is a prolific journalist and one of the most celebrated children’s writers in Brazil and her stories for adults have captivated generations of readers. Her career spans from the mid-seventies until now with over forty publications translated in a variety of languages. During the years of 2013 and 2014, Machado presided the Brazilian Academy of Letters, of which she is an elected member since 2003. Contos Inéditos is Machado’s first short story book for adults which I am honoured with the task of translating.  

My overall approach can be thought of in a general manner as ‘domestication’ (Venuti 2013).  If Machado’s magnificent story of memory, family relations and death is to have any impact on the English audience and attract the attention of the Anglophone publishing industry, it must display perfect fluency and cohesion in English whilst retaining both the meticulously descriptive and poetically elusive quality of Machado’s prose. These characteristics are, amongst others, what make Machado’s work so brilliantly unique. My ‘discursive strategy’ (Baker: 31) aims at naturalness of expression and fluency whilst maintaining formal and stylistic approximation to Machado’s original text.  Paradoxically, because Portuguese is an inflected language and English is not, I felt justifiable to indulge at times in some kind of ‘creative infidelity’ (Costa: 167) not only to Portuguese but also to English linguistic conventions, hopefully not beyond the supposed restrictions on lexicon and syntax generally allowed to translators. I recognise that in order to maintain the elusive, melancholic, philosophical character of Machado’s text, some adjustments of this kind should be implemented.  

     ‘Tratantes’ pose a particular challenge for translators for a number of interesting reasons: 

  1. There is a significant amount of play-on-words, puns and cultural items – to start with the title, the word tratante(s) appears in the text with three distinctive semantic functions and represent a complex web of puns or play-on-words so perceptively crafted by the author, one which is practically impossible to be reproduced in English or any other language.  In the first instance tratante means somebody who is unreliable, undependable, or in a more contemporary slang, a ‘flaky’ person or ‘flake’. The second occurrence of the word refers to a child’s mispronunciation of the word hidratante (‘hydration’- as in ‘moisturizing’ cream). And finally, when the boy repeats the word in the end of the story, the character uses it in the sense of ‘looking after’ or ‘taking care’ of each other. Since the layers of meaning elicited by the word ‘tratante’ is a crucially important to the whole design of the text, suggesting, as they do that there is a shapeliness and symmetry to the fictional world of the story, I have decided to recreate in English two of the three analogies of the original by: (a) using ‘flakes’ as the story’s title, addressing the first semiotic situation in the text (unreliable/undependable people). In order to refer to the word again later in the text, creating an ‘artificial symmetry’ (Wright: 13) which verbally suggests, or at least insinuates the textual situation concerning the moisturizing lotion (tratante) which is humorously present in the ST , I have added the expression ‘flaky skin’, so that an allusion not only to the tittle and its signification can be made but also, tangentially, to the idea of death itself. It is conceivable, in my view, that the image of Lydia’s skin which is flaking off and which is being tenderly rubbed by the grandchildren, can in some ways allude to the main theme of the story which is the protagonist’s death. Pressing a lexical item into a ‘presumed equivalence’ (Levine: 67) in this manner might not be the ideal procedure in original writing, however, during a translation process one will inevitably loose in lyricism, semantic aura or imagery but nevertheless there is always the possibility of incorporating different nuances and layers of meaning in the text which may or may not be present originally. To compensate for the third meaning of tratante, I have included the expression ‘looked after each other’, which, in my view, is a sweet way of inscribing similar idea in the TT, even if loosing slightly the playfulness of the concept. In any case, I hope to have re-stablished instead the sense of reciprocity so tenderly suggested by the author. 
  2. The second complex aspect of Machado’s prose in the constant ‘shift in voice’ (Eagleton: 73) and the sophisticated use of free indirect speech (Wood: 57). I felt compelled at times to re-instate the character’s name or denomination more often than in the ST for clarity of expression, particular where the subject is occult in the verb, a feature which is not available in the English grammar.  
  3. I have ‘anglicised’ (Wright: 149) the name of the protagonist Lídia (Lydia) and have changed the name of her deceased husband Ernane to Ernest. It is appropriate, in my view and this specific case, that such a proper noun should not call attention to itself as being of a foreign language in the context of my translation strategies. My main reason for this change is that that an English reader would pronounce the ‘a’ of Ernane not as a Latin vowel but as an English one, a factor that would bring an odd character to a text that could be set in any unspecified place in the world, and not specifically in a romance language country. 
  4. A number of phrase and sentence structure change were implemented (Chesterman: 105) – 
  5. Substitution of Brazilian plant names by English ones which have similar etymological situation – names that colloquially describe the actual plant or flower in one way or another.


  • Baker, Mona. 2012. In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation (London: Roultedge)
  • Chesterman, Andrew. 1997. Memes of Translation (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing)
  • Costa, Margaret Jull. 2007. ‘Mind the Gap: Translating the “untranslatable”’ from
  • Anderman,G., Voices in Translation: Bridging Cultural Divides (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters)
  • Eagleton, Terry. 2012. The Event of Literature (New Haven: Yale University Press)
  • Levine, Suzanne Jill. 1995. The Subversive Scribe: Translating Latin American Fiction (Minnesota: Saint Paul)
  • Munday, Jeremy. 2016. Introduction to Translation Studies: Theories and Applications, 4 rd Edition (London: Routledge)
  • Venuti, Lawrence. 2013. Translation Changes Everything (Abingdon: Routledge)
  • Wood, James. 2008. How Fiction Works (New York: Picador)
  • Wright, Chantal. 2016. Literary Translation (London: Routledge)

Ana Maria Machado is a prolific journalist and one of the most celebrated children’s writers in Brazil and her stories for adults have captivated generations of readers. Her career spans from the mid-seventies until now with over forty publications translated in a variety of languages. During the years of 2013 and 2014, Machado presided the Brazilian Academy of Letters, of which she is an elected member since 2003.

Elton Uliana is a translator affiliated with the Centre for Translation Studies at University College London and the British Translators Association.

Not Your Heidi

Original by Ulrike Ulrich
Translated, from the German, by Marielle Sutherland

This piece was published in 2016, in German, in Viceversa 10, under the title Nicht das Heidi.

“You want for nothing, nothing at all. You’re an unbelievably ungrateful little thing, and because you’re so comfortably off here, you have too much time to think up all kinds of mischief!”

I am not your Heidi. Adelheid is my name. Same as my mother’s. I’m neither “lassie” nor “sweetie-pie” nor “dearie”. You can neutralise yourselves. I’m not “young miss”, either. Or “little girl”. Adelheid is my name. And if you use me again, in a referendum battle, or in a campaign against building second homes or a second tunnel, if you ask again what our Heidi would say, if there’s one more poster or flyer: then I’ll be off. Your Heidi is saying nothing. This is Adelheid speaking now. And I’ve had enough. If you exploit me again. If you stage another Heidi play to kick-start an election campaign. If there’s another heteronomous determination in Frankfurt, freedom at home on the Alp, I’ll pack my bags. Oh, I know all about it. Heteronomous determination. The Rebels will now perform the Heidi song. I am at home in heteronomous determination. Your version of freedom gives me nightmares. No more child labour. No more yoghurt and muesli. I’m lactose-intolerant because of you. Nothing against nanny goats; I like these animals. But sometimes I’d rather go out without them. Bleating and bitching used to be their department alone. And I smiled away. But not anymore. I am not your Heidi. Adelheid is my name. She of noble kind. Nothing to do with “Heiden”, the heathens. But I’m not pious anymore, either. Sorry. I don’t pray like I used to. The good Lord will put things right, for sure. Johanna – that’s the name of my other mother – believed that. She probably trusted in it. Wait and pray. Wait and pray. A lot has happened since then. A lot has gone downhill. If she only knew (Johanna, I mean), she’d do a full rotation in her grave at the Sihlfeld cemetery. Of course, I still know the names of the flowers. Rosebay willowherb and centaury. But now I also know Beznau and Mühleberg, the power plants. I live in the valley and I read the papers. I can read and vote. Yes, I actually live in Zürich now. Sometimes I visit Johanna. Other people put flowers on her grave, too. I live in the Hardau high-rise on the twenty-second floor. I love the view over the city, over the railway, up to the mountains. I love the mountains. I still do. Of course. It’s not their fault. They’re not doing much better than I am. I still like going to Graubünden. I hike there regularly. Only not barefoot. And not in Heidi Land, either – certainly not. Have you ever been there? The song blares out every hour on the hour as soon as you get to the roadside services: Heidi, Heidi. Come back home. Your joy is here. And have you seen what’s going on in the Heidi village? Heidi sausage. Heidi wine. Heidi coffee. Heidi chocolate. Heidi is everywhere. With goat, with Peter, with bouncing plaits. And blonde! You’d have obviously preferred this. Or is it the Americans’ fault? Heidi of the Alps. The golden-haired Shirley Temple. The blonde, plaited Jennifer Edwards. I am not blonde and I am not your Heidi; not the innocent country girl, not holy simplicity. I am not the angel in the house. I am Adelheid, and I don’t have to sleepwalk to find the exit. I earn my own white bread now. I work freelance at the lending library for the blind. No, I didn’t come under foreign rule. Thanks, Alm-Uncle. Thanks, Doctor. Nothing against either of them. Nowadays they live in shared accommodation for the elderly in the Jura Mountains. Quite content. They both just want their peace and quiet. But no one wants to give it to them. Now it’s Bruno Ganz. Nothing against Bruno Ganz. But can’t you film something else for once? Anything else. As long as it’s not William Tell. Just recently, I spoke to Hedwig on the phone. She said William was burnt out. It all just got too much for him. On top of everything else, they’re calling him Willy now. Now it’s on Walter’s head again. Can’t you find some other material? There are so many books. So many stories. From all over the world. But the Germans just had to go and computer-animate the Japanese cartoon series. Heidi new in 3D. Her semi-circle mouth still wide open. Still wearing the same colour clothes. But the song’s been all jazzed up, and Heidi and Peter are slimmer. I am not your Heidi. Adelheid is my name, and I don’t have a body mass index. I’m unsuitable for the mass market. I’m not related to the Heidi on the catwalk. She’d just been born when Gitti and Erika’s Heidi song was blaring through German living rooms. Now she does commercials for burgers and “Yoghurt Gums”. At least she’s earning something – from her name, from her brand. Or her father is. My name is not protected. Switzerland’s Eternal Cost-Free Top Model. At least Johanna spent her twilight years in relative prosperity. But fifty million books sold. In fifty different languages. Who’s making money out of this? Quite apart from the merchandising. I’m telling you: one more campaign, one new product – and I’ll take off. Like the mountain eagle. That bird has always been my role model. Keeping track with ultra-keen senses. Not needing to look up. With big, wondering eyes. Whoever I was with, I was always the smallest. But not anymore. I haven’t been a child for a long time now. I won’t make it easy for you anymore. You can’t transport me back and forth anymore. I won’t be quiet anymore; I won’t do what I’m told anymore. I’m not beneficial to your health anymore. You’ll have to find your own ways of making yourselves happy now, my friends. I did enjoy doing it. Back then. I didn’t know any different. Everyone’s Darling. That has its upsides too. When everyone loves you. Except perhaps Rosemarie. Back then. We’re on first name terms now. Frau Rottenmeier and I. She’s in adult education. Teaches German to foreigners. She can use what she’s learned. Sometimes she still says those things, though. That they should be content. Because they’ve got everything. And just give it a rest. But she’s mostly laid-back; even does yoga. When I visit her in Frankfurt, she asks me if it’s true – what people are saying about Switzerland. She’s still never been here. I like travelling. Sometimes Clara and I go together; we’ve been to a lot of places already. We usually fly from Basel or Bern, where there’s no terminal E with a yodelling Sky Metro. One day I’d like to be able to travel somewhere and say: I come from Switzerland. And to hear someone say: Oh. Geneva. Geneva Refugee Convention. Or Dada. And to find no one recognises me. They might say Lucerne, meaning the festivals. They might say Sophie. Sophie Hunger or Sophie Taeuber. They might say Pippilotti Rist or Rousseau. Giacometti or Kübler-Ross. Dimitri or Del Ponte. They might say Jean-Luc Godard. Or Agota Kristof. In Germany they’ve at least heard of Emil. And Roger Köppel from the SVP, of course. Perhaps Köppel will replace me in Germany soon. What do you associate with Switzerland? Clocks, cheese, Köppel. Peter thinks that’s good. Peter – oh dear. He’s always acted out of fear. Out of hunger. Or out of rage. Sometimes I think he’s secretly your hero. Raising a fist, into the backs of the others; the wheelchair down the mountain. Nonetheless, a tenner from Frankfurt every week. For a lifetime. I should have paid more attention to him; listened to him once in a while, too. I’m still sorry about the methods I used to teach him to read. More efficient than the tutor, the nice Herr Kandidat. I scared him. I threatened him with the catchphrases from Clara’s ABC textbook: If you stall at J, K, L, you’ll be whipped and beaten well. If you forget M, N, O, P, you’ll get nothing for your tea. Now he’s a candidate himself, working with catchphrases just like these. Sometimes we meet at the station for a coffee. He’s on the road a lot. Bi di Lüt, he says: “With the people”. But not because of the TV show of that name. He’s not on good terms with public service television. It doesn’t annoy him in the slightest when people call him Goat Peter. He’s not bothered by the image, either. As long as they don’t call him “Peter the Goatnerd”. But now the TV people are also calling asylum seekers training as shepherds in the Bündner region “Goat Peters” – well, he’s not happy about that. Heidi, he says, my Heidi, we have to defend ourselves. And he’s right, of course. We have to defend ourselves. Only, my name isn’t Heidi – he just doesn’t seem to be able to remember that. I am not your Heidi. Adelheid is my name. Neither the innocent country girl nor holy simplicity. And if you don’t stop doing it. One more poster. One more slogan. If you keep filming me, processing me; if you don’t leave me in peace. Then I’ll take you to court. Personality rights. But you’ve already heard of those. Or haven’t you? If you carry on like this, I’ll take you to court. Get it? And I’ll take it all the way to Strasbourg. 

  1. This open letter, dated 15 October 2015, was sent to numerous Swiss magazines but was not printed because it was too close to the day of the Swiss federal election; it was thereupon disseminated by Adelheid via social media.
  2. Translator’s note: In addition to the connotations of “neutralise” here, the Swiss German words used in the original text are all diminutives referring to women of different ages (“Meitli”, “Mami”, “Grosi”). “Heidi” itself is an affectionate diminutive of “Adelheid”. These diminutives have the neutral gender “das”, and female names are often used with the neutral gender in Swiss German, so there is a play on the idea of grammatical gender. Heidi is frequently referred to as “das Heidi” (“the Heidi”) in the original novel. Ulrich’s original text is called Nicht das Heidi.
  3.   Adelheid, too, took part in the successful crowdfunding campaign “Mir langets” (“I’ve Had Enough”) to protest against canvassing by the national-conservative, right-wing populist party, the SVP (Swiss People’s Party) shortly before the election on the cover of the free daily Swiss newspaper 20 Minuten.
  4.   After the Heidi theatre performance that kick-started the election campaign, SVP politician Nathalie Rickli spoke on the issue of “No Annexation [note the choice of word here!] to the EU” at the SVP delegates’ conference in St Luzisteig on 22 August 2015.
  5. Not all consumers appreciated the fact that Migros, the retail company behind the Heidi brand of food products, filmed its Heidi advert in New Zealand in 2011. The following year, it returned to the Swiss mountains.
  6.   Heidi Schoggi (chocolate) is produced in Romania and is owned by the Austrian firm Julius Meinl AG. Its logo is the famous “moor”, whose dark skin colour was changed under public pressure.
  7.   The New Zealand Migros Heidi has blonde plaits, as does the Heidi on the MySwitzerland website. In the original book Heidi is described as having dark, curly hair.
  8.   “You may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily.” From the essay “Professions for Women” by Virginia Woolf.
  9.   Adelheid has also narrated the essays of Virginia Woolf for the audio library for the blind.
  10.   Ganz played the grandfather in the 2015 film “Heidi”. In response to a request by the Raclette Suisse Association, the production company integrated a Raclette scene into the film, a scene which was used in a TV advert for Raclette even before the film premiere.  
  11.   “Anime Heidi in 3D” (2015) has already been sold to one-hundred countries.
  12.   Gitti and Erika have recently released the new CD Wolkenlose Gefühle (Cloudless Feelings). Their album with the Heidi title song has sold forty million copies.
  13.   Günther Klum has been director of the multi-million company Heidi Klum GmbH since 1996.
  14. Translator’s note: Johanna Spyri’s novel was originally published in two parts, the first called Heidi: Her Years of Wandering and Learning, and the second called Heidi: How She Used What She Learned.
  15.   In the nineteenth century, a private tutor with a university degree was permitted to use this title.

Ulrike Ulrich was born in 1968 in Düsseldorf, and has lived and worked as a writer in Zurich since 2004. Her debut novel fern bleiben was published by Luftschacht Verlag in Vienna in 2010; this was followed by her second novel Hinter den Augen in 2013 and a story collection Draussen um diese Zeit in 2015. Together with Svenja Hermann, she has also published two anthologies of literary texts to mark 60 and 70 years of human rights. Ulrike is part of the Zurich literature group Index and is involved in the art project Literatur für das, was passiert.Her writing has received many awards, including the Walter Serner Prize and prizes from the city of Zurich for her novels. In 2016 she was awarded the London Stipendium by the LandisGyr-Stiftung and was granted a working year by the city of Zurich to work on her new novel, “Während wir feiern”, which will be published by Berlin Verlag in April 2020.

Marielle Sutherland studied German at Oxford University and completed a PhD at UCL. She taught German Studies at various universities and English at secondary level before becoming a freelance translator in 2011. She holds a Diploma in Translation from the Institute of Linguists. Her academic publications include Images of Absence: Death and the Language of Concealment in the Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (Weidler Verlag, 2004) and ‘Globale Empfindsamkeit: Rolf Dieter Brinkmann’s Poetics of the Global’ in Local/Global Encounters, ed. by Renate Rechtien and Karoline von Oppen (Rodopi, 2007). Her publications as a translator include Extinguished, by Catrin Barnsteiner, in Comparative Critical Studies 4.1 (2007) (short story); Rainer Maria Rilke. Selected Poems, co-translated with Susan Ranson, ed. by Robert Vilain (OUP, 2011), Dark Matter: Choreografien von Marco Goecke/Choreographies by Marco Goecke, ed. by Nadja Kadel (Königshausen und Neumann, 2016), and Bauhaus Architecture 1919-1933, by Hans Engels (Prestel Verlag, 2018).


The Maze

Original by Ayah Raafat
Translated, from the Arabic, by Essam M. Al-Jassim

Only silence is allowed here. You can cry, shout, and wail, but you do so without uttering a sound.

When I was a little boy, I went with my father to the theme park. He told me to go on the Labyrinth of Fear ride, but I was afraid. I asked him to come with me, but he insisted I go alone. I eventually saw it ‎wasn’t too scary of a maze—only two corridors—but I felt lost inside it. As I made my way through, silent tears rolled down my cheeks. Finally, I found my way and came ‎out, trembling. 

“You’ve become a man now,” my father uttered. “Men don’t cry,” he rebuked in a harsh tone‎.

From that day forward, I knew men never cry. 

The next day after school, my father noticed a bruise on my face. When I told him I didn’t hit the boy back, he was enraged. He beat me and warned never to let someone put their hands on me again. But the boys’ hands didn’t stop reaching my face. My father, in turn, struck me repeatedly. 

I grew up, and when my father died, I never cried or uttered a sound, I remembered him warning me that men don’t cry. I never had a strong personality.  As a child, I was a coward and an anxious young man.     

Eventually, I got married and had a son. When he came home from school one day with the same bruise at the same age I did, I shouted, beat, and reproached him just like my father had done to me. I never wanted my son to be like I was; I wanted him to be as strong and brave as my father had been.

I’ll let no one touch him or make him cry‎, I swore to myself.

“Get dressed. We’re going for a walk,” I told my son and took him to the same theme park my father had taken me to and insisted he go on the Labyrinth of Fear ride alone.


Ayah Raafat is an Egyptian novelist and short story writer. She was born in Mansoura, Dakahlia Governorate and is a graduate of Mansoura University. She obtained her medical degree at Mansoura Faculty of Medicine. She started her successful writing career in 2008. Ayah Raafat published a collection of short stories and two novels. Her novel When The Truth Lies has achieved critical acclaim.


Essam M. Al-Jassim is a Saudi translator. He taught English for many years at Royal Commission schools in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. He ‎received his bachelor’s degree in Foreign Languages and Education from King Faisal University, Hofuf. His translations appear in a variety of print and online literary Arabic and English journals.

Lives Hidden

Original by Andrea Zelaya
Translated, from the Spanish, by the author

We were lying down, at night, looking at the stars, you and I. Only there weren’t any stars that we could look at. We were pretending. We were on top of all those boxes, covering ourselves from the cold with a shared blanket, and the sky was the dark above and around us. We were the last to still have some human in us. The rest were all gone. They had been killed on earth during the war and then during the migration, when the technologicals were trying to stop us from coming in. I was telling you about how you had to hold on because we were the only ones still with some human in us. We were part machine but we were still human, unlike the others. The others were all technologicals. I was telling you all this. I was telling you about how we were the only two children who had survived the cages and the mutilations. All adults were meant to be killed, and some of their children were captured and put in cages to await mutilations, to open us up, to see what made us human, and to take it away. Most died. But we didn’t die, you and I, because of that guard, that guard who was a mixed one. Somebody had helped her survive before and then she helped us too. She tried to help others but then she got caught and killed. She knew how to perform the operations and gave me a technological arm and foot and gave you a technological leg and a half face. She also gave us this blanket. I was telling you all this as we were lying down on all those boxes filled with technological parts she kept hidden inside this broken vessel. But I couldn’t read your expression. I think that you were scared, and tired, and in pain, like I was, but I couldn’t tell anymore. I think you tried to move your lips, but then nothing really happened. So I told you to try to rest. I told you we would figure it out. We would have to live our lives hidden from now on but we would try to keep surviving, day by day. Rest your eyes, I said to you, while I closed your human and your technological eyelids at the same time, and imagine that we’re on a terrace on earth, lying down at night, looking at the stars. 

Vidas escondidas 

Estábamos acostados, en la noche, mirando las estrellas, tú y yo. Sólo que no había ninguna estrella que pudiéramos ver. Estábamos fingiendo. Estábamos arriba de todas esas cajas, cubriéndonos del frío con una cobija que compartíamos, y el cielo era la oscuridad sobre nosotros y alrededor de nosotros. Éramos los últimos que todavía tenían algo humano dentro. Los demás ya no estaban. Habían sido aniquilados en la tierra durante la guerra y luego durante la migración, cuando los tecnologianos estaban tratando de impedirnos llegar aquí. Te estaba diciendo que debías aguantar porque éramos los únicos aún con algo humano dentro de nosotros. Éramos parte máquina pero éramos todavía humanos, a diferencia de los otros. Los otros eran todos tecnologianos. Te estaba diciendo todo esto. Te estaba diciendo sobre cómo éramos los únicos dos niños que habían sobrevivido las jaulas y las mutilaciones. Todos los adultos tenían que ser aniquilados, y algunos de sus niños fueron capturados y puestos en jaulas a esperar la mutilación, para abrirnos, para ver qué nos hacía humanos, para quitárnoslo. La mayoría murió. Pero nosotros no, ni tú ni yo, gracias a esa guarda, esa guarda que era mixta. Alguien la había ayudado a sobrevivir antes y ahora nos ayudaba a nosotros también. Trató de ayudar a otros pero fue descubierta y aniquilada. Ella sabía cómo realizar las operaciones y me dio un brazo y un pie tecnológicos y a ti una pierna y la mitad de la cara. También nos dio esta cobija. Te estaba diciendo todo esto mientras estábamos acostados en esas cajas llenas de piezas tecnológicas que ella mantenía escondidas en esta nave averiada. Pero no podía descifrar tu expresión. Creo que tenías miedo, cansancio, y dolor, como yo, pero no lo podía asegurar más. Creo que intentaste mover tus labios, pero nada sucedió. Entonces te dije que descansaras. Te dije que lo solucionaríamos. Tendríamos que vivir nuestras vidas escondidas desde ahora pero intentaríamos seguir sobreviviendo, día con día. Descansa tu ojos, te dije, mientras cerraba tu párpado humano y tu párpado tecnológico al mismo tiempo, e imagina que estamos en una terraza en la tierra, acostados en la noche, mirando las estrellas. 


Andrea Zelaya is a student in the PhD literature program at UCSD, and has published her short stories and poetry in both English and Spanish. She has also worked as a pro bono translator.


Original by Siloh Radovsky
Adapted, from the Lasse Hallström film, by the author

Let’s pretend: 

I am the Chocolatier. 

Carrying colonial blood around in wooden vessels; also, the woman who refuses to stay, moving from place to place only to rescue restless souls from Christendom. Her father (my great- grandfather) was the one to collect the secret Cacao rituals with his ethnographic apparati— transcription, transmission, etc. But her professional peddling most closely mimics matrilineal survival strategies. 

Relocating to the tweed town full of broken marriages wrapped in wool jackets, Vianne began to foil the sweets. 

Finding the correct flavor unlocks the stuck blood portal due to chemical traces they crave. Though at the time what comes across is a hint of understanding—lumps of sugar which know the soul. 

She means it truly, wrapping her own self up in her woolen coat and visiting tropical sunshine upon citizens’ calcifications, agitating them out of daily abuse: “This delicious flavor filling your mouth means you deserve better—the best each day.” Hot cocoa for wayward boy-child, pastilles for his secretly diabetic Gran. But the danger lies not in the indulgence itself but the suggestion of pleasurability. 

Culturally, our broken sweet tooth soothed in but one way such that the Gremlin shirks off to its alternate enclaves leaving behind a slime trail of ethical hedonism interspersed with some badly- needed nutrients. 


My grandmother was beholden to the brick & mortar, with all the trappings and covered in fog, castle-like, with some excessively repentant village mayor breathing down her neck about Catholicism. Back then, the 1950’s, the technology was social engineering. Things are different now but the same—the technology is still social engineering—except now I’m beholden to the app, freed and not freed from the constraints of physical place. The app is called Cafe. It says, Take this quiz, this personalized quiz regarding which category to place you in then the advice will algorithmically follow. We chocolatiers have been both aggregated and multiplied so I’ve been teleporting my emotional labor into the privacy of the home while the Developers work on building a market for us. The Developers say, Thanks for believing in the work we do every day! Only they’ve programmed that saying, and everyone gets the same message. Meanwhile, I play the roulette one-on-one, inviting my customers to dig deeper inwards. They take the quiz and I match them with a chocolate box; they receive the box in the mail after they spin the Plate and interpret it all Rorschach-like. 

Once and a while while that digitized relic blurs on-screen someone will say, “I see my employment prospects.” Ah, the hunger for financial security—I recognize and resonate but must uphold my position of transcendence. I tell them that if they master themselves as students of their own desire, they too can occupy this position, refracting their positivity and good taste; it’s a good side-hustle. We were not the first to digitize this highly-structured system of understanding, externalizing the pathways of our diagnostics, but we’ve learned to work within the constraints we were given. My lineage is a lineage of restless wanderers and we’ve always learned to make a place for ourselves in a less-than-ideal circumstance, while earning for ourselves a nominal fee. While clicking the buttons for cayenne pepper recipe (lacking-passion- dominant) and rose cream packet (needing-sweetness-dominant) I try to reconnect to my grandmother and think about how much more efficient our job has been made. She was so dressed up and ready for the show, in that dollhouse for chocolate she spruced up real good (the place was such a cave before) for the pleasure of the townsfolk. But now we can go ahead and wander around as we please, and we are even free to work other kinds of jobs, and develop other aspects of our personhood. Even so, as I assign chocolate boxes for my customers, I try to keep the spirit alive. I send out a little prayer for the renewed manageability of their daily lives, reminding myself that in the faintest personal realignment is the potential for an unquantifiable expansion. “Will it or will it not change the whole lonely city,” I wonder, while peering out the window of my apartment, wondering if I have earned enough that day to take myself to the cafe down the street for a little treat, squeezing my eyes shut to relieve the pressure of digital eyestrain. I think Damn, I sure could use some chocolate. 


Siloh Radovsky is a graduate student at UCSD in the Literature department, pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing. Much of her research and creative work concerns the contemporary landscape of self-care, its connections to the violence of colonization, and the perimeters between science and pseudo-science in medicine and health fadisms. On this adaptation: “I’m probing the ethics of the contemporary self-care trends that the film anticipates, applying its representation of magical commodities to the digitally-mediated context of the present.”

Speechless Mountain

Original by Dr. Kanakalata Hathi
Translated, from the Odia, by Suchona Patnaik

Rumours and gossips abound about Gopa. There are many voices about her, beyond what is true. Talks do die down. Tomorrow tends to forget today. Again some dark shades of whispers engulf Gopa. Some don’t understand why do people love to gossip. Gopa never seems to be wavering by any such stray remarks. Her eyes beckon, her words cast a magical spell and her conduct remains suave. Gopa exudes an aura of sweetness which fascinates people who gravitate towards her. A calm demeanour, an endearing smile and her graceful conduct make Gopa more attractive. Gopa is middle aged and works as a Professor. Not an amazingly beautiful woman, but certainly a charming person. She teaches history. She is generous and open to all. She doesn’t call anybody for company nor does she turn away anyone. She looks unfathomable and inscrutable. She shies away from intruding queries about her family details and points to a young boy of seventeen or eighteen and says, “He is my family, what else you want to know!” People may say things about her, but nobody can conscientiously give away any facts about her. Gopa usually evades questions about her marriage. When asked, she either smiles or falls silent. Her silence is meaningfully deep. 

 It has been quite some time that Gopa has been teaching in the same college. It being a private college, there are no hassles of transfers and relocation. One generally gets emotionally attached after spending few years at a particular place. The rumour mongers are not just the strangers in the town, but her colleagues and acquaintances also speak ill about her. Gopa never confronts anyone; she takes it all in her stride and quite gracefully at that. It isn’t in her nature to quarrel with anyone. A professor of History is not her only identity, there is another as well. Gopa is a poetess too. No one knows for how long she has been writing, though it seems it has been quite a few years. However, she doesn’t write as frequently now as she used to earlier. Once in a while she pens down a poem or two for some magazines. When asked about her poetry, she just smiles that makes her all the more intriguing.

Gopa’s flair for writing brings her in contact with people of similar interests. She used to receive a number of letters in this regard, which raised the suspicion of her colleagues. Some of the letters never reached Gopa. She knows all of this but neither confronted anyone nor complained about it to the authorities. Gopa had many visitors in a day. People used to meet Gopa on the pretext of some work and she knew their pretence. But it made people gossip more about her. Everyone had his own version of story about Gopa and her unmarried status only made it all the worse.

Years passed by but the rumours about Gopa did not seem to die down. Maybe this is what our society thrives on! All of this did hurt Gopa. Many a time, she thinks of relocating to another place, yet she cannot. She realizes a change of place would not guarantee a change of people’s opinion about her. A disquieting maze of whispers seems to follow her all through. Gopa’s visitors are mostly inquisitive acquaintances in the guise of visitors. The visits are an excuse to intrude into her personal life, into the space that Gopa keeps shielded. A minute’s visit would often linger into an hour. They would twist the conversation to find a chance glimpse into her much speculated and maligned privacy. But they would always fail before Gopa’s stoic silence. Her students also often approach her, with their doubts in history. She is affectionate towards her students. While clarifying their doubts, the agonising moments of her loneliness wither away. But her colleagues and peers entertain a different view on this. To them it is her subterfuge to be in the company of boys. What education a teacher of such character could impart to her students!

Gopa isn’t really alone. She does have a family; father, mother and her siblings. Her parents passed away and the siblings set up their own nests. Life went on. Gopa chose to be independent and single. Often she was a mysterious entity to her own family. Gopa liked to write poems and in course of time got to know Sumay. Over a period of time, they came closer towards each other. Gopa’s personality, grace and conduct fascinated Sumay. Their feelings bloomed with a reciprocal longing for each other. It so happened that once Sumay proposed to Gopa for marriage. Gopa was taken aback. 

“Marriage?” she asked, totally bewildered. 

“Why not? What do I lack?” asked Sumay. “I have not thought of marriage,” replied Gopa. 

“If you haven’t, now is the time,” retorted Sumay. 

“I can never marry you, Sumay.” 

Sumay pursued her, trying to convince Gopa, but she held on to her “No” as the final answer. What ensued next in the room remains hazy in Gopa’s memory. However, she does remember some of Sumay’s words, “Your love was a sham, and women with poetic traits are invariably unfaithful.” “Such women can never be happy with one man.” “Deep down, I always believed you are not what people think of you, Gopa. But today I realize it is true indeed!” “What was the need of this farce, Gopa, if you never wanted to marry me?” This decision of Gopa’s also disappointed her family. Gopa stood frozen, to their detestation. As days passed by Gopa felt suffocated in her own home, with her own family. She could no longer take the words of abhorrence. She felt like going away from the cynicism and bitterness around her which had nearly engulfed her. It was then that Gopa decided to take up the teaching job in another city. She relocated and set up a new home, an unfamiliar place. She remained loving and affectionate to people. But again the same gossip followed her and fastened her like a noose.  Gossips clung to her and she was writhing within to get free. Not going anywhere during holidays and vacations, postal correspondence with a few, people visiting her, and, lastly, Gopa remaining unmarried all crystallized into an obnoxious reputation. But all these merge into her silence. For her to live is to struggle incessantly. Life is so endearing and precious that she cannot recede into the abyss of self-annihilation.

Gopa was in Kolkata to attend a conference. On her way back, as she waited for the train to arrive, she felt someone was pulling her saree. She turned around to see a kid, barely four years old, standing behind her. The boy looked scared and his eyes looked puffed and teary. His clothes were soiled but he appeared to be from a decent family. When Gopa inquired, he could only say his name, “Tutu,” neither his parents’ name nor his address. The pitiable look in the child’s eyes did not allow Gopa to leave him behind and return home. She was a woman after all! Being an affectionate loving woman, how could she be so heartless as to leave a weeping child alone? Gopa was now in a dilemma. She couldn’t decide if she should take the child to the police or to her home. So she decided to first feed the child well and then took him along to the police station. She knew that the boy was a lost child. At the police station she came to know about a train accident the previous day which kept everyone busy. She did not want to leave the child to anyone’s care. Gopa left her address and the child’s photograph at the police station, in case someone came looking for the kid. On her way back, Gopa did not forget to buy new set of clothes for the kid. Tutu evoked the maternal instincts in Gopa. She was no longer worried for the kid. Instead she was thankful to God that she met him, otherwise the child might have ended up being a child labourer somewhere. This very thought was disturbing Gopa. She was reassured that she took the right decision. Tutu grows up with Anurag as his certificate name. He is her only child, her anchor today and for times to come. But that day Gopa didn’t bring Tutu home alone. Along with Tutu came a lot more slander. Who would have believed in the truth! Everyone cast aspersions on her and her character. Gopa never explained, as before. The truth got immersed in her silence. Rumours were afloat that Tutu was her illegitimate child, who she had kept hidden in an orphanage and brought home when he was grown up.

Anurag doesn’t remember much of that tender age when Gopa brought him home.  He addressed Gopa as “Maa” and his world revolved around his Maa. Gopa too had brought up Anurag in the best way she could. She put him in a good school and tried to fill in his life with as much happiness as she could. As Anurag grows up, the fearlessness in Gopa is dying down. She starts becoming panicky, restless and worried. Her bond with Anurag is such that she can’t imagine spending a day away from him, though she doesn’t know how the next day will begin! Gopa can apprehend as if Anurag wants to ask her about something but is unable to. At that moment he looks withdrawn, lost in a world of inexplicable emotions. Questions might be falling upon him. Yet how can Gopa unravel the truth! It has been a prolonged period of lingering indecisiveness to confide in Anurag the truth. When will the moment of revelation come!

Gopa feels quite lonely at times. Her youth has withered with time. She sees every morning the ruins of the past. She feels morose. And to spend the day well she takes asylum in the room where deities are enthroned. After the prayers she begins her Yoga practices and meditation. Her day then lapses into the routine chores. 

“Why do you practice Yoga, Maa? Is it really important for good health?”asks Anurag. 

“I do it for my mental strength, because I need it for you. Yoga does help in physical fitness too.”

“But Maa, people say….”And Anurag stops without saying anything further. 

“What do people say, Anurag?”

Is Yoga the way to sublimate her passion? Alas! How could Anurag ask this! He lapses into silence. His words get stifled in his throat. Questions churn his thoughts, his eyes say it all. Gopa could understand but couldn’t say anything. Anurag takes a pause and asks, “Where do you go every year during vacation? You never tell me, I don’t ask you. People say ugly things about you. I can’t bear their sneering talks; they slice into me like a knife. But I don’t have the answers to silence them.” 

“Yes, my child, I am a very lonely person. I am neither anyone’s daughter nor anybody’s aunt. In this big wide world I am alone.” Gopa realises the time has come to reveal the truth to Anurag. She remains reclusive the whole day. The next morning she takes Anurag with her to Kolkata. Though many years had passed by, still Gopa went there every year during vacations to inquire about Anurag’s parents.

Anurag falls at Gopa’s feet when he encounters the truth about his past. All his allegations against his mother flow out of his eyes in deep reverence. He trembles with guilt and says, “I am only your son, Maa. No one can come and snatch me away from you.” Gopa hugs him tightly and they both weep inconsolable. “Why did you not marry, Maa? Because you had to take care of me?” asks Anurag, still weeping. 

“You have given me the joy and pride of motherhood, my child. What else would I have got from a marriage? Everybody needs a child for the obsequies, and I have you. I know you will discharge your duties well.” 

“Stop, Man! Don’t say anything further! How can I ever live without you?”Anurag cries out with folded hands.

A few days later, Gopa met with an accident. Anurag rushed to the hospital on hearing the news. Gopa was unconscious. She had lost a lot of blood. Anurag wailed and requested the doctors to save his mother’s life.  Gopa was an epitome of resilience. She lived her life on her own terms. She had no regrets and no qualms in accepting Anurag as her child. A woman, who put up a strong fight all her life, could not be defeated so easily by death! Gopa regained consciousness, and saw Anurag’s tear-soaked face. She called Anurag near her and gave him Sumay’s address. She asked him to send a telegram to Sumay informing about her. Anurag didn’t understand, but he did as Gopa instructed him. Gopa’s condition was deteriorating. Anurag was distraught. In the meanwhile, Sumay reached out and headed straight to meet Gopa. This is the day that Gopa had waited for all her life! “This is my son, Anurag,” Gopa tells Sumay. “He has lost his parents and I don’t want him to be alone. You have to take care of him, Sumay, after I am gone.” 

Tears roll down Sumay’s eyes. In a trembling voice he assures that he will take care of Sumay. 

“I did not call you here only for this, Sumay, I want to reveal the truth to you.” Anurag wants to leave the room but Gopa gestures him to stay back. “You know why I refused to marry you the day you proposed to me? So that I can see you on a day like this!” Sumay could not comprehend what Gopa intended to say. He looks at Gopa, clueless. “I was told, I am destined to be a widow, losing the man within days of marriage. I never wanted to lose you, Sumay, never in any condition. But this is what the lines on my palms prophesied.” Gopa cries like a child. All her life she wrapped her emotions under a smile only to let it out today. 

Sumay is stunned. “Gopa, you wasted your whole life for a mere superstitious prediction? You lived on silently with the pain of ugly rumours and gossips?” Sumay failed to bear with it. 

Gopa regains her composure. “Had you not come, I couldn’t have shared this with anyone. The untold agony would have receded into silence forever. So much bliss! I feel peace within.”

Gopa became silent! Winter froze on her soft lips. She winged away from the encaged slavery of all rumours and swampy gossips. Anurag stood there, tears welling up in his eyes. He wanted to scream aloud and tell the world the last words of his mother. His mother was a speechless mountain, who kept alive a thousand wounds, but never uttered a word to anybody. Anurag wanted to wail, but couldn’t, and was slowly turning into a silent mountain himself!

Dr. Kanakalata Hathi is a renowned writer from Odisha, India. For the last three decades she has been writing stories that show her deep and sensitive brooding over life and society. Her stories are collected in two anthologies, Nirbaka Pahada (Speechless Mountain) and Kuhudi Ghara (The House of Mist). She has also translated regional writers into Odia, a language that has been granted the status of a classical language by the Government of India.

Suchona Patnaik is a doting mother, a caring housewife and a PhD research scholar from India. She is keen on translating Odia stories to English for wider redearship of the rich Odia literature. This translated story is a small attempt in that pursuit.


Original by Clara Dawson


It isn’t all that bad I guess. Being a dog. You never have to worry about where your next meal comes from and there’s always someone to pick up your shit. The people I live with are nice enough. My dog house doesn’t leak when it rains. I guess the one bad thing about being a dog is that I wasn’t always a dog. I came into my canine career relatively late in my human one. 42 times around the Sun in a man’s body does little to prepare the one for a life on four legs.

Of course, I didn’t choose this existence. Human or dog. Both are rather miserable in The City. But as a man, I was among my own. People knew me by a human name before all this. Knew my favorite color and favorite Fable stories. However trivial, knowing these things made City life a little less depressing. 

Sometimes I think about everything that has led up to the very second of time I’m currently living- the hundreds of years and thousands of people that have existed in The City before me. Fable has it that there used to be a world unlike anything The City has ever known. Plants used to grow. They weren’t plastic, they were alive. Humans and animals would “breed” and create new beings all on their own. Then of course humans messed it up and polluted the Earth and practically killed everything off. 600 years ago The City was founded right as the old world was going under. People called scientist figured out how to synthesize all the stuff that made up the air and water and food. And promised a self-sufficient world free from pollution problems. Five Revolutions later and The City looks a lot like it does now: synthetic factories run by the Lowers whose products are enjoyed by the Uppers.

Everything comes out of those factories- plants, clothes, food, babies. Before this whole dog business I worked the belt in a factory that produced plastic lawn ornaments. All got shipped over The River of course. The Lowers have no use for plastic lawn ornaments, we’ve never had lawns. No, it’s has been a sea of high rise apartments packed to the brim for as long as anyone can remember. The River is a remainder of the old world. Its waters were polluted beyond repair about 1,000 years ago. Everything defective gets dumped in there (and disintegrates immediately). Personally The River has never bothered me. It’s a comfort really to see its faint green glow at night.

Across The River are the neatly organized neighborhoods of the Uppers. The bridges across the River are tightly guarded by the Policía. They are synthesized to make sure the Lowers don’t cross. They’re constantly trying to quash the Fable from being told but they’re never successful of course. No one knows what language they speak. The Fable says it’s probably something called Span-ish, an old world language. A lot of Lowers think they speak it because it’s easier to kill us. They can’t understand us when we’re begging to be spared.

Anyways- The River. No one, Lower or Upper, goes across that thing. Unless of course, you’re like me. Once man, now dog. Or cat or bird or whatever damn animals the Uppers want to be entertained with. The City doesn’t have any animals. Not in the old world sense. People have been trying to synthesize them for centuries but none of them (or their DNA) survived the ultimate collapse of the old world. People wanted their damn animals though. The earliest Fable story that references transformation uses the date 2212 so some people think it’s about 400 years old. No one knows the process but the Uppers have found a way to turn humans into animals. All the Uppers have to do is put in a request and a Lower is selected for transformation.

Most of the time it’s just a few people a year for house companions. Sometimes they need to “boost Upper morale” and a whole herd of people are rounded up to be in a Circus. Fable stories that are only whispered in the dark tell of periods when Lowers were transformed for Upper consumption. That’s banned now, we think.

I figured things couldn’t get that much worse than my existence as a Lower. Then, a few weeks ago, the Policía yanked me from my cot in the middle of the night. I knew better than to scream. A family had put in a request for a dog, one for their little kid to ride around on. I had been chosen for transformation.



Here’s what I know: someone knocks you out and you wake up with fur. A fat, sweaty man briefly tells you how to act like a “dog”. If you don’t do it, you go into The River. I tried to talk back but a bark came out.

“Good,” he faintly smiled, “you’re catching on already.”

He walked me outside of where I was being held. I was across the River.

We strolled down perfectly gridded streets. Even though I had some idea of how the Uppers lived, the space they had astounded me. The Lower part of The City was crammed. People lived in every nook and cranny they could find. I shared my room with 7 other people. We took turns sleeping on the cot. Here, it was two Uppers to a house. A house! The perfectly square lawns squeaked under the man’s shoes. I forgot I wasn’t wearing shoes, or that I had feet at all. I had paws. I barked in surprise. The man yanked my leash.

“Shut up Lower. Don’t talk unless you’re asked to.”

We walked up to a house with a white door and the man rang the bell. I have no clue how the man knew which house to go to, they all looked the same to me. The houses stretched for miles in every direction as far as I could tell. Another fat sweaty man opened the door.

“Mr. S, nice to see you. Is this the companion we requested?”

“Mr. X, very nice to see you. Yes this is the requested companion. He is already programmed.”

The leash transferred hands and I was pulled inside.



I couldn’t have made that house up if I tried. I’d never seen so much space in my life. So much…shit. The plastic lamps and plastic couch were so clean they shone. Everything looked brand new and fresh out of a factory. The plastic came in colors I didn’t even know existed. It was so unlike the room I slept in I barked again. Mr. X smacked me on the nose

“Rule one, no barking inside. Or outside for that matter.”

A small girl stood at the foot of the bright pink stairs.

“Is that my doggy?” she asked looking at me

Mr. X beamed and handed the leash to her.

“Here you go. It’s yours.”

All I wanted to do was sulk in my dog house and lament the fact that I was a damn dog. But I had this image in my head of a large black shaggy animal tumbling into the green glow of The River. I guess being a dog is better than not being anything at all.

So I did whatever the family wanted me to. It was mostly the girl that requested I do anything at all. Every day we sat down in front of her little plastic doll house- an exact replica of her own home- and she talked to me about the people living in there. I couldn’t respond of course but that didn’t matter.

Mr. X and Mrs. X (who did not acknowledge my existence) left the house every morning and came back mid-afternoon. The girl told me she didn’t know where they went but that it was very important and one day she would do what they do. I was supposed to sit with her every day while she watched her Programming shows. Most of the time I would doze off while she recited lines back to the screen. From what I could glean, the Upper Counsel’s word was like the Fable. Every Upper had to do their part or The City would meet the same fate as the old world blah blah blah. There was never any mention of Lowers or anything across The River.

I figured that living here was going to be better than living as a Lower. I had space and enough to eat. It should’ve been fine. But truthfully the whole existence was fucking boring. Nothing ever happened. No one ever talked to each other. There were no gatherings to tell Fable stories or factory jokes or a closeness that comes with sharing a cot. The family ate together every night then watched Programming and went to bed. Every Sunday Mr. X would use the grill to synthesize food while Mrs. X laid across a plastic lawn chair. The girl would ride me around the yard. Every Sunday we would do this along with every other house in the entire neighborhood.

Then last night I had a dream about my brother. I haven’t seen him in years. He used to steal the little plastic clippings from his factory and bring them back home to build little miniature replicas of The City with. He got transferred to some factory on the very Eastern side of The City and I haven’t seen or heard from him since. But last night, I had this dream about him.

We were back in our room. It was filled knee deep with plastic clippings. The Policía kicked in the door and tore him away from me. His screams turned into a terrible guttural bellow. They had turned him into a cow. I knew he was going across The River. I knew he was going to be slaughtered.

I know I can’t stay here. In this house with these people in The City. I have to escape.



There’s nothing to do but run. It’s night now, after dinner. The X’s have thrown me outside to sleep in the dog house and gone to bed. So has everyone else in the neighborhood. I figure I’ll follow the street I came in on but in the opposite direction, away from The River.

The Policía roam the neighborhood from time to time after dark. Their shiny plastic carrier sometimes squeaks down my street, interrupting fitful dreams. But tonight the streets are silent. Plastic street lights are few and far between- a blessing. There is little cover except the pockets of darkness and occasional hedge. No one goes out after dark. I learned that from watching Programming with the girl.

Ah the girl. I forgot about her. Not that I’d grown particularly fond of her or anything but she’ll miss me no doubt. I felt sorry for her really, cooped up in that shiny house with no one to talk to but a scruffy old dog.

It’s lucky really that I’m a black dog. White fur would have been a little more noticeable. I duck behind a hedge as a carrier creaks by. I can hear them chatter softly from inside. Their language is so strange and unfamiliar. I wonder what they talk about amongst themselves. I wonder what it feels like to kill another person.

The carrier passes and I move on. My paws pad across plastic lawns of identical houses. The story that the crazy old man who lives on the ground floor of my building likes to tell keeps running through my head.

The Wall. Yes, everyone knows The Wall. Encircling The City, keeping out all the pollution from the old world. Outside it is decimation, disease, death. Nothing lives beyond The Wall. But the old man denies this. He says no, we’re wrong. His family founded The City, his family were once scientists! He knows it’s been long enough! The old world! It has been cleaned of all pollution and filth! It is a new world!

Everyone wishes he would just shut up. Some people say he disrespects the Fable with his words, me included. But I’m not me, I’m a dog and the only thing cycling through my head are his words.

“A new world! A new world!”



I have been running all night, dodging the occasional carrier. The houses are becoming larger but there are fewer of them. I am beginning to panic. The sky is becoming lighter and lighter with each block of streets. I know they will find me and I will become a part of The River. I know they will find me and I will become a cow for slaughter and suddenly I have so much hatred for the Uppers

The houses surrounding me have become massive buildings reminiscent of Lower City buildings except shiny and clean and empty. I suspect this is where Mr. and Mrs. X go when they leave the house. I peer through a window and see rows and rows and rows and rows of children. They all look like they’re asleep, suspended upright in tanks of viscous blue fluid. I get the hell out of there.

Suddenly I hit something solid in front of me. It looks as if the buildings keep going on forever but something is definitely blocking my path. I sniff. It smells different here than the air from the last block of buildings. I guess this must be The Wall.

I dig. The plastic lawn shreds easily underneath my paws. I’m surprised at the efficiency of my two front legs. Soon I have a hole big enough to slip under. An alarm sounds. Something in Span-ish is pumped over invisible speakers. The Policía will be here in seconds. I shimmy quickly through the hole and I’m struck by the darkness of the other side. Nighttime again?

I don’t really have time to think because the Policía are right outside the hole, yelling something. The fry of their tasers is almost deafening.

I run.

Not the little trot I was doing through the neighborhood. But for the first time a full out, four legged run. It feels so good.

I can still hear the alarm from inside The City. The bastards are shooting at me! Their guns have a distinct popping that every Lower learns is the sound of death by the time they can walk.

I run and run and run and run for so long I forget what it’s like to walk. My head is pounding and my brother’s screams play over and over again in my head.

My legs give out and I go down. I guess it’s a better end than The River.



Everything is green. It’s brilliant. Blinding. I’m so disoriented but know I need water. I lift my head up and look around.

“He’s awake,” someone murmurs.

My eyes refocus and my senses come back to me. There is a semi-circle of people around me. One of them offers me a cup and I claw for it. But it’s a hand. My hand.

I put the cup to my lips and sip. The cup isn’t plastic and the water is the most delicious thing to ever touch my tongue.

I’m human I think, or close to it. Tufts of thick black fur stick out all over my body. I grab a chunk and it falls off easily into my hand. I notice I’ve shed my claws and they’re scattered around me on the ground.

“The transformation mechanism only works inside The Wall,” explains an elderly woman directly in front of me. She asks what my name is.

“Cy,” I tell her.

“Drink up,” she tells me, “then I’ll answer all your questions”.

I took another sip.

“Where am I?”

“You escaped The City. Well done,” she chuckles.

I blink at her. I sort of assumed I was dead.

“And so you are…”

“I escaped too. 13 years ago. We all did.” She gestures to the 4 other people crouched around me and they nod and murmur in agreement.

Their faces didn’t give away if they are Uppers or Lowers.

“But how? Why? The outside…we shouldn’t be alive.” I sounded like an idiot.

“Ah. Yes, the Fable,” she nodded, “it was true at one time I suppose. But the old world has changed. A rebirth.” 

I considered my surroundings again. The green really was astounding. The color of Upper plastic. But I realize quickly it isn’t plastic… old world plants? Growing plants?

Before me lay a world unimaginable back behind The Wall. Plants of every height, width and color. Overhead stretches plants as tall as my old apartment building. Small tiny little creatures buzz in the air. To my right I notice a river. This one doesn’t glow green. It seems as clear and light as air.

“Come on,” says the woman, “We’ll show you our home.”

A young man with ruddy cheeks and dark hair helps me to my feet and hands me some sort of garment. “Might want to put this on,” he says and winks at me.

I forgot you don’t need clothes when you’re a dog. I’m completely naked.



I walk with the group through the tall plants and up over a hill. Below, in a clearing next to the river, is a group of small brown structures.

On the way down the hill, the woman, named Sima, and Iev, the younger man, explained to me that everyone living in the settlement had escaped The City. There were a mix of Uppers and Lowers, even a member of the Upper Counsel, but that no body went by those terms anymore. Everyone here was the same, driven by the same desire to be free of The City. Free from any type of division or fear.

Sima and Iev introduced me to the rest of the settlement and I recognized him right away. His face surfaced in my dreams time and time again.

Bo. My own brother.

I had convinced myself I was never going to see him again, swallowed up by the factories, The City. But here he was, standing before me, looking slightly older and nothing like a cow.

We embraced and I can’t remember the last time I felt something as solid and real and alive as his body.

I wanted to know everything. Where he was transferred to, what happened after he left, how did he escape?

He recounted the missing years over dinner with the whole settlement. He was working in the factory one day when the Policía took him. He was transformed into a dog just like me. But when he got to the intended house, the Upper that requested him revealed that he was planning to escape The City. He had requested a dog so it could dig underneath The Wall and they could slip out. He told Bo that he had a choice, he could follow him under The Wall or stay within The City. When the time came, Bo went with him.

“He’s just down there at the end of the table,” Bo pointed at a man with furrowed brows deep in conversation with Sima.

After dinner, everyone went to bed. I slept with Bo outside.

“Just like our old cot,” he said and grinned.


As I was dozing off Sima came and woke me up. She said the others all agreed I could stay if I could do my part in keeping the settlement alive. Help with the planting and cooking. Stuff like that. She reminded me the settlement only works because everyone is here willingly and want to use this land. She asked me if I could live this sort of life.

I listened to Bo as he quietly slept beside me and I listened to the river bubbling over stones and rocks and plants and I took in a deep breath of clean, unpolluted air and smiled.

“Yes,” I said, “I’d like to try.”

Clara Dawson is a recent graduate from the University of California San Diego’s Anthropology department. Currently, she’s enjoying her gap year as an intern at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Her favorite authors are Ray Bradbury and Patricia Highsmith.

A Symbolic Story

Author’s note on sigils:

The practice of sigil writing has been prevalent in witchcraft societies for hundreds of years. However, when I first began practicing witchcraft nine years ago, hardly any witch made them. Within the last few years, sigil writing has exploded; you can find thousands of sigils just by googling them.

So what is a sigil? A sigil is a symbol formed from a sentence or phrase. The phrase must include the witches intent: it is what the witch hopes will manifest. A common technique to sigil-making is to cross out any repeating letters, and form a shape out of the remaining lines and curves. Anyone write sigils anytime, anywhere, on anything from paper to pie crusts to lotion on the skin. Common sigils, such as the sigil of Solomon, have become commonly recognized, making sigil writing its own unique language.

The following is a fictional story written entirely of translated sigils. I decided to write it to display the popularity of sigils, as well as a snapshot of modern witchcraft. I hope you enjoy.

A Symbolic Story

The following are a series of sigils: a method of witchcraft in which one writes their intent in a phrase or sentence, removes repeating letters, and forms a symbol manifesting their intent. These sigils were all written by the same person, listed in chronological order, for study. Translations will be provided.

“My friends have friendly conversations.”

“Others’ opinions do not affect me.”

“I can speak painlessly.”

“I am heard.”

“I breathe regularly.”

“No awkwardness with my friends.”

“I am heard,” repeated.

“I hear no accusations.”

“I am accepted.”

“I do not cry.”

“I am invisible.”


Yunan L. Kirkbride is a poet and short-story writer earning her BA in Writing at the University of California, San Diego. Having published since she was eighteen, Kirkbride currently publishes satire as Design Editor for The Muir Quarterly. She also runs an advice blog on modern witchcraft and NeoPaganism. Her work focuses on fantasy realism, horror, and underground cultural societies. In her free time, you can find her watching videos of rabbits or communicating with the dead. She lives in San Diego.