Through The Window


Anka was sitting by the window, looking into the yard. There, sitting on a bench, were Neža and Karmen, giggling, leaning in together in laughter. It seemed to her that they were, from time to time, peering up at her window. Anka pursed her lips and her light blue eyes darkened until they almost became a little bit black. “I hate Neža and Karmen,” she thought, but apparently she thought it out loud, so that Oma heard it, who was just then bringing clean laundry into the room.

“What is it, my little Anka? Why don’t you go down to the yard? And what did you just say?”

“I’m not going outside! I won’t go out there anymore!” she said, tight-lipped, again thinking out loud what was becoming a gigantic thought, one too big for her small head.

Oma was a true grandmother, and she’d been around for a long time in this world. She went to the window, as if she wanted to adjust the curtain, and quickly glanced outside. When someone has seen much of the world, they can see very quickly what is happening in a small yard, even through she had spectacles resting on her nose and complained every day that her vision was getting worse every day.

“Come to the kitchen, little Anka, I’ve baked you something!”

“No, no, I’m just fine where I am now!” Anka stubbornly replied and pressed her nose up against the glass.

The smell of fresh apples and dough was already wafting through the apartment, and her tummy began to rumble.

Oma didn’t say anything else. She left the room, but Anka for some reason followed against her will.

In the kitchen, Oma was cutting the fresh, sweet-smelling strudel. And then she put pieces on three small plates.

“Who is that for, Oma?”Anka asked, surprised.

“Neža and Karmen are also coming, aren’t they? Go call them in. Last time Neža’s grandmother baked cookies, you told me how good they were—remember?”

Anka pictured Neža’s kitchen: the table with cookies, plates, juice, and her grandmother, along with the three girls—how they are munching on their cookies, how they are laughing and are the best friends in the world. Her dark thought wanted to stifle this picture but couldn’t, and somehow it became grey and then completely faded.

Anka ran to the window and opened it wide. The girls looked up in surprise when they heard their names, and then their mouths stretched into sunny smiles. “Oma baked strudel? Of course, Anka, we’re on our way!”

Anka pushed the button that opened the door below, and then she thought: we are up on the third floor, and there are a few too many stairs and no elevator.

“Why didn’t you come down?” they asked, panting, as they walked through the door. “It would be so much fun to play Chinese jump rope, and you jump the highest, Anka!”

The three girls were eating the strudel and giggling, drinking juice and leaning in together in laughter as Oma quietly left to finish hanging the laundry.


By Lili Potpara
translated, from the Slovene, by Kristina Zdravič Reardon


 
Kristina Zdravič Reardon is a PhD candidate in Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at the University of Connecticut. After earning an MFA in creative writing from the University of New Hampshire in 2010, she was awarded a Fulbright grant and spent a year in Ljubljana translating fiction. Her work has been published in World Literature Today, Words Without Borders, and Slovene Studies.

Lili Potpara is a Slovenian writer and translator. In 2002, her collection of short stories, Zgodbe na dušek (Bottoms up stories), won the Prize for Best Literary Debut from the Professional Association of Publishers and Booksellers of Slovenia.
 

The Lie


“Don’t go home!” Tinka implores her grandmother, who is already combing her hair and glancing at the clock. Grandpa will be coming home soon from work, and he will be hungry, this Tinka knows, but she still doesn’t want Grandma to go home. When Grandma leaves, it gets kind of strangely cold in the apartment, even though Mama and Papa come home afterwards. “Stay a little longer, you’re not in a hurry.”

Grandma caresses Tinka and says: “Okay. I’m just going to the store, then. I don’t have any bread, and I’d like to bring Grandpa some coffee.”

Tinka stops whining, and Grandma puts on her coat. She glances into the hall mirror, picks up her bag, and leaves. Tinka quickly runs to the window in the bedroom because from there she can see the courtyard, where no one could walk from the store back to the apartment block without Tinka seeing them.

Tinka crouches by the window. She sees Mama, who comes through the front gate. She sees Papa, who parks his car next to the Kočevars’ Ford. She sees people coming home from work.

“Tinka, come to the kitchen. What on earth are you doing? What’s so interesting out there?” says Mama, as she reheats the lunch Grandma had made. Papa doesn’t say anything because he is hungry after work and wants to eat as soon as possible.

Tinka looks out the window. She has to pee, but she doesn’t go because she knows that Grandma would come back the second she left. She should do her homework, but she doesn’t because Grandma will be coming back any minute now.

The sun is slowly setting. Tinka quickly runs to the bathroom to pee, her sister comes home from music school, Mama is grumpy, and Papa leaves for a soccer game. There is a misty cloud on the glass where Tinka has been pressing her face.

Then it is almost night. Tinka has a bitter taste in her mouth, and it feels like there is a funny cobweb in her stomach. Like there were hundreds of sticky spiders crawling inside her.

“Honey, come watch cartoons. What’s going on with you today?” says Mama, who is still in a bad mood.

“I’m not coming,” says Tinka, and quietly adds: “Grandma just went to the store. It will close soon, and she has to be coming back now.”

Grandma doesn’t come back. Tinka puts on her pajamas and eats a yogurt. She doesn’t look out the window anymore. She doesn’t look anyone in the eye. She doesn’t want to look anymore, but closing her eyes is also hard because when she does, she sees Grandma, how she leaves through the door, how she goes to the store. A hundred times she leaves, and a hundred times she does not come back.

The next morning it seems to Tinka that she aged a few years just overnight.


By Lili Potpara
translated, from the Slovene, by Kristina Zdravič Reardon


 
Kristina Zdravič Reardon is a PhD candidate in Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at the University of Connecticut. After earning an MFA in creative writing from the University of New Hampshire in 2010, she was awarded a Fulbright grant and spent a year in Ljubljana translating fiction. Her work has been published in World Literature Today, Words Without Borders, and Slovene Studies.

Lili Potpara is a Slovenian writer and translator. In 2002, her collection of short stories, Zgodbe na dušek (Bottoms up stories), won the Prize for Best Literary Debut from the Professional Association of Publishers and Booksellers of Slovenia.
 

The Key


The rooftop terrace is really the best place. You can see so far from there, and it has showers, too. It’s like being at the beach. We like to play there most of all. There are three apartments, and sometimes we peek through the windows when no one is home.

You can reach the terrace from all four entrances. Through the locked door on the top floor. The elevator only goes up to the fifth floor, and you have to go to the sixth by foot, and from there it’s only a few steps to the terrace.

There is a small window by the door. You can open it wide. If the door is locked. The parents all have keys. But they do not like us playing on the terrace. That’s why we crawl through the window. If you are small, you can get through it. We are: Alen, Jolanda, Branka, and me.

One day, we want to play doctor on the terrace. Jolanda has cotton balls and shots, Branka has bandages from the first aid kit, Alen has little bandaids, and I’ve got glass slides. “What are you going to do with those slides?” asks Jolanda.

“You know, it’s for when they look through the microscope at a lab, when they take your blood,” I say.

“But we don’t have a lab, and we don’t have a microscope. And who’s going to take blood when we don’t have a real needle?”

Jolanda has a point. But today I have nothing but slides. I know how to imagine that I also have a microscope and can see all the things that swim through our blood, those things called cells.

The terrace door is locked. It’s usually like that. But the key is in the lock. We glance at each other.

“Somebody forgot!” says Alen.

“We must return it,” I say.

“But to whom, if we don’t know who forgot it?” says Jolanda.

“Ana, you take it,” Branka says to me.

I unlock the door and we go onto the terrace, and I lock it behind me, putting the key into the pocket of my jeans. We play. They laugh at my slides. I’m not mad. I bandage wounds when I’m the doctor, and I lay down and moan when I’m the patient. Then we get tired.

I unlock the door and lock it again. I put the key back in my jeans pocket. Then I go to the yard, and at the top of the stairs leading to the school I dig a hole and drop in the key, covering it with one of the little collectible pictures that come in bubble gum wrappers. On top of that, I add a glass slide. Then I bury it all. This is a memento. Only I know where it’s buried.

The next day, Mr. Kovac looks for us around the yard.

“Did you, perchance, find our key to the terrace?” he asks, as we play Stealing Countries, drawing a grid of the world in the dirt.

“No, we didn’t,” we all say at once.

“Well,” says Mr. Kovac, “I don’t know where I put it. I thought…”

My cheeks flush. They burn so much that I steal half of Africa from Jolanda. Then I rush home.

After lunch, when there’s nobody in the yard, I go find my memento. You can’t see anything where I buried it yesterday, at least not much. I think it over. Should I dig up the key and put it in Mr. Kovac’s mailbox? I think about whether to ask Jolanda to do it. In the end, I leave it there.

It’s been many years since then. Now when I get to that yard, it seems very small. They paved the path at the top of the steps leading to the school. I know I’ll never go to the terrace again, that I’m too big to fit through the window. Anyway, I don’t have the key. Only the memory of the memento remains with me. I just still wish I’d thrown the key into the Kovac’s mailbox.


By Lili Potpara
translated, from the Slovene, by Kristina Zdravič Reardon


 
Kristina Zdravič Reardon is a PhD candidate in Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at the University of Connecticut. After earning an MFA in creative writing from the University of New Hampshire in 2010, she was awarded a Fulbright grant and spent a year in Ljubljana translating fiction. Her work has been published in World Literature Today, Words Without Borders, and Slovene Studies.

Lili Potpara is a Slovenian writer and translator. In 2002, her collection of short stories, Zgodbe na dušek (Bottoms up stories), won the Prize for Best Literary Debut from the Professional Association of Publishers and Booksellers of Slovenia.
 

Over The Edge


Simon is being difficult. Mama’s nerves are frayed. She has problems of her own; there comes a time when children are a nuisance even to their mother. And that’s the last straw, she doesn’t feel like a good mother, and she wishes her own mother would take her in her arms and hold her like a small child.

Simon starts to break things. Starts to throw things on the floor and shout. Mama picks things up here and there and tries to soothe him, but she cannot calm him down because she cannot even calm herself down. Simon shouts like a wild banshee, Mama says, though Simon never asks who or what a wild banshee is. Mama wants to scream like a wild banshee, too, but mothers do not scream because mothers are mothers, and mothers always know what should be done.

In the blink of an eye, Mama no longer knows. What should be done, that is. Her hand flies across the small face all on its own, drawing five fingers over his soft skin. It stings Simon, and he falls silent. He stops. Mama also stops and in slow motion watches the hand that slapped him somehow return to her body. “Over the edge,” says Mama, somewhat desperately, more to herself than anyone else.

Simon goes to his room, but Mama stands there, frozen. She is no longer angry, not even sad anymore. She is helpless, and this is something no self-respecting mother ever wants to admit. She would rather be little Simon, or better yet a little Simone. She would be able to deal with the burning on her face, but she does not know what to do with the funny hand that so violently escaped her.

Mama knows that she should not hit a child. Mama knows how a slap hurts. Mama knows because she, too, was once a child. Mama knows how heavy the word “sorry” is and how it fills the ears that hear it. And yet how little it sometimes means, and that’s why you shouldn’t say it too fast.

Mama says it that night, but for real only after several years have passed. When Simon is already a big boy, bigger than her, and his own hand is about to fly out uncontrollably. Then Mama feels the time is right. And it is. Then “I’m sorry” slips easily out of her mouth and Simon becomes small again, and suddenly they are the same size. Small and large at the same time, small enough to know how it hurts and big enough to know how to steady that hand. Mama hugs Simon and he doesn’t try to escape, even though he is so big that it is not cool anymore to hug your mother. And Simon says: “I’m sorry, too.”


By Lili Potpara
translated, from the Slovene, by Kristina Zdravič Reardon


 
Kristina Zdravič Reardon is a PhD candidate in Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at the University of Connecticut. After earning an MFA in creative writing from the University of New Hampshire in 2010, she was awarded a Fulbright grant and spent a year in Ljubljana translating fiction. Her work has been published in World Literature Today, Words Without Borders, and Slovene Studies.

Lili Potpara is a Slovenian writer and translator. In 2002, her collection of short stories, Zgodbe na dušek (Bottoms up stories), won the Prize for Best Literary Debut from the Professional Association of Publishers and Booksellers of Slovenia.