Translated from Slovak by Julia and Peter Sherwood
Who is this, the woman thought in the morning, gazing at her husband. She stepped back from the bedside table and went over to the wall without taking her eyes off the figure in the bed, then sighed and looked out of the window.Â She registered the dog in the large empty courtyard, another courtyard behind the first one and a house behind that, then another house and a hillock nearby.
A rolling countryside. Groves and vineyards.
Somewhere closer to the distant horizon the womanâ€™s eyes conjured up a forest and celestial birds flying high above it.
Who is this, she wondered later, in town on a Friday afternoon. Â She peered out from behind a baguette shop.Â As she snooped on her husband she saw him walking towards the Montreal Pub with a couple of shabby individuals, slowly, swinging a briefcase that had once looked smart, happy about the fact that the weekend was about to begin. The pub consisted of two parts, one worse than the other. The threesome headed for the worse part.
The woman began to sneak closer to them. Burning curiosity lent her strength and put a spring in her step.
She followed them into the pub. She found herself a hiding place behind a curtain near the toilets.
â€”ÄŽusko, what will you have? â€” said a short, balding guy, the fatso from the railway station.
â€” Iâ€™ve had two gins alreadyâ€¦ went out in the lunch break with Gabo â€¦ soâ€¦ I wonâ€™t say no to another ginâ€¦ and a small beer â€” said her husband, slouching over the table but basking in the pleasant anonymity that his mediocrity normally conferred on him. He was smiling.
Who is this, she couldnâ€™t stop musing.
She leaned against the wall, half closing her eyes.
When she awoke he was gone.
She rushed to the station, hastily bought a train ticket, and having got off at her home station she slipped into HilÃ¡rikâ€™s, the dive at the edge of the village. Catching her breath, she watched her husband, his head slumped over a shot of some translucent liquid, and wondered: who is this?
Who is this, she contemplated seriously the next day in the vineyard, observing through twisted vine stumps the carefree, slightly rounded, badly shaven, ruddy face of her husband, muttering something as he fingered the plants with tired, solemn movements that seemed serenely slow.
Who is this, she kept burbling to herself every day, first thing in the morning, before leaving for her badly paid job, whenever she caught sight of her husbandâ€™s thin pale legs with their swollen ankles sticking out from under the comforter. Invariably they reminded her of the extremities of an albino spider. Had she married an insect? Why did she do it? Somebody must have forced her! It was they who made her do it! She compressed her lips and moved her jaw, full of anger and bitterness. Itâ€™s all their fault!Â She glared in the direction of the village.
Itâ€™s not just their fault.
She slumped onto the footstool in the hallway. It was she who had chosen this trajectory. And this is where she had ended up.
Outside, the chain by the kennel ends in a dog. The dog canâ€™t have been the one that chose its trajectory, someone else must have tied it to the rattling, clanking leash.
She turned around and was horrified to see a mirror emerging from a dark corner. Behind it there was another mirror, reflecting what was reflected before. And behind it there was a third, reflecting nothing. This mirror looked as if it had been printed in large capital letters, as a definitive answer to her question, but it was an answer she could not accept. Â Every other object cowered by her feet, tiny italics full of typos, omissions and factual errors. The sofa, covered in tattered pigskin, had been made this way. The conference table, its glass covered in fingerprints, had been made this way. The fingerprints screamed of another past, more affluent and meaningful, when young state officials, her husbandâ€™s co-workers, used to gather around this table, wearing their status like some ill-fitting, humiliating overalls.
From the hallway she could see that something was wringing the dog. Whatever it was, it first made the dog bark for a while, only to drop it again, leaving it lying in front of the kennel. But suddenly it came back, whatever it was, and started hurling the dog around the courtyard.
Howling, muffled whining.
Sorrowful, stepped-on-the-neck, horrible-funny living noises.
She stepped back behind the curtain.
But after a while she crept forward again. Did the curtain just brush against her pointy nose or did it also touch her dry lower lip?
Whatever it was, it was dragging the dog behind the kennel, getting its body entangled in the chain and reducing its options. Soon there wonâ€™t be any chain to spare to let him yank its four spindly legs.
Somewhere in the wall a pipe started fizzling.
The dog has turned into a lump of tendons, convulsing and relaxing, and she senses that all this is connected to her. It affects her sharply and directly. She is naked underneath it all. Who is doing all this? Who is this?
The blood-caked hairs on the dog’s tortured body were turning into symbols. With a painful sneer she realized what they meant. She ran towards the dog, brushing through its hair harshly to stop the symbols spotting her, spelling her and articulating her as an incantation.
Then she decided to take a radical step. She went back indoors and with all the concentration she could muster dared to look straight into the mirror in the depth of all the mirrors. Who is this, she felt like asking again. Â She kept asking the question, compulsively, over and over. She looked straight ahead, finally whispering:
Then with a more comprehensive whisper:
â€”Itâ€™s nobody anymore.
She joined her husband in the kitchen. He was eating something, bent over the table, every now and then turning the page of a newspaper. She said to him:
â€”What is it? â€” he said, startled.
â€”You areâ€¦ â€” she hesitated.
â€”You are mine and I am yours.
Afterwards ÄŽusko wondered if it was some totally alien uncertainty or fear quite unknown to him that had made his wifeâ€™s voice tremble or if it was because, just by chance, he had forgotten to turn up the heating in the morning. But what was the point? Spring was coming.
Vladimir Balla is a Slovak writer. He has published eight collections of short stories and a novella,Â ‘In the Name of the Father’Â (V mene otca, 2011), which won Slovakiaâ€™s most prestigious literary prize, the Anasoft litera award, in 2012. His work has been translated into Czech, German, English, Hungarian, Polish, Slovene and Serbian. ‘Spring is Coming’ appeared in the 2008 collection ‘CudzÃ’Â (Strangers).
Julia SherwoodÂ is a freelance translator. She grew up in Czechoslovakia, has lived in Germany and the UK and is currently based in Chapel Hill, NC.Â Her book-length translations include ‘Samko TÃ¡leâ€™s Cemetery Book’Â by Daniela KapitÃ¡ÅˆovÃ¡ andÂ FreshtaÂ by Petra ProchÃ¡zkovÃ¡. She is Asymptoteâ€™s Editor-at-large for Slovakia and chairs the NGO Rights in Russia.
Peter SherwoodÂ isÂ Professor of Hungarian Language and Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has translated the novels ‘The Book of Fathers’Â by MiklÃ³s VÃ¡mos and ‘The Finno-Ugrian Vampire’Â by NoÃ©mi SzÃ©csi as well as stories by DezsÅ‘ KosztolÃ¡nyi, Zsigmond MÃ³ricz and others, along with works of poetry, drama and philosophy.
‘Spring is Coming’ first appeared in Inventory No. 3, Fall 2012, and is reprinted here with permission from the translator.