Stories as disturbing as they are comforting

Table of contents:

Stories as disturbing as they are comforting
Stories as disturbing as they are comforting

About the author

Dena Popova was born in 1987 in Sofia. She graduated in cinema studies and political science in the USA and Spain. Her texts have been published in "Rodna Rech" magazine, "Sega" magazine, Vox Populi, SofiaLive, "Savremennik" magazine. While studying at Whitman University in Washington, he was part of the editorial board of two literary magazines - Quarterlife and Blue Moon, awarded by Columbia University as the best university literary magazine in 2008. The same year, Dena was one of the participants in the first Seminar in Creative Writing, Sozopol, organized by the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation. Her first book, Girls from Good Families, was published in 2009.


About the book

The seriousness of this book - polished to a shine, with carefully arranged words that you can't touch with your finger - is not in its number of pages. Pure and honest work. Don't let the ease of speech fool you, though – beneath the deceptive casualness and delicate understatement lies a quiet hopelessness, personal and foreign. And though "we're all spinning the wheel like mad hamsters who can't get away from it," though each of us has at least "a slight rumbling as of a sick tooth, upper right," these stories are as disturbing as they are comforting. In the same way that Bill Murray's words are comforting to you too, albeit only whispered to Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation.

But the best thing about The Old Days is its characters - each of them different and interesting, makes you think of them suddenly, as you hang out, and think about them for hours. Fictional or not, nothing can convince me that their existence somewhere out there does not continue. I want more for them too. Or for others like them.

“Buy this book now while we wait for the next one. If you don't have any, steal it. I feel like Dena has already paid for every word in it.”

Irena Georgieva


Tales of Central Park Snakes

It was the middle of July. It was past eight in the evening, and the heat that gripped Manhattan seemed to be getting heavier.

Mariana paid for the strawberries at the fruit and vegetable stand on the corner of 86th and Broadway. Also pay for yesterday's bucket.

When he sat down on the park bench by the river, he didn't feel any coolness, but at least he was breathing a little easier. It looked calm on the other side. The windows of the small one-story houses lit up one by one.

Half an hour on the park bench and a bucket of strawberries. These were Mariana's two biggest secrets since she came to New York 6 years ago. She had only tasted a strawberry once in Ecuador. It was one Christmas. At the end of the mass, three or four nuns walked between the pews and handed out a strawberry to everyone. Mariana ate it all at once and didn't tell anyone at home because her mother wouldn't let her go to church. She was tormented all night by a seed from the strawberry, which was lodged between her molar and wisdom tooth.

Here in New York, strawberries were imported from Greece and inexplicably cheap.

Mariana sat on a bench on the edge of Manhattan, watching the ships heading north to Canada and waiting for the heat to peel off her skin.

– You, Mariana Pichisaka Chimburaso, you who are the true daughter of a shaman from the high peaks of the Andes, where it is so high that rainbows come even without rain and the grass is born from the dew drops every morning, how many strawberries can you eat before you get tooth decay?

– Twenty at most. They put as much in the buckets. As 9 o'clock approaches, I must hurry. I take the high five and go home. 9 o'clock in the evening, so it's 4 in the afternoon in Ecuador. Ranti and Nicolas come home from school sometime around this time. Then I call them on the phone. Ranti is in the fourth grade and Nicholas is in the seventh grade. Christina takes good care of them. Somehow I manage my sofas and mine. So. So we agreed, she takes care of them, and I send money - for the house, for school, for clothes. Good thing they were already grown when I left and quickly got used to her.

– Mariana, looking at your face, you look like a queen. Your braid reaches your waist. How many mares dream of such a tail. Your body is weird though. It's a bit funny with those short and crooked legs like an old lady. How old are you Mariana?

– I left at 26. A long time ago, so now I'm 34. I'm only a sugar cake princess. And in the afternoon I am your servant, senora, I walk you around the park for three hours. I'm not complaining, you're paying pretty well for those rides in Central Park. And how old are you, Senora Eliza?

– At 86, I don't wish them on you. Look how rough I am now. I'm your grandma. I can only learn from you. Since you appeared, Mariana, since last October I have had a dream. I want to turn into a three-layer cake covered in green frosting. To be toasted, cut into 40 pieces and disappear.

– Take it easy, senora. I'm getting better at making wedding cakes, so I'm sure this will happen for your next birthday too.

– Stop, stop here, Mariana. You're pushing me so fast I can barely hear you. I'm not a baby. I want you to speak to me slowly and clearly. What did you say a moment ago?

– I say I'm getting better at making wedding cakes so by all means your dream will come true soon ma'am.

– Tell me what you and Ranti and Nicolas were talking about on the phone.

– I tell them about the cakes. Yesterday I told them that I made a cake covered with jellied strawberries. And they, ma'am, they don't know what strawberries are. I explain to them, and they can't imagine. Downright funny. They wonder that I like the little strawberry seeds.

– Tell me, tell me, Mariana, that story you told me about yesterday.

– But, madam, You know her.

– That we were walking yesterday too, but today we're having a good time again, aren't we?

– The story of the snake pond? Only if you repeat "culebrias", madam. Ku-le-bri-yas, try it.

– None. You're just laughing at my disgusting American accent, Mariana.

– You are very funny, madam. Ku-le-bri-yas. It means "snakes" in Spanish. Little snakes. The story is as follows. A man and a woman got married. The man was a hard worker. The woman – beautiful and smiling, with a long black braid down to her waist. They had no children for a long time. They visited all the shamans in the surrounding villages. No one could help them, and finally a grandmother told them to go to a lake surrounded on all sides by high mountains. The woman was to bathe in the cold water and that night she and her husband were to spend the night on the shore. The man and the woman left Hunkal and walked for several days uphill through the mountains. At last they came to a lake, all surrounded by hills. The water was so rich and clear that every step revealed a new shade of blue. And the shores on the sides were covered with black sand, as if some dragon had burned them with his breath many years ago. The woman bathed in the cold water. You made up your mind and went to bed. During the night, while the man was already fast asleep, a terrible whirlwind arose from the heart of the lake and the lord of the lagoon appeared. The maelstrom dragged the woman and she sank into the underwater kingdom. The man woke up in the morning and was horrified when he did not find his wife. He went looking for her among the rocks nearby. He called her name with all his might. Walked around the huge lagoon three times. As he walked, his feet sank into the black mud. He fainted, but he kept looking for her. Day and night. It wasn't until the fourth day that he gave up and with his last strength went back to the village.

– And the woman?

– It took her a long time, but eventually she got used to life in the underwater kingdom. The angry temper of the lagoon lord was the hardest thing for her to get used to, but she got all the love in the world from her little one. And that was all she needed to be happy.

– Was her child a snake, Mariana?

– Snake, senora.

– Why are you changing the ending today, Mariana.

– Because the other is very sad.

– Don't you want to make me sad?

– Ok ma'am. Continue. You order. One day the woman escaped from the bottom of the lake. She reached the shore of the lagoon and ran away. She ran without looking back. Her child tried to catch up with her, but could not last more than a few minutes out of the water and returned to the lake. And today, if you go to the lagoon, madam, you will see two small straits coming out of the lake. The mother ran so fast that even the llamas and wild horses that live on the ridges of the Andes stayed behind her. Finally she reached the village and lived again with her husband. She never returned to the lake. She was afraid that she would not be able to escape from her child a second time. And she was so unhappy in the underwater kingdom.

– How much do your kids hate me for these walks, Mariana?

– There is no other way, madam.

– Tell me, tell me about your wedding? What happened to Marco this morning?

– In the morning, Marco was so drunk, but so drunk that he just moaned from under the goatee.

– Why are you laughing Mariana? Is this how your first wedding night ended?

– And then, Madam, Mama Mitchie sat on his head, strained, turned all red, and dropped. But very smelly, right in his face. And so drove all the devils out of his head. And Marco finally stopped moaning and fell asleep. And I curled up next to him and fell asleep.

– Mariana, where is your Marco now?

– Ma'am, I don't know either. Long ago left behind on the road, somewhere in Mexico. He stayed there, I know what he is like. He was afraid to go on, and also to return. So I hid in the train alone. Before the border we slipped out and with a dozen other women from El Salvador we set off across the desert. But you know, madam, I'm calm about him, because I know he wouldn't last here. I'm a dog, ma'am, my Marco wouldn't get used to it like me, and he'd want us both back. And so, being alone here, I have no other choice.

– Go away, Mariana. He walks me around a lot. After all, I'm just an old woman, and more than an hour of heat is too much for me.

– Madam, tomorrow when I come I will list all the cake recipes I can make. And you will choose.

Marianna closed the door to her apartment and turned on the air conditioner. He took a jar of peanut butter out of the fridge and scooped it up a few times with a huge spoon. Cheap and filling. God bless America. He poured himself a cold beer and relaxed on the sofa.

When they were little, Ranti and Nicolas loved sucking on a sugar cane. Ranti was laying on her stomach and Nicolas was moving around next to her and playing with her hair. Then it was all sticky.

Marianna picked up the phone and dialed a number her fingers knew by heart. However, the lines were busy and constantly busy. Try again. It didn't happen again.

Another 8 years at the most and then he would be back. Yeah, that's not even that much. Ranti will be 16 and Nicolas 18. Not long. If only they both enrolled to study at the University of Quito and she would be back. And they would have stuffed at least a few buckets of strawberries in one of the cooler bags they sell at Walmart. Ranti and Nicolas would surely love it.

Now he was giving freely. The signal stuck like a nail in her ears.

He just wanted to hear their voices. To tell her about school, about the baby guinea pigs their aunt is raising for the fiesta. Nicolas would complain that Ranti was always falling asleep. And Ranti would say that Nicolas always pushes him out of bed to wake him up and his whole back is bruised.

Mariana choked. She needed someone to give her a big hug to catch her breath and pick up the phone.

Popular topic