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Prose by Dena Popova and Mariko Nagai

The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation and VAGABOND, Bulgaria's English Monthly, cooperate in order to enrich the English language with translations of contemporary Bulgarian writers. Through 2008 we will give you the chance to read the work of a dozen young and sometimes not-so-young Bulgarian writers that the EKF considers original, refreshing and valuable. Some of them will be translated in English for the first time. The EKF has decided to make the selection of authors' work and to ensure they get first-class English translation, and we at VAGABOND are only too happy to get them published in a quality magazine.

Enjoy our fiction pages!

Born in 1987 in Sofia, Dena Popova just finished her second year at Whitman College, Washington with a major in Film Studies and minor in Spanish and Politics. Her texts have been published in several magazines. She won first place in the prose section in the National Literary Contest “Petya Dubarova” and participated in the Teenage Literature Project “Liternaiset” organised by the British Council in 2005. Dena is part of the selection staff of Quarterlife magazine in Whitman College and is part of the poetry staff of Blue Moon annual literary magazine.


by Dena Popova

Well, thank you, that today, on your special day for Thanksgivings, you gave me to peel all those two hundred little golden onions to go with the turkey that your grandmother was cooking outside on the porch. These golden onions were a good excuse for me and I could cry easy without any questions why do I cry.

When I was ready, you told me that the recipe was to dip them one by one in the bowl with wine and brandy. And I got so drunk, after licking my fingers so many times, that when I was finished, I remembered how at the end of the summer, after finishing all the jars with pickles, my grandfather would always braid the dry tops of the onions. Then he would hang the big braid from the right corner of the window to chase the flies away.

I never learned how to do it very well or it was harder to braid with the tops of those baby onions, but I gave up. I didn't say anything when you threw away all the leftovers. I tried to help with cleaning up and went on the porch to pour the bowl in the flowers. I had heard that wine is healthy for plants. When I went out, your grandmother just finishing the turkey,stopped me and said that the flowers didn't need it because they were fake and we had to finish the wine and brandy together. After that we made a bouquet with those fake yellow flowers and put it on the table.

For diner it was three of us with braided hair. It was me, then your little cousin that I first thought was a girl, and your grandmother that was still carrying the smell of smoked turkey with her. At the end, she made a toast,

“To all my guests with braids. Cheers.”

“Cheers,” I said. And I took a picture with my free hand. That's why I'm not on this picture, but the glass of wine in the bottom right corner is mine, I swear.

Mariko Nagai is a widely published short story writer and poet and has won the very prestigious Pushcart Prize in both genres. She teaches writing as well as English, Japanese, and Chinese literature in Tokyo.


by Mariko Nagai, Japan/USA

Pain comes from the darkness
And we call it wisdom. It is pain.
Randall Jarrell

If it were another time and another land, if gods are kinder or heard your prayers, your child would be twelve now, her face taking on the reminiscence of your face, or perhaps you as you once were, but no longer. Each part of her would have been a reminder that you had given birth to this child, a hand or a face, even her slightest way in which she cocks her neck as if she is listening to some voices other than what is apparent, real.

You have sold her. You have not told anyone.
No one knows. No one must know.

Someone will tell us your story if you do not: in another land, in another time, a war ended. Your husband had been drafted at the last minute, and you were left, without money or language to survive, and the only luggage, only thing you had time to gather up not discard, were the clothes on your body and a child, an infant really, who would not stop crying, not during the march south to where the border lay, not in the shelter where you nested for a season, temporary and barren like the feeding place of a migrating bird. They kept telling you to bash the child's head against the ground, to strangle its small neck while it slept, just to shut the child up, just shut the brat up, they'll find us out, shut her up, and you were helpless, unable to find food to feed yourself so that you could feed the child in your arm. You sold your body so that you could continue to provide milk. At any hour, night or day, you lay on your back with your legs open, men entering you for the price of a slice of bread – the price had been deflated, you see, and women were no longer expensive, no longer an expensive commodity that could be translated into paper money. There were enough women around for the so few men left. These meals were not enough to fill up the hunger, but enough to keep going, to keep doing what you were doing. To keep living, to keep breathing until you could wait for the border to open up, to ride the boat across the short distance of an ocean. Until one day, your child stopped crying and only began to whimper. You could not do anything. Your breasts no longer milked; your body began to eat itself from inside, and when you looked down at your own body, in those moments between men, you saw a hard and brittle fishbone on your chest, until you realised that these were your own ribs. The chants, sell us your children, sell us your children kept going; you were desperate. The child was dying; there was nothing you could do. So you sold the child. You sold her that she could be better fed, better looked after, so that she could have a chance to live. You bought yourself a passage on the boat to go back home with that money. You shed your past, remarried, and lived the rest of your life trying not to remember.

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