40 DAYS, An excerpt from a novel

by Genadiy Mihaylov; translated from the Bulgarian by Traci Speed

A text by the 2018 Sozopol Fiction Seminars fellow and CapitaLiterature participant Genadiy Mihaylov

"Todor, you'll be sorry one day," my mother would say.

"Failure depends on you," my father would repeat.

"Mr. Emanuilov, you've failed the test," my high school math teacher would say haughtily.

"Tosho, you are totally the great evil," Kosey, one of my few friends, would say – the one who would go with me to drink drugstore vodka in homemade cherry compote with the metalheads.

Drugstore vodka is just like vodka from the store, with the exception that you use ethyl alcohol from the drugstore, which you boil to release the heavy fumes, mix with vanilla and vodka, and… I'll stop here because I see that the little ones are taking notes. Of course, my efforts are pointless – in our day and age, every bit of information a person could need – such as whether he has a fatal disease, what the score was in the Levski vs. Beroe match, and how to make explosives – is available on the internet. Freedom.

Imbibing drugstore vodka requires some kind of dilutant. In the metalheads' case, they used homemade fruit compote, first because it was simultaneously the cheapest solution – everyone had compote in the cellar – and second, because it was the most refined solution for how to cut it properly.

The metalheads were one of the most interesting groups of teenagers in the town. Half of them were just 15-16 year-old children, almost all with divorced parents, who wore leather jackets and would drink drugstore vodka at night to the sounds of terrifying eighties metal. The only thing worse was when one of them would bring an antiquated electric guitar which would deafen all the people and cats in the neighborhood. The other half of the metalheads were students of veterinary medicine, who were a solitary sight in a town with an aging and brain-washed population, as were most towns in Bulgaria, actually. They would frequently carry large quantities of stockpiled ethanol, which the high school students would adroitly transform into a tolerable substance for drinking. Many were impressed by their skills, and perhaps it can rightly be said that if they had had more experience, then their skills would surpass in quality the alcohol on the lowest store shelf. Their leader was Petsa, who knew how to steal food, how to find an available room when you had a girl, and how to throw spectacular parties when his parents were traveling. No one knew what they did for a living, but they did well for themselves and were almost constantly in one corner of the globe or another.

"Ivo, what happened to that girl," he asked Ivaylo, an extremely thin and funny guy, on one of the first evenings when we were at their place.

"Which girl?"

"What do you mean, which one, that blonde that you were just telling us about?"

"Oh… well, she turned out to be a big chalga fan so I dropped her."

Later we realized that this was also his code to say that he'd been dumped. The real reason that metalheads understood each other so well wasn't just the heavy metal, the leather jackets, or even the vodka. They were all from different schools, and every one of them was the type of kid that no one ever talked to and who never went out.

"Tosho, you are totally the great evil," Kosey said to me also the same night when we were climbing along the rusty gutter of an apartment house.

The gutters of the buildings built before 1980 were, as a rule, strongly attached, which is exceedingly useful when a 76-kilogram weight – in this case, my body – is trusting the unknown workmen who installed these gutters five decades ago. For a moment I thought about how this was more than three times the number of years that had passed since my own birth, and I began to get slightly worried.

At this point I had reached a height a little above the first story, which didn't seem like a lot, looked at from below, but from nine or ten meters above the ground and stuck to the wall of the small apartment house, in the dark, it was really quite a frightening view.

"Everything's fine, Kosey," I said, and I sensed how my hand was clutching with all its might at the decorative brickwork ornamenting the lowest outer part of the second-story balcony that I was striving for. The reason I was heading for this balcony was that A) while we were walking down the street, we saw that the door was open; B) we knew the area, because it was Kosey's old neighborhood, and we thought that at night the pensioner who lived there would be out on a walk in the park; and C) I was slightly drunk and a little earlier we had seen Daniela, whom we decided to take and introduce to the masters behind the cherry compote cocktails.

Daniela was one of those girls who almost always only go out with college students, and she had been accepted into all the groups – the chalga fans, the metalheads, the rich and the poor kids. She herself didn't know which group she belonged to, because of which her appearance, especially among us, was a gesture of extreme generosity, similar to that of a medieval royal personage who deigned once a year to honor the lowest of peasants in the kingdom with his presence and to pass through the poor neighborhoods riding a horse that cost as much as all his subjects took in together.

For a moment I start wondering how different this was from the gangsters who themselves drove cars that cost as much as several apartment houses with the occupants, their furnishing, and all of their bank accounts combined. I continue crawling along the gutter and I feel how my hands are already touching the balcony railing. In this moment I think of Goshko or Georgi – the son of a gangster, seriously, a high-ranking one even. His father had been the director of several companies that experienced untimely bankruptcies in the winter of 1996, and in our day his son rode to school on a motorcycle.

His entrance into our school, which was considered one of the country's elite high schools, was an exceedingly curious episode in his biography because Goshko was the dumbest ox under the sun, something that he admitted himself, quietly adding a "but with money" afterwards. Getting into a fight with a teacher and knocking him out destined him to continue his education somewhere in the Americas after eighth grade, and the teacher conveniently began to drive a slightly newer car just then.

Why does this occur to me right now? Maybe because of the illegal entrance into private property, no less curious than Goshko's entrance into the elite high school. In this case there was no breaking in, because the balcony door was open and the curtain was gently flapping from the wind. Plus, we didn't have the malice of burglars. Up until now, Kosey and I had rarely stolen anything more than food or alcohol, most often from the neighborhood grocery store. This was easy: you stop in, you buy something while there's a line, and on leaving you reach out your arm, grab a bag of chips, for instance, and bold as day, just push open the door and leave.


Genadiy Mihaylov was born and raised in the city of lime trees, poets and narrow streets, Stara Zagora. As a child, he used to test the patience of many with his various stage appearances. In high school, he participated in a troupe that won the first place at the National Francophone Theater competitions. He studied Film and Screenwriting in the city where the last battle of the English civil war had taken place and in honor of which а sauce has been named – Worcester. He returned to Bulgaria in 2014, studied a year of theology, then advertising, to put the scales back in balance. Currently, he is working as a reporter for  Capital Daily.


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