Ursula Foskolou

Translated from the Modern Greek by Pavlos Stavropoulos

The whale

It’s been years now since the whale swallowed me. I was sitting on a deserted beach, one September evening, and the heat felt like spring. The evening ferry—all lit up—was passing in front of me and I knew you were somewhere onboard: the kids running about, your frowning mother nearby, him holding you in his arms. I screamed in rage: “I hope a sea monster comes with a huge wave and rips open the belly of the ship with its fins. Just like that, so you'll vanish.” And it came: slow, majestic, colossal. It stopped at the coast, jaws wide open, water dripping from its teeth like a transparent curtain. I stripped naked, straddled its long tongue, and sat in its mouth. We’ve been following for years now: the whale wanting to swallow you and I—eternally—holding it back.

The old lady who swallowed her bedsheets

After grandpa died, we confined grandma to the bedroom. She raged from inside: she threw things at the walls, slammed the chair against the door, dragged her slippers across the floor, till she exhausted herself. One day we nailed the window shut, with two planks, like a cross, in case she thought of jumping. At first she howled. Her voice emerged, abrasive, from within her and scratched the walls. We stuffed food through a hole: soup, bread, yogurt. And water. Until one day she went quiet. They shoved me inside, to see. I sucked in my stomach and brought my legs together tightly, so that another person could have fit next to me through the concrete opening. Afraid, I entered the room and looked around. Nothing. On the bed there was only the bare mattress and a piece of bed-sheet wet with saliva, tied in knots, where the head used to rest.

The house

When the house weighed upon her shoulders like a pack made of granite, my mom would open the small television cabinet and, silently pulling out the whiskey, fill a glass almost to the top. She would then sit quietly, elbows firmly planted on the wooden table, fix her gaze on the blank wall, and write. She would rip the pencil into her stomach, pull it up to her sternum and take out from inside of her everything that she had diligently kept hidden since she was little: songs and loves, sorrowful regrets, affections and burdens; and that interminable question—what's for dinner.

Ursula Foskolou (1986) was born in Athens. She is the author of The Whale (Το Κήτος, Kichlē 2016), winner of the 2017 New Writer’s Award from Clepsydra Magazine. Her translations and short stories have appeared in Nea EfthiniNeo EpipedoTo Dendro(de)kataEnekenPlanodion, and other journals. She is a permanent collaborator of the literary magazine Frear.

Pavlos Stavropoulos was born and raised in Athens. He now resides in Littleton, Colorado, USA, where he works in social and environmental justice education and translates Greek literature into English. A 2018 Princeton Hellenic Translation Workshop participant, his translations have been published or are forthcoming at AsymptoteExchanges, and Denver Quarterly.

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