by Yana Punkina; translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel; photography by Anthony Georgieff
The Elizabeth Kostova Foundation and Vagabond, Bulgaria's English Monthly, cooperate in order to enrich the English language with translations of contemporary Bulgarian writers. Every year we 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 have been 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.
This current issue presents texts by the 2011 Sozopol Fiction Seminars fellows: Yana Punkina and Jane E. Martin.
Yana Punkina was born in Sofia in 1984. She studied at the University of Sofi a where she graduated in Bulgarian Philology. She is the author of poetry and short stories which are usually published in her blog: dsolved.blogspot.com. Yana Punkina has been working on the Hristo Botev programme on Bulgarian National Radio since 2008. One of her main interests is photography.
One day Cupcake stopped showing up altogether. For the last few months they'd seen him less and less oft en on his favorite bench, and when he did turn up, he more or less behaved himself. Finally he disappeared entirely. Had the neighborhood thugs beaten him up? No, they hadn't, or at least nobody had run into him on the street with a black eye or a broken nose, not for months now. Th e neighborhood started getting used to the idea that Cupcake had settled down, that he was sitting at home with his Mattie the Fatty and sobering up. It was the logical end to their whole culinary romance, and besides, nobody had seen an obituary. Good old Cupcake was sitting at home, sobering up, and was surely ashamed to show his face outside after all he had said to the girls over the years.
He surely wants us to forget about him, we thought to ourselves, we had even already mercifully blocked out one or other of his features, some trill in his intonation, some specifi c tang of his unwashed aroma, this or that wild hairstyle that would appear on his head on windier days. We sensed t
hese absences most keenly in the "before Mattie" column, and the more Cupcake was gone, the harder it was for us to imagine that he had even existed before her.When Mattie started working at the supermarket, she wasn't too sure what people should call her or how she should introduce herself. She was a mastodon Serbian woman, she didn't like standing in the kitchen behind the deli case, because the space was too tight for her, instead she was always smoking cigarettes at the back door, winding her long bleached-blonde hair around a finger and sometimes even giving the local kids bruised cupcakes that were still fi ne to eat but unsellable due to their sorry appearance. In return, the little brats stubbornly refused to call her Auntie Mattie, as she had introduced herself, and instead shouted "Mattie the Fatty!" every morning as they passed each other on the street – they on their way to some fi ctionally functioning and even more fi ctionally prestigious local school, and she with her ever-present cigarette in one hand on her way from the subway to the supermarket.
Mattie and Cupcake were among the local characters, they loved hanging around outside, gawking and being gawked at, each of them at their favorite spots – the benches on the square or the backdoor of the supermarket. In fact, of the thirty people who worked at the corrugated-iron store which had somehow survived from the 70s and which had suddenly turned out to be practically swanky, only the Serb ever poked her nose outside. Th e others stayed at their counters, fi ddling with something under the counter and rarely uttering so much as a "Good morning" to the overly polite clients in this slightly parvenue neighborhood. They looked down on Izgrev and likely on its wealthy residents as well, they swore at the teenagers' strange haircuts, grew indignant at the perfect Bulgarian spoken by the Russian and Vietnamese ladies from the embassies, and looked to reduce their contact with them to a minimum.
Not that Cupcake was one of these clients, but he was somehow even more repulsive to them. Weather permitting, he would sit on his bench around the clock with his plastic bottle of draught brandy in one hand, his head slightly cocked to one side, in those same "shit-stained" – as the saleswomen and stock boys put it – pants, with his hair grown out to exactly no length in particular, staticky and creased every which way, which made it look even dirtier. So Cupcake would sit on his bench and drink his booze, but the most annoying thing was whenever some young girl would cut through the square, he would start screaming at her. When school got out and the girls were walking home, he would launch into two straight hours of uninterrupted wolf howls: "Hey there, cupcake, hey, little cream puff , come over here, why dontcha sit by me, sweet little meringue, stop a second, my little chocolate éclair, sit with me a while, sugar" and so on.
70 years ago, on 10 March 1943, Bulgaria's pro-Nazi government decided to defy Berlin and halt the deportation of Bulgaria's 50.000 Jews. This was down to the actions of one man - Dimitar Peshev. Just two years later he faced Communist justice and found himself on trial for his life. His niece Kaluda Kiradjieva remembers