Natália Szeifert: Moments of Mercy


(Kegyelem című novellám Thomas Cooper fordításában megjelent a The Continental Literary magazinban.)

Gilda had closed the gate behind her and was setting off down the only street in the village to pay her visits to her elderly patients when suddenly she remembered how she and Peti Sziraki had spent the better part of one morning staring at the white hairs coming out of Uncle Titi’s ears. She must have been six or so at the time, Peti maybe eight. The house out of which she had just stepped, the door to which she never locked, much as she merely pulled the gate closed behind her, had once belonged to Mama Mariana and Papa Karel. It had been full of the scents of soil and cakes and tea brewed from dried wild herbs. In the afternoon, when she came home after days of griping and meandering stories and dull stares and was met by these scents, she could still taste Mama Mariana’s blackthorn jam on her tongue. You can’t make good jam from blackthorn, the women of the village had said, almost contemptuously, and of course they hadn’t bothered trying. Only here, in the summer kitchen behind the house, was the tart, sweet jam made, the jam that made every inch of your tongue seem to sparkle with new flavors. It was better than the pop rock candy that Pavel and his friends used to buy at the store with the coins they had managed to save up. Gilda could have eaten it with a spoon, straight from the jar, but Mariana only allowed two licks, and then she would spread some on a slice of bread and lock the rest away in the pantry, and Gilda would have to wait until she made crêpes or pastries to get another taste of it. It wasn’t just delicious, it had a powerful, persuasive effect on the taste buds. You had to relive the moment again and again when the first stinging firecracker touched your tongue and popped, followed by the sweet, deep heat, then the fruit, and then the whole thing all over again. Mariana flickered among Gilda’s memories as a sort of sorceress, as if she had never once smacked her on the back of the head, for example that time when Gilda had crept into the pantry with a long-handled spoon in hand. Marianna had given sharp little slaps. They hadn’t hurt. They were like a tiny spark, like the first lick of her jam. She kept a few jars on the top shelf of the pantry, a great treasure, set aside for festive occasions.

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Thomas Cooper

After having completed his doctorate in comparative literature at Indiana University, Thomas Cooper taught Hungarian literature and language at the University of North Carolina and then served as the Assistant Director of the Center for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University. He now teaches at the Károli Gáspár University in Budapest. He has translated works of literature by an array of authors, including Nobel Prize-winning writers Imre Kertész and Herta Müller.


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