Leonie Hodkevitch


Text of the Moment

Leonie Hodkevitch

Fiction, In Translation, Prose, Spring 2023

Translator: Ekaterina Petrova


(an excerpt)

I – Dusk

We drove through the dark landscape. We wanted to get there before darkness fell, but dusk was already spreading over the area—earlier here than elsewhere. We had stopped here and there along the way—at important spots, where he had seen a deer for the first time or where he’d had his first kiss. So I didn’t get to see the landscape while it was still light, and now only saw it as elongated shadows that the hills were casting over the valleys. The village barnyards were also elongated, as we drove by them after turning away from the main street. They were all alike, which was why the one yard that looked different caught my attention. It seemed to be the largest one, and we drove past it for a while. A white light shone from the roof of the house, as though the moon had already risen. The structures in the yard took turns going past us, building after building, barn after barn. None of the other barnyards’ bustle could be felt here, everything was absorbed in silence. Only at the far end, by the fence, a man stood and waved at us. I turned around to take a look at him, since we drove by quickly. He was an old man with a pointy hat, standing there and waving.

“Who’s this?” I asked.

“It’s Stadlbauer,” he said.

“Why didn’t you wave back at him?”

“My hands are at the wheel.”

We finally arrived at the house. His mother and father were waiting for us at the door. I’d already noticed that people here had light skin that quickly turned red from the wind, and very blue eyes. His father was wearing a cardigan to keep out the cold, and his mother was holding a bouquet, like a shield at her heart.

“Welcome,” the father said. “We expected you to arrive earlier.”

“Yes,” I said. “We made stops here and there.”

“We’ve been waiting for a while,” his mother said. “Are you hungry?”

“Yes,” he said and entered his parents’ house.

Two floors—the first was brightly lit, the second was darker—and the quiet, ceaseless sound of water. That had to be the nearby stream, which cut its way through the silence and made the fine and small noises disappear, while muffling the big and harsh ones, so they didn’t reach the neighbor’s house. The neighbor’s garden was visible through the window, as was the rising moon. We had dinner in the kitchen.

“We saw a villager on the way,” I said.

“Yes, there are lots of them here,” his mother said.

“We all know each other,” the father said. “When they see Kilian, they recognize him immediately, even if he was still a boy the last time they saw him. The villagers have a sharp eye and even sharper memory.”

“That’s not true, exactly,” Kilian said. “I ran into Kleinpeter in town a while ago, and he didn’t recognize me. It was only after I told him who I was and where I lived that he remembered.”

“Kleinpeter,” his father said. “Kleinpeter doesn’t know you. He’s only heard about you, but he’s never seen you. He wouldn’t recognize you.”

“The man we saw on the way recognized you,” I said. “But you didn’t recognize him.”

“Whom didn’t you recognize?” his mother asked.

“Stadlbauer,” Kilian said. “I did recognize him.”

Somewhere high up in the branches a bird screamed. They told me this was the hunting cry of the long-eared owl. The long-eared owl, they said, was a bird that only hunts at night, like many other kinds of owls. We were done with dinner.

“Would you like to go for a walk before bed?” his father asked.

“That would be nice,” I said.

“All right,” said Kilian. “Nights here are nice, you’ll see. Just the hills and the sky.”

“All right,” his mother said. “We’re going to bed.”

Outside the night had changed. From a dusk that obscured things, it had turned into a darkness that outlined them. The moon gave away without mercy how far the settlements stretched, while the stars pointed out the way. The hills were high, the houses lay deep down below, and it made you wonder why the houses were built at the bottom of the valley, rather than along the high ridge. On top, at the ridge of the hill, stood Stadlbauer’s house. I recognized it by the long barnyard and the pointy roof.

“Are we going to pay Stadlbauer a visit?” I asked.

“Why would we?”

“Didn’t your mother say it was customary to pay visits to the villagers? And for them to give you pear cider and dried blue squill flowers from last summer.”

“Stadlbauer doesn’t make cider. He’s got chickens and pigs, but no fruit trees.”

“Then he’ll give us some bacon. And besides, I don’t think that he doesn’t make cider. Your father said that everyone here makes cider. He also smiled and pointed down, to your cellar, where they must keep the cider.”

“He probably means pear juice. Everyone here makes pear juice.”

“But it’s true that one must pay the villagers a visit, isn’t it?”

“But not Stadlbauer.”

“Why not?”

“Because he’s too big and rich and crotchety. If you want, we can go visit some other villager. Come now, it’s getting cold. You don’t know the nights here, they can get really cold.”

We headed back to the house. He put his arm around me, because it really was cold. That was still when his hands were as warm as though bread was baking inside of them. We walked, and among the trees fell bits of ice.

About the Translator:

EKATERINA PETROVA is a literary translator and nonfiction writer. She holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Iowa, where she was awarded the Iowa Arts Fellowship. A collection of her essays and travelogues called Thingseeker: 44 (Un)usual Objects from Near and Far (in Bulgarian) was published by Janet 45 in 2021. Her translations from Bulgarian include Bogdan Rusev’s novel Come to Me (Dalkey Archive Press, 2019) and the nonfiction anthologies My Brother’s Suitcase and Fathers Never Go Away (ICU Press, 2020). Ekaterina’s work has appeared in Asymptote, Words Without Borders, The Southern Review, 91st Meridian, European Literature Network, Drunken Boat, EuropeNow, and B O D Y, among others. Her translation-in-progress of Iana Boukova’s novel Traveling in the Direction of the Shadow received a 2021 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant. She is currently translating the nonfiction anthology Stories from the 1990s, forthcoming from ICU Press.