Three Stories from Blue Has No South

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March 10, 2010

In these three selections from Israeli author Alex Epstein, the past endures in the present. The desire to return–to home, to a vanished world, to youthful days–persists. Memories of love and loss fade, but their wounds remain as scars. Epstein’s newly published collection, Blue Has No South (Clockroot Books), reveals the author’s gift for flash-fictions that create a whole world in a few short sentences. These three stories beguile us with the sad truth that reconciliation and redemption may forever be deferred. - Adam Rovner, Hebrew translations editor

The Memory of the Sail, or the Later Voyages of Penelope

From the depths of one of the nights of the twentieth year, Penelope awakens from a dream in which threads of rain whipped her face until they drew blood. The next day the man who called himself Odysseus, but also “No Man,” returns. The years pass and Penelope still keeps among her dresses the piece of sail brought to her by her suitors, who claimed that it was all that remained of Odysseus’s ship. When he goes out every night into the alleys of Ithaca, to again meet the man who didn’t recognize him upon his return, or on other adventures, Penelope takes the cloth out once more and holds it in her hands. She wrings it till the final twist, and thinks about the man who might be lost in the heart of the sea. She doesn’t know which of the two is real, and who was buried forever at the bottom of the maps. She does not know how long she will continue to be faithful to one of them, to both of them, to neither of them. He returns toward morning, defeated. Penelope sleeps. Her palms are wet.

Mágico Juegos del Tiempo

Once, in a café where they played a Spanish record called “Magical Games of Time,” I heard an old man–(no handkerchief peeked from his shirt pocket. He sat with a young woman, apparently his granddaughter, who was unsullied by tattoos, for example, without the word “mascara,” for example, without a seahorse)–suddenly declare: “How funny all words are in Yiddish. How frightening all words are in German.” It could be that he spoke Hebrew.

An Instruction Manual for a Rented Time Machine

The instruction manual for the rented time machine stated its maximum operational range: three decades. Although, like all time machines, its performance could be improved a little with the help of aphoristic additives. (“The nature of childhood is to distance itself from us with adult footsteps,” and the like.) Upon arriving in the past, the traveler remembered that the last chapter of the instruction manual stated in detail all the dangers and mythological paradoxes associated with time machines in general, and rented time machines in particular. (The fate of this book, of course, was to be left behind in that same present that withered before the traveler’s eyes a moment after he started the machine.) All that is left for him now is to distance himself carefully from his childhood, but with the footsteps of an adult.

Poet and translator Becka Mara McKay is an assistant professor of translation and creative writing at Florida Atlantic University. Her book of poems, A Meteorologist in the Promised Land, is out now from Shearsman Books. In 2008, her translation of Suzane Adam’s novel Laundry was published by Autumn Hill Books. Her translation of Alex Epstein’s collection Blue Has No South is currently available from Clockroot Books.

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