Theodora in the Vizba
This short story explores the slightly subversive activities of three generations of females in a 'house under house' in a Macedonian village.
Published in the very wonderful cross-genre U.K. independent magazine, The Wrong Quarterly (U.K., 2017). So proud to be a part of it.
It's not always going to be like this. Soon I'll have to go back home to my quiet, one-bedroom flat in Australia. And my little nine-year-old niece, Tanja, will grow up and probably go on coffee and cabbage diets. As for Baba Slobodanka, she has a sick, sad leg that cries all the time from the hole that never healed up after her operation in the capital, and they’re saying they want to take it off, that leg.
'Well, what can you do? What can you do?' Baba says that all the time. 'What will come will come.'
But, for now, for this moment, we don't want to think about that.
Everything is good, everything is alright. It has to be. The three of us are together the way we like, inside the vizba, Baba’s vizba—which is the house under the house, the house under every house for miles, where old people and old things, like pickle-making machines and black and white box TVs and religious figures and Communist stars of times past, have to go to live when the upstairs world thinks it has no use for them. But we, Tanja and me, we know better. We know more.
In this village, on the plains of Macedonian east, in this forty-four degree heat, the vizba is the coolest place to be. It's also the place you don't have to worry about going forward, keeping up and moving ahead, like they do upstairs, like they do in any upstairs anywhere. And you don't—Tanja doesn't—have to worry about bossy, older sisters who think they know everything and stare at mirrors all day and tell on you for the smallest things, trying to curb your freedom. Downstairs, you can just be—yourself.
Plus Baba keeps a hidden stash of chocolate.
There's already been a screeching hunt for it. And Baba, from her sick bed, has pointed her walking stick like an extension of her arm to all the possible places the block could be, but isn't. It's been found, anyway, by Tanja, who, with a tight grin, has held the block like it's a trophy that's hers and hers only. I've chased her around the table to get my share. Furniture's been banged; knees have been bruised. And Baba has shouted out over our noise, “Hey, you two cucumbers off the same vine, be careful of my leg,” as she's whacked at our bums and poked at our ribs with her walking stick.
But now, laughing, catching our breath, it's all come to an easy truce.
Tanja’s still in charge, of course.
She is the one who tears open the silver wrapper and divides the lines and squares, metes them out carefully, evenly, exactly so that no one gets any more or less. Then, when that is done, in our various poses of luxuriating—Baba stretched out on her bed with one arm behind her head, me with my skirt hitched up under my underpants, and Tanja lying relaxed back on the sofa, her long hair hanging off the sofa ledge—we eat. We smile and chew. We don’t shriek or shout. We express our pleasure only with soft grunts and the occasional smacking of lips and long mmms until, out of nowhere, out of our great silence, Tanja finds she has something to say...
If you would like to read on, you can purchase a copy of The Wrong Quarterly V here.