We got our report cards back last night. Apparently, the teacher had called you in for a talk. You stepped into the schoolyard dressed in the general’s uniform – the tall papakha hat made of astrakhan fur, the stiff navy overcoat, and the epaulets with tassels hanging off your shoulders. The sixth-grade girls were swooning onto the cement while I watched you with vile indifference, clenching my teeth on a koulouri bagel, the sesame kind that disgusts you. Show no respect, I promised myself, Absolutely no nostalgia, I will not run to him, I’ve held my breath for six months, will not cave in the finale, I swore, where I pinky-promised my own heart. I took a bite of the koulouri as big as your throat and stuffed my mouth with sesame so you’d be repulsed but also think, Fuck Volga and all of Lake Baikal, I want her, even with all that sesame. You marched closer and closer but wouldn’t arrive, with every stride you grew by a head and I shrunk by two. Finally, you loomed over me, your golden Brandenburg buttons shining so bright I was blinded, but I played it cool, turned my back to you and started up the stairs, swaying my ass in your face because I could sense you were hell-bent, a brewing storm.
The poor teacher bowed to you like a slave and you blessed him with a pat on the back like a horse you had broken and brutalized. He offered you a piece of paper with trembling hands and retreated slightly so the crossfire wouldn’t catch him. You looked at it, looked at it, looked at it, looked at me, I looked at you, you looked at it again, I gave you a smile (whoops), you swelled, cleared your throat, concentrated, I pretended to concentrate, you looked at me and told him:
The poor teacher exhaled.
“As you can perceive,” he said, wiping his sweaty forehead, “we didn’t accomplish very much this semester. To apply even more precision in my meaning, Mr. General, we hit rock bottom. All the progressions and developments we had gained in previous years have gone straight to hell. Compare and contrast, if you please. Behold last semester’s perfect 10s. Now observe how the forlorn 10s have been orphaned from their 1s. We’re talking about a mass uno-cide here. All that remains are these utterly round 0s, particularly in the fundamental prowesses required of a modern lady: Independence, Ambition, Etiquette and Charm! Six months ago, who could have foreseen this occurrence occurring for our young lady? The epitome of moxie at this institution, our champion in the crusade against the patriarchy, the undisputable frontrunner in the National Competition of Competitiveness. We’re talking about a colossal calamity here. The young lady has not successfully generated a thing for months now. She states she doesn’t trust words anymore. She states that words are – forgive me, Mr. General, this is her phrasing – Giant whores. She says, What have words ever done for me? Her productive output has been eviscerated, her professionalism irrevocably impaired. She disregards one deadline after the other, blaming the full moon or the ‘southerly wind’ blowing in. She infuriates whoever she encounters, insists on the futility of everything, flaunts her exhaustion. She compulsively employs the phrase Fuck it, not to mention the phrase – verbatim, Mr. General, verbatim – Suck my balls, which she supplements at times with a graphic gesture. What is more, she requested an exemption from the course on Self-Actualization, presenting a stack of freelancing invoices as her entire argument. So I inquire to you, good Mr. General, to what do you attribute these sudden changes in our young mademoiselle?”
You didn’t look at me – instead, you bowed your head, heavy with guilt. As if you were addressing me, you parted your lips and murmured:
“I’m sorry. I’ve been away.”
A true gentleman. You didn’t rat me out. You didn’t say the self-possessed cunt exiled me. You didn’t say Miss Sataness rebelled all over the weight of my back. You didn’t tell him the rebellion had failed and ruined her, the moron. You took full responsibility. Apologized. You were away at the frontier, you explained. In Manchuria. After that, imprisoned by the Reds in Ekaterinograd. You would’ve loved to have supervised me but couldn’t. You went through a lot, dot dot dot… Unbuttoning your shirt, you revealed the wound on your chest I inflicted at that musty bar in Mani last year. The poor teacher gasped in the face of your manly courage. When you closed your shirt, I could breathe again… You promised him this wouldn’t happen again, promised improvement. Once again, sorry. The poor teacher attempted to kiss your hand, but you swatted him off with your famous noblesse and exited the classroom, harrowed but ever tall. I slipped the poor teacher the 10 euros he deserved (it would’ve been 50, like we agreed, if he had said, “Please, take care of her, your hands are the hands that need to nurture her,” but he didn’t).
You grabbed my arm and yanked me, furious, down the stairs. We crossed the schoolyard, hand-in-arm, stepping over the corpses of girls charmed to death, until we reached the sidewalk by the street and you dropped my hand, as if it wasn’t yours anymore. As soon as we turned the corner, you stopped, looked to me, and quietly said:
“What am I going to do with you? That’s all I have.”
Behind you, an SUV raced by at full speed, and as it veered the corner I wished it would flip over and crush us. No luck. You’ve got a battalion of men to keep alive, you said, you can’t send them all to hell for me. You have responsibilities, obligations, horses, ideologies, behests from the Tzar, a sick sister. You didn’t expect this from me. Where were my perfect 10s? That’s why you tripped and fell in love with me—because I didn’t need anyone. That’s what you said, and I saw the shame sinking in as you let it slip out.
I looked at you, looked at you, looked at you. You were ashamed. I took out a pair of small scissors and started tearing off your distinctions and medals, the insignia, the epaulets with the tassels hanging off your shoulders. You didn’t react, only looked left and right to confirm nobody was watching, that we weren’t becoming a spectacle. You performed your famous patience, the act of the great martyr, finally left with a jacket full of holes and a few bleeding cuts, but still, you neither flinched nor complained. I slapped you hard and you didn’t blink an eye, kneed you hard but you didn’t give me the satisfaction of folding in two. You just stood there, motionless, waiting for the storm to pass. Then, I began digging a hole like a rabid dog around your feet to bury you alive, falling inside as I dug deeper. Once the hole was up to your throat, I stopped, now eye-level with the ground, the hole eating me whole. You then hooked me under my armpits, lifted me from this upright grave, like a premature kitten from the litter, and set me on the ground in front of your face. “Feel better?” you said.
Unflinching I looked right at you and saw the blade of your sword casting a spear of light onto my throat, an offering to the gods of this world to save your battalion. I bowed my head, so that the metal could slice the meat of my flesh without effort. You love me, you said, but this must be done, I’m sorry. I nodded, bowing my head even lower because the blade had only hit my bone and it needed more strength than the strength you had. “I believe in you, you are strong. Next semester, you will have 10s again,” I heard you murmur while my head was falling – thud – on the ground.
I picked up my 0s, my books, the trophies from your uniform, and turned to leave. Then came the girls – the wives, the daughters, the secretaries, the dociles — they wrapped you in their coats, took your temperature, kissed you on the forehead, wiped the sweat from your brow, and chanted: “Shhhh, Mr. General, calm down, it’s over, don’t fatigue yourself any longer, unwind in our hands, rest here.” They bandaged your wounds with their hair, sneered at me as I walked away. For a long time as I drifted, I could smell the burning carcasses slaughtered in your honor – man, honorable father, courageous, above and beyond the call of duty, savior of the battalion, the saint who slayed the dragon. I was going and going, dragging myself with my hands, my knees, my teeth, crying bile and spitting ashes. Kids on the street giggled with glee, the order of the world had been restored, charred flesh having relieved the stomachs of your concerned congregation. Mr. General, I didn’t know what to do with myself either, nor did I have any choice but to keep walking and—though slaughtered by your hands, or rather exactly because of it—to excel once again.
Inside is a short story called το σφάγιο (2019), translated as “The Offering.” The Greek title, meaning “the sacrifice,” is a neuter noun in Greek, evoking an objectification or animal-ification of the subject. The author, Alexandra K*, invents neologisms, plays with temporality, and creates a complex and confusing central relationship between the narrator and Mr. General.
Alexandra K*’s impact in Greek culture ignites from the biting intellectual and erotic maneuvers her writing takes through the nature of heterosexual relationships within the patriarchal order. In part, her work explores the dichotomies assigned to limit women’s behavior in patriarchy and the way complex womanhood causes tension between women and men, women and society, women and themselves.
In translating this piece, I considered how to preserve the surrealist world-building created by Alexandra in the Greek, which is essential to how the axis between women and men operates. The irreverent tone of the work, composed through moments of confusion and humor, provides a dreamscape where the logical and illogical meet and mesh, exposing the play between gender and power as the farce that it can be.
Moments where new words or novel images are invented in the Greek decidedly required the most tender attention from this translator. Such instances include when the narrator “pinky-promised [her] own heart;” when she digs a hole with her hands that swallows Mr. General and her whole; when the poor teacher discusses the “uno-cide” which has caused the narrator’s grades to go from 10s to 0s in classes like “Independence, Ambition, Etiquette and Charm.” These parts bring the reader as close to the narrator as possible. They indoctrinate without apology the audience into her way of perceiving reality, in all that makes it ridiculous. I chose to embrace invention. Leaning into the tension between dreaming and reality, I allowed the space between the two states to exist on a razor’s edge, instead of trying to tease them apart. This tension demonstrates what is at stake for the narrator, who is teetering on the edge of two paths.
“The Offering” describes the journey from teetering to severing, literally, when she bows her head for decapitation, cutting ties with Mr. General, and thus, this version of the world, which was constructed according to her relationship with him. Though it is painful, though she does not know where she is going, she now has no “choice but to keep walking and—though slaughtered by [his] hands, or rather exactly because of it—to excel once again.” By resisting clarity and honoring what is surprising, a relationship between reader and text blooms wherein reader is trusted to unravel the details and discern the dynamics at play. “The Offering” offers new language to consider what is already ridiculous by daring to reconstruct what is already constructed: gendered roles and the power they yield.
Alexandra K* (Corfu, 1985) is an author, playwright, and screenwriter based in Athens. Focusing on issues of gender and class, and experimenting heavily with language and form, her work has been described as irreverent, uncanny, and “disturbingly honest.” She was a writer-in-residence at the University of Iowa International Writing Program (’21) and has been repeatedly commissioned by the Greek National Opera, the National Broadcasting Company, the Athens-Epidaurus Festival, and the National Theatre of Greece. Her most recent commissions from the latter two institutions, respectively, include milk, blood (after Euripides’ Medea) and Revolutionary Ways to Clean Your Swimming Pool, which has been widely translated and received a EURODRAM award. She’s a regular contributor in Vogue Greece and teaches Creative Writing workshops at the University of Western Macedonia. She published the best-selling novel How Sea Urchins Kiss in 2017,and her latest book, Mother Mary Smoking in the Bathroom, a short story collection published in May 2023, became an instant #1 bestseller in Greece.
Hannah Kent is a translator, poet, and performing artist from Key West, FL. She earned an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Iowa for her work translating ancient Greek poets and philosophers, during which time she also served as an editor and communications expert with the translation journal Ancient Exchanges. She was a team leader and political canvasser in New Hampshire for the 2022 primary elections, and now she’s based in New York City, ghostwriting memoirs and autobiographies. Find her @pol_udora.