“I might have gotten used to it. I’m not sure.”
“I don’t understand how someone can get used to something so disgusting and unbearable.”
I believed that the unbearable stench in the apartment was affecting our sex life. We were making love with much more passion since that stench found its way through our nostrils to irritate our brains. I’m sure that I would not have been able to muster so much ardor were it not for that unusual smell. Ever since the stench began, I’d been fucking her somehow, well, epically, as if the world depended on it. After the first fuck with the stench she said as much: Since the stench started, you’re fucking me somehow, well, epically, as if the world depended on it.
There are other details connected to that smell. For instance: I come out of the bathroom and find her in bed naked, sweaty, wrapped in a thin sheet down past her knees. Her face is green, and her body is again covered in big red spots. She feels under the bed, pulls out a metal basin and brings it to her lips. She fills the basin with two or three quarts of liquid. She says it’s due to the stench. I tell her that I don’t feel like I’m going to throw up. I suggest we go to the doctor. She refuses and again grabs the basin and expels the contents of her intestines and I don’t know what else as the basin travels from the floor to her gradually less green face.
It wasn’t always like this. Her illness, her nausea, started when the smell first appeared. That’s when the problems started.
The part of town we live in was orderly and quiet, no worse than any other neighborhood. A few years ago a butcher shop opened in the storefront of our building. Then a second one opened. The butcher shops had a fair number of customers, but there was always more meat than demand. We watched from our balcony as the workers took out boxes of veal carcasses and pig guts and shoved them into the garbage bin just a few stories below our window. Thus began the sweet smell of decay phase. That’s what I called it. And really, it would be an exaggeration to say that the stench was stronger than the usual unpleasant smell of the dumpster in which the dead animals were decaying.
Then came the dogs, and with them phase two. The dogs that moved into our neighborhood were attracted by the smell of meat from the dumpster. The skinned bodies of the animals with torn and exposed arteries and ligaments made us think of human bodies. But only at first. Later we got used to them. Occasionally we’d hear a shriek, and we knew that it was just someone passing through the neighborhood for the first time.
Scraps of cooked meat from residential trashcans, fruit rinds and moldy heels of bread had been the diet of the dogs who hung around the entrance to our building. And then one of them bit into the neck of a dead animal. From the moment the hungriest of them tasted raw flesh, the corpses in the dumpster became the one and only entree on the menu of our neighborhood dogs.
The butcher shop workers continued carrying out the remains.
The first unfortunate incident wasn’t serious. An impatient dog attacked the meat before it was tossed into the dumpster, and the butcher shop employee came away with a few scars. The next incident was more severe. A dog pounced and sunk his teeth into the man’s leg. With one bite it found the femoral artery and sent the employee to the hospital. After that, they didn’t carry the meat to the dumpster anymore. They tossed it out onto the street, into the pack of stray dogs that waited for their meal.
Over time, all of us in the neighborhood became vegetarians. No one wants to carry a bag full of fresh, bloody meat if he lives in or passes through a neighborhood occupied by dogs. The butchers lost all their customers, but it was ordered that they continue working so that the dogs would have regular meals. They were trying to protect the residents from animal attacks.
And that’s how a full complement of meat from two butcher shops ended up on the street just a few floors below our balcony. And so began the next phase and the barely tolerable stench. We suffer. We get used to it. She throws up from time to time, changes color and gets big red spots. But her misery is short-lived. She went out one day to take out the trash and still hasn’t come back. She was the first in the neighborhood to disappear. I believe that my beloved met her unfortunate demise in the jaws of a dog.
Since then I haven’t left the apartment. I’m afraid of more attacks. They closed off our part of town after a few more disappearances. We get our food and supplies from the air. And it’s the same with the meat. They don’t throw it out onto the street anymore; now they attach it to steel cables and lower it from the air. Because of that, the dogs are even hungrier. They won’t leave. And we, the residents of Dog Town, live in fear that wild dogs will soon break down our doors and force their way into our apartments, attracted by the smell of unwashed bodies.
Every day I contemplate carcasses suspended in air. They pause for a moment at the level of my balcony as if they want to taunt me. The sound I have been listening to for years is a variation on the theme of dogs barking, whining and howling. Ever since the meat started being lowered down and pulled up from above, from the sky, I’ve been trying to remember a saying I read somewhere a long time ago. Into the mouth of a bad dog flies many a good bone, if I’m remembering correctly.
– Smrad je ponovo bio užasan – čujem je kako govori iz kreveta dok se perem.
– Ja sam se možda navikao. Nisam siguran.
– Nije mi jasno kako neko može da se navikne na nešto odvratno i nepodnošljivo.
Vjerovao sam da nesnosan smrad u stanu utiče na tok našeg seksualnog čina. Vodimo ljubav sa mnogo više žara od kad nam smrad kroz nozdrve iritira mozak. Siguran sam da ne bih bio u stanju da izvučem iz sebe onoliku strast da nije tog neobičnog mirisa. Od kad je smrada, jebem je nekako, sudbinski. Poslije prvog jebanja sa smradom izgovorila je to: Od kad je smrada, jebeš me nekako – sudbinski.
Postoje detalji vezani za taj miris. Na primjer: izlazim iz kupatila i zatičem je u krevetu golu, oznojenu, prekrivenu tankim čaršavom preko koljena. Lice joj je zelenkasto, a tijelo ponovo napaduju crveni pečati. Ruka prodire ispod kreveta, izvlači metalni lavor i približava ga ustima. Puni posudu sa dva-tri litra tečnosti. Kaže da je to zbog smrada. Kažem joj da ja ne osjećam mučninu. Predlažem da posjetimo ljekara. Odbija i ponovo hvata lavor i ispušta sadržaj crijeva i ne znam još čega dok posuda putuje od poda do njenog sve manje zelenog lica.
Nije oduvijek tako. Njena bolest, njene mučnine, počele su kad se pojavio miris. Tako su počeli problemi.
Dio grada u kojem živimo bio je uredan i tih, ništa lošiji od drugih kvartova. U prizemlju naše zgrade prije nekoliko godina otvorena je mesara. Nakon prve otvorena je još jedna. Mesare su imale određen broj mušterija, ali mesa je bilo više nego što je potrebno. Sa terase smo posmatrali radnike kako u kutijama iznose teleće trupine i svinjske utrobe i guraju ih u kantu za smeće, nekoliko spratova ispod našeg balkona. Tako je počela faza kiselkastog vonja truleži. Ja sam je tako nazvao. I zaista, pretjerao bi onaj ko kaže da je smrad bio jači od neprijatnog mirisa kontejnera u kojem se raspada uginula životinja. Onda su došli psi, a sa njima i druga faza. Psi koji su naselili naš kvart bili su privučeni mirisom mesa iz kontejnera. Odrana tijela životinja sa otkinutim arterijama i tetivama podsjećala su na tijela ljudi. Ali samo u početku. Kasnije smo se navikli. Povremeno se čuo vrisak, a mi smo znali da je to još jedan prolaznik kroz naš kvart.
Komadi kuvanog mesa iz malih kanti, ostaci voća i krajevi buđavog hljeba bili su hrana za pse iz naših prolaza. Onda je neko zagrizao vrat mrtve životinje. Od trenutka kad je najgladniji među psima progutao živo meso, lešine iz kanti za smeće postale su glavno i jedino jelo na jelovniku naših pasa. Radnici mesare iznosili su ostatke.
Prvi nesrećan slučaj nije bio težak. Nestrpljivi pas nasrnuo je na meso prije nego što je prebačeno u kantu, a radnik mesare dobio je nekoliko ožiljaka. Sljedeći slučaj bio je teži. Pas je skočio i uhvatio čovjeka za nogu. Jednim ujedom zakačio je arteriju u butini i poslao radnika u bolnicu. Nisu više iznosili meso do kanti. Izbacivali su ga na ulicu, među podivljale pse koji čekaju svoj obrok.
Vremenom smo svi u kvartu postali vegetarijanci. Niko nije želio kesu punu svježeg, krvavog mesa ako živi ili prolazi kroz kvart naseljen psima. Mesare su izgubile mušterije, ali bilo je naređeno da ne prestaju sa radom da bi psi imali redovne obroke. Pokušavali su da zaštite ljude od napada životinja.
Tako je kompletan kontigent mesa iz dvije mesare završio na ulici, nekoliko spratova ispod našeg balkona. Počinje sljedeća faza i teško podnošljiv smrad. Trpimo. Navikavamo se. Ona s vremena na vrijeme povraća, mijenja boju i dobija crvene pečate. Ali ni njene muke nisu trajale dugo. Ona je jednog dana izašla da izbaci smeće i još je nema. To je prvi nestanak u ovom kvartu. Vjerujem da je moja draga nesrećno skončala u psećim čeljustima. Od tada ne izlazim iz stana. Plašim se novih napada. Zatvorili su naš dio grada nakon još nekoliko nestanaka. Namirnice i hranu dobijamo iz vazduha. Isto je i sa mesom. Više ga ne izbacuju na ulicu, sad ga kače za sajle i puštaju u vazduh. Zbog toga su psi još gladniji. Ne napuštaju naše ulice. Mi, stanovnici psećeg kvarta, živimo u strahu da će podivljali psi uskoro da probiju vrata naših stanova privučeni vonjem neumivenih tijela. Svakog dana posmatram životinje u vazduhu. Zadržavaju se na trenutak u visini mog balkona kao da hoće da mi se nacere. Zvuk koji godinama slušam je varijacija psećeg laveža, cviljenja i zavijanja. Od kad meso odnose prema gore, ka nebu, pokušavam da se sjetim rečenice koju sam nekad negdje pročitao. Psi laju a karavan odlijeće, ukoliko se dobro sjećam.
Ilija Đurović writes stories that are surprising, disturbing, real in an unreal kind of way. Reading them, I feel as if I am walking in on a scene in progress—like entering a movie theater where the film has already begun or pausing by the door of an apartment that has been inadvertently left ajar. I have to listen for a moment to figure out who is speaking, what is going on, what is the relationship between the characters…
Like the experience of reading Đurović’s stories, my process of translation is also a process of discovery. My first contact with a text is usually reading for pleasure or out of curiosity: what is the author like, what does he or she write about, does it grab me? I am not translating in this first read—I am reading for the story, picking up images, getting a sense of tone and rhythm. And if the story stays with me, I take another look. I read it again to confirm my first impressions. Did he really describe meat rotting in the streets? What was that about being a prisoner in his own apartment? And why does the title now bring to mind an image of a dangling cow carcass? I pay more attention to details in the second read, sometimes stopping to ponder how I would render a particular phrase. At this point I usually know if I want to attempt a translation.
Even after two read-throughs, though, there is still more to discover. Now the linguistic issues kick in. How does the narrator express himself and, stepping into his shoes, how do I approximate that in English? Does he play with language, use uncommon words instead of common ones, speak in slang, make literary allusions? And what is left unsaid?
The danger of translating in discovery mode—working your way from beginning to end—is that you might encounter the most difficult challenge in the very last sentence. In “Meat,” for instance, the story’s punch line is a common saying in Montenegro and other countries of the region. The saying, “Psi laju, a karavana prolazi,” is commonly translated, “The dogs bark, but the caravan passes.” The narrator, in his stressed out state, twists that to “The dogs bark, but the caravan flies away.” But the dog/caravan saying is not a common expression in the United States (a few documented utterances substituting stagecoach or wagon train for caravan notwithstanding). I had to find an English expression that could be twisted in a similar way, preferably featuring dogs, barking, and, most important, motion that could become flight. The search led me through the internet and into the stacks of my public library, through a handful of proverb dictionaries and hours pondering the origins and meanings of the sayings I found. True discovery mode. Trying to solve these kinds of puzzles is one of the pleasures of translation.
Paula Gordon’s work as a literary translator encompasses drama, short stories, memoir, poetry, and archival material. Her translations have appeared in Words without Borders and Copper Nickel. Her translation of Otpad [Refuse] by Montenegrin playwright Ljubomir Đurković was commissioned and published by the Montenegrin National Theatre in 2003. She posts “current event” translations (from Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian) of news articles, essays, and Facebook and blog posts at https://dbaplanb.wordpress.com/aktuelnost/.