The song of the sirens
As far as Medea was concerned, Orpheus could pluck the strings of his lyre with Jason, her heart’s lovely desire joining in with his crooning and all the Argonauts could beat the rhythm at will, she would still hear the sirens.
She heard that she would yet have to save Jason’s life a few times. She heard that she would bear him two beautiful children. She heard that her love would betray her for Creon’s daughter, that her children would be murdered by the people of Corinth and that she would have to flee for her life. She heard that there would be a playwright, a certain Euripides, who would win third prize at the Athens Dionysia with a work that would depict her as the abject personification of chthonic female powers.
And Medea heard that diligent scholars of remote ages would unveil the fact that the people of Corinth paid fifteen pieces of silver to Euripides for delivering them from their shameful, old-fashioned child murder. And that later they would also get their Hymn to Love. And that it would cost thirty pieces of silver.
After man exterminated one third of the animal species, he came up with the idea of cloning them. Any of them, on order, for considerable sums of money. The income would naturally be used, apart from furthering research, for the protection of nature. The WGC (World Genetic Centre) issued catalogues in which beside the picture of the extinct species, there was as a rule the price, full and reduced. And in small print, the life expectancy of the cloned animal.
The larger beasts, like the mammoth, could live one or two days at most — these were on offer for parties, children’s birthdays, but the platypus for instance could survive for as long as half a year — and they informed readers that according to recent surveys conducted by child psychologists, this was the ideal time span during which the child’s caring for his or her own animal is bound to reach the desired stage of conscious responsibility, but emotional bonding is yet to occur.
That the extinct animals might eventually escape? Nonsense, the WGC homepage moderator reassured the inquisitive, where could they possibly escape to?
Nil-nil draw for the time being
Every single client of the pub was tensely staring at the huge LCD screen: their local team’s match is broadcast from abroad, the score is nil-nil draw for the time being, qualification is at stake.
A guy enters, hi there, he greets everybody and sits down in front of a slot-machine to play poker, his back turned to the TV.
He plays a few games with a stiff face, then leaves without a word.
A few moments before being lynched, that is.
Are we suspect?
A police car pulls up by the boys with the dreadlocks. It’s past midnight and they are asked to present their IDs. The younger boy looks one policeman in the eye and asks:
‘Why, sir, are we suspect?’
The policeman mumbles under his breath, passing their papers to his colleague who quickly, routinely scans the pictures and the corresponding faces. The talkative policeman asks:
‘Have you taken any drugs?’
‘Why, not at all, sir — and what about you, sir?’
The policeman wards off the question in a teacherly manner:
‘Because you do know, don’t you, that cigarettes and coffee also qualify as drugs.’
‘Of course we know, sir — and have you not by chance had a coffee yourself today? And if you don’t mind my asking, sir, do you smoke?’
Meanwhile the silent policeman had returned the IDs, sat back at the wheel and the talkative one also mutters: I don’t smoke, and off they go with a purr.
He wasn’t there
They didn’t get on at the same stop and didn’t get off at the same stop either, but every night back from work they travelled in the same subway carriage. At the beginning it was pure chance but later both looked around and, as though no agreement existed between them, it became a habit that both should get in the third carriage. They wouldn’t allow themselves the smallest gesture towards the other. They just gave him a quick glance, the way they would with everybody, then turned their eyes away: one of them usually took a book out of his bag while the other would just sit there with his head hanging.
For two years every weekday they travelled home in this way. One evening after two years the bookish one did in vain get into the third carriage, the man with his head hanging wasn’t there. He was never again there.
The whole world
Veronica made herself a decaff and turned on the cultural channel of Romanian public television. She adored this free world, although she only had the chance to teach for three years in it. She was past sixty, well that’s it, in fact she was even glad that she wouldn’t have to fight with the loud young colleagues and struggle with those brazen wild kids you got in the schools nowadays. Life was beautiful as it was: she did her thoughtful shopping, occasionally telephoned someone and watched all those terrific programs on TV.
This Saturday afternoon there was a report on the fashion world, gorgeous girls were treading the catwalk gingerly, their clothes simply took your breath away, my God! There were questions about the works to the designers and critics. The self-assurance, the things they knew! The 2009 Armani collection? Flabbergasting – the fashion critic of Vogue leans into Veronica’s face — it will be in-cre-dib-ly popular, y’know, they’re already wearing this stuff on Miami Beach, on Rhode Island, y’know, the whole world is wearing this!
The gods, seeing how things went on Earth, started a petition. We — the text was penned by Thoth and Hermes and that boy — do not want humans to live this way. We don’t want them to love each other so little. This was the whole text. Everybody signed it: An, Enlil, Marduk, Inanna, Manitouh, Kokopelli, Indra, Vishnu, Tenjin, Chicomexochtli, Isis, Osiris, the Lord God, the nine Muses, Zeus of course with the whole Olympus toeing the line, even the unknown god, and Mami Wata and Wodanaz, and Odin, and Lug and Gwydion, even Allah signed it, even ancient Chaos signed it, every god that ever lived signed it.
Zsuzsa Selyem is regarded as one of the most original voices of mid-generation Hungarian experimental writing. She is a critic, novelist, poet, translator, and academic. To date, her work comprises two volumes of short stories and four volumes of criticism. Her stories have been translated into German and English, and can be read via Hungarian Literature Online.
Erika Mihálycsa teaches 20th-century British fiction at Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj. Her research is focused mainly on Joyce, Beckett and Flann O’Brien, and she is a prolific translator from English and German into Hungarian. Her translations of Hungarian literature into English have previously appeared in B O D Y magazine and on Hungarian Literature Online.