"A Second Story" by Georgi Gospodinov translated by Magdalena Levy and Alexis Levitin
“After that my grandfather travelled another thirty years or so with the trains, but never chanced to meet that gentleman again. Nor had he the chance to have such a nice talk with anyone else after that, or so he claimed. And at the end of the story, before saying cheers, he would always wind up his speech with the same sentence that all of us at the table could recite in chorus. See, language is a strange thing, that man thought that he was stringing me along just because he didn’t want to be alone, and I thought I was stringing him along because I didn’t want to be alone either, and it turned out that language had fooled us both. However, I have never been as happy as I was then.
That’s what my grandfather, the former conductor, would say in the end, and then he would drink a toast.”
The woman in front of me kept staring in expectation, as if she didn’t want the story to end. I took her look as a compliment. I was never able to tell a single anecdote decently, and it seemed that this time I had succeeded. Still, the pause appeared to be awkwardly long, so we lit cigarettes and then she suddenly held out a hand and said:
“Je m’appelle Catherine. Je ne parle pas votre langue, mais c’était une excellente histoire.”
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Per Contra Spring 2007