WHICH WORD

ÉVA VERONIKA KALAPOS

translated by Timea Balogh

.

.
We get a worksheet. Mrs. Zsuzsa is obsessed with getting to know us, because they told her at school that she has to get to know her students, to know the humans inside the children sitting before her. The first question on the worksheet is “Which word would you use to describe yourself right now?”

One of the Marks behind me whispers to the other Mark that he doesn’t get it. People are people, not words. But I think they can be words, too. Right now, they’re stupid. But that’s their word. I always finish faster than the others, and then the word I am is bored. Mom says the reason I get bored so often is because I’m ten now. That means I’ll soon be the word teen.

In an effort to get to know us, Mrs. Zsuzsa constantly looks us in the eye. She’s trying to catch mine right now, but I turn my head, and the word I am is yourbusiness? You can’t do much with Mrs. Zsuzsa’s eyes, they’re not even nice eyes. Mom always talks about how many people there are out there with nice eyes. Dad had them too, granted, a long time ago, and at granted I always put my hands to my ears, I don’t squeeze, I just hold them there, and then the word that Mom is for at least half an hour is granted and the word I am is deaf.

Several people can be the same word at once. The word they’ve been for the last five months is divorce. If Dad calls, the word he is is anger, and the word that Mom is on those nights is a word that doesn’t exist. Dad left when Mom got fired, because Dad isn’t a bank, that was the lastdrop, and though that word is two words, I always hear them as one.
After Dad every word was grey, like Grandma’s clothes, because Grandma only dresses in grey and black. She argued with Mom over her red skirt, then Mom was the word fury, yelling at Grandma that divorce is just divorce, no one died. I sat in my room, not leaving, even though Grandma called me, and the word I was was arrow.

I still haven’t written anything on the worksheet, I need to go to the bathroom. Mrs. Zsuzsa tells me to write something first, just one word, just come up with something. But I don’t want to just come up with something, because right now my stomach is the word knot, and since this morning it’s also brownstreak. I want to tell someone, but Mom and Grandma aren’t helpful, they’re red, divorce, loud.

Csenge hears me ask to leave and raises her hand, but I don’t want her to come with me, because the word she is is whatever. I haven’t spoken to her in five months, since I’ve been the word silence. All anyone is concerned with are words.

Mrs. Zsuzsa shakes her head, there’s no leaving, we’re looking for words right now. My phone vibrates in my pocket. I usually only look at it during break, but right now the word I am is justcuz. It’s Dad. He recently figured out how to use stickers on Messenger; he’s sent a stork. Mrs. Zsuzsa says shyly that the word she is is rearing. I don’t understand the stork, my stomach hurts. The little dots stir next to Dad’s picture, he writes for a long time, but only sends a short message: “You’re going to be a big sister. Can you believe it? That’s great, right?” Right. I clutch my stomach. Dad doesn’t write any more. The word I am is somebodyelse. I get up and leave, Mrs. Zuzsa is probably yelling, but the word I am is bolt. I rush to the bathroom. I don’t have time to look for Dad’s word right now.

My underwear isn’t brown anymore, but fire engine red. Mom told me to use cold water and soap when this happens. At the sink, I scrub, and there’s still no word for me to write down. I need toilet paper, but the word I am is out. There’s some left in the other stall, I take some off the roll, it rips to shreds, but I stuff it in my underwear anyway, put them back on wet. I’m glad there’s no one here.

I’ll finally think of a word for Mrs. Zsuzsa, so she can be happy. I don’t know what it’ll be yet, but I’ll come up with something. Like everything. Or anotherway. Or thereis. But it’ll probably be no.

Éva Veronika Kalapos was born in 1983 in Nyíregyháza, Hungary. She began her career in 2013 with her young adult novel series D.A.C. and later, Massza, then, Muszáj?!. She has published her short stories for adult readers in nationally recognized journals like Élet és Irodalom, Kortárs, Hévíz, and Tempevölgy. She is a journalist for ELLE magazine and the Hungarian translator for Kate Welshman, Nova Weetman, Julie Fison, and Holly Bourne. In 2014, she received a Móricz Zsigmond Literary Grant. Her first novel for adults, titled F mint (F Like), hit bookshelves in spring of 2019.
.

Timea Balogh is a Hungarian-American writer and translator with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She has stories forthcoming in Prairie Schooner and Passages North and is a scholarship recipient and graduate of the 2019 AWP Tin House Fiction Workshop. Her debut short story was nominated by Juked for a PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers. A 2017 American Literary Translators Association Travel Fellow, her translations of Hungarian prose and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in The Offing, Brooklyn Rail’s InTranslation, Asymptote, Waxwing, Two Lines Journal, Lunch Ticket, Arkansas International, Washington Square Review, and the Wretched Strangers anthology by Boiler House Press, among others. She studies literary translation in Budapest. You can find her on Twitter: @TimeaRozalia.