In Translation

The story first appeared on this website in December 2016.

cover_girldog5_3by4On Friday, Genie shut the email program with an angry click of her mouse. “I hate rejections. Why don’t they want my stories?”

Chuck didn’t reply, just nuzzled her thigh in a show of support, or maybe in a demand for a treat. It was hard to tell.

“Oh, Chuck.” Genie picked him up, burying her face in his deep fur. “I want to get one of my stories published in Can Cocoa. It’s my one big dream. I even blogged about it, and everyone encouraged me to keep trying, but the editor keeps rejecting my stories. Only small cheap e-zines accept them. Stupid Can Cocoa!”

Chuck grinned, his tongue lolling.

“You think I’m obsessed with Can Cocoa, don’t you?”

Chuck licked her nose.

“You’re my partisan.” Genie laughed.

On Monday after work, she logged in the Can Cocoa website again. Checking their masthead had become a routine by now. One day, they might change their fiction editor, and the new one might like her stories better. She would be ready. A girl could dream, couldn’t she? Without her impossible dreams, she would be too pathetic: a middle-aged aspiring writer working a mind-numbing office job.

The magazine didn’t change their fiction editor that day but they announced a new section: short stories in translation. The text in the original language and the original writer’s permission should be included in the submissions, together with the English translation.

Genie closed the window with a derisive huff. “Translation, my ass,” she muttered. “Well, I’m bilingual. I could translate anything from Russian. I have, in fact, and put my translated stories on wattpad. People love them. I have thousands of readers.”

Sitting beside her desk, Chuck thumped his tail in encouragement.

“You think I should?” Genie asked doubtfully. “I have a magic realism story, set in Russia during the war. I’ve never submitted it to them before. I could pretend it’s a translation. The editor of their translation section is a different lady. Maybe she’ll accept my story.”

The idea stayed with her. On Thursday, she decided to try. She wrote an email to the translation editor. “I don’t have the original manuscript,” she explained in a burst of rabid imagination. “It never existed. The author is my maternal great aunt. She was a wonderful storyteller but she never wrote down her stories. She narrated them. They were all about magic and fantastic creatures in the everyday Russia. Although she died more than 30 years ago, I still remember some of her stories. Recently, I wrote down one of them in English.” She ended the message by asking if they would be interested in such a story and clicked Send.

“What do you think, Chuck? Is it a good frame for my story? I did have a great aunt by that name, although she never told any stories. She was a cantankerous old hen, lived alone and died alone, no kids, no family. Nobody can check anything.”

Enthusiastic as always, Chuck flopped on his back, so she could rub his tummy.

The reply came promptly the next day: yes, they wanted her translation from Russian.

“What do you know?” Genie muttered. “Maybe they don’t have enough submissions to fill the section?” She sent her story.

Several months later, on Wednesday, the reply came. The magazine would publish her story in December and pay her the usual translation rate – five times more than she had ever been paid by any of the small circulation magazines that habitually published her stories. Of course, the writer’s part of the payment would be withheld, as the writer was dead, but if she had more stories from the same source, they would be glad to consider them.

“Yahoo! My dream came true after all!” She would be published in Can Cocoa, if only as a translator… of her own story, but it was a start. Her story was finally good enough for those literary eggheads. She turned on her favorite Andre Rieu concert and waltzed around her tiny apartment, singing out of tune. Chuck was so concerned about the cacophony, he started barking.

On Saturday, another email arrived from Can Cocoa – a congratulation. Her story, or rather her imaginary aunt’s story, was awarded the prestigious Dennis Yoland Prize as the best translated story of the year. She was invited to accept the prize on behalf of the dead author. The ceremony would take place just before Christmas, in New York, during the annual translators’ summit. Her air fare and hotel for two nights would be paid by the organizers.

Genie’s heart thumped wildly. Her story was good enough to win the award, the best story of the year, but only as someone else’s story. Those New York publishing snobs were ready to pay for her to fly there, but her dream-come-true suddenly felt like a mockery.

“What do you think, Chuck? Should I tell them the truth in my acceptance speech? What would they do: denounce me? Take away the prize? But translated or not, it is the same story. Or should I cowardly ignore the invitation, say I can’t come? Or should I make up my aunt’s tragic life story and tell it to those idiots who can’t separate truth from fiction? Would it be fraud?”

Chuck pushed his nose into her trembling hands, but this time, his unquestioning loyalty didn’t bring relief, nor clarity. She had lied and got punished… by a free flight and hotel in New York. And a monetary prize. She didn’t know what to do.