Siofra O’Donovan: Vaselisa’s War

My mother died of fright the night the first bomb dropped. Under a starry sky, a storm of dust fell through the broken window. But before her last breath, she handed me a doll with two button eyes and a ripped cheek, a thing she said belonged to my Granma, and her Granma, and to her Granma, all the way back.  

My father had only one leg: he set out on his crutches to replace her. On the first day, he came back with a chicken, on the second, with a donkey from the paddocks and on the third, with Mrs. Ravisham the Widow and  her three daughters, the youngest of whom could cook Goulash. I, on the other hand, could not cook an egg. 

Sirens whined, clouds of dust and mortar made the city grow more and more lean. Mother’s gold and pearls were ferreted into the dark streets and taken away by fiendish goblins that make fortunes on peoples misfortunes. Mother’s wedding ring was sacrificed for three stale loaves of bread of which I was given the heels. Our brownstone still stood between clouds of dust and rubble. Refugees huddled in the basements hiding from the steely eyes of the Dictator, who had taken over our perishing city. Maggie and the eldest stepsister grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and said: 

“Go to the forest. There is one who keeps a garden kitchen that would feed ten families. You go to her, and bring us back her pumpkins, and the eggs of her chickens, or we will throw you over to the Dictator.”

“That one? She is Baba Yaga. Everyone knows she devours children. Do not make me go!” 

“Go then, to the Dictator’s Camp.” they smirked and threw each other wicked looks. 

Father lay on the sofa in a delirium, his phantom leg itching wildly. All he had left of Mama was a secret, crumpled photo of their wedding which he kept in his vest. His new wife grew vicious with the rations: she sold herself to a man in a tank for the price of a chicken and roasted it one dark afternoon, while I was locked in the attic staring at the bomber planes in the inky sky,  imagining feasts with my doll: venison, Soufflé, pea mint soup, poppyseed cakes and meringues and trifle.  

When they asked me to leave and beg food from the Yaga, my heart froze with the fear. What would become of my father and his phantom leg? What of me, in the clutches of a evil crone? 

I left, in the middle of the night. They watched me as I trailed down the lane after curfew, clambering over rubble and cracked pipes and broken glass. I walked for many miles until I reached the forest. Clutching my doll,  I went in to the darkness of it, not knowing would I ever come out. Wolves howled over the hill, owls hooted and stared at me.  Three deer led me to a little hut with a plume of smoke sailing through the dark old trees. I walked up the path, and a breeze tickled the air, and the jars hanging from the eves clinked and made a song. The door swung open, and Baba Yaga stood there with her hand on her hip, with a pipe in her mouth, her chin as long as it and her nose bent over to meet its point. 

“Now” she said. “Get in. We have work to do, Vaselisa.” 

The jars grew louder and louder and I wondered, what could that be, that song, because I hear my doll sing it too. 

“Oh, Thank you.” I said. 

“That is good. You are polite. Now, sit on my floor and sort the chaff from the wheat. Do it by sunrise.” 

She whisked up her skirts and jumped into her cauldron and sailed up into the air, scooping it with her ladle, which was the oar for her vessel. Up jumped my doll, and swept through the floors, clearing the chaff from the wheat with a smooth, sure hand, and all the time the song of the clinking jars went on. At sunrise, she came sailing back through the skies. 

“Now. That is good. You work fast. It is time  to spin the cobwebs into curtains. Do this by sunset, so that I may close my windows to the night owls.”

Baba Yaga wheezed around her garden, pulling and polishing her pumpkins. Now the song of the clinking jars grew louder and louder as we worked, and my little doll and I spun the thick cobwebs into silken curtains for her little hut. 

“That is good. “ She said. “And only three o’clock. Very good. Now, you must dust the moon and bring its silver light to my berries, for they are weak and hard this year. It will be the work of the night, and when the moon is pale against the blue morning sky, you will be done. If not, you will never leave my hut again.” 

I did not know how to fly in a cauldron, nor did my doll. We sang together to the jars and as the song grew louder, we rose up  and flew over the dark forest and up to the moon, where we swept the whole night, and cleaned all of its crevices, and carried ladles of its silver light back over the forest. As the first glimpse of dawn came and I saw a knight coming over the hill  on a white horse and in silver armour. 

He put us on his back and we rode back to the hut and offered our ladles of silver moonlight to the Yaga, who grew younger as the light poured over the bushes and gardens. She was so beautiful and radiant and the jars became the most exquisite symphony of music we had ever heard. 

“It is good.” said the Yaga, walking towards the Knight. The berries in the bushes shone. Every leaf on the forest trees gleamed. 

“Listen,” she said, “to the sound of your Grandmothers. We are all refugees.”

The knight nodded. The song grew stronger and stronger. 13 birds brought their mosses and their grasses and wove a crown on my head, as the moon became a silver hook in the morning skies. I never went back to the war, but we brought my father to the dell and made him a leg of oak and he worked in the gardens with us, to the sound of the Grandmothers’ song. Far, far behind us lay the city of dust and rubble. 

*

Biography

Síofra O’Donovan is a published author and an experienced writing workshop facilitator. She was writer in residence in Louth County Libraries and the G.A.A. club in Collon Co Louth under the  Arts Council and Louth County Council from 2004-6. She is on the Writers in Schools Poetry Ireland panel and the Writers in Prisons panel. She  published Malinski,  a novel, (Lilliput Press, Dublin 2000),  and Pema and the Yak, a travelogue (Pilgrims Books, Varanasi and L.A., 2006). ‘She understands those strange and beautiful moments when the metaphors of poetry become literal in our lives, as children face the challenges of the adult world.’ Pr. Declan Kiberd, UCD.

Sheena Power: Aurelia Aurita

The common name for the common jellyfish is ‘Moon Jelly’. But this is not what their mothers call them.

Moons, in common with vampires, are associated with the night but can go out in sunlight; it just weakens them. When you see a moon hanging in the daytime sky it is so reduced it is almost transparent. If you peel such a moon away from the pale pottery blue of the firmament you will notice it is thin as a flake of laundry soap.

When these moons fall into the sea they become sodden, and then gelatinous, and then slowly they billow into bell-shapes, and are seduced by the watery element.

The three Ladies of the Moon are Selene, Diana, and Hecate. They know by now how their daughters wander, and how they fall. They let them go. In the ebb and flow of the tide, they rock their wayward babies to sleep.

When Natural Philosophy came to name the world, he put on his best embroidered slippers and stuffed his pipe with Nicotiana tabacum. The lists were long and sometimes he ascribed unworthy names. Resting his eyes he fell, perhaps, asleep. If he did sleep, in his dream he was visited by three ladies: the first was young and soft-skinned, with pale yellow hair and a round, winsome face; the second was most memorable for her collection of weapons, and the third was an old witch.

‘See,’ said the young one, her plump delicate finger indicating the drawing of a primitive sea-animal, ‘See our precious babies. We miss them so, it is a perpetual ache. We wish to name them. It is a kind of spell, we know, what you do.’

The weaponed one said, ‘Their name will feel like a soft caress.’

And the witch added, ‘But at the end, there will be a little tskiness, so they know how naughty they have been.’

Then they took his quill, and wrote something in his list. They all seemed to do this, and all at the same time, as if the witch and the warrior were shadows of the girl, or as if she were light playing on their silvering hair.

Natural Philosophy awoke to a cold dark room. His candle had guttered in the wax, and the only light came from the stern eye of the moon. The list was as he had left it before dozing, but with a grateful shudder, he remembered the name.

Below his tower spread the endless, black, moon-caressed sea. And through it, gazing up at their three mothers, swam Aurelia Aurita, the Moon Jellies.

*

Biography

Sheena Power is an illustrator from Dublin. Her work ranges from dragons on the cover of JRR Tolkien:  the Forest & the City (a collection of essays by Tolkien experts), to Christmas cards for scientists. Although she draws for a living, her real love is writing. Composing captions for greetings cards can be like writing an extreme form of flash fiction. Her story ‘Queen’ was shortlisted for the Allingham Festival 2015.

LMA Bauman-Milner: Glass and Blood

Those slippers, so beautiful, so delicate, fitted my feet so daintily, so perfectly. I believed her when she said they were made for me. The glass shaped by thousands of facets seemed to move with liquid light. She assured me that though they were glass, they were stronger than diamonds.

She lied.

They warmed to the touch; from the moment they were on my feet, they were as snug as a second skin. Every step sounded with filigree chimes; every step left a print of diamond dust, leaving a glittering wake wherever I passed. The faintest breath of a breeze would send motes of light and sound dancing in the air around me. I could not resist criss-crossing my own path just to glance at the beauty that followed me. Shining dust refracted the light at different angles, depending on the direction; it seemed I left a trail of rainbows, and all the world delighted in them.

I glided on light and music to the pumpkin carriage and onwards to the ball and the prince I desired. Midnight was my curfew; the limit her magic could hold.

She lied.

A dream of dancing and rainbows trailing on the floor, a dream of a violet-eyed prince falling in love with a nameless princess who wore glass slippers, trailed prisms and chimes wherever she walked, turning every eye to watch as she passed. So many eyes that watched, but I did not see, for I was blinded by dreams and dust, by violet eyes and lust. I fell just as hard, just as deep, and dreamed that the dream would never end. Just as she promised.

She lied.

The first bell of midnight tolled. The slippers fractured and splinters of glass stabbed in-between toes. The diamond dust fell from my eyes, no longer refracting the truth into my hope and dream: covetous glances from rivals turned murderous in a blink; flirtatious smiles from long-haired courtiers slithered to lecherous.

The crowd shoved the prince back, as they surged forward with the truth. I retreated from the feral eyes of the rejected women – promised and denied a prince – as they lurched for me, dragging the rainbows from my feet and trampling them. I spun away, only to freeze at the sight of the lascivious eyes of all the second-choice men, as they lunged for me, tearing my glittering dress. The third bell.

Oh, how she lied.

I fought tooth and nail for my freedom, pounded up steps and down hallways, leaving that tell-tale, tattle-tale trail of glass behind me. The slippers stabbed and gouged with every step, but refused to shatter and free me. Every shard dug deep, deeper into heel and toe, under nails and through bones. I tore handfuls of my dress and stuffed them into my mouth to stop the screams, but the gossamer tulle melted like spun sugar. As the sixth bell of midnight rolled through the air, all I could taste was glass and blood.

I wept at the sight of the pumpkin carriage, and limped inside. By the ninth toll, the carriage had left the castle grounds and pelted at speed down the forest path. Still the slippers clawed through my feet, and every bump in the road left me breathless with pain. Glass-dust and blood littered the floor of the carriage.

I felt the final bell of midnight. Felt the vibrations tumble down my skull through my body. The slippers resonated, shuddered, and jagged cracks criss-crossed every facet, grinding together with a tooth-shuddering tone. But still they refused to dissolve, clung to the remaining flesh.

The carriage, the pumpkin trapped me inside as it bounced once, twice, and splattered on the third impact. I hit the ground, bounced and rolled and twisted, screaming all the way. The slippers would not break. I fetched up hard against a tree-trunk, my head striking the knot of a long-dead branch. Blessed darkness descended, and I escaped the pain.

It was not midnight that was my undoing, but those damned slippers. Shredded gristle and bone were the only remains of my delicate feet, still trapped by the shattered glass. My screams brought me back, clawing the earth to stop the pain. Ragged and gasping, I squinted against a sharp light as it danced into my eyes, burning away the last of her lies.

She stood over me, twisting and turning the glass blade, watching the dawning light play across my face. With every pass of light, her face changed – stepmother to godmother and back. I glanced behind her – a stepsister looming next to each shoulder, glass blades in their hands, glass slippers on their feet – and finally understood the truth.

She lied.

*

Biography

LMA Bauman-Milner is an ex-teacher turned writer, but avoids most other clichés. She graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Leeds Trinity University in December 2015, soon after publishing her debut collection of horror short stories, Dark Doors. She lives in West Yorkshire with her husband, son, two fractious cats and a menagerie of personal demons, which she stalks and traps in her writing – the demons, not the cats (no matter how richly they deserve it).

David O’Donoghue: Embers

It was only at this time, when the sky turned into a peat fire as the ashy grey of approaching night was flecked with the embers of sunset, that Tómas felt at ease. The day carried with it oppressive heat and a wave of sunlight that felt solid on his shoulders, weighing down his already tired muscles as he toiled in the endless canes of the plantation. The cool that came with night came some way to replicate the coastal breeze he had been extracted from. At this time, his ancestors had believed, the sunset made the barrier between the world of the living and the world of spirits and Gods more blurry. It was a tenet that grew more evident to them as the evening gathering of the slaves became a more regular occurrence.

The first buzz of giddy anticipation always came when they warmed up their throats with the Gaelic glow of their native tongue. When they worked during the day only an occasional, nationless grunt would escape their mouths here or there, or perhaps an animal shout when one of their number fell with exhaustion. But here, in the borderland between day and night, they briefly put their old skin back on, and spoke with their old voices, and went about their old ways.

Here, outside their meagre quarters or the eyes of the New Model Army that had followed them from cold Connaught to blistering Barbados, they gathering around the fire to reheat their humanity. For the first night the conversation was casual but bewitching and the men found themselves easily intoxicated by mundane conversations about the labour of the day, if only because the familiar feel of the words pushing past their teeth was a comforting reminder of home. But one night Tómas had found himself relating a story his grandfather had told, of the boyhood deeds of the great hero Cuchulainn. He found the men bewitched, cracking smiles through the grime and sweat on their faces, and sometimes raising up a little shout whenever the story took a particularly glorious turn. Tómas relaxed into his position of storyteller and excavating the mystic past had become a nightly routine for the men.

The fire crackled and Tómas assumed his position, the light flickering on his smiling face, and he looked down at the men who gathering around, who rubbed their raw and calloused hands together in anticipation. He had been preparing all day, during his miserable ministrations in the sugar cane, but even though the tale was all but memorised he still cocked his head to the side in a gesture of remembrance. It was a necessary part of the ritual, the moment that indicated to the men that this man had to travel great psychic journeys to bring back these fables of their ancient home.

“Each year for 30 years or more” Tómas began, speaking into the growing flames “the celebrations at Samhain were hampered by the fire-breathing spirit known as Ailleann. Each year he would stalk around the lands of the Fianna, incinerating all that fell within his path”.

As Tómas spoke the fire conspired in his show. The men saw the tongues of flame twist themselves into a figure; a towering, malicious spirit, and hover in the air menacingly between them all.

“But then came the great hero Fionn MacCumhaill” Tómas continued, and there were shouts of joy at Fionn’s introduction, who seemed to have wandered in through the fog of history into the fire of the present.

“Fionn vowed to vanquish the demon, who lulled the men of the Fianna to sleep each year with his twisted song”.

An army of small, bright embers jumped to the top of the fire to meet the demonic figure which floated there, but one by one they all dropped back into the heart of the pit like stones falling sullenly into the sea.

“But clever Fionn, in his infinite knowledge and courage, had brought his bag of magic weapons with him. All kinds of strange treasures rested in the crane-skin pouch, but most prized among them was Fionn’s spear, which glowed red hot at its tip with magical fire”.

Tómas picked up and brandished a nearby hoe to illustrate his point and watched as the shadows of the men came together behind the crowd to form the figure of Fionn. Behind the men, in a meeting of their tired arms and aching legs, appeared a hero.

“And Fionn kept himself awake, as the Aileen sang its song, by pressing his burning, hot spear to his forehead. He found power in his pain and with each touch of the hot spear against his flesh, his suffering and his strength intermingled”.

Tómas tapped his own forehead with the hoe, making a face of vague annoyance each time it struck. The men laughed, the fire grew and their shadows elongated into the waning light.

“And now” Tómas said “filled with the vigour of his own pain, Fionn hunted down the monstrous spirit, and saw him slaughtered with the same spear that had pained the hero. And so the cunning Fionn won glory and love and remembrance”.

The shouts exploded into the night and the flame-wrought figure that floated above the pit was consumed when the fire rose higher than ever before, almost meeting the stars which now were like scores of piercing white eyes.

The men were busy hollering and clapping each other on the back and no one noticed the approach of the guards. They knocked and kicked and scattered the slaves. They chastised them in their alien tongue and threatened them with their blades. The guards seemed to wet their tongue and forefinger and quench the stars one by one. Tómas was quickly hounded and huddled back to his bedroll. But before he left he opened his mouth and swallowed an ember of the fire, and the story of Fionn rested somewhere in his belly with his exhaustion, his fear and his longing.

*

Biography

David O’Donoghue is a freelance journalist and author from Kerry. He won the 2015 Kerry’s Eye creative writing competition and was shortlisted in the 2015 Hot Press Creative Writing Award. He is soon to be published in The Runt Literary magazine, as well as the SciPhi literary journal.

Jenny Butler: A Darkening Bavarian Sky

Another cold and cheerless winter night that I must avert my eyes from the poor wretches and their fearful, darting eyes. I pass them by. Moonlight shines on their bereft, ragged forms as they scuttle into the darkness with no small hands to hold. It has been seven weeks since the children disappeared.

The woodcutter refuses to enter the forest so has no logs to cut, while the shopkeeper boarded up his shop and stays inside with his precious little one. Carpentry has ceased in the workshop because the carpenter’s wife is too frightened to be alone with her baby. Small jobs and woodturning can be done indoors, but both parents hold in deep suspicion anyone calling to collect an item – Did that person, whether neighbour or friend, intend to steal the baby, snatch him from their arms? Who was behind this horror? Why was it happening?

Each day, at twilight, the townspeople gather together. They come with twigs and brushwood in hand, for all fear entering the forest in search of larger kindling. Bonfires are lit in the hope the children, presumed lost in the forest, will follow the glow and emerge.

At the bonfire tonight, I see the shopkeeper has come with provisions for the assembly. He grasps his daughter’s arm so tightly that she winces in pain. Moving his big hand up her thin little arm as he reaches over with a parcel of food, I notice the marks. His strong grip leaves fingertip-shaped bruises in her pale skin. It wasn’t as if any of the remaining youngsters would dare move an inch from their parents, but such was the terror that they might evaporate somehow with only a momentary break in this physical contact.

Gaunt faces are hungering for the shopkeeper’s goods but distracted by the shadowy forest in their peripheral vision. Even though the fire is lit in the same spot each time, it seems like the trees are somehow nearer, as if the forest itself is encroaching on us. Activity would begin with one of them telling stories of their children, rejoicing in memories of how sweet the girls were, playing with their dolls, or even how naughty the boys could be! This reminiscence produces a feeling of propinquity; they might just come tramping out of those trees any moment! Singing lightens their nightly outpouring of pain, but even this becomes morose for the new songs have verses about their lost sons and daughters. As more days passed, the repetitive bonfire lighting became more a ritual than a beacon of light to lost children.

My heart leapt from my chest the night they brought forth the head of their Wicked Witch: I recognised her! I looked upon her kindly eyes, frozen in horror, as they forced the neck down onto the spikes of the pitchfork. As a boy, on one of my many jaunts into the wood to hunt rabbits with my slingshot, I often passed this woman’s house. One day, on a high having killed three, I saw her peeking from her doorway, a red scarf tied around her long black lustrous hair. She beckoned and I approached the wooden porch. Her eyes were large and dark brown and she had smooth olive skin – I thought her incredibly beautiful! Her ears were completely decked with jewels! She smiled, shyly, saying something I didn’t understand and pointed at the rabbits. It was then I realised she couldn’t speak German. So exotic was her appearance that I couldn’t help staring at her. She glanced again at the rabbits and, taking out my knife, I hunkered down and skinned one for her.

She went into the cabin and gestured for me to follow. I entered and placed the rabbit on the table. Never could I have anticipated the exchange for this one rabbit! She went into her pantry and returned with as much candy as she could carry: delicious-looking assorted cakes of all shapes and sizes, baumkuchen, star-shaped cinnamon biscuits, sugared fried dough, fruit-breads. It being obvious I couldn’t possibly carry these by hand as well as the rabbits, she fetched a piece of linen and bundled them all in, tying it in a knot. I got a long stick from out front and when I returned, she bent to help me secure the parcel to the stick. As she brushed against me, my nostrils filled with the unfamiliar piquant scent of her skin, a curious perfume like blackberries and orange-zest blended together. In my adolescent dreams, I would catch a waft of this fragrance and wake filled with longing and wonder.

It shocked me now to look into those old, though still beautiful, eyes wherein a strange light remained. Her wizened olive-hued face was framed by long grey hair. All those years ago, my parents warily received my boyish story – the rabbit-catch exaggerated to six. I remember their fretful glances across the kitchen table when I mentioned the cabin in the woods. Unbeknownst to me, the townsfolk believed she was a hex-caster, that she could turn you into an animal if she wanted! I was tainted by my close contact with her, the fact I had been in her house, and indignantly my mother dragged me to the church where the priest did a special blessing for me. The linen-wrap from my cake-bundle was snatched from me. My mother screamed when my father moved to place it in the hearth – it had to be burnt outdoors. Some of the townspeople’s theories of her origin and other wild imaginings excited me, some appalled me. I often wondered at her strange speech, where she really had come from but despite my curiosity, I never returned to the cabin.

Oh they believe they have captured their Witch, exterminated the foul enchantress. In the weeks after, I held my tongue as hysterical mothers concocted vile images of the deeds of this disgusting Witch, the one to blame, the focus for their hatred. I know better.

*

Biography

Dr Jenny Butler is an academic folklorist who writes prose inspired by the supernatural, folkloric and mythological themes. The numinous is an integral part of her life, since her professional research as well as her creative writing, deals with the consequences of sacred encounters and otherworldly realms. She is especially interested in the place of myth and magic in the modern world and in how cultural fears are reflected in folk stories. More generally, she is interested in esoteric currents in art and in how artistic expression is connected to the divine or sacred in the dynamics of the creative process itself.

Hersh Dovid Nomberg: Happiness (A Fairy Tale)

Happiness (A Fairy Tale)

Original tale by Hersh Dovid Nomberg, translation by Daniel Kennedy

 *

Through infinite space, through the immensity of the cosmos, there flew an angel.

For many long years he had not rested his wings; for many long years he had flown and flown without pause. Whenever he encountered a sun or a star or a lost comet, he would stop and ask: ‘Excuse me, please. You don’t happen to know where the earth is, do you?’

And on hearing the answer, ‘no,’ he would fly on. He did not have a minute to spare, nor a second to waste.

Many, many years ago the angel had heard about the terrible plight of the unhappy earthlings, about how hard and bitter their lives were, and his angel-heart was filled with sympathy. He had fallen, in tears, before the divine throne and begged for happiness on behalf of the humans. God accepted his prayer, entrusting the angel with happiness to be delivered to the wretched people of earth.

Coming down from the seventh Heaven, the angel has wandered ever since, through suns, stars and comets, in search of the earth. In his right hand he holds the happiness and his white wings move effortlessly through the thin ether. Thousands of years have passed; he has flown through millions of systems. But no one knows where the earth with its unhappy people is to be found.

Sometimes a tear falls from the angel’s eye. Who knows if his bright wings were carrying him away from the earth? And yet, he is an angel. He sheds those tears not on account of his long exile or his drawn out, futile toil, but for the poor humans who thirst and strive for the happiness, that he carries in his right hand.

‘Tell me, please, you don’t happen to know where the earth with its unhappy people is?’

‘No.’

He flies on, driven by his own idealism. Meanwhile the earth grows old and new. Civilisations, ideologies and religions come and go, and misery continues to reign.

‘Where can happiness be found?’sigh the unhappy humans.

Once, an old stargazer, an astronomer, was watching a wandering comet. For a long time he did not take his eye off the lens of his telescope, following the comet’s every move. He did not abandon his watch, even when he was eating and sleeping, he would put his young son in his place and no sooner had he finished his meal, than he would hurry back to continue peering through the lens.

The comet was not pleased:

‘What does he want from me, that old wizard? What is the meaning of this? Am I a thief that cannot be left out of one’s sight?’

The comet became even angrier.

Suddenly, the angel flew by and asked in his soft, sad voice: ‘Tell me please, Reb Comet, you don’t happen to know where the earth with its unhappy people is?’

‘People, on the earth?’ answered the comet angrily, ‘there are only wizards and young thugs there…’

‘Oh! those poor people,’ sighed the angel, ‘all because of unhappiness! No, Reb Comet, you cannot get angry, it is a sin to hate.’

And the happiness in his right hand shone and sparkled so brightly that even the comet’s mood was lifted when he saw it, and his gloomy, misanthropic soul felt lighter.

‘Where is the earth?’

The comet showed him, pointing with a long, thick beam towards the place where the earth was to be found.

‘Oh, how far from heaven the earth has wandered!’ sighed the angel to himself, ‘and all because of unhappiness.’

He immediately set off on his way again.

Meanwhile, on earth, the astronomer had noticed the angel, spotting, through his telescope, the radiant object in his right hand. And because there was a prophet who had long been predicting that an angel would come to deliver happiness, the stargazer immediately recognised that it was the angel come to bring happiness to the people of earth.

The newspapers soon spread the news throughout the whole world.

‘An angel is flying our way with happiness,’ they said, wherever there were people to talk about it.

All the stargazers adjusted their telescopes and saw clearly how the angel was getting closer and closer towards the earth. They started to calculate, and estimated that the angel would land on a specific day, hour, and minute at specific coordinates.

When the day finally came, people from every country gathered at the preordained spot. The place was crowded; people started pushing and shoving one another, getting into arguments. Punches were thrown. It soon came to the point where they started killing each other with knives. Rivers of human blood flowed there, and the wailing and moaning of the dying reached up to the heavens.

The angel saw from afar how the people pushed and crushed each other, and from on high he started to scream with the last of his energy:

‘Don’t fight! I have enough happiness for everybody, for everybody!’

But they did not hear.

As the angel got closer to the earth, his bright eyes saw the stabbed corpses and the pools of blood, and when his ears heard the wailing and moaning, a tear fell from his glowing eye, landing on the happiness.

From then on the happiness was stained.

The crowd watched as the angel – who was tired and weary from his long journey and from what his eyes witnessed on earth – fainted, and the happiness fell from his right hand.

 

*

Biography

Hersh Dovid Nomberg (1876–1927) was a Yiddish writer, essayist and political activist, born in Mszczonów near Warsaw. “Happiness” (Warsaw 1900) was Nomberg’s first publication in prose, taking elements and motifs from the genre of mayses (Yiddish folk tales) and weaving them into a fable of his own.

Daniel Kennedy is an Irish-born literary translator based in Paris. He specializes in Yiddish literature.

This translation was made possible thanks to the Yiddish Book Center translation fellowship