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  • Sonning a Father
  • Georgi Gospodinov (bio)
    Translated by Angela Rodel (bio)

The Runt had no luck with fathers at all. On the whole, nobody here had any luck with parents, but most of them were always crying for their mothers. The orphanage that they came from was itself called “Mother and Child” for some unknown reason. First, there were no mothers there. And second, only girls want mothers. Men need fathers. But there was no “Father and Child” orphanage. Nobody could say why. All the fathers have gone to the dogs, his friend Ceca the cook would laugh. He was seven already, one of the elders in the orphanage. There wasn’t a single man in the whole orphanage besides the doorman, Mihal the Gimp. He had only one arm, but he could thrash you with it as if for two. He wore an old peaked cap, his empty sleeve was tucked into the belt of his uniform jacket, he almost never spoke, he just doled out beatings. If he wanted to say “hi,” he would simply smack you upside the head. That was his language. That’s all he’s ever known, the matrons would say in his defense. Everyone steered clear of him. He wasn’t father material at all. A father doesn’t beat you every time he catches sight of you. Yet the Runt really wanted a father. He was already at an advanced age for adoption, a geezer (that’s what Ceca called him); besides, in these tough times who would take on a foster child?

And then one day, the Runt saw him, just like that, as he was staring out the window of the room. The big chestnut tree at the end of the yard. He snuck out that very afternoon after class and went over to him. He circled the tree, touching the bark, looking him over from all sides, sizing him up. Yes, he would make a good father; he had everything it took, he was hulking, with big branches. A lot bigger than Mihal the Gimp. And he would never beat him. I’ll son you as my father, he told the tree. He had come up with this phrase: sonning a father. Since men can father sons, that must mean boys can son fathers. The chestnut silently consented. So the Runt started sonning his new father. He would go out to see him every afternoon. He would tell him about [End Page 86] Seko and Teko, twins who were the class hell-raisers; about Nayden the Fatty, who had a grandfather and would completely show off when his grandfather came to take him out on Sunday afternoons; about Ceca the cook; about the cellar full of coal, where they would sometimes punish him…

One day, the twins followed him and heard him talking to the tree. They jumped out from behind him and started making fun of him. They were beanpoles, each a whole head taller than he was. Man, I really gotta pee, one of them said, and they pulled down their pants and started pissing on his father. This was too much. The Runt ran at them and started pounding them with his puny fists. At first, they couldn’t believe it, then they caught him, twisted his arms behind his back and started wailing away at him. The Runt didn’t give up, he tried to kick and bite, he didn’t want his father to be the least bit ashamed of him. Luckily, at that moment one of the matrons turned up and rescued him.

But the worst was yet to come. Toward the end of the year, in late autumn, the chestnut started drooping, its leaves turned rusty, covered with brown spots, it got sick, and started drying up. Word started going around that it wasn’t worth a darn anyway, that it was just taking up space that could be used for a nice coal shed. And so one day, Grandpa Stamo from the village arrived with his chainsaw.

They were all in class when they heard the sound of the machine. The Runt immediately realized what was happening, jumped up from his...


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pp. 86-90
Launched on MUSE
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