The Lie

“Don’t go home!” Tinka implores her grandmother, who is already combing her hair and glancing at the clock. Grandpa will be coming home soon from work, and he will be hungry, this Tinka knows, but she still doesn’t want Grandma to go home. When Grandma leaves, it gets kind of strangely cold in the apartment, even though Mama and Papa come home afterwards. “Stay a little longer, you’re not in a hurry.”

Grandma caresses Tinka and says: “Okay. I’m just going to the store, then. I don’t have any bread, and I’d like to bring Grandpa some coffee.”

Tinka stops whining, and Grandma puts on her coat. She glances into the hall mirror, picks up her bag, and leaves. Tinka quickly runs to the window in the bedroom because from there she can see the courtyard, where no one could walk from the store back to the apartment block without Tinka seeing them.

Tinka crouches by the window. She sees Mama, who comes through the front gate. She sees Papa, who parks his car next to the Kočevars’ Ford. She sees people coming home from work.

“Tinka, come to the kitchen. What on earth are you doing? What’s so interesting out there?” says Mama, as she reheats the lunch Grandma had made. Papa doesn’t say anything because he is hungry after work and wants to eat as soon as possible.

Tinka looks out the window. She has to pee, but she doesn’t go because she knows that Grandma would come back the second she left. She should do her homework, but she doesn’t because Grandma will be coming back any minute now.

The sun is slowly setting. Tinka quickly runs to the bathroom to pee, her sister comes home from music school, Mama is grumpy, and Papa leaves for a soccer game. There is a misty cloud on the glass where Tinka has been pressing her face.

Then it is almost night. Tinka has a bitter taste in her mouth, and it feels like there is a funny cobweb in her stomach. Like there were hundreds of sticky spiders crawling inside her.

“Honey, come watch cartoons. What’s going on with you today?” says Mama, who is still in a bad mood.

“I’m not coming,” says Tinka, and quietly adds: “Grandma just went to the store. It will close soon, and she has to be coming back now.”

Grandma doesn’t come back. Tinka puts on her pajamas and eats a yogurt. She doesn’t look out the window anymore. She doesn’t look anyone in the eye. She doesn’t want to look anymore, but closing her eyes is also hard because when she does, she sees Grandma, how she leaves through the door, how she goes to the store. A hundred times she leaves, and a hundred times she does not come back.

The next morning it seems to Tinka that she aged a few years just overnight.

By Lili Potpara
translated, from the Slovene, by Kristina Zdravič Reardon

Kristina Zdravič Reardon is a PhD candidate in Literatures, Cultures, and Languages at the University of Connecticut. After earning an MFA in creative writing from the University of New Hampshire in 2010, she was awarded a Fulbright grant and spent a year in Ljubljana translating fiction. Her work has been published in World Literature Today, Words Without Borders, and Slovene Studies.

Lili Potpara is a Slovenian writer and translator. In 2002, her collection of short stories, Zgodbe na dušek (Bottoms up stories), won the Prize for Best Literary Debut from the Professional Association of Publishers and Booksellers of Slovenia.