Excerpt: Eugène Savitzkaya, "Family Portrait"


Every weekday during our Kickstarter drive, we'll publish a new excerpt from Unstuck #3. If you enjoy what we do—or if you just want a pair of deadly-stylish Unstuck sunglasses—please join our Kickstarter campaign.

"Family Portrait," by Eugène Savitzkaya
Translated from the French by Edward Gauvin

A wasp visits my mother, lying in her room. The wasp is truly golden and soot-streaked. Its abdomen is separated from its thorax by only a filament thin as a hair, which seems very close to snapping. The wasp says to my mother:

I know this room, I’ve been here three times before and I drank a good amount of sugar from your glass of blackcurrant cordial, the walls of this room are much too close and the window cold and hard like the tall sky.

*   *   *

And the wasp says:

I am a woman you met in the train taking you to Germany; it was I who, having put you at ease—you, sad and shattered—stole the envelope containing all your photos, my heart and my nerves are in my thorax and my abdomen contains the rest, and this clear division makes me invincible.

*   *   *

And the wasp says:

I have always been a wasp, golden and soot-streaked, social, relentless and quivering; the world doesn’t frighten me, already I have begun to eat you, I devoured your children and soon I will tell you how I went about it, I work the best when ignored, I am most effective when believed absent, I am also all the women who have harmed you.

I am your sister who let your little brothers with their colds run barefoot in the snow, that is to say I am your sister’s cavalierness and a great part of your rancor. I am your neighbor who poisons your air and pierces your eardrums, that is to say I am the bile and the voice of your neighbor as well as a great part of your rancor. I am your Russian friend who stole your blue raincoat. I am your Polish friend, thrifty in the extreme, who would drink the milk spoiled by three storms and suck the honey meant as refuge for a family of mice and die from arsenic, that is to say I am the old Polish lady’s peculiarity and a great part of your disgust.

I am that which does not cease to wither, change, and disappear, but also the circle of the sun, the abundance of fruit, the multitude of sugar crystals, the most alive and intact being amidst rot and decrepitude. 

I am the nerve of the overripe greengage and the beating heart of pears ready to liquefy, one last lifting of sparks in an October just gone sour, freezing in a luminous bitterness.

My near-perfection is the equal of your total disarray. I never grow old, for I never live long, just long enough to regenerate, and my dead bodies do not burden the earth. I hunt children as soon as they’re old enough to grimace. 

*   *   *

My mother makes do with slowly smoothing out her handkerchief and changing sides on the bed. There’s nothing else to do but listen to the buzzing of the voice that burns her gut:

Your children haven’t dodged any of the traps I’ve laid along their path, you’d think they sought them out to jump in with both feet. They got themselves so stuck I don’t even need to be congratulated for my science. One voluntarily withdrew into his body, whose openings he took care to plug. He is self-sufficient like a granite block, and I didn’t have to convince him of it. Another, wasp hunter by nature, who when quite young could have hurt me, for all children are quick to revolt against that which seems iniquitous to them—gravitation, weight, influence, selection—I wore him out by reminding him of his mistakes, and his ancestors’: you raised your hand in anger, you were the cause of tears, you lied, you ran away, etc. and these well-worn litanies worked marvelously. All it takes is knowing the eras conducive to remorse. I persuaded another he’d been wronged by his own.

*   *   *

My mother gets up, grabs her hair brush, and shoos away the wasp, which is silent now and pretending to sleep on the windowsill. That’s how she usually deals with what wrings her gut.

*   *   *

A plastic bag hung on a hazel branch moves in the wind and lightly whispers to my mother, always ready to hear rumors, these reprimands, these warnings:

In the next hour will come, as if by chance, called by someone in the house or the immediate area, someone I advise you to identify at any price, before it’s too late; will come, I say, on a mission to destroy the so-called wasp’s nest just under the roof, four firemen fully rigged out, four strapping oafs with pants and boots as foul as though they’d splashed the day away in a hundred hogs’ manure, speaking a tongue you won’t catch a word of.

Read the rest of this story in Unstuck #3.