Slovenia (from Flash Fiction International)
It’s been quiet in the apartment for a week with Daddy and Mama not talking. Today, they are both working and the girl has been alone, playing a game where she talks to
herself, asking questions and answering them in a different voice. Mama comes home early and calls, “Alenka, come into the kitchen.”
Alenka apologizes to her toys and tells them she’ll be back quickly.
“Alenka, I have to tell you something,” says Mama.
She has that look that scares Alenka, as if it were drawn on the wrong face.
“Daddy got you a birthday surprise,” she says. “A bike. One of those Rog Pony folding bicycles.”
Alenka doesn’t say anything, but something makes her heart tighten, and she’s angry. She’ll be eleven years old soon, not a child anymore. Of course she wants a Pony. She’s wanted a Pony for a long time, so that she can go with Silva and Katarina to “Amerika,” a little side street. It’s been too far away for her, without a bike. They talk so much about it, how the slopes are steep, and how you have to brake hard at the bottom, that she wishes that they’d talk about something else.
Mama continues with that look, the one drawn on the wrong face, “Alenka, you should look happy because Daddy even took out a loan to buy it.”’
She says, “Yes, Mama,” and goes back to the window and her toys, “I’m going to get a bicycle as a surprise,” she tells them, and the toys bounce up and down.
When her birthday arrives, Alenka has a tummy ache. Still, she goes to school, and in class she wonders whether the bike is red or blue. All the Ponies are blue or red, only Silva’s is pink because her daddy painted it.
At home Daddy arrives after lunch and tells her to come down to the basement. Alenka goes down and the bike is there. Light blue.
She glances at her father. She knows that she’s supposed to be happy, but her tummy starts to hurt more. She touches the bike. It’s just right—the metal so cold it slightly hurts.
“Thank you, Daddy,” she says and wants to go upstairs to her toys as soon as possible.
“You’re not going to go for a ride?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Alenka says, not knowing what to do. “In a little while.”
The basement is narrow and the light is poor; Daddy is big and Alenka is small. She can’t move. In her head, she hears the word “loan.” She wishes Daddy would leave, so Silva and Katarina can come, so she can escape to Amerika.
Translated by Kristina Zdravič Reardon
First published, in different form, as “The Surprise” in World Literature Today, September 2012.