prose

Jasna Žmak: Three stories

Freelance dramaturg, playwright and scriptwriter, assistant researcher at the Department of Dramaturgy at the Academy of Drama Art of the University of Zagreb where she graduated in 2011. She is the co-screenwriter of three short feature films. Her author script was chosen as a part of the Zagrebačke priče 2 (Zagreb Stories 2) omnibus. She coordinates the screen-writing project Hrvatski filmski savez Palunko (Croatian Film Clubs' Association Palunko) and the editor of the screen-writing portal palunko.org. Since 2009 she is the director of the advanced screen-writing workshop in Kino klub Zagreb (Cinema Club Zagreb) and the art editor of Filmske mutacije – festival nevidljivog filma (Film Mutations – Invisible Film Festival). As an attendant she took part in several screen-writing workshops (Sarajevo Talent Campus, Visions of Paris...), and also as a member of the jury in several screen-writing competitions. As a dramaturge she worked together with producers Oliver Frljić and Borut Šeparović. She is a member of the editorial staff of the magazine for performing arts Frakcija (Fraction) and web portal drame.hr. She publishes short stories and critical reviews.



all you know about me

 

I won you over with my stories. Long before you met me, you met them, you created an image of me through sporadic publication of my stories, an image made of the words of my fiction. Reading my words you throught they were my reality. You believed my stories were my autobiography.

What confused you was that you often, in a strange way, found yourself in them, that you often felt you yourself were a character in my stories. But that's impossible, you persuaded yourself, two people who don't know each other can't share one biography. That's why you'd quickly drive away that thought and let yourself read fiction that wasn't.

You hadn't yet fallen in love with me back then, but you had fallen in love with my stories. And if my stories were me, as you believed, then perhaps you were a step away from falling in love with me as well... but back then you didn't yet know me in real life and you were convinced that you couldn't fall in love with something you don't know, let alone someone. That's why you'd swiftly ignore those thoughts and return to my made up words.

When you finally met me, you thought you knew all about me. You were convinced you knew all my loves, all my habits, all of me, just all of it.

When you came into my life, in reality, you told me that, you said you already knew everything about me. The first time you entered my apartment, you felt like home. The first time you lay in my bed, it felt like you'd already been in it.

That's why it confused you when you realised I know nothing of love from experience, and everything from dreams... It confused you that I could write about love without ever having lived it.

You're like Jules Verne, you told me, you never were where your stories take place.

Not physically, I replied, but in language, yes. You just laughed and gave no reply.

I didn't know you before my stories, that's true, in real life I didn't know anything about you, I didn't even know you exist, that someone like you exists.

But all the things I didn't know about you I wrote down as if I knew, as if I had been there. All the things I didn't know about you fit into one collection, my collection, the one you're reading right now. Long before you existed for me, I wrote you.

My collection was my journey into the center of you.

 

 

untranslateable

 

Your stories can't be translated, you concluded today after two weeks of persistent attempts to translate at least the shortest one into English. You came out of your own living room and said in a resigned manner: You can't even translate them to Serbian, let alone English.

Actually, you concluded that on the first day, but you didn't have the heart to tell me that right away, or maybe you didn't have the heart to tell it to yourself, a professor of English language and literature, a professor of Croatian language and literature, who can't translate a story of barely a page from one language to another. These two professors inside of you tried and tried, but they didn't succeed. They spent two weeks in that room, with four pounds worth of dictionaries and a couple of poorly sharpened pencils. But nothing helped, the translation never occurred...

When you finally stepped out and admitted defeat, (Like poetry, your prose is untranslateable, that's how you put it), I wanted to tell you I told you so. Because I've known for a while now that my stories don't exist in a language different than our own, they can only be read in the language in which I write them, this little disappearing language.

Yes, my stories are made in something that's disappearing. And my stories will some day disappear like that language, without a sound, like that tree that falls in the forest, but there's no one around to hear it. They'll fall with a whisper.

English too will one day disappear, I tell you, to comfort you, everything disappears eventually. And everything that appears is always created on something that disappears, that's how I want to continue my talk, but then I still give up. Because I know you know that already.

How can it be, you want to ask me, and how can you live with it. How is it possible that there are so many unread books, so many sentences written out, that used to be important to someone, and today are completely forgotten? How can you write, knowing that all you write will some day disappear?

You want to ask me all that, but you never do.

And I, just the same, want to tell you that I can do no other and that what seems impossible is, to me, the only thing possible.

 

 

a love story

 

I dreamt the word love didn't exist. People still had all those feelings, but they didn't know what to call them, they didn't have the words to describe them. And love wasn't the only thing to unexist, there was no falling in love, no verb to love, get to love, be enamoured, nor all of their derivations and variants, there were no amorous adjectives either. And it was the same in all of the world's languages. Love simply disappeared from the dictionary.

As soon as I woke up I immediately grabbed the dictionary, to check how love was defined anyway, convinced it was actually impossible, but also a little apprehensive that love won't be in it, and still holding out hope that love could be one of those words that have remained unchained by the shackles of definitions.

Still, I found it soon enough. It was there, in no way standing out, in no way special. Love didn't vanish from the dictionary.

Then my eyes wandered to all the other dictionaries stacked on your work desk, so, out of curiosity, I opened each one and checked what they had to say regarding love. In the end I spent a whole afternoon studying all the entries that had anything to do with that sort of feeling, I spent a couple of hours between Amor and yearning. At first I was fascinated, then I became angrier and angrier, only to become completely enraged by the end of the evening.

Because I discovered that a component of half of those definitions was - a person of the opposite sex. Yes, half of those dictionaries told me in no uncertain terms that I can't love you, that, actually, I could never have fallen in love with you. I read and couldn't believe from how many entries my feelings towards you were excluded, like they didn't exist, like they were impossible.

This upset me so much I decided I would write a dictionary, a completely new dictionary, which will exclude no one. Although I'm no philologist, although I had no experience in this sort of work, I sat at my desk and started. From A.

You were the one who interrupted the forging of my philological career, somewhere around abacus already. You approached me from behind, asked me what I was doing and then, just by the way, you gave me a kiss. You kissed me in a way that made me forget what I was doing.

When I came to my senses a few moments later I realised something that wasn't in the dictionaries. I realised some things, like, say, that kiss of yours, really have no name. And so I gave up on my dictionary and, instead, went with you into the nameless lands for which dictionaries have no words, and sometimes, neither do I. 

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