Zuska Kepplová

Photo by Gabriel Kuchta


(an excerpt)

‘How do you feel? How are you?’ she asked. It was our third breakfast together. The sun was shining through an aquarium onto the table. A bowl of tuna spread I brought was sitting there. I didn’t know how to answer. Heres fresh olive bread. Heres butter to go with it. How are you?

The sound of keys outside the door startled me. I tried to decide between hiding in the closet, under the bed, or on the window ledge. What would her boyfriend think, what would he say, what would he do? Should I go have a beer with him and talk it over? I could still just be a friend who was having breakfast with her after a night of movies and talking about guys.

‘He’d probably ask me how my night was. And he’d hope you enjoyed it too,’ she said without any sign of panic. A heroine, who makes terrible filtered coffee and gives kisses at the door. Kiss! She has empty wrappers in the fridge. The ham is curled up like a message in a bottle, dry at the edges. Yet she also has a jar of Ukrainian caviar. Every time I’m with her I forget that I’m vegetarian. We eat salami and fish.

My insides are like an empty fridge. My heart is a piece of old ham with hardened red edges. I weigh 128 lbs. at 5’9’. I can’t remember the last time I was so thin. Perhaps after a stay in Starý Smokovec. Respiratory diseases. When I got there, I was too proud to eat hot dogs. By the time I was leaving, I was no longer picky and spoilt. I ate fatty chunks of meat, and hot dogs were my favourite breakfast delicacy. Whenever I eat hot dogs now, my body is flooded with pleasant feelings. That’ll never go away. I must write the truth—favourite food: hot dogs.

‘You’ll be much more at ease! You’ll be a more interesting person,’ she said about my recent breakup. For a few months I didn’t sleep well. Budapest might be the town with the most ambulances and fire trucks flying by. It must be the most unfortunate metropolis in Europe. Every single siren woke me up. She said: ‘You look like you came from a concentration camp. Are you sure you’re not Jewish? You look Jewish. You should claim it. It would make you all the more interesting.’

I’m 28 years old, freshly single, 128 lbs., a smoker, maybe Jewish. With a high alcohol tolerance. A passable cook, although my figure doesn’t currently show it. I like to exercise, I lift weights. I left my last relationship with nothing but a pair of blue speakers and a muffin pan from IKEA.


We each have a role. I am the storyteller. She is the muse. She’s Romanian. She looks like a Gypsy. A beautiful Gypsy. She says that if it gave her more cachet in the academic world, she’d gladly say she’s a Gypsy. She’d invent a whole childhood under Ceauçescu, she’d invent a history of Romania, she’d even invent a whole new state on the map of Europe. It’s so easy. We can be whoever we want to be. In the States, she frightened a cashier, a simple woman from the prairie, when she pulled out her debit card issued by the Bank of Transylvania.

What do I actually know about her? She went from being a conservative to the left. I’m living proof of her newfound social sympathy. She considers herself a feminist. She tries to be active, useful. In stereotypical fashion, she doesn’t cook. If she ever does, it’s an act of hysteria, in which she puts together duck, canned fruit, and leftover sparkling wine. Moreover, she doesn’t like to do the dishes. She likes to wear clothes from second-hand stores. Unique and retro. Who cares about fashion?

‘Look!’ She dragged me behind a fitting room curtain, pulled up the dress she was trying on, and showed me her thigh covered in cellulite. I looked at her reflection in the mirror and honestly said: ‘You look great!’ She does look great. She left the second-hand store in a white summer dress, pushing a bicycle. I walked behind her and kept looking to see if other people were seeing how beautiful she looked in her new dress. I didn’t have the courage to hold her hand.

I’m a storyteller. I give words. She is a heroine. She gives actions and words and gestures. I walk a step behind her, like a Gypsy woman, in awe: this is my girlfriend. This is my new love! We’re at school together. We’re together.

‘It’s high time for us to exchange our private email addresses,’ she said over Skype. She wants me to send her an email with a detailed description of my recent trip to Sarajevo. She’s in Bucharest right now, and she wants to read me, if nothing else.

She submitted an application for a new passport. I wanted to see the photo she was going to have in it, and to read what the little booklet said about her. Hair colour? Material? Eye colour? Describe your fingerprints! Blushing? I can’t help it, I blush. ‘They say it’s a skin issue. Either it’s too thin, or too pale.’ (I have a thing for explaining phenomena.) Luckily, she has olive skin. I bet she wouldn’t blush even if she had thin, pale skin. She’s brave. Clever. And very rational. Sometimes I think she’s too cool. And yet, when she’s pressed up against me, she’s soft and hot. I want to put on lipstick and press my lips onto a page of her new passport. Kiss!

ZUSKA KEPPLOVÁ (b. 1982) studied dramaturgy and scriptwriting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava, and received a PhD in gender studies from Central European University in Budapest. She is an editor and political commentator for the daily newspaper SME. Kepplová made her literary debut with the short story “A Little Ballad About a Weekend,” which won the Poviedka Award in 2005 for the best short story of the year. Her first book, Buchty švabachom (2011), won the Ján Johanides Prize and was shortlisted for the Anasoft Litera Prize, Slovakia’s most prestigious award for prose. Since then she has written two more books, 57km od Taškentu (2013) and Reflux (2015).

This excerpt is from The Moon in Foil by Zuska Kepplová, forthcoming from Seagull Books in December 2023. Used with the permission of the publisher

About the translator:

MAGDALENA MULLEK is a literary translator and scholar. She holds a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures from Indiana University. Her translations, reviews, and articles have appeared in numerous journals. Her book-length titles include the Dedalus Book of Slovak Literature (2015), Into the Spotlight: New Writing from Slovakia (2017), the children’s book The Escape by Marek Vadas (2018), Pavol Rankov’s It Happened on the First of September (or Some Other Time) (2020), Zuzana Cigánová’s Vanity Unfair (2022), and most recently, Zuska Kepplová’s The Moon in Foil (2023). Magdalena lives with her husband and daughter in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.