Translated from the Original

by Guy Biederman

Honorable Mention – Flash 405, August 2018: “Mystery”


Anytime you translate, a little part of you goes into someone else’s creation. That’s the way it is. It’s like seeing faces in a plank of wood. Your eye catches the eyes, the set of a mouth, the shape of a head in a knotty 2×6 laid by an erstwhile carpenter. Sometimes you wish you didn’t see faces.             You can’t help it.
It’s part of your shape,
  the way you look at the world,
    and the way the world looks at you.

You find the Original Portable Tungesa Dictionary in Darko’s Antiques on Main, the place that’s never open, but is today, and though you don’t speak Tungesa, and even your spellcheck wants to auto-correct it into something that trades more in its orbit, you have to have this book. You are the only one inside the store. A basket near the register sports a note: please leave a contribution, we’re trying out the honor system today.

And you think, it’ll be my honor.
You only have a twenty and the book costs ten. Briefly you consider leaving nothing, or a note expressing your thanks, knowing there was a time when you would have walked out with the dictionary, and whatever else you could carry, whether you needed it or not; especially if you needed it not. Because need wasn’t part of it. Well, maybe a small part. But need had little to do with the object you stole. Need ran deeper then, though then you didn’t budget for such thoughts.

Then was a long time ago. You were a person you barely remember—a forgotten echo that began way back when and comes booming back around at last, bouncing off deep canyon walls in a voice you don’t understand.

But the ageless face is there, sealed in memory, 4×6. So you leave the twenty in the basket and walk out with the Original Portable Tungesa Dictionary under your arm.

You return home, and discover a poem of markings on parchment tucked between yellowed pages, and you search the dictionary for the meaning of each stroke.

It’s a poem written by a hunter who has given up the hunt, given up all weapons, given up even the desire to hunt, apparently, but not the desire to discover…
And at the bottom of the page in script faintly familiar, you recognize two letters.

And they
are yours.


Guy Biederman’s work has appeared in many journals including Carve, Flashback, and Blue Five Notebook. Pretty Owl nominated his flash fiction for Best of The Net anthology, 2018. Guy is the author of three collections, including Soundings & Fathom, Finishing Line Press. He and his wife live on a houseboat in Sausalito.


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