The paperback edition of Sasa Stanisic's debut novel, How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, is published by Phoenix in June.



My yellow tastes sweet

All kids want to go to summer camp. I say: "I don't want to go to the summer camp." I say: "I hate trees, I hate camp fires, I hate rabbits." My mother waves goodbye. Her hand looks happy. The cabin smells like trees, smoke and rabbit. I get to share a room with Mile. When I see Mile's ears I think "Why?" Mile says he wants to sleep in the top bunk. I stare at his left ear while he speaks.

I pretend to get lost in the woods so that I can go back to the cabin and read Mark Twain. I fall behind the rest acting as if I were looking for mushrooms. No one cares. Back at the campsite the cook has taken his shirt off. He sticks his thumb in the chicken soup. He sticks his thumb in his mouth. I read Mark Twain next to him and imagine that I'm crying while reading Mark Twain next to a cook. When the others return the mentors scream at me because they thought they would go to prison for losing me in the woods. I stand next to the cook and take a deep breath of him. I blink at what the mentors have to say to me. I think: "I am blinking." The mentors grab me. I say: "It's okay. I'm good." I try to look scared a little.

The night comes and someone who can barely play guitar plays guitar. Mile whispers from the top bunk, he saw a deer in the woods. "Did it have a message for me?" I ask because I suddenly think how great it would be if a deer had a message for me. "I don't think anybody here likes me," Mile whispers in the darkness. I can't sleep. I hear every single sound that nature is capable of making on a summer night. When I wake up in the middle of the night the darkness is not that dark anymore. A wolf sits under the window. I want to run away but I am so scared that I can't move. The wolf glows red. The wolf makes the darkness a red darkness. If a bear attacks, act dead. I close my eyes and act dead. When I open them again birds chirp, and the wolf is gone. "Dreaming was never your strength," I whisper to myself with the voice of my mother.

The cook serves us something yellow for breakfast. I am the only one he greets. My yellow tastes sweet. Mile's yellow tastes salty. I want to trade but Mile gives me his because he is not hungry at all. Mile is yellow himself. His eyes are red. For a moment I think I should tell Mile about the wolf because he gives me his yellow. But then why should I? Today they make us chase butterflies all day long. I ask why. Because we have to stick them on needles. I ask why.

The night comes and someone who can barely tell a good story tells a story. I close the window. As soon as I close my eyes the wolf is back. This time it comes closer. It has cold breath. It is redder than last night. It has teeth as long as cooks' knives. I should probably scream. I am a rock in Mickey Mouse pyjamas. I wait for the wolf to eat my pyjamas and me, and I would wake up as bones. Will I hear my spine break in his jaw? The dream ends when I fall asleep in the dream. In the dream's dream I dream of falling. No, I don't. I just wish I were because that's the dream I ought to be having at this age. The cook cuts his thumb. That makes me furiously sad. I ask one of the mentors if the cook will be all right. Then I say: "I want to leave here this second." The mentor says no one leaves before we all leave. The mentor wears a red T-shirt. The red scares me almost as much as the wolf's red. I tell the mentor I had nightmares. I am thinking to myself: "Let your voice get louder as you speak." I say that I could hardly sleep. I cry about how tired and angry and scared I am. "Don't you want to see the waterfall today?" the mentor asks. "I hate waterfalls," I say. "Nightmares scare only little children," he says. His breath smells of a carrot. I imagine the wolf eating the mentor and smelling like carrot afterwards. "We are all scared of something," I say. The mentor laughs a cartoon laugh.

A kid asks what the nightmare was about. "A wolf." "Did it chase you?" "No." "Eat you?" "No." "Did it carry a sword?" "No." And this is where Mile suddenly launches his food tray to the ground, this is where Mile screams: "No! No! No! It just stands there! It just fuckin' stands there under the fuckin' window and it stares at you with such eyes, such red all red and red and red eyes straight from hell stares at you! At you, at me, at you, at me, at you and me!" With every "me" Mile punches me. My chest, my shoulder. "It wants you, it waits that you move, from hell, from hell!!!" Mile's ears. Mile's wet cheeks. It is very silent for some time in a nice, yellow way.

Continues in the print edition. Order now.



Issue 13 £5.20

Back Issues £5.20 to £14.50

Visit shop