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Automat

by Clio Velentza

 

It’s falling apart.

Better than nothing.

Here’s a newspaper.

What does it say?

That a young man with a serene face died on a bench at A–platz, last May.

Really? I’ve never been there.

Me neither.

What was his name?

They don’t know.

Must be Hans. They’re always called Hans.

Or Karl. They’re always called Karl.

How old is this newspaper?

Old… January seventeenth. That’s today! It’s my birthday.

Really?

No, not really. I always wanted my birthday to fall on an important day.

Is today important?

Isn’t it?

[A look.]  

How old was Hans-Karl?

“Young.”

Are we not young?

I’m not sure.

Do you think they’ll write about us too? “Two young women died in a crumbling automat at L–strasse.”

“Two young women with a serene face.”

One dies very differently on a soft May night.

Your face seems quite serene.

It’s the gloom.

I could be feeling serene. Or: “two young women of divine beauty…”

That depends on how they’ll find us. People hate hearing about “young women” starved.

Oh! I’m not hungry anymore.

You’re not?

I no longer feel it.

Imagine that!

Look, the snow stopped.

Now the real cold will kick in.

I always liked snow. It made my body feel like warm bread.

Coffee would make everything alright. If Hans-Karl had some coffee he wouldn’t have gone missing. Hans-Karl!

Yes?

We owe you a cup of coffee.

Why, thank you.

Now there’s no reason for you to go to P–platz.

A–platz.

We have everything you need right here: pork knuckles… Pickles… Jam doughnuts.

[Vast groan. Some plaster falls.]  

What’s that?

The structure can’t support the snow. What would you like to eat?

Doughnuts. And chocolate cake.

Only walnut cream cake, I’m afraid.

It’ll do.

[A snap, a cascade of snow.]  

How would you like to celebrate your birthday? We could go dancing.

I’d like best to go to A–platz, and find that bench. Do you think he’s still there?

Who? Hans-Karl?

Yes.

Most likely.

I’d like to invite him to dinner.

Can I join you?

Of course!

I believe I like this man with the serene face. We’d make good friends. What do you think?

“Two young women with a serene face…”

Do you feel serene?

Yes.

[Silence. Snow.]  

Me too.

 

Clio Velentza is a writer from Athens, Greece. She is a winner of Best Microfiction, Wigleaf’s Top 50 and The Best Small Fictions, and a Pushcart Prize nominee. She writes prose and plays, and her work has appeared in several literary journals. You can find her on twitter at @clio_v

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Automat”?

“Automat” is closely connected to my time at the Greek National Theatre’s 3rd Playwriting Studio. The first draft was written at the end of our two-year stretch, using the same writing prompt as the one we had been first given for our samples accompanying the application process. It was so that we could highlight how far we’d come as writers in that time. After translating it from Greek I thought a lot about the original play format, and how that could be transcribed as to be able to stand on its own on the page as a literary text. One big lesson the Studio taught me was the value of ellipsis and economy. The text was then whittled down to half its size and into the bare essentials. Here for the first time I used italics to signify dialogue, and the visual effect of this was a pleasant surprise: it could be a dialogue of two people, or of two voices in the same head. It’s up to the reader to decide.

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