Jedrt Lapuh Maležič

Jedrt Lapuh Maležič, born 1979, is a Slovene writer and literary translator of English and French with a BA in Translation Studies from the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ljubljana. She first worked as an in-house translator at an agency, but has been freelancing as a translator since 2007. Among her translated authors are Khaled Hosseini, Julie Otsuka, Jeet Thayil, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., John Boyne, Mircea Eliade, Marie-Aude Murail, Jacqueline Raoul-Duval and many others. In 2016, she published two collections of her own short stories, Težkomentalci (Heavymetallers) and Bojne barve (War Colours). Težkomentalci was nominated Best Debut Book of the year, while Bojne barve was nominated Best Short Story Collection of 2016 at the Novo Mesto Short literary festival. Topics covered in her poetry range from psychiatric hospitals to LGBT issues. Her latest book was published in 2018 and is a novel entitled Vija vaja ven (Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe) dealing with the theme of new-age healers and sects.







Where’s That Written? 

“No, thanks. I take pills in the morning at home and I’ve had enough for the time being. It’s what the doctor and I agreed on. I’ve already taken them today,” I explain at the doctor’s office.
“Take this. It’s what the doctor ordered. Here. Now.” She looks straight up into my eyes, but since she’s a few heads shorter she perches her hand on her hip and looks peevish.
“Just ask him,” I reply.
“So you would just ask him, eh?” Nurse Leopoldina looks around contemptuously, her gaze triumphantly sweeping over the clinic where the doctor is nowhere to be seen. “Know what? We won’t trouble him. It’s written right here. Seroquel, 600 mg. You’ll take it here and now, and then off to the group you go. End of discussion.” She hands me a cup of water and mutters, “You always have to be something special. You, you, it’s always you.”
This jolts me. Envious or sneering authority is something I don’t trust. I hold the cup of water in one hand, the pill in the other, but something in her voice indicates derisive, enormous anger at me for my not wanting to be a moulded patient. The nurses would be writing up the therapy themselves, wouldn’t they? – to take revenge on me? But they can’t do that, can they?
“I’m not taking it,” I say and try to sound conciliatory. She calls the doctor and it’s obvious I’ve gotten on her nerves. “Yes, Doctor. She doesn’t want to take it. Yes, but if she refused! She says she’s not taking it. I don’t know what to do with her,” moans Leopoldina into the phone, while the other two nurses look on in commiseration. Defiance is always unwelcome in the ward, which is why I, standing by the dispensary counter, am beginning to feel that my only joy today is souring the life and career of well-intentioned people.
He pops up with suspicious alacrity, as if he had anticipated my revolt. That’s not what we agreed on, I say. I’ve told you a hundred times that Seroquel makes me faint, I say. What’s the need for it now? I say. Do you really need the statistical data that much? I say. There’s no need for it whatsoever, I say.
He watches and measures me in silence, then coldly snaps, “If you don’t take this pill right this minute, there may be catastrophic consequences for your whole family.” His voice is that of a radio announcer, his eyes a pressure drum. That’s all he says and as I’m coming to terms with the long-term effects of his statement, I realize that I never had an ally in him. The entire white team is in on this massive betrayal, and together they are forcing my hand up to my mouth. Some are helping with gazes, others physically. First they lift my pill-hand, then the one with the cup. I’m turning into a robot. I’m regretful. I think I have tears in my eyes when I swallow. “Say ah.” Seriously? Don’t we know each other well enough? They repeat the command. “Say ah. Come on, quick. The group’s about to start.” I say ah and now I’m really crying. The tears are gushing, even I don’t know where from, as I tamely move over to the room for groups. I can feel that they’re hot and that my skin is cold, and I’m reflecting on how I managed to be so delusional about mutual respect. Only one nurse looks at me with compassion, everyone else is joyous at having crushed me. Only one sits down beside me and remains calm, never looking me straight in the face. Only one can muster up the decency not to stare into my tears but just to let me breathe. Maybe they also pay her, and only her, solely to watch over me.
The group is off and running and everything is as it was before. I can’t follow because I’m expecting an assassination, insofar as one can even be on the lookout for an ambush. The Seroquel strikes for the first time, my back breaks out in goose bumps. Chills. This is something I recognize. I’m shuddering with the thought that I might die since I’ve already taken a double dose this morning, and on top of that also various other types of pills. It occurs to me that they’re out to destroy me, that they’re getting rid of me for the sake of peace in the group. I’m hissing too much, that’s what it is, I’m poking my nose too far into the system. Oh fuck, they’re gonna get rid of me, sweet Mother of God, they’re gonna…, this is it, I’m tripping out. And immediately after, the voice of reason, which is not actually a voice but a screaming thought, says: No, no, get a grip on yourself. I tell myself that I’ve just strayed off the path a bit, otherwise I’m not sick, no matter what they say. There’s nothing I’ve got they can heal with pills. There’s no medicine for me.
At this moment I see myself, from below the ceiling, how I’m setting in motion “catastrophic consequences for my whole family,” and I bash my fist against the chair and stick the index finger of my other hand into my mouth to make me puke out the foreign object. I gag and there follows an entire uproar as the common folks all gawk at me, and the personnel begins to prance around me in a rhythm dictated by gagging. If I didn’t know I’d done that myself and in anguish, for sure I’d be thinking: Look at her, what an attention-whore. She’ll do anything just to get their attention. What’s with all the theatrics? I have no idea what should be done after all this when I’m crouched in the middle of the circle. Though I’m doubled over, there’s no vomit. When the only nurse approaches me and starts to rub my back so I can feel her soft chest and the promise of a secure lap, I decide that this was a bad idea. I race over to the sink, which by sheer chance is on the wall just behind the doctor’s back, to put my hand under the cold water and wake myself up from this creepy dream the pills have lulled me into. One little pill and all this uproar.
They rush over to me and grab me. Only then do I realize what it must have looked like, what my “attack” must have looked like to the doctor. Because I’m tall, at first I can shake them off, and I howl: “I just need the sink!” But they’re already back, these gadflies. I can feel the room’s gazes upon me, some of them urging me on, even cheering for me, and some staring smugly at me as if to say didn’t we already knew there’s something seriously wrong with her. I don’t care, slackers, we’re all inside here and it’s time for us to start behaving like it. This isn’t a fucking Sheraton, dimwits, it’s a Charenton, where people disappear if that’s how it has to be and if that’s what the system wants. I cough and succumb, oh how I succumb. 
They’ve already tied me back to the chair, and I can see less and less through the veil. Partly because I’ve lost my glasses, partly because of all the excitement, and partly because of dizziness. When I calm down, a silence descends, but the gawking doesn’t cease. It’s like the weather. What’s the forecast for today? Foggy with gawking. I almost crack a smile, but all I can manage through the coughing is, “This is a bit much, you bloody cows. It’s all your fault, you and your Seroquel.” The nurses, positioned around Doctor Traitor, the rooster in this henhouse, are almost all nodding. The only friendly one, the one who rubbed my back, sits down beside me and holds me gently by the wrist. Her wrinkles deepen when I don’t shut up immediately. One of the cows at the trough says, “Whose fault is all this, Amber? Who’s the cow? Nurse Sanja, perhaps?” Nurse Sanja surreptitiously squeezes my wrist and her every gesture suggests I should resist temptation. But it’s beyond resisting.
When I stand up, I am careful to strike out at and hit precisely the one and only who belongs in the same basket with all the staff and I have no intention of sparing her on account of some personal inclination. “Yes, each and every one! Even Nurse Sanja is a cow!” I holler.
After too short a time I’m so much in my element that I add, “Milker!” and Nurse Sanja, the one and only, lowers her gaze. I’m so embarrassed that I burst out of the room and make for the john, where else? My head is spinning so much that I lie down on the floor and before that I turn the lock. The team chases after me, but they’re not fast enough. I hear faint knocking and voices, while my gaze clears at the touch of the necks and hands against the icy tiles. This is definitely enough to put me in the lock-up ward, I think. The knocking is steady and incessant, but I don’t answer until I hear something close to panic in the nurse’s voice. “Can’t you let me pee in peace? I haven’t even been able to crap for two weeks. You know everything. I couldn’t even slit my wrists in peace, remember? I had nothing with me, when you fucked me up,” I howl from the ice cold floor. There’s a bit of silence, with no knocking. Oh, that’s real good.
I probably blacked out for a moment because the knocking wakes me up, this time at head-level, just above the floor. It’s hard to imagine Nurse Sanja, in late middle age, sitting in front of the john with her back against the wall, watching over me. But it’s true. When I open the door she’s so surprised I almost knock her over. She looks at me turgidly but earnestly, and apologetically, it seems. My attack has passed and I’m ready to talk about how and when they’ll deport me to the lock-up ward. The only fleeting regret I feel was for calling her a bloody milker. How did that fly out of my mouth, at my one and only ally? If I apologize and tell her that despite her ample bosom she’s no milker, it would sound stupid, but keeping quiet would also sound stupid. So I tell her I’m be ready to be admitted in five minutes. “Admitted? Why would you want to go there?” she asks. 
“I didn’t say I want to…” I begin, though actually a bit of peace wouldn’t hurt. “Can’t I just sleep over at admitting?” I ask. “No, Amber, I would never recommend admitting to you,” she persists and tries to take my hand. I slip away from her and decide, out of pure defiance, that I’ll go ask by myself at the lock-up ward whether they’ll take me.
It turns out that they’ll take anybody who wants it badly enough. When I get to the ground floor, I first have to buzz at the door to the ward. A hospital attendant, for whom my wish was a huge nuisance, opens up. I’m persistent and wish to speak to a doctor. He understands, clearly. He just nods and writes something in my file. Satisfied, I leave the consulting room as the lock-up ward’s newest resident. As if by order, the blaring radio starts to play Honesty. Then they call me back to the doctor’s office. For my morning medication, they say. If you search for tenderness, it isn’t hard to find. I shake my head, it was all a misunderstanding. I’ve just told the doctor that I’ve been given two doses, which is why I’m here. Two, I raise two fingers, giving the victory sign. “I swear, if there’s anything I’m full of, it’s pills,” I say with a smile, but when I try to open the door from inside, the technician blocks it with his foot and silently, roughly, turns me around.
“I’m here voluntarily,” I say. “I can leave whenever I feel like it, right?” I give him a cutting look.
“Where’s that written?” he replies, and hands me a cup with medicine. There are three pills. Three. And mostly what I need from you. And when I take them, I have to stick out my tongue so they can confirm whether I really am going to die.

Michael Jackson Simply Liked Children


Fugazi on my USB player while out on the balcony a discussion rages about Michael Jackson and about this, that and everything. Sancho says he thinks Michael Jackson simply liked children, that’s it. He says that for him zyprexa is a miraculous pill and that he’ll never get so fat you won’t recognize him because he works out all the time. Sitting in a waiting room… waiting, waiting, waiting. To prove how nimble he is, Sancho, right there in front of me, drops from a standing position onto the floor and starts doing push-ups, a hundred of them, out of pure mania.

Sancho has never heard of Don Quixote and Don’s never heard of him. In fact, his real name is Samir, and his parents’ names are Samir Sr. and Samira. He says they had no imagination. Sancho has only just arrived but already he’s the boss of this ward, because practically everyone is afraid of him and because he’s so strong he could crush anyone who isn’t. He’s respectful towards the elderly, he says. He’s respectful towards everyone, always and everywhere, because that’s how you earn respect for yourself, he explained to us five minutes after he was brought up to us in his pyjamas. When he wets his gangster hair and slicks it back, I notice that tattooed on his neck below the crew-cut is some sort of letter, or maybe even an inscription, in Arabic. Hafez, he says, the Sufi poet. But he doesn’t know what the line means and neither does he care, he says. He’s supposedly arrived from Afghanistan, where it’s not known how many people he’s killed in the service of his homeland. Probably nobody.

Sweat is running down Sancho’s cheeks. I’m waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting. He says it’s because his body only cools itself down when he’s upset and restless. I ask him whether now, among us, he is upset and restless, but he just shakes his head anxiously and says that one has to differentiate between physical-effort sweat and psyche sweat. Michael Jackson was constantly sweating when he danced, he says, look at him, he swept away all the competition and yet there’s no sign that any of that fame went to his head. This statement makes me choke on the coffee that I just took a swig from, but I don’t think it would be wise to break his authority and embarrass him in front of everybody, because it’s still not known how many people he has killed.

I’m in line for a talk with the shrink. I’m sitting in the waiting room… I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait, so he can start with his questions. So long, Fugazi, because he’s gesturing to me to turn off the private entertainment running through my headphones. Lately my world has been revolving around the people in the hospital, so it’s only with difficulty that I can think when the doctor interrogates me about my family beyond these walls. I can easily occupy myself with what’s inside, among these stumbling ones, and I’ve learned to love their sweat and tears. Sancho says things are similar in the army. You forget about the places and the people outside those confines, you get wrapped up in the drama inside. Gradually, that’s how I explain it to myself, in this world in miniature you practice reality seriously enough that you’re able to function along a similar pattern even after you go back home.

So the shrink is not satisfied with my progress. Throughout the interrogation about my family situation, I respond with concrete examples from the hospital balcony. I’ve been spending my whole time talking about Sancho, the shrink remarks. Am I aware he has his own history and I have a completely different one? I am aware, I am, but histories are contagious, I say. In what sense? I don’t know. I fall silent. It seems to me that I’ve caught something, I think, and pretty soon I’ll have to pull myself together. And if he confided in me that Sancho is having trouble with the law? That’s sobers me up. So he really did kill some people, down there, I say. No, no, no. Let’s just say that you should keep an eye on your stuff, the doctor imparts. So he’s a thief, nothing drastic about that, I think, and besides I haven’t taken anything valuable with me into the hospital, some old clothes and a few diaries and pens.

When I put my headphones back on, I shuffle the songs back to the start and I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait, to clear up what kind of virus is spreading through my brains, making me feel more at home here than in my own home. I don’t turn to the balcony, because Sancho is too loud as he awaits his conversation with the doctor and he’s showing off, doing his push-ups. Instead I think about how much I’d love to give him something, so he won’t have to steal. But I don’t have anything here. Maybe in my car, which is still parked in the nearby lot. It’s worth checking. I just can’t let myself be tempted into driving off, that’s all.

So I go beyond these walls and the song changes the instant the automatic door opens. I go back to the beginning, I’m not sick of it yet. As if I’m waiting for someone to surprise me. I stare through the windshield for a bit and then it dawns on me. In the trunk I’m still hauling around my out-of-date collections of cassette tapes for which I don’t have a player. There are a few boxes of them, and hidden among them are some gems, which are slightly embarrassing to me, such as Michael Jackson’s Bad album. I’ll give them to Sancho.

Heaped high with these precious objects, I take the elevator back up to the ward on which, it seems, they’re in a state of emergency. The doctor is standing in the corridor in front of his office, the nurses are dancing around him, their arms raised in dismay. I can barely see over the boxes, so it’s really not clear to me what’s going on. When I put them down, at the end of the hall I see Sancho, who is moving towards his room around the corner, and I can see he’s cooked something up. I ask the first nurse what’s going on, but she just says: “They threw him out of the ward. He stole a car from the parking lot.” No, no, that can’t be true, I think, and run after Sancho, who’s already at the door to his room. I’ve just come from the parking lot, and I didn’t see anyone. They’ve either mixed something up or he really got on their nerves. “You were on the balcony the whole time! I’ll vouch for you!” I call after him. Sancho shakes his head, while from behind me I hear a doctor: “He is well aware of the why and the how. We have zero tolerance towards criminals here! That sort of stuff won’t work here.”

I grab Sancho by the shoulder and say, “Aren’t you going to defend yourself?! Stay and fight, you’re a good fighter!” He tells me there’s no point and that the shrink has already decided because that’s just the way it always is, the poor get screwed over. Then he moves over to his hospital bed and starts stuffing things into plastic garbage bags. At that moment I decide I know what I’m going to give him. I run into my room, across from his, on the women’s side, and I pull out Bad. The album will protect him from real criminals, since Sancho has no home, though he does have a dealer who’s threatening to kill him because he can’t pay for the horse he’s already shot up.

I reappear at the door of Sancho’s room and offer him the Michael Jackson tape. So he’ll remember that, like Michael with children, he simply likes cars. So he’ll know that he’s not guilty because they’re accusing him of theft, that even good people do bad things sometimes, which goes against logic. That the tape will remind him of the way back, which is always possible. He has tears in his eyes and he gives me a manly thanks, and we smack hands like some guys from the hood, and one minute later he’s on the woman’s side of the ward asking me whether I’m really sure about wanting to give him the tape. “Is it really mine?” he asks. “Yours and yours alone, but it’s not like it’s worth anything,” I say with a shrug. In his currency, it really isn’t worth anything, since he can’t smoke it or suck it up into his veins. After that Sancho doesn’t say a word. He disappears into his room to pack.

A little while later, I receive a very small package from one of the hospital attendants. A “friend” has sent it. Inside there’s a slightly bent and slightly bloodied earing for my un-pierced belly button. At first I’m frightened because I’m sure, completely sure, that it’s stolen, perhaps plucked right out of some local chick’s navel, and I’m also afraid that he has hurt somebody on account of the earring. He doesn’t know his own strength. But the hospital attendant just tells me, “Don’t overthink it, just accept it and tell him thanks.” Right, I thank him, I think, and stow the earring into a pocket because they’re calling me from the doctor’s office.

The shrink wants to talk to me, for the second time today, to “clarify” something. We’re wedged in right away when he mentions Sancho. It means a lot to me to uncover the real perpetrator, because I think of how awful it feels if you want to go home after getting healed and you realize that some perfidious swine has taken away your means of transport. But I know Sancho can’t have been the perpetrator. I had him in my sights the whole time, with the exception of when I popped out to the car, but even when I was gone I would have been the first one to see him, I explain.

How about if you worried a little more about yourself, the shrink points out, about your life? I don’t answer. Right now the most important thing is not to send an innocent person to jail. If you must know, he didn’t steal the car himself, he just let his accomplices know that the car was unlocked, says the geek on the other side of the table. I bet his mommy cooks him lunch on Sunday and proudly shows him off to all her friends, and, above all, he’s not the one who supports her, like Sancho does. It would have been impossible, I staidly claim, for him to move off the balcony while I was gone. These people have all kinds of manoeuvres, whether you’re aware of it or not. The doctor divides people between these people and us, I realize, and that really disgusts me, which is right then I get up and slam the door behind me, and in front of the door of his office, indiscreetly bellow down the corridor: “Damn!”

The definitively departing Sancho, who is not ready to stand up for himself and who does not know what his own tattoo means, looks at me in the hallway, stunned, and asks me what in God’s bloody name, what in God’s bloody name just happened to him. Because that’s not entirely his business, but between me and the doctor, I just mumble that the shrink labelled Michael Jackson a paedophile, whereupon Sancho simply shrugs his shoulders.

This is obviously not so important to him, even though he spent half an hour this morning defending the King of Pop’s innocence. Actually, I feel like I’m the only one for miles around who is not indifferent to him, to Michael, or to the owner of the stolen car. Out of general protest and because it’s not clear to me what it was that got into that damned Michael Jackson to make him snap, I snatch the earring from my pocket and chuck it into the laundry hamper because today’s the day they wash our pyjamas. I hope it will rip holes in all of the bottoms and all of us will end up looking like those people. I enter my room so I can put my headphones back on and wait for something decisive, then I go smoke on the balcony and accompany the dull afternoon as it runs its course. I check my backpack. I check my cupboard. I check all my pockets but I can’t find the headphones. Maybe I forget them in the psychiatrist’s office.

I knock, but right as I’m knocking I realize where my most valued possession is or at least that it probably already departed, with that poor guy. I change my mind, and when the doctor opens the door to ask me what’s up, I tell him I’d just like to apologize for before and that maybe I’m ready for my therapy to finally commence.

He gives me an approving pat on the back, and right away I regret my self-humbling. I’ve found myself on the side of the privileged, of those who don’t care if others creep knot-throated through the scorching sun to their dealers, debt collectors and creditors. And, disgusted with myself, I suddenly feel relieved. I sit on the blue chair and hope that the doctor’s joy will eventually dissipate, because I don’t like to be docile. We’re hanging in the air. For a moment. Then I begin: “I broke up the family by myself, by my very own hand.”

The doctor fights back a smile and listens.




Translated by Jason Blake