AN ANIMAL CALLED MIST

AN ANIMAL CALLED MIST by Ledicia Costas

In An Animal Called Mist, a book of six short stories, the Galician author Ledicia Costas (Winner of the 2015 Spanish National Book Award) walks the tightrope between fiction and reality in a superb and sometimes shocking narrative. She bases herself on real events in and after the Second World War – the Siege of Leningrad, the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the interrogation of Italian partisans by the Banda Koch, the sexual exploitation of women internees in Nazi concentration camps, the trials of high-ranking Nazi officials – and then recreates them, changing and inventing biographical details, giving free rein to her writer’s imagination in order to produce a sequence of stories that look not so much at historical fact as at the essence of barbarism, the capacity of the human mind to conceive ways of torturing and tormenting fellow human beings. This is not a historical account of the Second World War – for that, the reader should consult works of history – but a book of fiction that focuses on the shadow projected by the events, their essence, the granulated content of their darkness. Ledicia Costas is one of Galicia’s best-known writers who, in the tradition of writers such as Manuel Rivas and Agustín Fernández Paz, magnifies the voice of the persecuted in her narrative. An Animal Called Mist won the Losada Diéguez Prize for Literary Creation in 2016.

LENINGRAD

Episode 1 - Amber Butterfly

Katarina Savicheva, daughter of the cold and hunger, was born in February 1932 in a modest house bathed by the intensity of the Baltic Sea, and also by a strange polar sadness, in Leningrad.

‘Le-nin-grad,’ Katarina repeats out loud, tasting with her tongue each of the vowels in that word that brings back so many pleasant memories. Others aren’t so pleasant, but she has learned to be happy and not to let herself be consumed by the past.

She is seated next to a window with white wooden shutters. The paint has been chipped away by the inclemency of the years. This picture of wear and tear is a reflection of herself, a life of weighty, inexorable seasons that end up lifting the outermost layer. She holds in her hands a piece of amber, which she rubs vigorously, as if trying to melt it so she can fill all her wrinkles with that solidified honey.

Leningrad is not Leningrad anymore. It lost the name of Lenin two decades before. The day the city was rebaptized St Petersburg, Katarina felt as if something important had been snatched away from her. That is why she is in the habit of repeating very calmly, ‘Le-nin-grad,’ in that sweet voice, again and again and again. Because, although it’s impossible to forget what she suffered there, she sometimes has the sensation it’s necessary to name people and places continually so that they stay alive and don’t fade away.

A thread of light pierces the compact mass of clouds that has been installed in the sky of St Petersburg for weeks and collides with Katarina’s hands. At this point, the old lady opens them wide, so the sun can bathe the piece of amber. Inside the precious stone, a butterfly radiates from fossilized wings a deep violet-blue tonality. The animal has been trapped in there for decades, but the colours haven’t lost an ounce of their strength. She can’t help smiling at the thought. It’s been exactly seventy years since she discovered her most beloved treasure floating on the waters of the Baltic Sea. Seventy years since the amber butterfly entered her life, like a gust of the north-east wind scouring the saltiest corner in the world.

 

I

There were two places that helped to make the relationship between Katarina and her father so authentic: the mouth of the river Neva and Lake Ladoga. Father and daughter were connected to the landscape in an almost telluric way. Their hearts beat to the rhythm of the waves, the blood rode down their veins at the speed of the breeze. There, in the surroundings of the lake, they were beings of light.

Lake Ladoga was a silvery extension of thousands of kilometres that shone with the intensity of a scaly heart. On top of silver-foil waters, a vast number of islands showed their earthy backs, behaving like aquatic animals on the lookout. They remained in complete silence, but were alive. In spring, Katarina and her father would go there to fish. Truth be told, Katarina rarely managed to concentrate on the fish. There were far too many distractions in that place. Like the seals, which on occasion would shyly lift their heads in amongst the glaciers. The girl was capable of fixing her gaze on the water and waiting for the slightest movement for hours on end, just so she could spot a seal. And then there were all those islands with their capricious curves. Katarina felt as if she was being watched from the inside of the lake, as if they were trying to tell her something. But she could never fathom the language of those watery lands. Whilst she shared her childhood dreams with seals and islands, her father would fill the basket with catches of salmon and trout.

Something similar happened at the mouth of the Neva. Katarina loved grabbing hold of her father’s hand and letting herself be borne along by the sea breeze that ran over the beach. It was easy to cling to the beauty of the sea in Russia, to dream in Dolby surround of the lullaby of the waters swinging the foam, edging it closer to the shore.

One afternoon at the start of May, just after the ice melt, when a pleasant temperature had dissipated almost all the snow in the city, the girl was playing on the sand at gathering the flotsam that had been tossed up by the tide. She had a real weakness for discarded objects. An addiction to mother-of-pearl.

‘Daddy,’ she said, gazing at the sea, ‘do stones float?’

‘What was that, Katarina?’

‘Look!’ she exclaimed, stretching out her right arm. ‘That one there is floating!’

What Katarina had pointed to, however, was not a stone.

‘Amber!’ shouted her father excitedly.

He then rolled up his trousers, waded into the water before the girl’s astonished gaze and took hold of that golden treasure. They sat down on the sand to examine the precious stone. When Katarina discovered the butterfly trapped inside the honey cage, she was dazzled by the beauty of the whole and snatched it from her father.

‘Daddy, it’s magic!’

‘I’m sorry to disappoint you, daughter, but it’s not magic. Amber comes from the resin of fir trees. It slides slowly down the trunk until it reaches the sea. I imagine this butterfly was perched on the tree when the resin fell on top of it and prevented it from escaping.’ Katarina couldn’t take her eyes off the insect. ‘That’s the scientific explanation anyway. But there’s another that’s much more interesting, which derives from an ancient legend.’

‘What legend?’ asked his daughter. This part of the explanation sounded much more attractive.

‘Jüraté, an astoundingly beautiful goddess of the sea, lived inside an amber palace at the bottom of the ocean. Her violet, almond-shaped eyes and the colourful scales that ran down her body were capable of turning the head of any god. There were many who longed to win Jüraté’s affection, so aroused were they by her beauty. Perkūnas, the god of thunder, attempted to seduce her by illuminating her palace with a bolt of lightning, but she wasn’t impressed and turned him down. Perkūnas became so enraged he cursed her and condemned her never to love a mortal. One afternoon in June, however, Jüraté spotted the reflection of a fisherman projected in the water and fell hopelessly in love. Perkūnas grew even angrier, unleashed a storm the likes of which had never been seen before and murdered the poor fisherman. He then destroyed the sea palace and, in eternal punishment, chained Jüraté to the amber rubble. Ever since then, the goddess of the sea has wept tears of sorrow. Those tears are the amber that reaches our shores.’

‘So what I’m holding is a tear of the goddess Jüraté. That’s unbelievable, Daddy!’

‘Yes, it is,’ the man replied. ‘Baltic amber is one of the most coveted in the world. Hold on to that specimen, Katarina, never let it go. It will be your talisman.’

‘What’s a talisman?’

‘An amulet that will always protect you.’

Katarina put the talisman in the pocket of her tweed skirt and promised never to let it go, whatever might happen. From that moment on, it would be a part of her. A kind of extension of her body and soul.

 

II

The summer of 1941 fell cruelly and ferociously on Leningrad, casting the city into shadow. The rumours about a possible German siege had been hanging around the streets for months like a bad omen, awaiting the perfect moment to turn into reality. Hitler’s soldiers were very near. They had been advancing in this direction for weeks, razing everything in their path. They were a torrent of sulphuric acid being poured all over the skin of cities. Their brains were programmed to destroy, to annihilate everything down to its core. At the fear of a siege, thousands of children were evacuated from Leningrad. The Russians took them out of the city by the hundred, moving them to safer places. They refused to let their offspring live through that drama. Little by little, the city was emptied of children and smiles.

The powerful German army, the soldiers of the Wehrmacht, were divided into three lines of attack so they could besiege Leningrad from three strategic points and enclose it in the middle. The plan was perfectly designed: the air force, the much feared Luftwaffe, would destroy the communication routes, the warehouses of fuel, and in particular would annihilate the civilian population. For some time now, they had employed a tactic of psychological warfare that drove the inhabitants of cities to the edge of madness: the anguished cry of the Stukas, a lethal, fast and extremely precise weapon. From the fjords of Norway to the heart of the Russian steppes, these terrifying planes went about, sowing destruction and chaos with their distinctive sound. The symbol of the German blitzkrieg. The sirens were known as ‘Jericho trumpets’. When the plane dived down towards its target, the ‘Jericho trumpets’ would start to sound – not as a warning, but as a means of spreading panic. In an action timed to coincide with that of the Stukas, the land forces would launch incessant bombs with high-pitched whines. This barrage of missiles set Leningrad on fire, turning it into one enormous bonfire, a mixture of blood and flames. The bombs tore the warehouses apart, putting paid to tons of flour, fat and a large part of the food supplies that kept the city alive. The sugar reserves went up in flames, creating a strange, sweet-smelling cloud that hung over the city for days. Beneath that cloud, in the midst of all the confusion, people could be heard shouting, bombs exploding, the Soviet defences roaring along against the destructive Panzers, metal beasts crowned by a swastika, whose job it was to crush anything left standing by the air and land assault. Only after all this, once the territory had been completely devastated, would the next lot appear: the SS butchers whose job it was to torture the survivors to extinction. By the end of August, the city was completely surrounded. The Russians, disconcerted by the SS’s lethal weapons and the constant destruction of the warehouses that fed them, started falling like flies. First, hundreds; then, thousands. Struck down in a twilight of death and tears, they tried to resist by clinging on to what remained of their dignity.

More than 400,000 women and youngsters, patriotism bursting in their veins, left the city to build trenches. They dug anti-tank ditches, they planted mines underground as if they were the seeds of explosive flowers, they lined the territory with barbed wire. In the meantime, the men set about fortifying the city from inside. In order to control each point of access, they set up sentry posts armed with machine guns and cannons. They reinforced the houses with tons of cements and tree trunks. Ten thousand women entered the thick forests and cut down enough wood to build fences and to solve the problem of heating in winter. They decided that no one would abandon the city. They became obsessed with the idea of resistance, a feverishness that affected everybody. Three million people were shut up inside a mouth with shrapnel teeth, surrounded by German soldiers, prepared to endure whatever might follow, so long as they didn’t have to abandon Leningrad.

The Kirov Plant, the glorious Soviet establishment devoted to the arms industry, intensified its efforts, despite the constant bombardment. This plant was an emblem of the city. With more than a century of tradition, it was a real symbol of the workers’ struggle. Munitions, missiles, tanks, engines and cannons came straight off the production line, destined for the front that the Soviet troops had organized around the city. The plant supplied the besieged with munitions in an efficient system. The ones who kept the system going were women, courageous workers who never stopped in exhausting shifts where night merged with day. If they wanted to survive, they had no other choice but to fabricate arms non-stop so they could supply the Russian soldiers with munitions to withstand the Nazi onslaught. They were like bees embedded in the lung of a fatally wounded honeycomb.

The coldest winter of the last hundred years reared like a beast, leaving the population immersed in sorrow, but still with the strength to carry on fighting. With the low temperatures, the Germans’ objective changed. The air attacks had been intensified in the last few months, but the population continued resisting. They were incombustible. It was this that led the Germans to adopt an alternative strategy. They would take the city by hunger. Since they couldn’t get corpses out of Leningrad by means of bombs, they would do so by means of starvation.

‘Leningrad will fall all by itself, like a ripe fruit,’ declared Hitler.

The city had lost land communication with the rest of Russia. The Finnish army had completely taken over the forests and north polar regions. The only way to receive provisions was by sea, through the Gulf of Finland. But German ships and planes had overwhelmed the Russian fleet in the Baltic Sea to prevent any supplies or fuel from reaching the city. The food reserves were almost non-existent. There was no way to obtain supplies except by means of Lake Ladoga. This was the only option left, but it had been controlled by the Finnish and Nazi fleets for months and months. An area of more than 17,000 square kilometres infested with torpedo boats, barges, warships, speedboats… A picture of war. Going anywhere near there was an act of suicide. At this point, however, the winter pulled some magic out of its top hat and froze the waters of the lake at just the right moment. The enemy fleets cast off and abandoned what they thought had ceased to be a place of strategic importance.

Lake Ladoga was one large lump of ice, but it wasn’t thick enough to withstand the passage of trucks loaded with food. The cold was unbearable, but it wasn’t sufficient. Not yet anyway. They needed a thickness of two metres for the ice not to break. The inhabitants of Leningrad, their souls shrivelled by the low temperatures, their stomachs dehydrated by hunger and their hair adorned with icicles, got down on their knees and prayed for it to get even colder.

At the end of November 1941, the miracle occurred: the mercury in the thermometers went down to 25 degrees below zero. Now the trucks could use that route to supply the city with food. The civilians clung to this hope and baptized the lake the ‘Road of Life’. They managed to evacuate more than a million people and to transport provisions. The city began to take on supplies beneath the incessant barrage of German artillery, which carried on bombing the trucks on that route without a second thought, reducing the food to a thousand puffs of gunpowder.

The quantity of supplies getting through was small, but finally the besieged could start using their cards and receiving the first rations of 300 grams of frozen bread. However, this wasn’t enough for a starving population. With horrifying paleness and without the strength to live, people dragged themselves along the streets of Leningrad with symptoms of dystrophy. There were others who couldn’t move and stayed at home, their legs covered in ulcers, awaiting the end. In the hospitals, thousands of beds received dying bodies without any flesh. Phantoms of skin and bone agonizing in the embrace of a polar winter. Against this terrible backdrop, babies stopped being born in Leningrad. A lost generation, delirious with hunger.

Without food, fuel or spare munitions, walking a tightrope of misery, the inhabitants of Leningrad invented other ways to stand up to hunger. They planted cabbages in every nook and cranny of the city, boiled bits of wood to give the water some flavour, sucked on shoelaces. However, none of this sufficed, so in the end they opted to skin stray cats and dogs and to eat them in an attempt to survive.

 

III

Tania Petrova, Katarina Savicheva’s mother, was confronted by a larder that was so empty the doors emitted an unbearable echo when she closed them. The sound of nothing was startling. Tania had been inventing dishes for weeks. She had learned to concoct soups from the dried entrails of cattle. She had even tried passing off a bowl of boiling water poured over some fir leaves as a kind of broth. The failure to locate anything substantial in that sad liquid was a foregone conclusion. They were left without resources. The medicine cabinet had been empty for days – they had already drunk all the castor oil. They had even gone so far as to gulp down Grandma Nadia’s old hair lotion. The poor woman had died on 28 December in a state approaching madness. The day before her death, she had ordered Tania to prepare a vegetable stew by scraping off the floral wallpaper in the living room. She had been chewing the leather of her shoes for days. ‘I don’t need them anymore. I’m never going to walk again,’ she had said to her daughter from the bed where she had lain for weeks. She was a porcelain doll stuck to a mattress. The oldest people in the city no longer had the strength to go for a walk. She was another of those who had been condemned to permanent horizontality. Tania did what her mother said and scraped off the wallpaper in order to cook it. Katarina was convinced those flowers would take root in her grandmother’s stomach. She thought how strange life would be with a garden inside your body. Grandma would metamorphose into eternal spring. What really happened, however, was something else. The varnish that coated the wallpaper made the woman delirious for several days, and then she died. She went out in silence, tired of living. Consumed by inanition. Hitler’s plan was functioning perfectly.

‘We’ll be next,’ Tania said to herself. She couldn’t bear watching how Katarina’s delicate body lost its consistency. She was evaporating in front of her eyes. She was a summer cloud slowly disintegrating. Deathly pale, she had the sad look of war children for whom, after so much suffering, it would have been better if they had never come into the world.

The image of malnourished bodies lying in the street became normal. People could not withstand the weight of their own bodies. They fell like chess pieces on a chequered board. In November, 11,000 died; in December, 50,000; in January, 100,000. Leningrad was on its way to turning into a ghost city. Relatives, spectres without the strength even to transport their dead kin, left them anywhere they could: on window ledges, balcony tiles, by the front door… The cold did the rest. It froze the corpses, which acquired the look of mannequins in a macabre shop window. In all this time, Katarina never let go of her amber treasure. She would talk to the butterfly on a daily basis and tell it things from the past. She found it necessary to share the memory of days prior to the siege, to take shelter from hunger in the warmth of recollection.

On one particular day, the scent of a few pieces of meat frying in the pan caught Katarina by surprise. A valve that had long been asleep was activated inside her organism. She ran to the kitchen and found her mother preparing something over the fire.

‘Food!’

That was all the girl could say, her eyes popping out on stalks. The single syllable floated in the air with the lightness of unattainable dreams.

There wasn’t much meat, but to her it was like a feast. She wolfed it down as if her life depended on that dish. Her parents, on the other hand, ate on the brink of tears, overcome with impotence, trembling with pain. The girl couldn’t understand. ‘They should be happy,’ she thought to herself. ‘We finally have a little food.’

But that wasn’t the case. What Katarina had just devoured out of pure necessity was a slice of meat her father had cut off his thigh to feed his family.

 

IV

Nobody could predict when the nightmare of the siege would be over. Daily rations had been reduced long ago, and their bodies could no longer resist. They couldn’t hold out anymore. Everything was about to finish. The Nazis knew this. So, on days when there was wind, they would place themselves in strategic places and grill piles of meat, the scent of which would be carried to the inhabitants of Leningrad on the breeze. It wasn’t enough for them to exterminate a whole city. They wanted to drive the survivors crazy.

In the factories, the women couldn’t work such long shifts. They were obliged to reduce their hours in order to conserve energy. They knew they could drop with exhaustion at any moment, but they were stubborn and didn’t give in. In the months the siege had lasted, even knowing no help was going to come, they had struggled to keep their spirits as high as possible. But now they felt themselves faltering. With hands protected by gloves, they tried to repair the old weapons – there was no material to build new ones. The barrage of missiles was unending. The Nazi assault was an engine that kept on running. A constant punishment fuelled by hatred. Many women in the factories died buried beneath the rubble. The acupuncture of disaster. Everything was falling apart, the whole world threatening to collapse on top of them, but they couldn’t halt production, because that would signify the end. They weren’t going to stop fighting. Making a superhuman effort, they only ever paused to remove the bodies of colleagues, to sprinkle sawdust or sand on the floor and to say a prayer for the soul of the one who had died.

‘The end is coming.’

The foreman in the Kirov Plant thought this out loud, without wanting. It wasn’t his intention to imbue the women with pessimism. He was betrayed by his subconscious. He was responsible for supervising the repair of tanks that fought at the gates of the city against those blasted Nazi soldiers. He had been involved in the Soviet arms industry for fifteen years. Without him, it was impossible to carry on working, but right now he was so weak he could hardly stand up. His legs could not support his body’s fifty kilos of weight. He had gone so far as to drink some oil from a machine in an attempt to deceive his stomach, but had reached the limit of his strength.

‘You have to rest,’ said one of the women, bringing him a chair. ‘Sit down here.’

‘Without me, you’re lost,’ he whispered so that nobody else would hear him.

The foreman’s words dug down into the flesh. It was true, he was needed so that the work could progress.

‘We want you alive,’ replied the woman. ‘We’ll manage. You have to sleep.’

The foreman shook his head.

‘Bring me a rope.’

‘A rope? What do you want a rope for?’

‘Sarah! Since when did you start questioning your superior’s orders?’

The woman apologized and didn’t stop until she found a rope.

‘Now tie me to the chair. Quickly!’

It was the only way to stop his body sliding down to the floor. Tied to the production line, the foreman continued overseeing the repair of tanks for several hours until his body couldn’t cope even with the weight of the echoing seconds that boomed past and he ended up dying in the belly of the factory. Another light that had gone out in the bottom of a hole.

No one really believed it was possible to survive anymore. The radio network was the only thing that seemed to keep the city’s heart beating. Those who were enclosed in the dark, perpetual winter of their homes clung to the radio to avoid going mad. Programmes with music and poetry resounded in Leningrad’s streets all the time. If the radio presenters didn’t have any more music to play or felt so weak that they couldn’t carry on talking, they would transmit the sound of the metronome. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. Anything except silence. Because silence meant death.

In the streets, there were so many corpses nobody gathered them in. They had turned into a part of the sinister scene sketched by war. The few pedestrians that left their homes avoided them like muddy puddles. Every day was identical to the one before. People would head to work each morning and find new lifeless bodies in the streets. Many had had their buttocks cut off. Clots of congealed blood lay on the snowy ground. There were dead women whose breasts had been removed out of necessity or pure sadism. It was normal to come across naked, dissected bodies. The soft parts were the ones the body raiders coveted most.

Despair led people to consume their own pets. They started with their cats and dogs. They then proceeded to eat any animal they came across in the street: horses, crows… The city turned into a maze of traps for hunting any living creature that could be eaten. Small animals were used to make broths and soups, which were seasoned with glue, vaseline, hair cream, varnish. Anything would do in the midst of all that chaos. But the day came when there were no more animals left in the street, and it was the turn of corpses. The hunters of corpses would slice off the tender parts and take them home wrapped in pieces of newspaper. Families started viewing death as a solution to hunger. The terrible habit arose of letting sick children who had no chance of survival die of typhus so they could feed their parents and siblings. Any moral reservations about consuming human flesh were overcome. Some people were eaten by others. Only the dead, to begin with. But there were those who crossed the line and preyed on the living. Hot blood helped to banish the cold.

 

V

‘What’s a cannibal?’ Katarina asked her parents, her eyes on stalks.

They tried to warn her about what was happening, but refused to be explicit. The districts of Leningrad had become dark and dangerous. It wasn’t safe anymore to walk down the streets. Hunger had taken control of people’s minds. Bands of cannibals kept an eye on strategic points in the city. They were never alone. They attacked in groups, without making distinctions. Men, women, children. Everything was food. They would spot their prey, surround it and attack without mercy. In the struggle to survive, they had turned into unscrupulous animals. A week earlier, in full daylight, two men had pursued a friend of Katarina’s. They were armed with machetes, and their eyes were popping out of their heads. The girl was terrified and started running until she came across a couple of soldiers who were passing through that area. Had it not been for them, the cannibals would have made mincemeat of the little girl.

In the markets, it was usual to find human remains on sale. The authorities knew this, but turned a blind eye. After all, it was fresh meat. There was no other way of obtaining any. People started exchanging their most prized belongings for lumps of buttocks or extremities. Grand pianos, jewels, paintings – anything really, in exchange for something solid to put in their mouths.

‘A cannibal is someone who has been driven mad by hunger,’ explained Tania to her daughter. ‘Such people are capable of eating anything they find. Do you understand?’

The girl gazed at her mother with a pensive look.

‘Like Grandma, who ate the wallpaper and chewed Daddy’s belt?’ asked the little girl.

Her father patiently shook his head.

‘No, darling. Cannibals will eat anything that breathes. Do you understand now?’

‘Like us when we had to eat Print?’

Tania squirmed with impotence at this memory. She would never be able to erase it from Katarina’s mind. There were things that simply couldn’t be removed from the brain. However hard you tried to rip them out, they would take root again like weeds. They had done their utmost to hide the fact that what had been served up that day, seasoned with loads of garlic, was their cat, but the girl had realized anyway. Somehow, she had known.

Katarina’s mother refused to explain to her daughter what a cannibal was, to tell her she could be assaulted in the street at any moment by a posse of sick people whose only intention was to jump on her and eat her dead or alive. They were vultures, murderers, beasts. The woman couldn’t bear the idea and burst out crying.

‘Mummy never cries,’ thought Katarina.

‘Don’t be sad, Mother. I promise not to go out alone anymore.’

That night, hunger attacked Katarina’s stomach, turning it into a bundle of pain. She tried to distract herself by reading a book of stories in the light of a tiny candle. It was a tactic that generally worked. But not this time. Around midnight, she couldn’t bear the pain or the cramps anymore and took to devouring the pages of the book in an attempt to resist, feeling how each letter fell into her stomach with the weight of all Russia.

 

VI

Nobody knows exactly how many people died during the 900 days of the siege. The authorities talked about 600,000 victims, but there are other estimates that put the figure at more than a million dead.

Katarina, seated by the window in her bedroom, recalls that period in silence. Her head isn’t fit to carry on remembering the drama that was her childhood. There is irreparable damage, wounds that never heal because they are as deep as the dimension of the memory and the stitches keep coming apart.

The old lady hasn’t even realized that, while she was reliving the story of the war, the amber started to melt in her hands. When she notices the liquid sliding between her fingers, she is amazed and fixes her gaze on the ancient butterfly.

‘My amber butterfly,’ she whispers affectionately.

At this point, the insect appears to come to life. It starts beating its wings. Timidly, to begin with, and then with greater energy. It flies all around Katarina, provoking a smile that comes from right down inside her. The woman gets up and confidently opens the window. The strength of Russia, its past floating in the air, enters the house. Before leaving, before disappearing into the streets of St Petersburg, the butterfly alights on Katarina’s nose by way of farewell. Seventy years together is a long time.

When the insect lets go of the old woman, she feels the time has come.

‘One life in exchange for another,’ she says.

There is not a hint of sadness in her voice.

Her heart stops beating at the exact moment she loses sight of the amber butterfly, which has already conquered the Russian sky with the violet-blue of its wings.

 

Translated from Galician by Jonathan Dunne

Additional Info

  • purchase text:

    AN ANIMAL CALLED MIST by Ledicia Costas, the tenth title in the series Small Stations Fiction devoted to the best of contemporary fiction in English, is available for purchase through your local or online bookshop

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    ISBN: 978-954-384-062-5

    Publication Date: 08 September 2017

    Language: English

    Paperback: 204 pages

    Dimensions: 203 x 133 mm