John Salter ~ The American’s Tale

Woman from Bulgaria, whose name I for­got right away: I was lying about lov­ing the gudul­ka. Truth is, I’d nev­er heard a gudul­ka, at least that I was aware of. But you were so far from home I could tell you would appre­ci­ate some mea­sure of val­i­da­tion. This, too: I wasn’t even sure where Bulgaria was. Neighborhood of Romania, cor­rect? I thought of gyp­sies, and imag­ined a Sailor Jerry tat­too. And you kind of looked like that, with your wavy black hair and pierc­ing eyes. The eyes of a painter, which you were, though you were too shy to let me see what you were work­ing on. You were afraid of mos­qui­tos, apply­ing to your exposed skin some repel­lent you’d mixed up in your stu­dio. I told you that back in Minnesota, we con­sid­ered mos­qui­tos the state bird, but that joke was lost on you. The odor of that cream was dis­tinct, vague­ly med­i­c­i­nal, but not unpleas­ant enough to stop me from bur­row­ing into you on my last night at the colony, which shall go name­less to pro­tect us all. Within that her­mitage I was sort of a her­mit, so nobody else came down to the recre­ation build­ing for the farewell beer I’d bought in town, despite my gen­er­al invi­ta­tion at din­ner. Coronas, which, with­out ice, I sank in cold water in the sink and sliced limes where per­haps Cheever him­self had sliced limes. You were the only one I real­ly want­ed to show up, any­way, as the oth­ers annoyed me with their mile-a-minute Manhattan chat­ter. And you were so sweet and curvy, so sexy with your accent, I could not leave with­out at least try­ing to plant my flag. Afterwards, you stretched out on my bed, sort of lan­guid and bit­ter­sweet, like in the Steely Dan song, and drew a design in the dust on my night­stand, almost absent-mind­ed­ly, some­thing that remind­ed me of a Tibetan sym­bol. You should know that I took a pho­to­graph of it, and pinned it to my bul­letin board. For years it was up there like that, a cryp­tic sou­venir, until my nine-year-old daugh­ter hap­pened to exam­ine it one night in my study. She squint­ed, took it down, rotat­ed it, and put it back. “It’s a bird,” she announced. And it was. I’d been look­ing at it the wrong way the entire time. Sorry about that. But I did sug­gest she do her geog­ra­phy home­work on Bulgaria, and she assured me that yes, it real­ly is a fas­ci­nat­ing and beau­ti­ful country.


John Salter is the author of A Trout in the Sea of Cortez, and Alberta Clipper. His short fic­tion has appeared in jour­nals includ­ing Chattahoochee Review, Massachusetts Review, Florida Review, Third Coast, Pearl, Vestal Review, and Meridian. He lives in Fargo, North Dakota.