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Red Shorts
Print Edition
ISBN
954-529-213-X
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Price
6.75 lv.
(9.00 lv.)
-25%
Digital Edition
ISBN
978-619-150-553-1
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Price
5.50 lv.
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Information
Rating (4)
5 4
Format
Paperback
Size
13/17
Weight
160 gr.
Pages
128
Published
28 May 2001

Red Shorts

While majoring in English at UCLA, Velina Minkoff applied for the Creative Writing Fiction program. There, she studied with contemporary American writers Aimee Bender and Carolyn See, among others. There was considerable interest in her stories about Bulgaria. Her fictional series Iodine was published in four consecutive volumes of the Student Committee for the Arts publication Split Peas – Fiction and Photography; her story The Old Woman won the Harry Kurnitz Creative Writing Award for writers whose native language is not English. Her short story Voices was selected for the First Annual UCLA Day for the Arts, where the author read before an audience of almost 300 people.

Her first book, Red Shorts, is a collection of stories she wrote during the years she spent in UCLA creative writing workshops. Red Shorts, or short stories from communist times, is a collage of memories written down in the natural pattern of recollections. It is not a memoir or an autobiography. Its stories recount a passionate, almost subconscious search for explanations among snippets of childhood flashbacks. From deeply personal to ideological, from political to historical. Why were things the way they were? Was that how they were supposed to be? Memories can answer many questions.

About the Author
Velina  Minkoff

Velina Minkoff was born in Sofia in 1974. She has a Bachelor's degree in English from UCLA with a track in Creative Writing – Fiction. She is the author of Red Shorts (2001) a collection of short stories in English and The Red and Blue Report of the Green Ameba (2015) a novel, in Bulgarian. She has a Master's degree in European Studies from the University of Amsterdam and is a member of the Bulgarian Translators Union. In 2014, she was a Bulgarian language fellow at the annual Sozopol Fiction Seminar of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation. She lives in Paris with her French husband and their two sons, where she teaches English, freelances as a translator and editor and moonlights as a writer.

Excerpt

Introduction: The Red Shorts
The red shorts belonged to my mother. There was a pale old Technicolor photograph in a desk at home where she is a blonde, skinny girl of no more than twelve, wearing these beautiful, bright red shorts.
Times were strange in socialist Bulgaria when I was a teenager. Oranges and bananas were imported from Cuba once a year, around New Year’s Eve, and the lines of people wanting to buy them were so long one could end up with a bad cold and not even get to the coveted fruit as supplies were limited.
Good-looking, quality clothes and shoes were not sold in stores, Bulgarian-made garments were quite ugly to say the least. Rare imports would appear and disappear without a trace, often among fights between customers.
It is doubtful whether that was the way things were supposed to be in an ideal communist society, but one summer, when I was about twelve myself, I really wanted to wear red shorts. Ones like those my mother had on in that photograph. She took me shopping, but, sure enough, we found nothing of the sort anywhere in town.
So my mother helped me ransack all the closets and sure enough, we found the pair of red shorts! They were in good shape, I wore them for years on end and they’re still red. Like a never-fading memory. I’ve kept them to this day. They’re an heirloom. I inherited them the same way I inherited the life, values and strugggles of the country I was born in. Communism was a system, but the countries under it were inhabited by people whose personal stories sizzled under the ideological surface.
I would, therefore, like to offer some of my own memories from these “red” times as “short” stories. The stories in this collection are pure fiction, although most of them have been inspired by true events and animated by characters based on real people. This is the life I knew, something that, like my mother’s old red shorts, will always remain in the closets of my mind.

Red Shorts is a collage of memory bits-and-pieces that I have written down in the natural pattern of human recollections. Some I have brooded over and analyzed, others have flown out of me and performed before my eyes tales of the past with a vigor entirely their own.
This is not a memoir or autobiography. It is the story of a girl. A girl in search of her life. A girl looking for explanations among snippets of memory. Memories, whether our own or somebody else’s, can answer many questions. The girl in the red shorts is still remembering, asking, and looking.

White Goddess
I will be three years old next month. Auntie is tape-recording me because she considers the things I say valuable. Mummy had a hair appointment in the morning and took me with her to get my hair cut. I look like a boy now.
“Tell me, darling, who sprayed you with this horrible perfume?” goes Auntie’s question.
“The head-dresser Mummy took me to,” I reply.
“Now, tell me, have I told you what kind of perfume to use? What’s the only perfume you’re supposed to use?
“French,” I recite.
“Alright. So, did you check with the “head-dresser” if the perfume she used on you was French? Did you ask, excuse me, Ms. Head-Dresser, is the perfume you’re about to spray me with French?”
“I forgot.”
We live in the center of Sofia, Bulgaria. On a beautiful, chestnut-tree lined boulevard. Our building was built in the 1930’s; our apartment is huge – it has three bedrooms and two living rooms. One kitchen, a single bathroom and two balconies. We’re cozy, nevertheless. One of the bedrooms belongs to Granny and Granddad, I live in the other with Mummy and Daddy, Auntie has the bedroom with the beautiful glass door and we had one of the corridors walled up so that my 80-year-old maternal great-grandmother could move in with us. Granny and Granddad are Mummy’s parents. Auntie is her sister. Mummy is reading French Studies at the University. Daddy is away completing his mandatory military service. Granny doesn’t work anymore; she takes care of everybody. Auntie is a translator; she works at home a lot and pays loads of attention to me. Granddad is at work, too. He is a General.
He just got home for lunch, in his green uniform with red velvet stripes, and he comes right into Auntie’s room to see what I’m doing. I’m his pride and joy and he’s taught me many songs he wants to hear me sing on tape. I run into his arms.
“How’s Granddad’s little girl?”
“Granddad, we went to the head-dresser to get my hair cut!”
“Lovely!” He swings me up and around and I give him a big kiss. “Are you taping?” he asks Auntie.
“Yes, sing a song or something with her because you know nobody else can get her to sing.”
“Let’s sing a song darling, alright. We like to sing together,” granddad sits down and places me on his lap, close to the cassette recorder.
“We love each other very much, don’t we Granddad,” goes my rhetorical question. Granddad agrees.
We sing three songs, one in Russian, the other two in Bulgarian. One is a folk song he learned from his late mother, the other a military anthem from last century when the Bulgarian people were shedding blood in an attempt to free their country from Ottoman rule. I know all the words and I don’t sing too off-key.
Mummy walks in.
“Have you seen my black trousers anywhere?” she asks Auntie. “Oh, hello, Dad.”
“No, but can I wear your black shirt tonight? Just leave it here, we’re recording.”
Mummy is a teaching assistant for the French classes at the University and she’s on her way out. The smell of Granny’s lunch fills the house. We all go to the kitchen and sit down to eat, I don’t know exactly what, because I never ate much. It was the best home-cooking on earth, though, that’s for sure.
“If I eat my soup, can I play with the statuette afterwards?” I ask innocently.
“As far as I remember, the statuette is broken. Who broke it, darling, do you know?” Auntie is asking me, just as innocently.
The statuette was that of Athena, made of unrefined white marble. Something my grandparents brought back from their trip to Greece the previous year. Athena held a spear upright with one slender arm, the thick stone folds of her ground-length dress looked soft, flowing. The most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I recalled how a few days before I had coaxed Granny into letting me play with the white goddess. I put Athena on the sofa next to me so we could listen to stories on the record player together and when I leaned across her to change the record she tipped over. I attempted to lift her again, but instead I somehow pressed her down further into the cushion and her head snapped off. Broken.
“I did,” the pain in my voice is genuine.
“Well, I’m afraid you can’t play with it anymore, then,” Auntie informs me.
I leave the table and walk over to the living room. The afternoon sun is shining through the horizontal blinds; everything is covered with quiet stripes. I hear the clutter of forks and spoons on china in the distance. And there’s the statuette of Athena, so white it blinds me, with her head beside her on the shelf. Her expression hasn’t changed.

Big Black Bag
My young, beautiful mother. I never saw her much when I was little. She was in her mid-twenties and flew in and out of the house according to her university student schedule. I remember all of her bell-bottom trousers: black, white, green, red, blue.
To run into Mummy was a treat. She usually brought me something. Candy, a teddy bear. And if I was lucky, she’d come and tuck me in at bedtime. She would walk into our room, her hips clad in one of her bright-colored pairs of trousers, “Let’s see here. Is someone not asleep yet?” And when I would succeed in convincing her to come and lie down next to me for a while, that’s when the scary things started to happen. I usually had so much to tell her that falling asleep was out of the question. We’d lie there in the dark, Mummy and me, when out of nowhere the most vicious, abrupt knocking sound would fill the room.
My whisper would break the silence that followed.
“Mummy, did you hear that?”
“No, I didn’t. What was it?”
“Somebody was knocking, Mummy. Who could it be?” my voice would quiver, but I already knew who it was. Guilt and panic hammered my heart to a halt. I had refused to drink my hot milk that morning again, and hadn’t put my toys away like I was supposed to. And here I was now, wide awake past my bedtime…
“Oh, it’s probably the Old Man from Across the Street, coming to put you in his Big Black Bag because you’re not asleep yet,” Mummy would say nonchalantly.
“Oh, Mummy, what can I do?” I believed everything Mummy told me, and somehow I also believed that if the Old Man came, she wouldn’t be able to save me.
“I suggest you fall asleep immediately, my darling.” By the time my mother’s hand reached down to knock on the walnut bed frame for the second time, I was out cold.
The Old Man from Across the Street. The one with the Big Black Bag. He lived in a ground floor apartment on the corner between the boulevard we lived on and the cobbled side street. He must have been old, judging by his long, white beard and shoulder-length, pale-gray hair. He always wore black and would stand at his window, talking away, sometimes singing.
On my way to kindergarten every morning, holding someone’s hand, I would cross the boulevard and head into the cobble-stoned side street past the Old Man’s abode. Some days I would squeeze my eyes shut, other days I’d look away and pretend not to notice him. But it always seemed like he was talking to me, chanting, even singing, to me. So I always ended up sneaking a split-second peek at the Old Man, just enough for his eyes to touch mine.
Every member of my family that ever walked me to kindergarten answered my questions in pretty much the same way. They didn’t know who he was, why he talked and sang, or why he sometimes wore a big, black circular hat on his head. They never told me anything. One day, however, Mummy came to pick me up from kindergarten. On our way home we ran into the Old Man by one of the chestnut trees that lined the boulevard. I recognized him immediately, and felt my eyes widen in a helpless despair that prevented me from walking any further. He was carrying a sack, made of the same black fabric as his robes. He looked straight into my eyes and uttered a sequence of words. My personal death sentence.
“Pretty little girl,” he said. “Would you like to be my child?” His Big Black Bag had a stuffed look to it, and it swung easily alongside where his ankles probably were under the black robe that went down to the ground. I fled, pulling Mummy by the hand. We ran up the stairs to our third-floor home. I finally managed to ask:
“Mummy, why was he carrying that bag?” I was hoping Mummy would give me a different answer than the one I already knew. But no.
“To put bad children in, of course,” Mummy announced in her carefree, sweet way. I jumped into her arms and held her tight. Realizing how narrowlyI had escaped the clutches of doom, I promised and promised I would be the best-behaved child that ever walked the face of this earth and would never ever do a single bad thing again in my life.
Mummy laughed. She hugged and kissed me, wiping tears and hair from my face.

I still walk by the Old Man’s window sometimes. He’s not there anymore, though. Over the years, I collected rumors that amounted to a possible explanation of who the Old Man was. It turns out he was an Orthodox priest who had served in the church further down the street, the ancient one in the little park. But the fact that communism renounced Christianity had gradually driven him out of his senses. An unmarried orthodox monk, he had died alone, old and mad in the little room with the window I used to walk by every morning.
I sometimes wish I could see him again – ask him what all those songs he was singing were about. And what he actually carried in that Big Black Bag.

Introduction: The Red Shorts
The red shorts belonged to my mother. There was a pale old Technicolor photograph in a desk at home where she is a blonde, skinny girl of no more than twelve, wearing these beautiful, bright red shorts.
Times were strange in socialist Bulgaria when I was a teenager. Oranges and bananas were imported from Cuba once a year, around New Year’s Eve, and the lines of people wanting to buy them were so long one could end up with a bad cold and not even get to the coveted fruit as supplies were limited.
Good-looking, quality clothes and shoes were not sold in stores, Bulgarian-made garments were quite ugly to say the least. Rare imports would appear and disappear without a trace, often among fights between customers.
It is doubtful whether that was the way things were supposed to be in an ideal communist society, but one summer, when I was about twelve myself, I really wanted to wear red shorts. Ones like those my mother had on in that photograph. She took me shopping, but, sure enough, we found nothing of the sort anywhere in town.
So my mother helped me ransack all the closets and sure enough, we found the pair of red shorts! They were in good shape, I wore them for years on end and they’re still red. Like a never-fading memory. I’ve kept them to this day. They’re an heirloom. I inherited them the same way I inherited the life, values and strugggles of the country I was born in. Communism was a system, but the countries under it were inhabited by people whose personal stories sizzled under the ideological surface.
I would, therefore, like to offer some of my own memories from these “red” times as “short” stories. The stories in this collection are pure fiction, although most of them have been inspired by true events and animated by characters based on real people. This is the life I knew, something that, like my mother’s old red shorts, will always remain in the closets of my mind.

Red Shorts is a collage of memory bits-and-pieces that I have written down in the natural pattern of human recollections. Some I have brooded over and analyzed, others have flown out of me and performed before my eyes tales of the past with a vigor entirely their own.
This is not a memoir or autobiography. It is the story of a girl. A girl in search of her life. A girl looking for explanations among snippets of memory. Memories, whether our own or somebody else’s, can answer many questions. The girl in the red shorts is still remembering, asking, and looking.

White Goddess
I will be three years old next month. Auntie is tape-recording me because she considers the things I say valuable. Mummy had a hair appointment in the morning and took me with her to get my hair cut. I look like a boy now.
“Tell me, darling, who sprayed you with this horrible perfume?” goes Auntie’s question.
“The head-dresser Mummy took me to,” I reply.
“Now, tell me, have I told you what kind of perfume to use? What’s the only perfume you’re supposed to use?
“French,” I recite.
“Alright. So, did you check with the “head-dresser” if the perfume she used on you was French? Did you ask, excuse me, Ms. Head-Dresser, is the perfume you’re about to spray me with French?”
“I forgot.”
We live in the center of Sofia, Bulgaria. On a beautiful, chestnut-tree lined boulevard. Our building was built in the 1930’s; our apartment is huge – it has three bedrooms and two living rooms. One kitchen, a single bathroom and two balconies. We’re cozy, nevertheless. One of the bedrooms belongs to Granny and Granddad, I live in the other with Mummy and Daddy, Auntie has the bedroom with the beautiful glass door and we had one of the corridors walled up so that my 80-year-old maternal great-grandmother could move in with us. Granny and Granddad are Mummy’s parents. Auntie is her sister. Mummy is reading French Studies at the University. Daddy is away completing his mandatory military service. Granny doesn’t work anymore; she takes care of everybody. Auntie is a translator; she works at home a lot and pays loads of attention to me. Granddad is at work, too. He is a General.
He just got home for lunch, in his green uniform with red velvet stripes, and he comes right into Auntie’s room to see what I’m doing. I’m his pride and joy and he’s taught me many songs he wants to hear me sing on tape. I run into his arms.
“How’s Granddad’s little girl?”
“Granddad, we went to the head-dresser to get my hair cut!”
“Lovely!” He swings me up and around and I give him a big kiss. “Are you taping?” he asks Auntie.
“Yes, sing a song or something with her because you know nobody else can get her to sing.”
“Let’s sing a song darling, alright. We like to sing together,” granddad sits down and places me on his lap, close to the cassette recorder.
“We love each other very much, don’t we Granddad,” goes my rhetorical question. Granddad agrees.
We sing three songs, one in Russian, the other two in Bulgarian. One is a folk song he learned from his late mother, the other a military anthem from last century when the Bulgarian people were shedding blood in an attempt to free their country from Ottoman rule. I know all the words and I don’t sing too off-key.
Mummy walks in.
“Have you seen my black trousers anywhere?” she asks Auntie. “Oh, hello, Dad.”
“No, but can I wear your black shirt tonight? Just leave it here, we’re recording.”
Mummy is a teaching assistant for the French classes at the University and she’s on her way out. The smell of Granny’s lunch fills the house. We all go to the kitchen and sit down to eat, I don’t know exactly what, because I never ate much. It was the best home-cooking on earth, though, that’s for sure.
“If I eat my soup, can I play with the statuette afterwards?” I ask innocently.
“As far as I remember, the statuette is broken. Who broke it, darling, do you know?” Auntie is asking me, just as innocently.
The statuette was that of Athena, made of unrefined white marble. Something my grandparents brought back from their trip to Greece the previous year. Athena held a spear upright with one slender arm, the thick stone folds of her ground-length dress looked soft, flowing. The most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I recalled how a few days before I had coaxed Granny into letting me play with the white goddess. I put Athena on the sofa next to me so we could listen to stories on the record player together and when I leaned across her to change the record she tipped over. I attempted to lift her again, but instead I somehow pressed her down further into the cushion and her head snapped off. Broken.
“I did,” the pain in my voice is genuine.
“Well, I’m afraid you can’t play with it anymore, then,” Auntie informs me.
I leave the table and walk over to the living room. The afternoon sun is shining through the horizontal blinds; everything is covered with quiet stripes. I hear the clutter of forks and spoons on china in the distance. And there’s the statuette of Athena, so white it blinds me, with her head beside her on the shelf. Her expression hasn’t changed.

Big Black Bag
My young, beautiful mother. I never saw her much when I was little. She was in her mid-twenties and flew in and out of the house according to her university student schedule. I remember all of her bell-bottom trousers: black, white, green, red, blue.
To run into Mummy was a treat. She usually brought me something. Candy, a teddy bear. And if I was lucky, she’d come and tuck me in at bedtime. She would walk into our room, her hips clad in one of her bright-colored pairs of trousers, “Let’s see here. Is someone not asleep yet?” And when I would succeed in convincing her to come and lie down next to me for a while, that’s when the scary things started to happen. I usually had so much to tell her that falling asleep was out of the question. We’d lie there in the dark, Mummy and me, when out of nowhere the most vicious, abrupt knocking sound would fill the room.
My whisper would break the silence that followed.
“Mummy, did you hear that?”
“No, I didn’t. What was it?”
“Somebody was knocking, Mummy. Who could it be?” my voice would quiver, but I already knew who it was. Guilt and panic hammered my heart to a halt. I had refused to drink my hot milk that morning again, and hadn’t put my toys away like I was supposed to. And here I was now, wide awake past my bedtime…
“Oh, it’s probably the Old Man from Across the Street, coming to put you in his Big Black Bag because you’re not asleep yet,” Mummy would say nonchalantly.
“Oh, Mummy, what can I do?” I believed everything Mummy told me, and somehow I also believed that if the Old Man came, she wouldn’t be able to save me.
“I suggest you fall asleep immediately, my darling.” By the time my mother’s hand reached down to knock on the walnut bed frame for the second time, I was out cold.
The Old Man from Across the Street. The one with the Big Black Bag. He lived in a ground floor apartment on the corner between the boulevard we lived on and the cobbled side street. He must have been old, judging by his long, white beard and shoulder-length, pale-gray hair. He always wore black and would stand at his window, talking away, sometimes singing.
On my way to kindergarten every morning, holding someone’s hand, I would cross the boulevard and head into the cobble-stoned side street past the Old Man’s abode. Some days I would squeeze my eyes shut, other days I’d look away and pretend not to notice him. But it always seemed like he was talking to me, chanting, even singing, to me. So I always ended up sneaking a split-second peek at the Old Man, just enough for his eyes to touch mine.
Every member of my family that ever walked me to kindergarten answered my questions in pretty much the same way. They didn’t know who he was, why he talked and sang, or why he sometimes wore a big, black circular hat on his head. They never told me anything. One day, however, Mummy came to pick me up from kindergarten. On our way home we ran into the Old Man by one of the chestnut trees that lined the boulevard. I recognized him immediately, and felt my eyes widen in a helpless despair that prevented me from walking any further. He was carrying a sack, made of the same black fabric as his robes. He looked straight into my eyes and uttered a sequence of words. My personal death sentence.
“Pretty little girl,” he said. “Would you like to be my child?” His Big Black Bag had a stuffed look to it, and it swung easily alongside where his ankles probably were under the black robe that went down to the ground. I fled, pulling Mummy by the hand. We ran up the stairs to our third-floor home. I finally managed to ask:
“Mummy, why was he carrying that bag?” I was hoping Mummy would give me a different answer than the one I already knew. But no.
“To put bad children in, of course,” Mummy announced in her carefree, sweet way. I jumped into her arms and held her tight. Realizing how narrowlyI had escaped the clutches of doom, I promised and promised I would be the best-behaved child that ever walked the face of this earth and would never ever do a single bad thing again in my life.
Mummy laughed. She hugged and kissed me, wiping tears and hair from my face.

I still walk by the Old Man’s window sometimes. He’s not there anymore, though. Over the years, I collected rumors that amounted to a possible explanation of who the Old Man was. It turns out he was an Orthodox priest who had served in the church further down the street, the ancient one in the little park. But the fact that communism renounced Christianity had gradually driven him out of his senses. An unmarried orthodox monk, he had died alone, old and mad in the little room with the window I used to walk by every morning.
I sometimes wish I could see him again – ask him what all those songs he was singing were about. And what he actually carried in that Big Black Bag.

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