by Evgeniya Dineva
My eight abandoned lives are staring back at me
from the perfectly clean porcelain plate
that’s placed right in front of me.
Their bright green eyes are so big,
I can see myself reflected, and
the pupils dilate as they continue stalking me—
patiently observing and waiting
for the next move I am going to make.
I pick up the knife from the gold cutlery set,
(I always go for the shiny sharp objects first)
then the fork finds its place in the fist
I clench tightly around its metallic body
so that I can stab all those pretty edges in the soft piece
of the last life, I have left.
The blade sinks in deep as I cut a larger part of my choice,
with the clear, single understanding that
we can never simply have a taste of what’s been served
and then change our minds mid-meal, or decide we could
stitch the severed limbs back together.
I chew on my resolve and judgment
when their sour taste spills, then fills my entire mouth.
I try to swallow, but I choke on all the thoughts and events
that would follow right after.
I cough up hairs and my choice digs its long nails
in the back of my throat
to drag its claws and rip my insides all the way down
until it reaches my stomach to settle in there forever.
I always felt like we had a certain number of failed attempts allowed.
In my case, they are nine—it’s my secret limit,
equivalent to the number of lives a cat has,
the symbol of finality and completion.
It’s the highest single-digit from which I fall
into the dark pit, but this time I land on my back.
I’m bleeding open with the decision I just made—
right here and now, at this table
with the painful realisation that
I have no more lives to bet.
Evgeniya Dineva: Would you both eat your cake and have your cake? Disambiguation is a term that comes from mathematics and the simpler derived explanation of the word would be “the process of separating out the possible outcomes of the ambiguous ones”. A typical ambiguity example in linguistics is “trying to have your cake and eat it”. Luckily, in language and semantics it narrows down the meaning of words.
I thought I never liked calculations. But, growing up, I gradually started to realise numbers were much easier to gasp than life itself. Words as such are power from an entirely different narrative. And if in mathematics one preferably has a single correct answer (regardless of how one gets there), the world we know and live in thinks differently and changes its planned route mid-way.
When I started working on the poem, among the first things I thought of, above all else, was cats. The association with Schrödinger’s cat experiment and semantic confusions was inevitable. Then, the more I thought of the way everything was intertwined, the more I was acknowledging the myth of the cats’ nine lives, and that a failed attempt for them did not necessarily imply a final destination. It also tilted my exploration of the link between everything surrounding us in the direction of asking the question whether choices are in fact pre-made for us.
Every choice in favour of something is a choice against another. A choice is not singular in the sense that, as well as everything we’ve gone through making us what we are, we also inevitably carry our cultural background. It colours the way we perceive things on a deeply rooted biological and sub-emotional level.
As someone who has had to adapt to the new reality of their life and to getting accustomed to a completely different world of traditions, language—and gestures, if you will,—I have often ended up in a situation where I wasn’t sure if what I was doing was the right thing. When I say the right thing, I don’t just mean I might have made the practical mistake of moving to a different country.
I wasn’t sure if the way I was expressing myself wasn’t offensive on a deeper, more cultural level.
No two train rides are the same, for example.
In Bulgaria, we are forever laughing loudly during the journey.
In Japan, that behaviour is not entirely recommended. In India, we have separate compartments for men and women.
We all have different table manners. We all have different sacrifices to make to get where we are trying to go.
छत (chhat) in Hindi means roof. But, depending on what your connection with the word, it might mean shelter. It’s something so simple, yet not really.
They say that the road to the abyss is paved with good intentions, but I wish to think the people who read “Disambiguation” and happen to have been in the situation of having to make a choice that was to some extent forced upon them in their search for a better life or home, or a new self, even, always end up where they were hoping to be.
Evgeniya Dineva is a Bulgarian writer of short stories and poetry. She holds a BA in Linguistics and Literature and an MA in Cultural Liaisons. She has won fiction contests held in her home country and her works have appeared in various literary journals, both new and well-established. Her debut novel Gray Daze came out earlier this year and she’s currently working on her second book, which will be published under a pen name. You can reach out to her here.