They had just given him a bed bath—my mom, her sister, and his daughter. They pulled a clean pair of briefs and a paper-white undershirt on him. I imagine the TV was on, as always, that the dog barked, and the wood stove crackled in the kitchen. “It was funny,” my cousin howled through tears on the phone, “when they brought the coffin and put it next to his bed. You know how big Dušan is… was. The thing was ridiculously small,” she said. “Who’d crush him into that tiny coffin? Not me.”
Dušan comes from duša, which means soul. It’s a fitting name for someone who lived a life of transit and fire: a professional chauffeur, a volunteer firefighter, and a gourmand of peasant food.
Years ago he used to pinch my cheeks and call me Debela, Gordita, then laugh a big belly laughter while walking back to spit roasting a hog and pouring drinks for guests.
On one side of the ocean, America celebrated Thanksgiving, on the other his daughter made calls across the Dinaric Alps till a woodworker in Ljubljana offered the most luxurious, roomy, and comfortable item in his catalogue: the American casket.
We laughed some more. Dušan got set to voyage in pearl-white satin of American-style grandeur. I thought of Elvis and James Brown, the quilted padding and gold-plated hardware they departed on, and I waved goodbye from the cold side of the Atlantic, over a plate of sweet potatoes, the violence of cranberries, and Tofurkey. Afterwards, belly full, I remembered an old expression—Finili su Mare bali. The good times are over, Mary.
Except, nothing was over. Dušan continued motoring. A couple days later, I woke up to a clothing stand glowing by my bed like a tall chalice, and this chic, heart-red racing suit.
“Put your britches on, kid,” I heard him say, “And don’t worry about money. What’s a few hundred bucks in afterlife?! Might as well spend while you can. Dai, Andrea! Slip that suit on,” he continued. “And get America by the balls!”
Just then a car rumbled past the house, and pulled Dušan’s voice with it. The sky, bright like a rooster’s comb, flared up through the window blinds, and trembled in the gold fist of November.
Hear Andrea Jurjević read her piece
Andrea Jurjević is the author of two poetry collections and a chapbook, most recently, In Another Country (Saturnalia Press, 2024). Her book-length translations from Croatian include Mamasafari (Diálogos Press, 2018) by Olja Savičević and Dead Letter Office (The Word Works, 2020) by Marko Pogačar. She is a native of Croatia.
Photo credit: Sean Patrick