20th September 2022


6 minutes read

Rita Halász

Sunday Afternoon in the Hills

translated by Owen Good

20th September 2022

6 minutes read

What time is it? the woman asks. She’s lying on the sofa, her hands on her belly. A closed book beside her, the marker at the third page. The man looks at the clock. She’ll be here soon, he answers. He’s sitting at the table, a laptop in front of him. The woman shakes her head. She stares out the window. An airplane appears below the drainpipe, she counts the seconds as it travels from the treetop to the top-right corner of the window. Are you going? the man asks. Twelve, thirteen. Shall I go? Twenty-one. She sighs. I’ll go.

She doesn’t move, the contrail slowly disperses.

The man stands up, goes into the kitchen, and opens the oven. Is it ready? she asks from the other room. The gas went out. Is it alright? I said the gas went out. When? I don’t know. But wasn’t it just fixed? He doesn’t answer. He lights the oven again and watches the flame. Did they not fix it yesterday? Everything in this apartment’s broken, it’s unbelievable, she says. If we move, let’s find somewhere with an electric cooker. The man returns to the living room. You don’t want to move again, do you? The electric cooker in our old apartment was so good! In this place I either can’t light the thing or it goes out. You don’t want to move again, do you? he asks. The woman doesn’t answer. You said if we moved here everything would be different, you wanted this, the peace, the trees, the birds, remember? The woman doesn’t answer. Do you remember? Look out the window! The woman doesn’t move.

We’ll fix the things that aren’t working.

The woman pouts, fine, we’ll get them fixed. The man continues, you know I didn’t want to move, neither did Zsófi but she likes it now. I like it too. We need some peace, I don’t want to look at new flats. Enough, I get it, the woman interrupts, pulling the quilt around her. He sits down behind the laptop, she turns to the wall.

The man looks at the clock, she’ll be here soon, he says. The woman curls up and closes her eyes. Did you hear what I said? Yes. Do you remember what we talked about? Yes, she answers. Sure? It’ll be just like we said. He sits on the sofa. Say it. She looks up, do you have so little faith in me? I have faith in you but say it anyway. You don’t then. Just to be safe, he says.

She arrives and I don’t ask any questions, the woman starts slowly. He nods. The woman closes her eyes and frowns. She arrives and I don’t ask any questions, the woman repeats. She opens her eyes. What else, she asks. His head drops. Don’t sigh, help me, she says, looking at the clock. She’ll be here soon.

He takes the woman’s hand. She arrives. The woman repeats, she arrives. She throws her bag down in the hall, she kicks off her shoes, she doesn’t hang up her coat, and then, the man is waiting for her to finish the sentence. And then? She flings it on the ground. Exactly, she flings it down and what do you do? Did you set the timer for the pie? she asks. And what do you do? It better not burn! Don’t change the subject, what do you do? I say nothing. I just stand there and say nothing. Correct, he nods. I set the timer. I don’t understand why I’m not allowed to do these things, why I, her mother, can’t say these things. You’re constantly saying these things, for once, now, you won’t.

You’ll say nothing.

You’ll look at her and accept her, without judging her. People say these sorts of things in meditation, don’t they? The woman gives a long sigh. She was so good when she was little. It must be the divorce. I couldn’t be there for her enough and this is the result. Or she’s a teenager, says the man, teenagers are like that. I wasn’t. You weren’t, but you iron your socks. I know it’s too much and I don’t expect the same from anybody, but I do expect a sixteen-year-old to hang up her coat and put her bag in her room, I’m allowed to. You’re allowed to, but not today. The woman rolls her eyes. Trust me, her life will be harder if she’s so messy. She can send me all the articles she likes about how messy people are more creative and intelligent and relaxed and godknowswhat. You know what I say to that? Bullshit, that’s what. The people who write those articles are, the woman doesn’t finish her sentence. Mess and filth. I don’t understand how anyone can live that way. Not to worry, such people do exist, your own daughter for one. But this time you’ll say nothing, you’ll leave it. Repeat it! I’ll say nothing. You’ll just hug her and be glad she’s here. Once she sent an article that a tidy house was a sign of a wasted life. Ha, I said, brilliant, so my daughter thinks

I’m wasting my life?

Bag, shoes, coat on the ground, what do you do? Diddlysquat. That means your eyes too! No rolling them the way you always do. I won’t. I’ll shut my yap and greet the chaos without batting an eyelid. You’ll not jump at her for forgetting to take the rubbish down. The woman nods. And you’ll not quiz her, the man continues. Not even with those sneaky questions of yours. About her dad, about Ági. Especially not Ági. I can’t ask her anything? Not even how skiing was? No. Let her arrive, and don’t be offended if she doesn’t want to talk.


written by

Rita Halász

More about the author

Issue 03


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translated by

Owen Good

More about the translator


Sunday Afternoon in the Hills by Rita Halász
In this short story by Hungarian writer Rita Halász a mother and her partner tensely await the homecoming of her teenaged daughter.