The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 

Issue Twenty-One

Three Stories from the transformations of mr. hadlíz by Ladislav Novák
Time Machine by Guido Eekhaut
Three Stages in Learning to Fly by Vanessa Gebbie
It Says Here by Mickey Z.
Flylephant by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky


irreal (re)views


by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

Translator's Note: The Russian expression "turning a fly into an elephant" corresponds with the English "making a mountain out of a molehill."


A divine hand passed over a fly. "You shall be an elephant" resounded. Before there was time for a second hand to jerk once, then twice on the face of a clock, the inevitable came to pass: the fly's little heels rested on the earth through the soles of an elephant while his short, black, thread-like sucker curled inside the enormous grey trunk as it rolled up. But the very nature of this miracle was a sort of non-affectation, an amateurism, a vexing kind of "not right": if a psychologist were to snoop his eyeglasses under the thick skin of this newly elephantized existence, he would at once observe that the fly soul didn't reach all the way out to fill it.

To sum it up: this elephant with the soul of a fly is the Flylephant.


Insects are, generally speaking, accustomed to what is called "metamorphosis." But in the case in question, after he examined his new body of one hundred poods, the fly tested it out with much horror and confusion. It was much like the fairy tale that depicts a poor man who, having fallen asleep in his cramped closet, tumbles out—at the will of a fairy—into a spacious, peaceful, wealthy, yet deserted palace. Sick to death of wandering about in his new body, and eventually losing himself in the plethora of questions with which he tormented himself, the soul of the fly made up his mind as such:

"If you just keep sighing, you'll never get anywhere. Elephants have better lives than our fly brothers. Well then, I will live like this... Oh, but why the devil am I an elephant?!"

So it began.


When he examined the surroundings with his large elephant eyes, the insect noticed something: a creaking, dilapidated little cottage with one bright window stood in view.

"I will crawl just once upon the glass."

He crawled. Crack! The window was in smithereens, the cottage in splinters.

The Flylephant could do nothing but furrow his ears. What a parable my life has become, he thought.

This happened exactly at springtime. A good fairy went about: her little heels didn't even press the grass down to the earth as her delicate fingers unabashedly unfolded petals out of the buds so that the flowers would bloom. The sticky leaves of the birches became as green as could be.

"What a pleasant birch," thought the sentimental Flylephant, and happily flapped his paws; the slender sapling in question swayed, began to groan, and, after whispering something slowly with its pale leaves, expired.

"Not right—not right—not right—not right," beat the Flyelephant's frightened heart. And, in response to the heart, a pair of tiny membranous wings enmeshed with golden threads of sunlight began to flutter in the spring sky of blue—wings that Flylephant, still barely comprehending his miracle, loved passionately and tenderly.

Then spring became suddenly more springy, and suddenly the sun began to shine as bright as two suns, and his trunk, dried with tears, reached out to the wings of his girlfriend. Not only his trunk, but all of Flylephant reached out, trying to find the caresses of his former love; he pressed himself against her with body and soul. There was a moment of joy... Then, shuddering, pitiful and frightened, his eyes round in horror, Flylephant stood over a small black blot, staring at a pair of wings sticking out of the blot. The wings twitched—once, again—and then became motionless. Someone's scary roar rumbled in the ears of the elephantized being. The soul of this being began to thrash about inside its giant body, trying to break through the thick grey skin.

"This is enough! I must go back, to myself, to my old, dark fly crevice."


What happened next? Next wasn't very interesting. After searching the earth, foraging the entire planet, from one speck of dust to the next, Flylephant found, finally, his comfortable, narrow, winding crevice, half buried in the sand: a dilapidated little fly house.

He tried to crawl inside, but it was not to be. The crevice calls, calls with a winding, delicate little voice, but it doesn't let him in.

And this is why, to this very day, the tragic Flylephant lingers over his cozy old crevice. There is no path for him: neither a straight, wide open space, nor a winding crevice.

(translated by Andrea Gregovich)

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky was born in 1887 into a Catholic Polish family in the Kyiv region of what is now the Ukrainian Republic. After graduating from Kyiv University in 1913, where he studied law, he found work as an assistant barrister. His first major publication was in 1919, a story which has been called a philosophical dialogue, or a historico-philosophic essay, or a futuristic prediction (the title of which simply doesn't translate well: "Yakobi i Yakobui"). Not much was published after that, due to the political situation that was taking form in Russia, but he became widely known in both theater and literary circles of Moscow, where he migrated soon after giving up law. He wrote widely about philosophy and theories of modernism and experimentalism in theater and opera. He also gave widely celebrated readings of his stories. In 1920, he met an artist named Anna Bovshek and lived with her until he died in 1950. He died in obscurity, many of his writings lost to the incinerator, but a good collection was preserved in an archive.

Andrea Gregovich's translation of Krzhizhanovsky's "Old Man and the Sea" has appeared in Tin House, her translations of several essays appeared in the Dalkey Archive Press anthology Amerika, an essay of her own appeared in Liberty, and a story at

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