As we gear up for Bologna on the 3rd-6th April, we're very pleased to bring you an extract from Dóra Elekes' latest book, Of Betty and Other Gods, published by Csimota Books.
My name is Balambar and I live in the keyhole. It’s a nice, spacious keyhole, and it has everything a keyhole needs: forest, field, grasses, fruit, and a little house. Just your regular, run-of-the-mill keyhole, nothing special. There’s bushes all around my house with all sorts of small colourful fruit on them. You can pelt winged thingies with the pits. There’s animals, too: maggots and woodworm, and you can climb on their backs, and they can do magic – but I can never remember which one’s which, because I’m a little bit forgetful.
Butbutbut then there’s also the world beyond the keyhole, or the Universe as it’s known, which has a lot of very strict rules that are impossible to understand. For example, it’s constantly changing. One minute, the view from the keyhole is nice and still, the next it’s all whizzing past in a blur, along an arc I can’t quite figure out because it’s all very complicated, and you need a circumference, and I have no idea where you get them.
Another law of the Universe is that it’s peopled by Gods. Three, to be precise. One of them is called Betty, the other Mum, and the third is Dad. Mum God and Dad God live on one side of the keyhole, in the big room. In there, there’s other doors that open into mysterious places I can’t see into. The Goddess Betty lives on the other side of the keyhole, in the little room. The Gods sometimes cross into each other’s rooms and – moved by their incomprehensible laws – gurgle and gush for ages and ages, it’s enough to make you sick. Or at other times – at times like this, Dad puts on his glasses – they murmur quietly about things like animals and the stars and something called „going up”. But then sometimes they shout at each other. It’s generally Mum or Dad who starts it, and then Betty shouts back, or slams her door. When Betty slams her door, I get all dizzy, and feel a wild urge to shout as well.
Some of us who live in the keyholes think that we’ve been abandoned by the Gods, but I know that isn’t true, and I’ve got proof. I’m in day-to-day contact with one of them, the Goddess Betty. She’s the smallest of the Gods. She’s got a long, spotty face with a load of yellow fur on top that she calls ’hair’. Betty is shorter and a lot narrower than the other two Gods, and so the other two are always trying to tell her what to do and how so that one day she’ll be as tall and wide as they are. This is what they call going up. But Betty has no intention of doing what they tell her to, and I can see why. She’s the only one of the three who’s got her wits about her and knows what’s important and what isn’t.
Our friendship began one day when I was leaning out on the edge of the keyhole, propped up on my elbows: it’s all so much more colourful and wild out there than things are in here, and I like wild and colourful things because I myself am gentle and grey and get pretty bored by my own company, pretty quickly. So I was leaning out of the keyhole. The Gods were having an argument.
They said something like:
„You’ve gone and torn it again when I’ve told you a hundred times! Well, you can think about what you’ve done because there’s no TV for you tonight – now go to your room and that’s that!”
I don’t really know what „that’s that” means, exactly, but it must be something the Gods have to do in their room instead of watching cartoons on the telly. Maybe it’s something like sitting on the bed, kicking your heels and staring at the closed door, muttering magic incantations. I think that because when they said „that’s that,” Betty stormed into her room and slammed the door. She dug around in her drawer, took out a bag of sweets and stuffed a bunch of them in her mouth all at once. Then she sat down angrily on the bed and hugged the stupid, furry animal she calls Teddy (or sometimes Noggin, or sometimes Idiots) tight. She just sat there, kicking her heels and sucking on her sweets. They’d turned her mouth all red, and her eyes were all red too, and she was muttering magic incantations while water dripped out of her eyes onto the stupidfurry’s stupid, furry head.
And then something very strange happened, something I’ve never been able to explain since. My nose began to tingle and my eyes began to prick and all at once everything became a blur. And then my mouth said „boohoohoohoohoo”, though I hadn’t told my mouth to say that at all. And then Betty turned towards the keyhole and did something she’d never done before: she noticed me.
She gave a big scream, and then called over from the other side of the room:
So I blinked twice to clear my eyes and said to Goddess Betty:
And the Goddess Betty replied:
And I said:
And that’s how we became friends.
But that was a long time ago, now. Betty has been going up a lot since then, she gets taller and taller and wider and wider, even though she doesn’t do as she’s told. But when it’s time for „that’s that,” she always comes and sticks her long face up to my keyhole and chats to me. As far as I’m concerned, that’s both good and bad. It’s good because I have someone to talk to, and it’s bad because Betty says that I’m her imaginary friend and I’m scared of what will happen if she starts imagining someone else. Then again, it was Betty who named me Balambar, and that’s good, because Balambar is a nice name, and it suits me perfectly.
Since I’ve been friends with Goddess Betty, my whole view of the Gods has changed. I’ve gotten to know them a little better. I’ve been studying what they’re like. For example, I know that you can catalogue them in several ways.
If you group them one way, then there are the Major Gods and the Secondary Major Gods, like Mum and Dad, and then there’s the Princess Gods like Betty. This is my own grouping that I came up with, and Betty didn’t help me at all - I did it all by myself.
Another way of cataloguing them – and this is the one Betty told me about – is that there are the Ancient Gods, like for example Mum and Dad, and then there are the Young Gods, like for example Betty. The Ancient Gods have always been around, but the Young Gods just sort of came into being, because the Ancient Gods willed it. Which is, if I understand it right, sort of how Betty created me. Or then again maybe not, because I’m only a figment of Betty’s imagination, but Betty exists for real, and not just in the imagination of the Ancient Gods. Or at least that’s what Betty says.
That takes us to the third way of grouping them, which is that there are Men Gods and Women Gods. Women Gods are like Betty or Mum, while Men Gods are like Dad. Men Gods are generally bigger, wider, and stronger than Women Gods, so that they can perform their Mengodly duties more easily. These include moving heavy things around and hammering and drilling loudly at the walls, as well as chasing away anyone bad or annoying.
Women Gods are smaller, more lively, and move about more than Men Gods. They both give the orders and carry them out. But the best thing about Women Gods is that they can make Young Gods. They are the Gods of Creation. If they want to make a Young God, they tell the Men Gods, and the Men Gods say ’ummm...welll...I don’t know...let’s sleep on it,’ and then they sleep on it and if all goes well they grow a Young God in their belly.
Women Gods sometimes wonder what it must be like to be a Men God. At least Betty does, for sure, and actually, I’ve got a story about that...
Author: Dóra Elekes
Illustrator: Barbara Treszner
Editor: Dóra Csányi, Márton Mészáros, Sándor Tsík
Published: 2016 summer
Translated by: Mark Baczoni