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Allexander Shpatov


After ten missed calls, she finally calls back and amidst the noise of the elevator she reads aloud the text from 5:30 that morning: "Got any ground beef at your place? Its urgent. Five exclamation points. Whats going on? Please tell me this is some kind of autocorrect gone bad."

"Its not. Thats exactly what I meant."

"Ground beef? Ive heard of weed being called salad, but never ground beef before. What I mean is, imagine if I sent you a text like that at 5 a.m..."

"I can imagine. But if youd answered I definitely wouldve been able to explain it better..."

"Just dont tell me youve started doing drugs, please, spare me that at least. I know how you like to get your drink on, Im already used to turning off my phone at night, but still - there are limits, you know."

"Sorry, but it really was urgent and I really did need ground beef. But whatever, it doesnt matter now. Its already too late."

"Actually, its early, if you ask me. Im just taking the dog out."

"I heard her barking while you were going downstairs... Hahah, actually I was just talking about her with Ivan today."

"With who?"

"With Ivan from Friday, he was on the night shift and you know how it is - after last call but before theyve closed the doors its the best time for a heart-to-heart."

"Yeah right, just talking. And then you dont remember a thing. Ive seen that enough times."

"That depends"

"It never depends on anything. But whatever, what were you saying about Liza?"

"Hahah, its a bit of a long story. If you want I can call you back so I dont run up your bill. Youre still one of my free numbers."

"Dont worry about it."

"Okay so, me and Ivan have discussed this before, too. All night I was trying to close in on this girl, I even left to see her home..."

"To close in, is that the word?"

"It is."

"Well, if thats the word, I dont know why you think anythings gonna come of it."

"Precisely, thats exactly what we were saying - theres no chance of finding a girl using that scheme. In this case, even less so, because we were supposedly talking for an hour and everything was fine, but in the end when I hauled her towards the cab..."


"OK, fine, when I suggested we share a cab, she suddenly told me she had a boyfriend. Im no longer in this game, so I just asked her one more time whether she was sure she had a boyfriend, she said she was and so - I left her to take the cab herself. I went right back to Friday for a nightcap. And Ivan was like totally stunned, cause he thought Id gotten lucky or however youre supposed to put it, but when I told him how this chick suddenly remembered her boyfriend and he told me what you always tell me as well - with your kind of lifestyle, thats what you get. What else could you expect? And he was like its happened to me so many times - while I finish closing the bar, while Im cleaning up, putting on the alarm and going out - the sun has already come up and all those people have flocked to the bus stop to go to work. And when I cut through the park, what do I see? Chicks. Chicks walking their dogs all over the place, man. And Ive thought to myself - what the hell could you have in common with these girls when you havent even gone to bed yet? Nothing! Because she might go out Friday, but its always in the back of her mind - tomorrow Ive got to walk the dog. Get it? And Im like youre right, Ivan, youre absolutely fucking right. Take me, for example... and I told him about Liza, hahah."

"About Liza?"

"Well, about you, of course. Me and Ivan had this mega-heart-to-heart. A bar just sets the stage for that kind of thing, especially when only an hour earlier it was packed, then suddenly all thats left is the music as a backdrop and the empty glasses to be gathered up. And of course, hes had his own stories like that, too... so we have a good long chat, hahah. But whatever, suddenly I get really hungry so I tell him, sorry, Ivan, Im gonna hop over to Mimas. But at Mimas they were out of döner and were like we can make you a hamburger, if you want, but as you know I dont like their hamburgers cause they fall apart in your hands and so I headed over to the sandwich place on Slaveykov. I was totally up for a princess. The ones there are the bomb, as you know. So I go down there and see that dude, the one whos been pulling the night shift for ten years now."

"The tall guy? The one whos seen so many shitfaced idiots that he could blackmail half of Sofia, that guy?"

"Yep, thats the one. And he hasnt changed a bit - the same bags under his eyes, the same haircut, the same look. He just asks you what you want and thats it. So I tell him to make me a princess, but Im like a real princess, man, cause Im damn hungry for one. Ive dragged my ass here all the way from Friday for it. And I think to myself, nows the time, man, I feel like this guy is finally gonna start talking to me while Im waiting for that princess, Im on a roll today in any case... But he keeps quiet. He just takes the slice of bread with the raw ground beef out of the fridge, puts it in the toaster with his zombie-like movements, turns on the timer and thats it. Not a single word. But me, I dont know what got into me, Im like dude, Ive known you for ten years now, and youve never said shit to me. And he - all calm and everything - is like whaddya want me to say? Im like I have no idea. Something. Whatever. Like, for example, why are they called princesses, do you have any idea?1 I dont know. Thats all he says I dont know. But again he says it all serious like - so you cant laugh, but you also cant think up any way to keep the conversation going. I dont know whats gotten into me, but I wont let it drop - OK fine, but havent you ever thought about it? Its like were cannibals, man. Just imagine: some foreigner comes to visit you, you take him all around Sofia the whole day, at night you go on a bar crawl and finally: now, for dessert, lets eat up a princess. Can you imagine what hell think? And the dude surely wouldve said I dont know again, but right then two guys walk in to get a pocket sandwich, so he goes to take care of them. And while hes warming up the buns in the toaster and putting on their toppings, my princess is ready, too. Seasonings? Mayonnaise or ketchup? He asks me again, but Ive already started in again so Im like, no man, I want a real princess, is it that hard?

"What do you mean, real? You havent started using those hourly hotels, have you?"

"Thats exactly what he said first: Buddy, the real ones are at the Paris bar. Weve only got ground-meat princesses here. But I explain to him that Im serious - Im talking about a real live princess. I tell him that right before coming here a bartender friend of mine and I were talking about it. All girls want to be princesses when theyre little, but when they grow up - they become the exact opposite."

"Whats the opposite of a princess?" The voice can hardly be heard over the phone, drowned out by a sudden bark. "Sorry, shes in heat..."


"Never mind, other dogs are always coming after Liza. Shes gotten very flirtatious."

"Yeah, I mentioned that, too."

"Oh, please. As if youre one to talk..."

"Hahah, of course Im not."

"And what happened in the end? My arm is going numb from holding the phone."

"What happened? The dude started talking! I couldnt believe it. For the first time ever. So you want a real princess? I tell him, yes, isnt that what everybody wants? And so he went into high gear and there was no stopping him - so look here, in the strict sense of the word its a no-go. A princess by definition is the daughter of a ruling monarch, the eldest daughter, if possible. But you need her to be unmarried, because thats what all the fuss is about in fairytales, right? - you have a big fancy wedding and snatch half of the kingdom. Thats right, I say, and everybody lives happily ever after. Who doesnt want that... But hes like - dude, as of the present date, September 26, 2013, insofar as we can trust Google, the choice comes down to a single person - Alexandra, the daughter of Henri, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg, who is also the only white sitting princess according to those criteria. Incidentally, shes not half-bad, judging from her picture on Wikipedia, and shes the perfect age for you - born 1991. How possible it is, though, is another question entirely, if I were that kind of magician Id hardly be pulling nightshift to sell sandwiches to the likes of you, now would I? But in any case - at this point hes firing all this off like a robot - after Alexandra, you find yourself in over your head real quick - starting with the seventeen-year-old Iman of Jordan and Their Royal Highnesses Azemah and Fadzillah of Brunei, passing through the Arab harems where no non-Muslim is ever going to set foot and finally arriving at the six royal heiresses of legal age at the court of the King-Inseminator of Swaziland and the Tongan princess Lātūfuipeka Tukuaho. Her name says it all. Those are the princesses who are available. All the other unmarried ones (including the Belgian, Dutch, Danish and Japanese princesses) are still underage. Youre gonna have a hard time pulling off a romance with any of them without doing some time. But now, if we expand the definition..."

"Hang on a sec, my arm is totally asleep from holding the phone... OK... Im back. So what were you saying... if you expand the definition?"

"So he was like, if we expand it, we can include all unmarried aristocrats, not just the daughters of a monarch. In that case you can count on a lot more Europeans, but as you know very well - after centuries of keeping it all in three or four families, dont be expecting much (besides ever-improving prenatal diagnostics). Fine then, so youll ask me - and not without justification - why does everybody want to find a princess? The one and only reason lies in the stability of the notions we create for ourselves. Now, when he laid that one on me, he flat-out blew my mind, I swear. Hes like, its the same as how kids draw little houses with red roofs, a smoking chimney, a wooden fence, a doghouse and all the rest, but in reality they all live in apartment blocks and high rises here?... He goes on: Heres where it all comes from - how did people live back in the day? And Im talking real people, not aristocrats. They lived in shacks. No hot water, no sewage pipes, no education, they had a few clothes from their dowery and that was it. And nobody gave a shit about them. They had no rights, nothing... While princesses were another game entirely. They ate regularly, bathed whenever they felt like it, slept in real beds, they could read and write, they were respected, in short, you get my drift. Nowadays, almost all girls everywhere that fairytales are told de facto live exactly that kind of life. The only difference is the lack of a title. So, if were talking that kind of a princess - a good, well-bred, pretty girl - then I can help you. And I (after I managed to pick my jaw up off the floor, I mean) was like: thats it, man, what more could I ask? What do I need to do? And hes like: its very simple. Ill make you a very special princess, you just need to get the ingredients. Give it to the girl of your choice walking by here, she takes a bite and shes yours. Forever. And you catch me drift, right? We are on Slaveykov and Rakovska, you have no idea how many fine girls pass by here every day..."

"Only someone like you would fall for that."

"Thats exactly what I asked him - has anybody ever fallen for it? But he just laughed - of course, he says, what, you think youre the first one to come here and ask me for real princesses? You think youre the only one whos thought of it? And then completely business-like - youve got two hours to find the ingredients."

"And so instead of going to the first 24-shop, you call me to get your ground beef, is that it?"

"Well, it turns out its not that simple. For it to work, he tells me, youve got to get the bread from the first mega-pretty girl you meet. Otherwise youre dead in the water. So what could I do, I was like: relax, man, no problem, and I go out to look for a girl. But the street is deserted, theres not a soul in sight, let alone pretty girls. So I tell myself - where would they be nearby at this time of night? The only thing I could think of was BIAD - there was nowhere else at that hour. So I tear down Rakovska, then turn onto Gurko and try to go inside, but the bouncers are like: we cant let you in, no shorts allowed. They pull a dress code on me, can you believe it? I try to explain that its hella important, but they can tell from a thousand miles away that Im not the BIAD type, no way. And right at that moment I see this awesome chick coming out, looking at her phone and heading off on foot. I take off after her and Im like: heres the deal Ive got to buy bread from you, its super important. Of course, she doesnt get it at all, but in the end shes like - youre cute, I like you. So if its only about some bread, no worries, I know a 24-hour store near my place, you just gotta pay for the cab. So we go there, get the bread, I drop her off at her place and bring the bread back to the dude. And hes like - 40 minutes so far, were doing well. Now its time for the cheese. You gotta get the cheese from the ugliest girl youve been with."

"Who is?"

"Doesnt matter. Ive only used her for booty calls these last few months."

"Booty calls? You are a gentleman."

"Hahah, thanks. But whatever, I grab a cab and head straight to her place in Beli Brezi. Theres no point in calling her to ask where she is, we had already agreed on the booty call. I called from down in front of her entryway and she was like: cmon up, but just so you know, I dont have time to get dressed. Ive left the door open. So I take the elevator, go into her place but instead of going to her, I head straight for the kitchen. I open up the fridge and dig around. No real cheese. Just a chunk of parmesan. But Im like, parmesan, its still cheese, right? And Im just slipping it into my pocket when she comes in. Wearing only a thong. And shes like, are you crazy or what? You got far better places to be sticking your nose, and youre wasting time with my fridge?"

"So what did you tell her? Id be very curious to know."

"The truth, what else!"

"About the cheese?"

"Of course, a true gentleman never lies, hahah. I needed to get rid of her anyways. Plus, Id told the cabbie to wait for me downstairs, otherwise Id run out of time. And so, all I had left was the ground beef from you. I started calling you already from the cab, I wrote a text, called again, but as you know - it was all in vain. So I go back to the dude and Im like - theres no way to get through, she turns off her ringer at night now, and theres no point in going over there because the doorbell doesnt work. Its never gonna happen. And the dude looks at me somehow more friendly-like and says: fine, it doesnt have to be your ultimate girl, any of your top three would work. And Im about to tell him that there arent any others for me, but then Im like: he has no way of knowing. So I tell him - OK, lemme call. And I pretend Im talking, being all charming, laughing - in short, an Oscar performance - I even cover up the mouthpiece to ask him if ground meat from a meatball counts, cause thats all she has. He said it was no problem and so - I get six meatballs from the same store as the bread, bring them to him, look at my watch, Ive made it with not a second to spare, but the dude just looks at me with those bags under his eyes and is like: sorry, man, those tricks dont work on me."

"Ha, like I told you, he was bullshitting you the whole time."

"And thats what I tell him. Why would I lie, man, I really gotem from that chick. And he was like: Ive made so many of these princesses before and theres one thing I know - if youd really gone to see your girl about the ground beef, you definitely would have brought her back here. So I try to bullshit him again, saying the girl was at work in the morning, that her office was super far away, that she had to walk her dog first, but he was like: Sorry, your times up, theres no way to make the princess now..."

"Thats not true," she interrupts him.


"Ive got ground beef in the fridge." Her voice is once again warm. "It can happen."


The recipe for real princesses: Spread a thin layer of ground beef on two slices of bread. Generously grate cheese over them. Turn on the toaster oven and put the bread inside. While waiting for them to be ready, go into the other room for a coffee, you have so much to say to each other. You dont drink your coffee or talk.

While youre together, your princesses burn.




1. While building the Youth Center in the city of Vratsa, the construction workers discovered a Thracian grave where some young girl was buried, which more or less coincided with the moment when the local food industry was unveiling a new item consisting of a slice of bread smeared with half a raw meatball. Since there was already a "Vratsa" snack, they decided to name this new sandwich with ground beef in honor of the great discovery and thus at the end of the 1960s, the "Thracian Princess" was born - although the first half of her name was soon chewed up by hungry snackers impatient to place their orders. [back]



Allexander Shpatov
E-magazine LiterNet, 20.05.2015, 5 (186)