Extract and Giveaway: Win a copy of Swallowing Mercury @PLInst_London #PolishBooks


Wiola lives in a close-knit agricultural community. Wiola has a black cat called Blackie. Wiola's father was a deserter but now he is a taxidermist. Wiola's mother tells her that killing spiders brings on storms. Wiola must never enter the seamstress's 'secret' room. Wiola collects matchbox labels. Wiola is a good Catholic girl brought up with fables and nurtured on superstition. Wiola lives in a Poland that is both very recent and lost in time.


The Jesus Raffle

Disobeying my mother, i started sleeping with Blacky. Blacky smelled of hay and milk and had a snow white map of Africa around his neck. He would come to me in the night, lie on my duvet and start purring, kneading the covers like dough under his paws. Ever since I found him up in the attic, we lived in a strange state of symbiosis. Id carry him inside my jumper like a baby, steal cream for him from the dresser and, on Sundays, feed him chicken wings from my soup.

I spent the whole summer roaming the fields with Blacky. He showed me a different kind of geometry of the world, where boundaries are not marked by field margins overgrown with thistles and goosefoot, by cobbled roads, fences or tracks trodden by humans, but instead by light, sound and the elements. With Blacky, I learned to climb haystacks, apple and cherry trees, piles of breeze blocks; I learned to keep away from limestone pits hidden by blackberry bushes, from hornets nests, quagmires and snares set in the grain fields.
After Christmas, Blacky began to avoid me. Hed turn up at home only briefly and deposit a dead mouse on the doorstep, as if he wanted to make amends for his absence. On the first day of the winter break, he disappeared for good. I searched for him under tarpaulins and in the empty boxes where Uncle Lolek used to breed coypus and where Blacky loved sleeping all day, but he was nowhere to be found.
Uncle Lolek was my main suspect in the case of Blackys disappearance. A few months earlier, he had somehow managed to get hold of a sack of sugar which he hid in the coal shed, and thats exactly where Blacky set up his litter box. So, armed with my fathers air rifle, I ran to confront Uncle Lolek. I pointed the gun at him and ordered him to hand over Blacky immediately, since I couldnt allow my kitty to be turned into sausages and fur, like those nasty-smelling coypus. Uncle Lolek was speechless, and then he burst out laughing so hard he almost fell into the sauerkraut barrel. Grateful for being cheered up so much first thing in the morning, he offered me some sweets.

At dawn the next day, I struck up a conversation with the milkman, who had stopped his horse at the bottom of our dirt drive and was pulling milk churns up onto his cart with a big hook.
Excuse me, have you seen Blacky?
Who?’ ‘My black cat.
Bah! he spat. Thats all I need, some black mouser crossing my path today! Mind you, there was some spotty thing hanging round the bridge.
No, not a tabby cat But if you see a black one, can you please let me know?
Ah, wait, Wiolitka, Ive got something for you. He gave me a packet of vanilla cream cheese from the co-op, urged his horse forward and drove off.
I wandered around Hektary for a couple more hours, looking in drainpipes and clumps of willow bushes. Finally, I went home, chilled to the bone. My father had come back from work and was sitting on the sofa, soaking his frozen feet in warm salted water and carving a fishing float out of polyfoam. Quietly, so that he wouldnt notice me, I climbed the ladder up to the attic, buried myself in hay and tried to find some trace of Blacky: a scrap of fur, a feather, an eggshell.
What are you doing up there in this chill? my father called.
Im waiting for Blacky, Dad. Hes been missing for three days now.
Come down, or youll freeze. We can bake some potatoes in the ash pan if you want.
Im not coming down until Blacky is back.
Come on, get down. I know whats happened.
I came down the ladder so fast it felt like I was flying. I was lucky that a sack of oats had been propped up against the lowest rungs, or I would have knocked out the last of my milk teeth as I fell. I sat down in the corner by the Christmas tree, nervously crumpling dry spruce needles as I waited for the news, but my father was silent. He finished painting the last bright yellow stripe on the float, put it on top of the People’s Tribune by the stove and sat down across from me.
Well How should I say this…’

Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg is out now by Portobello Books.


I have one copy of Swallowing Mercury to giveaway.
Open to the UK and Ireland only.
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