SHORT STORIES

(Рассказы из сборника «Здравствуй, муха!».  Перевод Е.П.Валентиновой)

You Hear…

‘You know, Gena writes poetry…’

I didn’t know that. Gena is a thick-set fair-haired man of about forty. He studied to become a physicist, never graduated, and now works as a lab assistant in some research institute. He always has a plump brief-case about, even when visiting friends.

‘Could it be poems that are inside?’

‘Might well be poems. He has been writing for many years – and never published a thing.’

‘They won’t have him?’

‘He won’t try, he just keeps writing, and that’s it. From time to time he gives a friend a collection as a birthday present– and is quite content with that.’

‘Wish you could get hold of a copy for me…’

‘I think I have one about… here it is.’

I took the little book bound in leather with a silk ribbon for the book-mark. He binds them himself… I opened the book, the first poem began – “…a Hellenic youth…”, he was doing something with a paddle, can’t remember exactly what… The second… “…a beautiful Amazon maid…” But oh no, it can’t be. The third – “…how beautiful evening roses are…”

I shut the little book. I was stunned. I had imagined a graphomaniac writer as something quite different. He has been creating his pieces for so many years – and he never talks about it, doesn’t push on to carve his way to notoriety, doesn’t frequent publishing houses with this case of his. Unconcerned he writes on an on. Doing what he needs to do – and that’s that… When we start – we just need it, we don’t hope for anything. It is not work yet, but pure joy. Then it becomes one’s trade – and doubts and torments commence… and imprecations – I’ve got stuck with my drawing, I’ve got stuck with my writing…

My friend laughs:

‘Why aren’t you reading, you’ve asked for it. A natural graphomaniac, yes… But what a fine fellow for all that – a truly pure soul…’

‘Have you read it through?’

‘I must confess I’ve never made it to the end.’

‘Let’s try the end…’

I opened the last page — and read:

— YOU HEAR…

You hear a leaf drop in the autumn woods

You hear a twig screech sliding against the window pane

You hear a sparrow have a bath in the sultry heat, beating his wings in the dust

You hear a hawk fly in the sky slowly vanishing in the distance

You hear the old cat sleep, breathing heavily, noisily

You hear a cockroach run over rough paper with his little legs going tap-tap-tap

But you never hear time crawl, or run, or fly

But you never hear death approach, rest his hand on the back of your chair

Shift his feet, have a look over your shoulder…

I Am Not Goga

I was lying in the dark. Suddenly there was loud knocking at the door. I am not in – there aren’t any lights on, are there? I won’t answer any doors – I owe nobody nothing. I never invited a soul. Who might be that one out there?.. And that one starts knocking once again, authoritatively and loudly. Does it mean he has some right to do so?… He believes he is to enter. But I don’t want him to!… Now I’ll go to the door and tell him – get out of here, I don’t want you here. And he will say… No, I won’t get up, won’t go to the door.

But something has already slipped away, got broken. I thought I had disappeared in that darkness, inside the blanket, like inside a cocoon, and would lie quietly till I became somebody different, till I felt like untangling my feet from out of bondage… Waking up is similar to getting born, it also requires time… And he is knocking once again. He is knocking in such a manner as if he know I am hiding inside. I am still in bed, but now I am lying stretched out and tense – the blanket is no more my best friend, no more a comrade of mine. Mister, what do you want from me? I don’t owe anybody anything today. I won’t turn the lights on. I don’t place my expectations on his decency, but he may run out of patience. Could it be that somebody wants me – that desperately?… Too bad for that somebody. His knocking sounds like that of an official while acting in line of duty… A bit late for any lines of duty, let him make himself scares. But I have lost it all, I am lying in my bed angry, suffering this effrontery. Well, go on, start breaking the door, at least it will clear up the question what these goings-on might be about.

And suddenly there is silence… Has he gone, or what?.. Noiselessly my feet dive inside the slippers, I get up, and tip-toe to the door. No, I hear him breathe, he is still standing there, tiny specks of sand are getting crunched under the soles of his shoes – he is shifting from one foot to the other… Let him go away. As if having got my meaning, he is starting downstairs, has made some distance, stopped, is freezing into immobility… no, he is going upstairs again… How strange – with the passage of time we expect less and less that some good may come – from a letter, a call, an unexpected visitor. We are ever preparing ourselves for troubles – but are never ready for them.

After all – come what may. I give a hollow cough, shuffle my feet some — “Who’s there?..”  — and hear joyful voice responding.

“Is that Goga? Let me in! Are you dead or what?…”

Oh dear, what bliss!

“I am not Goga! Goga lives in the apartment above.”

Scary

Since recently a neighbor of mine started pestering me, an old man in his retirement. He would stop me on the stairs, and talk my head off… His life became impossible because of cats. He says there is a conspiracy against him.

‘Look, now a black one is sitting on the stairs, he has just relieved the red one on this post, watching my door, and yesterday there was a gray one sitting here…’

‘So what,’ say I, ‘let them sit, they have affairs of their own to mind.’

‘No-o,’ he shakes his head, ‘mark: they do everything according to the regulations, they work shifts. And downstairs, at the back entrance, there is one more sitting on the garbage bin, with huge mug, with one single eye – this one won’t miss a soul… Brother, this is surveillance, I will recognize it anywhere, I’ve been in the business myself.’

I see that the black one indeed is watching the door closely, when he sensed I was looking at him – he turned away leisurely, as if nothing here was of any concern to him. I looked out of the window – there was a black one with white bow-tie lying in the grass, sprawling, looking out of the narrowed eyes…

‘Maybe there is something of interest for them here?…’

‘When there is something of interest, they howl, and these are silent, you can see for yourself… They do everything according to the regulations.’

This made me think some – suppose they indeed were watching… Though it wasn’t me they were watching, so I had nothing to worry about…

And yesterday he, with his face pale, says:

‘Looks like it’s not a conspiracy… it’s something worse…’ but what it is that is worse, he doesn’t explain.

In the evening I went to take the garbage out. He peeps from behind his door, and shoves his bucket with garbage out through the narrow opening – ‘be so kind,’ says he, ‘take it out for me…’ and his hands are shaking.

‘Let’s just chase them away, we sure can chase some cats away!..’

He waves his hands:

‘Oh no, no, not that, they may resort to pressing!’

‘What pressing – what are you talking about?’

‘They would follow me in crowds and refuse to get dispersed.’

‘Damn, what are we to do then?’

‘Looks like I am done for…’ hisses he from behind his door, ‘I knew it… I knew they wouldn’t let me go just like that…’

‘That’s odd: I have read such heaps of detective stories, but never heard a thing about cats.’

He made a wry face: “you are too young, ignorant of many things, your detective stories are stuff and nonsense – out of date…”

I took the garbage to the garbage bin, turned back – and what do I see: at the entrance to our block of flats the white bowtie has been relieved by a tabby with stripes like those of a tiger, with heavy neck, with flattened nose of a professional fighter. On the stairs instead of the white shirt-front some grayish shabby jacket with one pocket bulging is hanging about. I look out of the window – at the back entrance the one-eye is getting off duty, the one-ear is getting on…

Oh my, it is scary…

A Sweep Of The Tail…

I dropped in to see a neighbor, and he had a fish tank installed. Having not a single live soul about must have seemed too drab an existence to him.

‘Why would you want these? Feed some cockroaches if you feel that lonely…’

‘No,’ says he, ‘cockroaches are low level of organization sort of creatures, they come when they choose, and they are insufferable in social intercourse – they are too haughty.’

‘And fish are not?’

‘They are beautiful. And they won’t roam, nervous and invincible, over my victuals, but will wait patiently for the feeding time — and I feed them myself.’

‘That’s a pleasure, won’t deny it … That’s all there is to it?..’

‘They are a comfort. My heart gladdens – so it is possible, it really is, at least for some live beings, to glide along and be iridescent at their leisure, and enjoy perfect bliss in the depths…’

‘Try switching off this lamp — you’ll see they know how to hustle all right.’

‘Phooey!’ he spat in disgust. ‘You are a cynic and a nihilist, you are!’

But I was just kidding, let him have his fun. What does bother me though is this – how exactly do they achieve this perfect placidity?.. Consider this fish, it is practically made of nothing, the tiny body is transparent, the spine shines through, the little stomach shows as a speck of darkness, the reddish clot in its breast is pulsing… — and the eye, it stares, big, black, velvety… Transparency, that’s where the secret lies. All the best things are transparent, and do not hide. To all intents and purposes they are see-through, yet mystery remains a mystery. There are people like that, they do the same we do, but the output is different. You can see him write, draw… and it is well known what he has been saying before, and where he has been going, and what he has seen… but he starts doing the thing, and the first line betrays him. From whence has he got it?… Mind that our time is not indulgent, all clever ideas had already been worded, hazy expanses of remote ages are exposed to our observation for thousands of years. You can’t say anything new for the life of you. Intellectuals are re-arranging their building blocks, setting them this way, then that way. My, what a waste of time… But once in a while, simply and quietly, the new word grows, like a leaf on a tree… as if some transparent fish has swum our way – and swept its tail… and that did it… Very, very quietly, without getting upset, without being spiteful, without exploring one’s inner self to the extremes of ultimate despair…

Just like that – it swam our way and swept its tail, unaware of what it was doing, of how it was doing it…

‘I say, what do you feed them with?’

‘I buy bloodworms.’

And Yet…

I went out to walk my dog and at once saw that man. He was sitting on the bench at the entrance to our block of flats. It was freezing cold, but he was wearing a light rain-coat, and a cap that was pulled well down to cover the ears. All I could see was a cheek that wanted shaving, and the point of the bluish nose. He was clutching the edge of the bench with his hands, and sat leaning forward, as if he was examining something in the snow. He had nothing with him except a string-bag that was lying on the bench next to him and was already partly covered with snow that was falling slowly, in large flakes. What might he be doing here? – he is not a resident… Maybe he is unwell? But he doesn’t look it, and approaching him would be awkward. How are you to address him? – Citizen, do you need help?… Sometimes people do say that – citizen, if there is no other way to name a person. If I were a woman I might have addressed him “Man…” – people do say it nowadays. What else word one could use if it is obvious that he is not a comrade of mine? If I were younger, I could have said “Pop” to him… Why not? I myself was addressed that way in the entrance hall of my own block recently…

But is it all that important really! what word to use while addressing a person! – when the person is slowly freezing to death, being, quite possibly, unaware of the fact. Whenever I tell this story it is at this very point that somebody will invariably sneer and say “You citizen was drunk, that’s what he was”. But no he wasn’t drunk, it happens, a man may be not drunk. He is sitting thinking about something, recalling something. What am I to say to him?.. suppose he takes it as an offence… On my way back home I shall without fail come up to him, and remind him that the weather is below zero Centigrade, and he is wearing a light raincoat.

However insistently I jerked my dog – “hurry up, hurry up”, and he surely doesn’t’ like any hurry upping, no less that half an hour passed. We return home – there is nobody on that bench. Great. At the very door a woman neighbor of mine is standing, she always sees and knows everything.

“Did he go away, that person?…”

“The old man, you mean?.. He is staying at the number 5 apartment, has come from the country to visit his son. He went out to do some shopping – and forgot where he is to go back to, where he is to return. Had to do quite a bit of sitting about and recalling till he was found.”

Well, what help could I have possibly rendered him? Supposedly I would have asked him – who was he, where did he come from? And he – he had forgotten… He must have been in terrible fear. Maybe he would have been happy to hear me address him, would have grasped my hand desperately… And what could I have said to him… “I don’t know who you are…” And yet, and yet…

Might He Be A Wild One?

I opened the door and let the cat out. He hurried downstairs with tail high up. Let him have his fun while it is sunny. In autumn he comes back all wet and ruffled, yells hoarsely on the stairs – it is quite another kind of weather. And now it is just right for him… An old man who lives on the fifth floor was going down the stairs.

“Your cat?..”

I don’t like this question, how can he be mine – we share the same flat, we do, and we are, well, friends, or buddies… but how can I appropriate a somebody else’s life?.. The cat was gone, and the old man stopped and told me how he went to the other side of the river last week, he hitches his tent there and catches fish. His retirement pension is small due to him having been a countryman while earning it, it hardly suffices, so fish is a welcome addition. Well, according to him there are some cats living over there, a regular colony of cats. There are fields, ravines, and then forest that goes on for miles and miles on the other side of the river, what would cats do about there?..

“Guess some people wanted to get rid of their cats, brought one over there, another… and they bred. They came up, sat down around me – looking at the fish and licking their mouths with their tongues. I gave them all the small fish.”

The old man spotted ten or maybe twelve cats, but he thinks that they are much more numerous. Their leader is a large red cat, long haired and ferocious. In summer they won’t starve, of course, there is plenty of mice, but how are they to survive in winter?…

The old man grins:

“In winter they come to our side over the ice, and live among us, as if they were domestic cats, but actually they are as wild as they come. And when snow starts melting, they go over the breaking ice back to their side.

There is a deserted village on the other side, its name is Republic. Once several log houses were brought there, the idea was to start a commune, but in the first lean year the commune ceased to exist, only the deteriorating log houses remained. In these houses the cats live. Why not indeed?.. not bad at all.

Since then I often think about those cats. How are they faring there? — living in their Republican way, on their own – and content with it. I look at that cat of mine – might he be from over there by any chance?.. But he won’t show anything this or that way.

“Have you ever been over there?..”

He is silent, and his eyes are sparkling. Might he be a wild one? He well might be, why not?

No, I Am Sure

There are people who, whatever it may be that they are about to say, always start with the word “no”. They would actually say -“No, I agree…” If you confront them with a direct question about it, it will turn out that they themselves are totally at a loss as to what that “no” of theirs might be for, but won’t fail to immediately start once again: “No, I am sure… no, I know for certain…” There are other people who always say “yes”, they always start speaking that way, but they are of no interest. Though hidden among them exist those who will say “yes”, or “very interesting”, but for them such a “yes” is as good as a “no”. Having said it they will start on something of their own anyway, which shows they have never been interested at all really. Saying “yes” for them is only a civil habit, actually they too are saying “no”… All these no-people, both covert and overt, do not fabricate their “no” – it emerges from the depths. When two persons like that are talking, they hardly listen to each other, only just enough so as not to lose the thread of their conversation, and at every opportunity each butts in with his “no”, and the other responds with his own “no”, and that is how they talk. No, the conversation does go on, because nobody listens to that first word, but for a non-participant it sounds like – no, no, no, no… If you ask them, they themselves wouldn’t know how come it is always this way with them. Though once one of them did provide an explanation for me:

‘When I see something good – a book, or a picture, or if I hear some clever things said – the first thing I feel like doing is – to fence myself off it: “no, no, wait, I will say it myself… no, but why have I never said it myself before!..” and somewhat later – “no, it must be not like this at all, but in quite another way… no, now it is my turn to…”

No, no, no, no… That’s what these no-people are like. It would be interesting to know where that first “no” comes from, since most people tend to say promptly “yes”, or even start on bowing from the waist for good measure. And these — not even to bad things, but to the best of things these would say – no, no, no, no… All too often they ride for a fall, because the strength they can muster up suffices only for uttering that first word, but sometimes some things do come to fulfillment from this, I think. No, I am sure…

Me?…

An old man died in our block of flats. I knew him scarcely – a stocky old man, with a ruddy face. Very polite, always greeting you affably… he had a son serving somewhere away, a commissioned officer. That’s about all I know about him. This autumn he fell ill – it was his heart, by the beginning of winter he was dismissed from the hospital, but his face had been drained of live color, became pale, clay-like, with greenish tint. He used to greet me – and show interest, now he seemed to be angry. Though I believe he just had other things on his mind, his attention was riveted to that which was going on inside him, and the whole world had become remote. As they say, he had one foot not here any more, and somebody had grasped that foot of his, and was pulling and pulling… one foot is not enough – surrender the whole thing! And the old man, terrified, is straining to break free, but tries to keep up the appearances, because nobody is taking any notice of this struggle. Well, the face is sort of peculiar, as if the skin of it has already died…

And indeed henceforth everything progressed very fast: the old man disappeared – was taken away one morning and never returned. This last stretch of life stays imperceptible for the people about, unless they are kith and kin: our paths had diverged, the dying man is not with us any more… and next we see a motionless cold body, and we are told – here, everything is over… We take a look – oh, that’s the old man who has disappeared… so he returns to us in such a state?.. why, he is within a hairbreadth of ceasing to remind about himself completely… A pity, of course, but I knew him scarcely, didn’t I? — and actually he had departed from us long ago, you could see it by his face – pale, with blank eyes. Now he was being buried.

The coffin was carried out of the wide doors of the morgue, and put on two hospital stools, that were white. The coffin was dark gray, they took the lid off and I saw the old man. He was lying in it wearing a black suit, he was calm and important-looking, and his eyes at last were set at rest – they were shut, but his complexion was the same – clay-colored. Lately the harmony of his face was broken by his eyes – they were looking as if through the eye-holes of a mask – alive, it might be because of the eyes that the dead face looked like a mask, and now it was just a dead face… A couple of dozen of people assembled, and the procession began to take shape. A tall man with light brown hair falling on his forehead took the lead. He carried the big cross made of plain wood. He was followed by the man who was carrying the lid of the coffin. The head and shoulders of the man disappeared under the lid, and he walked, swaying under the weight of his burden, like a blind man – he saw only the feet of the man carrying the cross, and by them understood where he was to go. Those two were followed by the four who carried the coffin, the old man was slowly sailing forth in the air – his departure was nearing its finale. First – pain, fear and rejection, then weariness and indifference – and the sleep… The coffin was moving farther and farther off, the people who formed the procession were gradually vanishing away, a few persons were left, they loaded the coffin into the truck, and then the road became deserted again. I was walking back home and thinking – it happens in such an imperceptible way… Impossible to reconcile oneself to it. Because tomorrow is it not to be you, you, you?..

No Sign

A friend of mine has a most complicated relationship with God.

‘How can I believe if he doesn’t give me any sign…’

‘You want a miracle?..’

‘Why, no… but I would like to get something.’

Time goes by, but there is no sign, none at all.

‘Look at this twig, it is swaying, it is nodding outside the window…’

‘Wind beats the twig down, and wind lives without God, it seeks differences in atmospheric pressure.’

‘Mark the rowan tree all crimson with its berries, it is cold, it is windy, but the berries hold on…’

‘They were nipped by the frost, nothing extraordinary.’

So it goes on without any miracles, and even without anything merely extraordinary, everything is explainable, things come to be and pass away naturally.

‘If the table hopped… or flew… Or if my hat took off my head…’

The table remained motionless, but his hat, after taking its time though, – did take off, and started rolling away. He caught the hat – and said: it’s the wind. And indeed wind there was, wind was having fun being at large, and busy equalizing that atmospheric pressure… and no sign was there. Less to worry about that way, but something kept worrying at him:

‘I wish I could challenge him to a serious conversation.’

‘Who, the wind?..’

‘Why the wind… God. I am going to curse him up hill and down dale, maybe he will answer…’

He cursed and cursed – with good reason, and groundlessly, just out of despair, and got nothing in response – not a sound, no sign… Meanwhile winter unwillingly retreated, spring rushed in to take its place, everything went as it ought to, according to the schedule, with no miracles involved. Summer came, and though it was a rainy, gloomy summer, but it was summer, not immediately autumn that came to follow spring. The grasses and herbs grew up miraculously well, and covered the blackness of soil with deep green color. Then once again it was autumn, again there was wind, the rowan tree, and snow – as usual…

‘If only that snow were gone…’

And would you believe it – the snow melted away, till January the ground stood black, stood yellow, all covered with dead grass, deprived of its peace.

‘Things like this happen,’ my friend was unperturbed, ‘such had happened in the past, and will happen again, it is just that cyclone, and my prediction is that later the snow will come about again, there will be frosts, and all the rest.’

And his prediction comes true. He is both pleased and upset about it – winter is rehabilitating itself, laws of nature confirm they are constants, the causes are comprehensible, the answers are all found… but there is no sign.

‘How can I believe Him just like that, without even a hint…’

Thus he had been harassing God for many years, demanding a sign, demanding attention, begging for proofs, believing one moment, non-believing another, suffering torments himself – and at last he died, and even that he did precisely the same way all other people do it. Once again there was nothing extraordinary, no signs, no hints – just sadness. He was lying in his coffin cold, white, with a smile on his lips. I lean over him:

‘So how does it feel?… What is there beyond?… You are my friend, give me some sign, please do!…’

But he wouldn’t, he is silent, he is keeping his secret. And it is autumn outside the window, it is windy there, and his favorite rowan tree is hitting its twigs against the window pane, waving its crimson clusters of berries about…

 Not That Hard To Keep In Mind

For any person there are things that he just cannot stand. Each has some peculiarity of his own, but in a certain way they all have something in common. A fellow I know cannot bear it when cottage cheese based pancakes get stuck to the frying-pan, start breaking. He at once becomes dispirited, abandons the enterprise entirely, and continues hungry. If fish gets stuck to the frying pan, he winces, but puts up with it – will do… His wife laughs at him, but she herself cannot stand a sunny-side-up fried egg to fall short of getting off the frying pan smoothly, when “the sun” goes all wrinkled – and leaks… A hideous sight. And he will laugh, scrape everything into his own plate, and eat it up with gusto – and just fail to see her point completely… Another friend of mine endures both these things bravely, but cannot bear egg in clear soup, especially if crumbled. Clear soup becomes cloudy and disgusting, and the egg – a wonderful food – is degraded to nullity, some grayish mud at the bottom of the plate… He wages war upon croutons too – fishes them out immediately or even catches in flight, when his wife throws a handful into his plate. Far as I know he has won his fight for the purity of his clear soup – the croutons he rejects, and the egg he gets served separately, on a small plate, and it has to be dry all over, without slightest moisture on its surface… He eats everything without salt, except eggs. A hard-boiled egg, salted and with its surface dry! Is it that hard to keep in mind?!… A lady of my acquaintance eats only soft-boiled eggs, and always with some bread. Generally she doesn’t eat bread at all because it is fattening, but an egg without any bread?!… impossible! She loves eggs, but because of the bread cannot eat them often. The good part is that soon she will be forty, and they recommend cutting down on eggs after forty. So it will be easier for her to abstain…

One more man of my acquaintance would have tea only with candy. Candy has to be not too soft – lest it melts in the mouth too soon, and not too hard – lest it yields too little sweetness while melting, and one would have to put several at once in mouth, which would be awkward. So he settled upon two particular brands, and seeks only those. If those candies are unavailable, he would reject tea with determination of a creature rabid, and wait till the store replenish the stock… But that’s nothing! I knew a guy who just loved having some brined herring with his sweet tea – a little piece on a slice of bread. Everyday at five o’clock he would treat himself to it. And his wife found the combination of the sweet with the salted nauseous…

But what was it that I wanted to say?.. Oh, I meant to recommend a treat – take a slice of lemon and salt it with some fine salt. Do try it – you’ll see it’s delicious. Disgusting?… Much you understand.

On Sausage

I have a friend who once could talk about sausage for hours. He would stop at shop-windows and look at the sausages that were laid out inside in abundance, the cheap and the costly, the cooked and the smoked. Sometimes we treated him to some. He lived at home, with his fat and good-natured mother, the meals were nourishing, but simple, and sausage was never served as plain sausage, without bread, to be eaten to satiety. Sausage became a dream with him. He envied us – we lived in the hostel, on our scholarship money, and could buy what we fancied, to later manage on nothing whatsoever the best we could. He wanted to live like that too. Sometimes we envied him, but more often he envied us. Meanwhile he graduated, got a job, then got married, and now he has three girls. Like in the old days he never has any money to spend – everything he earns goes to cover the cost of the food, simple and nourishing. From time to time, when invited somewhere as a guest, he tastes some good sausage, and sighs – his dream remains just a dream. But at least there is hope that one day he may reach it… Much worse is the situation of another friend of mine. When a child he developed a passionate love for marzipan figurines that were displayed in the showcases of a high-priced confectionary store. Sometimes the smallest of those figurines would fall into his hands, coming as a birthday present. Marzipan disappeared, there was no marzipan to be found after the War, and his dream became absolutely unattainable. Now he is planning to go to GDR for a visit, to have a look at that marzipan that’s been the object of his adoration since childhood. That of my friends that loves sausage, says that sausage is not what it used to be, it lacks the taste that it used to have, and smells different too. So that even if one day he gets a chance to eat it to fill, it is unlikely to prove to be the thing he has been dreaming of. The one that loves marzipan hopes that everything will be exactly as he expects it to be, but even he says that the craftsmen of the old times, who knew the secret of the marzipan making, they all died, he has read about it somewhere… My mother all her life cherished the dream of having enough of some costly chocolate so as to eat it to her heart’s content. Before the War, she said, a private trader used to sell products that suffered breakage as rejects, the rejected chocolate was with nuts, and the trader sold it very cheap too, but then for some reason the selling out of rejects stopped. She died with her dream unfulfilled… I don’t like chocolate, but I have heard it is no more what it used to be. I just adore lamprey, fried, marinated, sliced, served on a small plate, with beer… I have eaten it once served exactly like this, at the seaside, it was long ago. Since then lamprey had ceased to be what it used to be, from time to time I give it a try only to satisfy myself that it is indeed so. I even made a journey to the spot where I had eaten it, to that seaside, but they don’t serve it any more there… I also used to like chocolate-glazed pastries that were sold only at one particular spot. The butter-cream filling they used was something very special…

 

The Scoundrel

A man with a little girl were walking about the zoo. I have spotted them some time ago, in front of the tiger’s cage, and now they decided to sit for a while on a bench. I was sitting on a bench too, watching the ducks, who knew the trick how, without moving either their heads or their wings at all, to glide along water like tiny motor boats – swiftly and tirelessly. I don’t know how to swim, or to fly, and they do… The girl asks – “Why don’t they fly?” She is about five years old, she is wearing a red hat and a warm jumpers. The father is about forty, he is wearing a beret, and an old jacket, he obviously doesn’t care much about clothes.

“Look what beautiful feathers they have – red.”

“Not red, crimson.”

She is right, this color is crimson. The ducks are circling about one and the same spot, they often dip their heads in, look at something underwater.

“What do they do it for?..”

“Perhaps there is some food for them there.”

It’s time for me to go home, but it is so quiet here, and some special kind of life is going on. Hiding, eh?… Well, yes, it about describes it – I am hiding. Watching the ducks, watching them swim. I wouldn’t swim, I would have flown away at once.

“But why don’t they fly?” the girl also wants to know about it.

“There is lots of food here. What for would they fly? And where to?..”

Maybe he is right, or maybe their wings are clipped, I’ve heard something to this effect. But she needn’t know it… The ducks stopped dipping, and started to swim in big circles, they are gliding among leaves that the wind is continuously driving their way. Hiding… But now it is indeed time, if you can’t fly – keep to the conventional life-style…

The girl asks:

“Dad, are you a scoundrel?..”

She had been pondering on it for quite a time, while watching the ducks – to ask or to keep silent…

“Who told you that?..”

She is thoughtfully watching the toe of her boot, dangling her foot.

The man sighs:

“Well, let’s go…”

“Will you buy me a Chebourashka?..”

“I will, I will. But where do they sell this thing?..”

“All the girls have them.”

They stood up and headed for the exit. I stayed sitting for some more time. Ducks swam to the other shore, got out of the water, and were conversing with a most important air. A scoundrel, a ne’er-do-well, a good-for-nothing. Or maybe a scoundrel is just a person who is not good at something, not fit for something?… Not fit for flying, for example. A poor fit… Then all of us are scoundrels. But enough is enough, it’s time to go, time to get to business… you scoundrel…

Talk to Me…

I am riding on a bus. The downtown is lighted, but pedestrians are few. The stores are closed, and there aren’t all that many places fit for promenading about. I am riding. The huge dark shapes… farther on the black streets become narrower, the houses – lower… I am sailing away, and my vessel is small. I used to enjoy it – that over-there-in-the-distance, that there’s-spreading-before-you feeling… Now I don’t care. Narrow is the burrow that man digs. An error is overhanging the whole of our life. Any man has supposedly lived for some purpose, hasn’t he?.. Well, any man indeed… any man is looking for justifications as usual… The street threads on, it’s winter, it’s pitch dark, the windows glow dimly – there are shadows inside, some are having a bite or a drink, some are asleep, some are bawling at their children… I am riding on. Once I used to meditate on the possible ways of getting out of the darkness… Over there, fa-a-ar off – there seems to be light!.. We rocked, something thumped under the wheels – the railway tracks… a tiny hut, a yellowish light glowing… Halt! Who’s in there? Who?.. It has already sailed off backwards, it’s darkness all about once again…  I am riding on. I used to think there are cities full of light, and bright skies… the thing is to get away from this place… No, the blackness is inside you… it’s inside you that the darkness dwells…

A man in the bus. There are two of us. An old man, and his face is yellow:

“Talk to me…”

I don’t feel like talking to him at all.

“…I am scared…”

I am also scared, but we have nothing to talk about, absolutely nothing.

“…I live with my wife… she is keen on keeping the house, she is… of nights she sleeps. I lie awake. Thinking?… no, I am being heaved on swelling waves… fear heaves me. When I die, what’s going to happen to her… It’s into the darkness that we depart… Could it possibly have been always like this? But we used to have had faith, to waft off into the light… You are young, go away from here, go awa-ay… everything is poisoned here… I want to believe that the Day of the Judgment is coming, that all and sundry will be called to account… And I fail to believe even that.”

“Well, really… that’s no way to think, old man…”

I bent over him – he was already asleep. No, no, no, the first stop the bus makes… I won’t go any farther, let me out!… Long ago vanished behind the lights of the city, voices, songs, laughter, adventures and pranks, even some small achievements, pride… There is no earth underneath. There is no justification. Please don’t!.. let it be a dream!… Bright light dazzles me, a stranger’s hand is on my shoulder, shaking me awake – “your ticket, mister!..”

Oh how wonderful!… Yes, the ticket, of course, my ticket — here it is, here… And what about the old man? His face is white… he is smiling…

“You feel wonderful, aren’t you?.. And I am scared, talk to me…”

The Assurance

A friend of mine went to see a doctor. My heart, complains he, sometimes beats like to hit the roof. Accelerates for some time, then slows down, reverts to working undetectably for that organism of mine. The doctor, a young and handsome woman, tells him – ‘Get stripped to the waist…’ So he took off his shirt, his sleeveless undershirt, stuck his chest out – quite a fine fellow still. She performed that auscultation without saying a single word, told him to get dressed, and started on filling in the case report. He sits up waiting for her verdict. She looked up, smiled: — ‘nothing to worry about, it’s just nerves, no visible changes…’ He cheered up:

‘I thought I was dying, it can’t stand this machine-gun kind of beating for long, it is sure to burst…’

‘Oh, who is talking about dying, actually I…’ says she and gives him an appraising sort of look, ‘can give you every assurance you are to live ten-fifteen years more.’

So they smiled to each other some more — and parted. He is heading for home, but for some reason he is not cheerful at all. She gives assurance for ten years, but what next?… with no assurance, a bit scary… He came to me, I try to comfort him:

‘But she did give you some assurance, didn’t she? All people get along without any assurances at all, and you were privileged to have a glimpse at the inside information.’

‘But she grants ten years only… Something must be really wrong with me.’

‘If something were really wrong with you, she wouldn’t grant you a single year.’

He is sitting before me, aged, sort of withered like, and judging by the looks of him about to collapse off that chair right now. And I begin to see – she has destroyed infinity for him, she has given him assurance for ten years, but deprived him of immortality. Never before has he believed that he is to die like everybody else… he knew he would, of course, but never believed it – was looking the other way all the time.

‘Listen, forget about it,’ say I to him, ‘go on living without assurance, don’t set any limits for yourself.’

He shakes his head:

‘Now I can’t, it sort of hit me quite out of the blue. It sank in…’

What has she done, that fool of a woman… Then I also got sick, and went to see her too. She started on the hefty volume of my case report, and way to the middle of it got quite lost. Eventually she and I sorted things out, made the prescriptions, and I say:

‘I have that fear… that I am to die soon…’

‘Oh, what are you talking about,’ laughs she, ‘I can give you every assurance that you will make ten-fifteen years more.’

I came to my friend running.

‘Cheer up, she gave every assurance for that fifteen years to me too.’

And he is laid up in bed, he is breathing with difficulty, he has quite forgotten about the assurance…

The Day Will Come

This cozy and neat museum houses collections of everything that lives and grows upon these sparse Northern lands. Stuffed  animals and birds, dried up leaves and stalks, berries and flowers… and next to them maps and photographs of localities. Everything here is dead, because it is a museum, not a zoo or a botanical garden. Only the staircase walls feature several imbedded glass containers. Inside these containers there are live fishes of various colors. Fish would feel at home anywhere, provided there is water. They swim up to the transparent wall, and study me with their bulging eyes. And I go past them, and at once forget about them.

But what is this now?.. Behind the thick glass, placed in a zink tub, in a muddy puddle, lies a small, but very serious minded, even somewhat stern looking baby crocodile, about twelve inches long. It is real: the skin below the lower jaw swells and falls — it is breathing, which means it is alive. How come it ended up in here, in the museum of the dead exhibits, excluding the thoughtless fish, alone — sitting in that dirty vessel, embedded into a wall, exposed to the observation of each and any passing by?… How can it possibly live in here? Surely the humans must be waiting for it to die, so they can stuff it and make it convenient for storage, and then, pacified and frightful no more – certain never to grow up – it will take its place in a glass cabinet, as an outlandish visitor, next to the other dead… Even this small — it is frightening, it is not something you may hold in your hands, like a lizard… it is staring with its round pale eye – and maintains silence, grasping the edge of the tub with its tiny paws, half out of the water, half in it… It is tranquil and safe? You cannot be more mistaken…

The day will come… With doleful clinking sound the glass will burst, and from behind that square window set in the wall, crushing plaster and wrenching out bricks, a huge thickly toothed snout will thrust forward, followed by the ten yards of the body, armoured with forbidding scales, covered by rust and slime. With its snout snapping, roaring, it will charge downstairs, shattering rails with its tail and knocking visitors down…

What end it will come to – it’s hard to say. Maybe it will make it to the river and plunge into the quiet, cool waters…or maybe the gathering crowds of the biped creatures will overcome it…  Also a possibility… but the day will come…

The Doggone Walk

Sometimes my neighbor calls on me, saying – now get this hound of the Baskervilles of yours – let’s go for a walk. He knows I hate walks, but a dog needs to be walked out. Behind our house there is a field, I unleash my dog. It’s raining, it’s a steady drizzle – quite a dog of a weather… My neighbor takes a walk every day, and in the evenings he jogs – to escape the second heart attack. I haven’t had the first one yet, besides, I am generally against this jogging – it’s jolty, it’s like riding in a crummy bus. He says – it is healthy, but I think it’s only likely to shake awake all your ailments, what’s so good about it? We are walking over wet grass, with whitish hoary patches – it is frosty at night.

“No, you really must start jogging, when you get used to it, you will see for yourself how good it is.”

He is an optimist. Once he was an engineer of quite a caliber, then he got sacked, arrested, his wife left him for another man. Though he was released — paid some compensation, granted a pension… even his apartment was returned to him… We are walking on, around us is nature hushed down into motionlessness, only the rain rustles, and from time to time a fragile leaf descends to the ground. The dog encounters other dogs, conflicts develop, but I don’t interfere. There is nothing worse than unresolved conflicts. My neighbor nods in agreement – “unresolved ones are real headaches…” The path leads to the river.

“I won’t go any further, it’s slippery here, it’s beastly cold, and it’s raining cats and dogs.”

“Why, you don’t understand the first thing about having a walk.”

“Let the dog do all the walking, it’s the dog who needs it.”

We are going back. My neighbor is silent, he is concerned with his breathing, is counting his heartbeats. The dog is falling behind – it is counting bushes, marking them, renaming strange marks… My neighbor stops, makes several squats in way of warming up, breathes deeply – inhaling, exhaling.

“No, you must jog with me at least once.”

He is vexing me – “What for?..”

He is silent, then suggests hesitatingly:

“Well, you will live longer…”

“Why would I need to live longer?”

He is silent, than confesses:

“To die is scary…”

“You mean – it is painful?”

“No, just scary… and unpleasant – they will pity you, shake their heads…”

I agree with that – “well, you are right here, but to jolt oneself every evening just because of that?…”

He shrugs his shoulders – “Well, as you please…”

I put my dog on the leash. The walk is over.

The Errors Of Your Life Or Odd Attractions

Know thyself and follow thy nature – that is what the sages advise, but, as one guy I know puts it, it’s not all that simple. There are, inherent to our nature, some strange attachments, that might be the legacy of the times bygone, when humans were free animals, if they ever were that, and could follow their free instincts. First we deceive ourselves, force upon ourselves some ideals of beauty and good behaviour, and allow others force such upon us — that too, of course — and then our own attachments start crawling out… Encounters with these attachments might become the cause of considerable distress, certainly of some bafflement, comparable to the bafflement of, for example, an arm-chair naturalist who had been specializing in tigers all his life, and who suddenly found one specimen in his own lawn, two yards away from himself. That would have been a mighty interesting encounter, both would be surprised, though the naturalist’s surprise would be greater, because he had had some preconceptions … I do not mean it as a joke, these are things renowned for brining human lives to ruin. Thus an acquaintance of mine, a genteel and delicate man, one day realized, to his greatest horror, that he was attracted to women of the type of Masha the barmaid, who served the Institute snack-bar, a woman of very corpulent habit with loud voice. He began to seek this Masha out, and once actually saw her home from work, and several times waited below her windows, while Masha was having a drop of hard liquor with a friend of hers, Mitia the chauffer, and they looked out of the window, and laughed at the miserable weakling. Mitia would not even deign to beating our friend up, he just said: “Look who we have here meddling in, eh?”… After Masha there were some other romantic crushes, all of which resulted in nothing. Genteel and refined women didn’t attract him, though he enjoyed talking to them. What is to happen to him, I don’t know. Whether he will be able to overcome himself and act reasonably, or is he finally to find his Masha…

A woman I know, an urbane female of about thirty something adores young lads of oriental stock, and they wouldn’t even look her way. Though she did have an affair with one, but he proved to be an idiot and a scoundrel almost at once, and disappeared, having taken an expensive ring and a bracelet with him. She is gradually advancing in age, but stays true to that attraction of hers… A friend of mine once confessed to me that he had to part with a charming woman, that was clever and a Doctor of Science too, only because of her legs that were thin and not very well-shaped, and somewhat hairy too. He liked everything about her – her personality, the way she walked, her breasts, and her thighs… not to mention that she loved him, and he wanted to love her, but the legs – they decided the matter. Now he is married to a woman with a shapely figure, with wonderful legs, full calves, slim ankles, smooth and tender skin… but she is a perfect bitch, and nags at him day and night, and he cannot live without her, and he is in anguish, and he is deliriously happy, and what it will result in – I don’t know…

One other woman of our common acquaintance is terribly keen on manly blond men with faces of the Vikings of the old times. The first Viking left her for another woman. The second one was a perfect replica of the first one and simply deceived her – said he was not married when actually he was, and kept pulling wool over her eyes for quite a time; at last she parted with him – and immediately came upon the third one, who was even more manly. He turned out to be a miserable character, a petty tyrant, vain and touchy – and they parted in a year… One yet other woman told me that she could fall in love with a man instantly if he knew how to speak cleverly and beautifully. And indeed all her affairs were with men who were incredibly interesting, they all knew how to make beautiful and engaging speeches – one was a member of the Writers’ Union, another was a nobody, but spoke wonderfully well, the third one made speeches that were the best of all, but turned out to be a drug-addict, and a dubious character, and, possibly, didn’t need women at all… All these things were painfully obvious at first sight, but she wasn’t looking, she was listening… There are men who like slim women and high melodic voices, and there are others who grow instantly tense when they see short full legs and hear some low hoarse voice… If they are capable of retaining their ability of reason, they just suffer some slight shock, restrain themselves and only follow the object of their attraction with their eyes, but it is not always that it works out like this, oh no… One venerable woman confessed that her legs give way under her when she sees country lads, thickly set, with strong short legs. And she loves her husband… so what?… Nature plays with us, well, not the way it used to do, but at times it reminds about itself, and then we are obliged to realize that our situation is not at all comfortable, that it resembles sitting on the top of a geyser that is to erupt any moment… That’s knowing thyself for you…

The Mongolian Fiend

At dusk time, on the high porch of the pharmacy, somebody touched my shoulder. “Does your dog bite?” A short man of about forty, high cheekbones, hair cut en brosse. “May I seek your advice?” We stepped away from the entrance door.

“My neighbor, Voldermar, the pharmacist — it’s in here that he works, he is now my enemy. I have a smallish thing of a dog, that big,” he lowered his hand to his knees to show, “it bit him once, well, slightly… and he, that devilish man, made a trip to Mongolia, with an express purpose, and brought back an unheard of kind of dog from there, a Mongolian wonder. That beast of a dog weighs two hundredweight, it stands that high at the shoulder!” he raised his hand to his breast, “…and the paws!… the mouth!… Dear God… it’s something outside your wildest dreams. Leonov the cosmonaut owns another dog like this, and nobody else. Our gardening plots are side by side, the patches for potatoes and things, well, you know, and his dog naturally, mauled mine, not to death, but very badly. And that’s only the beginning… Now I am trying to figure out – what dog am I to acquire that it wins over Voldemar’s fiend, what would you advise?..”

I gave it some consideration.

“How about a Caucasian Shepard dog, they are very strong.”

He waved his hand scornfully.

“No, a Caucasian Shepard won’t stand a chance against this Mongolian beast.”

“Well, then, a Great Dane, or a St. Bernard.”

He pondered over it – shook his head sadly:

“No, neither will be up to it… If only I could have a wolf to bring up… They say wolves know the deadly vein, they sense it – no dog can stand against them, but they are not all that available, the wolves…”

We both were silent for some time.

“Might he not give it up eventually?…” I meant the vindictive pharmacist.

“He won’t… Voldemar is a thoughtful kind of man, he gets a thought into his head, he acts upon it, and never mind him being genteel and all that. Guess I am as good as lost…”

I began to feel sorry for him, is there indeed no way out?

“Looks like even you cannot help me any…” he sighed. I felt very awkward.

“That being the case,” he brought his face very close to mine, his eyes were shimmering mysteriously, “will you be so kind as to give me eighty kopeks?..”

But of course… — I gave it, that comfort at least I could offer him. He thanked me – and disappeared in the darkness.

And I went home through the dark autumn park, picturing in my mind Voldemar the poisonous pharmacist, with a snake-like small head, with constantly moving leech like lips… and his mysterious dog… with a lion like mane… legs like logs!.. the mouth – o-o-oh! — and with his narrow Mongolian eyes half-closed.

But What I Can

While traveling in time misfires occur, and the traveler meets himself. Reportedly some considerable trouble might ensue from it, but I don’t believe it does. Nothing bad would happen, and nothing good either – nothing at all would come from it, and that’s that… I am walking along – I am forty – and I meet myself at twenty years of age.

“Look, why are you dragging your girl-friend off like that, why won’t you let her gaze at the shop-windows?”

“Gazing at shop-windows is bourgeois!”

“Then pick some other girl, you won’t be able to keep this one about anyway.”

You fool, what a pointless thing to say – I used to like that girl. I used to hope she would understand –  it is science that is of the utmost importance. Wish I had kept my mouth shut… He is looking at me — before him is a gray-haired, shabbily dressed man, with his head almost completely bold.

“Look at this, and I am only beginning to grow bold.”

“It will gain speed in the process, by the age of thirty you will be completely bold.”

One more blunder! Why spoil the day for the lad?

“Listen, don’t you ever feel like drawing a picture?”

He looks at me as if I were a raving lunatic:

“I have absolutely no aptitude for it. And I like science.”

“Suppose you give it a try – draw a couple of pictures maybe…”

“No, it is out of the question.”

“Do you like science, or do you want to become a scientist?…”

What a queer question. He fails to get my meaning. An ambitious lad – he wants something interesting as an occupation, and he wants to become quite a personality, but as for the matter at hand… Matter is always smaller than the man.

“I want to understand the Causes of Life, and they are in chemistry.” I am looking at him. What would he do with painting?… Let it be science. It was a mistake to tackle this age. You have nothing to tell him. You can neither urge, nor warn him…

“And what have you achieved in science?”

“I have written my thesis, about three scores of articles, a book…”

“Wow, that’s great…” he is satisfied, and takes his leave, dragging along the girl whom I cannot look at without feeling embarrassed. No, you have got into the wrong time. Nothing will make this crocodile of a youngster turn from the path he walks, let him work it out by himself… I move the lever – and there is now before me a boy wearing a raincoat and a cap, he is having a walk along the seashore. An old man stops him, shows him a photograph. He is surprised:

“Oh, that’s me. And who might be you, sir?”

He doesn’t recognize me.

“What do you want to make in life?..”

He maintains silence, he wouldn’t admit it even to himself. But me, I do know that he wants to become “a great genius of humanity”.

“What occupation do you want for yourself?..”

“If I could I would become a great writer… or painter.”

“Listen, I am from the future. You have to start right now – to write and to draw. I can’t vouch for your turning up a genius, but you will make something.”

He is silent, picking the sand with the toe of his boot. Stubborn. And he doesn’t believe me. Or maybe he doesn’t want to make just “something”?… Well, what the hell, where am I to go, I can’t start with the maternity ward, can I?… Now I know where to go. I turn that lever – and I am in a shaded room. A man is lying on a camp-bed. He is thirty two. He has been failing with everything of late, floundering and backsliding — can it be due to a sudden lack of interest?..

I lean over him:

“Yes, it is the lack of interest, it’s time to admit it, and start on something different.”

“No, it’s only the fatigue. I will think of something yet.”

But I do know – he will think of nothing, and is to stay racked with it for five more years. And he won’t even listen to me… I’ll have to disappear. I depart from the past – not a single meeting worked out. No boon gained, no harm done. I return to my place, and I see – something is stirring in the corner. A senile old man, he is muttering something, he is warning me…

“Oh, stop that, what can I do? I am doing what I can. But what I can.”

What It Is To Come To…

There are many children in our apartment house, but only one girl is kind. Other kids, with the exception of one, are not unkind either, but there are no other kind ones. She is generally believed to be a sort of a fool, and is a subject to mockery. There is little kindness in her environment, and I watch over with my heart faulting – what is to befall her?.. She resembles her mother – she has the same wide peasant face and widely set somewhat slanting eyes, but her mother’s face is uncouth and unkind. Is the daughter destined to become like her with time? Her voice has already become coarser, her eyes do not look as trustful and candid as before… She is growing embittered, because there are other people around her – they are deficient in compassion. And yet she is not like the others…

I began to ponder – what might be the heart of this matter, why kindness is such a rare thing. Kindness has two sides – attention and compassion. You can teach a child to be attentive, if you say to the child — “look – the cat is in pain, you know how it feels…” The output is attentive politeness, a nice habit of a well brought up person – don’t do unto others what you don’t want to get done upon yourself. And, maybe, some compassion – it is enough to imagine oneself in the similar situation… But there will be no real compassion. You have to be born with it. It stems from the ability to imagine, to envision what another feels, while simultaneously experiencing the same feeling too. All people have some rudimentary imagination, but with some these rudiments are stronger than with the others. A person like this not only imagines pain of another, but feels it bodily – that’s different… Sometimes it happens so that imagination is there, but attentiveness to the surrounding world is lacking. Such people are permanently looped upon their own experiences, and cannot become kind either. But if they manage to express their pain in some manner – by making a drawing or by writing about it, they turn out real artists and writers. The drawing or the word allow them to escape from within themselves, and then things that they think or do become interesting for others, if, of course, they are deep people. They are granted a sort of happiness quite their own, but their life is tragic, because they are visible to all, and each and everyone believes them to belong to each and everyone, and they are staying within themselves… And yet I wouldn’t call them kind, that’s something different. But this girl – she is kind…

Where Am I To Go…

Something started to ache inside my belly – it was a persistent and dull pain. Somewhere very deep inside, and shooting up my back. I never thought the belly was that deep, going in to the very spine. I used to have no belly at all – it used to be just a part of my body that did the bending over, if I needed to bring my breast close to my legs. I could have bet there was nothing there except the muscle that curls the body up into a ball. And, of course, there was the spine, but the spine is not belly actually, but belongs to the back – it is in the back, a springy rod that the body is pierced by and carried on, not unlike meat on a skewer. Not a very good comparison, though, I think, a man-eater would have enjoyed it. And I enjoy nothing  – because I am having a belly now. When you have many possessions – you are at a loss where to look. I thought – it would pass away, there had never been anything like this before, so there should be nothing like this in the future. But it grew only stronger, it is gnawing at me like that fox was at that Spartan… Ignore it –  its feelings hurt, it will shut up. Or go to sleep – you will wake up a new man, and forget about all of it… I go to sleep, I wake up, but it is still about. I wish I could shed my belly like the crab sheds a hurt leg – and takes to its heels. Or have it turned out – pull the evasion trick, like the starfish does, and abort it… I walk about peering inside myself, expecting some new troubles. And my thoughts now never soar in the air before me the way they used to do; they have moved inside my belly, are registered as having a new address, as our people like to put it… Why not really?.. so they are dwelling in there now…

I come to a friend, he says: “I’ve been having this belly of mine for quite a time now. You try this: don’t give it any grub, and hope it croaks. Take water and nothing else.”

I stopped eating – and my belly piped down, turned lying low in wait of something. I went to sleep, woke up – no belly present. Had a bit of grub – it started to ache, though less, in subdued mode… Then it abated some more, then even more so – yet it stayed about…

Now I know – there are many things inside it, and some very complicate goings-on are at full swing there, and any moment any of the things inside may fail. It’s by some miracle that everything goes on working, by sheer miracle. Everything is a-boiling, a-turning, a-digesting, a-moving in there, everything is making decisions for itself and by itself, and where do I come in?.. Nobody asks me anything, they do as they like. It’s maddening, I have no rights at all, I cannot stop it, I cannot fix it, I don’t see a thing, I don’t understand a thing… I am a guest paying a visit upon myself. And they all are so very busy – they may ask me to take my leave any moment. And where am I to go… where am I to go…

On the Road

A pigeon got run over. Its wing was stamped downright into the asphalt by the wheel, there was blood on its neck. It was lying on its back – fluttering, arching its back, unable to get up. It saw me – and turned still… Then suddenly it tore its wing unstuck, turned over, stood up on its feet. It was standing and tottering… Right next to it there was the distinct print of its wing in the bluish hoar-frost, like an impression fossil of an extinct bird… But the pigeon was yet alive. It tottered one more time, and headed for the bushes by the road. Walking with more and more confidence, faster and faster. It made it to the bushes, fell – and froze, instantly turning into a handful of battered feathers – with the open beak sticking out, the snow flakes falling into the beak… The dry snow mercifully covered the bird. The impression of the wing on the road faded and melted away. Only the pinkish stain persisted in showing on the surface, an embarrassment to the unconcerned white…

I was walking away and thinking – how come I am that much of a coward?.. How can I be afraid both to live, and to die…

Sometimes In December

Sometimes in December there comes a disturbance in the weather — foolish West winds swoop in, whirl around and around, themselves not sure what it might be that they want… At last they calm down – they have chased the winter off, the snow has melted, the ground is getting dry and a new autumn comes – a brown and black one, with a yellow peculiar to it. There is not a grain of sugary quality about this yellow, it is plain and dry, when thickening it runs into the taciturn gray, into the deep brown, not into the reddish-brown that comes to reign, as a live mist, over trees and bushes in spring – but into the final, stern, withdrawing irrevocably into the density and the blackness – color of the trunks and the soil. The woods stand heavy, black, the blackness disperses into smoke-like vapor and wafts up to the sky – overcast with clouds as black, and between the woods and the sky – there is a narrow glittering slit – it is air and light somewhere far away. Everything is dry, heavy and still, only the stalks of the dead grass seem to be luminescent, they stir… Autumn brown and black. It happens sometimes in December.

 

 

Автор: dmark

Я родился в Таллинне. По первой своей специальности биохимик, энзимолог, биофизик. Работал в Институте биофизики АН СССР. Живописью и графикой занимаюсь с 1975 г. Ученик московского художника Евгения Измайлова. Написал около пятисот картин, бОльшая часть рассеяна по многим частным коллекциям в России и других странах. Имел около двадцати персональных выставок. В 1986г. окончательно оставил науку. {Историю и причины своего ухода анализировал в автобиографическом исследовании "Монолог о пути".} С 1984г пишу прозу, одновременно рисую, иллюстрирую свои книги. С 1997г издаю электронный литературно-художественный альманах "Перископ" ( http://www.periscope.ru ). Писать прозу начал с коротких рассказов. Меня поддержали Венедикт Ерофеев, Андрей Битов, Татьяна Толстая, Лариса Миллер. Первая публикация в "Сельской молодежи" в 1991г. В этом же году мне удалось напечатать повесть "ЛЧК" (Любовь к черным котам) в Издательстве "Московский рабочий" ("Цех фантастов-91", под редакцией Кира Булычева). В том же году напечатана моя первая книга рассказов "Здравствуй, муха!" (Издательство "Технограф",тираж 3 000). В 1994г малым тиражом (500 экз.) вышла вторая книга рассказов "Мамзер" (ОНТИ Пущино) с моими рисунками. Я автор четырех сборников коротких рассказов, эссе, миниатюр (“Здравствуй, муха!”, 1991; “Мамзер”, 1994; “Махнуть хвостом!”, 2008; “Кукисы”, 2010), 11 повестей (“ЛЧК”, “Перебежчик”, “Ант”, “Паоло и Рем”, “Остров”, “Жасмин”, “Белый карлик”, “Предчувствие беды”, “Последний дом”, “Следы у моря”, “Немо”), романа “Vis vitalis”, автобиографического исследования “Монолог о пути”. Печатался в журналах “Нева”, "Новый мир", “Крещатик”, “Наша улица” и других. Я люблю писать небольшие вещи, очень короткие рассказы, прозу, в которой главное - звук и ритмический рисунок, скольжение по ассоциациям. Иногда они на грани "стихотворений в прозе". Грань эту я, однако, не перехожу, и стихов не пишу, меня больше привлекают скрытые ритмы прозы. Я не люблю воинствующий авангард, разнообразные "концепты" и "придумки" как в живописи, так и в литературе. В живописи я начинал как примитивист, потому что до 35 лет никогда не рисовал, потом, очень условно говоря, постепенно склонялся в сторону экспрессионизма. Мне близка московская школа живописи, интересны Сезанн, Сутин, Руо, Марке. Я мало читаю и почти не знаю современную литературу. Как бы "стильно", эффектно, "круто" ни была написана вещь, она холодна и пуста, быстро блекнет, если в ней никого не жаль. Но это не значит, что можно писать плохо, если тема "бедные люди". Я не думаю, что "человек - это звучит гордо". Я атеист, но с уважением отношусь ко всем верованиям, нужным другим. Для меня достаточно УВАЖЕНИЯ к ЖИЗНИ, ко всему живому в одинаковой степени, исключительному и хрупкому явлению в том каменном мешке, в который нас занесло. Наравне с литературой и живописью, главное мое занятие - общение с животными, в основном с бездомными. О некоторых из них рассказано в повести "Перебежчик", отмеченной на конкурсе "Тенета-98". У меня почти нет "творческих планов", я живу сегодняшним днем, кое-что знаю о завтрашнем, надеюсь на послезавтрашний. Стараюсь не браться за новое дело, пока не доведу до конца текущее ( написать и "задвинуть ящик", как говорил Бомарше). Всему лучшему, чему мне удалось научиться в жизни, я обязан нескольким людям: моей матери Зинаиде Бернштейн, моему учителю биохимии Эдуарду Мартинсону, моему учителю в науке Михаилу Волькенштейну, художникам Евгению Измайлову и Михаилу Рогинскому, моей жене Ирине. Дан Маркович .............................................................................................................. Dan Markovich was born on the 9th of October 1940, in Tallinn. For many years his occupation was research in biochemistry, the enzyme studies. Since the middle of the 1970ies he turned to painting, and by now is the author of several hundreds of paintings, and a great number of drawings. He had about 20 solo exhibitions, displaying his paintings, drawings, and photo still-lifes. He is an active web-user, and in 1997 started his “Literature and Arts Almanac Periscope”. In the 1980ies he began to write. He has four books of short stories, essays and miniature sketches (“Hello, Fly!” 1991; “Mamzer” 1994; “By the Sweep of the Tail!” 2008; “The Cookies Book” 2010), he wrote eleven short novels (“LBC”, “The Turncoat”, “Ant”, “Paolo and Rem”, “White Dwarf”, “The Island”, “Jasmine”, “The Last Home”, “Footprints on the Seashore”, “Nemo”), one novel “Vis Vitalis”, and an autobiographical study “The Monologue”. He won several literary awards. Some of his works were published by literary magazines “Novy Mir”, “Neva”, “Kreshchatyk”, “Our Street”, and others.