I WAS BITTEN BY A VAMPIRE
(translated from Ukrainian)
2016 Y. Shynkarenko
Cover ‒ N. Simone
All rights reserved.
ONE STEP AWAY FROM THE TRUTH…
EUREKA IS BEING POSTPONED…
ON THE PEDESTAL…
DIALOGUE OF THE IMMORTALS…
HOW I WAS STOPPING TIME…
I WAS BITTEN BY A VAMPIRE…
I AM IN SEARCH…
LOOKING THROUGH THE PHOTOALBUM…
ON THE EDGE…
In memory of Oleksandr Vakarchuk
End of winter.
There are birds behind the window. They are looking for food on the thawed patches of the ground covered with blackened snow.
A man is sitting on a stone near the pedestrian crossing and playing an accordion. Passersby are throwing coins into peaked cap at his feet.
“Dude is playing cool,” said Hamster.
“Mightily,” said I.
“It brings out nostalgia,” said Hamster.
“Yeahhh…” said I.
“Sania, leave me some smoke,” said Hamster.
I’m passing butt-end to Hamster. His hands are shaking and face is swollen. We’ve got little hangover.
Uncle is playing really cool.
I’m looking at Hamster. Giving thanks to the Lord in my mind for giving me such a mate. I want to clasp him in my arms and kiss. I’d give my life for him without second thought!
Hamster is smiling too.
We are laughing out loud!
“Sania, what were we laughing out loud at?” asked Hamster while he was taking a jar with marinade.
“I don’t know… At ourselves, I guess,” said I.
Hamster is drinking the liquid greedily. He wipes his lips with a hand and then asks:
“Have you got some copper coins, Sania?”
“What do you need those for?” I guessed what Hamster was getting at.
“Dude is playing cool…”
“How can you, fool! We have nothing to take a pick-me-up for; we cut down on the cigarettes…” said I.
Hamster is laughing.
I look at him and smile, too.
We are laughing out loud!
“These are wrong bees,” said Hamster laughing. “They bring wrong honey!”
“Yeahhhh… Good cross, but not mine,” assented to my friend’s words.
And uncle keeps playing. Copper coins are falling into his peaked cap, but he’ll get not a single coin from us today…
…Here, my friend, I fulfilled my promise. Truly: one should wait three years to get what’s promised! And, you know, during this time, nothing has changed essentially: you passed away suddenly, and we still die slowly. Sometimes agonizing, sometimes being happy from the thought that we lived longer than another deceased. Our friendship also dies: it’s a natural process. You look at them, they seem the same guys, but they are not. No, we’re gathering together, though not as often as before, trying to come up with something, but usually talking about the past. We! Lads whose age is around twenty! It is a horrible sight. And what’s interesting: all of us are being oppressed with this atmosphere, and everyone behaves as if doomed. Even Mykola, who was laughing out loud for half an hour if you showed him little finger, now turned more silent, stubborn like a donkey. Words lose their value, mostly because of our betrayal; they are doomed, like us…
Yesterday in the evening Mima came crawling, he was exhausted. He passed out on the floor. I was trying to drag him in his bed, but then quit and went to sleep. This morning he said:
“I’ve mixed reality with unreality.”
“How should I understand this?” I asked.
His answer was: “However you like”. Then he started telling about some letter he’d write without asking for permission, about little stone with help of which bulletproof glass was shattered, and that’s why it would be material evidence, about diver that someday would find that little stone…
You know it yourself; Myshko was always on his own wave, but now it turned into some phobia. All of us are sick, seems like deadly. Each of us has his own phobia, so there’s nothing to be astonished with…
It turned out to be sad epilogue… Can epilogue be happy at all?
It’s Victory Day the day after tomorrow. Everyone will come for the holiday. We will be drinking again and remembering the past. We also are going to visit you, so wait for us…
And that man still plays. Sometimes I throw him copper coins. And on your behalf, too.
Hiding from the light of a street lantern, I stand in the shadow of two-story building of the club, five steps away from the library. Bottle of wine is getting warm in my bosom, I wait for Lilia. The northern wind is blowing. It pesters me a lot. It’s five to one. Lilia should come at half past one, with the key to the library, which she promised to take from her aunt. I wait. Start marking time…
Well, I came here rather early, impatient fool. Though, how can one sit still? Yesterday already I ran into my dormitory, turned on tape recorder, set up alarm-clock (guys flocked to bar to celebrate our future departure), but my thoughts were all about Lilia and our last night. I was lying in my bed and thinking: “It’s great I bought these three candles. We should have everything as it’s written in the best romantic novel, the most sensitive melodrama.” I’m shuffling those candles in my pocket now. I’m a bit worried, it’s not a joke. It’s serious. I’m grown-up already. I even figured out what to say to Lilia when she comes. I’m going to say, embracing her: “Darling, you didn’t have to expose yourself to danger and come here. I’m not worth it. God forbid, someone sees us. I don’t care, but you… I was standing here and begged the Lord to keep you from coming… I’m afraid for you, because I love you dearly!”
And if she doesn’t come, I’ll drink the bottle of wine and go back. Hurt, of course. Maybe even thinking: “Slut didn’t come! I walked here God knows from where, was freezing for three hours, and this jade is sleeping under warm blanket and isn’t turning a hair.”
Suddenly I felt as if heavy current strike hit me. I saw picture of me and Lilia kissing in the library. It was so clear… Three candles are burning. Two glasses and unfinished bottle of wine are standing on the table. We are surrounded by books only, a sea of books. Somewhere up there are the volumes written by my favourite Joanne Johnson. What a scene for her novel!
I clenched my fists. That’s awesome! It’s a sign from above, no doubts! I once had this prophetic dream, I just forgot it, and now, in conditions close to real, I remembered. I almost jumped for joy. I glanced at my watch. Lilia should be here any minute…
Really?! Yes, it’s her! I almost shout:
“Lilia, you came!”
Lilia speaks in agitated tone:
“Quiet, Sasha, don’t scream.”
I squeeze Lilia in my arms. I kiss her lips, cheek, forehead and ear. I kiss her fragrant hair. I say:
“Open the door faster…”
Lilia frees herself from my embrace. She holds a pause. And then says:
“I haven’t taken the key.”
Now I’m silent. It took some time for me to grab the meaning of her words. Lilia is looking at me with her wide-open eyes. Her look is trusting. She asks sincerely:
“Sasha, what do you need me for?”
I’m in denial:
“It can’t be happening! I’ve just seen a sign. Your answer contradicts to all the principles… It means we should break the door!”
I make a step towards the library. Lilia pulls me back.
“Are you out of your mind?! Don’t do it, Sasha,” she says.
I don’t resist. I feel myself awful. As if I was cheated and lost 100 bucks. I say:
“And I bought a bottle of wine, your favourite “Isabella”.
“Are you serious?”
“Couldn’t be more serious.”
“But I was joking.”
“And I was asking guys to borrow me one hryvnia each.”
Lilia clings to me, kisses, puts her head on my chest. We’re standing still for some time in silence. Only our heartbeats can be heard.
I’m thinking: “All is lost. I give up. I’m a looser.” I want some wine.
“What did you want to tell me?”
“So are we going to stand here like this?”
Lilia is taking me around the corner of the building. We’re climbing wide iron stairs up, stop on the staircase before second floor. It’s cosy here. Lilia takes out and is trying to spread some piece of cloth to sit on it. I take off my jacket.
“You will get cold.”
“No, I won’t. I have you and this bottle of wine.”
I put the jacket on the staircase.
“I won’t sit on it. It’ll become dirty.”
“What a small-minded person you are.”
I take the bottle out. I’m trying to open it with my teeth.
“You won’t open it like this. You’ll only break your teeth.”
I’m trying to pull the cork out.
“Stop it, Sasha. It hurts me to look at you.”
Finally, bottleneck is free. I make myself comfortable sitting on the jacket. Hold out my hand to Lilia. She sits down next to me. I offer her the bottle and say:
“You start it.”
“I don’t drink from a bottle,” she answered smiling. “Frankly speaking, I don’t want to drink, honestly, Sasha.”
“Go on, drink. Why are you showing off?!”
“I told you: I don’t want to.”
“Then whom I was buying it for?”
“Thank you, Sasha, but I won’t…”
“Please, Lilia, at least little bit,” I pleaded.
Lilia swallows once and passes me the bottle. I drink minimum 200 grams. Then light a cigarette.
“Well, what did you want to tell me?
“Don’t pressure me.”
It feels good from that wine I’ve just had. I wrap my arms around Lilia and say:
“I adore you, Lilia!”
I kiss her forehead.
Entrance door is being slammed downstairs. Lilia steps away from me.
“Don’t, Sasha,” she says.
“Why?” I say.
“Because,” she answers.
What can I do? I take the bottle with wine.
“Want some?” I ask Lilia.
She twists her head in denial. I drink. The wine is good.
Frozen branches of the tree are scratching hand-rails of the stairs.
“I’m going tomorrow… Actually, it’s today already.”
I can hear Lilia’s nervous laugh. She makes some uncertain gesture. I thought it’ll be easier after I tell her this, but it turned out opposite way, even worse.
“I, myself, found out only yesterday,” I say.
“So what’s next?” asks Lilia.
Pause. Lilia lifts her head up and, it seems, looks at the sky. I also glance at it frowningly. Not a single star can be seen, not a single light patch.
“Pass me the bottle.”
“What if your husband smells it in the morning?” I blurt it out without thinking.
Lilia is drinking. And I’m already drunk. Quite tipsy from what I had. I say:
“Lilia, I was always honest with you. I told you, I’m not going to live with my parents. At first I thought of ranting a flat, I have enough money for the beginning, but the thing is… I’m not the one to explain it to you. Family it’s a very serious thing. And a child, too… Don’t think anything bad, I will love Marichka as my own… but…
“Don’t… Say nothing more,” says Lilia.
I say, almost hitting myself in chest:
“I swear, Lilia, I will take you with me in six months. I’m going to take care of everything during this time, I will find…
“Sashko, will you finally shut up!? Or else I will get upset with you.”
I turn silent.
“What time is it already?”
“It’s twenty to three,” I answer.
“Well, let’s go apart then?”
She gets up. So do I. I wear my jacket back on.
“Turn around; I’ll clean your jacket.”
She cleans my jacket. We’re going downstairs. A cock crows somewhere.
“So?” somewhat too cheerfully starts Lilia. “Farewell, Sasha. May God send at least to you that other half to be happy with.”
Lilia kisses me, then turns around and goes. I stand as if I’m dug in. I shout after her:
“I need no other halves. I love you, and only you, do you hear me?! I will always love you…”
Northern wind brings Lilia’s sobs to my ears. I’m crumbling the candles in my pocket. I’m also crying…
ONE STEP AWAY FROM THE TRUTH
I killed a hen today. I did it in a cruel way. We wanted to barter it for one litre of vodka. But Verka, who usually takes hens from Hamster, said there’s no vodka. She said she’s going to make it the following day. Hamster felt puzzled. Where should we take the vodka? What should we do with the hen? Then we came across Yurko. We ran to him and said:
“Help us out, Yuras’!”
He resisted for quite long time, but eventually agreed to take one litre of vodka. Hamster smirked. We got it! But what should we do with the hen? Nobody wanted to mess with it. So I said:
“Man, what did you drag it for all the way from home? To take it back? No way!”
I took it by its legs and then took an axe. The axe was as blunt as a felt boot. The hen was flapping its wings and twitching. I hit it twice but didn’t cut the head off. So I left it half-dead in the small basin.
There’s no gas stove at Yurko’s place, so we had to start a bonfire to scald the hen. So that it’d be better to pluck it. Hamster took a pick-me-up and ran outside more often. It appeared he’s hungry.
“Saniok, let’s pluck it already,” he said.
“Let’s do it. I’m hungry, too,” said I.
We’re plucking it. I was breaking its neck for the third time already and it’s still twitching.
This way and the other we plucked the feathers. I took scissors. The knife’s nowhere to be found. I cut its belly open. I was taking gullet out, then heart and liver. Then drawing the trunk to pieces: two wings, two legs, brisket, neck, tail. I was cutting and breaking. Hamster was impatient: he drank a shot, smelled the leg, then sprinkled some salt on it and started to eat.
“Saniok, here, try some, this thing’s got cool taste,” he said.
I tried. It’s edible, even tasty at some point. Only Yurko turned up his nose at it.
“What are you, cannibals, to glut the raw meat?!” he said.
“If you don’t want to eat it raw, go boil it yourself,” answered Hamster.
Yurko is lazy, so reluctantly, with a sour expression on his face he reached out for the chicken brisket. He sprinkled it with salt thoroughly. Then he chewed the meat same long and thoroughly – gourmet. Hamster said that he had heard somewhere that eating raw meat is useful. I supported him by saying that all vitamins are supposed to be saved; otherwise, most part of those would boil away. Only Yurko’s unhappy. He did not like the content of our jabbering.
Vodka was finished very fast; we still had half of the chicken.
“Let’s think, where to take more?” said Hamster.
We’re sitting and thinking. Yurko claimed that there’s no other idea in the whole world to unite so closely completely different people like the problem of where to get vodka.
“State of distraction is an incredibly cool thing and staying sober, in our case, means all the accusations would be pinned upon us,” said Yurko.
“Enough of pointless blether,” said Hamster, – “Sania, go to Grechanyha’s.”
“I owe her seven hryvnias.” I answered.
“What about the Rudyks?”
“I owe three hryvnias there.”
“Too bad… Yurkesh, figure out something too.”
“All I do is thinking. I can’t fit the hat on my head already. It’s a new, good hat, did you see? I’ve just bought it at the market.”
Suddenly Tolian came in with his dog. He put a bottle on the table. Took chicken wing and said:
“Guys, there’s a bargain to wet.”
“What kind of?!” we asked almost in one voice.
“You should borrow a plastic tub from one chap. I give you three litres of vodka and twenty hryvnias right away.”
We’re asking Tolyk about the details of the operation. We’re totally enchanted with a jar and twenty hryvnias. Only Yurko wasn’t happy. Stealing is a crime. He tried to keep at least some kind of rightness in our midst.
Tolyk’s bottle’s finished and forgotten.
“So, are we going?” asked Tolyk.
“Of course,” said Hamster and me. Only Yurko had no wish to go. But we’re more convincing. We had arguments made of concrete. He understood, and therefore agreed to keep a look out.
So we went.
The tub was under a cherry tree. It belonged to the people we have no respect for. They are summer residents. We confiscated the tub fast and impudently, almost like during the times of collectivization. Tolian went to bring it to the person it was meant for.
Hard time of waiting: Yurko was digging his shoe toe in the ground; I clenched my fists in pockets. Hamster would live his life long and happy, I guessed.
Finally we saw Tolian coming and carrying something:
“Guys, everything’s alright.”
We’re triumphing. Even Yurko looked happier. We went back to the house. Tolian’s dog had thrown off the stone that we used to press the lid and gorged all the meat. The dog was feeling guilty and hiding in the corner. Tolyk took a fire iron and hit it on the head. Then, took its hind legs and hung it up to the ceiling, put the basin with feathers under it. His father was a good hunter. He took the penknife out and started anatomize the dog. Hamster said he had heard that either Korean or Chinese people eat dogs. It’s almost their national dish. Moreover, the people have the most ancient culture, live long, all are wise men. There was no trace of neither Platos nor Xenophons and their lands were crowded with philosophers and poets. I said that if we thought logically, then it’s more immoral to eat pigs than dogs, because those are alike humans with their inner build. I asked Hamster not to belittle the meaning of European culture. I reminded him of Greco-Roman Empire and gift of Renaissance to the world.
“I was feeding it for three years, now it should feed me at least for a day,” said Tolian.
Yurko was the only one who stayed out of the discussion. He tried not to look at Tolyk while that one was stripping the skin off the dog and thick and dark blood trickling from dog’s mouth down to the basin. But he’s hungry and there’s no doubt he’d eat the dog meat.
It seems he even offered to roast it. I don’t remember the rest. I passed out. Vodka from our client is like fire or pure alcohol… Maybe it was pure alcohol, who can tell now?
EUREKA IS BEING POSTPONED
I took my eyes off the postcard. I was dazzled for some reason. The railway station dome appeared behind the window. Some passengers started to stand up.
“Would you help us to take off the bag, boy?” I was addressed by the lady with oriental features in her face, who sat in front of me with the baby in her arms.
In other circumstances, the word “boy” would hurt me, and I would answer something like: “I will help you, girl” or: “I’m too small, yet, to carry so heavy things”, but I said instead:
“Of course, I will help.”
“Why, thank you!” the lady smiled.
The trolleybus stopped. I got up, grabbed the trolley and stepped outside carefully.
The smells, sounds and the air became different at once. And I, myself, turned happier.
I put the bag on the sidewalk.
“Thank you, thank you,” chirped the lady with the baby from behind my back.
“You’re welcome,” I answered.
“Once again thank you very much.”
“I was happy to help.”
Granting me with her last smile the lady with the baby melted away in the crowd. I wasn’t in a hurry. I was standing and observing people. Thinking: “What does it look like?”
“Let me pass, young man…”
Second hand of my clock was running, people were walking, trolleybuses, cars, trains driven by them were going, and I was standing still. Sometimes I felt that I hooked, caught this so much desirable answer; I was ready to exclaim: “Unbelievable, everything’s so sorely familiar, native!” But there was something that didn’t let me to do this. This “something”, so far at first, slowly pressured and depressed me. It knew my weaknesses well. This mirror, at the end, clouded my sight.
“How long yet are you going to stick here?” mumbled someone discontentedly beside me.
I looked around. I was addressed by an old woman with a broomstick.
“You growl one more word in my direction, old jade, and I’ll break the broomstick on your hunchback,” I said.
The women froze eyeing me in owe. I glanced at my watch. Few minutes left to departure of my suburban electric train. I hurried in direction of the fourth platform.
I am Ukrainian. Naturally, I speak Ukrainian language. Sometimes I wear embroidered national shirt, buy mostly nationally manufactured production. I’ve read “Kobzar”!
Recently I’ve started walking with my nose turned up. I am Ukrainian! I am proud of it! One thought scares me, though: “What would happen if I was born somewhere in Antarctica or Arctic?”
While playing “Fool” with Hamster we argue ourselves hoarse on the subject who would run to military registration and enlistment office in case of war. Not even mentioning soccer and sports, (blue and yellow cloth is mine!). It’s a different topic.
“Recently” is since I’ve explored the history more thoroughly. It’s hard to describe the whole gamut of feelings I experienced, and what for? The main thing, I understood clearly: I’ve never been needed by my country so much, as I am now. Now I know that I was born to make it happier, I was born to make it better, to write more bright lines in its history. I became more serious! I began to realize what a big responsibility was put on my shoulders. What kind of honour I was granted. I’ll try not to spoil the game. I’ll try, at least. I’m trying already: I thought about helping an old lady to cross the road today, to clean my room. It didn’t work out, but I washed my plate. I’m thinking to quit eating meat and join Greenpeace. I try not to swear, not to litter the space around myself. It seems, I started to understand and the main thing, respect people! Well, I am a one!!! I guess, it’s high time to remember our ancient tradition, and seriously ask Ukrainian people to remember me, Sashko Zavoloka, someday at the table in the free, full family, not to forget to remember me with not evil, soft word!
ON THE PEDESTAL
I dived into black hole in the wall, climbed the stairs and found myself in front of the kiosk. There was no other light source, but the lantern, which was linked to the canopy. A plate hanging on a metal framework said: OPEN. I rummaged in my jacket pockets. I scraped up three hryvnias and seventy-nine kopecks. Then took lungful of air and tiptoed to the window. Black shadow moved inside. Small window was opened with female hand.
“A pack of ‘Artek’ waffles”, I breathed out extending her money.
“Peanuts or classic?” I heard the voice like from underground.
The hand disappeared and then reappeared with pastry and change.
“Would you like to try some with me?” I asked.
The light of the lantern took out of the darkness breasts, chin, lips and nose tip of night shop girl. I saw her lips making a grimace and heard her saying:
“Go home, boy.”
The small window was closed with a bang.
What a tart!
I zigzagged a bit between new buildings of the district, entered the alley, walked along it and reached the heart of the park.
The fountain was murmuring melodiously. The birds were singing noisily. The sky was turning grey. Clubs of fog were gliding above the ground majestically. Beauty! I perched myself on a pedestal of some athlete female. It was standing with some cudgel in hands, proudly looking in direction of the city centre.
I opened the pack and began to eat of waffles biting off small pieces.
I was chewing and thinking: “Wonders! Everyone’s just waking up and I’m like a cork already!”
I was chewing and reflecting: “Why on earth am I so stupid? Why do I feel so alone?”
“Do you happen to know?” I asked sports woman. “Ahhh,” I looked at the sculpture carefully, “You belong to loners coven, too. I guess, also crying sometimes? Yeah, not a gaudy lot we’ve got. Of course, the oar that you hold, might host a bird’s nest. And your shade sometimes might give a place to rest for a traveller on a hot day. Ants will scurry about your constitution… However, the time will come when the bird flies away to southern skies, the ants’ family moves to the nearest tree and the traveller, after good rest, goes his own way. Only you will be left here to stand. There’s no place you’re free to go on your own. Even if you wanted to do the opposite, it won’t work, anyway. It’s like someone put you into long-long adit. Yeah, not a gaudy lot we’ve got… Listen, let’s dance?! I invite you to dance! We’re going to dance waltz. We’ll get lost in this vortex. The birds, the fountain and the mosquitoes – all nature will accompany us. Accept. Please. What is your name? I will call you Aphrodite!”
I jumped up. The sculpture and I were the same height. Intoxicating morning air made me sway.
I wrapped my arms around Aphrodite’s plaster waist.
“Well, let’s go? And you were afraid. You waltz beautifully. You’ve got excellent time feeling. You’re wonderfully gracious. Your moves are so refined that even queen would envy you. What a wonderful elastic bust! It’s so nice to rub myself on it. Why, shouldn’t we speed up the tempo?!”
My head was awfully spinning.
The sculpture in my arms started to rock.
A bit longer and I and Aphrodite would tumble down into the bushes.
The sound of approaching steps that drummed through the waltz tune cooled me down. I raised my head from Aphrodite’s shoulder, turned around and saw a well-dressed young lady. She was walking cute white poodle with a red ribbon around its neck. I jumped off the pedestal.
“Excuse me,” I apologized.
“No problem, no problem,” she replied throwing fearful glances at me.
“You know, I play in school theatre, tomorrow is rehearsal and… I once again apologize, but one of the high heels on your shoes is about to break.”
The young lady gave no reaction to the comment. She kept walking and pretended not hearing me. I followed her.
“Lady, I’m serious.”
She speeded up her pace. So did I.
“Excuse me, it’s not my business, but one of the high heels is…”
The young lady (I didn’t expect her to be so swift!) ran away as fast as gazelle. The poodle rushed after its owner, but the leash, that was dropped so imprudently, had caught on a tree root.
“Wait… Where are you running?”
The dog was yelping lamentably strained on a leash. Its owner was crying out loud somewhere far behind the rows of fir-trees:
“Help! Fire! Fire!”
I put the waffles to inner pocket of the jacket, took the cigarettes out, and lit one of them, spit on the ground. I look at Aphrodite, it was made of plaster. I zipped the jacket and making uncertain steps walked away from this row.
Maksym left. The roar of his motorcycle didn’t reach me. I was walking along the street… The Kovals’ house, Liosha Rosianyi hadn’t returned to his house, the Rudyks’, and here’s the road turn. I stopped, lit up the cigarette. I made a few steps… and sighed with relief. I was afraid that there would be a light bulb brighter than usual on my veranda; and three to four cars would be near our yard. I was afraid to hear hammering and neighbour’s dog barking…
I came closer and was surprised: what had happened? What’s the occasion? I passed by cars and recognized uncle Myshko’s “Volga”. I entered the yard. I understood nothing: old Kotsiub and Gerzhan were nailing red cloth to something like a wooden washtub or a box for balcony flowers; all in black shawls female neighbours and relatives were scurrying between summer kitchen and the house with pans, cast-iron pots, and dippers; there’s bunch of smokers next to the well; Rex’s not barking, not straining the chain, there’s no trace of him; someone’s digging near the shed – strange!
Hamster approached me. We shook hands.
“My condolences, Saniok,” he said and hanged his head. I still had no clue.
“You don’t know, do you?” he asked in surprise and froze. I moved Hamster away with my hand, crossed the rest of the yard, veranda and hallway, stepped into the main room and stopped.
All the furniture was taken out of the room. There were only an old massive wardrobe and a table. Old women sat on the benches near both walls. Old Kudria was reading prayers from a book at the table. My grandfather in his wheelchair was sitting quietly in the corner, behind the curtain that protects the room from the insects’ invasion. He was like a mummy. Only eyes were moving. It seemed he recognized me. I shook his pale, bony hand that was lying motionless on the railing.
There’s a coffin near the window. Over it, or rather over the one who’s in it, my mother was hunched and lamented. I came closer. Mother noticed me. She threw herself on my neck. She wept and cried:
“Sashen’ka, my sonny, how did it happen? For what this misery had befallen on us?”
I looked over mother’s shoulder and saw my auntie lying in the coffin. I also cried. I felt tears rolling down my cheeks and falling behind collar of the jacket.
Someone approached us. It’s aunt Khrystia. She’s my godmother. She addressed mother quietly:
“Maria, the pots are delivered.”
“I’m coming now…”
She wiped tears with a handkerchief. She wanted to ask me something, but then changed her mind and left the room after godmother. I was left alone in the middle of the room. There’s a cloth on a mirror. I approached the coffin. Auntie looked asleep. She’s charming, as always. They did good job in the dead-house. I greeted her mentally even though could do it aloud. I wanted to tell her so many things.
I turned around heading to my room.
My room… I had not stepped over its threshold for long-long time. At first glance, everything’s in place, nothing had changed same as four months ago. I was eyed by: “МеtаllісА”, the guys’re hairy yet, Sharon Stone, “Dynamo” К ’86…
I fell on my bed.
Why the hell, my leg’s itching…
The spider’s crawling…
I got up, changed and went outside. Everyone’s busy with something. It’s just me not knowing where to put myself. I took a cigarette and lit it up. I had never smoked openly in front of the family.
I approached people in turns.
“Wow, Ol’ka grew some ass during winter!” I eyed neighbour girl and childhood friend.
“Sasha, mother said there’re tables and benches in the attic,” addressed me uncle Myshko.
“Yeah, there must be,” I answered.
“Let’s take those down.”
I climbed in the attic and passed him two tables and three benches that had been kept there, yet, since auntie’s wedding.
“No more, uncle Mish.”
“Well, then get down.”
I did so. We hastily installed tables and benches. After we had set the tablecloths, women began to bring utensils and dishes.
I went to the cellar and came back with two decanters of vodka.
I checked the watch: it was two hours past midnight.
Old women started going out of the house. Mother invited everyone to join us at the table. Old Kotsiub, Gerzhan and Hamster, that had joined them, said:
“You all go on and have dinner and we’ll eat after the job is done.”
I was going around filling in the shots with vodka for old women. Men helped themselves. All were eating in silence, the only uttered words were: “For the peace, for the peace.” And the utensils were clinging.
After dinner old women said a prayer, then got up and left to their homes. All the others followed them. There were only old Kotsiub, Gerzhan, Hamster, uncle Myshko, mother and her helpers at the table. I joined them. I drank 100 grams. We said a few things to each other. I asked Hamster not to forget to organize a crew to dig the grave in the morning. He promised to do so.
I stepped on the kitchen’s threshold.
“Ma,” I addressed mother. She took her look off the stove. She’s exhausted. She looked out-of-body. “Where’s Rex?”
“We tied him to the apple tree, behind the kitchen garden,” she answered.
“Do you need any help here?”
“No, son, we’re finishing already.”
I took food leftovers from the table and went to see Rex.
He was happy to see me, wagged his tale and whimpered.
“Jerk, why are you so happy?” I said. “Auntie has passed away.”
Rex didn’t give a damn.
I put the pot on the ground. He started eating in a rush. He gorged the food and looked at me frowningly. Shaggy and thick-headed.
The moon in the sky was the same as the other day, just looked at us from the other side. The stars were there, too.
“Ok, Rex, I’m going,” I said aloud.
Bastard, he could leave the pot and look at his master.
I passed the garden, came downhill to the small pond and undressed.
Water wasn’t so cold. The only unpleasant thing was the frogs around me.
The small pond size is 5 to 10 metres. Not much of a swim: back and forth once.
I climbed out.
Put my clothes on.
I went back.
I could see sprouts of potatoes. Whom had mother planted it with?
The bright light bulb over the veranda was on, so was the rest of the house light. No one’s in the yard or in the kitchen. Deathlike silence, even the village dogs didn’t bark. This inexplicable weird feeling… There’s nothing to compare it with.
I entered the house. There’s no one in the main room, except the coffin with the auntie’s body and butterflies circling above the lampshade. But no, I noticed mother in the corner. She sat on a stool leaning at the wall. She seemed sleeping. I came to her and put my hand on the shoulder.
“Mum, why don’t you go and lie down?”
“Yes, yes, son, yes…”
Mother walked as if in a fog. I stayed alone. I sat on the stool. I wanted to drink, but couldn’t go to the cellar. Flame of the candles started jumping. Who’s that? Nobody… I got up, took the stool and moved closer to the coffin. Auntie had pretty new dress on her. Whether she had bought it or it was given to her, I couldn’t say for sure. She hadn’t liked the dress. Auntie had worn it just once, to twirl in front of the mirror, I witnessed it. How had mother done the choice so good?
If one looked closely to the body, he’d see barely noticeable disproportion between the head and the rest of the body. I lifted up the neckerchief. The head had been stitched to the body with light, matching, nylon thread. Back in childhood, I and Olka had been pretending to be doctors. Our stitches on dolls’ bellies had been same loose and their ends couldn’t meet, too.
Ohhh. It’s hard to get used to it. Aluminium wire went all the way from her feet and out through the window. It was grounding. Uncle Myshko said it’s necessary.
There were photograph of happy auntie, icon (no idea who’s on it), massive, time-yellowed book, probably the Gospel and, of course, candles on the table. There’s one and a half metres between me and the table. I blew lightly and the candles’ flame danced.
I got up and headed to my room. I went to bed with clothes on.
I was awakened by Hamster at seven in the morning. Three more guys were waiting outside: Slavik, Khriapa and Bald. They had tools with them already. We went to the cemetery. I showed them where to dig: next to my grandmother, who’s auntie’s mother. Guys started digging and I went back.
I met old woman, she expressed her condolences. I invited her to the funeral and then realized what an imbecile I am.
The tables were delivered with the help of tractor. People started to install them around. Our yard is big.
Vasyl, a fishery supervision inspector and auntie’s classmate, brought us five fishes one meter long each.
Old Matvi’s nervous for some reason.
Old woman Varka said:
“So I woke up thinking: what should that dream mean?”
The tables were almost all over the yard. Only some space between the veranda and the gate was free.
The wreaths were being carried to: “Dear, unforgettable, darling…”
I poured one litre of vodka in a bottle, took some snack and went to the cemetery.
Guys were almost done. They had found some bones. I said it would be better to hide them somewhere.
Uncle Myshko drove in. He checked the grave hole and said:
“Sasha, let’s go to Nescheriv to buy some more water.”
So we did.
While we were loading the boot, some woman asked:
“Misha, is it true that Marichka’s gone?”
Uncle Myshko nodded.
We’re driving. The sun’s blinding and burning mercilessly.
“Who are you?” asked the preacher on the radio. “Are you moles? Are your eyes befogged? See the light! And you’ll crawl on the surface, enjoying God’s grace.”
We barely drove in the yard, because of the people and cars everywhere.
Mother had tripped somewhere at night and her knee’s swollen. I stood by her side.
People kept going and going with their condolences.
The bus from Obukhiv arrived.
Masha came over, hid her face on my shoulder and cried, saying:
“Sasha, I’m sorry. You’re so nice!”
Grysha came, passed me ten hryvnias saying:
“Here, Saniok, take it. I exchanged a bag of bottles yesterday. I know what it’s like to lose relatives.”
“Thanks, but I won’t take it.”
“If you don’t take, I’ll get upset with you!” he said. So I had no other choice. I noticed Victor shifting from one foot to the other indecisively next to Rex’s kennel. So I approached him and said:
“Vitiok, don’t be shy! There are no strangers here. Don’t be embarrassed! Those, bulls, belong in the nuthouse, not you. You’re a cool man, believe me!”
Victor squeezed me in his arms and then said with tears in his eyes:
“Thank you, Saniok. Thank you…”
Finally the priest arrived.
The coffin’s carried out. Aunt’s hardly visible under the bouquets. The coffin was put in the shade of the vineyard near summer kitchen. The sun was practically frying us. Almost everyone’s sweating all over and me, too. The handkerchief was ready to be wrung out.
There were heaps of people. Not all of them could fit in the yard. Someone climbed the tree. It seemed there were people even on the roofs of nearby houses.
The priest and the choristers were performing the funeral service.
It’s so long.
It’s very long.
It’s impossible to stand like this under the sun.
The procession moved. The wind band was playing. Many of the people were crying.
The heat’s awful. Everything looked blurry. Even dust, though kicked with hundreds of feet, didn’t go higher than knees…
The cemetery. The grave hole’s circled by people. The first speaker’s getting ready. I couldn’t stand it. I was about to faint. I forced my way through the crowd. Air!
I climbed the small hill and collapsed under the birch tree.
I felt relief, it seemed.
Some elk’s speaking:
“We will never forget bright eyes, good heart and unbreakable will of this fragile woman. The whole world has just left us…”
My attention was drawn to a man in a black hat and a black coat, standing in the crowd. God, what a freak he was! All his face’s covered with warts, and one was so big that looked like the second nose. In addition, he had ears of a wild boar. And the smell!? It surprised me that people didn’t pay attention and acted as if they don’t notice him and the way he stank.
I wanted to go and find out what had this bastard forgotten here, but they began to say farewells to the body and I heard in the crowd:
I kissed the paper band on auntie’s forehead.
Mother was crying out loud. Uncle Myshko was holding her shoulders and cried himself. There were rumours that uncle Myshko used to love auntie. As if he haunted around her door. Even wanted to hang himself, because of one-sided love. But I couldn’t believe it: uncle Myshko and hanging…
The coffin was lifted down to the grave hole. People began to throw handfuls of ground on it. Godmother asked people not to leave, but go to the funeral feast.
We’re going back devastated. Some bitch stuffed a pill in my mouth and my head felt like cast-iron pot.
There were so many people that all of them couldn’t fit in at once. So the villagers were waiting outside the yard.
When the first had finished eating they were replaced by others. They said memorized: “God rest her soul!” and “May she rest in peace!” They drank without clinking, ate, drank again, talked about the weather, about future night frosts in May, about new poison for Colorado potato beetle, about Var’ka, who had given birth to a pretty baby girl, God knows from what father… I couldn’t take it anymore to look at the drunk, chewing mugs and the sweat that was rolling on them. I went to the street and sat down on the crosspiece under the fence…
DIALOGUE OF THE IMMORTALS
“Sania, this stuff is good.
“Yes, not bad dope.”
“Wow, I dig it.”
“Yeah, I’m on a roll.”
“Armen Dzhigarkhanyan, how can I not to love you?”
“Oh, heltts bells! I dig it really good.”
“Sania, are we sitting on a tree branch for real?”
“It looks like that.”
“Well, how do you like that…”
“But how did we get here?”
“Climbed up the trunk, I guess.”
“What the hell are we doing here?”
“I don’t know.”
“We won’t fall down, will we?”
“It hurts to fall down… Are you scared, Kalian?”
“Manuscript based on Gogol…”
“I got it, Sania. We’re not on the tree branch. It’s our imagination. We’re sitting on a couch. That’s not branch cracking, those are springs squeaking. Here, look I’m jumping. Do you see vibrating spri…?”
“Are you alive there, Kalian?”
“Dead. I’m dead, Sania. And you know why? Because the imagination is dead. One minute ago, I was sitting on a couch, watching TV and thinking: where should I get strength to get up and make coffee; I also was thinking that gasket in the kitchen tap needs to be changed, about soccer in the evening… And now, totally different person is lying under the tree. I don’t know if you can feel that the chasm between dude that was sitting on the couch and one that’s lying under the tree, but the chasm is enormous. Its size equals to one death exactly. But you, Sania, don’t get upset much. Mature death has got positive side only. It doesn’t let person to stop, which means, it makes degradation process impossible. End of imagination brings new opportunities with it, chance for a new vision of the world. Completeness is a progress. That’s why people are scared stiff of everything new and unusual. Who would voluntarily leave familiar spot? There must be some reason. A full tub of water is a reason.”
“Kalian, the phone is ringing.”
“I hear it, I hear it.”
“Will you pick it up or should I pass it to you?”
“Why are you grinning? Do you think I’m a disabled or what? Better turn down the TV… Hello! Well, who else… I had dinner… cake and milk… I don’t care about that soup… Yes, I care even less about porridge as if you don’t know… I haven’t done yet… there’s no suitable gasket. I’ll go to Sashko’s place, maybe he has it… OK. See you… I won’t forget…”
“Let’s roll now, Sania.”
“Anywhere. My old dutch is going to be here soon. She’ll come in and see two Mongols in the house…”
“Two beetles from Colorado.”
“Two spiders, tarantulas.”
“Two dinosaurs, prehistoric.”
“Two ganapulski mummies.”
“Two stalls of oak-tree and set of tin-openers.”
“Two IFV trucks, a jar of squash paste and a pump.”
“Two horsehairs, colander, puck and plastic bag with mussels.”
“Two trigonometric functions, washtub with alabaster, straw, dinner and sour cream…”
HOW I WAS STOPPING TIME (from “Crowbar” tale)
I went down barely visible path that was trodden by me, deep into the ravine. Here, in a small piece of ground, among the trees, which almost did not let the sunlight in, is a water jump about ten meters long. There’s a wooden shield, lined up with rubber sheet and a lot of cigarette butts around. Here was my first try to stop time. Experienced more than one happy moment and became older. Now, I guess, I came here for the last time.
My channel grew shallow covered with amaranth, leaves, fir cones, and dry twigs. There are cracks on the rubber sheet and the boards of the shield are a bit rotten.
Although I’m used to be guided with emotions, the decision to stop time wasn’t spontaneous. Everything was different in this case. I was growing ripe, like a vegetable in a kitchen garden.
I guess, just like every child, I had only one goal-dream in my head, since birth: to become grown-up, wise, independent person. And to do that, as is generally known one should live minimum thirty long-long years. The thought of things I’ll have to go through creeps me out. Yet swaddled with cloth in maternity home, I had realized all this and already thought of a dilemma: how to make time go faster? I remember well surprised exclamation of the nurse: “Katia, look, he’s talking to somebody!” She, of course, had no idea that I declared war to time and starting waste it in cool blood.
A bit more than one year ago when I saw first wrinkles on the forehead and my face started getting colour of a ripe tomato, I concluded that my tactics: to kill, waste and try to accelerate time will lead to no good. Like this I might not live up to 30y.o. And my dream about grown-up, wise Sashko Zavoloka would just be an egg shell.
“I should stop time. Maybe it will go faster then.” I thought. But how to do that, when time isn’t physical, but an abstract thing? It’s all clear in case of an alarm-clock, but time?
At first, I also thought this idea is impossible. But later I realized, theoretically, there’s nothing impossible.
Time is water. Can you stop water? Of course! One can put dam, sluice, tap on the pipe; open the tap and the water is running, you close it and it doesn’t. There are plenty ways to stop water, even to drink it if you’re thirsty enough.” These thoughts had been in my head.
Then I found this ravine, dug out the channel, made the shield and time seemed stopped. It seemed frozen, stunned with a shield. Construction’s so primitive, but move’s not allowed… I was on cloud ninth. I revelled in this honey to my soul, was intoxicated by watching the end in the end of my channel. I ran here almost daily. Then less frequently…
I understand now that I did everything wrong way. I should’ve been ignoring it from the very beginning. I should’ve learnt not noticing it. And all I have been doing is accentuating my attention on it, made it a cornerstone, real boulder. I was way out in the left field! It’s a pity to realize that time, in this case, is Sashko Zavoloka. It’s me. Had it been possible to make a more disastrous mistake?!…
I WAS BITTEN BY A VAMPIRE
I’ve just had a moment. The minute’s unusual in its matter. I was stunned by the thought that human existence has got no visible meaning. I was sitting and thinking about my future. Not for the first time, of course, but this time all the previous thoughts, observations, experience had merged into a whole, and I saw future prospect so clearly that there’s no way this idea could not down upon me.
I laid down on a sofa: it was incredibly hard to stay in horizontal state. Albert’s walking around dimly lit room, like a ghost. He’s got tooth ache. He’s looking in between pipes, throwing the wooden boxes upside down. He’s searching for something. I tell him:
“Relax, Alik. Life has no sense at all. I know it for sure. All I have to do is figure out: to be happy about it or not. By the way, have you got any black cloth here?”
That tooth seemed got to him, Albert paid no attention.
The clock’s ticking on the shelf above my head. There’s washtub in the corner, the water from the tap’s dropping down to it. Mukhtar stopped licking my hand and was chasing fleece with his bared teeth. I try to concentrate, but there’s no strength.
“Alik, you can’t imagine. It’s unbelievable. The thought sucked all the energy out of me. I can’t think, can’t act, I barely have strength to talk,” I said.
I don’t see or hear Albert. I see light bulb in tinplate globe. I feel warmth of the pipes. I hear mouse rustling… and water, maybe even time… Yes, it’s time, wild and restless, dragging me behind. I get scared, but just for a minute, some particle of a second. For some reason, I thought I’m going to turn into a vampire. I’m calm now. I don’t give a damn. I’m like a leaf. The wind had played with me, then tore away from the branch and threw into flowing river. I’m also going with the flow.
“Alik, do you hear me?” I asked. “Albert!” I shouted with all the strength I had left.
Alik doesn’t hear me. He disappeared as if he’d never been there. Maybe it is so for real. The main thing I AM here, and I’m glad because of it. I feel cool. Praise the nothingness!
I saw Gena, he treated me with a fag. He’s tolerant; few people are like him nowadays. He’s lying drunk under the bush. A bum was lurking around him pretending he tried to wake Gena up, but poking about his pockets, actually. Perhaps, the money, if Gena had any at all, had been spent on drinks, because the searcher discovered only crumpled pack of cigarettes, which was hastily hidden in the bosom of his shirt.
I entered the school yard, stepped over the small fenced flower-bed and was going across the sports ground.
On the left goal kids were playing “minus five”. I addressed them:
“Guys, let me give a ball a cant.”
One lad passed me the ball shyly. I kicked it on the spot. The ball lay good on the foot. The kick was good. It bounced off the bar and flew up.
“What a kick!” exclaimed kid that passed me the ball in admiration.
I dusted shiny surface of the shoe and moved on.
I could see the nine-storey building I needed to pass by already.
I climbed through the hall in the fence.
A young woman and an old man with a stick were sitting on a bench by the sandbox. A toddler was standing on a slide holding the rails. Deep in the yard men were playing dominoes at the table.
I was walking.
I didn’t see how the baby got in between the slide and its rails. But that’s where I saw one when I looked up. A moment later the baby was hanging upside down.
There were no cries or attempts to break free, the baby’s too small, just hanging. Ones arms were dangling and head moved timidly… I slowed down. I had seen looks like this already. Once I had been looking like this myself… I remembered old Kornii immediately. He’s gone already. He was mean loner. He hated us kids and chased around, like ants. If the ball was kicked into his yard, he hit with an axe right away. That time also ball had got into his yard, but he must be didn’t notice, because there was no sign of him or shouts. I tried to get the ball climbing over his old rotten fence. I climbed up, but then tumbled down into the kitchen garden. I was lying under the fence boards. My hand was torn, shreds of skin hanging… Suddenly Kornii came over. Back then I had been looking at him like this…
I had to jump like Anton Idzkovsky and catch…….. I felt the baby in my arms, then bump and… I feel so good. I haven’t felt this bliss for long time. All junk’s gone, there’s only high and I spaced out.
I woke up… no, not in hospital, on the playground. At first, it felt as if needles were driven deep into my stiff body. Slowly, pricks turned into dull, annoying bumps.
The old man was beating me with a crutch, saying something loudly. The baby was in mother’s arms, crying out loud. Somebody called police. I got up shielding my head from blows. Blood was trickling down my temple: I guess, I hit the angle of the sandbox.
“Hey, old man, wait,” I said retreating. I wanted to explain everything. But the old man had no wish to stop in his rage. He flew off the handle. As if the cause of his miserable old age’s in me. He was brandishing with the cudgel saying:
“For a loaf of bread priced in one hryvnia, for my eighteen hryvnias monthly retirement benefit, for my rheumatism, sclerosis and inguinal hernia…
“Madame,” I addressed baby’s mother, “calm…”, I didn’t finish, because I saw three men running at full speed from five-storey building in our direction. I ran, of course, not towards them.
I darted around the corner. They were shouting behind:
“Grab, catch him!”
They would’ve never caught me, if not damn Victor’s downtrodden shoes… and it’s not just shoes, I wish I had at least some knowledge of the area.
As soon as I sped up, I’ve lost my left shoe.
I stopped for a moment. The shoe was lying on gravel path quietly. The first of the chasers was about thirty metres away; I could see hunter’s excitement on his face.
I continued running.
I’d escaped even in these circumstances, even in one shoe, (without false modesty I’ll say: I ran 100 metres for twelve seconds. But my aces, of course, were long and middle distances. Yet in the eighth grade, I had been running eight hundred metres by standards of the second adult skill category. However, I don’t go in for sports actively since then.).
So I was running along the path. First bushes and then trees flew by me on both sides. If I had known that the path splits one metre away from the pond, I’d slow down, turned around and kept running. But I jumped out from behind the willows with crazy speed. There’s no point to slow down, I’d got into water anyway. Without thinking much, I pushed away hard from the bank and landed in the pond. Like in the sand box in PT class…
Perhaps, because of the clothes, I felt freezing cold of the water later.
I tried to swim away from the bank, but couldn’t. I had made few moves before losing the strength. I tried to reach the bottom and rest, but dived in with my head. I barely dived out with great difficulty. The cold cut me to the bone. Panic took me over. I thought: “I’m going to drown now, and all my future victories, including romantic ones, would go down the drain.” I wanted to shout but gulped down some water instead. Wet clothes were dragging me down. I felt cramps. It’s the end. Suddenly strength got out of nowhere! I swam to the bank again with renewed energy.
I stopped five metres away. Water reached my chest when I got up. I had this feeling of being hit on the top of my head with an axe butt.
One of the chasers was on the bank. He said:
“Get out amicably,” he insisted.
“I won’t,” I repeated.
I didn’t want to get out of water, because it supported me. I knew: if I go out, I’ll faint. I didn’t want to be at anyone’s feet. I needed to recover strength.
Police cap had floated from behind willow branches………….. I hadn’t seen or heard how the baby fell down… Did it happen at all?
I passed the bench where the young woman and the old man sat. Couple was chatting about something calmly. You wouldn’t say the woman can beat kids. I felt sorry about old man.
I went around the building and along the path. No one chased me. I felt myself confident… No, I stopped, tied up the shoe laces: now everything’s all right!
I stopped again at that place near the pond, sat up twice. The path really split one metre away from the pond; actually, it merged with one circling the pond. If I ran away, I’d jump in the water, but I don’t think I’d swim: pieces of concrete plates were sticking out in that place.
A man with a fishing rod passed me by. He carried three crucian carps in his sack. Each of them had size less than a palm.
I lit a long and thin as a straw fag. I took out of my pocket and unfolded a sheet on which a map-plan of my way was drawn with trembling hand of sir Gena. According to the map, building No.16 on the Myr Street had to stand on the North, three or four hundred metres away from my current location. Indeed, approximately that kind of distance separated me from fourteen-storey building.
I headed towards it. I was walking slowly, thinking about Prague cake in my fridge. Suddenly I heard:
“There he is! Grab him!”
I felt curious and looked back. I saw police officer, probably local police officer, and two more men with him: one was tall and thin, like a stick, and another had a thin pole in his hands. I’m not a slowcoach, so I figured out right away, whom they were going to catch. I had no intention to wait, I ran. My first thought was: “Good I tied up the shoe laces.”
I was forced to jump inside fourteen-storey building. I was cornered. It seemed all the people in the district were after me. Even people from the parking lot, which is God knows where, were chasing me and shouting:
“There he is! Grab him!”
I was jumping up the stairs like saiga. I stopped on the eleventh floor. I caught my breath and looked outside from the balcony. A police wagon drove in the yard. I heard:
“Four people per entrance. Search carefully every floor. Especially attic, he should not slip out.”
I lean on the wall feeling its coolness. I started sinking slowly. I had read somewhere that when a person gets involved in extreme situation, the first thing he needs to do is calm down, it said that only then one can find the only right way out.
I did almost the same thing. At first, I tried to imagine that no one is chasing me. I was just relaxing on a walk and then reached the eleventh floor, decided to rest. And I did it! Even though it wasn’t easy to do, taking into account lack of time. Then I pretended sitting there and resting, looking at the ceiling, bored. So I entertained myself imagining being chased by gang of thugs. Of course, I didn’t want to lose my head, especially in my imagination. So my head started working and looking for way out. I have to admit, it worked not bad. I had seen a few not so bad options already, but eventually, as it should be, healthy pragmatism won. I came to the conclusion that grown-up person like me, should not play games for kids.
I called for an elevator, went inside and pressed the first floor button. The cabin crawled down slowly with a rattle.
I was calm.
I came outside. People were scurrying around the yard. No one paid attention to me. Only police officer that was standing near VAZ and eating sunflower seeds stood up straight when I approached him.
“At ease, sergeant, carry on.”
I walked along the park and sat on a bench at the “Yuvileina” stop. I got out my trophy fag. I rumpled it. While blowing the shag out, thought, that Puryk can not only wag his tongue, but also get really killing weed…
I AM IN SEARCH
Why is my heart so heavy?
Where did it go?
Where did it disappear?
I’ve found it! It lies carelessly at the roadside. As if unintentionally, I walk towards it. I look around: rusty tank car lies on its side, tyres, burnt wagon; some steel reinforcement is visible from behind the bushes, hens are rummaging in dust, broken bicycle frame, no sign of people. I stop. Good roach! Only a few inhales were made. I’m looking around once again… It’s empty. I put my left foot next to cigarette butt… The car is going up the hill. I make carefree face, as if I’m relaxing, enjoying the scenery. I start to whistle, for better reliability…
Red “Zhiguli” model one, rattled passing me by and leaving clouds of dust behind. It suits me. But I don’t show it. Over the left, I’m outraged! Random person would probably think that I’m going to shake my fist at the car. But my anger fades away fast. “What a kind, sensitive man!” would think random passerby. I’m starting to dust my pants slowly, to get rid of the invisible dust; I put my hand lower, lower and lower, and… Hop! I got it!
“Prima” cigarette end’s lying in my pocket, I need to get matches. I rummaged in my pockets searching for a random match lost somewhere in between the stitches. Why not? Unexpected surprises happen… I guess not, not with me and not this time.
I kept going downhill to town.
I was walking and thinking: “Just think! So many people around and not one worthy! All some kind of small, underdeveloped, rachitic, near-sighted, only disabled are around, everywhere you look. There’s no one to get upset with. Disgrace! Shame! How can I live after this?!”
I came to the storage area, where bums, alcoholics and other canailles love to lurk around. I passed by two long hangars, then some smaller constructions. Near one of them, I saw, so it seemed from afar, an old man sitting. He was smoking.
He was sitting on the stairs leading to “glass bottle buy-back centre”. There was a hand-made cart standing next to him, a bag full of bottles was tied to it. The old man was puffing with relish.
I asked while passing by:
“Hey, old man, got a smoke?”
“What an old man am I to you!?” he growled, but put his hand in the pocket anyway.
I came closer. The one I called an “old man” was not older than forty-five. He had an unshaven, swollen face pitted with wrinkles; dry, hunched body and incredibly bright, lively eyes. And his hair, black in roots, seemed to be painted with silver stain.
He passed me a cigarette. I took it.
“And a light, please.”
“Neither shit nor a spoon,” he faked complaint.
He lit the match and gave it to me.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Do not thank for the poison.”
Such a weird man. I felt sympathy towards him pretty fast. I asked:
“Can I sit and smoke next to you?”
“Why not? Sit down,” one answered carelessly.
I sat down on a wooden box and put jacket on my knee. I inhaled with relish and then exhaled the smoke.
The “old man” did the same.
Both of us were inhaling and then exhaling the smoke. We had no questions to ask. We did not look for answers. We were just sitting and smoking cigarettes in silence.
THE WITCHER (from “Crowbar” tale)
When we were kids, we enjoyed swaying on slender trunks of young birch trees. You climb the tree, grasp its top and jump. It’s like sky-diving. Seas of impressions, not less scratches and bruises, but we didn’t care about those back then. After Myshko had stuck in fragile clay soil with a piece of wood in his hands as a result of short flight we learned to avoid old trees.
All the time free from household chores, we spent in the woods.
Sometimes we saw uncle Kornii there. He always had an axe with him. Mysterious, grim, silent, his hands covered with abscesses, uncle Kornii, unintentionally, scared us. Nestled against wet ground, holding our breaths, we watched him sawing down tops of birch trees, cutting off the branches and leaving only bare trunks. Back then, we had no idea why he did that. We imagined all kinds of nonsense. Myshko’s version was the most astonishing. He insisted that uncle Kornii’s the witcher and damaged trees helped him not to lose count of lives he had destroyed. According to Myshko’s words, the witcher supposed to ruin thirty three human lives to break free from power of evil spirits.
We were hanging about the holt, counting bare trunks. There were more of them with every time, but we didn’t count up to thirty. Coming back home in the evening, we tittuped in close group, everyone tried to get in front of the neighbour, not to be the last, thinking: “Who’s next?” Who’d be the 26th or the 27th in his list? Myshko said as if it’s a fact:
“One of us is the next!”
I remember unexpected and illogical Mykola’s remark: “I feel sorry about uncle Kornii.” We rolled on the floor laughing. Mykolka was standing and blinking in confusion. He understood nothing. The truth is, the phrase slipped out of his mouth involuntarily, just like Myshko’s later. We didn’t understand many things. Time was flying, and everything we could do back then was just observing and remembering, you know? When he had lost his wife to cancer, we didn’t see him anymore. The forest became ours; we could do whatever we liked.
“We are the winners!” we shouted cutting silence and going crazy.
But we got bored pretty soon. We missed uncle Kornii. Myshko came up with new version: “I guess he’s collected thirty three souls already.”
We divided the forest into sections and started counting the trunks again. By fair means or foul we got the necessary number. The sun was shining gently; we were a bit tired sitting in the clearing and then Myshko said: “Time is like birch tree on a slope, thrown down by Kornii, the trunk of which is thickly covered with shelf fungus!”
Back then we saw life as wonder. Much later, we took this wonder as a given, routine. After a certain time we’d take different roads, as alike as two peas in a pod. We’d go lashed with merciless whip of hopes. It would leave festering wounds on our bodies and carve sadness into our hearts…
The train was rumbling…
When I came to my senses, the suburban car was one third full, but there was no one on a bench neither next nor opposite to me. My head was killing me. I felt sick. I met a few looks concentrated on my person. I wanted to throw up.
Two police officers were standing in front of me. They had “patrol” badges on their chests. One had truncheon in his hands, another – red folder. I was afraid to lift my head up and look into their eyes.
My jacket somehow slipped off my cachectic body, exposing it, and now rested only on my right arm. I put my left arm in the sleeve and wore the jacket. One of the police officers asked for my documents. I checked my pockets automatically, but, of course, there were no documents, and I knew it. But that little money I had, cigarettes, lighter, keys to my flat, almost happy trolleybus ticket were not there and their absence surprised me. Then I felt and saw my bare feet. My running shoes, worth almost 100 bucks, had disappeared. Some hallucination!
“I don’t have any documents,” I admitted.
I did so.
“Face the window!”
“Put your hands on glass!”
“Put your legs shoulder-width apart!”
They searched me over.
“Nothing, Kolia,” said voice owner of which searched me over.
“Put your hands behind your back!”
I followed order. Bracelets were locked on my wrists. This scenario didn’t surprise me at all. I felt myself guilty. (I always do when I have hangover.) So I took everything like it couldn’t be the other way. I couldn’t remember what kind of crime I committed. I had no doubts I did.
“I should just wait till it’s over,” I thought.
I sat down. Police officers sat in front of me. They were approximately my age. Then I saw letters “C” on their shoulder straps. It was noticeable blow on the remnants of my self-respect.
The train was rumbling.
Cadets eyed me intently. I was their precious treasure, their catch, maybe even the very first in their lives. They were noticeably nervous, especially one with the folder. I guess they were afraid I’d break free.
I was looking out of the window and counting road poles. I tried to get rid of pangs of conscience.
In some time, I saw first buildings of Myronivka. So I slept around three hours.
I was told to get up.
I stood up.
“Go to covered platform!”
I went, they followed me. While I was walking, I had many looks on me. Some were curious, others – hostile and disgusted, there was hatred, too, or indifference. It’s for better I hadn’t seen compassionate looks, I tried to act with dignity: I walked slowly with my head high up, might I say, defiantly.
I puked at the covered platform. It was very painful for some reason. I thought my guts would go out. Plus, cadet Mykola hit me a few times with his baton.
Through my tears I saw dirty dark brown floor. I was hunched, breathed heavily leaning on the wall. It whistled in my ears. Two threads of saliva were balancing on my lower lip. I tried to spit and one of them stuck to my chin.
“Had enough of throwing up already? You should have scoffed more cheap sausage and potato chips.”
The suburban electric train stopped.
I stepped on the platform following young lady in green. I tried to wipe my face with collar of my jacket. Nothing worked out.
“Turn to your right!”
“Take off the handcuffs,” I asked, “I’ll wipe my face. I’m not going to run.
“You’ll get it now.” I heard the answer.
“And, yet, you were hoping to run away somewhere?”
We passed wretched railway station building. I tried not to twist my wrists. I felt rings of the bracelets digging deeper and deeper into my sick flesh with every odd move.
“Guys, let’s make a deal. I think we’ll settle the price. Money is no object with me. I’m rich, seriously. I might say a billionaire! Though, I don’t have any money yet, haven’t saved. But I have conscience. I offer it in exchange for freedom!”
Mykola answered smiling:
“You’re quite mistaken. That speck that is left in you is barely enough to sustain your human form. You’d better offer money.”
“But I don’t have any.”
“Then keep walking if you don’t have any.”
We went down the slope towards plain brick building with iron-barred windows. The sign-board that would explain purpose of this box, probably, was recently removed, judging by distinct stain above the door. Anxiety was growing in my soul.
I almost tiptoed because of the gravel.
I felt fragrant smell of bird cherry tree. The plane was flying up somewhere in the sky. Someone shouted behind the slope:
My heart almost jumped out of my chest.
“Guys, I’ll find money. Give me a few hours and I’ll bring them. How much do you need?”
They took me inside the building, down the hall and into a room. There are empty white walls, no lamp-shade, but the rope with loop at the end. There’s also a chair, a table with an electric kettle on it and a cup. That’s all.
I broke down. I knelt. I was crying out loud, howling, kissing shoes of the policemen. I was crawling on dirty floor…
Cadets put me straight up. Mykola said:
“Sania, don’t humiliate yourself. Leave with dignity. You were school soccer team captain. Do you remember Nastia? You loved her! For real. Remember yourself kicking ass of Glek from 10th grade, even though whole school, including you, were feared of him. That’s because you thought he had hurt Nastia very bad. You’re cool lad, Sania. It’s just the circumstances.
Yurko asked, while he was opening the folder:
“Saniok, would you like coffee or tea?”
“A cup of strong tea, please.”
Mykola took off the handcuffs. I massaged my wrists. Yurko plugged in the kettle. I asked:
“Guys, don’t you feel sorry about me?”
“That’s inappropriate question, Sania. That’s too intimate, no answer can be given. But if you want to know: we’re doing our job. But when it’s done, no man in the whole world would miss you more. Believe me, for us it’s also crucial test.”
“You’re bitches,” I said spitting.
The water’s boiled. Yurko made tea. Mykola offered me the chair saying:
“Have a sit, Saniok.”
I did so.
Yurko put the cup in front of me.
Mykola was looking outside iron-barred window.
Yurko’s looking for something in the folder.
I picked up the cup. I blew off the yellow foam. I made a sip. I thought: “Why am I clinging to these images so much? I won’t become professional soccer player anyway, Nastia is going to marry Glek soon and ice-cream won’t be as tasty as it was in childhood. Then why should I drag myself along this path? To lie in ravines, make mother’s life shorter and be a burden to friends and relatives? Better death than disgrace!”
I put the cup away. I took the chair to the centre of the room. I stood there a bit and then climbed it. I looked at the rope…
“Nooooo!” I shouted at the top of my lungs, jumping to my feet and waving with my hands, like a lunatic. “I have got a dream! I do! I almost forgot. It’s small, but I have it! Honestly.”
“Calm down, lad, it’s all right. There are people around you,” addressed me bearded man. He was sitting three benches away from me, and seemed the only one, who wasn’t terrified with my yelling. “They are all people here, no monsters, look around carefully.”
I swayed blinking and understanding nothing at all.
“It’s a good thing you have got your dream,” he said with some notes of sorrow in his voice, looking out of the window and observing landscape carelessly.
The train was rumbling…
Yes, I’m a genius. There’s nothing I can do about it. I have to live with this. You can’t become god right away. Who made up rules so stupid?!… Although, frankly speaking, I yet like to discover sometimes. I’m amused a bit, some kind of balm for a wound… Simple example: I walk along the street. I know everything. There’s thought in my head: “Sashko, you are god for real! Of course, for you it’s difficult to realize this, but you’re god in a flesh!” Suddenly I come across Natalka… I’m impressed. I’m shocked with her beauty. And I’m not god anymore. Gods don’t run after girls and they don’t care about big brown eyes. I’m simply genius. So I say to Natalka straight:
“I am sorry to trouble you, but I’m a genius! And I want to get to know you better.”
Natalka is slightly confused. It’s natural: not every day one can see genius in person. She says:
“That’s so unexpected. I don’t know…”
“Don’t you worry, I know everything! My name is Sashko and I’m a genius!
Long story short: Natalka melted right away. You should understand her. How can one not fall in love with me? How can you ignore genius? Natalka is a smart girl… What was I talking about? Ah, right… I’m a genius. I’m just fantastic! Sometimes I’m God.
We slowed down on our way out of the building. TV, thrown out by Artem after today’s match, lay shattered on the flowerbed among withered tulips, right under the street lamp.
I heard jingling of the night tram somewhere far.
“What have you seen there?” Oksana asked leaning on me.
“Nothing, it’s nothing,” I answered.
We went down the alley towards the quay. The gravel crackled underfoot. We took our time. I felt calm and comfortable beside Oksana. I felt warmth of her body. I said:
“Oksana, I love you!”
“You have told me this one hundred times.”
I tried to kiss her but she moved my face away with her hand.
“Why the hell are you so cruel?” I asked.
“What kind of cruelty?! Did I throw a cat off the roof top?”
“You’re starting anew about that accident?”
“Not anew, but again.”
“Don’t follow Katrusia’s example.”
“At least I don’t follow yours.”
“Was it my fault that its parachute didn’t open? My intentions were good. I only wanted cat to enjoy the flight… And that was totally long time ago and now almost not true.
“Really?! Then your attempt to kiss me is also not true?”
“No, that’s true.”
“Why is the case with cat not true, but the attempt to kiss is true?”
“Because the cat was four years ago, and the kiss – four minutes ago.”
“So, in four years your wish to kiss me now will be not true?”
“Oksana, why are you bending my ears?”
“You answer me first.”
“How can I know what should happen during next four years? But if you kissed me just now, it would be true, for sure.”
“You want me to kiss you so that you would remember this kiss in four years?”
“You’ve just said that yourself.”
“Don’t slip out.”
I tried to kiss Oksana again and failed.
“Wow, you’re quick! You go answer.”
“Fine… Yes, I do want you to kiss me to remember this kiss in four years. And yet because I love you. Are you happy now?”
“Lying about what?”
“You don’t love me. Is it possible for a boy, who threw the cat off the roof top, to love?”
“Oksana, you’re starting again?”
“Not anew, but again.”
“I don’t get you.”
“Calm down. You know how much I like to pull your leg. You turn so vulnerable. And then I really want to kiss you, but mother-like, on your forehead… Like your mum does…
“No, my auntie pecks me like this.”
“Yeah, keep telling! Marichka can kiss you like that with a flapper only.”
“Don’t say things you know nothing about.”
“OK. Let’s get out of this forest quickly. I’m tired to fight off the mosquitoes,” Oksana said.
We walked on its edge, then went down the stairs and found ourselves on the embankment.
The Dnipro waters were splashing at our feet. Coolness of the river and dampness of the autumn were in the air. About ten steps left to the bench we’re going to rest chatting at. I grabbed Oksana and pressed her to the quarry stone wall. My lips were searching for her lips.
“You’re hurting me, Sashko,” she resisted.
I didn’t listen to her. I heard almost nothing.
Everything is so nice and easy in movies. But for me it was huge problem to lift Oksana up. However, I barely managed to move her about fifteen centimetres up the wall.
I poked girly breasts with my hooter, sniffled inhaling breath-taking smell of her body. I was drooling and felt as if going underground.
Oksana wasn’t protesting anymore. She’s just trying to change foothold. I bet stones were digging in her back pretty well.
We grew numb. Honestly, even though I imagine what and how I’d do in case like this, but one thing is imagine and the other…
Then I felt drained. Oksana was tired, too. I put her down, we both panted heavily. I had fever shivers. We dragged ourselves to the bench. We collapsed on it, so tired as if we just had dug over pretty big kitchen garden. I took a pack of cigarettes out. She smoothed her coat.
“Will you smoke?” I asked.
She just took the cig and said nothing. I lit it for her. Oksana inhaled greedily. I smoked, too.
We were sitting, puffing and watching the city lights flickering on the Dnipro’s waves. Then, as if following someone’s order, burst out laughing. We laughed long and loud. I slapped myself on belly and Oksana tapped her heels on the ground. It’s fun!
The new day’s looking out from behind the horizon on our right.
“I’m going home,” Oksana said.
“Why?” I asked.
“I have to.”
“Are you upset?”
“Don’t say nonsense.”
“Let me be!”
Oksana got up, dropped the cigarette end, pressed it with her sharp-toed shoe and slowly moved on.
I was left there to sit.
Sensing that I was not going to run after her, Oksana went faster, crossed the road and quickly disappeared around the corner of the building.
LOOKING THROUGH THE PHOTOALBUM
It was a big plant. It used to recycle up to five thousand tons of raw materials, with German captured equipment, by the way. I wandered around its abandoned workshops and it seemed I was stepping on the site of a fire. My eyes searched for something to hook on, but everything around was dead, unreal, deprived of clear forms. I felt like a ghost in this old, abandoned plant. I even stopped whistling the melody of popular hit that could not get out of my head before.
I stopped at the raw of rusty centrifuges. I dug out of thick layer of dust a sheet of layer wrapped in thick oilcloth. That was dryer’s regulations. Paragraph by paragraph it explained his duties. I thought: “I wonder how long it took mother to memorize it?”
Gust of the wind made iron frame of the roof and black coated windows rattle… A piece of slate flew down and shattered over a piece of pipe.
It was hard for me to imagine my mother as a fragile young girl in soft blue cotton dress near the iron centrifuges. And even harder to believe that surrounded with roar of powerful engines, smell of burnt oil and rubber, clubs of steam, in between concrete walls and metal frames love could be born… Back at home in the sideboard, the wedding ring is still being kept. It was made by mother of shiny candy wrapper on the day she had met my father. It had been given to him the very same day…
I launched the regulations paper as a boomerang. It flew ten steps away and stuck in a pile of trash. I laughed, almost shouted. I turned so big, almost giant!
I was stunned for a moment, afraid to make a step, not to destroy anything, not to crush this monument like empty matchbox. Then I made a careful step and looked back. Nothing but shoe prints on dusty floor reminded of my presence here. I headed to exit fast and then ran. I rushed at full speed, remembering tune of the popular piece…
ON THE EDGE
Now I am happy with awareness of my own worthlessness. Tomorrow I will cry… I’m good-for-nothing! I used to could not even think of it, but now… Life really teaches me something.
“I’m good-for-nothing!” I say it aloud and burst out laughing. “You don’t say so!”
Blockhead is eyeing me warily from the threshold of the carriage. He’s a smart dog. Blockhead is the one who named him like this. He somehow senses when I feel bad. He suffers from the fact that he can’t help me. I saw pain in his eyes.
I also suffer.
“Blockhead, don’t be afraid, I haven’t lost my marbles yet. I just want to know… I wish you knew, Mr. Blockhead, how much I want to find out this answer! I guess you’d be terrified of my wish… Yes, I’m good-for-nothing, let it be! But can one think of a more favourable situation to have truly new beginning?! Do you agree with me? Should we fool ourselves once again?”
Blockhead wasn’t calmed with my words. He sits, so big, humbly on the threshold and looks at me with his sad eyes, following my every movement.
I put magazine aside. Dust-cart is on its way. I should take a coupon. I’m going outside.
I scratch Blockhead behind his ear. Caress does not help.
It’s from auto park. I spoke quite rudely to driver yesterday. Dust-cart stops near the carriage.
“Are you all right?” driver asks.
I nod and say:
“I’m sorry about yesterday. I guess I had bad vodka.”
“It’s nothing. Things happen.”
“For what?! You’d better say where I should drop the trash.”
“Go down to the very end. Tractor cleared some place there yesterday.”
The truck goes on scaring away a flock of ravens. I squat down and address Blockhead:
“Don’t worry so much, buddy. We’ll get out of this mess somehow. We got in together, so we’ll get out together. I promise you… You see, uncle forgave me. It means I’m not worthless anymore. Remember: they don’t forgive worthless! They don’t have this possibility. It’s going to be all right, you’ll see… Someone will come without coupon now, and that’s 20 UAH.
I try to embrace the dog. He looks at me with fear.
“Who am I? Where am I? How do pumpkins grow?” I ask in my head. I start to shiver crying with no tears…
Blockhead comforts me as good as he can…
I was bitten by a vampire
- ISBN: 9781310291357
- Author: Юрій Шинкаренко
- Published: 2016-12-01 09:05:12
- Words: 14767