August. Had my first drink, pouring leftovers into a shot glass after the guests left.
Puked under my pillow.
November. Moonshine. Puked by the fence and at home.
New Year’s Eve. Wine and vodka. Puked under the Christmas tree.
May. The amusement park. Port. Puked from the Ferris wheel.
July. The beach. Ninety-five degrees. Vodka. Puked onto the sand.
September. Had a drink and went to the movies. Puked in the cinema, into a hat.
November. Had a drink and went to the theatre. Puked during the second act, in the orchestra seats.
New Year’s Eve at a girl from school’s place. Wine, liqueur, vodka. Puked there, on the way home, and at home.
February. Had a drink and went somewhere. Puked on the tram.
May. The Swallow Pavilion on top of the cliff with a view of the sea. Wine and vodka. Puked over the cliff.
July. Visiting Auntie in the neighboring town. Puked at the base of a spoil bank.
October. School theater. Woe from Wit. We had a drink before the performance.
Puked as Chatskii, on the stage and in the wings.
November. Had a drink with father. Puked into the trash can.
New Year’s Eve. A party at a guy from school’s place. Wine and vodka. Puked.
March. A party at a girl from school’s place. Champagne and moonshine. Puked.
May. Went on a field-trip with the whole class. Puked at the archaeological site “The Stone Tomb.”
June. Farewell, school! Hurray for a new life! Puked at dawn.
The factory. Puked at the factory.
The affiliated collective farm. Puked in the fields.
The army. Puked in the Zhitomir woods.
Then again – at home, then in Yakutia, then in Moscow, and very recently – in Helsinki, in Milan, and in Berlin.
And the Sun Also Rises
Today, one minute earlier than yesterday, and its beams, along with the vernal floods remove the last dark patches of winter makeup.
No worms yet. The soil is still frozen inside. There are still plenty of last year’s leaves on the branches of trees and bushes. It was just below freezing last night, the puddles have filmed with ice, and it feels like early fall, but it’s spring.
An airplane is flying. Soldiers are passing. A man drags his feet somewhere, wearing a dirty vinyl coat, his bloated, broken face looking like a plate of pickled beets.
A black cross on top of the red casket lid looks like an antenna.
A boy with a stick chases after a street cat.
An old woman in felt boots vigilantly watches the chickens, which have been let out for the first time since winter and now busily forage through the ashes by the fence.
A classmate’s older brother has been let out of prison. He smokes pensively by the gate. He was an accomplice in robbing his own aunt.
There are lots of pretty women in town.
One can buy flowers.
At the railroad store there is a new shipment. A long line, lots of noise. A veteran aims for the salesgirl with his crutch. Somebody calls the police. The veteran runs off.
The beach is damp and muddy. The red eye of a dwarfish stoplight is glowing in the distance. Someone’s wet scarf is hanging from a waterside willow.
It’s quiet, no one’s around, just waves breaking and the shrieking of seagulls. All of a sudden a railway car shoots out from behind the mound of gravel, followed by a scrawny railroad worker in giant canvas-topped boots.
He throws sticks at the wheels of the runaway, then rocks, bones, rags, paper. He trips and falls, while the car disappears, roaring into the waterside fog.
Green sprouts by the heating main shaft, on the field of the Spartak soccer stadium, in the window boxes of that house where a girl from school lives.
The snow falls and melts right away, and as it comes down, in the twilight, it looks like stripes of chalk on a blackboard. The windows light up. And the shadows scurry about, twisting and falling.
From atop the hill a view unfolds of a golden crescent of lights. They flicker, retreat, draw near, fade away, meld with the spring lights of the sky, the bare black steppe behind you shivers with cold, the gentle breath of southern wind brings a smell of some kind of blossoms, and the road, frosted by night, seems like it’s sprinkled with stardust.
Mimosas in a vase on a round table shimmer in the dark, a bare branch sways outside the window, the sound of the wind is strong, and you keep listening to this music of the night, and you feel like crying, and you do…
And the sun also rises today, one minute earlier than yesterday, and its beams along with the vernal floods remove the last dark patches of winter makeup, and the airplane is flying, and the soldiers are passing, and teenagers practice throwing an axe at the front door of the Transport Authority dorm, and a boy with a stick is chasing after a street cat, and the girl from school now sells kiwis and pineapples on the street, and her eyes are teary from mascara, wind, and allergies, and the ashes from her cigarette fall on the kiwis and pineapples, and the wind blows the ashes away, and you enter the café, and sit in a plastic chair at a plastic table, and you drink your whiskey, and a pretty girl is sitting by the window, and by noon you’ve already got your first sentence “and the sun also rises,” and the second sentence you get from the man who’s just cut off the ears from his dead buddy’s head, and the third one will come from a young municipal policeman in the dark avenues behind the Ryabinka bar.
You Will Never
A veteran of permanent local conflicts is buying a pair of summer shoes: the sole is black, solid, and ridged, the upper is denim, blue, the toe is slightly curled.
Surrounded by the blooming gardens along the Large, Small, Middle, Upper, and Lower lanes, he hears the trill of a nightingale coming from the ravine and tries to recall a line about love, but his thoughts, as usual, shift to the railroad tracks where he spent most of his life.
Teenagers surround him, and he pretends to be deaf, which perhaps is what saves him.
He comes home and solemnly drinks liquid honey from a half-pint jar.
He hopes the honey will rejuvenate and revive him.
This is his personal honey.
He hides it from everyone else.
Someone’s coming, and he frantically hides the sticky jar and pretends that he is reading Miller and listening to Mahler.
It’s his mother-in-law. She stares the veteran down with contempt, and declares that she’s been dying to spit in his stupid face because he destroyed the family for the sake of an honorary degree as a veteran of permanent local conflicts.
She spits and goes away, and he is left alone, and his empty face is reflected sullenly in an empty plastic vegetable oil bottle.
He reads a construction manual for beginners.
For a long time now, he’s been wanting to build something out of sedge and mud, and there would be a fireplace, and he would sit by the fireplace and watch the fire, and drink wine, and ponder, and take pleasure in the silence and solitude, and look out the window at the wet, bare woods and fields…
The neighbor enters with a heavy backpack and a pair of night-vision binoculars.
He urges the veteran to set off for Tibet, to trace the journey of Nicholas Roerich.
The neighbor’s wife enters and takes the neighbor home.
The veteran examines his new summer shoes and tries to smell them, but he smells nothing.
He pulls open his desk drawer and takes out a small piece of guipure lace, and he wants to imagine Tamara, and he does, but that brings no joy.
A veteran from Moscow phones him, urging him to organize, there in the province, a regional chapter of the permanent local conflict veterans’ party, with the goal of Russia’s genuine revival and rebirth.
“I’ll have to think about it,” says the veteran.
He thinks, but nothing in particular comes to mind.
There is only static in his head.
The static intensifies, then all is quiet.
So you see, Angela, you will never see him again.
The black icebreaker bursts through the black ice, and the blue crags shimmer in the bright March sun.
Ice. Hummocks of it, as far as the eye can see.
Nevertheless, the navigation will end soon.
My parents also worked with ice: father on an icebreaker, and mother in the morgue.
Father was rarely home. One time he left and never came back.
He perished in the ice.
Mother, too, perished, in the ice of the morgue.
Our warm, shallow sea also freezes over once in a while.
On a sunny day in March, I was standing on the shore by the Ship Repair Yard’s fence, which had large red letters running across it: “This beach is for skin disease patients only.”
I was standing there, watching my father’s battle with the ice.
The black icebreaker was assaulting the blue mounds of ice, and I could hear loud cracking, and the splinters of ice, like fans of gemstones, flared against the blue sky.
Wearing dark glasses and a snow-white uniform, my father stood on the captain’s bridge.
That was the last time I saw him.
I have an accordion. I play it sometimes after my watch is over. I don’t know how to play, I just do it, improvising.
For instance, recently I composed the “Ice Symphony,” with ice cracking as its main theme.
It was a unique piece and can never be reproduced.
I dedicated it to my father and mother.
The pearlescent shine and sound – the gemstones in the sky formed by the collision of steel and ice, the fence around the SRY, the single-story building of the morgue amidst the old acacias, the icy faces of my parents amidst the icy flowers…
Ice is my calling as well, and my black icebreaker, an axe welded to a crowbar, is currently bursting through the endless ice of my neglected plot of land, and the blue crags of black ice flare brightly in the March sun.
© Copyright 2011 Anatoly Gavrilov and Sasha Spektor
Translated from the Russian by Sasha Spektor