Three Stories


Translated from the Russian by The Chicago Translation Workshop

 

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.

 

 

The Chicken

The day was overcast, heavy clouds crept across the sky, and sickly bluish snow broke loose, only to melt immediately afterwards.

Nikolai Ivanovich was patching a hole in the fence with pieces of tin, wire, and roof felt.

The chickens wandered in the yard, foraging in the ashes behind the outhouse. Only the chicken with a blue mark stood still in the black, spaded vegetable garden, one leg drawn up and one eye half shut.

Nikolai Ivanovich worked slowly, taking many cigarette breaks.

The sick boy next door looked through the window, his tongue lolling out.

The commuter bus thundered past.

The stray dogs fought in the empty lot across the street.

The village hooligans passed by with a wheezing tape player. One of them asked:

“Is Verka home?”

“No, she went into town,” answered Nikolai Ivanovich.

His wife, with her stockings down, poured slop from the porch. The chickens all rushed to the slurry; only the chicken with the blue mark remained in place.

A gust of wind tousled its dirty feathers and fluff.

Nikolai Ivanovich went to the outhouse, came back, and saw, next to the fence, a stranger in a dirty raincoat and a shabby fur hat.

“What do you want?” asked Nikolai Ivanovich.

The stranger was silent and looked blearily at the vegetable garden.

“What do you want?” asked Nikolai Ivanovich and picked up a hammer from the ground.

“Ghuh! Ghuh-dhuh!” answered the stranger fearfully. A bubble of saliva burst on his lips, and he recoiled from the fence and plodded down the street.

A gust of wind pushed him in the back and lifted the checkered-lined flap of his raincoat. The boy at the window became restless and began to grimace and knock on the glass.

“Freaking out again!” yelled Nikolai Ivanovich at the boy. “And what the heck do you want?!” he yelled at the chicken, lifting the hammer. “What are you standing here for? Get your ass to the others…go, peck there…ghuh-dhuh!”

The chicken jumped away and froze again.

After finishing his work, Nikolai Ivanovich brought the remaining tin, roof felt, and wire into the shed and went into the house.

There the stove was burning high. His wife was sitting at the table, shelling sunflower seeds. His daughter, humming “A Million Red Roses,” was putting on makeup at a vanity in the living room.

“What are you dressing yourself up for?” asked Nikolai Ivanovich.

“Quit buzzing,” answered the daughter.

“You’ll buzz, but it’ll be too late,” snapped Nikolai Ivanovich.

“Leave her alone,” said the wife. “Did you patch the hole?”

“Yes.”

“Come eat.”

She put a bowl of hot borscht with a sharp bone sticking out of it in front of him. He ate silently, drank a cup of cold water, and lay down on the couch.

The daughter, still humming, pulled on her new patent leather boots, and, putting on her coat and hat, headed for the door.

“Did you put on the warm ones?” yelled the wife.

“I did, I did,” snapped back the daughter.

“Where are they?!” yelled the wife, running up to the daughter and lifting the edge of her dress. Nikolai Ivanovich turned to the wall and closed his eyes.

He imagined his daughter walking in her patent leather boots on the dirty pavement toward the village store, drinking wine with the hooligans, laughing coarsely, smoking…

To block that out, he opened his eyes and began to think about how he needed to get a bag of sawdust from somewhere to insulate the water pipes—the weather report predicted frost…

He fell asleep. He dreamed of the station. They were doing shunting work. Suddenly one of the train cars unhooked and started rolling down grade. He should have run to block the wheel with a brake-shoe holder, but for some reason he remained where he was and couldn’t move. Meanwhile the car was speeding up and quickly heading for the railway neck toward the approaching passenger train… “That’s it. The end. Prison!” thought Nikolai Ivanovich resignedly when his wife woke him up: the chicken with the blue mark had disappeared.

He got dressed and went out.

The gray day was approaching dusk. The north wind reversed direction, rattling the steel, ruffling the remaining red leaves on the cherry tree, sweeping the smoke away from the factory stacks, and chasing it toward the village.

Nikolai Ivanovich counted the chickens in the coop, inspected all the nooks in the yard and the vegetable garden, and had a look into the hole of the outhouse—the chicken with the blue mark had indeed disappeared from the house.

It wasn’t in the street either.

He went to the neighbors’.

There he was told that no strange chickens had been seen, could be seen or would be seen ever, so there was no need to walk there and tease the dogs.

He went down the street, looking into people’s yards and windows.

He turned to the empty lot.

Something white flickered there, but it wasn’t a chicken, it was a piece of white paper soaring up into the turbid sky.

The wind sang, howling. Under his feet, the frozen wild grass crackled.

It got dark quickly. The crooked line of factory lights already began to shudder on the horizon. The commuter bus went by with its lights on. The village lights shone dimly, as if through a cheese cloth.

There was something black ahead, at the place where after the November holidays they had found a dead man.

Nikolai Ivanovich stopped.

The black scared him.

He wanted to turn back, but just then the slag was poured into a factory furnace, and the glow quickly moved toward the village, lighting up the lot. Nikolai Ivanovich took a couple of timid steps forward and sighed with relief: the thing that was scaring him turned out to be a burned bus seat. He bent down to see whether it might be something he could use at home, and saw the chicken. It was lying behind the seat, in a small depression in the ground, covered with fresh clots of blood. He stood there for a long time, looking at the dead chicken.

 

 

Memorable Dates

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 movie theater, into a hat.

November. Had a drink and went to the theater. 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.

 

Contributor

Anatoly Gavrilov, Translated from the Russian by the Chicago Translation Workshop

ANATONLY GAVRILOV lives in Vladimir, Russia and works as a mailman. He began publishing in 1989, and to this day he publishes his texts very rarely, almost never participating in the activities of the literary establishment. All three translators are members of The Chicago Translation Workshop, the goal and practice of which is to revive the tradition of rhythmic and rhymed translation of Russian contemporary poetry into English. ANTON TENSER was born in Novosibirsk in 1976. Until his immigration to the U.S. in 1989, he lived in Kiev, Ukraine. He has a B.A. in biology from Northwestern University and a PhD in linguistics from Manchester University, Manchester, England. Anton is an author of The Grammar of Lithuanian Roma as well as articles on Romani language and ethnography. His Rusian-language poems were published in online journals TextOnly and Reflect. SASHA SPEKTOR immigrated to Chicago in 1989. He has a PhD in Slavic literature from Harvard University. He writes both in Russian and English and teaches Russian literature at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. RASHIDA HAKEEM was born in southern Illinois. She has a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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