And so my hero comes creeping up to the boundary of the sanatorium beach while his brother splashes in the water with the girls in their triangular yellow swimsuits and scanty tops, and watches the handicapped children. This picture would convey his inner state well. Misha would find something to praise at this point. Then the whole family walks back along scalding pavements; the younger boy is snivelling and eventually, when they get back to their room, the father wallops him. At this point you could inflame the atmosphere even more: drop in a Freudian motif – the mother is young and pretty and her younger son is in love with her. And finish the whole thing off with the boy's triumph over himself, over his jealousy and envy: he meets every blow with: “Doesn't hurt!” and his dry caustic eyes follow his father being pulled away by his mother.
Let us consider, Misha, that out of weakness I paraphrased, not described or recreated. But then I am now free to displace the point of my striding dividers, which goes flying over the completed page. What's that on the tip? A couple, the sea and I, race in the evenings to the water's edge from opposite sides. I stand, drenched fore and aft in washerwomen's salty profanities, right on the edge of a crumbling pier; the sea rubs against the pier and you'll conceive. Only once a week, on a Saturday, because the office for long distance calls is only open till six and you're only just getting back from work by then. I'll hear your voice faintly; can't speak any louder – the booth is plywood, the place is full of people, have to say the same thing five times over: “Please don't get used to me not being there. Please pine for me. Yes, pine.” I drop into the library. That dry calico air, how hard and marvellous to breathe it.
The librarian loves me and lets me browse the shelves. I stroke the bindings and spines. I know which kind of books I'm going to choose, but all the same I don't go, I spin it out. Out in the street, the books in my hand, I almost run home I'm so impatient, like I'm bursting to go to the toilet. I can already see myself lying on the ottoman, my gaze almost material, like a wire stretched between my eyes and the yellowish page. I hear nothing and know nobody and wish for nothing. Or otherwise. I lie and am ill; on a thick winter's evening my father should be coming home from the paper and bringing books from the office library; I've never once been there and can only imagine the long deep shelves crammed with the fat and the thin, the read and the re-read. Now he's opening the door, placing something, his briefcase probably, on the table in the corridor, slips his coat off with a rustle, breathes heavily, puffs as he bends, ah, he's taking his shoes off, mum comes out of the kitchen, kissing, conversation, at last, he's in my room holding something out to me.
I try to guess by the covers, still cold, deliberately not looking at the titles, what kind of books these are. Surely not? Yes! Yes! All about them again? I'm a fervent enough royalist as it is. I'll take root in the saddle, put my face to the wind, and His Majesty will be spirited away from under the hangman's nose. In Crimea, in December, in the middle of nowhere, finding a volume of Bunin in a wretched library from which a good third – and the best third – has been plundered, going to the post office and hearing the faint crackle of your voice, standing on the porch, offering my lips to the breeze, going down to the shore, standing on the edge of the breakwater with a book under my arm. I turn my back on the sea with its crinkled washboard surface, carefully prise the balcony door open, so as not to wake you – it thuds shut anyway – enter the dark room, somebody, must be Elizaveta Rafaelovna, is shuffling along the corridor. I hear the lavatory flush, and the shuffling come back. I throw the jacket off my naked back and return to you from a world of sharply delineated abysses, where under sharp icy stars countless Olya Mesherskys rustle their skirts bewitchingly over the floor and razors over their veins.
Every third night mum's on duty. And at nine Valera, my brother's friend, shows up. Valera brings wine, and my brother swipes fruit liqueur from the store cupboard on the quiet. Valera's five years older than me, same as my brother. He's twenty two. He does the talking and my brother intersperses the occasional “yes”, “no”, “Blum, Kvoka – yeh, they're my mates...” I sit there woodenly, my whitened fingers clutch a thin glass. Valera lives in a dorm at Penza Poly. He shares a room with Romasha and Smacker. Smacker's a sadist, he likes stubbing out cigarettes on his girlfriends' skin.
Romasha has a different weakness, he likes being the last onto a packed trolleybus and slipping his hand up the skirt of a girl squashed up against him and giving her bum a squeeze. Valera once went with Smacker to Pskov, to see Smacker's big brother. They got totally wasted. And when Smacker and his brother passed out, slumped face down on the table, the wife's brother calls Valera into the bathroom – she can't turn the tap on, there she is stark naked, her arms held up in the air for some reason, her back pressed against the white tiled wall and whispering: “C'mon, give it me, give it me!” and Valera gave it her like she'd never had it before on the floor of somebody else's bathroom with the two blokes snoring away next door. And at the championships in Vinnitsa – not a bad little place – he got off with a right classy piece of stuff right there in the sports hall and went to fuck her in the botanical gardens; one of the keepers caught them at it and got out his whistle, but Valera was on his feet quick as a flash, still clutching a pair of frilly knickers, and put the nosy old geezer flat on his back out cold. He came back from Vinnitsa as Junior Champion of Ukraine and as a champion cuckold: on his first day back he found out Pusyp had been having it off with his Nata Komarova. She tried telling him: “Listen, Lerik, love, I was going to have your baby and Pusyp's got a real long one and they say that'll do it.” Feet up on his shoulders. Sixty nine. I staggered up from the table. “Feet on shoulders” was way beyond me – all you'd get was some sort of cracking noise.
They didn't notice. I went out onto the verandah and drank the black moist air. Mum called “her little billy goats” from work. I started the call by saying “Bye!” - mum was asking a load of silly questions, affectionate suffixes sibilated and cooed in the receiver and I just kept answering “Bye!”; I used to put myself to bed to the muffled sounds of Valera's and my brother's voices, just couldn't sleep, got up in the night, dressed, ran to the street where the girl from my year lived, only her spatial proximity, like a cold hand on a fevered brow, could save me. Whenever Valera happened to drop by when she was at my place and touched her with his “hello”, my blood would freeze in my veins and I'd hurry her into the other room, out into the street, to the end of the world. After seeing the girl from my year home, kissing her in the entrance, I'd hurry home in a fever so I could stand woodenly at the table and, fingers whitened to breaking, imbibe the thin glass of the goblet filled with pure wine, the flashes and clots of the chandelier's bright light and the tart smell of kisses.
Since I've been living alone, I often have a dream about a long queue, I don't know what for or where to, and the person at the end of it is mum, really aged, an old woman in fact. My hand finds the switch. The light floods over the walls and jerks at my eyelids for an instant. The bedbugs scatter, as if an electromagnet had been switched off. They scram quick smart, puffing and panting, rounded like tankers, red as fire engines. Autumn's speeding through the town like a bike race. Let's get out of the way, give it room, here comes some crazy rider, he grabs a flask from somebody's hand without slowing, drains it and throws it away and it bounces, clattering like a hollow nutshell, down infinite steeply dropping steps. Made its noise. Had its blaze. We walk along September and, after passing us, a perfectly tame spraying machine lays a pristine ozone street out before us. Let's follow it.
We walk up Kruglo-Universitetskaya. A pack of dogs runs towards us: night is on the approach. Don't be afraid. They won't touch you. My place. No lights showing on the fifth floor. We stop on every landing and kiss. Let's go away to New York, live on the top floor of a skyscraper with a defunct lift and walk home together every evening. In September my heart turns into a chestnut, hard and glossy. In September – so – my heart – I wanted to call... - hard and glossy, but even before, from my youth, when I first put pen to paper with the words “evening flows through the veins”, I dreamt of writing prose beneath three stars; may these ponderous dense wasps smeared over the air forgive me – their tracks are invisible, their tracks resound – growth without result, without resolution, these your veins flowing into your palms, these your golden hands flowing into me. How I want to rise to my feet in the midst of autumn and leave for another episode in my life, bypassing the little white pinafores – epigraphs to winter, voices above them, flying petal to petal next the quince trilling of little birds. Rustle a little quieter, mistress Autumn – you'll scare the voices. When it was falling, layering, when each tree was organizing around itself, summoning the children, a ringing joke with fire – a carousel, I tore myself away, with a kiss in the corner of my mouth, from a slide polished by tears called “Farewell” and on the way dialled your number a thousand times to play “Bye – Nobye!”
This autumn is again about you. How one day there was running along the narrow nearby evening, how the veranda door slammed. I don't know what for. I only managed to catch the crisp sound of the slam. Then she undressed, the little darling, and lay down where necessary and how necessary. She was the loveliest tart in town. My brother dreamt of her from his teens. He could not do otherwise. Autumn's about you. How it lisps – speech therapists can do nothing. Let's leap, spin, just cling on tight to the mare's crimson mane; you see – as a kerchief, as a roof, the title failed, we lie and above us, above the wide open ceiling – three stars, I've been dreaming of them since my teens – let them stand.
©Igor Pomerantsev *** written 1975/1976 in Ukraine, translated by Frank Williams for Zeitzug
Quote from Boris Pasternak, “It's February. Weeping, take ink”, from Pasternak. Selected Poems, translated by J. Stallworthy and P. France, published by Allen Lane, London, 1983.
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