‘A Higher Form of Necrophilia’ (translated by Slava Faybysh)
Ivan and his babushka sat down in a dusty, half-deserted bus. It smelled of exhaust fumes and singed pigskin. Ivan and his babushka were lucky: they had a whole seat to themselves, where some rust-blond foam padding was making its way out of a hole. Ivan was tearing at the foam and putting bitter little pieces in his mouth. Babushka was looking out through the scratched-up window remembering her youth. They were headed to the last stop, which was called “Brick Factory.” Until then, it was traffic jams, red lights, road rage and hundreds of people who weren’t wishing you well.
Just beyond the gloomy factory (which looked like a medieval fort) there was a graveyard. Whenever babushka walked past the concrete pipes and inhaled the scent of burning pitch, she always had the exact same question: “How can anyone work like this?” She had spent her whole life working with biological materials behind closed doors at the state research institute.
Well Ivan was thinking about how he didn’t feel like visiting his dedushka since he could no longer whittle him a pistol and a walkie-talkie out of wood scraps, which the repairmen would leave lying about the driveway after a visit. Ivan didn’t like Chinese pistols in colorful packaging because all the kids had those. The boy just knew that more secret knowledge was within his grasp, so he wanted absolutely nothing in common with anyone else. Babushka did not support this tendency of his, and periodically she told Ivan he was egotistical. The boy didn’t quite know what that word meant, but just in case, he would get angry and try to appear as unhappy as possible.
When they came to the graveyard, strewn with plastic flowers and clipped, black crosses, they would zigzag a long time without finding the grave that was dear to them.
“This is because we come so rarely, so dedushka Vitya is cursing us. He’s angry at us, and he’s decided to make sure we get lost. He’s angry again, and he’s getting us lost! Agh, my Vitya, don’t be offended at us, we’re flighty . . .
While babushka was walking through the graveyard rows, Ivan would look at the black and white photos of the deceased. He would smile at some, spit at others. Babushka was always losing sight of Ivan because he was short and reminded you more of an evil gnome than a child.
When babushka would realize at the following plot that she had walked in a circle for the umpteenth time, and her grandson wasn’t with her, she would start yelling.
She would shout, “Ivan, get back here!” Her wails would fill the graveyard silence like a howling wind from beyond the grave. While babushka was screaming, Ivan would look in the distance at the long black smokestack of the brick factory and imagine there was a crematory there. They make bricks from the ashes of the deceased, well since their bodies have decayed. Their bodies started decaying the moment they were born.
A few minutes later, babushka would find an astonished Ivan. For a while, they would wander again through the maze of graves, peeping at the numbers above the crosses. They would find dedushka about two hours after they got there, if it was bright and sunny outside.
“My Vityenka! Here you are, my flesh and blood! My Vitya, you really sent us in circles, such circles!” Babushka would stand on all fours and tear out the grass that had overgrown dedushka Vitya’s neglected gravestone. Ivan would look at the numbers, which he could never remember. At school, he was already taking math, but he could never figure out how long his grandfather had lived. What he did know was that his dedushka was born in scary times, when the exact number didn’t matter to people.
“Vityenka! My love! Well, you sent us in circles again, what circles! My love, please forgive me, I’m old, such nonsense in my head, forgive me, love!” Babushka did her song and dance.
Ivan had the urge to pee. But instead of pulling down his pants, he stood on all fours, grunting.
“Well now, Vanya, we’ve become—predators!” said babushka. She and her grandson began eating dirt from dedushka Vitya’s grave. The important thing for Ivan right now is to make sure he doesn’t use his hands. Or babushka will transform into an enraged beast, take her purse and pummel his back with it.
The sand was dry and grated against your teeth. Babushka was saying something with her mouth full. Ivan was feeling grateful that it wasn’t raining today.
“When your flesh and blood dies, they blanket the sand with a black sludge. A nice mushroomy sludge, like a soupy medley of porcinis. Each grain of sand is my Vitya, my own flesh and blood. Oh . . .” Babushka cooed as if she was not, by nature, human, but pigeon-like.
Ivan ate dirt silently. The only thing he was afraid of was that they would bury babushka in a different graveyard, and once a year to commemorate their deaths he’d have to go to the brick factory first, then somewhere out in another direction, where the crosses are much larger. Yeah, and babushka’s a lot meaner than dedushka—she won’t drive you around in circles for two hours—it’ll be four.
Although, the family seems to have decided to bury them close together, but it has happened before.
Swallowing his first clump of dirt, Ivan secretly wished babushka would die and smirked.
“Ann and Her Lovers” (translated by Fred Fingers)
In one respect, Ann was different from all her friends: she never told anyone about her lovers. Even on Friday evening, in a noisy cafe, when the subject was raised—she would just shrug it off, smiling politely to all the leading questions.
Ann brought it up just once. On Christmas Eve, she came across her classmate with whom she had shared the same desk for a year and a half of her first grades. Because of innate oligophrenia, he was moved to a special establishment, unfriendly and cold at all times.
‘Hi, Sviat!’ Ann was slightly drunk, so she behaved in a jaunty and girly attractive way.
Sviatoslav was dressed in rags and wore summer plimsolls with wool socks over them. His face had never known any razor, so he looked like a monk who got to know God too early and lost his mind because of that. Sviatoslav wasn’t particularly interested in Ann’s beauty. When he was eleven, it was obvious even to him that he wasn’t capable of learning the multiplication table, so he made the crucial decision: to become a street dog. His parents were alcoholics, so they didn’t pay too much attention.
Since he was 11, Sviatoslav has been wandering around the city, barking at passers-by, receiving kicks, and even trying to gnaw some raw beef bones. His specific smell was recognizable around the neighborhood, and in the course of time people just ceased to believe in his existence as a human being.
In any case, Sviatoslav didn’t bark at Ann; instead, he licked all over her red high heels. Ann seized her old acquaintance by the scruff of his neck and helped him up, laughing. He wasn’t used to being on his feet, but having looked at her he instantly remembered the smell of fresh roses, hot asphalt, and the hum of naughty puerility.
‘C’mon, Sviat, don’t you remember me, doggy?’ she asked cheerfully.
He disingenuously chuckled in return. Ann grabbed his index finger and led him to the nearest apartment block. There, she took a bottle of milk out of her handbag, gave it to her companion, and settled herself on the cold stairs.
‘Alright, Sviat, let me tell you about my first boyfriend. His name was Michael. We met at a party; that very night we went to bed, but he was too scared to even touch me, funny, isn’t it? Eventually he did, though, but it hurt like hell, especially when he tried to gnaw through my carotid artery. It wouldn’t end up well anyway, so…’
Meanwhile, Sviatoslav spilled his milk on the concrete floor and was now eagerly lapping it up from the white puddle, making the entire situation quite surreal and stupid.
‘I left Michael by running away from the town on a suburban train. Then I’d been straying around for a while, staring through the windows, and looking for compassion, just like you do; all in vain.’
If Sviatoslav had looked at her at that moment—Ann would have surely started crying. Instead, he was sniffing at the corners in order to spot a possible threat. But Ann hoped he was actually listening to her, and that his behavior was just an attempt to repel other males that could possibly claim her.
‘Then, freezing in an abandoned lodge near an unfinished swimming pool, I met a person who wanted to stay anonymous. He took me right there and went away the way he’d come. It is a great treasure to be part of the emptiness, Sviatoslav!’
When she mentioned the emptiness, Sviatoslav snuggled up to Ann. He felt he could relate and that even if Ann wasn’t his girlfriend, maybe she was a spiritual cousin. They hugged.
‘I went back to the town by the morning train. But you know how it is; everything is so different, bogus, and putrid, that I wish I were back in that cold lodge instead. To cuddle up to the nameless person, take his cold dick in my warm hand, and listen to the extraterrestrial mantras that our minds will never be able to comprehend.’
Sviatoslav was playfully biting her neck; Ann struck his chin with her palm, trying to keep him away. Should Sviatoslav leave a love bite on her skin, she would be flogged with a soldier’s belt (which would leave red stars on her ass) and her life would become even harder to tolerate.
When the first euphoric wave caused by mutual understanding had subsided, she started the last story.
‘So, Sviat, we’re close to the final. My new boyfriend is Alex, and he is a saint. No, seriously. When we’re lying in our bed, he caresses my head and says that Satan has put a seal on my womb, and it lures me into the hellfire. He asks me to spread my legs in broad daylight and then prays looking down there.’
Having closed her eyes and sighed, Ann said the last thing, ‘You know, I think I’ve fallen in love with him.’
A bit later they stood up and went outside to howl at the rising moon. They spent the rest of the night at a junkyard, amongst broken kinescopes and plastic bottles.