Three Stories by Anatoly Gavrilov

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.

Gantenbein and the Boar

To a friend from my youth

Once upon a time there lived a man called Arnold Mefod’evich Gantenbein and he kept a boar, which he fed only food scraps from the Composers’ Art Center cafeteria, where he worked as a security guard. He fed the boar and himself this way. And why not?
And so, when the pond iced over and the trees began to crack in the forest, Arnold Mefod’evich put some gas into his blowtorch, honed his German bayonet, and came to the boar.
“Don’t kill me, Gantenbein!” cried out the boar. “Keep me until Christmas and you won’t regret it.”
Arnold Mefod’evich thought for a while. He recalled Russian folk tales and postponed slaughtering the boar. And so they went on living, only the boar began to get cheeky: now Arnold Mefod’evich had to read him a newspaper, now a book before bed. And if Arnold Mefod’evich didn’t comply, the boar yelled, whined, and stamped his hooves. Arnold Mefod’evich tried to please him, tried to satisfy the boar, but the boar’s insolence only grew:
“I want,” he said, “to see live composers!” Arnold Mefod’evich kneeled before the composers and they took pity on him, came to the boar, and began to present their opuses. The boar liked that a lot: he was moved, squeezed out a tear, expressed the desire to sing “Take the Golden Ring and Come to Ivanovo,” and did so, which touched the composers quite a bit.
Christmas came. Arnold Mefod’evich put some gas into his blowtorch, honed his German bayonet and came to the boar.
“Don’t kill me, Gantenbein!” cried out the boar. “Keep me until New Year’s and you won’t regret it!”
Arnold Mefod’evich thought for a while. He recalled Russian folk tales and put the bayonet aside. And so they went on living, only the boar’s insolence grew even more:
“I want to watch color television! I want to read Frietzsche! I want to screw Hitme Whouston!”
Arnold Mefod’evich was downcast, but what could he do? He had to comply. He spent all of his savings on the boar’s demands, and to top it off, the boar kept sneering at him:
“So tell me, Gantenbein, how have you lived your life?”
“I lived well,” answered Arnold Mefod’evich.
The boar roared with laughter and called him a duckwad and a figgot.
Or:
“So tell me, Gantenbein, what must be done for a complete triumph of the first law of dialectics, the law of conversion of quantity into quality?”
“You need to introduce lease contracts, glasnost, and democracy.”
“Fool!” roared the boar with laughter. “You need to summon the Ruriks.”
New Year’s Eve came. Arnold Mefod’evich put some gas into his blowtorch, honed his German bayonet, and came to the boar. He entered the shed and saw a lifeless, dirty lump with a note next to it: “You’ll have to forgive me, Gantenbein, but I’m fed up with this humdrum existence. I decided to take arsenic because the most important philosophical problem is the problem of suicide and I managed to solve it. My meat is poisoned and, although you people are used to killing each other, still I’m begging you–don’t tempt yourself and don’t tempt others. Sayonara, my friend.”
Arnold Mefod’evich cried and grieved a bit, but nothing could be done–he had to compensate for the loss somehow. He worked on the boar with the blowtorch, butchered the carcass, sprinkled it with garlic brine and took it to the market. And here our little tale finishes off.

Ice

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.

Bios

Anatoly Gavrilov

Anatoly Gavrilov (b. 1946) is a contemporary Russian author. Gavrilov lives in Vladimir and works as a mailman. His work remained unpublished until 1989, and to this day he publishes his texts very rarely, almost never participating in the activities of the literary establishment. Gavrilov’s position as an outsider is intensified by his seemingly modest output, which includes a couple of collections of short–and often very short–texts. Nevertheless, in Russia he has achieved a very high reputation and is considered a “writer’s writer.” His influence on contemporary Russian prose has been widely acknowledged.

Anton Tenser, Sasha Spektor, and Rashida Hakeem

Anton Tenser was born in Novosibirsk, Russia in 1976. Until his immigration to the U.S. in 1989, he lived in Kiev, Ukraine. He has a BA in biology from Northwestern University and a PhD in linguistics from Manchester University in the UK. Anton is the author of The Grammar of Lithuanian Roma as well as articles on Romani language and ethnography. His Russian-language poems have been published in the online journals TextOnly and Reflect. ...................................................................................................................................... Sasha Spektor immigrated to Chicago in 1989. He has a PhD in Slavic literature from Harvard University and teaches Russian literature at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He writes in Russian and English. .................................................................................................................................... Rashida Hakeem was born in southern Illinois. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Copyright (c) Anatoly Gavrilov, 1990. English translation copyright (c) Anton Tenser, Sasha Spektor, and Rashida Hakeem, 2011.