On the Threshold of a New Life

Heavy industry is very developed in our town. We have the biggest blast furnaces, open-hearth furnaces, and rolling mills. There are many heroes of labor. We have clubs and stadiums.  Provisions are in good supply. They come to us from nearby towns for sausage.

My mother, my older brother, and I live on the outskirts of town in the community of Slagville. It is a large and thriving community. Many people own cars and motorcycles. Our nutritional and clothing needs are well met.

We live in a roomy, but still not quite finished prefab of cement and slag. There are chickens, a shed, and a vegetable garden. My father was killed three years ago in a local brawl. My mother works at a water-tower, my brother in an office, and I’m taking final high school exams and getting ready for a new life. I applied to military law school at the spring pre-conscription committee evaluation.

I felt drawn to jurisprudence somewhere in the fifth grade. I would retreat to the attic and there set up all manner of trials for all manner of criminals. Some I acquitted, on others I imposed various sentences, but the most serious offenders I took behind the outhouse for summary execution.

There were days when the executions piled up so high that at night I was scared to go out for a pee.

Later on I began to frame juridical laws for the whole universe and had already developed a considerable number of such.

I want to become a high-ranking lawyer of State importance.

Just as our shallow and oil polluted Leech River somewhere flows into the sea, so my life soon will pour into the ocean of the life of the State.

Mother is proud of my dream. She announces to everyone that soon her son will become the prosecutor for the entire country. However, this doesn’t relieve me of household chores: I still have to water the vegetable garden, and cart the cucumbers to market, and clean the chicken coop.

But brother doesn’t want to do anything around the house. At night he either goes off to town, or lies on the couch.

When I told him about my dream, he smirked.

Let’s wait and see, brother!

Final exam is passed. Passed with the highest grade! I succeeded in connecting the laws of dialectics with Jurisprudence and the Cosmos. They congratulated me. They said a bright future awaited me.

And I’m sad that school’s already behind me, and excited about the new life that lies ahead.

Swelter, flies, dust. Tomorrow’s the prom. Getting ready. Practice my dance routine and deliver speeches in the attic. Nervous.

Meat, sausages, vegetables, fruits, candies, cookies, cakes, soft drinks, wine, music, dancing–it was all there. At the table got seated next to T., whom I always liked and to whom I intended to announce the fact at this farewell party. At first felt somewhat uptight, but gradually loosened up and began to speak of Jurisprudence and the Cosmos. And I saw my speeches didn’t go unnoticed on T.’s part. This galvanized me, and I informed her that in my juridical future there’d be a place for her too.

“Wonderful! Great!” she said.

My head was spinning. I got up and proposed a toast to love. I was seconded.

“To love!” I shouted, turning to T.

“To love!” she echoed.

I was happy.

But when the dancing began, she went off to D. and danced the whole evening with him. They danced too freely, I’d say obscenely, and I decided to take leave of this depraved, drunken society and went home, but I came back: what if T.’s not dancing with D. anymore? But they kept on dancing, acting wild, and for the second time I took leave of the prom and once again returned. Now I caught sight of them in the hallway. They were standing in a dark corner, pressed tight together. So then I entered the hall, asked for the microphone, and announced I had a surprise for everyone, namely that my relative manages a garage and that I arranged with him regarding a bus which will arrive presently at the school and which affords us the opportunity of going to the preserve “Pure Springs,” where we will then greet our first dawn of a new life.

Everyone shouted “hurrah” and rushed to bounce me up and down, and the higher I flew, the more terrified I became, since I had no arrangement regarding a bus.

I got sick, began to puke, and came to only in the daytime, in the school toilet, in the midst of the flies, the excrement, and the swelter.

No matter. It is all so insignificant compared to the glorious and lofty future awaiting me!

But they’re really something! Left me alone in the toilet!

Framing a law for the Cosmos on criminal responsibility for leaving a puker behind in the toilet.

Never mind. One day they’ll all be there to greet me with flowers, little flags, and my portraits.

Swelter, flies, dust.

Work around the house and preparation for entrance exams for the military law school.

Must prepare intensively for a new life. Must master urgently genteel manners and speech. Must learn how to sit properly at the table and ingest my food elegantly. As a first priority, must not pronounce ‘g‘ like ‘h‘ as in the Ukrainian way. Avoid the vernacular and crude words. Must enter the new life as an utterly refined person.

Allow me, please, be so kind, would it be your pleasure, would you like, the pleasure is mine, strictly speaking, in accordance with the aforementioned, as a leitmotif, quorum, to avoid excesses, wonderful, remarkable, till we meet again. And it’s: Galoshes, Gravel, Gallop, boGus, laGoon, God, Granite.

Swelter, flies, dust.

Cleaning the chicken coop.  Stench, feathers, down, droppings, lice. Mother checks that there’s not a mote of dust left. She aims to maintain the chicken coop in cleaner order than the house.

Never mind! One day they’ll say he was not only an outstanding public official, but he was not above cleaning the chicken coop.

The soil’s splitting, the vegetable garden’s scorching. Watering the vegetable garden in the morning, in the evening, at night. Almost never going out. Trying not to meet up with my classmates.

Standing by the wicker gate, observing the sunset behind the broiler factory. Suddenly noticed T’s coming down the street. I squatted behind the gate.

Never mind! One day I’ll be surrounded by the most beautiful and intelligent women!

Early morning, a sack with cucumbers, the bus, the market.

Mother’s battle on the bus and at the market to get the best place.

At night brother came with some woman. They sat under the awning, drinking wine, smoking.

I didn’t sleep well.

In the evening went to visit R. and V., with whom I once sustained friendly relations. They’d already finished their trade schools and now were working as locksmiths at the metallurgy factory. Maybe they’re not very deep thinkers, but they’re not trouble makers and have no ties with the local thugs.

They were sitting on a bench by R.’s house. They received me quite warmly and asked if it was true I wanted to become a prosecutor, to which I replied that the definition of “prosecutor” was too confining, and that, for my part, I was preparing for a broader and deeper juridical activity involving the Cosmos.

They were talking about mitts, which are not given out to them at the plant and without which one cannot work. I counseled them to appeal to the local committee or the Central Committee. Evening was spent in a spirit of friendship and mutual understanding.

Never mind, R. and V., cheer up! One day I’ll make you directors of the biggest factories!

Mother and a neighbor discussing local news by the fence. I’m watering the vegetable garden, hearing their conversation and thinking: is there really nothing but the negative in life? Aren’t they really bored talking just about the negative? But where’s the positive? Where are the higher aspirations? Where, in the final analysis, is the poetry of life? Comrades, what else can you possibly need? Some sausage–help yourselves, we have it. Some culture? Visit the libraries, the movie theaters, the clubs! Want to make a contribution to culture? Go right ahead–sign up for a course, draw, embroider, engrave, sculpt, write, sing, dance! Disapprove of our shortcomings? Oppose them! Want to travel to other cities and countries?

“I don’t want anything,” my mother would say. “I just want it to rain tomorrow and that the chickens lay eggs.”

There you have it, their whole philosophy! And many people in our community subscribe to this philosophy: only what’s mine counts, only my backyard, my chickens. I don’t give a damn about the rest.

But what about the country? The world? Outer space?

Swelter, flies, dust.

In the shed, behind mother’s back, ate last year’s preserves, scooping it out of a three liter jar with a piece of cardboard. Suddenly brother came in.

“Stuffing your face, lawyer, huh?” he smirked.

Well, so what? Why is he like that? Who says a future lawyer doesn’t have the right to enjoy preserves?

M. got time for pilfering a galvanized pipe.

Framing a law about criminal responsibility in the Cosmos for pilfering a galvanized pipe.

R. and V. continue to talk about mitts.

One must have ideals, a dream, and then the question of mitts will not be the most important question of life.

Cleaning the chicken coop.

Damned chickens! I cleaned it recently–and again they shat all over the place.

Avoid crude words and emotions. See only the beautiful.

Mother’s battle at the market on line to get scales.

A fight at the beer stall. They were kicking the hell out of someone.

I’ll come here incognito, made up to hide my face, go to the beer stall, get a mug of beer and sit down right on the ground. Someone will definitely pester me, call me an ass, a skunk, scumbag, boss, will spit and pee in my beer, and then I’ll pull out my prize pistol, inlaid with gold and precious stones.

Damned vegetable garden! The more you water it, the more it dries up!

Avoid crude words and emotions. See only the beautiful.

Brother and some pretty woman. Where does he find them? Why doesn’t he marry?

A stroll along the Leech River. There was a time when all our Slagville swam in it. There was a time when R., V. and I used to organize our own WSOG–World-Wide Summer Olympic Games here: who gets undressed faster and jumps into the water, who stays underwater longer, who spits furthest, etc.–but now it’s totally deserted here, the rusty reeds rustle, oily patches float on the water. Burning heat, silence, desolation.

When I become a high-ranking official of the State, I will make the Leech River clean, deep, full. I will adorn it with granite and marble. I will connect it to the biggest ports in the country and the world.

Swelter, flies, dust.

Mother never fries or boils eggs–everything goes to market, everything goes for sale.

Have to drink eggs on the sly in the chicken coop.

Do not fix your thoughts on such trifles. Try to think of the lofty, the profound, the sublime. Strive for the beautiful.

Attended the town art exhibit: portraits of heroes of labor, blast furnaces, open-hearth furnaces, rolling mills. Penned a note of gratitude in the guest book.

Went to the store for bread and sugar. Assaulted by some thugs. Arrived home without bread, sugar or money, in a deplorable state.

Trial of local thugs. Execution of the most malicious behind the outhouse.

In the morning went out to pee and discovered our outhouse was turned over. What happened? Maybe it was a windy night?

Brother refuses to help me restore the outhouse.

“You carry out your executions behind it–so you stand it up,” he answered.

Stench and worms of outhouse.

Preparation for exams. Framing new laws, struggling against the voiceless “g,” the work in the vegetable garden, the market.

R. and V. are talking not about mitts, but about the necessity of making “brass knuckles” from aluminum, ebonite, or textolite.

Perilous aspirations!

Their way of life issues from an absence of a higher purpose and a noble dream.

One must set the highest goals for oneself and strive to achieve them.

One of our chickens disappeared somewhere.

Attempt to determine the whereabouts of the chicken using the method of deduction.

“Deduction, my ass!” mother shouted. “Just go look!”

Went to the vacant lot, the limestone quarry, the ravine, the dump–no discernable outcome.

Attempt to interrogate neighbor B. on the matter of the missing chicken had an unpleasant consequence: neighbor B. kicked me in the hind part.

Framing a law on criminal responsibility for refusal to testify in the Universe.

Framing a law on criminal responsibility in the Universe for a kick in the hind part.

B.’s trial. Sentence: two years of corrective labor in the mines of Uranus.

Mother sits on the bench under the awning, lamenting on the subject of the missing chicken: “You, my dear one! Oh, why did you ever go away? Oh, why didn’t you like it here? Oh, did I ever mistreat you? Oh, did I ever pluck your feathers? Oh, you who are my smartest one! Oh, you who are my quietest one! Oh, you who laid the most eggs! Oh, for whom did you forsake me? Oh, where are you lying now? Oh, where did you close your sweet eyes? Oh, what will I do now without you?”

Swelter, flies, dust. R and V. are talking about “brass knuckles.”  It’s the last of the cucumbers, but the tomatoes are ripening. The earth is splitting. The water is disappearing in the crack without a trace. A mound of chicken droppings is rising. Sit straight at the table, arms at your sides. Speak distinctly and authoritatively. Clearing up the coal shed. Dust, cobwebs. Shed borders on our neighbor’s yard. Neighbor’s legs are visible through a crack. She’s doing laundry. Dress is really hiked up high. I’m trembling. Get away from the crack. Don’t look through the crack. The crack distracts you from lofty thoughts and feelings. Resist pull toward crack. Resist base feelings and impulses. Resist and overcome.  Resist, overcome, and again find myself at the crack.

Mother caught me at the crack. A ruckus, a racket. Brother guffawed. Let’s wait and see, brother!

A wind from the east’s been blowing for the second week. Everything’s burning, quivering, melting. Dust stings in the scorching air. At dinner brother said that in our town they began constructing yet another blast furnace–the biggest in Europe. He said soon they’d completely choke us all here. I replied that one should not be pessimistic, that in the near future all the factory smokestacks would be outfitted with the most effective filters. He replied with some profanity. I said his answer was a consequence of his rough character and the absence of a positive attitude. He splashed borscht in my face.

I opine that he is in the wrong. And borsht here is not at all the point, although the given fact can also be incriminating. The point lies elsewhere, in something more quintessential–the point lies in the absence of any kind of positive attitude, and that is much more quintessential, than borscht.

Framing a law preventing entry into the Cosmos without the presence of a positive attitude.

Framing a law of responsibility in the Cosmos for splashing borscht in someone’s face.

R. and V have set about producing the “brass knuckles” from ebonite.

Do not think about this.

Attended the town theater. Watched a play about steel founders. Was eager to express my gratitude to the actors and the director as well as to impart certain critical observations, but got lost in the wings and ended up in a junk-filled cellar, from which was expelled by some rough lout.

Framing a law of administrative responsibility in the Cosmos for roughness in the wings.

Damned chickens! Cleaned up recently–and again they shat! The scum! The bitches!

Watch yourself. Avoid a vulgar and unseemly situation.

Group of locals raped an attendant at the pumping station.

Framing a law of criminal responsibility in the Cosmos for rape, with ten years of hard labor in the mines of Venus.

R. and V. drilled holes in the ebonite.

Swelter, flies, dust. Sunset behind the broiler factory. Night violets. The moon. Framing a proposal for a jail on the Moon.

A fight in the vacant lot.

The material is objective reality, given to us through our senses. Helical development of society. By the way, about a suit, in particular a jacket. It turns out it is bad form to go anywhere without a jacket–with the exception of a sport’s tour. Visiting friends, one may request permission to remove one’s jacket. At other receptions, we wait for the moment when the host himself offers this. A suit definitely requires a tie. In an official setting, the jacket is buttoned up. In a buttoned-up jacket we enter friends’ apartments, a restaurant (especially in a woman’s company), an office for a conference, a theater. Additionally, a jacket must be buttoned up if we are seated at the table in the Presidium or else giving a speech.

Conversation with my mother on the subject of my suit which I had long outgrown–both morally and physically.

“There’s no money for suits. You’ll get a good one soon from the State,” she answered.

R. and V. set about polishing the “brass knuckles.”

Attended a free concert of classical music which took place in the park. There were fewer listeners in the audience than musicians and toward the end I was the only one there, since a future high-ranking State lawyer must be a well-rounded individual.

After the concert I went up to the musicians and expressed my gratitude.

“Why thank us?” the conductor exclaimed. “It’s we who should thank you. We’re the ones who are grateful.”

He bowed to me and the musicians applauded. I felt giddy and set off for home in elevated spirits, forgetting about the danger of my location on the back platform of our bus, and was subjected to kicking and spitting by some thugs. Upon arriving home, I was instantly assigned by mother to the nightly watering of the vegetable garden.

Swelter, flies, dust.

R. and V. are polishing the “brass knuckles.”

N. got time for pilfering sour cream.

Mother’s quarrel with the neighbor through the fence. Mother is charging the neighbor with deliberately hiking up her dress to corrupt her son, that is me. Do not listen to arguments. Do not listen to these words. Continue to prepare intensively for the new life. Continue to eradicate Ukrainianisms, the vernacular, and vulgarity. Must learn to walk properly. Must learn to stand properly. Must learn to sit properly.

Took money from under the table cloth, went downtown, attended a film about everyday life in the Criminal Investigative Department, visited the cafeteria “Burevestnik,” where I drank a glass of apple juice and ate two pea dumplings.

Mother discovered that money’s missing and carried on. I wanted to confess but she was in such a terrible state that I reconsidered. She asked my brother.

“Leave me alone with your stinking money! We’ve got a lawyer here–so just let him do the inquiry!” he answered.

Investigation, interrogation, and trial of myself in the attic.

Led myself behind the outhouse, but at the last moment made an appeal and was pardoned, with execution commuted to fifteen years of a special regimen. Escaped from detention and hid in the taiga–first in the tomato patch, then in the mountains, behind the chicken droppings. Was granted amnesty by limitation of action.

Swelter, flies, dust. Mother and our neighbor are discussing the local news. Talking about G., who knocked down old Yatsuchka on the road yesterday.

“He’ll not get much time for Yatsuchka,” my mother says.

“He’ll not get any time. Nothing new here. He’ll pay them off,” answers our neighbor.

I’m watering the vegetable garden, hearing their conversation and thinking: what does “he’ll not get much time” mean, what does “pay them off” mean?”

When it comes down to it, what kind of juridical illiteracy and naiveté is that! What kind of parochial notion of the Law!

Swelter doesn’t abate; hot dry wind scorches everything; dust glitters and gleams.

At dinner brother said that the armor plating burst on one of the blast furnaces, and liquid cast iron shot up out of the furnace. There are victims.

Asked where he got such information; after all, neither the newspaper nor the radio carried a report in this regard.

He splashed soup in my face.

In the evening went to visit R. and V. They were sitting on a bench, polishing the “brass knuckles.”

Decided to have a talk with them about something serious and significant. Began speaking about matter in its philosophical import.

“Go fuck off,” said V.

Went away resolving never to visit them again. Ended up at the precipice. A crimson moon was crawling out of the factory smoke. Just as you, moon, always crawl to us out of the factory smoke, so too will I soon crawl out of Slagville, I thought. Below, lit by the moon and the glow of the poured-out slag of the blast furnace, among the thick reeds and diseased willows, our Leech River looped its way. Just like you, looping your way among the diseased willows and thick reeds, toxic and oily, at some point flow into the sea, I thought, so my life soon will pour into the ocean of the life of the State. Just as you, moon, crawl out to illuminate the darkness of the quarry, so too will my light soon illuminate the darkness and ignorance of life.

Basically, one should eat fowl with the aid of a knife and fork, and we never clean oranges and mandarins elliptically. As for peaches, we first cut them in half on a plate, then remove the pit, then peel them–and all this with the aid of a knife and fork, but certainly not with our hands!

Article in the paper on exposé of a scientist who turned out to be a spy.

Trial of the spy in the attic.

Execution behind the outhouse.

At night went out to pee and suddenly heard someone moaning behind the outhouse. I was scared and woke my brother.

“Just keep sentencing and executing–you’ll hear plenty, he answered.

Swelter, flies, dust. After doing the laundry, mother tries to hang out her rather plebian underwear in the most conspicuous place.

N. got his eye knocked out at the beer stall.

Down with the American aggressors!

Down with the Israeli military clique!

Brother and some beautiful woman. Where does he find them? And why do they agree to drink cheap wine with him under our rusty awning?

What is a woman? How does theirs look? How is it shaped?

At night dreamed about a woman who had a hot oven with doors below her belly.

Do not sink to base, vulgar dreams. Must resist such dreams. Entertain sublime thoughts. Prepare for a noble life. Was reading a book and came across a certain remarkable idea: one person sees in a puddle only a puddle, another sees in a puddle the reflection of the stars. Great! Wonderful!

Told my brother about it.

“Now you’re armed and dangerous,” my brother said.

It would be good to substitute my somewhat simple, primitive name for one more significant and noble, for example, Edward, Robert, Arthur.

Nota bene! Memorize the following: a cocktail should be taken in tiny gulps, with breaks. Whiskey–with ice or soda water. Wine is sipped little by little from a wine glass. Liquor–in tiny gulps. Cognac also in tiny gulps, with breaks. At that time you can cup the wine glass–cognac loves warmth. Better to drink champagne and other foamy wines at once, but it is also possible gradually.

Found hooch in the cellar, drank it and puked in the outhouse, behind the outhouse, and in the chicken coop.

Damned chickens, damned vegetable garden!

Watch yourself. Avoid a vulgar and unseemly situation. Watch your bearing, speech, gaze. Continue to eradicate Ukrainianisms.

In the evening I couldn’t help myself and went to visit R. and V.

They were sitting on the bench, polishing the “brass knuckles.”

Visited the enlistment office with the object of elucidating the terms for getting a notice from the military law school. Subjected to a certain crudeness of tone on the part of the district commissioner.

“Just wait! You’ll get it! I’ve no time for you now!”

Some moments of pain and sadness.

Fight this! Look only ahead!

Visited the museum of local lore. Penned a note of gratitude.

Visited the outskirts of town. Climbed the hill behind the water tower and went down to the ravine behind the dump.

Thought about life.

Brother’s disappeared. They don’t know where he is at his place of work either.

Where to look for him, in what corner of town?

Walked around and searched–no discernable outcome.

Mother went to the local policeman, and it seems the latter replied that there’s no problem, he’ll be back, and if he isn’t back, it’s just one scumbag less.

He couldn’t have answered like that. I don’t believe it!

Brother turned up in the morning, lay down on the couch, and asked for water. I brought some. He drank slowly, then puked in the mug, held it out to me and asked:

“Do you remember how I shoved you around when you were little?”

“I remember,” I answered.

“Do you remember how I’d hang you, head down, over boiling water?

“I remember.”

“Do you remember how I’d fart in your face?”

“I remember.”

“Do you remember how I’d kick you in the butt?”

“I remember.”

“You remember everything,” he said. “Well, I’m screwed.”


“What, don’t you get it? Soon you’ll be some government big shot, right? And what if you feel like doing to me everything I did to you!”

“I opine it won’t happen,” I answered. “First of all, my life will be filled with more important matters and feelings, secondly…”

“OK, OK, so get out of here with your stinking mug,” he said and closed his eyes.

In the evening I couldn’t help myself and went to see R. and V. They’d already finished polishing the “brass knuckles” and now were hitting them on a tree, working out some moves.

While cleaning the chicken coop, wanted to drink a fresh egg from the nest and mother caught me. A ruckus, a racket.

Mother brought two tons of coal. Need to transfer by the bucketful into the shed. Brother wriggled out of it and disappeared.

Someone was beaten up in the empty lot. At sunset.

Dust and blood.

Swelter, flies, dust. Vegetable garden, market, chicken coop, preparations for exams. R and V. are hitting the “brass knuckles” on a tree, working out some moves.

Got food poisoning, which is to be expected in our house. Mother forces us to eat what has clearly spoiled. “Well, when you get to be a somebody, then you’ll eat everything fresh,” she replies.

Upset stomach, the runs.

Avoid crude definitions. It is not the runs, but upset stomach.

The upset stomach is still there. That is bad. That distracts from lofty thoughts and feelings.

Visited the park where our local poets were reading. Because of the runs, did not stay till the end.

It is not the runs, but upset stomach.

Mother made some brew. I drank it. Feel better.

Announcement in the national newspaper that the steel founder G. set a new record.

And G. lives in our community, you know!

Told my brother about it.

Poem by the poet Zh. in our local newspaper is dedicated to steel founder G’s new record.

And the poet Zh. lives in our community, you know!

Told my brother about it.

“Go fuck yourself,” my brother replied.

Damned chickens! Damned vegetable garden! Damned market! So when the hell will that recruitment notice come?

R. and V. continue to work out moves with the “brass knuckles” on a tree.

At dinner, brother maligned our jurisprudence, calling it “foolishprudence.”

I could not bear his malevolence and left the kitchen.

He burst out laughing behind my back.

Let’s wait and see, brother!

Was framing a law about criminal responsibility for falsely testifying in the Cosmos when brother entered.

“Give me that!” he said.

I held out the paper with the law. He read it, smirked, and asked:

“How about if I set you up with a nice girl?” Felt like saying “yes,” but replied that an introduction to a girl at the present moment does not appear feasible on account of my preparations for exams for the military law school.

“You shit pot,he smirked.

Swelter continues, chickens defecate, vegetable garden scorches. R. and V. are hitting the “brass knuckles” on a tree.

Decided to make a new drawer for the kitchen table. It will be a one-of-a-kind drawer, without a single nail, solely with dowels, with an ornament, that slides out automatically to musical accompaniment. It will be a memento of me. Someday this drawer will be on display in a museum. Someday they’ll say: not only was he an outstanding statesman, but he was able to make such kinds of drawers too.

Broke apart the old drawer but the new one didn’t work out. The dowels and dovetail mortises of the side pieces didn’t match. It’s possible I made a mistake in my markings.

After framing a law on criminal responsibility for drug addiction in the Cosmos, I went up to the mirror and made a speech on the occasion of being awarded a State prize for service in the field of Law. Following an elegant reception, I set out for America, where I exposed the mafia, ate pineapples, drank champagne, smoked hashish, and frequented brothels.

Suddenly saw my brother in the mirror.

“Still in training?” he smirked.

Mother’s quarrel with the neighbor ended up with the neighbor hitting mother over the head with a bucket. Mother went to the local policeman, but the latter, in her words, refused to listen and behaved rudely and insultingly.

I think mother is overly dramatic. She exaggerates too much. Actually, I can drop in, verify it, and at the same time talk some about Jurisprudence in its broad, philosophical meaning.

I jotted down a line of argument, got prepared, and set off.

Policeman Udot was sitting at the table, reading something and eating a sausage with bread, chasing it all down with the contents of a bottle.

“Hello! Bon appetit!” I said.

“Goes straight to the belly. Whad’uh ya want?”

“The matter in a certain way is that…”

Get to the point!” he shot back.

No, it’s nothing, bon appetit,” I said, and bolted out of the office.

Must not generalize. Policeman Udot–that is still not the whole Law and the whole Jurisprudence. Do not think about it. Look ahead.

Swelter continues, chickens defecate, vegetable garden scorches.  R. and V. are hitting brass knuckles on a tree.

Early in the morning mother went off to a funeral in a village and left a note on the table, in which I’m instructed to feed the chickens and water the kitchen garden strictly on schedule. She starts the words “chickens” and “vegetable garden” with a capital letter, but my name with a small one.

In the evening was watering the vegetable garden. Brother came with a beautiful woman. They settled down under the awning and began drinking wine. Brother called me over and I came.

“And here’s my younger brother, Nina, a future lawyer, legalist, a great man! And when he becomes famous, he’ll banish the two of us to some lifeless planet for our sins!”

“Oh, no, he won’t do that!” the woman burst out laughing.

“You bet he will! He’s getting ready for this!”

“But I’m going to kiss him right now and then he won’t do it!” said the woman and suddenly kissed me, from which my head started spinning and my knees started trembling.

“Pour him a drop!” she said.

“Here!” said my brother, offering me a glass. “Have some! Maybe this’ll warm your juridical soul, maybe you’ll take pity on us one day.”

Slept badly, thoughts getting confused, heart pounding.

No, no, and againno! You will not prevail in muddling me up! You will not prevail in leading me astray!  You will not prevail in drawing me into a morass of depravity and spiritual emptiness. You yourselves are going under, and you want to pull me down as well?

Preparation for exams. Preparation for a new life.

Speech, gaze, bearing, struggle with the voiceless “g.”

Visited the museum-apartment of an outstanding public figure, Zh. Our town is named after him. Penned a note of gratitude.

R. and V. want to attack someone with the “brass knuckles.” Attempts to dissuade them thus far have no discernable outcome.

They want to go outside with the “brass knuckles” tonight and attack someone.

I said their actions might have consequences.

“You stinking cop,” V. shouted and punched me with a “brass knuckle.”


Again the runs started.

It’s very troubling.

Swelter, flies, dust. Factory smoke. The vegetable garden wilted. In a barrel with foul water, green bubbles swell and break slowly. Neighbor on the left, who recently got out of jail, is digging some pit in the vegetable garden. Neighbor on the right, who served time twice, is hammering iron. In the chicken coop the chickens are cackling. My stomach is roiling, my head aches.

In the evening went to the precipice. The moon was illuminating the slope, Leech River, the gardens of the local state farm. Just as you, moon, always crawl out to us from the factory smoke, so I too will soon crawl out from Slagville. Just as you, Leech River, flow somewhere into the sea, so my life too soon will join the ocean of the life of the State.

Suddenly someone squeezed my neck. I shuddered, shrieked. It was the local policeman, Udot.

“Whad’uh ya doing here,” he asked.

“I’m standing,” I answered.

“I see you’re not lying, but whad’uh ya doing here?”

“Isn’t it allowed?”

“Yeah, it’s allowed,” he said, squeezing my neck.

“Let go of my neck, for your actions can have consequences,” I said.

He reeked of alcohol.

“You runt!” he said, and whacked my ear. I fell. He started kicking me. I broke away and ran toward home.

Running, zigzagging, tripping, falling, and running again, I bumped right into some local thugs. “Go get the future prosecutor! Beat the future cop!” they screamed and charged after me, and I ran from them.

Somebody! Help me! Brother! Where are you! Save me!


Anatoly Gavrilov

Anatoly Gavrilov is a contemporary Russian writer of short stories. Born in Ukraine, and a graduate of the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute, Gavrilov now lives in Vladimir and works as a postman. His work was not published in the USSR until 1989. Gavrilov is a writer of modest output, whose laconic style and experimental narratives have left their mark on modern Russian prose, particularly the so-called "new prose" movement. Gavrilov has twice been nominated for the Booker prize, and once for the Anti-Booker. He has garnered numerous awards, among them the Ivan Bunin Prize and the medal of the International Biographic Center in Cambridge, UK for artistic achievement. His long short story, "The Berlin Flute," was winner of the online 2002 literary  competition "Ulov." A complete collection of his works was shortlisted for the 2005 Andrei Bely award and named "Book of the Year" by the newspaper Book Review. In 2010, he received the Andrei Bely award in the "Prose" category, and in 2011, the "Chekhov's Gift" award in the "Outstanding Narrator" category.

Sylvia Maizell

Sylvia Maizell studied Russian Literature at the University of Chicago, in Moscow, and in Saint Petersburg, and has taught Russian. For the past decade, she has worked as a translator from Russian, translating stories by Vladimir Makanin, Andrei Gelasimov, Ludmila Petrushevskaya, Aleksandr Kabakov, Victor Martinovich, Emil Draitser, Boris Khazanov, Dina Rubina, and Mikhail Shishkin. Her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Best European Fiction 2011 (Dalkey Archive Press), Moscow Noir, Russian Love Stories (Peter Lang), Metamorphoses, Partisan Review, and Dance Chronicle: Studies in Dance and Related Arts.

В преддверии новой жизни. Copyright (c) Anatoly Gavrilov, 1989. English translation copyright (c) Sylvia Maizell, 2013.