Три рассказа. (Перевод на английский Е.П.Валентиновой)
On the Road
A pigeon got run over. Its wing was stamped downright into the asphalt by the wheel, there was blood on its neck. It was lying on its back – fluttering, arching its back, unable to get up. It saw me – and turned still… Then suddenly it tore its wing unstuck, turned over, stood up on its feet. It was standing and tottering… Right next to it there was the distinct print of its wing in the bluish hoar-frost, like an impression fossil of an extinct bird… But the pigeon was yet alive. It tottered one more time, and headed for the bushes by the road. Walking with more and more confidence, faster and faster. It made it to the bushes, fell – and froze, instantly turning into a handful of battered feathers – with the open beak sticking out, the snow flakes falling into the beak… The dry snow mercifully covered the bird. The impression of the wing on the road faded and melted away. Only the pinkish stain persisted in showing on the surface, an embarrassment to the unconcerned white…
I was walking away and thinking – how come I am that much of a coward?.. How can I be afraid both to live, and to die…
Back of Our House
Back of our house there is a ravine, cats inhabit the ravine. Every morning and every evening an old woman comes to the ravine, accompanied by her son. They bring food for the cats. He comes carrying a large stockpot, she – several tin bowls and the ladle. They feed the weak and the timid separately, and won’t allow other cats to chisel them out of their share. She has a narrow dark face, and wears an old-fashioned tailored jacket with wide pointed shoulders, a wide black skirt, and large boots. He is a tall man growing stout with a pale face, wearing a plaid shirt, a pair of old sweatpants, open-heel slippers, and no socks. The old woman is chain-smoking Russian cigarettes, and wipes her watering eyes. The son stands by, sniffing. One day I got talking to her. She fought in the War, her husband was killed in combat. She had a son by him, the son grew up, went to do his military service. He was to make a parachute jump. He got scared, and they pushed him out. The parachute opened automatically, but he who landed was a very different person indeed. For several years he was being treated for it, then his mother became his warden. He is of a quiet disposition, he spends most of his time sitting at the window in silence. He does some shopping on his own, buys bread, and pays with coins he carries clenched in his hand. But he cannot climb up any higher than the ground floor – he grows pale, starts whimpering like a baby. That’s why they took the ground floor lodgings, the janitor’s flat, and it is their job to keep the grounds in front of the house tidy, as well as the basement. It’s the mother who is actually employed, but he helps her, does everything she tells him to do. After he has done his chores, he returns to the window – and looks at the ravine. From all over the town people bring unwanted cats to this ravine – grown up cats, and tiny kittens. The old woman gets up at six in the morning, and cooks some cheap fish making a sort of a thick soup, then adds some crumbled bread to it, and puts the stockpot out on the balcony to cool. The smell of the cooked fish spreads about far. Cats come running from the ravine, climb out from the basements, jump down from balconies – and fall into rank before the window of the janitor’s lodgings. The son stands at the window watching the cats gather for breakfast, he is muttering something and scratching the bold patch at the back of his head. Now they are coming out with the food, to be besieged by the gang of cats.
“Mother, Mother… Red has come…” he is pulling his mother by her sleeve. Red, their favorite tom-cat, is on hostile terms with Marquise, a large gray tom. Marquise has owners, but he often escapes to join the free-roaming cats. Yet it is not for long that he usually enjoys his freedom, his owner comes and carries him away. Cats mock Marquise – a mother’s darling… Two black tom-cats, a father and a son, come from the neighboring house. They keep their own company, and are generally feared, but they behave themselves, and would taunt only Marquise – chase him into the bushes, and then sit near by with an innocent air, while Marquise is peeping out from between the branches, meowing plaintively. And yet he would come again and again…
“Mother, they are browbeating Marquise again…” Mother ladles some soup into a bowl that is to be served separately. Now the black ones have done and left for their own house, the newly arrivals, who yet feel not quite at ease at the bowls area, have also eaten and run back into the ravine – those who remain are their own” – the belligerent Red with one of his hind leg crooked due to an old injury… “we had it treated but the treatment was never completed…”, a calico kitty, a belle, for whose sake Red regularly beats up Marquise, as well as all the other toms he can beat up… a fat tabby tom whom Red doesn’t beat up because the fatty is indifferent to females… a black kitten with long white whiskers, an issue of a chance love affair Calico had with one of the neighboring Blacks… “due to Red becoming careless and letting her out of his eyesight…”, a small white female cat with dark spots on her face that make her look bizarre – as if she has no nose and is laughing, a flirt and a floozy… a weird looking tom-cat with yellow colored coat and brown socks whose name is Pushtun… and a dare-devil of a tabby kitten with very long legs and his back almost always arched… The old woman smiles: “the regulars amount to seven… others come and go…”
“Mother, Mother, look… a new one is coming…” An incredible creature is emerging from the ravine – an overfed hulk weighing maybe fifteen pound.
“My, that’s one pan of a face, it is… Mother, Mother, he is begging for some soup…”
The newcomer has eaten his fill, and disappears into the ravine. The mother lights a new Russian cigarette from the stub of the one still going. Lately they began to have trouble stretching their money for the cats to last. She took a second job, part-time, as a washing woman in the hospital, it brought only half of what the full-time job would pay – thirty-five a month, but they overworked her mercilessly there. The lab assistant – a very haughty lady, makes one do the chores of other people and one can do nothing about it. “For the same thirty-five a month…” The cats have left, the mother and the son are working. He gets tired soon, stops, looks at the sky, at the trees, at the white clouds drifting by… “Go home…” He obediently goes home, takes his seat at the window, gets a notebook from the shelf, and a pencil stub – and begins to scribble laboriously:
“…tuday Red came with somebody else agin… blacks eaten fine… whity is to hav a kitten…”
Talk to Me…
I am riding on a bus. The downtown is lighted, but pedestrians are few. The stores are closed, and there aren’t all that many places fit for promenading about. I am riding. The huge dark shapes… farther on the black streets become narrower, the houses – lower… I am sailing away, and my vessel is small. I used to enjoy it – that over-there-in-the-distance, that there’s-spreading-before-you feeling… Now I don’t care. Narrow is the burrow that man digs. An error is overhanging the whole of our life. Any man has supposedly lived for some purpose, hasn’t he?.. Well, any man indeed… any man is looking for justifications as usual… The street threads on, it’s winter, it’s pitch dark, the windows glow dimly – there are shadows inside, some are having a bite or a drink, some are asleep, some are bawling at their children… I am riding on. Once I used to meditate on the possible ways of getting out of the darkness… Over there, fa-a-ar off – there seems to be light!.. We rocked, something thumped under the wheels – the railway tracks… a tiny hut, a yellowish light glowing… Halt! Who’s in there? Who?.. It has already sailed off backwards, it’s darkness all about once again… I am riding on. I used to think there are cities full of light, and bright skies… the thing is to get away from this place… No, the blackness is inside you… it’s inside you that the darkness dwells…
A man in the bus. There are two of us. An old man, and his face is yellow:
“Talk to me…”
I don’t feel like talking to him at all.
“…I am scared…”
I am also scared, but we have nothing to talk about, absolutely nothing.
“…I live with my wife… she is keen on keeping the house, she is…of nights she sleeps. I lie awake. Thinking?… no, I am being heaved on swelling waves… fear heaves me. When I die, what’s going to happen to her… It’s into the darkness that we depart… Could it possibly have been always like this? But we used to have had faith, to waft off into the light… You are young, go away from here, go awa-ay… everything is poisoned here… I want to believe that the Day of the Judgment is coming, that all and sundry will be called to account… And I fail to believe even that.”
“Well, really… that’s no way to think, old man…”
I bent over him – he was already asleep. No, no, no, the first stop the bus makes… I won’t go any farther, let me out!… Long ago vanished behind the lights of the city, voices, songs, laughter, adventures and pranks, even some small achievements, pride… There is no earth underneath. There is no justification. Please don’t!.. let it be a dream!… Bright light dazzles me, a stranger’s hand is on my shoulder, shaking me awake – “your ticket, mister!..”
Oh how wonderful!… Yes, the ticket, of course, my ticket — here it is, here… And what about the old man? His face is white… he is smiling…
“You feel wonderful, aren’t you?.. And I am scared, talk to me…”