All original work © 2009 - 2017 Alexey Provolotsky

29 May 2011

Going deaf

At first it seemed like it was the world that was getting quieter: TV’s and radios working on low-running batteries, traffic getting eco-friendlier (scarcer), birds migrating and never coming back… Then someone (was it Andrew?) suggested that it was all about rain. “Rain, – he said, – listen to the rain”. We listened up: yes, it might have been that. There were long, uneventful days when it seemed like the rain would never end. And the biggest thing about rain was that its muffled drumming sucked in our voices and drowned out all our words and conversations.

But – no, we of course knew that the problem had to with what was going on inside. Yesterday as I was lying half-asleep in my bed I thought I heard someone crying. Or maybe I didn’t: maybe it was just this awkward feeling of restlessness one gets in the middle of the night. Maybe I was craving for a pee, and imagined it was something else. Anyway, I got out of the yellow, sweat-stained sheets and stepped outside – just as I was, uncombed and in my ghostly pajamas.

I saw Mary right away. She was crouching on the floor next to my room, her face cuddled in her thin white hands, her back shrugging jerkily against the wall. Why was she shrugging? Though I did of course know why. Mary was crying, and her crying was still remotely audible to my runaway ears. It was a sensation to behold: it was still there, my frustrated hearing, not entirely gone. I sat near Mary and took her hand. She didn’t even look up.

- Mary, – I said. – Don’t worry, it’ s all rain. Andrew was right. You have to understand that.

It was then that she raised her face and stared at me – earnestly, unforgivingly. It meant that she could still discern my words.

- No, – she said, her syllables coming off like cold, distant drops of whispering noise. – It’s not rain. You men, you keep fooling yourselves. You idiots.

I liked it that she called me an idiot. When you see a woman crying (not least because of you), it’s best when she starts calling you names. Idiots, bastards, jerks – men are generally all right with that. Those are the lesser evils. That was the perfect moment to press her against me, stroke her face, kiss her hair…

But suddenly Mary jumped up and pulled at my arm. She wanted me to follow her, and I did. We ran through the dimly lit corridor and into the giant sitting room that was completely dark but still painfully familiar.

- Look, – she said, and dragged me closer to the window.

I didn’t need that, of course. So far the summer had been perfect, cloudless. But before I had a moment to say anything, the lights went on and blinded us to immobility. Yes, of course: the doctors came. We must have been really noisy while thinking we were no louder than silent mice.

As they were putting me to bed, I decided to have my final shot.

- Doctor, are we going deaf?

- Yes, you are. You are old, what would you think. And you are in a nursing home.

Straining to hear those words, I got drained of all my strengths. I really wanted to tell the doctor that I was still 36, but he had already slipped away. Slipping away I was too, into my quiet, innocent sleep that was the only place where you felt comfortable when not hearing a single sound of something huge tumbling down the stairs.

20 May 2011

It wasn't my wife

Well, the stamps were blurry and indecipherable, and there were no indications of whether this was from my home town or maybe from another world. But really – the first thing about the envelope was that it didn’t have a return address. Which would have been okay if I knew the handwriting – but the problem was that I didn’t. My address was written in green ink and in bold, almost slovenly hand. As for the envelope itself, it certainly had that unreasonably depressing, wooden, dusty smell of a post office. Obviously I had no desire to open the letter right away. I had to give it some time, consider the possibilities.

It could be poison. Well, there were rumours. One man from my department said he had received a similar suspicious-looking envelope with some sort of powder inside. He said he threw it away without opening. Also, there were dozens of cases described on TV as well as in our local newspapers… I picked up the rather stocky yellow envelope and shook it up very close to my left ear. Nothing – this was like shaking your own finger. I raised the envelope and X-rayed it through my desk lamp: still nothing.

Good. Could be my chubby, ginger cousins writing from America. Inquiring about my life, inviting me to come over. I was not so sure about my intentions to come over, though, life being what it was. But there still was a chance of me considering their proposal. Shame I'd never had a chance to know them better. The only living memory was the two of them smoking incessantly in our garden, which used to make my uncle very angry, very annoyed.

Or it could be any of my school friends, really – even Simon. I mean, why not. It’s not that we used to be particularly close friends, but with so many years behind – could it be that he wanted to make amends, finally? Actually, I always admired him for what he was, even though he did behave like a heartless bastard that one time. Could be his letter then, though I struggled to remember his handwriting.

And Jane, of course. It could be Jane. I still remembered Jane’s smile. And the day she arrived in that red velvet dress, me meeting her at the station and taking her slim rucksack filled with lipstick and nail varnish. She looked worn out, slightly draggy, visibly sagged by the long journey, but she still was all smiles. Yeah, I could definitely see her using green ink. And being such an ingenious flirt, she could well write in this sloppy, slapdash way. With her hand squeezed into a shiny tunnel of bracelets. Were was she now, nine years past?

I slowly, reluctantly lowered my eyes back onto the envelope. Fingered its tight, plain textures. Or really – it could be poison. How could you tell. How could you tell who wrote it.

What I knew for certain was that it wasn’t my wife. My wife was in the kitchen, and she was calling my name in what sounded to me like an unnecessarily panicky voice. I thought it best to leave the envelope unopened for a little longer. 

18 May 2011

Где были дети?

Где были дети?

В поле? Дети могли быть где угодно. Они могли быть во дворе, посреди улицы, на заасфальтированной площадке за домом. И все-таки чаще всего дети бежали именно в поле. Детям нужно было много ветра и открытого пространства, а также много ясного голубого неба. По вечерам, после ужина, дети любили запускать воздушного змея. Но сегодня он не знал точно, где они были, и боялся идти проверить: дети должны были быть одни. Единственное, что он позволял себе, это время от времени приходить за ними, звать их домой. Потому что завтра рано вставать, или просто потому что понемногу начинало темнеть, и вскоре воздушного змея не будет видно.
Обычно детей было пять или шесть, и среди них был и его сын. На его сына, он знал, остальные дети смотрели с особым уважением. Возможно оттого, что именно его отец купил ткань, веревку и сделал змея – месяц назад, по какой-то старой, запыленной книге, которую он нашел на чердаке. И все-таки среди детей сохранялось какое-то удивительное равенство – его так трудно было объяснить. Он знал, что пройдет совсем немного времени – и вся эта простота, легкость пропадет, незаметно исчезнет, но кому было до этого дело. Сейчас, сегодня все это не имело значения. Когда дети запускали змея, когда змей свободной, но слегка тревожной птицей летел над полем, никто не мог быть лучше или хуже.
Но почему дети должны были быть одни? Он хорошо помнил: трудно победить взгляд ребенка. А особенно детей. Однажды он побежал вместе с ними – возможно, тогда, в первый раз, когда только сделал змея. Он не знал почему; с ним ветер не стал бы сильнее, а без него веревка бы не порвалась. Но что-то заставило его пойти с ними; какое-то неясное чувство тревоги. Его детство? В его детстве почти не было воздушных змеев, и его отец никогда ничего для него не делал. Но воздушные змеи притягивали его – тогда, много лет назад. Теперь не было того чувства, но его по-прежнему занимал вид змея, зависавшего в воздухе с такой удивительной простотой. 
В тот вечер он стоял в поле среди детей и наблюдал за ними. Не за змеем - за детьми. Их восхищение. Но вскоре он стал замечать, что все дети и даже его сын смотрели на него как-то чересчур уныло, с нетерпением, как на что-то, что должно было само собой исчезнуть, но почему-то все не исчезало. И он ушел, как можно незаметнее, по дороге оглядываясь и замечая бегущего сына, который восхищенно задирал голову кверху. Белый воздушный змей летел плавно, свободно. Да, он сделал его белым. Почему белым? Теперь он уже не помнил, но в магазине, среди гор разноцветной ткани, он намеренно выбрал именно белый цвет.
В тот вечер он почувствовал, что каким-то странным образом стесняет, сковывает детей. И ушел; дети должны были быть одни. Дети. Несмотря на компьютеры, на телевизоры и кинотеатры с огромными экранами, дети обожали воздушного змея. Этого он тоже не мог объяснить.
И все-таки: какое-то странное беспокойство. Он не говорил об этом с другими родителями, но вряд ли кто-то еще переживал подобным образом. Что, что могло произойти? Дети просто запускали воздушного змея…
Но в его сердце была паника. Он вышел на крыльцо и посмотрел вверх: так и есть, воздушный змей был там, в легком вечернем воздухе. Он закрыл глаза и увидел своего сына, который бежит в поле и, полный восхищения, смотрит на плавные, свободные движения змея. Конечно, это было прекрасно, но…
Вокруг понемногу темнело, а завтра утром его сыну нужно было идти в школу. Он пошел в сторону поля – именно там были дети.
В глазах сына было восхищение. Но только дети не знали. Что будет, когда однажды змей зацепится за ветку дерева или под сильным порывом ветра навсегда выскользнет из рук? Что тогда?..Он вдруг понял, чего опасался: этого наивного детского восхищения. Того, что этого восхищения будет слишком много.
И он ускорил шаг.  

5 May 2011

Old cats and bad weather

The screams were coming from the kitchen, but the cat couldn’t care less. Cat’s lazy, drowsy concern: it half-opened its eyes, half-raised its ear, and dropped back to sleep. Gently squeezed between the softness of the pillow and the back of the armchair – there was nothing else to do. The cat had long familiarized itself with that kitchen screaming – so there really was no need for concern. No tingling of the whiskers, no fluttering of the paws. 

The screams kept coming, though. If you stepped into the kitchen, you could see the old man sitting dreamily at the table. You would think the man was badly animated. His restless gaze was fixed upon the black window that at 10 in the evening reflected what was inside the kitchen rather than what was outside. So that when the old man turned his head away to take a distracted look at the backyard, he still had to look at the old woman. He still had to look at his wife, fiercely, ruggedly pacing the small room, and screaming at the top of her lungs. 

The latest row was about their son’s homecoming – maybe in a week, maybe in two weeks. Maybe for a night, maybe for two nights. Maybe alone, maybe – but no, hopefully not. But of course it was all about their son – it was always about him. Their son moved out four months ago, leaving his cat behind as well as an empty room they dared not enter. Taking with him the quietness of his family home – uncovering this strange frustration and despair that had never really been there. Every day they kept arguing about his last phone call, about his upcoming birthday, about the book he had left on the sitting-room table… Their son left with his thin, pale, taciturn thing who never really washed her hair or took off her shoes when inside. What was more, he kept calling her his fiancée. 

But he left the cat behind. That was odd, because he loved that old cat so much. Was it because of that wretched office girl? ‘Would you mind?’ he asked. ‘No, darling, of course not’. In fact, over the course of the next two weeks they came to realise they were both extremely happy about the arrangement. They suddenly understood how wonderful that cat was, how lively, how adorable. And there always was this understated uneasiness before watching evening news: on whose lap will it sit? And at night: on whose side will it sleep? And in the morning: who will be first to feed it?.. In fact, it was becoming more and more clear that the present screaming bout had grown out of fear that their son might want to take his cat with him. 

But the cat was sleeping. The cat had no idea the screaming had to do with him. He didn’t know – he was trying to place the grey, ghastly weather inside his head, so that it would bring even more comfort and warmth. Outside it was cold – though what exactly was cold, wind or rain, was hard to say. But the cat couldn’t care less. Deep in the armchair, safe behind the pillow, he was sleeping and dreaming of people drenched to the bone, caught in a severe storm, somewhere on the outskirts of an unknown town, somewhere far away from home.

1 May 2011

New Diana, or two things that went wrong

When she came home late in the evening, her head was still buzzing with joy and excitement. It had been almost disgustingly nice, and she was no cynic. The flowers, the palace, the festive atmosphere, the wonderful people, and, of course, the glittering newlyweds. It could not get any better than that. Her own wedding ceremony? Well, a local church in her small home town would be quite all right. All those friends she would invite, her crying mother: she could see it all now, sitting on her sleepy sofa and waiting for a phone call. Yes, her wedding: the flowers, the dress, the rings… But she imagined it was perhaps a little bit too presumptuous to think about herself – and on a day like that. Still, the big wedding did make her think about her own future, and those thoughts were most pleasant, most exciting. James? Oh yes, James. He was supposed to call her. She was afraid to close her eyes lest she should blind herself to unconsciousness. 

But the sofa got the best of her, and she fell asleep.  

She woke up next morning, her head still full of that innocent joy of the previous day. It was slightly faded, of course, but she could still hear that music as well as those lively, good-spirited conversations that were so often hushed by the rumours of the royal car, the royal kiss… And yet: two things. Amid those great recollections there were two things that somehow began to tease, annoy her mind: her dress and his hair. Her dress was fine, of course, brilliant, impeccable, but it was perhaps 30 or 40 centimeters too long. Yes, that’s right: slightly overlong. No, no, the design was fantastic, the royal tailor knew his job, but all the same: the dress should have been a little shorter. Why couldn’t they see such an obvious thing? And she herself, when the wedding celebration was in full swing, didn’t notice such  a conspicuous oversight. But now – oh, she could see it all. And his hair, of course. Yesterday, intoxicated with love and admiration, she completely overlooked the fact that he was in fact going bald. That blank patch was quite bad. And he was still so young... Couldn’t they bloody sort it out?.. Those two things. Those two stupid blemishes on such a fine day. 

James, he didn’t call her yesterday. She got up from the sofa, undressed herself, and stood stark naked in the middle of the room. She thought it would be effective to draw the curtains back and let some random passer-by see the fine outline of her body. But she of course lived on the tenth floor, so there was no chance of that. Besides, the curtains were already well apart. They gave way to a sunny, clear day. 

She thought it was good James didn’t call her. And if he did and she just couldn't hear because she was sound asleep at the time - then she... oh she certainly could live with that.


Well, and this here is a nice musical addition to the sketch. “New Diana” the song. Masterful, sinister pop confection from Luke Haines’ second and, I understand, last band, Black Box Recorder (Passionoia, 2003). Timeless.