All original work © 2009 - 2017 Alexey Provolotsky

30 August 2016

16


SIXTEEN


Remember how I sent you a flower
and you wrote to me that it was not a flower
but a bird that flew into your window
when you were sixteen and sitting on the chair
cutting those tiny figures from paper
that you said were a pale shadow
of what Matisse did in his dying days
when he was in France and bedridden
and visited by Picasso who himself in those days
was but an old man with wrinkles
the size of your beautiful cutouts
that included all sorts of creatures
that your vivid imagination produced by night
but also by day
when Mildred sent you to work in the post-office
where your job was so boring
that you sometimes fell asleep and they woke you up
(the senseless animals that they were)
with a new pile of envelopes
which you had to disassemble
into a bunch of separate groups
that were later picked up by local postmen
who were so angry when you 'dared' to make a mistake
 that they called you all those cruel names
which you could never repeat
not even to yourself
but in fact they were madly in love with you
even Mr. Fonstein who you once told me
had this enormous collection
of Playboy postcards
at the bottom of his black leather bag
that he was so proud of
as this bag (he claimed)
came from his great-grandfather
who had built the post office a few million years
before you put your pretty little foot in it
and then got bored by the routine
that made you think of all those creatures
that were by turns fascinating and absolutely ghastly
and made you scream at night
much to the discomfort of Mildred
 who had all those lovers sleeping with her
and who may have been so disturbed by the noise
they jumped out of bed right in the midst of it
and never came back to Mildred
who would in the morning ruin your breakfast
by making a scene or just telling you off
for being such a ‘spoilt and selfish little brat’
and for destroying her life
which had really been destroyed ages ago
 when she had worked in the house of Mrs. Kitts
that spooked us so much every time we passed it
in those three weeks that we spent together
and that I could never forget
and wished to substitute with something new
but failed miserably and instead came back
time and time again to those wild gasps of pleasure
 that added some strange spice to our walks
and filled them with the understatement
we could barely expect the night
when I walked up to you
after that strange Bergman film
that you watched with some lanky idiot
who yawned in the middle of it
and whom you subsequently dumped
with such phenomenal ease
that I felt you had a list of idolaters
that stretched way beyond London
where you only came for a day
and would later return home
and I would think that was it, really, but in fact
you replied and subsequently
I found out about how awkward you were
and yet how spontaneous and electrifying
and my God how disorganised your handwriting was
 and how many nights I spent trying to read those
 bizarre scriptures that never contained 'I love you'
or even 'I miss you'
and instead concentrated on what you thought
of this or that film, book, record
and so walking by the house of Mrs. Kitts
was an erotic experience so strong
that it welled up inside us until it finally happened
and we released it by the cherry tree
near the place where I was staying
because Mildred disliked me with a jealous passion
and because I had the money from the military
that could sustain me for those three weeks
before I had to get back to the front
yet I was no longer scared because I had you
you who were so sensitive as to never mention death
 in your letters except maybe indirectly
when you asked me to be cautious
and not to attempt any courage
because otherwise you would cut me out of paper
(which you did in the end)
and hang me over the window
alongside all those dreadful creatures
from your nightmares that nothing could cure
except for a small flower I sent you
before they assigned me to my final mission
and that flew into your window as a bird
of which you told me in your last letter?

Yes, I did receive it,
and yes, you were only sixteen at that time,
and innocent, and too immersed in life to know
that one day
one night
we would really meet.


24 August 2016

ТЕАТР ТЕНЕЙ



"Мой психолог сказал мне...".

Я смотрю в окно. Кафе напротив закрылось полчаса назад, но официанты все еще продолжают складывать стулья и вытирать столики. Медленные, немного сказочные движения. Я не могу оторваться. Я не могу вспомнить вида умиротворенней этого.

"...но я не могла этого объяснить, понимаешь? Каждый день я говорила себе, что не смогу".

"Психолог?"

"Ты слушаешь меня? Я говорила про психолога десять минут назад".

Они немного напоминают привидений. Добрых, не тех, от которых когда-то я боялся заглянуть под кровать. Их движения выверены и точны. Я люблю их движения. Эта любовь ненастоящая, любовь на расстоянии. Самая преданная любовь. Я знаю, что если выйду на улицу и подойду к ним, попытаюсь заговорить или предложу закурить, то в ту же секунду умру от скуки. И еще вмешаюсь в какой-нибудь важный механизм, как чаплиновский персонаж из тридцатых годов, и все пойдет не так. Весь мир поперхнется. Так что я просто смотрю на них, через французские окна. Через монолог Тани, ради которого был здесь. Ее новая, бесконечная драма.

"...мы до трех часов ночи сидели на кухне, при тусклом свете электрического фонарика. Мы сходили с ума друг от друга. Мы пили кофе и читали Бродского. Я не могла даже представить себе, что через несколько месяцев буду перечитывать "Американскую трагедию" и пытаться понять, что именно испытывал тот парень".

"Какой парень?"

"Клайд".

Таня говорит много. Порой мне кажется, что я пропускаю целые части истории, путаясь в лабиринтах монолога и театральных паузах. Между тем, стулья выстраиваются в ровную стопку, которая все больше напоминает Вавилонскую башню. Скатерти виснут на руках, как пьяные, уставшие девушки, поникшие от приближения ночи. И они, медленные, молчаливые. Могильщики-полубоги.

"...в сети я искала информацию про самые быстрые яды и в очередной раз спрашивала себя, что же я делаю. Мой психолог отчаянно пытался помочь. И при этом ни ему, ни себе самой я не могла объяснить того, что испытывала. Потому что все случилось так резко, в одно утро. Ведь я любила его. По-прежнему любила, понимаешь?"

Я неопределенно киваю, причем скорее не в такт Таниной истории, но в такт трем молчаливым официантам, без которых ничто на свете не может существовать. Я даже думаю, что если завтра случится ядерная катастрофа, то ровно в полночь они все равно выйдут на эту улицу, чтобы совершить свой обряд. Странно, но отчего-то мне легче от этой мысли.  

"Мой психолог сказал, что идею он прочел в одной научной работе двадцать лет назад. Ее придумал один шведский психиатр, я где-то записала его имя..."

Нет, они физически не способны ошибиться. Они как тени, они идеальны. Я вдруг понимаю, что хочу быть среди них. Хочу знать этот молчаливый язык, хочу уметь на нем разговаривать. Они вползают в ночь и выплывают из нее так, словно были рождены в полной темноте на одной из этих улиц. Я медленно закуриваю и наблюдаю за тем, как они поднимают последний столик и вносят его в кафе. И так же молчаливо, так же размеренно выносят на улицу какой-то белый сверток и кладут его в открытый багажник стоящей рядом машины (поначалу я даже не заметил ее). В белом свертке, продолговатом и как будто еще живом, какое-то движение, но я не успеваю рассмотреть.

"...и я выталкиваю его из лодки. Так быстро, что он едва успевает вскрикнуть".

В кафе напротив все тихо. Уличное кафе разобрано, как детский конструктор. Все детали в коробке, и напротив нас, в огромных французских окнах, потухшее здание. Такое, как миллионы других в этом городе.

"...я ставлю точку. Невероятное облегчение. Я понимаю, что мой психолог был прав. Стоило только записать все это, облечь в слова Драйзера. И вот мы снова вместе. Снова читаем Бродского при электрическом фонарике. Я люблю его, ты знаешь".

"Знаю", зачем-то бормочу я. 

Таня закуривает и допивает последний бокал. Кафе закрывается через пятнадцать минут, и я прошу медлительного официанта рассчитать нас.


15 August 2016

Story #10: THE IMMORTAL STORY



Slender frame, stooped shoulders, an old suit and a necktie dangling like an afterthought. Maybe a pair of shoes, frayed by style and age, but I could never see them in the dark. A book in his right hand, never left, a collection of stories or perhaps a short novel. Seize The Day. It could of course be The Heart Of Darkness or anything by Ian McEwan, but in my mind it was last century's most perfect novel. Even if there was no way to be certain.

He got out of the subway station, at some point around midnight, and ever since it first happened, which is ten years ago now, I wanted to put him in my book. This man had to be in my novel, whatever it took. He could be a hero and he could be a villain. Or else he could just be one of those fleeting characters without so much as one full sentence. And yet all I knew about him was that at some point around midnight he got out of the subway station in New York.

I could never do a proper character study as it was too late and I had no intention of disturbing him with my questions that would have been so inappropriate. There was of course a possibility of following him into the tiny alley which he slipped into on his way home, but I despised the indignity of doing so. And imagined myself in the first film by Christopher Nolan, which seemed to be the perfect warning.

We only shared the way for about two hundred meters, and then he turned left and I had to go straight ahead to the room I was renting at the time. I watched the slim silhouette, Beckettian in the extreme, gnawed by the trees growing alongside his way, and I thought of my latest story. He could be the hotel keeper in Rome. He could be the drug dealer in Bogota. Or, come to think of it, he could appear as a forgotten painter dying of consumption in Tanzania. The possibilities were killing me.

I mostly saw him on Wednesday, which was the day I went to Nitecap, and after two cocktails I felt refreshed and a little apprehensive of the sort of ideas that were coming my way. I only thought of the man's existence when I got out at Fulton Street and saw him just ahead of me, darkened by the dimmest of lights of Manhattan, with that small book of his.

Every evening that it happened (and overall there must have been more than a dozen of such evenings), he was inside my head and I could not imagine him being anywhere else. There were times when I was close to breaking the silence and the unspoken arrangement that no doubt existed between the two of us. There were times when my feet almost took me to his tiny apartment on the fifth floor or wherever it was. And there were times, too, when I got home and thought of a poem with him hovering over each line that I wrote.

But none of it ever happened, and it took me ten years to realise that I loved him as he was. He deserved the real life, not fictional. So that one evening I let him be. I will never forget how he turned left for the last time, so that next Wednesday, when I got out at Fulton Street after another outing at Nitecap, he was no more. For all that night and for all eternity, the man was no more. 

The man was free.


     THE END


14 August 2016

Story #9: NO PEACE FOR THE WICKED



A cold day in late January. A good writer could start with that. But I'm not a good writer, I'm only a bad father. And one look into Sophie's eyes tells me that I should never have taken her to this place.

We are scratching a thin layer of snow that has no texture and no smell. It’s so quiet in here, a black glove on a white mouth. 'Tragic tourism' is the perfect term for what we are doing, and my daughter is only fourteen. I know fourteen is the age when girls start having sex these days, and a boyfriend is on his way (please, God, let it not be Mark), and she was the one who insisted on the trip, but I still feel this is wrong.

'The cat', says Sophie, 'it's the cat again. Why would it not go away?'

I have read Primo Levi and I have seen Night and Fog, but nothing could prepare me for what I was to see. Fifteen minutes ago, there was a young woman bursting into tears while watching an American documentary. And then there were pictures, millions of black and white pictures, that you wanted to burn to pieces before any of these German schoolchildren could even enter the museum.

There was a point early in the day when Sophie put something down in her notebook, something to be used in her school paper on Nazism that this trip was all about. But now she is just walking around blindly, looking for the cat like the only vestige of something normal, and thinking about roll calls and perhaps even imagining herself as one of those naked girls running to the fence to be shot dead from the watchtower. She hasn't opened her notebook in four hours, and we are soon to leave. An old Polish couple whom we first met before the American documentary is telling us about how peaceful it all seems, and yet I know that the four of us are wondering if it really is.

We are looking at the holes in the ceiling, and I know the story. I just wish that Sophie could think of those holes as of showers. Like they did once, thousands of years ago. And then suddenly there is something smooth and warm touching my legs, circling me, purring silently, and I recognise that purring from the moment we entered the infamous gate when something small and as yet unrecognizable sneaked past us like a ghost.

The rooms make no sense, it’s as simple as that, and I feel like a couple of times Sophie wants to say something but chooses not to. I know someone (surely not this Mark guy?) brought her a copy of Son Of Saul three weeks ago, and she wouldn't stop talking about the film over dinner. But the wooden floor is different. The beds are different. The pictures on the walls are different, and I just wish they didn't put it quite so bluntly on the myriads of posters devoted to the most perverted medical experiments.

Outside, we are like small fishes gaping for water. Except fresh air is good for us. It's been five hours, and by the small Russian church we again see the cat, perhaps for the last time, clawing at the bird that had no time to fly away. We are just looking at the scene, transfixed and completely bewildered.

'Is the cat wicked?' Sophie asks me.

She asks this question like she is a little girl, not like a fourteen-year old teenager who is about to have her first boyfriend (and that's as long as me and her mother know anything). There's a part of me that wants to tell my daughter that it isn't, that it's just the way it is. Call of nature: being hungry, running around, killing birds. But in the end, I say something else. I tell her, in a voice that is perhaps too quiet even for a place like this, and also because I might never have a second chance:

'It is wicked, Sophie. The cat is wicked'. 

I look around. The snow makes it all look so horribly, so ridiculously quiet. And white. So deceptively white.


13 August 2016

Story #8: LANGUAGE PROBLEM



The lips of Spanish prostitutes are so red and so bright that you can see them even if you close your eyes. The lips of Spanish prostitutes are grotesquely, phenomenally vulgar. And in the whole of the carriage taking him from Santo Domingo to Sevilla (a short way, but a challenging way), and without once turning his head, he could see just them: the lips of two Spanish prostitutes.

They entered at Opera, and they saw him straight away. It was like currently this middle-aged Irish gentleman was the sole reason for their existence. 

The two Spanish prostitutes sat on both sides of him. One pretended that she was reading his book, a short story collection by Brendan Behan, while the other was looking at him, quite intensely, without saying a word. He felt helpless, like he was mugged in bright daylight, with half a dozen sleepy Spaniards scattered about the carriage.

It was his last day in Madrid, the business trip was a relative success (a complete success was not on the cards in the current crisis), and he had spent the evening at O'Brien’s, an Irish pub not far from Noviciado. It had all been going beautifully right until the moment the two Spanish prostitutes fluttered into the carriage and perched on both sides of him.

He tried not to react. He knew what they wanted, oh perfectly, but there was no point in telling them about his wife in Dublin or that it simply wouldn't work after four pints of San Miguel (for the love of God, he couldn't get it up). They were hot, these girls, with skirts that defied imagination, but he was determined to ignore them until they realised that he was either a good family man (which he was) or a wanker (which he wasn’t).

It didn't work. Brendan Behan's "After The Wake" was a wild jungle of words, he blushed like a girl, and they stayed with him until his station. At Sevilla, he swiftly stood up and walked out without ever looking back. In fact, he only realised they were following him when he was already in Carrera de San Jerónimo, clicking their high heels ten metres behind. Silently, without saying a word.

He walked faster, and they walked faster. He slowed down, and they did just that. So that he changed the strategy and ran to his hotel, bumping into the smiling guy at the door who had always looked like a pimp but who compounded that suspicion now by asking him if those two 'beautiful ladies' behind his back were with him. Which was the point where he gave up.

To wake up the next morning with a hangover the size of a Raymond Chandler novel and no money in his wallet. In fact, the wallet itself was also missing.

'So the birds have flown’, concluded Sam, studying his face in the glass of Guinness that offered zero reflection.

‘Was the sex good?' asked Kevin.

This was Wednesday, our night at the Temple (fuck the tourists).

'I only remember the beginning', said Jim, evasively. 'They were doing things women had never done to me before'.

Poor old Jim, I thought, he had only slept with Margaret all his life.

'Soon they discovered the mini-bar, and we opened whisky'.

'Were they pretty?' asked Kevin. Clearly he was thinking of going to Madrid himself.

'I never even saw their faces. The legs were pretty. And please, don’t tell Margaret'.

'Jim', I said, trying to imagine who else could have called those legs ‘pretty’, 'did they really not say a word throughout the whole thing?'

And then it was like a small lightbulb that suddenly lit up inside his head.

'You know what – they did. They did! Now that you mention it. I remember waking up early in the morning and them standing over my bed, trying to talk to me'.

'Yeah? And what did they say?'

'It was Spanish, and they may as well have been speaking in tongues. Besides, I was basically unconscious. But I think they were telling me that they were not taking the credit cards'.

'So why did they?' asked Sam, quite reasonably. ‘Why did they, Jim?’

'Because I couldn't answer them, I guess. I do not know a word in Spanish'. 

We all loved Jim, everyone did, and the next round was on me. 


12 August 2016

Story #7: IT'S THE TRUTH



'It's the truth', she said.

'I just want to remind you that within these walls you can speak the truth and nothing but the truth. Look around, think it over, and say it again'.

'It's the truth', she repeated.

'Okay, then, we've listened to both sides now, and what I feel is that your husband never tried to rape you'.

She felt the blood in her body turn white in an instant.

'But what about Mary, the girl from the house across the street?'

'What about her?'

'She heard my screams'.

'Mary is your friend and therefore cannot be considered a credible source'.

'But what more can I do?'

'Besides, medical examination…’.

‘The doctor did not care!’ she protested. ‘The doctor did not care because I’m a woman!’

‘Please, don’t interrupt me’.

‘I’m sorry’.  

‘Medical examination showed no signs of rape'.

'But there was no rape! I did not let him rape me. He was coming towards me, and that’s where I stopped him'.

‘You mean you killed him?’

‘I didn’t. I just threw a vase at the bastard’.

'That kind of language is not permitted here'.

'I'm sorry'.

'That's an aggravating factor'.

'I'm truly sorry. But who knew his head was made of glass? And what were my options anyway? Was I supposed to let him rape me?'

'The evidence is devastating. We've seen the vase with your DNA and we haven't seen any signs of rape'.

'But that's because...'.

'Ah. That's enough. We've been going over this again and again. Enough! You're acquitted. Forgiven, that is'.

'Thank you, father'.

'Be gone, my child'. 

At which point she walked out of the confession box and out into the busy pavement of Dublin. With a restless feeling that every man in O’Connell street had the face of her dead husband.


11 August 2016

Story #6: CREATURE OF DOOM



I remember the first time that I saw Miss Golloway. She wandered into our yard, like she would randomly wander into any yard that happened to be on her way. Usually people looked away or else tried to humour her when they thought they knew what she was saying – because, generally, this was harmless. She would just be standing there, for a few minutes, say something, then turn back and wander outside like her business was done here and where next.

Danny once told me that she had been in his yard five or six times, which may or may not be true. What I know for sure is that I saw her in the vicinity of our house just once, and it resulted in the meteorite incident.

My mother was sitting on the porch making apple juice (the machine was so loud that the cats had been driven up the tree) and my grandfather was on the bench talking politics in a way that was a bit too intense considering the noise and the fact that no one was really paying attention. I was juggling the football in the yard, trying to beat Danny's record of fifty-seven (I would have presumed he was lying, but I had actually witnessed it).

I did not see her at first. I must have gotten close to fifty when I heard it all stop: the squeezer and the lecture on liberal values. And I, too, stopped juggling the ball and turned my body to the gate. The tall lady I had only seen two or three times before, was standing a few metres away from me and looking straight into my eyes. Then she started saying something, and I was so confused and so frightened that I could only look at my mother for a vague sense of comfort and protection.

Later, my mother would tell me that I could not have possibly understood what she was saying and my grandfather said I was a fool – but once the gate clicked closed, I could only juggle the football three times at best, after a dozen attempts, as my feet seemed bloodless and leaden. 'Creature of doom', she had said, with saliva dripping down her chin. 'This boy will see the creature of doom'.

Danny was the only one who seemed to believe me, and told me he suspected she was completely sane and could be very distinct if she wanted, but even he laughed at me when a week or two later I was running across the football field in the centre of our village screaming 'METEORITE!' at the top of my lungs. Sam laughed the loudest, and said it was his dad's fireworks that I had seen. A small ball of light descending from the sky. And my eyes were still full of tears, because I was hurt by the laughter and because my heart still refused to believe. 

'METEORITE!' was the heavy beating of my temples, and later that evening, when my sister came home with the tragic news about Connie, I could still hear that scream. Nothing was said over breakfast the next morning, because of Connie, but I felt like I'd slept well for the first time in a week, and this made me feel a little ashamed of myself. In fact, I believe I asked my parents if I could be excused. 


10 August 2016

Story #5: THE BEAST



Boys don't have time for good ideas. For a boy of ten, such as I was at the time, a good idea is only one half of an idea. It is imperfect and it is incomplete. Danny, my best friend at the time, was well aware of the fact.

But the worst? The absolute worst? The one that still reverberates in the brain when you least expect it, years and years later? Well, I no longer remember who suggested it, and I would not be surprised if it hit us like a misguided butterfly at the same moment in time and space, but the idea seemed fairly straightforward: why not pay a visit to old Miss Golloway?

After all, every boy aspires to what is fictional, and there was no one in our village as fictional, as close to a crumpled old book of Edgar Allen Poe (whose "Premature Burial" we kept retelling to every sensitive girl we knew), as Miss Golloway.

We set off at dusk. And I do mean set off: we took sandwiches, we took two bottles of water and we took a small pocket knife. We were ready for a long journey. Miss Golloway lived on the other side of the village, and the descriptions of the house I had surreptitiously fished out of my mother were vague at best. We could easily get lost. In fact, we were probably supposed to.

And we did, caught up as we were in jokes about her crazy visions (Mrs. Johns, the hairdresser, recounted them incessantly) as well as meticulously detailed descriptions of her mouth as it got so frothy and foamy every time she tried to speak.

When we finally saw the house, we ran to the door and did something every overexcited boy was supposed to do in those circumstances: we stopped dead. We listened to the movements inside the house (it was oddly quiet, despite the light in the window), not quite realising how we were supposed to knock on the door and what exactly we were supposed to say to the old woman.

The wait was finally broken when the door creaked open and we saw Miss Golloway looking down at us (God, she must have been twice our size – I had barely seen her since the meteorite incident). In a way, this was a relief: our parents would start worrying soon, and my heart palpitations were chiming all over the village like a bell of some convoluted church.

Miss Golloway was trying to say something, and in such close proximity the froth on her mouth did not look especially funny. It looked disturbing.

'Tea, thank you', said Danny and slipped past her into the house. There was nothing else for me to do but follow him.

Danny looked strangely boisterous and stupidly brave, and began prancing around her living-room (all very chilly and clean and smelling of soap). While I just stood there in the middle of the room looking at her like a fool. She seemed confused, and searched me for explanations. Silently, though I would have preferred her to start mumbling again. Clearly she was not going to make us any tea.

'So you have visions, ha?' said Danny seriously, disappearing into a huge black armchair that looked much too big even for Miss Golloway (who stared back at him). Danny was not being himself.

And neither was I, especially when I heard myself say this:

'We heard about the letter'.

Her confusion rose into one abrupt scream, and she walked out of the room. Danny and myself, we looked at each other without saying a word. The silence was overwhelming, it was like Miss Golloway was walking on air. When she got back, ten hours later (or, rather, seconds), she was holding a grey envelope in her hand which she swiftly dropped on the small glass stand that separated me from the armchair in which Danny was sitting. Then she stood back and said something unintelligible which we nonetheless understood.

'Open it', she said.

But for the second time that evening, we couldn't open it, and this time there was no one else to help us out or in. And so we ran outside. And then walked. And then ran some more, all through the village. 'Black letters in the corner', I whispered as we finally stopped. 'Yeah', said Danny, quietly, as if to himself. 'I know'. 

And it's not like we never met afterwards. We did. It's just that there was something unspoken between us now, and it left no room for mutual ideas, good or bad. One little outing to a house on the other side of the village left no room for someone you could once call your best friend.