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Татьяна Ахтман
Tatiana Akhtman
Translated by Leonid Akhtman


Трио для имеющих уши

Перевод на английский Леонида Ахтмана.

Леонид - физик, работает в электронике, считает, что рождение в семье литературы - одно из самых ярких переживаний жизни.

Татьяна Ахтман   

"We can make a picnic" - Eva's voice sounded monotone as if she tried to adjust it to other words and then it sank a bit lower - "I have a can of pineapples and some brown bread..."

"At night... in the desert..." - Abram turned the wheel and steered the car on serpentine route - "I don't like pineapples, you know..." A large butterfly hit the windscreen, the water spurted on the glass and the wiper started to work.

"You know what a very boring character I am..."

"We became fatal for this butterfly..."

"Fortunately, not the contrary... Did you like the town?"

"It's hard to believe... It was like a flying island. I even figured that its hedge is green only inside but outside it's yellow as the surrounding desert... I guess soaked spots remain in the place of its fountains after the town flies up, but they dry out a quarter of an hour later - and every trace is gone... Can you imagine what it feels like to run into a flying island - there before us around the curve?"

"I rely on their excellent wipers. Eva, we have to drive at least an hour longer but you are so deep down in the blues..."

"They say the town is about thirty years old and another one, not far away - with its fortress wall - is thirty centuries old..."

"Three thousand years... You know, Eva, I'm having a queer filing of recognizing the place... it's as if I was there in the past..."

The car went round the invisible part of the hill and was propelling along its opposite moonlit half. The moon was on the wane and shadows were dark.

"I've recollected the place too: black shadows, yellow objects, these colors contain all shades of black and yellow. It looks like the colors stood still, maybe in panic or before some attack... like ghosts frozen in place by the cock's crow...

"Eva, I feel strained... I'm at the wheel, it is night, desert and you are frightening me with your mad metaphors instead of amusing me."

"Amusing... it seems you've derived a proper definition for our relations... today... and then in the past..."

"In the past?.."

"Yeah. You're always at wheel and I always disturb you instead... instead of what? It seems to me I'm a certain color which is beyond your ability to distinguish, and you try to mix me into the color palette of you when you need it. You lack green and you combine me with the green, you're short of red and you mix me with the red. But it always turns out that something is wrong, because I am not a green color and not a red one. I am none of the colors you distinguish in your rainbow."

They kept silent peering into the triangular fragment of the world illuminated by the car's lights. It looked like monotonous dashes of space from the distance, but at a closer sight the dashes grew filled with episodes of somebody's live. Imagination helped them grow up into images raised from the memory.

"Take a look, Eva! Something's tail flashed by... maybe a fox... or jackal..."

"No, it was a broomed witch, a lilipute one."

"Ah Eva..."

"Have I amused you?"

"Yes, I'm even about to swallow your pineapples... but only at our home table."

"Well, Abram, and then, you'll name this supper "a picnic in the desert". Years will pass, you'll forget the real sight and a nice picture will remain in your memory: the desert, Eva, pineapples, the fox on the roadside - all will be pressed into a package which you term "art of life".

"Well, but you still don't wish to chauffeur the car yourself..."

"No, my dear, I don't because it would destroy our tandem which is thirty centuries old. Abram, it seems our cock has crowed... we got paralyzed... we are panicking... we are either mixed up...or..."

"D'you remember?"

"Yes I do... My parents' house stood in a low place. It was damp in our cellar even by the summer end. The parents were hopelessly unhappy. You know, it's when a woman is beautiful, stupid and aggressive and a man is hypochondriac, weakling and decent. They conceived me their first, and the last, conjugal night. It was not even a clash but... more an accident, like what happened to that butterfly. He deprived her of femininity and she deprived him of masculinity. They were debating to the end of their time whose loss was greater. Nobody was either interested or cared for their destiny, separated from the desert by the fortress wall. So I became some kind of a joker in this game: a witness and an alibi, a procurator and an advocate, a victim and a butcher. They squandered their destines until their lives were exhausted and emptied in the mental anguish. As for me, I inherited submissiveness - a destructive habit of being dependent on others, constant self-deprecation."

"But you did not look unhappy. You were... Eva, you were a very risible one. Sometimes it looked even indecent... I remember, I was impressed by the light specks flickering on your face... like on water... And I wished nobody might see them but me..."

"You succeeded, Abram, you found some decorous compromise - I came to reflect only you."

"Come on, Eva, it is a fine metaphor but life is life and one must drive or..."

"Or windscreen wipers will make their work..."

"Exactly. And what did you do? I was about to rebuild our cellar, I even started to dig the drain... I was honored with the mounted head of a bull moose at the traditional town dinner... You know what it cost me... and what about you? You deserted the family, the children and ran away with that fop, that traveling salesman... for a bottle of shampoo... I was ready to forgive you, Eva, but you would hear nobody but yourself. My love... What did it benefit you? What did you acquire?"

"I washed my hair... I didn't know before that the real color of my hair was not like this dull shade of the desert. A new exciting and beautiful color developed, and then the hair grew so soft, clean and tender... The moisture was evaporating and I felt as if the whole world was gently whirling around my head. Even the sun grew milder. I saw its beams were deflecting over not to burn me... I was no longer an unknown in the world... I felt happy..."

"Eva, please tell me only one thing. Please tell me now. Who was the father of the child?"

"What for? He died."

"It's important to me. I want to know. Eva, it's my right. I'm your husband."

"Darling, three thousand years passed by... I don't know... really. I died then in the gutter..."

"Come on Eva. Here is your compromise..."

"Well, what could I do when that guy turned me out? Yes, I was pregnant, but the baby was not born. Nobody can say now who fathered him."

"A woman always knows..."

"That's only a male delusion. You need to account for your deficiencies. A woman should know all things a man doesn't know himself... And the first thing he is looking for in her is the confirmation of his manliness. Why do you care about this child who did not come into being three thousand years ago?"

They went in silence around two more curves of the serpentine road.

"And what do women want to know about? What do you want to know. Eva?"

"Everything. Or at least the color of my hair... See, Abram, I'm not only your reflection, not only the confirmation of your manliness, not someone's alibi or compensation of someone's deficiencies... I'm a person myself. I understood it when the sunlight refracted beams and that new color showed up - it was the eighth in the spectrum... What a pity that you can't see it, Abram, but it does exist eternally... It became a fragment of the world. D'you understand? It was the confirmation of my being."

"The eighth color? Are you sure?"


"Well. Thank God. It means we still have a chance to get home..."

"Alas, there is nothing I am sure about, Abram. It's my problem... nothing to rely on. For instance, this town... I'm not sure it remained there in the past. Maybe it's waiting for us beyond the next curve in the road..."

"With wipers?..."

"I'm not sure. Today I know even less than I did thousands years ago, when I lived in casual reflections - in countless impressions of myself as a red fox, moonlight reflections, a witch..."

"I know nothing too, Eva..."

"It's a pity, you have to drive..."

"Well, I learned some decorum rules. I even got the bull's head, but you didn't like me... What was it all for? It would be better to die in a gutter..."

"Come on, Abram. We'll soon get home. I'll prepare a supper for you, we'll switch on the light...

"The small lamp..."

"Yeah, the one with the orange shade."

"You will wash your hair with apple shampoo..."

"Abram, look! There is somebody ahead."

There was a car on the road side and a man was standing near the vehicle in a pose of surrendering to fate. Abram stopped the car in spite of his warning inner voice.

Weak hope flashed across his mind: maybe the man is busy with himself and would not bother them with his problems. But that same moment the man changed his beautiful sadness for disgusting excitement and rushed mincing along the roadside, trampling down the shadows. "How sick should God feel to see all these faces turned towards Him from roadsides with senseless hope and faith" - crossed Abram's mind.

The moon was waning. The darkness became extremely deep. The only source of moonlight at that time was the light from the car that stuck in the fatal triangle. But the people who did not sleep that night still believed that the light was simple and white-colored.

Eva drew a shawl over her shoulders and stepped out into the coolness of the desert. Dan's face turned to her and took a normal human expression. It made him sad that this woman, who made her appearance just so simply as if she went out to a porch to stroke her dog, would disappear the next moment... Like it had happened once, when he had found her dead near the fence... and he would never know if it had been his child...

* * *

Last evening Dan spent with the old man. The guy had enough energy to destroy all the desert, but under the circumstances he had built only this town. It did not seem small to Dan. He was warned at the editorial office that the old architect was too talkative, but the reality exceeded his maximum expectations. The old man caught the microphone and it was just impossible to stop him. May be some part of his crazy passion got to Dan's old Ford and the engine failed. To hell with all these aggressive romantics and their broken foreheads. But he had built the town...- no normal man could do it.

The old man rambled on with vessels of words, boiled his intoxicating potion of old bitter emotions and was getting more and more drunk: "The desert was like devil's ass" - when they - three sickly, ecstatic and hungry young men - had been standing on the hill top. They were passionately dreaming about the town - their own town with fountains, shady gardens and cold lemonade as it had been there - on their cruel native land which had cursed and expelled them. Each one of these three was prepared to devote his heart and soul to the town... And they made it...

And here it is... he remained alone... and these worthless merchants drink their beer directly from his veins...The old man shouted that now he would give his heart for the possibility to destroy the town-betrayer and turn them out from his Temple... all of them... out...

Last time Dan was limply contemplating about changing his profession before his insensibility to human suffering became fatal and irreversible... Maybe he could start as a salesman... Perhaps it would be good to find a woman...

* * *

"Did it die?"


Abram knocked the tire with his toe and gave a blank look...

"Would you like a lift?"

"No, thanks."

The compromise was exhausted, but Eva added a drop of sympathy:

"We can give you a can of pineapples and some brown bread. Would you like it?"

"Thanks, it's unnecessary. Sorry for annoying you."

"No problem, it's all right..."

But this last drop of sympathy became fateful. The content of the compromise splashed over the edge. It dropped on the ignition of Abram's car and the engine stopped. The lights went out and the moon became dim because, as you can remember, it reflected only the car light that night. Words lost any sense and the time and space grew hardly distinguished in the faint light of the self-centered stars which were shining indifferently far away in the sky...

Somebody stroke a match and the moon reflected it for a split second with coy orange light which slid over the woman's hair. She stood motionlessly at the top of the firm triangle which seems fatal for those who have no better fulcrum to turn their own lives over with.

Dan stepped to Eva, took her hand and said: "Let's go, it's not far. I guess Abram's car is dead too..." - and Eva made a couple of indecisive steps following him.

Abram lit a cigarette: "Eva, are you going away? Soon the night will be over and it will clear up - you know how bright it is in the desert at noon..."

"Well, chap" - Dan replied - "I see it's the only knowledge you gave her... Eva, just this moment your hair flashed with wonderful light... a little orange, agreeable, warm... inimitable in its beauty. Maybe it was the eighth spectrum color... I figure it will compete with the sun at noon."

"Are you sure, Dan?"

"Of course, my dear."

"And you, Abram?"

"I don't know, Eva, I doubt. There is some order in this world - seven colors in the spectrum...Take your seat in the car and let's go home."

Eva stepped back and stood motionless peering into the night. Her eyes adapted to this silver- glimmering world illuminated only by star and cigarette light. "I don't know" - Eva's voice sounded on one note as if she tried to adjust it to quite other words - "I've the feeling of being emotionally bound... I can't gain a foot-hold in this world... for me and for my child...Then I had given myself up because I could not bring my child into the world where there was no place for myself..."

"Here it is" - said Dan - "I didn't drive her out... She left herself... What did you miss, Eva?"

"A foot-hold. I could not help feeling lost. I was afraid to completely lose myself. To tear my soul to pieces and increase the damage."

"You could stay..."

"Could come back..."

"Where from... what for? What's happening to me? I am following the one who has less doubts... It's absurd..."

Eva took a hesitating step, lost balance and vanished on the road side, dissolved in her own shadow... It happens with the one who shrinks into the infinity of his solitude.

The end...

Or rather a pause... filled by the moon, the ideal of compromise which indifferently reflects all God's sparks in this world.

The car went round the invisible part of the hill and now was speeding along the opposite illuminated half. The moon was on the wane and the shadows looked darker than the objects. The road led up the hill and the desert looked like an outline map from the height. The town was waiting at the top twinkling with its lights.

"Eva, we're about to arrive..."

"Look, it's incredible. The town is like a flying island, all by itself, as if it came down from the heaven."

"I've the feeling of recognizing it, as if I was here once in my past: the desert, the night, the moon on the wane, you, Eva..."

"We can make a picnic..."

The start...

© Татьяна Ахтман, 1999-2022.
© Леонид Ахтман, перевод, 2001-2022.
© Сетевая Словесность, 2002-2022.


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