Monday, July 6, 2020

Cast Iron Dummy

I needed something the other day at the bank, to withdraw some money. Getting a receipt, I looked at a bank clerk, not a young, but not yet a very old woman, in front of me behind the barrier. Giving me a signature receipt, she, looking at me through large darkened glasses, suddenly asked: "Do you remember me?"
I looked at her carefully. I remembered everything at once, although more than fifty years passed. “I'm sorry, but I don’t know you,” I lied in confusion, and, taking the receipt,  left the bank.

I left the bank. Thoughts and memories overpowered me. Of course I know this woman. And I remember everything, as if it happened yesterday.

... Somewhere in the street, I found a piece of a cast-iron grate, which, it seemed to me, I could turn into a kind of pistol. Having applied imagination and effort, I worked pretty well with two files (rectangular and round), and got something in shape vaguely reminiscent of a Mauser. A heavy thing, just what the commissars in leather jackets in films about the revolution waved.

Bringing my product to perfect condition with a file, I sat with the guys near our house on the playground.

Volodka Manokhin came up, a small one from the neighboring building. He is already big, he not only smokes, but also has a passport, which he boasted and showed everyone.

Having finished a cigarette, he attached it between his fingers and with a deft click, and sent it on a long flight.

He sat down beside me on a swing bench.
"Well, show me what you have here!"

I handed him my dummy.
“Wow! Heavy bastard. If you treat someone to it, that will be something,” he gladly stroked each bend of the gun with his hand. “How finely hand-crafted. Not the slightest burr. You, fellow, have done a fine job! "

Without hiding his pleasure, Volodka was pawing my product ...
“Here -  it is necessary to round it off a bit, so that the arm will fit better. But I will do it. The work piece is good. ” Volodka put the gun in his belt.

“Hey Volodya, bring the gun back.”
“Give the gun back.”
Volodka looked at me with unseeing eyes.
“I'll make a holster for it. Excellent brass knuckles. ”
“Give me the gun!” It’s mine!"
"Was yours, became mine."

I did not like such a conversation at all. I approached Volodka resolutely.
“Volodka, give me the gun! I worked on it !! ”
“What are you? Don't you understand Russian? ”
"Understand. Give me the gun! ”

“I'll give it back now!” Volodka grabbed my nose with smoked fingers, twisted my nostrils and ordered: "Get out of here!" then he shoved me away, like a bag of garbage.

The guys sitting nearby laughed. Valerka Chernov, roared especially loudly, 
who cut a piece of wood with a knife.
I again approached Volodka.
"Volodya, give me the gun. I beg you. Please do!"
“Off with you!” With a short jab to my jaw, he sent me to the ground.

I got up, and brush myself off. Resentment, a feeling of indignation embraced me. Tears welled up. But I tried not to cry.

And again, I am in front of him.
“Volodya, give it back!”
“How stupid you are!”
He grabs me by the scruff of the neck (after all, he’s six to seven years older, a very large age difference in adolescence), turned around and inflicted a weighty kick below the small of my back. I flew a few meters away, all to the hooting of the surrounding guys. Valerka laughs especially disgustingly.

“Volodya, give him some more! He asked for it!” he screams.

Having risen from the ground, I am heading to Volodka. There is a bell fry ring in my head. The blow to the coccyx was so strong that my mind became confused.
“Give me my gun!!!” Everything seems to be in a fog.
"What? Haven’t you had enough? I'll add some more! ”
Manokhin grabbed my collar to put me in a  more convenient position for a subsequent kick.
But something happened to me. I gripped the piece of cast iron from under his belt, and struck, not understanding where.  I don’t feel, I don’t feel anything except the impact of something hard against something soft ... at the same moment I rushed away, without understanding anything, and ran for my dear life… Where and why I run - I don’t know, I don’t understand anything ...

Time passes. I'm somewhere on a strange street, far from home. What should I do? Not to go home is impossible. But I'm going ...

It gets dark late in the summer ... I approach my house. Valerka Chernov sits near the entrance, still poking around with the same piece of wood.
“What have you done? You’ve killed him! ”

Everything inside me is gets cold. I enter the apartment in an almost unconscious state ...
That same evening, closer to night, Volodka Manokhin’s parents came to our apartment. With them was a girl of about eight or nine, with dark sad eyes. His parents and mine spoke in elevated tones.

"What have you done to my brother?" the girl kept asking, sobbing each time.  The next day, my parents went to his parents. And there I saw the same sad girl, and she asked me the same question. "What have you done to my brother?"

Then the parents of both families went to the police together. I trailed behind like a tail of a fat fat sheep. The policeman in uniform said that my fate, as well as the fate of my parents, depended on results of the treatment. In any case, the Criminal Code contained an article for both a minor offender and parents who didn’t care for his upbringing ...

Volodya Manokhin’s broken jaw healed, grew together, recovered…

Never again did I see him. But the younger sister (whom I never met again either) stuck in my memory.

And so I remembered her (and she me) now, more than half a century later ...

Things got into my head ... You mustn’t offend those who are weaker. Even a small mouse driven to despair can turn into a dangerous beast.

That's what I thought about, stepping off the doorstep of Sberbank and remembering the sad eyes of a little girl ...

Monday, December 23, 2019

On the Wrestling Mat

No, I NEVER give in. That’s why a lot of people don’t like me. In this respect, I’m just like my father, a remarkable individual who deserves volumes of colorful description.
Lord keep him for all his idiocies!
Among those rare instances where I actually gave up, the one that comes to mind occurred during my athletic career as a wrestler (I also used to be a weightlifter and amateur gymnast). It was some minor local sporting event. I was quite strong, but was a novice and unknown to the public. My opponent was a renowned wrestling champ. And was he strong! I felt it immediately as we shook hands before the match. But, you know, luck smiles on beginners and fools.
I had him down on the mat in a flash. How I managed to take down a bull like that is still a mystery to me. It might have been fear. Or maybe it was his overconfidence in facing a small boy without titles. Whatever it was, the crowd roared. They were with me. They longed for my victory and this added to my strength. They wanted to see the champion defeated, preferably by a kid from the provinces. The public always supports young unknowns from the sticks. All the same, I couldn't hold him down, although I was in the prime of my strength. He had obtained all his titles with good reason, after all...He endured my assault, recovered, and then went on the offensive. His techniques were many and varied. One of them was grabbing me by the balls. This brought me no joy. I appealed to the ref.
"Come on, boy!" was the neutral reply. “Go do your thing..."
My opponent took me down. There I am in the bridge — a seriously disadvantageous position for any wrestler. You need stamina, will power and a bovine neck to continue fighting in the bridge. Fight on I did. But... then the bugger grabbed me by the balls again! And started pulling them like suspenders!
As I was gazing reflectively at the bright lights on the ceiling in peril of losing one of my chief assets, I concluded that, whatever the outcome, my life would continue after the match and my testicles might come in handy some day. After a moment’s meditation, I relaxed, broke the bridge, and gave in. For the good of the future generations, if you will.
No, I NEVER give in, unless it’s for the good of others.

What I'm Thinking these Days

I’m thinking about her. And that soon she may cease to be. I drive this thought away, but it occurs to me again and again. This is not new in life. This happens to all, sometimes unexpectedly. But here everything is expectable and predictable. The doctor told me straightly: “Her organism is utterly worn out. Not a bit is healthy”.
Yes, this is obvious without analysis. For the last New Year’s Eve party we’d gathered at my sister’s. There were only near and dear ones. As the party ended, my wife and I walked my parents to their house.
Lingering to the rails and aided by me, Mom struggled down the flights of stairs. “Didn’t I use to fly over them,” she said climbing down on another landing. Then we walked, very slowly and for long time, to my parent’s apartment. My Father, at eighty three, hobbled along on his own. My Mother, dragging her feet, shuffled between me and my wife. As I walked, I spoke cheerful truisms, thinking: “It’s all too obvious. This is a beginning of the end. One must know how to accept the facts of life”.
The facts of life? Everything within me resists them!
Mom, you are the first person who got imprinted on my mind.
You gave birth to twins. The delivery was difficult. I appeared first, a flimsy little thing. The midwives overlooked something and he died…
I was so small and ugly that on bringing me back from the maternity home they didn’t show me to anybody, though there had come many wishing to see a new man born. However, Dad turned them all out unceremoniously. Nothing to brag about.
By all laws of medicine I was to join my brother shortly. But they bailed me out. I got up to feet and moved on…
Here we are, walking along the street. Young and beautiful, in a light dress, you are leading me by the hand. Nobody believes I’m your son. They take me for your little brother. I’m awfully freakish child. I want a pie with meat and holler like hell if I don’t get it. You ask hopefully each hawker we pass: “Are your pies with meat?”
- With jam,- is their answer.
I bawl still louder. You dragging me, crying blue murder, along the street.
… I was often ill. It seemed there wasn’t a single illness that had spared me. You spread a fresh sheet and called in a doctor. I dreaded doctors like death. They seemed to be arch-villains who had come to torture me. They were even dressed differently from normal people, wearing white overalls like butchers in the market. At the sight of a syringe I hid under the bed. Extracting me out of there was no easy mission. Once, as my Father crept under the bed to get me out I kicked him in the eye with my naked heel.
My father? To say that he is a man of a nasty temper would be a glaring understatement. He used to make wild scenes of jealousy. Was permanently irritable, disgruntled and discontent with everything and everybody. Violent brawls never ceased in our home.. The neighbors called the police. I was shivering with fear…
You have lived with him for over half a century. For this alone you deserve a monument in your lifetime.
The four of us (my sister was born after a time) were cooped up in a tiny room of a communal apartment. We didn’t even have a dinner table. You enlisted to work on the construction site for an apartment of our own. It paid miserably but promised a lodging for us. You were coming from work exhausted. One day they brought you home in a car. A stack of bricks had fallen on the construction site. You dodged, but several pieces landed on your foot...
I was placed at the kindergarten, since there was nobody to look after me. I didn’t like it there very much. There one had to do everything in compliance with regulations. Regulated eating, sleeping, and even sitting down on the pot. The boys wrested my toys away from me. But the most unbearable was being teased a stutterer. I ran away from there to the home. At home I declared that if they took me again to the kindergarten, I’d run away, but not to the home, but to the town where nobody would find me. They stopped taking me to the kindergarten.
And you took me to the speech therapist, an old gentleman with a goatee. He was teaching me to speak in tunes, aiding the pronunciation of certain sounds by my fingers. Could that old man imagine that some day his pupil would speak Japanese?
You trusted in me. Believed I was the cleverest boy in the world. And even though I had just rid myself of the speech impediment, you wished to send me to a school with a French language focus. But the classes had been already fully staffed. So I went to a standard school.
At school I studied easily, and gladdened you by my achievements. One day I was awarded with a vase for scholarly performance and exemplary conduct. You proudly showed it to people next door. And then put it down on set of draws in the most conspicuous place.
I can’t remember you just lying down or sitting idly. You are always on the move, in motion, with sacks and bags with chicken legs and fish tails protruding from them. The family must be taken care of. Fed and laundered. And provided with all sorts of things.
You used to bring some berries and fruit for me from the market. I tuned up the nose if the apples were green or not of the costliest sort. It took me decades to I realize that you didn’t eat even those. You were giving everything away to me and my sister. You thought about yourself after all else.
I remember how you took me once on a rather adventurous enterprise of “sorting it out”.
Shortly before this my Father had been sent on a tour of duty to a collective farm, where they had been assembling a pipeline. His colleagues had been drinking round the clock, selling the pipes left and right for a booze. When the team had fully assembled over supper, my Father, an ardent champion of law and order, demanded that this malpractice be stopped.
His colleagues rose up in indignation.
- Who do you think you are?
- Who do you think you are? – the colleagues rose up. - You wanna what? Are you a law-loving type? – asked the team leader Filcheroff (this is a true name). - Yes, I am! – answered my Father.
One word led to another. Fists thumped down on the table. My father is no weakling. At work he carries seventy kilo radiators all by himself. But coming out victorious in a melee is not a strong, but an insolent one. Filcheroff struck first, kicking out into the groin. And then hitting the fallen man.
My Father came back home with a face bruised violet. In vain did he try to explain it by falling on a pile of bricks. Mom unearthed everything out of him.
- Let’s go, - she said to me. – You’ll be on the lookout.
We arrived at the railway station. Mom headed for the booking office. A group of men had been sitting near it, awaiting a suburban train.
- Who of you is Pilcheroff? – inquired Mom.
- It’s me, - a lanky redhead disengaged himself from the group. – What is it you want?
- You will learn now, - said Mom, producing an umbrella from her bag. It was an old-fashioned unfolding thing, a sort of a metallic pipe covered up with a black cloth.
- What are you doing on the Shining Path farm?
- Is it any business of yours?
- Yes, it is! – with all her might Mom struck him with the umbrella on the shoulder.
- Motherfucker! – screamed Pilhceroff, squatted down with pain. 
- I will show you the mother as well as my husband! – Mom struck a second blow on the other shoulder.
Pilcheroff jumped up and dashed away. Mom pursued him, hitting the man on the back, on the head, on whatever she could reach.
- I’ll put you in jail, you cheat. You’ll know better than to steal and manhandle…
Passers-by watched appreciatively and with a keen interest what looked to them like a wife teaching a lesson to her souse spouse…

You were an example of being true to your word. Also, you advised me to be lenient to other people’s tastes and freaks. Not by words, by deeds, did you instruct me to be compassionate and sympathizing. When I told you about one lowly student in our institute, pale and poorly clad, and, obviously, hungry, you gave me some money.
- Give this to that fellow. Let him have at least one decent meal.
I don’t think your principles had made my life any easier. Rather on the contrary. But I am grateful to you for this just the same.
When I returned home from my first protracted tour of duty overseas, we went “to open our purse” in Moscow. Na├»ve, back then we had only a vague idea about the system of the Byeryozka hard currency stores.
So, we find ourselves in one such store. It exudes the smell of leather, costly things and foreign luxury. Your eyes light up. You reckon in your mind the prospective purchases for your son and daughter. However, a young man in a classic suit approaches us. With a practiced eye he had placed you as a common woman from the depths of the country.
- Excuse me, what are you doing here? – he asks you.
- We’re choosing goods.
- This is a hard currency store.
- And that what we like, - you say. – At normal stores one won’t find anything like it.
- Goods at this store are sold only for hard currency which you haven’t and can’t have,- the man explains. You look at him reproachfully, the way a teacher looks at a rather dull pupil.
- My good man. This here (you proudly point to me) is my son. He has just returned from abroad.
The young man turns to me.
I am dressed exclusively in foreign-made clothes. I can speak English without accent. And I can even say something in pure Arabic.
- Have you got currency, - he queries.
- No. Only checks.
- I request you then to leave the premises. This store is for foreigners.
We come out into the street. You are indignant.
- Why, sonny? Aren’t we up to snuff?
I comfort you.
- Take it easy, Mom! We’ll find a simpler shop.
I remember you coming to visit me at the military unit. My serviceman’s tunic impressed you profoundly. You even shed a tear – your little boy is now a government man. You stroke golden SA letters on my black shoulder-straps.
- What do they mean?
- Soviet Army.
- And what do the stripes stand for?
- A squad commander.
- Risen to big brass, eh?
- Yes, Sir!
I notice thin gray tufts in your hair. You start turning gray.
You had brought me cakes, sweets and other dainties (I had eaten myself so sick that the following morning my groans in the toilet booth were heard in the barracks.
I inadvertently mention that I often need a watch. You take off your ladies’ watch from the wrist and held it out to me. For the rest of my service, it ticks in a breast pocket close to my heart. We part. I say that I shall leave soon for Belarus, and we won’t see each other for at least a year. - All right, son. Do your stint and come home, - you say and kiss me goodbye. I see again tears in your eyes. So sentimental you are…
After the army you decided to marry me off. You taught me to dance, proffering a chair for a dancing partner. You put on the record “The Amur Waves”. Taking the chair, I circled about the room while you were critically assessing my fancy cavorts. I didn’t learn how to dance, but remembered your essential rule – a man must not wag his bottom either in dance or in life. And then I got married (without attending any dancing events). My marriage didn’t work from the first, which distressed you a great deal. “Get divorced, - you told me. – You two won’t get along.” But I procrastinated… Till it all collapsed by itself on gloomy day in fall.
My younger sister got married. You gave up the job to nurse your granddaughter. More doctors and nights without sleep.
Years, nay decades, have passed unnoticed.
I call you practically every day. I can determine, by your voice, how you feel today.
You say you bent down in the morning, felt giddy and fell. It took you some time to rise. You say you won’t rise at all some day. And then, as if thinking better of it, you assure me that all is well by you. I know that your health is getting worse and worse. But coming over to live with and to support you in that apartment is unthinkable so long as my Father stays there alive. The two of us can’t be in the same room. Because I am the wrong type. All are wrong. What? You disagree? You, sons of a bitch! And who did you vote for? Not for communists? You stupid swine!
How many years of your life did he take off?
Three days ago an ambulance took you to the hospital. You were unconscious and in a pre-infarct condition.
The following day, I came to you at the hospital. You are lying down with closed eyes. Hearing a knock on the door, you raise your eyelids. Huge eyes on a pale and swollen face.
- Is it you, son?
- It’s me, of course. How are you?
- I’m fine…
I sit down next to you and fall to talking… I wish to distract your mind from sorrowful thoughts.
- Bend down, - I hear you say almost inaudibly.
I lean over you. You embrace me. I feel your wet cheeks.
I know why you are crying. Because you realize that life is gone. And now comes the time that NOBODY, no matter how great, could prevent. I make a strenuous effort not to break into tears.
I recall a conversation with “dear Annie”, my schoolteacher residing in Moscow. She was a slender hazel-eyes beauty with long wavy hair. Now, bent like a carpenter’s ruler, she hobbles to the kitchen from where she brings fried eggs. She pours me a glass of vodka and just a little for herself.
We clink glasses.
- Don’t you cry when I die, - says dear Annie. – Don’t be upset. I have lived a fine life and I am pleased with everything. My death is a normal thing. Life would be a nightmare if people stopped dying...
A nurse looks into the ward.
- Out for dinner, please.
I go to the mess room and bring a tray with soup and buckwheat porridge containing bits of stewed liver. Not a bad food for a free hospital.
I help you sit up on the bed. You are eating.
Or rather, stuffing listlessly into your mouth the pieces of bread soaked in the soup. I watch gray hairs covering the skinny neck.
On a neighboring bed a woman is wheezing. Her eyes are closed. A tube is inserted in her open mouth without teeth. The woman’s hands turned black. Everything is clear here.
Suddenly, Father enters the ward.
- Oho! You here?
- Yes, here. So what?
- Go home! I’ll cope myself.
It’s useless to argue with him.
- Go, sonny, - you say.
I kiss you and leave.
At home I sit down over my PC. Business as usual.
I can’t focus on the assignment. I’m thinking about her. And that she may soon cease to be. I’m driving this thought away, but it comes back again and again. I know that Mom loves me more than anybody else in the world.
I shudder each time the telephone rings. For each time it can be shattering news. No, I can’t follow the advice of dear Annie. I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall asleep again. I recall images of the past and thoughts overpower me…

Don’t die, Mom! I need you!

Cast Iron Dummy

I needed something the other day at the bank, to withdraw some money. Getting a receipt, I looked at a bank clerk, not ...