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THE BEST IN CONTEMPORARY RUSSIAN FICTION
IN ENGLISH TRANSLATION


Zufar Gareev

THE PARK

Translated by Andrew Bromfieldt

(from Glas 7)

Two characters

The Watchman Potemkin

There was once a certain watchman called Potemkin. One day on returning home from work at about nine o'clock in the morning he discerned that it was stuffy in his apartment, and as a result, psychologically oppressive. In order to let some air into the apartment, he opened the windows. Meanwhile he sat down in the kitchen and began drinking beer, adding to it small amounts of a stronger liquid.
"To cheer me up," the watchman said to himself. An hour later he sensed in his head a deep-set mental heaviness, an intellectual stagnation, a kind of drowsy buzzing. The watchman Potemkin passed about twenty minutes in this state, but he didn't start feeling any more cheerful, even though he tried launching into a dance to liven himself up. The sensation of drowsiness began acquiring density and settling down inside Potemkin like an overfed pig.
After half an hour spent staring into a plate on which nestled a lump of meat as dreary as a yawn, for the sake of variety he began glancing out of the window in an attempt to provide his mind with some nourishment. But his eyes descried nothing beyond the window, even though they almost tumbled out of their sockets precisely in order to obtain a closer look at the surrounding reality. However, it contained no objects capable of mental interpretation by Potemkin. Then the watchman Potemkin began staring curiously at the ceiling.
After almost fifteen minutes had passed, the watchman's lower jaw began to droop, and his mouth began to assume the form of the letter "O". Amidst the luxuriant growth of hairs in the watchman's nose there was born a subtle, whistling music, beautiful in its own peculiar way: a couple of flies darted into the watchman's nostrils and observed the birth of the music through the dense undergrowth.
The watchman sneezed and thought: "What the hell's that..." He moved his fingers expressively through the air: the conceptual volume contained between them was something like a cube, and a sphere, and a cone, or even a cylinder, and yet somehow neither the first, nor the second, nor the third, but most precisely and above all a quite obvious "what the hell." Then the watchman Potemkin barked out of the window on the seventh floor: "We'll see about that!" as though he was struggling with the forces of the absurd. He roared out cheerfully and merrily, like some unknown animal:
"Give us something sour."
This attracted the attention of public inspector Kuzkin who soon arrived and said, in the first place:
"Why, comrade Potemkin, in the ragingly beautiful, furious space decorated with many-coloured flags in honour of the day of such-and such and so-and-so -- the broad-flapping canvases of which can be seen from your window... "
In the second place, he said:
"Why do you, comrade Potemkin, blatantly ignoring the instructions of your wife concerning the carrying down of the dirty laundry to the appropriate place, of which you were informed in a note, thrusting which under your gaze I myself colour in shame for you, for mist clouds your glasses and in the effort to read what is written you break out in a hot sweat, and in the effort to make sense of what you have read you turn greener than grass, as you take on this labour of Sisyphus..?"
In the third place, he continued:
"Why do you, comrade Potemkin, forgetting the potemkinesque norms and laws of our communal life, lay claim to the dishonourable role of a scab on the healthy body of our collective?"
In the fourth place, he concluded:
"Why did you, in short, get yourself drunk?"
Having unburdened himself of these questions, Kuzkin rose and assumed an expectant pose, the meaning of which was: "Now let's have a look at you, you fine goose! Got soused as a herring first thing in the morning, and now you're howling for the whole block to hear? And you think there's nothing we can do about you? You're wrong there, brother. You may be sitting drunk in your apartment right now, but in a minute you'll go outside and threaten someone's life with criminal danger! And they'll say inspector Kuzkin slipped up! They'll say: Where was inspector Kuzkin? What was he up to?"
"Alright now," Kuzkin thought to himself, "the best thing would be to send you off in good time for preventive treatment, and nip you, Potemkin, in the bud..."
But how could he realise his plan? In order to send Potemkin off for forced treatment, he had to apprehend him, not in a flat, but in a public place.
Then Kuzkin began luring the watchman outside.
"Eh, my friend! My brother!" Kuzkin exclaimed, and put his arms round Potemkin.
"My brother! My friend!" mumbled Potemkin, tossing back his crazy head in warm emotion and peering attentively at his newly-acquired bosom-buddy. Then he barked in a joyful voice: "Give us something sou-ou-our..." Meanwhile Kuzkin nudged him towards the door, until eventually they found themselves in the lift. Once they were out in the yard, Kuzkin dispatched the zig-zagging watchman into independent motion, whistled on his white whistle and immediately detained him.

The Charwoman Tolubeeva

The charwoman Tolubeeva, a sullen and stubborn old woman, resembled a mound of earth heaped up roughly in the form of a human figure. Her lowly philosophy of life did not, alas, resemble a swift flying bird or a ringing melody. Her thoughts were like millstones which painstakingly ground down even abstract concepts into the flour of practical needs.
She was swabbing away with her mop in the foyer of the theater, glancing now and then at the door into the hall which was filled with the rumbling and clanging of one of those fiery artistic productions. She thought: "Fine lot they are, with their culture! Big swells! We've seen plenty of their kind!" Tolubeeva's thoughts crawled on, in their paunchy, heavy fashion, for another two or three centimeters, and a remarkable insight began to take shape in her head. The essential element of this insight was that they were simply afraid that charwoman Tolubeeva might somehow get rich.
Charwoman Tolubeeva began answering them in spirited style: "What would I want with getting rich? How could I get rich on a rise of 5 and 20 roobils?" Then she went on to ponder: "Why'm I any worse than they are? The fancy buggers just come straight in and sit down! And here you are hunched over slaving away all your life long and no respect for it, no thanks, no rise! Don't suppose they'd want to take a mop in their hands even for a moment! They're not interested in flogging and slaving away, in slaving away and swabbing seven blasted leagues of dirty damned floors, somebody else's floors that mean nothing to you, floors you hate with all your heart like I do e-ve-ry si-ngle da-ay..."
The monologue was crowned with something between a sigh and an exhalation: aagh-ma! o-ogh! The etymological roots of this sigh stretched far back into the history of folk culture: behind Tolubeeva's massive back there appeared the glimmering light of summer lightning and burning barns. Men in long peasant coats and women in peasant headdresses ran towards the burning manor with pitch-forks and rakes held at the ready. "Ogh, we'll kill that dratted bloodsucker," they said, "we'll kill 'im!"

Then the charwoman Tolubeeva noticed Kolya Stepanchikov coming out of the auditorium. She straightened up vigilantly from her bucket and mop, she was on her guard. Any fool could see that this young lad was out to get up to no good. She cut across the empty foyer and set off after Kolya in prophylactic pursuit. She knew for certain that once he was out of the theater the hooligan intended to take some chalk out of his pocket and write something on the wall like "MEAT," or "STABLE," or "VASYA SPAT HERE".
She was astonished when it didn't happen the moment Kolya emerged from the theater. "Agha!" Tolubeeva punctuated her moment of insight with an exclamation.
Kolya Stepanchikov himself added to the tension of the situation: for some reason he glanced around stealthily, and that expression on his face "Is anyone following me?" definitely added impetus to Tolubeeva's repressive intentions. "Agha!" her insight was finally complete. "A punk! That's what he is, a punk!" For some reason the thing Tolubeeva feared most in the world was punks. "I know what plan you've got in mind, my wee lad!" she thought, and wagged a threatening finger.
The distance separating the two antagonists was easily bridged telepathically, and the stream of vigilant thoughts emanating from Tolubeeva flowed across into Kolya's foolish head, where it gathered into a dark gloomy cloud above the sky-blue flowers that were already there. The flowers began to chirp and twitter:
"I'm not going to do anything criminal, you've no need to worry, Mrs. Tolubeeva..."
Innocence personified, Kolya threw back his head to look at the sky and changed his route slightly. With a camera-face expression, he began to move in the direction of the statue "Girl With an Oar." But the charwoman Tolubeeva, moved by a fragment of thought still lodged in her head, stole after him.
She moved out in pursuit of Kolya from behind the statue "Alarm and Storm-Clouds," which represented a certain highly vigilant watchman of the male variety, peering out into the treacherous distance from under shaggy eyebrows. The watchman's head was framed in stone clouds.
The charwoman Tolubeeva moved in Kolya's direction from out, as it were, of this atmosphere of alarm, although undoubtedly the real cause for alarm was herself. Her face had assumed a resolute expression, and her squat form, inaccessible to reproduction by any degree of sculptural skill, somehow even assumed a certain threateing poise, a certain "I'll fix you!" attitude, even a certain resilience.
Kolya moved away from the "Girl With an Oar" and Tolubeeva moved towards the "Girl With an Oar," leaving behind, as it were, the stage of alarm and moving into the phase of determination, as a result of which any startled conscious observer was well able to conjecture that the second was approaching when the mimic force of decisive will which was dawning on the face of Tolubeeva would precisely equal the powerful pelvic determination written on the face of the girl with the oar.
Of course, the clear danger was represented by the former, but as a result of its combination with the psychological pressure of the latter, the air was suddenly permeated with a nascent atmosphere of slaughter. Physical reprisal! Young Kolya Stepanchikov's heart shuddered and began to dart this way and that in his narrow rib-cage. "My God!" he thought.
The small square in front of the theater building was immorally empty. However, the cheerful sounds of the choir could be clearly heard coming from the theater, and the sun still shone in the sky. A metaphorical coalition could be cobbled together.
Kolya's awareness of his surroundings began to grow a bit stronger, and he spoke: "Are you alarmed because you think that I... er... are you genuinely prophylactically concerned?"
This was probably an unnecessary question; in the formal space it had a hopeless sound. But the charwoman Tolubeeva, strangely enough, responded.
"Me?" she said. "I'm not doing anything. But what did you have in mind, eh? You think this is a place..."
Tolubeeva shifted her mop from her right hand to her left:
"... you think this place, this temple, this gallery of the arts, this treasure-house of regional culture, is a place where you can... you know... get away with the dirty business you had in mind, you nasty little boy, you filthy dog..."
From her exalted feelings for the arts which Kolya Stepanchikov had intended to irrigate, a song was born in her heart. No, it was a Russian epic poem! Its menacingly triumphant metre blended with the choir in the theater, Tolubeeva's voice singing the solo lead:

"I'll get you now!
See how your streamlet silvery,
silvered and silvery,
glinting in the sun's rays playfully,
swift and topsy-somersaulty,
I will cut off with a belt
from behind on a soft spot.
Ho, a belt on your pink little bottom,
Like two little baby's pinkies!

"Oh, I'll belt you hard!
I'll make it sting!
I'll slap you loud!
Then you'll shut off
your glinting streamlet silvery,
You'll cut it off,
my stupid little puppy,
my foolish one,
my little baby,
my wee laddie,
like a fairy-tale!"