Читать онлайн "Compartment No. 6" автора Ликсом Роза - RuLit - Страница 27


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She hurried in the cold to the half-opened door and into the station. The oily floor shone. Drops of light from the crystal chandeliers twinkled in the puddles on the floor. There, under the arched ceiling of the station, she met the man. He smelled of sauerkraut, vodka, onion soup, and the pharmacy. His presence calmed her fearful mood.

‘You’ve probably noticed by now that all the cities and villages are alike. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. But let’s go get a bite of vermicelli and chicken broth. We’ll be on our way to the land of the Mongols soon.’


THE TALL, THICKSET HEAD CONDUCTOR put a whistle to his lips and blew long on it. The engine howled three times and the train slammed into motion. The engine’s wheels beat sparks from the rails and the rough cheer of Khachaturian’s ‘Sabre Dance’ rang out of the beige plastic loudspeaker.

The man scowled at the speaker’s broken volume knob, an unlit cigarette between his lips.

‘A flock of geese born out of somebody’s arse,’ he said, grabbing his pillow and pressing it hard against the speaker. ‘I don’t enjoy killing a sensitive piece of music, but I have no choice.’

Khabarovsk is left behind, the smoke from the windowless factories and the clouds of spring-melted toxins. Khabarovsk is left behind, the Paris of Siberia, the stone buildings with their ornaments covered in a patina of time. A land killed by oil and heavy industry and discarded, a heavy city surrounded by crumbling slabs of steel-reinforced concrete, where women walk the back streets in high-heeled fur boots, left behind. The decomposing municipal combine built of Chinese steel, the reeking fish cannery, left behind. Khabarovsk, the dimly lit, beautiful city, the tired land, left behind. This is still Khabarovsk: an abandoned industrial strip, a planted pine forest, a stillborn, half-built suburb, the polluted sick forest, the dense larch forest, a woman with a sack of food, the crudely retouched photos of the General Secretaries on the telephone poles. The train picks up speed. The fifth cluster of prefab buildings, which they call suburbs, the little houses defeated in the battle of life, the open land, the Chinese forest, the fallow earth, the lonely nineteen-storey building in the middle of the fields. The last remains of a factory rush past in the distance with the speed of the train, then deep forest, wetland, spruce trees, the mountains of Japan beyond the horizon, sake and haikus. This is no longer Khabarovsk. The train moves on. A collapsed house under snow, a village of two dozen houses among the geriatric underbrush, a glitter of golden lights from a quarry. The train plunges into nature, throbs across the snowy, empty land. Everything is in motion: snow, water, air, trees, clouds, wind, cities, villages, people, thoughts.

The music gradually went quiet and faded away. The man went to smoke his cigarette in the cold carriage entryway. He took heavy drags, smoking it down to his fingernails. A dense snowstorm whirled over the treeless steppe. In the middle of the plain of snow was a lightless, forgotten village. A lone crow fought against the wind atop a chimney gone cold. The man spread the draughts board on the table. They played silently. He won.

After the third game he snorted, ‘There’s no more stupid game than this, but still…’

They played six more long games, so long that they both were spent. The man went to sleep. The girl missed Moscow. She thought about her last trip, when she and Mitka went to Kiev, sharing a compartment with two young men. One spent the whole trip moping, in his own world. The other was studying to be a machine draughtsman at the design institute, adored anything to do with numbers, charts, columns, sketches, specifications and, above all, coupons. He was flipping through them for the whole trip.

When Irina was seventeen and was pregnant with Mitka, Zahar had sent her to the Caucasus, to her aunt’s house in the Lermontov mountains. While she was there she had fallen in love with a girl like herself, a student named Galina, and brought her home to Moscow. Galina, Irina, Mitka and Zahar had lived together in the same household with some other relatives for seven years. Then Galina moved away. According to Mitka, after that Irina had been with Tonya, Katya, Klasa and Julia, and perhaps others. When she and Mitka met, Julia was spending her nights in Irina’s bedroom, but lived somewhere else. It all happened in secret. The girl didn’t talk with Julia very much, although she saw her many times at the door to Irina’s room or in the hallway. Mitka hated his mother’s girlfriends. Not because they were women but because he wanted his mother all to himself – that’s how he always put it.

Only two stars glimmered in the turquoise sky, very far apart. The heavy clouds nestled low, close to the ground. A cold, powerless desperation crept into her breast. She thought about how joys are forgotten but sorrow and stupidity never are.

A little yellow bird flew out of the bushes and up to the window. It looked in with disbelief, then flew away. An old electrician had climbed up a leaning telephone pole with a tangled coil of wire in one hand and a black receiver in the other. Beyond the electrician a swelling neon-yellow whirl of mist reared like a snake, wriggled upward with a hiss, and rose glittering towards the lid of sky. Then a second burning cloud of mist, and a third, and a fourth. The Northern Lights sparkled against the dome of clear blue sky, painting the snow green and the tail of a Siberian bluebill black. The taiga sucked the Northern Lights into itself and left the sky empty and clean. The taiga changed to a forest, the sea of forest to a sea of fields, the sea of fields to a sea of woodland wilderness. The man slept with an amusingly happy look on his face. She watched him for a long time, dozed off, woke for a moment, then drifted into a deep, deathlike sleep.

The man finished his morning exercises and poured a glass full of vodka. He handed the girl a glass of tea dregs.

‘Let us wish for life and troubles, innocent laughter, crying for no reason, hearty merrymaking, mild hangovers, eternal health and a too-early death. Let’s lift our glasses to the feminine beauty of our compartment and to the guardians of injustice, those sacks of garbage who couldn’t get any other kind of work. And a toast to deception. May we be deceived in a better direction. Long live the militias.’

He tossed the whole contents down his throat in one motion, took a bite of raw onion, and filled his glass again.

‘That’s enough toasting and playing around, time to get drinking! A carriage of vodka, please.’

The glass emptied and was immediately filled again.

‘Katyushka, my little silly head, couldn’t stand fellows like me. That’s why I fell in love with her. But I always say there’s nothing in the world as fucked up as female logic.’

A thick snowstorm raged over the treeless steppe. The shy morning light tried to come out from between two grey clouds, unsuccessfully.

‘Heart and logic. That’s all there is… I’m gonna have another drink or two, then we’ll talk.’

He picked up his knife and scratched his elbow with it. His eyes were glistening as if he’d just been crying.

‘So. Once on the Volga or the Yenisei, somewhere around there, a boy and his mother and father. The boy heard his father tell his mother she had to choose, the boy or him. To which she answered, Don’t worry, he’ll be dead soon, and we can be alone. The next morning the boy said goodbye to his three-legged dog and never came back. He joined others like himself and started living on the street, selling himself for bread. He whispered in the men’s ears, I’m a little boy from Odessa…’



2011 - 2018