Monument to the Defeated
Ophelia — no, I shouldn't start with the muddy waters of Ophelia's virginity and death; no, why should I, if I have already conjured up both, revealing the truth? So, this time, the name is hopelessly concluded; the name perfectly contains everything that can be said about it — about her and about the name — the fat cloud fades her out over the ages, gathers upon Ophelia, in order to make her undead (immortal) and nonexistent (expendable) — I once noticed a spot of dry blood on the cracked soles of her replaceable Danish shoes, with their inner traces of warm rubber, and my hand continued to the floor to retrieve a sack of her winter boots — bottomless and heavy as a stone hole in my heart (because some seams untangle, following a metaphor).
The invisibly smooth sheet of Ophelia's water (seamlessly sewn on both linens) was compressed to a transparent pane of glass with countless linens: some sparse raspberry compote poured out, a floating dead berry on the surface, a plastic round table is placed there, a coffee table — no tablecloth. (The first crippled meal was what connected me with Vika — later I'll choke on her salad: what kind of person would be able to hopelessly ruin lettuce?) The canteen was a narrow opening without a door; a pregnant cat secretly lived there. I was waiting for Vika close to the door — the heavy entrance of the auditorium — Vika was rasping, and it was the continuously changeable flow of voice, making more sense than words that I can't get. And now laughter, almost indistinguishable from talk. It's her laughter.
Probably she stumbled at about this time. Meanwhile, she's performing Phaedra? Might that be the source of her laughter? Herself? Or, Phaedra? Or, some vast difference? Or, is it just life that makes them laugh. Sometimes, when she would slip on the ice, I would imagine pushing her and, above the street, hundreds of bells would toll.
She never played Ophelia.
After another rehearsal (on a Soviet stage that spanned a kilometer), this rehearsal, or any other, she took me by my arm, folded like an acute angle, and we went to pick up our jackets, stiff and immobile as if they had fainted. The steep scandalous stairs were braking under our feet, and we had to proceed with a royal ease, because, according to Vika, it was essential; and in vain, I, sparked by her (a swift bolt of enlightenment), stayed up until dawn, trying to persuade her that there is a huge gulf between her acting career and our love, between her present and our future.
This metamorphosis of stairs emerging to enormous hall; such an ectopic pregnancy was worthy of Kafka and Ovid, dramatically resolving to light with a thousand (and one) roses everywhere — from where, tell me, in this winter, from which magical land did this cancerous temple come? Blue, black, green, purple, red, white, rose, multiplied by mirrors, mirrors....
And I wrapped Vika up in a sheepskin coat, fashioned from arctic fox (a tiny animal, in fact), and we opened the heavy chest to another world, and Vika blinked at the barbed snowflakes, which could never be properly reproduced in the summer, for example, when I, longing for the snow (and she for the theater), asked her to perform. She blinked, blurrily and inaccurately, had a weedy smile — I love that smile, Vika, but now I need you to focus — be more serious, laughter is a million young wrinkles, and I want you now to stay in one piece, to be absolute, a snowy hedgehog, smooth because of its billion (and one) needles. Just do not die anymore.
Deep in the snowy darkness roses are blooming, tulips and angels. Only in this way could I imagine all the love that surrounds Vika — I closed my eyes and saw generous spotted colors, spinning endlessly, and their forms, becoming solid, circled into a single massive center, and the center was a black-and-white photograph of Vika Lazkova, smiling with all her face .
It took a will of superhuman effort to break the boundaries of portrait and to deepen the photo, light it interiorly with the tongue of Vika's flame-red hair, add a bit of space and impure air, which periodically breaks into a cold draft, and call the photo "Vika Lazkova waiting for a train at the station" (a huge gallery with a million portraits, landscapes, still lifes, and sketches from the facade of a masterpiece — and released in the cool shade of the early etude (there between loosely spaced iron bars, a wild bird of genius flew away) — this extraordinarily big gallery of Perm, and world-wide (another world) famous shadow theater of Perm, and above all this — the signature: "Perm waiting for Vika Lazkova").
The train was late, and she was nervous — because she was already there. She bit her sleeve with her solids nails, wrapping her current stress with the anxieties of her childhood (or it could have been any other childhood: a borrowed one, one that never existed), the irritation wraps transparent as expensive jelly.
"I got a bell in my belly," she says quietly in English; I can't hear her mistakes. I had once taught her a little of my English.
Then I got up from my seat and began to envelop her with my loose arms — and slowly, like the wind, drew her attention (smile into the lens of the disposable camera, baby). I was so displaced, I could not figure out the English response.
"My name is a palindrome," she said, maintaining the balance of speech under my embrace. "A palindrome."
"It's not even close to a palindrome, Vika."
My hands fell empty with the sudden remembrance of death, and with a single eye, I followed the foreign train. I relished in the ease of it. It's ridiculous to think how unessential it is, how vague and illusory all that Vika took away with her. To whom now does she give her cardboard snowflakes? Farewell to Vika, I could not feel that endless descent into a bottomless pit, colored with a single echo — and, so, neither to recollect infinity, from which I just unearthed, appraising me with birth, and in which I will descend like in a dark, sleepy water.
The only valuable thing we will miss are the stairs. We can afford to miss a stair and fall into a fact, although what's curious: what were the things that preceded her return? I think I came to my house, turned on the light and found her. What was she doing at my house and why was she sitting in the dark? From my meager things she managed to make a mess — was she looking for my jacket so that she could return it to me? Trousers (by the way, this black suit is choking me everywhere, so try to catch up)?
"It hurts everywhere!" Vika proclaims with joy.
She likes it. She likes to grow out of herself as if a shirt. And I was to catch up with her. Yet what she had said about Vsevolod G., a Permian acquaintance.... I had an image of a cranky dwarf in the guise of a shadow, slipping through the room to the window, but not dead — the immortal will never die ... but I said nothing, popping the pimple of jealousy.
Then there is the dwarf that appears in her room, which comes as an expanded, accelerated version of chaos, perpetrated by her in my room. Here I am lying defeated on an unmade bed, and here she is, trying to mirror the new candy wrapper. There are twice as many objects than there were in my room, and I falsely thought that there were also my things.
"The genius rules over the chaos," she said to the mirror and showed two tongues, very much alike.
Next, the action ensued. The orchestra came and conquered the silence without a fight: Vsevolod G. called, and Vika pantomimed for my entertainment on this side of the token. She stood on one leg, placing it at an obtuse angle on the nightstand. She opened the right hand mirrored door cabinet. The room was crowded with reflections, and I closed my eyes.
Then she gave up the sequence, beginning anew: pulled back and forth the caramel curtain, letting the light in and out. At the end of the line, pebbles were rolling.
"Yes, Volo Vsev ... ... yes ... Volo," — but on the other end rolled pebbles.
And then I imagined that it would be good to turn off the sound from the world. It would be nice to be able to turn it off. But at the same moment (or the moment before?) I realized that if I was not in this room, than the token would drop to the bottom of some random river — random from those rivers, by this time withstanding the illusion of a flat world: it is impossible to go back there.
But the phone was inherent in her pantomime.
"Where is my handkerchief, Vika?" I asked her, and she finally looked at me. With a generous hand, she made a wide circle.
So, I didn't find the wicked handkerchief.
I hope all that's lost is waiting for me somewhere in one place and folded carefully.
The next room erupted in fireworks and then a shot, then — the sharp trill of a saber battle. All this was replaced by, or became music — primitive with three loops, which, like a music box, repeated themselves. The sharpened hearing identified the clatter of dishes.
"The parents are here," Vika confirmed. "Lunchtime."
By lunch the table cloth was just right — the rest was concealed by the fridge. I was allowed to make coffee and open a carton of milk — Vika was the only one of us to drink milk. I appreciated the hiss of the gassy velvet — a good stove, incorporated in to the kitchen, built in to the house, embedded in a green hill in a former cemetery.
Lazkov summoned me to the porch to smoke. I do not smoke, but I was needed. Within a minute, Lazkov stood quietly on the old veranda, baked by sun, and lined with jellyfish shutters, and a silent bumblebee between two panes of glass. He smoked as if alone in this land.
On his head was a green cap, which had come to him from Vika's grandfather, who was thrown into the urns of a labor camp, and there was a huge Scandal-avian legend behind the return of this cap to the family: it crossed all of Scandinavia and the waves of interrupting winds. Time, as you know, spares litter and therefore it's appraised with weight and lightness of a pagan actor, who deceives time itself.
Lazkov's second raised cigarette was pressed against his upper lips with his teeth — the first one was burned in silence. The second cigarette was lit, and I understood why in this heat, Lazkov had decided to still wear his coat: a coat was being weighed down by treasure. But what for? As it's known, no gentleman who respects death will shoot in a duel lightly: there is an obligatory pile of obligations, necessities, debts and affairs that can only be resolved by the miracle of death. Where is my medal from last year? A wooden idol floats away on a golden river.
The same thing with the execution. Turkish delights of that world are not enough to outweigh the fall of the guillotine, so to that world, the one sentenced to glory travels by springboard — made of the opposition: the guillotine as opposed to the lively junk, which is unquestionably heavier. Lazkov stood there equipped with junk from head to toe.
I was presented with a beautifully rigid book of poems — on which a signature blocked the author's name. Then Lazkov asked the book back — it turned out that the date became necessary.
"Parker is a marker," he says. Puts date, no points — for ink is precious. He takes a pen with his fingertips on both ends. "A wooden cover."
I told him that it was clear.
"Do you know how Vika appeared?" he asked, and my memory couldn't trace the transition. It turns out that even in our brief conversation there was a place for a fancy crack through which the past was becoming overgrown with conclusions. What would have happened, otherwise? Idiotic safety, transparency of a trifle? Random rats are fleeing a sinking ship of memory and precious exotic animals holding hands, drowning to the bottom and the corals name their palaces after them.
"By pure chance. By purest chance like all that's best in this world or any other (just selected and probably purely at random). I say that human life begins with the massacre. How many people died because of the fact that Vika was born? What probabilities were left behind forever? We do not know — in the next series, nor the last".
Then Lazkov told me that I had the opportunity to leave. And that I should not neglect it neither, nor delay my departure.
"Do you see what I mean?"
I did. They say that the soul is repetition. And that I'll not see the guises of its transparency. But the soul is close to her body, and one will not undo the lock. And if one does so by untying the Gordian loop, you see — no more soul.
When I told her: "Violence kills the essence and all the churches of the world are taken by force, but God is not" — I was thinking about the endless flowers in the dark water, my eye closed without a soul in the world, without a miracle, and I knew nothing like that would ever come of all those speculations, all that shadow theater wouldn't shape a palm — not a single finger. All this is wrong; all this is about nothing.
She dropped the role of Phaedra — and now the big mystery is whether she would return to it or not. Her sketches were generously crumpled and they could make an entire doll collection — each spark of her imagination lit some kind of fire — all of them in their obscurity indistinguishable from each other, and thus returns some (never existing) completeness, to Vika's image without magic.
I do not know, for example, what role Vika had in the life of that hoarse boy, blond like cigarette smoke, from the city camp, with whom I once held a dialogue. Once I visited her in such a camp — it is usually her summer residence, and I got a profane impression, when seeing a child roaring in the narrow courtyard, that concealed a tiny parking lot, the size of which was more than enough to fit a baby truck, which probably belonged to the only guardian who lived (maybe) permanently in a camp house, which faded everyday at once as if stricken by a heart attack without any other reason in September, October, and March.
"She loves me the least," he said, with no tears and a firm conviction. I told him the first thing that came to mind: this is already enough.
Vika appeared, went looking for her boy. We hugged like brothers, and the blond boy was both the observer and the heart of this embrace. From a distance, the roar of a children's choir reached our narrow courtyard — organized only by distance but also tightly. The hoarse boy easily climbed on to my shoulder, hugging my neck.
"You got along well, I can see." Vika already felt impatient. "Igor, get off, I have to deal with him."
Around the corner, triggered by me, the angular veranda was set in a very crude and coarse way. It belonged to the unregulated world and smelled of urine. There, I released her from a kitschy, boyish uniform as best as I could; at the same time, I wrapped her into my brown coat. In the middle of the gazebo, there was a small table duplicating the form, raised as a son. And so we settled there without a cloth (she insisted) right on the strange mushrooms, which were exploding in clouds of green dust. She fluffed up my gigantic, falling hair; she enjoyed the feeling of a solid oak tree under her elbows, and the relaxing warmth of the bloody spots — it was not the first, nor the last time when Vika would come to me with all her ten arms. Enormous silence — invincible. Not a single flower. A single, solid surface, expanding, becoming smoother with endlessly multiplying trees. But — not a single mirror, nor a drop of water — no delusions. The surface of her body — blind, accidental, necessary....
And now it seems that according to some internal rules — a small chest wound appeared thanks to which she was once discovered in the random perfection of her dress-rehearsed death — similar to the inside voice of a cracked sound — a broken branch, or a fallen sparrow (crushed with a stone light as the sparrow itself), leaving no ripples.
I remember once that the situation was not without an element of randomness (the old cinema's background Terrier was closed for spring cleaning, and Vika — tipsy, distressed, with the enhanced clarity of ivory heels, stepping on a brand new spring asphalt, demanded the equivalent) — came down to the hell's branch of our earthly province: an exhibition of avant-garde nature, smoked entirely by a single draft, curated by Bejenskyi. Pictures of junkies: hand, river (in Vienna), a needle, scarlet embroidery around the black venous pupil, a black female silhouette against the backdrop of ultraviolet forest landscape. A covered skeleton (white on black), hooded dwarf (black on white). Young people wearing Bejenskyi's shirts on their bodies, united by malformations of relations (alas, this small world) — loitering, knocking into exhibit, not listening to the guide (a geometry teacher), ignored requests to stop swearing.
We, as if Seneca and his wife, went to different rooms. For example, the installation "The Junkie Room". An empty box of Lisma tea, a small convex TV, a cradel, a mug, a coffee table. All paper, made by orphaned children in Bejenskyi's shelter. Money for the ticket to the exhibition will go directly to the shelter — the shelter is now short of paper. They will draw immediately — directly on the money.
Vika also in her turn was tortured in a room of distorting mirrors where beside some dark miracle ran a white-haired girl, three years of age, who called her mother by the name of (inaudible). Vika looked for her, hiding her fear in one of the mirrors, suddenly found herself out of the labyrinth, in the common room, and a fat silhouette blocked the entrance to the maze, forever.
Vika took a step towards me, and, escaping my stranger's step, she joined the small group of friends that had suddenly formed. I also tried not to look at her.
In my solitude, I joined a team of young people, but I did not have Bejenskyi's T-shirt on me, so at first they treated me sanctimoniously. I was not offended, and after a few minutes we found the common area (the role played by my long sinuous arms, and probably the eye).
I figured out that they were woodcutters, and they knew how the chips flew. They tried to explain the normality of the process. Simple physics of axe and wood. Knowing nothing about it, I tried to keep quiet and listen. However, they were no fools and quickly changed the subject, telling me in passing about the death of a young actor who had succeeded (in unnamed countries), which happened half an hour ago.
Sad idiocy is that particularly in this form — T-shirts with Betenskyi's logo, this group of young men were found and arrested. They were accused of Vika Lazkova's murder, killed both fast and perfectly — in a sharp blow to the heart on Margot Street. Vika usually never goes there, dressed in a long purple dress; let alone when it is an absolutely ridiculous with her evergreen angularity. "You have confused her with someone," her mother said to the police. "You have confused her with someone else," said the police to the young people. Both replicas have remained unanswered.
I remember them, by the way.
I remember the May Day — hot, furry, evil. May Day of some year, the children quietly, like sparrows, drowned themselves in the warm maple snowdrifts behind the hot window of a university auditorium. Magnifying examination dust. I try to pass the medical exam — tormented over the response paper, "Female reproductive system," I'm doing terrible twists and turns, trying with my pencil to imagine the womb that gave me birth. Along with that, the desire was coming, and in the end the bluntness of the very summer jelly, in which nothing swam, but everything was there, transfused with the bluntness of a stick. Without realizing anything in particular, I only saw a big bumblebee in a geometric corner of the ceiling, and then heard it, and when I heard it, the quiet became silent. Temporarily redeemed from the exam, squeezed by the wrench of positivity, equivalent to the question, I descended to the chilly gallery of reproductions. A strolling tourist passed along the long, narrow hallway, ugly as a workshop. I went out on the other side, to an even narrower lane. To my right, there was a chirping, sleepy tank — a disoriented tank, straying blindly upon the candy wrappers, glasses, and the dull, overfed pigeons.
This whole square (with a forest of flags), the stream of youth flooded, showering me. I think Vika was in that flood, but I'm not sure.
The huge fire of youth suppresses the movement of iron — its own mechanism, its own details, and an even number of those flowers of life, when they are multiplied by each other, and blood clots in one single small rose, irrevocable, forever unerasable.
I went to a nearby park, attracted by a swing, and settled on them — the swings consisted of a black tire cord attached to a metal pipe by tiny ropes. The children's playground was empty, a truck and a spade in the solid sandbox, hardened by rain, belonged to no one. Vika wasn't yet there.
But now she is there — that day in that crowd and out of the crowd, next to me in the silence of the swing, in dead solid sand. The foreign language that she speaks is fluent, and somewhere in the lazy spring with its recent sun there is snow. And the forest's edge is already swelling, and that edge is city. Trees are beginning to cover the returning birds.
Americans say: "It seemed that the trees themselves are shooting at us." The Americans spoke on behalf of the lone lame general, who went missing in Brighton Beach one recent night, when the sun for the first time in a summer fashion was sorting out our winter junk, unveiling land, which, of course, wasn't smooth, but full of compost, sentenced to become land — it maybe wasn't even round, and yet the executioner and the sentenced are equally far from the truth, the executioners and the sentenced — and, at the same time, a million reflections wouldn't converge with each other and would not stand in a row, and instead, a striving train dissolves in a quiet, dark tunnel, and from the incredible, never existing point of view, one would only see the unreachable abyss, only wound — wanton and horrifying in its determination like a child's wound, it will never rest in the shape of a scar on the evergreen land.
And also this land, where the flowers have gone — but which flowers? Are they not the spring flowers, fragrant as oblivion itself? I also think that these ones — but, perhaps, also this land and here maybe they stand in a row?
Look how after the rain, the soil is heavy with life, and how the trees grow like huge mushrooms, striving into you with millions of branches and rooting through you in the soil. See how the trunk gets lost in the foliage, and one cannot see where the owl haunts, mushrooms grow huge trees, penetrating you millions of branches and through you to take root in the soil. You see how the foliage has lost trunk, and cannot see where the white and blue, and a light, and to be seen and not heard more at home — neither father nor mother, and did not feel the legs, buried in the ground. You make the crane then — out of nothing, out of paper, and it flies out of your hands, which no longer exists.
This is the summary of the introductory lecture on the history, but who really busy this metamorphosis? There is no one to remember, but there is nobody to forget: stupid my hands and lips cannot forget. And my body obeys stupidity and not notice Vika going where she now belongs.
The main thing — do not get lost, do not be distracted by trivia, do not procrastinate. The truth is that none of the roles of Vika had been brought to production. The fact is that she never learned exactly how to ski, take octave at the piano, dance the Viennese waltz without mechanical rigidity, play guitar about the golden city without stumbling a non-existent, but recurring oriental tune, prepare a salad of lettuce, grow lemons, plant shrews, speak English, German and Portuguese, take pictures at close range (of squirrels and pigeons), bake bread with raisins, tie shoelaces pirate hub, treated folk remedies from bouts of pyelonephritis (first means — disappear for a week without a trace, "not to show weakness"), draw trees, cut wood toy house, cut out for him a wooden canary climb head first into the hole, love. And — in the perfect beauty of her departure, all prepared by the imperfections of her reflections.
I retrieve Vika with the power of my weakness and obsession — she stays on the very edge of my imagination. Each time she takes a part of me where my eye doesn't float. But if it doesn't, how do I know that she is there, and that it's necessarily her?
She is both taken and given — without prefaces, sources or conditions, and taken where you cannot retrieve her from. You won't retrieve her from camp silence, or an ice-hole or a crowd. Nor will you retrieve her from a coffin, dismantled into trees, for she is not there also, and people from different countries become free in a sudden way: they go to airports, ports and railway stations, or homes — strangers that you can meet in dreams.
Vika, this is pure chaos. Where is that genius that rules over it?
Maybe that one — the other one? That means, the other — this one, Vika of my pages, my dreams, prisoner of my eye, sense of my speech — and life, in the end. Cilium in my eye, titmouse in my hand (my silly mouth, then). Tell me your name, then — I believe I know it, I should be slightly familiar with your new name. And also — I really need to know where we are, for I want to stay. For your — not for my sake, to prolong you, not me. I never cared much about myself.
On a May day I stepped from an attraction. The precision of this action is fascinating — with my stale back I felt the fresh lightness of attraction, and of myself. I made my way to the suburbs, being in a lively business mood, proud of myself. Some miracle took me to the wood's edge, called woods. Among the mixed trees people were having lunch — each of them was drunk, except for a child. I stepped back from them and ran into the trees that were observing me with some interest, until I decided — hell with all those monkey metaphors, trees don't observe and have no interest. They will never leave this place.
Was it the thing that attracted me, or something else? Maybe, both. By whatever means, I took my clothes off and stood besides one of them, which meant — in the middle of everything: this wood had no edge, and the center was everywhere. I attached my toes and long nails to the ground, and the ground became thick under my feet. Then, the child came.
It was a girl with dark hair and green eyes. She stood on her toes and tied a white necktie without any notifications around my finger. Then she detached that finger and ran away, without recognizing the blood. She was waving it like a trophy all the way back. This episode happened to expand to a whole universe with a billion of precise stars. Through my effort, I kept it in a simple form of an applicable vase, endless and empty. This is my main virtue.
Then I became blind. My eye was pierced by a kitchen knife, which came with a sharp ending. After that, time ended and eternity began. Islands drowned there quickly, as if they had never existed. Teenagers visited me and shaped a heart on my belly. Then sportsmen came with their strong hands, and each of them directed a small knife at me: quarter, half, handle.
None of them can kill me, for they do not know where my heart is.
Kirill Timurovich Azernyi, born in 1990 in USSR, Sverdlovsk, has been writing since 2005. Stories and short stories have been published in literary magazines in Russia, such as Novyi Mir, Ural, Vesch, Guideon etc. A story has been long-listed for the Debut award (2015). Participant of the International Writing Program of the University of Iowa (2015). He writes fiction both in English and in Russian.
Teacher of English. Student (Postgraduate) of Philosophical Department of Ural Federal University. Lives in Russia, Yekaterinburg.
"Monument to the Defeated" is a remake of a short story that has been published in Russian (2013). The remake has been made possible with the help of Jovan Albertson (student of the University of Iowa, interpreter).