Virtual realities

Issue 3/1993 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

Prose pieces from Bamalama (WSOY, 1993)

After eating his family, he went abroad. There was a heatwave in Torremolinos. The sandy beaches were empty despite the Mediterranean waves’ enticing glitter. Although it was so hot, not a trace of the sun could be seen in the sky, and no clouds either. He sat in an armchair in his modest hotel room and breathed deeply. He thought about the pretty young girls on the beaches just waiting to be casually plucked, bony adolescent bodies, opulent and luscious adult female forms, and lips beyond all powers of description. He sat there, and time passed. Soon darkness spread over the beach, and he could see nothing but velvety black nothingness stretching out to the horizon. He was overcome by a powerful sense of fear, caused by the bleak desolation of the scene, this gloomy darkness that covered and hid the millions of shades of natural colors. He accepted his feelings and let them flow into himself, because he knew that morning, sunrise, and the play of nature’s colors down there on the beach boulevards, would resuscitate within him a great dreamer, impervious to the storms of the world.


While the women were carrying wet concrete in made-in-Latvia zinc buckets down into the cellar, the men were sitting on the lakeshore watching the cheerful motion of the waves. The lake was proof of Nature’s infallibility, while the marsh beyond it, covered by algae, horsetail, bogbean, and sedge, was a sign of the transience of all things. The man whose large white belly drooped over a pair of striped swimming trunks was pondering the distance between sun and moon. How was it that on the morning of Christmas Eve it was possible to see both sun and moon on the northern horizon, fire and ice, light and darkness? The man wiped his greasy pate, and the sand on his palm stuck to the sweaty skin, but he didn’t notice that. In his mind, he was struggling along the far shore of the universe, where all eternal questions are said to dwell. Another man, who was wearing blue sweat-pants and a small knitted cap, was staring at the glittering water and considering the differences between a pike and a bream. He was surprised to find that they had more in common: both of them had fins, and a tail, and eyes that were completely unlike human eyes. The third man, a muscular hunk, yawned lazily and did not allow a single thought to enter his consciousness. That wasn’t hard to do; life was simple, summer a gentle season. In the evening, the sun sank behind the woods; a hint of an afterglow spread across the sky, and the men rose slowly from the sand and directed their steps toward the yard and home, where the women had poured the new floor in the cellar, milked the cows, staked out the meadows around the yard, and kept the pots warm on the stove for the masters of the house.


A few years ago I lived in a studio apartment in Munkkivuori, but the place was so dark I had to move out. I need a lot of light, especially in the morning, I can’t get out of bed without it, but that crib was so dark that I kept snoozing round the clock and got fired from my job. From Munkkivuori I moved to Lauttasaari, into a sunny one-bedroom place, and I got a new job too, but I never went there. That one-bedroom place had sunlight from two windows, and I just stayed up round the clock. That wasn’t what I wanted, either. A person just has to get a little shut-eye once in a while. From there, I moved to Merihaka, but I couldn’t stand it there because the seagulls kept on screeching all night and day and I couldn’t fall asleep at all. I had no job then, thank God. From Merihaka I moved to Punavuori, and that crib was good and cheap, quiet and on the dark side. I became incredibly sleepy all over again. I was always half asleep, I couldn’t even make it to the welfare office, and that’s why I moved to Kalevankatu, but there it was incredibly noisy, no way that I could sleep with that kind of round-the-clock traffic. Now I’ve been resting up here in this Ullanlinna collective for a couple of days, but I have a feeling that the vibes of this group are so bad I’ll have to move out soon. It seems to me that the energies of this particular bunch must be totally fucked, because the least little effort on my part makes me tired, makes me want to sleep all the time. It has occurred to me that I should move out into the country, there ought to be enough light there, and quiet, and the energy fields ought to be less disturbed, and the Earth’s radiation more regular. I could grow veggies, run around in the rye fields, breed free-range chickens. People would be balanced and wonderful. You’d meet them in these charming little village shops. I’m really convinced that if I could find a house there in the heartlands, I would no longer have any sleep problems at all.


He was sitting on the edge of a silent fountain behind the Winter Park and remembering a small white town far away in the South, where the early summer wind hummed in the narrow streets the way powerlines did on the steppes of Siberia. He had a detailed memory of one Saturday afternoon. His father had taken him into town. They had stopped by a small fountain and sat next to it until nightfall, waiting for the moment when it would come alive. That moment never came, and the man had realized how small and colorless life was. He moved forward in time and saw himself and his newly-wed bride sitting on the edge of the fountain dedicated to the memory of the Great Patriotic War in the center of Moscow. That fountain had been cast in heavy concrete, and its splendid arches symbolized the powerful torrent of life. Even there, the water had been turned off. He had felt how disconsolate life was, had realized that marriage would not bring him happiness. Very gently, he had taken the hand of his bride, who was still wearing her wedding dress, and had returned her to the Palace of Marriage. Now he got off the edge of the fountain and walked toward the railroad station. He saw his own life repeated thousandfold in the river of people rolling down Nevsky Prospekt toward the Baltic Station. He glanced back and saw the fountain spraying billions of droplets of water that glittered in the blood-red sunset. He stopped, looked at the huge crowds swaying like grass in the wind, then looked at the gently gushing fountain, and decided that he would, after all, be one of them, one day.


As soon as the newborn had been taken out of the delivery room, the man told his sweaty and exhausted wife that he wanted a divorce. She looked surprised and stared at him for a long time. Then she sighed feebly and asked her husband to postpone his decision until she came home. He defended his urgency by saying that he did not want to live through the moment when his wife and the baby would arrive in a cab in front of their apartment building and open the veneered wooden door to the narrow elevator and ride up to the third floor and open the door of the home they had shared. His wife understood what he meant, because she, too, found the thought repugnant.


At sunset, the sea is an electric blue, and the prefab housing development as desolate as Alabama.  The tall apartment buildings cast long dark shadows on the tiled plain, inspiring sad thoughts in the old academician. He is sitting on an iron bench on the Neva riverfront boulevard, thinking about the dead who were once present in his life. He remembers his mother who died of hunger during the siege but ruled his life from the grave by issuing instructions just as she had done when he was still a child. Mother was dead yet present, just like the white ships Anyusha Petrovna and Sofia Litomovna which had lain at anchor at Malenkaya Nevka during the entire siege. Now those beauties lay in eternal peace at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, perhaps encased in coral, perhaps crumbled away into the ocean mud. He sighs and looks up at the sky. No sign yet of the Lord’s armed hosts. He remembers his brothers Pavel and Ismael who disappeared in the Thirties at Donetsk, he remembers his grandfather whose only dream was to die far away, in Baltimore. He closes his eyes and lets the sun’s last virulently green rays touch his wrinkled cheeks. Doctor Zhivago is dead, and so is Anastasia Romanov. A faint smile spreads over his face as he comprehends death’s sense of justice. His mother died because love was a killer, the white ships sank because they were too proud to go on fighting the ocean waves, his brothers were killed because they were traitors to the fatherland, and his grandfather, a dirty architect persecuted by cockroaches, was hung in front of the Hotel Astoria for defamation of the court. The old academician rocks in the arms of sleep. Wasn’t that Dr Zhivago too pretty for a man, and who told Anastasia to sew all those diamonds into her petticoat, diamonds that were the property of the people? Just as the last ray of the sun disappears behind the spire of the church of the Peter-Paul fortress, he is walking proudly next to his grandfather down a narrow street bordered by splendid automobiles and metal mailboxes in the hot sunlight of Baltimore that is painting each and every happy family’s own little house in pastel colors. He sees a sign framed by blinking lightbulbs at the edge of a cornfield. He smells the thick odor of black coal from the Donetsk mine, he hears the heavy swish of Anastasia’s petticoat. And as the roof of the Winter Palace trembles under the last ray that slices into it, the old academician raises a knife and stabs his sleeping mother in the heart.

Translated by Anselm Hollo


No comments for this entry yet

Leave a comment