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Extract from the novel TWO MINUTES by Iren Rozdobudko PDF Друк e-mail


by Iren Rozdobudko

Translated by Michael M. Naydan

(Download pdf)

..He stood by the corner food store where he always had coffee, and was watching as the patch of dry land beneath his feet grew smaller little by little. The balcony of the second floor loomed above him, but today he couldn’t hide it from the streams of water. The sudden August downpour turned the morning into night. The street that just had been alive and in motion — died. Just he, as always, was stubbornly standing beneath the balcony, drinking his coffee from a plastic cup and having a smoke, though the damp wind and droplets flying into there kept trying to douse his cigarette. He loved the rain and that feeling of solitude beneath it when you become different from everyone else. But everyone scatters like mice, covering themselves with umbrellas, plastic bags, and runs with dismay toward the first best shelter, but you keep walking along the street, wet and happy. And you talk to the water. And every droplet tells its own story. Because each droplet truly has its own story and soul, which it inherited from someone on something it had been earlier…

Today they raised the price of coffee in the shop by thirty kopecks. In principle, this was insignificant, because it was cheaper here than anywhere else in the city. In addition, right at this spot, the coffee wasn’t any worse than in a first class restaurant. And, maybe, it was tasty because the saleslady had known him for many years and made this kind of coffee conscientiously, especially for him.

Shifting his weight from one foot to the other, he imagined he was standing on the last patch of dry earth, and everything else had already been engulfed by water. Everything, just everything. His building, work, the buildings of his friends, his friends, the train stations, airports, Tv towers — everything. Everything disappeared. And he remained alone, completely satisfied by that. He long ago already had wanted to say go to hell to everything, but if nature does this — what benefit is there from it?


Passengers in the minibuses passing by cast glances at him in wonder, or perhaps, to put it more precisely, swimming past the corner food store. Maybe they’re feeling sorry for him, he thought. Unless you explain to them that all is good for you right at that moment when the streets are empty and nearly dark from the torrential downpour.

He celebrated his birthday yesterday. It was the most detestable day of the year.

Before that — about two weeks ago — he was, as usual, aching like a drug addict. In the direct sense of the word his joints were unscrewed, he was feeling nauseated and giddy. A damned disagreeable condition. And he, to defend himself, already began to drink that week — with anybody just to deaden the aches. Everything finally receded yesterday, and ended. He had a dry mouth, his hands were trembling. Hate for himself and for everything was off the scales.

And also yesterday his wife, with whom he woke up, with whom he’s woken up over the course of the last five years, said she no longer wanted him. They’ve always had this agreement to tell the truth. Now he was sorry he had suggested that game. It would have been better if she had lied. She could have simply said she was tired, that she needed a rest from him, to think a bit, or something else like that. Were there more delicate considerations for that to divorce quietly? And here it’s like this… It was pitiless. Maybe he already didn’t want her too and was tired — at least for the last few months, but he never would have dared to talk about that aloud. But she was able to.

Today’s downpour was quite appropriate. The patch of dry asphalt beneath his feet uncontrollably and symbolically kept getting smaller.

It was “Queen” playing in his pocket. With his damp hand he pulled out his cell phone, surprised and annoyed by the fact that someone had been left whole, had saved themselves.

It was Eva.

“Seems like you’ve landed yourself into something,” she said (at that moment out of boredom his jaws clenched. “You’re going to be fired. Do you hear me?”

He heard her and pulled the phone from his ear. He imagined her red lips that always left imprints on a glass. It was unbearable for him at that moment to hear any woman’s voice.

“Where are you? Why are you silent?” “What do you want to hear?”

“Yesterday you nearly botched the filming — and you have nothing to say?!”

“It nearly — doesn’t count. Nobody’s irreplaceable.” At the other end there was a sigh.

“But I stood up for you. At least you have till the end of the month to fix things. Your last chance.”

“Listen, what the hell do you need all this for?” He was surprised. “You were the best of us,” she said.

“You’re dying here, Dan.”

“Are you sure of that?” He started to laugh.

“We’ll talk about it tomorrow.” “What’s going on tomorrow?”

“I lined you up for a business trip. They told me it’s suicidal, but they authorized it. We’ll go together. We’ll talk on the way. So I don’t fall asleep at the wheel. I’ll drop by at your place tomorrow at eight. Get ready.”

“Get ready” meant that he needed to shave, change his clothes, buy a few clean handkerchiefs and a few pairs of socks. A few bottles, coffee. And something for Eva…

He used to love to go on business trips earlier, to see the road, to grab his camera for shots after he saw a grasshopper on a leaf or an unusual flower in the field.

Right now he wanted just for something like that to happen — but without him! — so that everything would die, be covered with gloom, and never return. Though in the form of the first infusoria in the first reed that’s formed in thickets after a worldwide flood.

“Good,” he said. And having thought about that for a bit, decided all the same to add: “I’m grateful to you.”

…She pressed the button on the phone and shoved it in her pocket. With a hopeless look she glanced at the papers scattered all over the desk and looked through the window. It was dark beyond it, long snakes of water crawled across the glass pane. They mated, created entire rivulets and again split into hundreds of small streams, and crawled onto the windowsills. The entire pane resembled a nest of transparent snakes that were shamelessly mating before her eyes… The roads will get soaked by tomorrow. The village area will become completely impassable. But, she thought, the worse — the better. So as just not to sit here in this office.

She thought about Bohdan — she finally reached him by phone! She wasn’t able to yesterday, though she wanted to wish him a happy birthday. As always, he turned off the phone. And she was concerned. Though last year on that day she had to drive to the police department to get him and shake her documents in front of the cops, to swear that this late night lush-hooligan — is the best cameraman at a well known Tv station. And that, for the umpteenth time in a row, has the strange habit on his birthday of ending up at the police station.

This kind of carelessness aroused indignation in her and a certain amount of jealousy at the same time — she never could feel as free. She couldn’t just not give a damn about it all and, say, not go to work. Though she understood perfectly that she herself is “nearly” irreplaceable. At least, no one of her colleagues has as many professional honors, or gets letters — five-to-seven great big boxes a day, or capable of, without anyone else’s help, writing good texts for her scenarios and flawlessly editing those of others. The secret of her diligence was the fact that Eva to this day was fearful of losing what she already long ago and safely had. It was not about her position. It was about money.

Eva never admitted to anyone that she had grown up in uneducated poverty. And when she was in her later years in school and they were officially allowed not to wear a school uniform, she wanted to hang herself, because she had nothing to wear. The uniform for her was multicolored, with bright-brown frills below and with the same kind of insets on the sides. The girls used to say this looked “stylish,” but the artfulness of this stylishness was known just to Eva: the uniform several times had been sewn from an older, children’s one.

When Eva received her first packet of money — and it really was a packet! — a bank one, glued with a paper ribbon, and understood that this was her pay, and not quite all of it, because “all of it” was still in a separate envelope in dollars — she decided that she would “chew dirt” for that packet and envelope.

Dan was different. The kind she could have been the way she was born — a “desperate little girl,” diligent at first glance and confused on the inside, with fantasies, with a carefree and easy attitude toward life, with an indifferent conceit toward fashion, with a sense of humor and affinity for adventures. But all that had gone into the past, to the kingdom of memories.

Now she was simply functioning to regularly have that packet and envelope. So that once every two or three years she could change the furniture in her apartment, maintain a car, and dress well… And the desperate little girl in a motley school uniform, who remains in the pages of an old photo album, followed this from her paper non- existence. She had nothing in common with the Eva of today…

Though in recent times all the more often the unproductive feeling of pity for herself overwhelmed her — the way she was, and envy — for the one who was on the photographs of ten or fifteen years in the past. Hardly imagine anything worse than pity for yourself ! Eva strove to strangle it in embryonic form; nostalgic memories about that damned uniform had just started… She tried to convince herself that she’s young, beautiful, and successful, that she has everything, and everything is completely in order with her. Not like Bohdan, not like many others.

But in the morning her first look into the mirror was overflowing with pity, mixed with a speck of hate.

…The alarm clock began to ring at six. He turned it off and turned on his other side. He had slept poorly, because he wasn’t used to sleep- ing alone. At times it seemed there was no difference, who was lying next to him — just as long as he wasn’t alone! When she, who had left, had told him this truth, he tacitly agreed. She was right. But it was also pitiless, because he had never heard nastiness from her before. He needed to wake up at seven, shave, and toss some things into a bag. Usually she would do all this. She used to fold everything tidily. He got angry and shook things out of their cellophane packets — he hated cellophane, that hideous artificial rustling.

At eight he heard a short beep beneath the window.

When he stepped out, Eva was standing there, leaning sideways against her flawlessly shining car and having a smoke. On seeing him, she tossed away her cigarette, silently nodded in the direction of the doors to the back seat, and sat down in the front. All these gestures were masculine.

Bohdan tossed his case with the camera into the trunk and sat in the car.

They briefly growled out a sleepy “Hi, there!” to each other — and Eva steered the car onto the street.

“Have you recovered?” She asked some time later. “A bit…,” he said and squinted.

The Renault Сlio drove through the city for about forty minutes.

Then the city ended.

…Eva wasn’t named Eva. Something else was written in her passport. She always had been wildly embarrassed by her name, es- pecially in school, where she was fiercely teased. And the teachers, who perfectly well knew about this, intentionally called her by her full name, with a particular intonation, suffused with irony. A female teacher of “life skills” taunted her the most — she was a gray mouse, who was irritated by the loose hair of her pupil, who in her classes should have worn it tied in a kerchief. Real enmity heated up after Eva, having found out about the origin of her name, explained to her about whom they were talking in front of the whole class. The teacher hadn’t known that. Then Eva finished her off completely, when she pulled out of her satchel a national classic book, on which was embossed that name — “Eupraxia.”  In several days, after as- siduously preparing the topic, the teacher recounted in class the adventures of the debauched Kyivan princess, who was a participant in black masses during her marriage ceremony with the German monster-emperor Henrich… And then she forced her hushed pupil to tie up her kerchief.

Just after graduating from school was she able to easily get out of the situation, calling herself Eva. And now she was surprised how easy it had been — to name yourself a different, shortened name, as though your were shortening a the train of a dress of failures, cutting off the tail of damned poverty. Eva was the first and only woman on Earth, pure in her firstness, Eupraxia — was raped over and over and a guilty sinner without guilt…

…Bohdan’s wasn’t named Bohdan. Though he never thought to change his name — his friends changed it. Dan — and that’s it. Short. And, as they assured, it was convenient and to the point. Dan — is a “hook” with his left hand, when there are brass knuckles clenched in his right… But he never used them. The hook with his left was always sufficient.

“Who are we going to film?” He asked. “Pre-election shit again?” Eva smiled crookedly:

“The granddaughter of Tina Modotti.  She lives near Hulyai- Pole…”

In the rearview mirror he showed her his bent pointing finger — “are you lying? — and they burst out laughing.

“Of course, it’s shit…,” she said. “What right now isn’t shit? And you keep dreaming about making a revolution in art? It won’t work ooo-uut… Everything’s out of whack… Want some coffee?”

“Just not from the thermos,” he said. “Let’s stop somewhere.” “We still have ten hours to drive. If I listen to you, we won’t get there till morning. We just started…”

But she really wanted to stop herself. The city stopped strangling her, they left the great big letters with the name just behind them.

“Then, let’s find a decent café,” he said. “I haven’t been out of the city in a hundred years.”

“It started…,” she said. “Nine in the morning… We need to think about work. Especially you. You’re hanging by a thread.”

“Don’t lie to me,” he said. “You want to stop too. I know you. It’s just your thread is made of metal. Only a welding machine can cut it.”

She started to laugh and corrected him:

“An unwelding one. But don’t expect it!”

He sighed and fixed his eyes on the road. They approached the next blue sign, on which in white letters the name of the locality was traced. Dan hmmmed

“Nedoharky!”  On reading the name, he then later burst out laughing even more when a little further beyond that sign there was hanging a white lopsided sign with faded writing “Kolhosp Iskra” (The Spark collective farm).

They were laughing their heads off, as though they were crazed. And further on there will be “Nedopalky” (Not Quite Smoked),

“Nedoyidky” (Not Quite Eaten Up), and “Nedobytky” (Not Quite Reached)!” She said and grew more serious: “Why is it like this? Why always “not quite eaten up”? What kind of people live there?...

About five hundred meters on the same kind of blue sign “MOSKALENKY” was marked, and in three-hundred more — “PROTSENKY.”

“Super!” He said. “Imagine what a happy place it is to live here! At first the Moskalenky give a good beating to the Protsenky, and then vice versa. And it goes on like that for centuries. Until the last man standing, like in a computer game…”

“It seems like no one really lives here,” she said, looking around the empty street sprinkled with cherries.

“Aha… Do you know why?” “Why?”

“Look at the next one!”

They already had passed the “Protsenky” and were approaching a taller sign : “Cherovonopashentsi.”

Eva barely managed to hold on to the steering wheel, with tears splashing from her mascara covered eyes.

“Everything’s out of whack,” he said seriously, “the Moskalenky and the Protsenky were eaten up by these red maw chervonopashentsi. can you imagine what kind of thriller that would be?!”

“No, that’s wrong!” She laughed loudly, pointing to the next sign, “Look, it’s so super — ‘Kryva ruda’! Lame and add redheaded to that — that’s worse than these ‘maws’.” It was something like this: one of the Protsenky married a lame redhead, from that kind of life both of them became red maw chervonopashentsi and gobbled up all the Moskalenky!”

“Let’s stop. And take some shots of the signs,” he suggested.

“Why the hell?”

“Just as a joke.”

“No jokes!” She kept herself from laughing. “You don’t have enough of them? How old are you, little boy? We’ll soon be getting white slippers for our funerals, and you’re amusing yourself. Young people are plowing the earth. Soon they’ll plow under us.”

“Are you fearful of that?” He asked caustically. She glanced at him in the window:

“And you?”

“I have nothing to lose. Just the opposite, I’d want to hurry up everything. In the Middle Ages people died at thirty-five. But how they used to live!”

“Well then, we have a little time,” she said.

“for what?” He hmmmed. “Everything’s happened?…”

“Good little boy, you always know how to cheer people up. In distinction from you, I still want something.”

“For example?...”

Eva got lost in thought. The road went through fields with sad sunflowers, drooping under the heaviness of the seeds.

What did she really want? Work, a career, money, men? She needed to do a “high tech” style remodeling, sign up for the pool, take a trip one more time to her beloved Serbia…

She looked as the asphalt river flowing quickly under the wheels. “I want to ditch everything,” she said to herself unexpectedly, “Buy a trailer and drive off God knows where…”

“…and when the money runs out — rob the village club?” He added.

“Not necessarily. You can steal potatoes. Go hunting. fishing. There you’ll have it — the Middle Ages…”

“Look, honey bunny, at your nails…,” he said. “Where will you get your manicure fixed? In Nedoharky or Kozyatyn?”

“Are you laughing? In fact, I’m being honest…” “Me too.”

“I can get by without a manicure!” She said angrily, and then started to speak, looking first at the road with a chilly gaze, as though she were talking to herself. “I’m suffering from the imperfection of the world of people. The further I live, the more I suffer. It seems sometimes like I hate people. I look them over like in a menagerie. Imagine: a woman enters the metro — one, you know, like a sweet roll — as though she were filled up with air and is happily sniffing under her armpits — a mechanical gesture that she simply got used to doing… All men sit with their legs spread widely apart… Overfed teenagers… Loud conversations on their cell phones… People wearing headphones, through which you can hear their crappy pop music anyway… I can’t live in this anymore!!”

“You’ve just gotten weary. You need a vacation.”

“But I can’t live anywhere else,” without listening to him, she added, “If I could clear out of here… But — I can’t…”

A long pause occurred. She contemplated how true what she had said was, he — again, to the point of spasms in his jaws, thought about today’s empty bed and about his being affronted.

It’s good that Eva had taken him on the road…

The sunflowers came to an end. The village began, but they already weren’t paying attention to the name. However, they noticed a quite decent roadside rest stop. Eva stepped on the brakes.

“Chicago,” she read, “Lord, look at that! And here’s — Chicago. Total idiocy. Let’s scarf down something. Otherwise you’ll die. They’d have to bury you in the middle of the corn.”

The patio in front of the coffee shop was neatly laid out in pink tiles, even the tables under a striped awning looked fairly decent. A bunch of men were sitting at one.

“Should we sit here or inside?” He asked.

“Here. Let’s breathe some fresh air. Order something, and I’ll go to the powder room. I expect they have one here.”

“What should I order for you?” “Coffee to start, and then — we’ll see.”

She went toward the door, out of which right at that moment a waitress was stepping with two red binders wrapped in cellophane… Dan waited, thinking about whether he believed what Eva had said, it wasn’t like her at all.

He pulled out a cigarette, looked for an ashtray with his eyes, and stumbled on the binder with the golden letters “MENU,” which the waitress had pushed toward him. He looked at her and nodded his head. She smiled and nodded back. “Why do white aprons look so sexy on women?” He thought. The waitress stood by the table with a pad in her hand.