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from People Who Are Always with Me

Люди, которые всегда со мной
by Narine Abgaryan
Translated from Russian by
Katherine E. Young
Issue 31 Online Exclusive

Ночь

В темноте я делаюсь совсем беззащитной. Поэтому, когда ложусь в постель, обкладываюсь со всех сторон игрушками. Тут и зайчик с растопыренными пуговичными глазами: один глаз синий, другой зеленый. Раньше он был просто зеленоглазым, но потом одна пуговица оторвалась и потерялась, и мама пришила другую пуговицу. Зеленой пуговицы не нашлось, вот она и взяла синюю. И зайчик стал разноглазым, но мне так даже больше нравится. Тут и кукла, большая, с бантом в пышных волосах, я пририсовала ей маминым красным лаком для ногтей щечки, и она вообще стала красавицей. Правда, мама меня потом отругала за то, что я игрушку испортила и лак извела, но для красоты мне ничего не жалко, ни своего не жалко, ни маминого. Тут и книжка со сказками — про Золушку, про Красную Шапочку, очень я люблю читать эту книжку, правда, не все буквы еще знаю, поэтому некоторые слова по памяти произношу.

В темноте мне страшно, поэтому я держусь одной рукой за лапку зайчика, другой держусь за куклу, а на груди у меня лежит книжка. Теперь меня никто не достанет, потому что я со всех сторон защищенная.

— Завтра нани отведет меня снимать страх,— нарочито громким шепотом рассказываю я игрушкам, таким громким шепотом, чтобы услышал тот, кто прячется за шкафом и посылает мне ужасные сны.— Она была у какой-то старухи-знахарки, и та велела меня завтра приводить. Велела взять небольшой кусок мяса и булавку. Этой булавкой знахарка будет тыкать в мясо и читать молитву. Нани предупредила, что, как только она начнет тыкать булавкой в мясо, на меня нападет зевота, и чтобы я не пугалась, потому что так из меня будут страхи выходить.

А потом, когда знахарка вдоволь начитается своих молитв, мы сходим с нани на перекресток трех дорог и похороним там кусок заговоренного мяса. Мы долго с ней придумывали, где бы нам найти такой перекресток, а потом вспомнили, что напротив здания милиции как раз пересекаются три дороги. Там, правда, светофоры, и машин много, но нани так просто никогда не сдается. Она пожала плечом и говорит: «Ты постоишь на тротуаре, а я быстренько закопаю мясо. Это хорошо,— говорит,— что дороги у нас незаасфальтированные, а то как бы я асфальт ковыряла?»

Деду нани велела ничего не говорить. Да я и сама не стала бы рассказывать. А то дед у меня о-го-го какой строгий и сердится, когда нани говорит про Бога или про духов.

— Все это ерунда,— сердито шуршит дед своими газетами.— Нет никаких духов, и нечего ребенку голову не пойми чем забивать!

Night

In the dark I become completely defenseless. That’s why, when I lie down in bed, I barricade myself with toys on all sides. There’s the bunny with wide-set, button eyes: one of the eyes is deep blue, the other’s green. Earlier, it just had green eyes, but then one button got torn off and lost, and Mama sewed on another button. There was no green button to be found, so she sewed on a blue one. And then the bunny had eyes of different colors, but I like it even better that way. There’s also the doll, the big one, with a bow in her fluffy hair, I painted her cheeks with Mama’s red nail polish, and she became an all-around beauty. It’s true that Mama scolded me afterward for spoiling my toy and wasting nail polish, but there’s nothing I wouldn’t give for beauty, not my own things, not Mama’s. There’s also the little book with fairy tales—about Cinderella, about Little Red Riding Hood—I really love reading that book, it’s true that I still don’t know all the letters, therefore I say a few of the words from memory.

It’s scary in the dark, so I hold the bunny’s paw in one hand and the doll in the other, and the book lies on my chest. Now no one can touch me, because I’m protected on all sides.

“Tomorrow Nani will take me to get rid of the fear,” I say to the toys in a purposefully loud whisper, such a loud whisper that the person who hides behind the wardrobe and sends me terrible dreams will hear. “She was with an old wise woman who told her to bring me tomorrow. She told her to bring a small piece of meat and a pin. The wise woman will stick that pin into the meat and say a prayer. Nani warned me that as soon as she starts to stick the pin into the meat, I’ll start to yawn, and that I shouldn’t be afraid, because that’s the way the fear will leave me.”

And then, when the wise woman has said enough prayers, Nani and I will go to where three roads meet and bury the charmed piece of meat there. She and I considered for a long time where we might find such a place, and then we remembered that three roads happen to cross opposite the militia building. It’s true that there are stoplights and lots of cars there, but Nani never gives up that easily. She shrugged her shoulders and said: “You’ll stand on the sidewalk, and I’ll bury the meat very quickly. It’s a good thing,” she said, “that our roads aren’t paved, how could I dig around in asphalt?”

Nani ordered me not to say anything to Grandpa. And I wouldn’t have said anything, either. My grandpa is oh-ho-ho so stern and gets so angry when Nani says anything about God or about ghosts.

“That’s all ridiculous,” Grandpa rustles his newspaper angrily. “There aren’t any ghosts, don’t stuff the child’s head full of who-knows-what nonsense!”

And Nani stubbornly presses her lips together and doesn’t answer him. But she does it her way. We’re terribly stubborn in our family. And then they’re surprised that I take after them.

And I talk that way with the bunny, the doll, the little book, I talk and look out the window at the yellow circle of the moon rolling out from behind the tall hills, at the stars—enormous, twinkling, distant—and I listen to the gentle singing of the crickets, and my eyes close all by themselves.

 

If you pull yourself up a little, very slightly, to lie on your stomach on the windowsill, you can see how she hangs out laundry in the yard. She stands in profile, her short hair pushed back behind her ears, her unruly bangs falling in her eyes. Botsman gets underfoot, runs in circles, and barks angrily at every drop of water.

And she smooths the laundry on the line and, smiling, says something sweet to him.

I know she’s the most beautiful woman in the world.

I can’t hear what she’s saying, I crawl along the windowsill on my stomach to get closer. I very much want to be out there in the yard, but they didn’t give me any chocolate, and I’m playing an angry little girl. I was even able to cry a little. It’s true that I quickly got bored and started to play with my dolls. But every time I heard someone’s step, I started to howl loudly and didn’t stop until the steps died away. I’m a little ashamed that I’m behaving so stupidly.

Sometimes I’m stubborn and can’t do anything with myself.

“Daughter, will you come outside with me?”

I’m offended, silent.

She left. Now she’s hanging up the wash out there, and I’m looking at her from the window. I want to run down the steps and dive into the laundry that smells of detergent and starch, I even feel its wetness touching my face. The heat’s all around, but in the shadow of the wet laundry it’s cool, it hangs, it hangs, and then the wind blows, the duvet covers fill up with its breath, wings spreading and flying off somewhere into the heavens. And I’ll fly off, clinging to the edges, quick as a flash.

They didn’t give me candy, can you believe it?

I climb down from the windowsill, peek outside the door. No one’s there. I tiptoe to her room, pause uncertainly in the doorway. There on the dresser is a large wooden jewelry box. I know what’s in that jewelry box, but I don’t go right up to it, I’m afraid. At first, I shift from one foot to the other in the doorway for a while, trying to be calm. Then I run to it, lift the lid with a jerk, and take out the large, fluffy braid. Light brown hair, curling in a big ringlet. The braid’s heavy and a bit dead. I hold it out in front of me for some time, then I spread it out on the bed and lie next to it.

Why I do this—I don’t know. I just lie quietly next to it and think.

She cut it off at the root and walks around with short hair. And I know why. But I pretend I don’t. Because once I asked her if there were any photos left of the little girl, and she turned to stone, and all at once her lips turned white-white. And I understood that I shouldn’t talk about it. And I don’t talk about it, I’m already big, although I act like I’m little, I’m naughty, for example, or I don’t eat anything, well, maybe I eat strawberries or apples. I also love jam. If I don’t eat, she says, “Then you won’t get any candy.” And I get mad and go to my room. I’m stubborn.

Something’s wrong in this world, I know.

And she also has amber beads, and in one large bead you can see the transparent little wing of some kind of insect. She says a drop of resin tore off the wing, and it hardened into stone. And I look at that little wing and think that the insect probably grieved the rest of its life. Of course, it flew and flew and now, bad luck, you haven’t got a wing and can’t fly.

Sad things also happen to insects.

And then I suddenly understand that it hurts most not when your wing is torn off, but when you tear it off yourself. Like when she cut off her own braid. The grief was so enormous that she lost her head, ran around the rooms, saw her reflection in the mirror—heavy, light brown hair falling over her shoulders, and is it really right, when there’s such terrible grief, for hair to fall over your shoulders—so she plaited it into a single braid and cut it off at the root.

And now she keeps it in the jewelry box. I don’t know why she keeps it.

 

And I lie there like that, thinking, and then suddenly I climb down from the bed and shove the braid under my shirt.

And I go down silently into the yard and walk, first slowly, not turning my head, then faster, and finally I break into a run and tear along past the wooden fence, past the tall cypresses, past the branches of the blossoming mallow, past the lilac flowers of the lalazar that stain your hands when you touch them,

down along the gentle slope, across two roads, through Grandma Lusine’s garden, she knows how to bake real Karabakh gata, which they make with cream and bake in the ashes and call krkeni, but that’s not important right now, the important thing now is not to stop, because if you stop, it’s possible to be frightened by what you’re planning to do,

and so I keep tearing along, across the ravine, past the crooked wicket gate, past the ruins of the old chapel, along the small grove and farther, farther, there, where the stream awakened by last night’s downpour sounds, past the junk dealer’s house, past the wheat field, past the vineyard, and there it is, the old stone bridge, the stream echoes noisily down below, and I’m as scared as if everyone had died and I were left alone,

and so I screw up my eyes, pull the braid out of from under my shirt and throw it down below into the white water, into the deepest depths, and I keep saying—take that! take that!—and then I see how it floats, coiling in long snakes around the stones, but now I’m not scared at all, and I stand on that bridge—the clear sky above me, the river racing beneath me—and I tell myself super quietly, but as if I’m addressing everyone, because it’s very painful for me to live with this all by myself, you know, I say in a whisper, I had an older sister, and now she’s gone.

 

 

___

Narine Abgaryan, “Девочка: Ночь” from Люди, которые всегда со мной. Moscow: АСТ, 2014.

Narine Abgaryan, a Russian writer of Armenian origin, is the author of eight books. Her bestselling novel Three Apples Fell from the Sky [С неба упали три яблока] was awarded Russia’s 2016 Yasnaya Polyana prize; her writing for children has also won numerous awards. Abgaryan is a well-known blogger and the editor of several anthologies of modern Russian prose. She lives in Moscow with her husband and son. (Photo credit: Marina Beschastnova)
Translator
Katherine E. Young is the author of Day of the Border Guards, a 2014 Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize finalist. Her translations of Russophone writers include Farewell, Aylis by Azerbaijani political prisoner Akram Aylisli and Blue Birds and Red Horses and Two Poems by Inna Kabysh. Young is a 2020 Arlington, VA, individual artist grantee and a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts translation fellow. She served as the inaugural Poet Laureate for Arlington, VA (2016-2018). (Photo credit: Samantha H. Collins)