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The Frogs of Karoliniškės

Karoliniškių varlės
by Ričardas Gavelis
Translated from Lithuanian by
Elizabeth Novickas
Issue 30 Online Exclusive

Karoliniškių atsiradimo istorija yra stebėtinai dulkėta ir niūki. Tas rajonas tarsi liguistas augalas užsimezgė iš dulkių ir saulės kaitros. O dar viena jo dvasinė šaknis buvo varlių kurkimas. Pilkšvai rudų Karoliniškių namų pilkuma gimė iš dulkių, o rudumas radosi iš varlių kurkimo.

Šią Koralų paslaptį žino tik išrinktieji. Vien patys pirmieji kolonistai, neregėtos narsos Karoliniškių pionieriai dar prisimena gūdžius varlynų laikmečius. Anuomet visą šią kalvotą vietovę slogino ekskavatorių surausti smėlynai. Sykiu su kitais rajono pirmeiviais kabarojausi stačiais smėlio šlaitais, mirtinai bijodamas nuodingo dykumų giurzos įkandimo. Kaskart šiurpiai rizikuodavau gyvybe, parkiūtindamas iš tarnybos namo. O paskui mane dar negyvai užkamuodavo varlių kurkimas.

Anuomet Karoliniškėse visąlaik būdavo vasara, visąlaik tvyrojo metafizinė kaitra. O tyliais dulkėtais vakarais visą pasaulį užgoždavo stulbinamai garsus varlių kurkimas. Tos varlės baubė ir maurojo kaip jaučiai, jos kaukė nelyg ugniagesių sirenos arba griausmingai gaudė it didieji Arkikatedros vargonų vamzdžiai. Jos užpildė ne tik žmogiškąjį pasaulį, bet ir žvaigždynų erdves, prislopino savo kurkimu patį Paukščių Taką. Tai buvo viena didžiųjų kosminių karolininių paslapčių. Mane jau nuo vienuolikos domino kosminės paslaptys, todėl Koralus tyriau kruopščiai ir apdairiai.

Kaip ir kiti Karoliniškių pionieriai gerai žinojau, kad tų varlių nevalia trikdyti. Vogčia numaniau, kad jos čia tikrosios šeimininkės, o mes visi – vien nekviesti įsibrovėliai. Ypač pavojingas ir nereikalingas įsibrovėlis buvau aš pats. Aš degradavau nuo vunderkindo ligi eilinio tarybinio mokslininkėlio. Varlės mane atvirai niekino: jos nedalomai valdė sujauktą erdvę ir spengiančią tylą. O aš nevaldžiau nieko – net savo sapnų. Todėl privalėjau kentėti jų kakofonišką klyksmą. Aš ir kentėjau, be galo ilgai kentėjau, tačiau vieną vakarą išgirdau įsakmius angelų balsus. Kartais angelai man šį tą paskelbia ar prisako.

Iš tikrųjų nebuvo jokių angelų nei slaptų balsų, man tiesiog trūko kantrybė. Kantrybė – tai toks maišelis, kuriame tyliai kaupiasi žmogaus nuoskaudos, pažeminimai ir pyktis. Anksčiau ar vėliau tas maišelis persipildo ir triukšmingai plyšta. O kartais jį dar apytuštį iš vidaus sudrasko aštrūs nevaldomo įsiūčio spygliai. Kada kantrybės maišelis šlykščiai sutrūksta, iš jo pasipila klaikios nelaimės ir net kosminės katastrofos.

Tą vakarą, kai trūko varlių iškankinta mano kantrybė, taip pat galėjo nutikti kosminė katastrofa. Buvau ką tik grįžęs iš kontoros. Nuogutėlis drybsojau ant savo varliškai žalios sofos, po ilgų girgždinimų bei stumdymų paverčiamos lova. Dykumų karštis buvo nepakeliamas, bejėgiškai tysojau ir prakaitavau, laukdamas, kol nusileis saulė. Ji jau pasislėpė už vienintelio devynaukščio namo kitapus būsimo prospekto, tačiau dar neatvėso, panirusi į tolimą mišką. Ji kiaurą naktį vėsindavosi tame miške, idant paskui vėl užpultų Koralus tarsi išprotėjęs rausvas dangaus šuo.

The history of the founding of Karoliniškės is surprisingly dusty and grim. That neighborhood, like a sickly plant, formed out of dust and the heat of the sun, but yet another of its spiritual roots was the croaking of frogs. The grayish-brown drabness of Karoliniškės’ buildings was born of dust, and the brownness arose from the croaking of frogs.

Only the chosen know this secret of Korals. Only the very first colonizers, the Karoliniškės pioneers of unheard-of courage, still remember the dark times of the froggery. At that time all of this hilly spot was suffocating in the sands torn up by excavators. Together with other newcomers to the neighborhood I clambered up the steep sandy slopes in mortal fear of the poisonous desert viper’s bite. Every time I dragged myself home from work I would be harrowingly risking my life. And then on top of that, the croaking of the frogs tormented me to death.

Back then it was always summer in Karoliniškės; a metaphysical heat always hung about there. And on quiet, dusty evenings the entire world would be drowned out by the stunningly loud croaking of frogs. Those frogs bellowed and roared like bulls, they howled like firefighters’ sirens or thunderously droned like the giant pipes of the Cathedral’s organ. They didn’t just fill the human world; they filled the space of the galaxies too, and subdued the Milky Way itself with their croaking. It was one of the great cosmic secrets of Karoliniškės. I have been interested in cosmic secrets from the age of eleven, so I investigated Korals carefully and attentively.

Like the other pioneers of Karoliniškės, I knew better than to disturb those frogs. Secretly I believed they were the real masters, and we were no more than uninvited intruders. I myself was a particularly dangerous and unnecessary intruder. I had degraded from a wunderkind to a measly run-of-the-mill Soviet scholar. The frogs openly mocked me: they indivisibly ruled the muddled space and the ringing silence. But I didn’t rule anything—not even my dreams. So I had to suffer their cacophonous cry. And I did suffer, suffered for an unbearably long time, but one evening I heard the commanding voices of angels. Sometimes the angels announce or command this or that to me.

Actually, there were no angels or secret voices; I just lost my patience. Patience is a sort of little sack wherein people’s wrongs, humiliations, and anger quietly collect. Sooner or later that little sack overflows and rips open noisily. And sometimes, when it’s still nearly empty, it gets torn up from inside by sharp thorns of uncontrollable fury. When the little sack of patience revoltingly bursts open, hideous misfortunes and even cosmic catastrophes pour out if it.

That evening, when my frog-tormented patience snapped, a cosmic catastrophe could have occurred, too. I had just returned from the office. I was sprawling stark naked on my froggishly green sofa, which converted to a bed after a lot of creaking and shoving. The desert heat was unbearable; I lay there helplessly and sweated, waiting for the sun to go down. It had already hid itself behind the one and only nine-story apartment building on the other side of the boulevard-to-be, but things still didn’t cool down when it dived into the distant forest. All night long it would cool itself off in that forest, just so it could later attack Korals again like a maddened ruddy dog of the sky.

That evening I realized I wasn’t going to bear that mocking of the frogs any longer. The ruptured sack of patience splattered me with hate, uncontrollable irritation, and spiritual vomit. I leapt out into the stairway naked, at that moment completely forgetting what world I was living in. I had barely taken two steps when I came face to face with a girl. She wasn’t in the least surprised; she looked me over curiously and rather carefully, her glance wandered to my crotch and returned to my face again.

“You’re running out to borrow some soap, or maybe to look for a towel?” she asked sarcastically. “Or maybe you’re a conceptual streaker? Or simply a nut?”

“I’m running out to kill frogs,” I said with parched lips, as if confirming her last supposition.

Her laughter turned out to be unexpectedly irritable and predatory. She herself was like a croaking frog with long blonde hair. It was only then that I looked her over carefully: she looked rather tall, rather slim, breasts too heavy for a mien like hers. Against the background of the drying room window you could see right through her dark blue dress with the white polka dots, but the rather low decollete, as if on purpose, hid in a seductive shadow. It wasn’t that I saw as much as I oppressively felt the stunning notch between her breasts, smelled the intoxicating scent of her sweat, and actually trembled from the unceasing croaking of the frogs. Those barely visible breasts were no more than two giant, warm frogs as well, croaking their songs of love.

“Come by to see me some time,” she said calmly. Apartment two hundred sixty-six. Just don’t come naked, I won’t let you in.”

Laima always was, and still is, unflappable. She always managed to achieve what she wanted, and in striving, she’d calculate what use she’d have of it, too. She looked me over naked, mischievously wanted me, and climbing up the stairs she was already thinking of how she’d profit by me in the future. I wasn’t thinking of anything; I wanted to run outside naked as I was, but I was afraid someone might stop me. Back then Karoliniškės was a grim and half-wild place, but civilization with all its conditions was already slowly coming to life. They probably wouldn’t have let me get all the way to the froggery naked.

I pulled on some musty shorts and a t-shirt. Even though it was already getting dark, it was still hopelessly humid. But the unceasing croaking of the Frogs drove hope away entirely. The sound wasn’t just swamping my skull, nor just that nine-story building that echoed from the slightest sound—it was smothering the entire world, it had pushed out all the colors, the majority of the smells, and any remains whatsoever of conscience. Those frogs had extracted the entire essence of the world, leaving only a soulless husk, which probably ought to be thrown into a roaring furnace.

Back then I didn’t yet rule the flames of heaven. At the time I was living through a gray period, which followed immediately after the pale blue one. I didn’t rule even the crooked dusty path that led to the evening’s heat-emanating ravine. The frogs’ abode should be hiding somewhere on its bottom. Their grim hellish lair, their crushing kingdom, the teeming heaps of a million insane frogs, should be lurking down there. I knew that in battling with them I could suffer for it badly. To lose everything I had accomplished in life, to lose my emotions, my senses, even my mind. But I no longer paid attention to anything because my patience had finally snapped. A man whose patience has snapped becomes unpredictable and dangerous, even to himself.

I crashed through thickets of bushes and nettles, ignoring the pain of scrapes and the burning stings. I absolutely had to get to the dark lagoon and do battle with the hordes of murderous croaking frogs. I inexorably approached my destiny. It was a moment of great determination, and at the same time the most essential insight of my life.

That insight was a vision worthy of complete insanity. I had finally descended to the very bottom of the ravine, and froze there as if transfixed. It was just exactly where the teeming heap of cosmic frogs was hiding. I choked and gasped from that blinding sight. The last rays of the sun still lit up the right-hand edge of the lagoon. That little pond was not much more than a thousand square feet in size. But not even that was the most distressing and insulting. A single, lone frog ruled that palm-sized pond. It wasn’t at all the size of a bull—more like the size of a fist. It stared at me with eyes reddened by the sunset and shamelessly mocked me. And croaked unmercifully. It simply, madly, wanted to make love.

Its croaking really did thunder like a pipe organ and hoot like a fire engine. It was the loudest frog in the world; no African elephant’s trumpeting could equal the vibration of its swollen throat. But it sat in the middle of the puddle all alone—tiny and completely indifferent. It wasn’t just insulting and mocking; it was eerily somber, too. That metaphysical frog despairingly announced the approaching end of the world.

Probably the end would have overtaken the world that very evening, but it was saved from destruction by the divine Laima. She was never just Laima, but true laimė—Lithuanian for luck—my luck, the luck of the world, maybe even the essential base upholding the existence of the cosmos. I fell hopelessly in love with her that first evening, without even knowing her name, without even getting a good look at her, just by smelling her true scent.

She squatted uncouthly next to the pond, inquisitively watching me and the frog. She half-squatted, half-kneeled, her legs spread shamelessly and an arm propped against her left knee. Her crotch flashed in the glow of the sunset, forcing the question of whether Laima had covered it with anything at all. Her warm-blooded, but for that reason still more froggy chest bobbed mysteriously in the dusk falling on the ravine, calling for my comforting. Laima had run over to help me so I wouldn’t be tortured to death by sadistic frogs. After all, she, too, hadn’t suspected that in the entire Karoliniškės world there was but one single frog. It was an unknowable secret of that time’s world. It was only much later, when I had ended up in the world of high-level politics, that I profoundly understood that in the entire kingdom there could only be but one single thunderously croaking frog.

“Let’s do in that spawn of hell,” she suggested to me in a whisper that nevertheless drowned out the monstrous croaking of the frog.

When that woman spoke up, everyone instantly heard her—particularly if she spoke in a whisper. She managed to nail every man’s attention without the least effort. Sometimes she really did look like a monster, but the notch between the breasts, the thick hair, and the froggy scent were always stunning.

“It’s impossible,” I answered in despair. “Finish one off—three will spring up in its place. That’s not a frog, it’s a metaphysical Hydra. That’s a Gorgon jellyfish. That’s the quintessence of Karoliniškės’ insanity.”

Laima laughed again, and that laughter scattered my last hopes. During those dark times, the gray period of my destiny, I had secretly sworn to myself that I wouldn’t surrender to any woman’s charms. That I would live like a wise man, a hermit, and get to know the world through the all-knowing gaze of the true solitary. I was completely convinced of this, right up until that froggy evening. Frog-breasted Laima, poised to leap, and the real sonorous-voiced frog, by now plopped into the water, essentially changed my destiny. I turned down a completely new path of life, marked by the number two hundred sixty-six. It was perfumed by Laima’s miraculous crotch stalking me in the dusk. Deafened by the lone frog of Karoliniškės, which we later murdered anyway.

But not yet that evening. That evening the two of us made love like two insane frogs. Like two cosmic protuberances. I hadn’t made love that way even with Sara herself. Not to mention that I hadn’t made love to Sara at all, in the usual standard sense.

 

 

___

 

Ričardas Gavelis, “Karoliniškių varlės” from Sun-Tzu gyvenimas šventame Vilniaus mieste. Vilnius: Tyto Alba, 2002.

 

Ričardas Gavelis (1950–2002) is the author of seven novels, three short story collections, and several plays. He graduated from the University of Vilnius with a degree in physics, a background that would find expression in his novels, not only in their obsession with time and space, but in their remarkably structured composition. Elizabeth Novickas translated his book Vilnius Poker (2009) for Open Letter Press.  
Translator
Elizabeth Novickas has published five book-length translations from the Lithuanian, including Ričardas Gavelis’s Vilnius Poker. She is the recipient of an NEA translation grant and was awarded the 2011 Lithuanian Association of Literary Translators’ St. Jerome Prize. Her translation of Ričardas Gavelis’s Sun-Tzu’s Life in the Holy City of Vilnius will be published by Pica Pica Press in May.