By Linor Goralik

Translated by Ainsley Morse

from Issue 24
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For V.

— . . . my son’s a sniper, he was in Alamin at the time, when there was that whole business with the little boy getting shot. Well, he was wounded later, but they saved the leg. And I got married then, she’s a year younger than my son, a Russian girl. And so then she says to me: “I won’t live in the same house with him, he has the eyes of a killer.” She says: “My papa was in the war too, but he never killed anybody.” Over and over again: “Papa never killed anybody, papa never killed anybody.” Listen, I say, your papa is three years younger than me and I’m still a ways off from a hundred – which war was this that he was in? And she says: “None of your goddamn business. The right one.”

* * *

— . . . I just bought season tickets to the opera. I’m working on building a proper single person’s life.

* * *

For O.

— . . . I’m a guy and I do the same thing, but for girls it’s straight up the will of God. That’s true across the board, not just on the road. But like when I have to get all the way over on a six-lane highway, for instance, I start repeating like a mantra: “I’m a girl and I need to. I’m a girl and I need to.” And it always works, it’s really just the will of God for girls, you should try it.

* * *

— . . . it was back in high school, we climbed up on the roof, two girls and two boys. So we’re sitting there, nothing to talk about, we were throwing little rocks down, there were this little rocks up there, construction stuff. Then one of the boys threw down a brick. It flew right by two guys, barely missed ‘em. They didn’t waste any time, climbed up to the roof and clobbered our boys. And they said to me and Tonya, “Girls, why are you hanging out with these guys?” But those boys actually – one with a split lip and the other with his kidneys all smashed in, for real – they walked us home afterwards. It was really nice.

* * *

For T.

— . . . I’m playing like crazy, I totally can’t help it, like, I’m not sleeping or eating, not going to class, nothing, it’s nuts. There was just one day I didn’t play, when their server went down, God it was awful, I really didn’t know what to do with myself, just waited around. It’s a hell of a game, half the department plays. You have to have a team, we put one together – two girls and two boys. The boys are like super macho, we kind of hang back behind them. Like me, for instance, I can’t get hit, I’m a sorceress, if you hit me I just lose a bunch of my magic percentage, and the other girl can’t get hit either, she has this enormous intellect but really small health, she can only take like two or three hits over the whole time because she takes a long time to restore. So we have our boys, like “Oh-ho!”, and we’re like “Oh my!” One of the boys is like twelve, he lives in Novosibirsk, and the other one’s thirteen, don’t know where he’s from. The girls are me and this other woman, she’s thirty-seven, her daughter died last year, she really can’t do anything besides this.

* * *

— . . . God, for some reason I don’t feel like selling anything today at all, don’t feel like anything, they’re gonna fire me. I just don’t get it, lately I don’t even have the energy to get up in the morning, everything’s so horrible, I’m so depressed. Don’t want to do my makeup, don’t want to do my nails. I stand at the counter and feel sick even. Like there’s no reason to wake up in the morning. I just don’t understand what’s going on. I never felt like this back in school.

* * *

— . . . they were saying the worst shit about you behind your back! That you’re pregnant, married and you have a three-year-old! Can you believe it? The bastards!

* * *

— . . . quit freaking out! Quit freaking out! All right, look right here, look at me! At me! Good. Imagine her standing here in front of you. Imagine it, Marina! Come on! OK, now imagine you’re saying to her: “What do you think you’re doing here, huh?” Repeat after me, I’m her, come on: “Where do you think you’re poking your nose, huh?” Good. Now say: “Just look at yourself, you old bag, empty-headed loser with fried hair!” No, say the whole thing: “…fried hair!” Snarls! Good! Look at me, I’m her! Now say: “You’re pathetic, you’re a miserable animal! You’re fifty years old already and can’t earn enough to buy yourself decent shoes, you’re a fossil with a pathetic salary! You’ve sat out your whole life in that dead-end department of yours!” OK, “shitty department,” – “sat out your whole life in that shitty department of yours, you have some pitiful dull prick of a husband, you, I mean, you don’t exist!” OK, but keep looking at me, not the ceiling. And say: “You’re not here at all, you don’t exist, you lifeless insect, you don’t exist! You don’t!” You don’t! You don’t! There. Now look at me, I’m her. Do you feel like shit? That’s right. Because now you are shit. But you didn’t say all that to her, right? You didn’t. Just think, you said to her: “Don’t yell at the students.” That’s hardly a reason to feel like you’re shit, you know.

* * *

— . . . I’m leaving the bank and he’s coming in. I go left, he goes left, I go right, he goes right, you know how it works – we can’t get away from each other. I go left again, and he goes left, I go right, he does too… And then he suddenly stops. He stops, closes his eyes – and he waves his hands around at me like a magician and says: “Shoooo! Shoooo! Shoooooo!” I couldn’t believe it, walked around him carefully, thought, “What a psycho!” But then as I’m going along I think: you know, that really works.

* * *

For B.

— . . . I’ll tell you a story that is absolute St. Petersburg. I don’t know why Petersburg, I mean it happened in Prague, but it’s really just so Petersburg. I went with Katya, she was twelve at the time, me and Ira had just gotten divorced and the kid was all agitated. I mean, our break-up was actually pretty fine, but there had still been, you know. But I said to her, how about I take a vacation, take Katya to Prague. So we went. The first night, around eleven, I put her to bed and went out to walk around the city, and suddenly I have this thought: here I am, divorced already, and my whole life I’ve never been to a prostitute. Well, and here I am in Prague, everyone’s partying, I decided – well, I’d better do it. And this is where the story goes absolutely St. Petersburg. So I set off, there’s this one street, you know, pretty girls standing around in fishnets and miniskirts… And somehow I just keep not being able to do it. And Katya’s back there at the hotel sleeping, and I start getting all nervous: like what if she wakes up – maybe feels sick – and I’m not there, and she’s all sick without me. I look at my watch: eleven thirty – OK, I think, one more hour and then back home. I’m already going stir-crazy, I’m walking past the girls and saying: the next one! – and then again: no, that one’s no good! And again and again and the clock’s ticking, and I’m already freaking out… And then, walking towards me, I see this – well, old mama. Knee-high to a grasshopper, probably fifty years old, carrying a staff! Don’t snicker, I’m not kidding, she seriously had a crutch. All made up… And she winks at me. And then, you won’t believe it, I find myself walking towards her! And I’m like: how much? Thinking all the while: “You’ve lost it!..” She says: “A hundred dollars.” A hundred bucks! And I don’t even know why, I go and bark out: “Let’s go.” And then things really got going… She leads me through some courtyards, into a totally Petersburg doorway, I swear, it smells like some sort of meat cooking, a stairwell, the lightbulb smashed… I’m walking along and all I can think is: fuck, I’m turning around right now, I’m turning around right now – but that’d be bad, I already went with her! I look at my watch, it’s five to one and I’m still twenty minutes from the hotel, Katya’s alone, I feel all shaky… So basically, we go into an apartment, and there in the kitchen! there’s big burly guys! drinking! vodka! See what I mean? All that were missing was Russian hunting lodge decorations, for chrissakes. I say to her, no, there’s guys here, I’m leaving, but she drags me into the bedroom – it’s a one-bedroom apartment! – some kind of bed with no sheets, pure Dostoevsky, it stinks… And she says: “Well, take off your clothes!” And then, I don’t even know what happened. I started unbuttoning my pants and suddenly I came. She looks at me and I look at her, and she says: fifty, and I’m like: oh come on, here, take the hundred – shoved the hundred in her hand and got the hell outta there! You know, I ran to the hotel, Katya was sleeping… So here’s the point: Christ, I felt so good! So peaceful, so happy, I mean, it was the best. Afterwards, of course, I had other prostitutes, but it was never like that again.

* * *

— . . . likable people. His wife, by the way, is almost Romanian, but her granddad’s buried in a mound on our side.

* * *

— …me and Natasha are walking around Chistye Prudy, like, just strolling. This lady walks by, nice-looking, comes up: “Oh, girls, do you have a lighter?” I give her the lighter from my pocket, I’m getting it out, giving it to her, and she’s like, “Thanks,” lights up. Then it hits me, I’m like: “Whoa, how did you guess that we smoke?” She gives me the lighter back and is like: “Probably same as how your mama guessed.” And took off, I mean, she left, and Natasha screams after her: “Go to hell! You snake, I’m not coming home at all today!” – crazy, right, like I’m never coming home, and she yelled something else too: “Go to hell, trying to follow me around, I’m not coming home at all!” – like, screw you. And she’s standing there shaking, like there’s tears running down her face, I say: “Wow, holy crap!” and she’s like: “Whatever, fuck her!” like, let’s go, come on. What are you dragging me for, I say, where do you want us to go, what are we even doing, I’m going home, I totally promised to be home.

* * *

— . . . I spilled tea in the bed. A warm wet spot. I thought, screw it, went to sleep lying down like kind of around the spot; fifteen minutes later I woke up sobbing, can’t remember what I dreamed.


Linor Goralik is a prolific and protean author of poetry, prose (short, flash, novel-length and otherwise), comics, travelogues, translations and journalism. She divides her time between Russia and Israel.

Ainsley Morse has been translating 20th- and 21st-century Russian and (former-) Yugoslav literature since 2006. She is the co- translator (with Bela Shayevich) of I Live I See: the Collected Poems of Vsevolod Nekrasov (UDP, 2013) and Kholin 66 (UDP, forthcoming 2016) as well as Anatomical Theater by Andrei Sen-Senkov (with Peter Golub). Other translations of contemporary Russian and Serbian writers can be found in journals including Cosmonauts Avenue and 6×6.

Original text: Linor Goralik, “Govorit:” from Koroche: ochen’ korotkaia proza. Moskva: NLO, 2008 (selection pp. 116-121).

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