Night

Jul. 24th, 2017 11:41 am
ygam: (Default)
[personal profile] ygam
I was talking to someone online on Saturday about mental retardation, and mentioned that retarded people have sexual needs and desires, as do healthy people, even though they may not be able to articulate them as clearly. I wanted to give a link to an English translation of this story, but discovered that there isn't one online that is available for free. Then I decided to do an amateur translation, check out a collection of stories from the library that has a professional translation of this story, and compare the two translations word-by-word.

Tatyana Tolstaya

Night

In the morning Aleksei Petrovich1's Mommy yawns very loudly: huzzah, full steam ahead, the new morning is beaming brightly through the window; the cactuses are shining, the curtain is quivering; the gates of the night kingdom have been shut; the earth has once more swallowed the dragons, mushrooms and scary dwarfs; life is triumphing; heralds blow their trumpets: a new day! a new day! too-roo-roo-roo-oo-oo-oo!

Mommy is scratching her balding head rapidly, and drops her bluish legs from the tall sleep pedestal: let them hang and ponder: is it easy to drag around all day the three hundred pounds Mommy has gathered up in her eighty years?

Aleksei Petrovich opened his eyes; sleep is quietly flowing off his body; the last raven is flying away into the darkness, forgotten; the night guests broke off their play until the next time, having gathered up their ambiguous props. A draft sweetly cools Aleksei Petrovich's bald pate; the stubble pricks his palm. Isn't it time to get up? Mommy will see to it. Mommy is so loud, large, vast, and Aleksei Petrovich is small. Mommy knows everything, can do anything, can go anywhere. Mommy is all-powerful. As she says, so it is. And he is a late child, a little lump, nature's mistake, an unsown patch, a shard, a weed, a husk that should have been burned but accidentally ended up among its healthy brethren when the Sower generously scattered wholesome seeds of life.

Can you get up or is it still early? Don't squeak. Mommy is performing the morning ritual: she blows into her trumpet of a handkerchief, pulls spiky hose up her legs, fixes them under her swollen knees with white rubber loops. She puts a fifteen-button linen frame on her monstrous breasts; fastening them on her back must be inconvenient. A gray bun will be fixed at Mommy's zenith; her freshened teeth will fly out of the clean night glass, shaking off the water. Mommy's façade will be hidden behind a white fluted shirt front, and, hiding the ribbons, the undersides, the rear guard, the service ladders, the emergency exits, the entire magnificent edifice will be covered by a thick blue casing. The palace has been built.

Everything you are doing, Mommy, is good. Everything is proper.

In the apartment2, all the Men and Women awakened, began to stir, to speak. Doors slam, water gurgles, pots and pans ring. The ship of the morning has been launched off the slipway, it is cutting through the blue water, the sails are filling with wind, the well-dressed travelers are laughing and talking on the deck. What lands lie ahead? Mommy is at the wheel, Mommy is at the captain's bridge, Mommy is at the masthead looking at the shiny swell.

"Aleksei, wake up! Shave, brush your teeth, wash your ears! Take the clean towel. Screw in the cap! Don't forget to flush. And don't touch anything, do you hear me?"

All right, all right, Mommy. Everything you are saying is right. Everything is clear at once, the horizons are open, sailing with an experienced pilot is so safe! The old colored maps have been unrolled, the route has been plotted with red dots, all the dangers have been marked with clear, straightforward pictures: here is a menacing lion, and on this shore a rhinoceros; here a whale spouts a toy fountain, and over there is the most dangerous big-eyed long-tailed Sea Girl, slippery, naughty and enticing.

Now Aleksei Petrovich will wash and take care of himself; Mommy will go check that he didn't make a mess so the neighbors don't scold him again; and then, breakfast! What did Mommy cook today? You need to walk through the kitchen to get to the bathroom. Old women are grumbling next to hot stoves, cooking poison in ladles, mixing roots of scary herbs, casting unkind glances at Aleksei Petrovich. Mommy! Make it so they don't hurt me.

Sprinkled on the floor a little. Ouch.

In the hallway, there is already a crowd: Men and Women are leaving, making noise, checking keys and wallets.

The corner door with frosted glass is open; the brazen Sea Girl is standing in the doorway, smirking, winking at Aleksei Petrovich; leaning; exhaling Tobacco; outstretching her Leg; weaving a web: you don't want to be caught it in, do you? Mommy will save him, though; she is already rushing forward like a locomotive, her red wheels beating, her whistle blowing: get off the track!

"You're shameless! Get back! Not enough for you - you need a sick man, too!..."

"Bwa-ha-ha!" The Sea Girl is not afraid.

Quick - into the room! He is saved. Oh-h-h. Women are very scary. It is not clear why they're there, but they are very worrisome. When they walk past you, they smell so... and they have Legs. There are so many of them on the street, and in every house, in that one, and in that one, and in this one, behind every door, hiding, doing something, bending, poking, giggling into their fists; they know something but won't tell it to Aleksei Petrovich. Now he will sit at the table and think about Women. Once, Mommy took him to the beach; there were many of them there. There was one... a fairy with curly hair like a doggie... Aleksei Petrovich liked her. He came close and started looking at her.

"Whatcha staring at?" screamed the fairy. "Get outta here, retard!"

Mommy came in with a boiling pot. He looked inside. It had pink weenies. He became happy. Mommy is putting them on the plates, moving, wiping. The knife jumps out of his hand, slashing the oilcloth to the side.

"Take the sausage with your hand."

Mommy, you are my guiding star! You are my golden! You will arrange everything, untangle all balls of yarn! You will crush all the blind alleys, all the mazes of the incomprehensible, impassable world with your mighty hand, smash up all the barriers, and turn it into flat, level ground! Make one more courageous step! And beyond - more tangled brush.

Aleksei Petrovich has his own world inside his head, the real one. There, he can do everything. And the one outside is bad, wrong. And it is so difficult to memorize what's good and what's bad. They made agreements, arrangements, and wrote those terribly complicated Rules. They learned them; they have good memory. And it is so difficult for him to live by other people's Rules.

Mommy poured out coffee. Coffee has a Smell. When you drink it, it gets onto you. Why can't you pout your lips, focus your eyes on your nose, and smell yourself? Let Mommy turn away.

"Aleksei, behave yourself."

After the breakfast they cleared the table, put glue, cardboard, scissors on it, and tied a napkin around Aleksei Petrovich: he will be gluing cardboard boxes. When he makes one hundred, they'll take them to the drugstore and get money. Aleksei Petrovich likes these boxes very much and doesn't want to part with them. He wants to hide some, leave some for himself, but Mommy looks carefully and takes them away from him.

And then strangers take them from the drugstore and eat white balls out of them, and tear the boxes and throw them away! They throw them into the trashcan or even worse: in their apartment, in the garbage pail at the kitchen he once saw a torn, dirtied box with a cigarette butt inside! Terrible black anger overwhelms Aleksei Petrovich; his eyes shine, saliva sputters out of his mouth, he forgets words, fiery spots jump in front of his sight; he can strangle, tear someone to pieces! Who did this?! Who dared do this?! Come out! He rolls his sleeves: where is he?! Mommy runs to him, calms him down, takes enraged Aleksei Petrovich away, takes the knife away from him, pulls the hammer out of his convulsively clenched fingers. Men and Women are then afraid, and sit quietly, hiding in their rooms.

The sun has moved into the other window. Aleksei Petrovich finished his work. Mommy has fallen asleep in her armchair, is snoring, her cheeks are purling, she is whistling: p-sh-sh-sh-sh... Aleksei very quietly takes two boxes, very carefully, on tippy-tippy-toes walks to his bed, very neatly puts them under the pillow. At night he will take them out and smell them. The smell of glue! It is soft, sour, dull, like the letter F.

Mommy woke up; it is time for a walk. Down the stairs, never the elevator: Aleksei Petrovich cannot be locked in an elevator; he'll writhe, squeal like a bunny; can't you understand: they are pulling him down by the legs!

Mommy is sailing forward, saying hello to her friends. Today we are taking the boxes away: this is unpleasant. Aleksei Petrovich locks one leg against the other: he doesn't want to go to the drugstore.

"Aleksei, put your tongue back."

The sunset is coloring tall buildings. The windows under the very roofs glow golden. Peculiar people live there, who are unlike us: they turn into white doves and fly from balcony to balcony. They have a smooth feathery chest and a human face: if such a bird lands on your railing, bends its head, coos, and you look into its eyes, then you will forget human speech and start murmuring like a bird and jumping on the cast-iron strip with your shaggy legs.

Under the horizon, beneath the dish that is Earth, gigantic wheels started turning, winding titanic belts, cogwheels began to pull the Sun down and the Moon up. The day got tired, folded its white wings, and is flying west, big, in loose clothes, waving its sleeve, letting the stars out, blessing those walking upon the cooling earth: see you, see you, I will come back tomorrow.

At the street corner they are selling ice cream. He wants ice cream so badly! Men and Women, especially Women put money into the square window, and get back a frosty crunchy cup. They laugh, paste sticky paper circles to the wall, toss them upon the ground, open their mouths, lick the sweet prickly cold with red tongues.

"Mommy, ice cream!"

"No: you have a sore throat."

No means no. But he wants it so, so much! So terribly much! If only he had money like other Men and Women: silvery, shiny; or a yellow paper that smells like bread: they accept them at the square window, too! Ouch, how much he wants it; they are all allowed, they let them all have it!

"Aleksei! Don't turn your head around!"

Mommy knows better. I will obey Mommy. Only she knows the true path through the thicket of the world. If only Mommy had turned away... Pushkin Square3.

"Mommy, is Pushkin a writer?"

"Yes, he is a writer."

"I will be a writer, too."

"Yes, you will be. If you want to, you will be."

And why not? He will be. He wants to, and he will be. He will take a piece of paper, a pencil, and will be a writer. It is decided! He will be a writer. It is a good thing.

In the evening Mommy sits down in a vast armchair, lowers eyeglasses upon her nose, and reads thickly:

"Storm has set the heavens scowling,
Whirling gusty blizzards wild,
Now they are like beasts a-growling,
Now a-wailing like a child."4

Aleksei Petrovich likes it a lot! He laughs widely, baring his yellow teeth, enjoying it, stomping his foot.

"Now they are like beasts a-growling,
Now a-wailing like a child."

The words come to the end, turn back, get to the end again, and turn back again.

"Stormhaz setthe heaven zscowling
Whirli nggusty blizzar dzwild
Nowthe yarelike beasta growling
Nowa wailing likea child."

Very well. This is how they are growling: oo-oo-oo-oo-oo!

"Quiet, quiet, Aleksei, calm down."

Stars are scattered all over the sky. They are a familiar sight to Aleksei Petrovich: little shiny beads hanging in the black emptiness all by themselves. When Aleksei Petrovich lies in bed and tries to fall asleep, his legs start growing down, down, down, and his head up, up, up to the black dome, swaying like the top of a tree in a storm, and the stars scratch his skull like sand grains. And the second Aleksei Petrovich, the one inside, shrinks, shrinks, squeezes into a poppy seed, into a sharp needle tip, into a microbe, into nothing, and if he is not stopped, he will be like that forever. However, the outer, gigantic Aleksei Petrovich sways like a mast pine, grows, rubs against the night dome with his bald pate, and is not letting the small one shrink to a point. And these two Aleksei Petroviches are one and the same. It is clear and it is proper.

At home Mommy undresses, destroys her day casing, puts on a red robe, and becomes simpler, warmer, easier. Aleksei Petrovich wants Mommy to carry him! This is silly! Mommy goes to the kitchen. She is gone for too long. Aleksei Petrovich checked that the boxes are there, smelled the oilcloth, took a risk: walked out into the hallway. The corner door, where the Sea Girl's guests giggle at night, is ajar. He can see the white bed. Where is Mommy? Maybe, there? Aleksei Petrovich cautiously looks through the slit. There is no one there. Maybe, Mommy is hiding behind the wardrobe? Should I come in? The room is empty. On the Sea Girl's table there is an open can, some bread, a pickle that has been bitten. And also a yellow paper and silvery round thingies. Money! Take the money, run down the dark staircase, into the maze of the streets, find the square window, and they will give him a sweet cold cup!

Aleksei Petrovich grabs it, clinks, overturns, runs, slams the door, breathes noisily, hurriedly, stumbles. Street. Darkness. Where should he go? There? Or here? What's in his fist? Money! Someone else's money! The money is shining through his hairy fist. Put his hand in the pocket? No, it is still shining. Someone else's money! He took someone else's money! The passers-by turn their heads, whisper to each other: "He took someone else's money!" People are clinging to the windows, pushing each other: let me watch! Where is he? Over there! He has money! A-ah, you took it! Aleksei Petrovich runs into the darkness. Dong, dong, dong, dong, clink the coins in his pocket. The whole city rushed out into the street. The shutters open. In each window, hands point at him, eyes shine, long red tongues stick out: "He took money!" Let loose the dogs! Fire engines are roaring, firehoses are unrolling: where is he? Over there! Go get him! Aleksei Petrovich is thrashing frenziedly. Throw them out, tear them out of his hands, away, away, beat them, beat them. With his foot! Foot! Sto-o-omp them! Like that... Done... They aren't breathing. They are quiet. They went dark. He wiped his face. All right. Where next? Night. It smells. Where is Mommy? Night. In the courtyards, wolves stand in black rows, awaiting. I will walk backwards. I will deceive them. Good. It is stifling. I will unbutton. I will unbutton everything... Good. Now? Women with Legs walked past me. Turned around. Chuckled. Is it so?! Wha-a-at? At me?! I am a wolf! I am walking backwards!!! Heh, are you scared? Now I will catch up with you, jump at you, we're going to see, what Legs you've got. He jumped. A scream. A-a-a-ah! A blow. Don't beat me! A blow. Men smell of Tobacco, strike at the belly, at the teeth! Don't!... Cut it out, let him go: can't you see... Let's go.

Aleksei Petrovich is leaning upon a drainpipe, spitting black, yowling. Small, lonely, got lost on the street, came into this world by mistake! Leave it, it is not for you! Aleksei Petrovich is weeping with loud barks, raising his mangled face towards the stars.

Mommy, Mommy, where are you? Mommy, the way is dark, the voices are silent, the footpaths are leading into a wild swamp! Mommy, your child is crying, dying, your only child, darling, long-hoped-for, suffered-for!

Mommy is running, Mommy is gasping for air, outstretching her hands, shouting, grasping him, pressing him to her chest, touching, kissing. Mommy is weeping: found him, found him!

Mommy is taking Aleksei Petrovich by the reins into the warm burrow, into the soft nest, under the white wing.

The swollen face has been washed. Aleksei Petrovich is sobbing at the table, a napkin tied around him.

"Do you want a soft-boiled egg? Soft-boiled, you know, liquid?"

Aleksei Petrovich nods: yes, I want. The clock is ticking. Peace. The hot milk tastes good, soft, like the letter N. Something is clearing in his head. Yes! He wanted...

"Mommy, give me paper and a pencil! Quickly! I will be a writer!"

"Goodness! Woe is me! How can you... Don't cry, calm down, I'll give it to you; just let me blow my nose."

White paper, a sharp pencil. Quickly, quickly, before he forgets! He knows everything, he understood the world, he understood the Rules, learned the secret connections between events, learned the laws of interlocking between millions of pieces of unrelated things! A lightning illuminates the brain of Aleksei Petrovich! He is worried, grumbling, grabs the sheet, moves the cups with his elbow and, himself astounded at his joyous renewal, hurriedly, in big letters writes down the just-acquired truth: "NIGHT NIGHT NIGHT NIGHT NIGHT NIGHT NIGHT NIGHT NIGHT NIGHT".


1. A form of Russian name used for middle-aged and older men.

2. The story is set in a communal apartment, a type of housing common in the Soviet Union where several families live in the same large apartment, each in a single room but sharing the hallway, the kitchen and the bathroom.

3. A square in Moscow with a large statue of Alexander Pushkin.

4. Translated by Walter Arndt.

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