Literary reading for the dead of the pandemic

Tatiana Bonch-Osmolovskaya

meeting an old friend during the pandemic

cleaning takes so much time nowadays
every day
i wash floors with bleach
wipe doors handles and light switches
got three boxes of gloves and anti-bacterial wipes
with isopropyl alcohol
everything is in abundance at home

after expeditions into the outside world for groceries
i wipe everything, every pack i bought
put shopping bags for immediate washing
except for fruits and vegetables
i just rub them with soda or soap
a minute for every fruit
i tried boiling water but changed it to soda and soap
otherwise their skins turned black
it takes so much time

also i bake cakes, my own bread and pasta
i make fruit juices
then wipe the table with a napkin
filled with isopropyl alcohol

everything is here it is so clean and calm
i can calm down now
walking with the dog in the park
the sun is shining

what do i miss the most?
live rock music concerts
especially with opera voices and cellos
to scream loudly for a long time
you know trains are so quiet here
and planes are so quiet and rarely in the air
the airport is close to empty
nowhere to scream loudly

yesterday i walked the dog along a cliff in the bush
at permissible distance from home
then i remembered an old friend, it was a century
or, more precisely, thirty years we have not seen each other
but i think about him from time to time
we studied in the same school
founded by Andrey Kolmogorov
for gifted and talented in mathematics
from all over the Soviet Union
it was such a joy studying there
later on reading Hermann Hesse
i realised we lived in Castalia

i remember my friends eyes
and recalled it again when walking along the cliff with the dog
once, at school, i flew down the stairs tumbling over my head
the whole staircase i was lost in my thoughts and stumbled
and my friend was on the entryway a staircase below
and caught me

i often recalled him
but never even googled him
have not asked friends about him

well his life turned out fine
he graduated from the university
had good jobs in his profession
had married had a son
here are bank details
for his friends
to help the family organize his funeral
here is his recent photo
looking so sad
the first of my close friends lost to pandemia

i have nowhere to yell loudly

Maria Galina

Lets wake up those who is just awakening
with all others
then well find out what to do next
while earth travels a thousand kilometers per second
not moving from the spot

something is buzzing inside flowers at the curb of the world
in the seas where we will never be
the voices of those who chose to stay there
and do not come back

we ourselves would leave for cities by the sea
wind whips striped curtains
transparent air white green and blue
red tiles on wet paving stones
gardenia petals

poplar stands still as long as you want
spots of light flicker on the surface of water
in the sky at the same time
there are both the moon and the sun

a tiny restaurant by a parapet
with barbecue and a collection of wine
those who are dear to you are there on the veranda
because this is that kind of a city
silence and rustling of waves
instant flash
of a bicycle spoke
foreign language for some reason
is easy to understand
we ourselves could
be beyond woods beyond the dark skies
if not for our cat

so sorry for the cat it would look for us it would cry
not understanding what happened where did everyone go
why no one wakes anyone up
that is no waking natasha
actually this is how it happens
tables by the sea are empty
the wind blows sand to embankments and fades away
because of some mindless petite creature
some blockheads do not leave
further than they can...

Translated by Tatiana Bonch-Osmolovskaya

Anna Golubkova

Ive had enough

Many people just dream about lying on a couch and doing nothing, she mused one morning while standing on the balcony. In fact, doing nothing is a hard and in many ways thankless labour that requires a specifically cultivated set of efforts.
Dusty islets of lonely, tarnished looking cars could be seen in the empty courtyard. During the few warm days, the first sticky leaves appeared on the branches of the trees, but the following cold cut their rapid growth, so now it seemed as if thin grey branches were covered in gentle green haze. It was beautiful, and most importantly, it did not require any further action from her. You could just stand on the balcony, look into the courtyard and not think about anything. Well, at least you could try to think about anything.
A man, after all, was created as an active being, she continued her musing. So you need to deceive yourself somehow and persuade yourself to do nothing, presenting idleness as a highly important life problem, upon fulfilment of which depends your future well-being. So to speak, one should apply all efforts towards complete inaction, and only then at least something can be achieved there.

Translated by Tatiana Bonch-Osmolovskaya

* * *
your home
only four walls
you can walk around
from left to right
or diagonally
back and forth
your four walls
doors are locked
and anyway
its nowhere to go
light spring breeze
blows through the window
today we dont go far away
but directly to the store
just around the corner
of course it's just over
a hundred meters
but there is no need
in being so scrupulous
you can probably
let yourself
a bit longer walk
yes you can probably
take a few extra steps
a prisoner to herself
a warden to herself
a medical staff to herself
this is your room
it has four walls
inside the walls
is my humble self
but why are there
so many thoughts
my useless thoughts
give me an answer

Natalia Sokolovskaya

Two extracts from Emergency chamber. A contemporary story

...Sitting in the hallway, we had waited for a while until we went to the ultrasound room, then to X-rays room, then... An old obese woman moaned nearby, her head thrown back, reclined sideways in a wheelchair. She was moaning for the fourth hour already, at least I have heard her all the time we were there, and her relatives, most likely a son and daughter-in-law, no longer comforted her but, exhausted themselves, stood obediently next to her, with their heads lowered and silent, as if it was not a gurney with a still living creature in front of them, but an open coffin with a deceased person.
I looked around the emergency chamber, at these men and women, at these old people, and thought that all of them, including myself, were just a statistical error that had been taken into account long ago in some office, that we were all pre-planned figures of fatalities, that we were all counted and crossed out. Decades of years from now, either meticulous experts digging in the archives or our grand-grand-grandchildren thirsty for justice to find out what has really happened there? would confirm my hypothesis based on the knowledge of our history. Yes, exactly. Suffocating in this cramped emergency chamber, full of contagion, we were a state secret, we were a document labelled top secret which, sooner or later, would be made public. Then our descendants would learn everything about our todays mute hecatomb.
...I continued to pull the gurney from room to room, and my mother held her knees up without another reminder, as our gurney did not have a footstep. Again the nurse put her head into the hallway and shouted out for Ivanov. We spent another hour waiting for this Ivanov-Godot, which, following the lines, never appeared.
Finally, we were brought to the last room where they took the Covid test. I asked a nurse why everything is so terribly organized. After all, what was happening here was a direct crime against humanity... The boy looked exhausted, he had been on duty in the emergency chambers since early in the morning. He just sighed heavily and replied, We ourselves (by we ourselves he probably meant doctors and nurses), we ourselves do not understand why everything is happening this way. Looking at my mother, he added, Im sorry, Im very sorry...
Twelve days later, I read in a hospital document emailed to me that my mother had a negative Covid test on admission. This meant we arrived clean to the hospital. The virus, which was everywhere there, hadnt yet begun its destructive deed in her body.

...Then there was a spring again. The second spring since the beginning of the pandemic. I remember how some years ago a damn bag, a white plastic bag stuck high in the branches of a nearby birch and dangling in the wind indecently and impudently, looking like underwear, was an eyesore to me. None of the storms that for several times ruffled the trees of our yard could pluck this horrific thing that would decay in a thousand years. The fact that the birch lifetime is almost ten times less than the time of decomposition of a plastic bag was of little consolation for me, as I did not expect to outlive the birch either. But one fine day the bag disappeared, it seemed to dissolve into thin air, as if these thousand years had passed already, and I was still alive. I felt a relief similar to what you experience when a tormenting speck comes out of an eye along with tears.
But the crows nest was different Abandoned by its birds, it turned out to be surprisingly strong. Summer showers did not wash it away, autumn stormy winds did not blow it away, winter snowfalls did not crush it...
Now it is mid-May, soon the foliage will completely hide the empty nest. But it will still stand there before my inner sight like black flashes stand before your eyes when you look at the sun through lowered eyelids. It will stand still in front of my inner sight, like that two-hundred-years-old mighty elm felled down by a hurricane at the Serafimovskoye cemetery last summer, and a cross torn from the ground hung from its rearing roots.

Translated by Tatiana Bonch-Osmolovskaya