Mitya and the Climate Change

(micro fiction, 1 min.read)pest-control2

Minutes after TX-1 turned him into a fly, Mitya was already soaring around the lab like a bird. Flying gave him the sensation of freedom and impunity. He buzzed into the Professor’s ear, tickled his young assistant’s velvety neck, took a bite from her sandwich, pooped on Global Transformations Bulletin, and– felt bored. Now, he was waiting for another experiment to begin, so he could fly through TX-1 beam again and turn back into a humble trainee Mitya Somov.

But strangely, no one was going to start the new test. At a quarter to three, the team was preparing to leave!

Mitya panicked. He landed on the Professor’s nose, but the old man waved him off, mumbling: “That climate change must be real, even flies are up this winter”, and left.

Mitya dashed to the closing door, and there, he finally spotted a note: “No afternoon tests: the lab will be closed. Pest control.”

pest-control

Very Short Prose: A Present

I ran across this photo and could not help writing the story below.

ivanka_trump_in_chinchilla

Ivanka Trump in chinchilla

A Present

He carefully put a large silver box on the table. Its silky red ribbon trembled enticingly.

Must be a fur coat, she thought. Oh, my God, he is awesome!

“Make a guess. What is there?” He asked.

She frowned feigningly and touched the box with her perfectly manicured fingers.

“Something furry?”

He nodded.

“Something delicate?”

“Very!”

His eyes were glowing with fondness.

Must be chinchilla, she thought. Those coats are devilishly expensive!

“You did remember I wanted it, didn’t you?” She said, and pulled the red ribbon.

He nodded again. He waited.

Oh, she was so excited!

“Darling, I’ll marry you! You are wonderful!” She cried out.

The ribbon slipped down, the box opened up.

She recoiled. She stared at the gift. She fell speechless.

Two small furry balls with shiny black eyes were staring at her from the box.

i-chin

End of the World

doomsday

(micro fiction, 1 minute read)

The missiles were approaching. People panicked.

“Dammit,” men whispered.

“Oh, Lord,” women sobbed.

“Get me more funding! Quickly!” Yelled the Minister of Defense.

“Didn’t I warn you?” Shrieked a Nobel laureate.

“Oh, God. Why now?” Cried a middle-aged woman in a wedding dress.

Senators and their secretaries sobbed silently.

Only the President retained his composure.

“It’s over, but I am with you, my friends,” he typed and twitted the message.

For sure, a man like him was not elected for nothing!

All Those Omens On My Way (A Short Story)

(short fiction, 4 min. read)

A couple of days ago I suddenly started getting signs of being in luck. Well, unlike many others, I am not superstitious; I mean, finding a thing like a four leaf clover would hardly make me excited. Still, I could not help noticing signs of good fortune, they poured onto me intensely and bluntly, like a powerful stream that rolls down a hill, smashing obstacles on its way.

It began with a bus ticket, a so-called lucky one. While the bus was carrying me to my destination, a few scenes from my middle school years kept floating in my mind. If the sum of the first three digits on your ticket equals the sum of the last three digits, this ticket will certainly bring you good luck, my school friends used to say. If you get a lucky ticket, you should eat it at once… I was summing up little figures printed on the gray scrap of paper when my bus nearly hit a huge truck, making me forget about that ticket at once, of course.

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I did not take a picture of my lucky ticket, but here is one I found on the Internet as an illustration

Later during the day, a bird pooped on my shoulder – a small bird like a tit or a sparrow – it flew away before I could see it, but the fact remains that it spoiled my blouse! Knowing that all of my friends would blindly believe in the good outcome of such accident, I had a good reason to grin, “What a nonsense! Never heard of a more stupid omen than this!” I ignored that omen, too, because at that very moment I found a long awaited letter in my mailbox: it said that my book had been published!

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This guy does not look quite happy being pooped at! 🙂

Soon, a new “sign of fotrune” arrived as a proof that it was not the end of my journey of luck: I broke my favorite plate by dropping a glass that fell right on it and shattered into small pieces, too. In every Russian home this would be considered a sign of double luck, but, well, not to me. I was growing tired of my little mishaps, so I spit three times over my shoulder and knocked three times on a wooden table – the surest Russian way of keeping lucky till the end of the day.

And then my hand started itching: a sign of an imminent inflow of earnings, welcomed by every Russian, of course! “Not my style, there’s no logic in this,” I thought to myself as I rushed to pick up my buzzing phone: it was a colleague calling to say that our boss had increased my salary by fifty percent! She sounded so excited that I did not recognize her voice at first… another Russian belief, by the way. She screamed into my ear, “You see? This is it! You did not recognize me, and so I am also in luck! I just got a confirmation message about my raise, too!”

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I hang up and returned to the kitchen to feed my cat. He was washing his face, and a casual thought slipped through my mind: this means I am going to have a guest in my home.

No, this was too much for one day! I was fed up with those signs, as I was fed up resisting my “fate”. I did not want any more of this stuff in my life, but my mind still kept pestering me by intrusive guesses:

What if I show a coin to the young Moon, which is this night, by the way? Will I become any richer?

If I hit my elbow on a doorway, will my boyfriend finally dare to tell me he loves me?

Is it true that this pigeon looking through my window is going to bring me a romantic adventure?

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A horseshoe and clover are considered to be signs of good luck, internationally

I felt tired and went to bed early that day. I began to believe that there might be some subtle dependence between all those popular omens and real events… at least, they had been forming for ages! “If you believe in something, it will come true,” our ancestors used to say. Who knows? They could be perfectly right, I thought. The pace of my thoughts slowed down and I slept… and I saw a ring in my dream.

Something made me wake up. As I lay there thinking that the ring, by the way, was also a silly omen promising me a whirlwind romance over the night, the sound of the door bell cut into the quietness of my home.

Oh goodness, I thought, who can it be?

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“He stood in the doorway – my boyfriend – all wet from the showering rain.”

He stood in the doorway – my boyfriend – all wet from the showering rain. A few drops reached my face as I touched the rose he was holding between us. Fresh fragrance of the flower made me wake up from my drowsy oblivion, so I opened my mouth to greet him, but he interrupted me by a passionate kiss.

Then he said, “Please, let me in. I happened to have a terrible day: I broke a large mirror, I stupidly walked under a ladder, then a black cat crossed my way… twice, and a friend started whistling right in my home… so many bad luck signs just in one day that I nearly started to believe in this nonsense!” He took my hands in his and looked right into my eyes. “Darling, let me stay here with you tonight. You are my only good luck charm, and let me be yours. It is so much easier to resist evil omens, when love keeps us both, don’t you think?”

I excitedly clutched the stem and a thorn dug deep into my finger (meaning I would marry the guy who gave me the rose). I gasped, then I shook my head.

“This isn’t even an omen,” I said, looking into his eyes and moving my face closer. “Even before this moment I kind of believed that we are about to marry this year.”

приметы9

 

A Parable: When a Man Lies…

A man was cutting a tree right over the river once, and his axe fell into the water. The man started crying in desperation, when suddenly, the voice of the Lord sounded from above:

Why are you crying, Son?”

How can I not cry?” The man sobbed. “My axe was my only tool which helped me earn my living and feed my family.”

The Lord took out a golden axe from the river and asked: “Is this your axe?”

No,” answered the man.

Then, the Lord produced a silver axe from the river.

“Is this one yours?” He asked.

No, this one is not mine, either,” answered the man.

Finally, the Lord took out an iron axe from the river and asked, “Is this the one?”

The man smiled happily, “Yes, this one is mine!”

You are an honest man,” said the God, “you follow my commandments. So, you may take all three axes as an award for your honesty.”

Since then, the man’s life improved very much. But one day, a terrible thing happened: his wife fell into the river. The man started crying in grief again.

And again, the Lord’s voice sounded from above:

Why are you crying, Son?”

How can I not cry?” The man sobbed. “My wife fell into the river!”

The Lord took out Claudia Shiffer from the river and asked, “Is this your wife?”

Yes! This is my wife!” the man exclaimed happily.

001-claudia-fisher

On hearing this, the Lord grew angry.

You just lied to me! How could you?”

You see,” the man replied, “there is a bit of misapprehension here… If I said this was not my wife, you would take out Cindy Crawford from the water, and again, I would honestly say she was not my wife. Then, you would finally show me my wife and of course, I would say, “yes, this woman is my wife”. But then, you would let me have all three of them, right?”

Sure,” said the God, “so what?”

What do you think I would do with the three of them? How would I be able to support them? I guess, all four of us would become very unhappy.”

THE MORAL OF THE STORY: IF A MAN LIES, HE DOES THIS WITH DIGNITY AND FOR THE COMMON BENEFIT.

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The Soldier

bench-winter-park2

At the crack of dawn, when the park was slowly waking up after a long frosty night, Pavel was already sitting in his usual place under a large chestnut tree, on the third bench to the left from the main entrance colonnade. Right above his head, two magpies were chirping, in front of him, a busy rook was examining an island of dirty snow, chilly air smelled of melted water, and in it, busy tits were scurrying to and fro in search of a breakfast bite. Pavel shivered, glanced at his watch, and buried his freezing chin into the camo jacket collar. His eyes fell on the unfinished bottle of beer, he picked it up from the bench with numb, sluggish fingers, and remembered that he was hungry. He sighed, took a sip of bitter liquid, grimaced in disgust, then ruffled up like a sparrow, and prepared to wait on, when at a distance, behind the bars of the park’s forged fence, yellow and blue spots of the familiar tracksuit loomed joyfully against gloomy grayness of the murky morning. Pavel stretched out his neck. A moment later, she turned up between the columns of the main entrance and immediately, joyful spots of yellow and blue livened up the colonnade, colored the semicircle of a bare flowerbed, invigorated the whole park, mocking the black, rimy spring for its lack of colors.

jogging-winter

Pavel had known her route like the back of his hand. At first, she was going to run straight at him: she would skirt around the flowerbed, pass the island of snow, and head into the alley toward his bench. For only a few seconds would he watch how she approached, rhythmically and gently pushing her sneakers into the rough asphalt. As always, she would be looking under her feet quite intently, trying to avoid the insidious ice crust under her feet, her eyelashes would be lowered, so Pavel, as usual, would frown to a thought that after a month of watching her, he was still unable to say what was the color of her eyes.

There. She approached him – serious, focused, austere. Her lips, trembling slightly with each silent breath, released tiny clouds of steam that dissolved right behind her in the crisp bluish air.

Wow, she is awesome,” he whispered, and forced himself not to stare.

She had no hat on that morning, so Pavel could finally see her hair; it was long and surprisingly fair for her tanned complexion, it fell on her shoulders and dashed to the sides at each step – playfully, tirelessly, somehow childishly…

Enchanted by beauty, Pavel sank into blissful oblivion, so it was not until she had run past him that he realized what had happened – that morning, for the very first time, she had given him a glance! Two incredibly bright chestnut eyes had studied him head to toe, looked at Pavel’s pink, sluggish fingers, glanced at his bottle of beer, met his eyes, and returned to the road, to focus on running again.

Oh, that was an event! He was happy: she’d noticed him, she’d acknowledged his aimless existence, she’d been thinking about him for a second or so, albeit not very flattering, yet she had! Finally, for the very first time in a month he was able to touch her life, too!

Bit by bit, timid sun rays spread down and covered the alley. Bluish shadows of branches, chased by the wind, danced on the ground. Ignoring the chill, Pavel finished his beer and squared his shoulders. Hunger gripped Pavel’s stomach, but his mind fenced it off. Lack of money, abjection, bitter cold, wind and hunger were of no importance, neither the general hopelessness of his grim situation. Nothing mattered that morning, compared to his major, exciting, insatiable desire to see her again and again.

He knew almost nothing about the girl: just the fact that she was incredibly pretty. She must be a model, he thought, or an actress, or maybe a television announcer…one of those who pin their fortune since cradle: rich, beautiful, lucky, and smart…Just look at those clothes, that skin, that thick shining hair…no doubt she’s been feeding on someone’s continuous care.

man-on-bench-alone

Pavel glanced at his own hands and pants and frowned.Look at you, dirty beggar,” he said out loud, “got to clean up and shave by tomorrow.” He studied his short, skinny legs in shabby, tucked up camouflage pants, and his heart turned over inside, spilling anguish and making him scowl.

Shave!” he mimicked himself. “What for? Why would you, dirty idiot, need to clean up? You don’t go to work, you don’t go anywhere! You can’t walk like the others, you have no feet!”

Bitter anger rolled up to his throat, hurting it, squeezing it so that he wanted to scream. Never, never again will he spring to his feet to chase a girl across a meadow, never again will he catch her or hold in his arms, never again will he carry her to a hayloft and…

Stop it! Enough! Shut up. Idiot!” To calm himself down, Pavel closed his eyes and started daydreaming. “Suppose, we will finally talk one day,” he resumed the monolog with himself. “Sure, why not? She just looked at me, didn’t she? Which means, I have hope. I would compliment her, I would tell her how much I enjoy watching her run every day. Of course, I could easily catch her when I had legs, but… All right, what will I tell her then? I mean nothing to her: just a crook from a park, a desperate, bold, silly lad, a perfect material for the war, a classical cannon fodder, so masterfully used by politicians, wasted, and thrown out of life… Aww, I’d better died on that mine! There would’ve been no anguish, no looking at her lovely legs, no bench, o park, no her… nothing!

Pavel sat for a while, studying his empty beer bottle and throwing slow glances at the turn in the end of the alley, where she had disappeared from sight a few minutes before. Why do I keep coming here every morning? I know I am not going to get her. She is a fine, elegant breed, so graceful, so perfect, so flawless, and I-

Come on, brother, admit it,” he addressed himself in full voice, “you enjoy torturing yourself by watching how she runs past you every morning, tapping on asphalt with the ease of a tennis ball, teasing you with her healthy body, killing you by the rhythm of her steps… Of course! Sitting here and pitying yourself is so easy! So much easier than pulling yourself together and making your way in the world.”

Obsessed with his monolog, he nearly missed her on her way back. When she caught up with him, he fell silent abruptly, and she suddenly slowed her pace, looked him over from head to toe, shook her head, frowned a little, and ran on without saying a word. Again, a pair of dazzling brown eyes pierced Pavel’s heart like an arrow, blocking his breath, stinging him right in the chest, making something inside him break and spill like a bottle of beer.

Pavel sighed. When the bright yellow spots of her tracksuit disappeared behind the park fence, Pavel pulled himself forward, slid off to his homemade cart, and pushed himself forward, away from the park. His ugly handmade cart, converted from an old rusty stroller, creaked and rattled at each revolution of its wry plastic wheels. Unshaven and thin, in unwashed army uniform, sweaty like hell from continuous effort, Pavel rolled down the street. He could sense how people disdained him. Guys would glance at his uniform jacket and lower their eyes as they passed, mothers held their kids, children tried to avoid running up to his cart. Alas! In the times of wars people grow self-centered. If you managed to lose your legs, this is nobody’s business, but yours! Do your best to survive, Pal. Who cares?

The cart rattled down the pavement, shaking and jumping on each asphalt crack. At the end of the block, as always, Pavel stopped to buy a new bottle of beer from a red-faced tobacco kiosk vendor. He liked this simple daily ritual, it brought trivial round into Pavel’s life. Human life is a trivial round, he was thinking as he pushed himself forward along grainy asphalt. A rich man begins his day with massage, delicious foods and ablutions, while this fat kiosk vendor is occupied with his own little chores, doing maths, summing up daily earnings, counting boxes with goods and the goods in the boxes, estimatin his monthly sales, doing tax calculations…just daily routine, repetition of actions. Everyone’s life is an endless chain of repeated actions.

What is she doing right now?” Pavel mumbled, pushing himself around a car parked on the sidewalk, “I wonder, does she have daily baths or just takes a quick shower after her run? Aww, stop it, shouldn’t think about this now.”

Breathing with effort, he entered a rough spot of gravel near the kiosk. The cart started bouncing like a young unbacked stallion. This made Pavel remember two years before, on the day he turned eighteen, when he came to the kiosk for his first legal bottle of beer. The unpaved gravel spot had already been there, he’d been wearing slippers, and his feet could clearly feel every sharp gravel edge.

Hmm, that’s funny. No feet anymore, but I still remember how it felt.”

His street had not changed very much since then. Thankfully, real war had not reached the city; it was now about a hundred miles to the east, where Pavel had seen real hell, learned about pain, loss and fear, and where his feet dressed in black army boots had remained lying in the thick grass forever. Everything had been different there, at the front line. Smells were heavy, the air was viscous and kind of dusty, full of fine metal suspension, like a different planet’s atmosphere. Now, when that hell was over for Pavel, it seemed no more than a hideous dream. The worst there was the absence of trivial round, everyone had attested for that. People tried to create the trivial round for themselves; they would find a shelter in a broken-down house, at least for a short time, they would make the place livable, find a nail in a wall, hang a towel on it: they intended to use it routinely the next morning by splashing cold water on a wind-bitten face, reaching out for the towel, like at home, putting the face into it, feeling the soft, tender cloth, and inhaling the air through the towel…If they found a bedroom, they would fall on the bed right at once, to relive awesome moments of pleasure, when your ass gently touches the featherbed, sinks into it and bounces up, thickly enveloped with its softness.

But alas! There was anything but routine at war. Once you got used to keeping your towel on that damned rusty nail, a shelling would start, so you’d run like a rabbit, saving your ass, screaming obscenities, praying for life, while something got cracked and fell right behind you, something burned, stank and smoked, flashed and pushed you to hell; something soared with blast waves and scattered in hail of ruinous fragments, something collapsed and shifted, blowing up your trivial round…and the wall, where your towel had been, would transform into jumble of stones. Then again, in a new place, in the moments of calm people found a wall with a nail, and a towel, and a bed, and restored their trivial round…at least for an hour or so.

Hu-huh, our life is a trivial round, Pavel sighed. Breaking trivial round leads only to death.

At last, Pavel’s cart reached the kiosk’s back door. He rolled up to the vendor, who was smoking right outside of his small, cluttered store. The guy’s fleshy face was morose. Pavel coughed to attract his attention, but the latter glanced up rather coldly.

Kinda windy today,” Pavel said, meaning, “Hey, be a friend, just respond for the sake of routine.”

I just lost weekly income because of this wind,” said the guy through his teeth and spat.

Why? What’s up?” Pavel asked with sincere curiosity.

See that branch? It fell down on my roof, smashed it up. Bitch.”

Really? Wow.”

Deep in his mind Pavel was happy: the dialogue worked, the vendor talked to him! A simple human talk, the thing that can overwhelm you when you have normal legs, but that is so deficient when you are a cripple.

Happen to know anybody to repair it for me?” asked the vendor.

Pavel’s eyes caught the face of his watch. Eight fifteen. She is probably having her breakfast right now, in a beautiful dining room with fantastic china and magnificent food…she also could be dressing in front of a mirror…or combing her hair…

What? Ah, wait! I can do it!” he cried, waking up. “I can fix it! You just help me to get on the roof and I’ll fix it. I did roofs in my village before the war.”

You?” The vendor glanced at him as one looks at an insect. “Come on! You’ll fall down from there. No way.”

Pavel moved himself forward. “Listen, I can do it for minimal price. Look at me, I have arms and my head is all right.” He chuckled. “Legs are of no use on the roof, anyway.”

He really needed money, but more importantly, he needed the job! It was something to make him feel useful, something to help him return to life!

Leave me alone.” The vendor waved him away. “Lame duck.”

Pavel was stunned. Come on, you think I am good for nothing? You think if I lost my feet, I can’t work with my hands?”

Listen,” the vendor’s voice became heavy. “Go away! Cripple.” He bent over some boxes with merchandise, preparing to resume his calculations.

Dumbfounded, Pavel pulled the lever, the cart dashed forward.

Cripple? You, bastard! I’ll kill you! I lost my legs protecting your fat ass there, and you–”

Pavel did not finish his sentence. Blinded by rage, he lurched forward. A beer bottle appeared in his hand, he crashed it against the door jamb, and it turned into a terrible weapon. The quick-witted vendor immediately leaped into the shelter of the kiosk, but it was too late to slam the door: Pavel had already blocked it with his cart. The cart hit the threshold, Pavel lost balance, his weapon slipped out, made a wide semicircle in the air and fell on the floor.

You crazy?” yelled the vendor, but the cart was already inside the kiosk, it hit carton boxes and pushed Pavel forward on them. Someone’s shadow soared over his head, two big hands gripped his elbows and clenched them from behind. Myriads of black dots flashed in front of Pavel’s eyes, something fell on his head, and time started creeping slowly like honey that leaks from a pot. The kiosk turned over, showing Pavel its ceiling with a big hole in it. The second blow hit Pavel’s neck, something cracked in his ears, everything became quiet, Pavel sagged, and immediately calmed down. The last thing he could hear before he fainted was the vendor’s muffled voice, “Idiot! You want to go to prison?”

* * *

The morning was gloomy. Early spring advanced on the city gradually, like a field kitchen, producing each day just a tiny portion of sunlight, yet generously giving out loads of mud, fogs, and freezing rains. The bench was wet. Pavel shivered in violent wind gusts, his fingers became swollen and red, but no force could drive him away from his observation post, because that morning, another incredible thing had happened: she’d smiled and winked at Pavel that morning!

jogger

No, she did not stop to talk to him, she ran by like she had always done, but this time she intentionally greeted him like a friend. Oh, Pavel was jubilant! He looked after her, smiling sheepishly, thinking that she was flawless, as always. Pavel’s old friend – the blue and yellow tracksuit – was gracefully twining her slender body, as if it had been tailored specifically to fondle her. With each step, smooth fabric resiliently tightened up on the one breast, then on the other, then bounced lightly together with them, and instantly flowed down and backwards to tighten again on her thighs – one, two, one, two…Oh, what a terrible effort it was not to stare at her as she ran! Pavel wished he could turn into fabric himself, to absorb the warmth of her breasts, stroke her thighs, let them go for a while and gather in folds on her waist…

When her slim, chiseled figure disappeared behind a turn, Pavel leaned back, closed his eyes, and froze in blissful oblivion, smiling to his secret thoughts, hoping to see her again on her way back in about half of an hour. This time he had nothing to do, no beer or cigarettes anymore. So he sat for a while, massaging a bump on the back of his head – a memory of the disgusting incident in the kiosk. His thoughts streamed on randomly, first reproaching him of stupidity, then accusing him of stubbornness, suggesting late answers to trivial questions, bringing up scenes from childhood, scattered visions of war, and on top of all those was her gaze: quiet, confident, even bold. It imprinted in Pavel’s memory and kept testing his mind. It bore no compassion, yet it had no reproach. He could sense no pity, no rue in her gaze, and for that – just only for that – he was grateful almost to tears. She was one of the few, who treated him as a normal man. She wasn’t the one to clatter her tongue saying, “Oh, poor boy! So young and already a cripple!” No, her gaze had the energy which Pavel lacked – the power sufficient to knock Pavel’s spleen, kick his butt, inspire him with healthy anger, and get him engaged into something worthy at last!

Just look at it plainly,” he pondered. “They chopped off one fifth of your mass. So what? You still have your head on, haven’t lost a gram of your brains. Look at your healthy hands, at your chest, at the thing in your pants – you are strong like a bull! You can’t fight anymore, that’s a fact, but you can do an abyss of jobs! You can draw, you can sell, you can learn something new. Only try!”

Pavel glanced at the end of the alley, it was time for her to run back.

Yes, I’ll do it,” he whispered, “I’ll show her! I am going to get a new life. She will see: I am strong. Yes. I can.”

He sat thinking it over for another ten minutes, and amazing new life started looking quite real. As he waited, a cold, clammy rain started drizzling, people hurried away from the park. Pavel shivered, but stayed. He leaned forward, pressed down to the bench and kept waiting, waiting stubbornly, like a lover on a small station platform, waiting faithfully, like a hungry, abandoned dog, but alas! She did not turn up on the alley that day.

* * *

She did not turn up the next morning either, and the next, and the next. Days dragged on one after another. The spring grew mature, the trees and the grass became painfully green, busy bugs started running on heated asphalt, college girls started showing their pink juicy legs, as they hurried across the park to their school, but Pavel, pathetic and lonely, kept sitting and waiting for God knows what on his bench. After two empty weeks, hope died out: he no longer believed he was going to see her again. She could’ve moved to a different place, could’ve left the city entirely. She could’ve changed her routine and be running in different places, and some other guy was probably secretly watching her as she did. Still, Pavel kept coming back to the park every morning, by habit. His days were empty and dull. No job had come up, no friends, no plans, no routine, no hope, no life.

Abandoned!” he mumbled, biting his lips. “Like a sick, scabby dog. Just a worthless, pathetic, wretched piece of– nothing. Just trash.”

Well, the end was quite close, he knew it. His money was running out, disability payments were scanty, and getting a veterans pension required lots of standing in lines, which – how funny! – required having legs. Pavel grinned as he pondered on that. Well, suppose I will get the veterans pension, then I’ll stand in a line to prove that I need and deserve a new cart – a wheelchair instead of this shameful rattle on wheels, then a new set of lines to get disability benefits as a war vet, and then…ah, to hell with that crap! It was easier simply to die. He remembered the words, “Death solves all problems – no man, no problem.” I wonder, who said that? Never mind, but boy, he was right! If I die, society will sigh with relief.

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The sun warmed his back, and he felt a bit sleepy. His stomach growled for a while, but soon stuck to the backbone and pacified, enjoying the calories of the sun. Knowing that hunger would not return until he moved, Pavel hunched, shut his eyes, and dozed off.

How old are you?”

It came from behind Pavel’s ear. He wanted to turn around and look, but didn’t. An ember of hope loomed and faded at once in his mind, replaced with sarcastic, “Calm down, you, fool! Miracles never happen!”

Still, he responded without turning around, “Twenty. Turned twenty last Monday.”

Why would he need to know who was asking? What good could come out of that conversation? Hope had misled him hundreds of times! No, I’ve had enough, he thought to himself, no more pain of false hope! People never do good to each other. If you’re crippled and still alive, it’s your problem. Count on yourself, stay alone till you die.

The question was very unusual, though. Who would care to know my age? Pavel thought, guessing whose voice it could be. It was young, very sharp, female voice. A teacher? Ah, sure, a teacher! He had seen how a group of fifth graders proceeded toward the playground. She must have returned to torture him with questions. Now, she will ask me about the war, shake her head, then call up all her class and say, “Children, look! This man is a veteran, injured at war.” Then she’ll take them away to tell them the rest of my story, because hungry, crooked, squalid soldiers can’t tell little kids about war with sufficient patriotism…

You have no right!” Pavel heard from behind.

Wow! This bitch is about to teach me here!

A fire of rage started glowing in peeved empty stomach. Pavel turned to look up.

* * *

It was her. She was standing behind his shoulder. Two bright chestnut eyes were staring directly at Pavel’s, her ravishing lips elastic and tense; they also looked angry like hell. He saw a dazzling red dress, shapely and graceful, gentle and tender, so tender that Pavel felt dizzy at once. Her perfect long legs in black shoes were graceful like hell, and her hands were covered with gloves – very thin summer gloves of a cloth, the name to which Pavel had never known.

She walked around the bench to face him…and changed all at once. She did not look tall anymore; the velvety chestnut eyes were only a little higher than Pavel’s.

Gutta-percha baby, flashed through his mind. Not an aristocrat, not at all! Looks like a gymnast, or maybe a dancer.

You have no right,” she repeated, “to sit here all days, killing your time.”

Wow, what a statement! No, not an aristocrat, I was mistaken. Rather, a teacher or…well, I don’t know, but boy, she is bossy!

Am I bothering someone here?” he asked, smiling stubbornly in her face.

Yes, you are. You are bothering me, other people, your friends, and yourself.”

Here it comes: The one who I quietly dreamed of, who I loved like the world’s biggest treasure, is standing in front of me – beautiful, perfect – and trying to tell me what I should do! Not an aristocrat, Pavel thought, not at all. There is no shadow of arrogance in her look, even more, she is trying to hide her grace, it embarrasses her…And she’s young, not older than me. A student? Yeah, maybe.

You – must be a teacher, right?” Pavel asked, to gain a few seconds of time. He was still very stressed.

No,” she said, “doesn’t matter. What matters is what will happen to you if you don’t stop sipping your beer and pitying yourself all days long.”

Her eyes continued to drill him like hell.

I haven’t had beer in weeks,” Pavel said with offense and immediately bit his lip, growing ashamed of having to justify himself.

Were you drafted into the army right after the high school?”

Pavel nodded. He was completely lost now. He could not understand why she was asking those questions, and even more – why the hell was he answering her?

Listen, what do you want?” he asked.

Have you been to the front line?” she demanded without a break.

He nodded again and sagged, feeling totally ruined; his magnificent dream, which he’d nurtured for months and for which he’d been sitting on this hateful bench, broke in no time, like a crystal cup thrown to the floor by her restive, ungrateful hand.

You were wounded, right?” she enquired, as if trying to check his answers with some information she had.

Pavel nodded again. “I stepped on a mine.”

She sat down next to him on the edge of the bench. So, what are you going to do?”

He grimaced. Here it comes again! Stupid sermons!

Nothing,” he said and fell silent. He wanted to leave.

She sat studying him for a while. Then she reached for her case and flopped it, quite awkwardly, on Pavel’s lap.I brought this for you, my old laptop. You will need it to prepare for the entrance exams. But remember, you only have time till the middle of June, so you’d better try hard. Hey, do you know how to use computer?”

Her words left Pavel stunned again.I know how to use computer, but…what makes you think you have the right to tell me what I should do?”

This is your chance. Maybe, the last one. Do you understand?”

Pavel experienced a desire to burst out and yell, but his throat got dry, he could not utter a word.

So she spoke first again.Our university has started a program for people like you and me. We’ve got to apply before May 15. I have already applied.”

Pavel grinned. For people like you and me, repeated his mind. You and me! Are you joking? What can we have in common? This bench? He turned to her sharply. “Listen, who are you? What do you want from me?”

She stood up. He sensed that he’d offended her. Her lips became thin as she said, “It seems you have difficulty understanding things today. Still, think about my offer, stir your brains. Maybe, you’ll finally grow smarter.”

Now, Pavel felt ashamed. He was nearly sick. For God’s sake, who are you?” he hissed in a threatening whisper.

The tiny black shoes shuffled over the asphalt. I recognized you at once, the very first day,” she said. “Argh, I was so enraged by your glassy eyes and your nasty beer!”

Do we know each other?”

They brought you to our hospital right after the injury, you were unconscious. I treated your wound. I’m a nurse. The next morning the hospital got shelled, and I got my portion, too.”

Pavel was still processing her words, when she moved to leave.

Okay, you may sit here and think,” she said. “You have lots of free time, but I need to work. Take a look at the laptop when you are at home. If you have any questions, give me a call, my number is there.” She nodded at the suitcase. “But please, do not sit here anymore, okay? I hate when you stare at me like a…” She paused. “Give me my umbrella.”

Not daring to disobey, Pavel handed her the umbrella, but she turned a bit awkwardly sideways and took it with her other hand. Pavel saw that her right hand was oddly motionless.

Okay, bye,” she said simply and the tiny black shoes pattered toward the colonnade. There, she turned to the right, moved her arm, the glove on her right hand slid down, and for one single moment Pavel could see the unnatural glitter of the motionless, daunting, prosthetic arm.

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A Break Up That Failed

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Women mature sooner than men, that’s a fact! I was twenty two when I learned it. I was a silly, ambitious lad, so I think I deserved to get into the story which I am going to tell you today.

My girlfriend and I were madly in love with each other, so we decided to try living together and moved in to a tiny apartment with nothing but a table, two chairs and a huge bed, which occupied nearly all the space of the room.

After a month or two, we realized that neither of us had been prepared – all the responsibility, chores, and sacrifice, and the work made each of us focus on different things, so our romance, flirting and passion began to fade down. I could not help noticing that my girl did not love me as much as before anymore.

This troubled my mind for a couple of weeks. I walked around collecting little signs of her growing indifference. This made me quite restless, I tortured myself with suspicions and doubts, but I had no idea what to do. One evening she came home really late and said she had taken an extra job at a men’s hair salon. That was the last drop. I had to find out about her feelings for me.

The most upsetting thing was her attitude: she remained calm and confident, as if nothing had changed at all. She had always been kind of reserved and avoided talking about her feelings, but now… how the hell could I guess what she was feeling?

Well, I needed to test her, so I wrote her a letter. I wrote I was tired of living together and suggested a break. It was bullshit, of course, I never wanted a break, but how else could I check if she still loved me or not?

Well, after a day of bad doubts, I finally left that letter on her pillow, so she could easily find it as soon as she entered the room. I wanted to hear her reaction, so as soon as I heard a click at the door, I hid under the bed and started to listen.

I was hoping to hear her gasp, or probably moan, or sob, but she sat on the bed and read it in silence. There were two or three endless minutes of silence, then she reached for a pen and started to write.

She stood up, changed her clothes, brushed her hair and… murmured a song to herself! She sounded happy rather than sad or upset! I was shocked. I lay in my shelter and nearly moaned myself. I was grieving in helplessness, I cursed the idea of writing that letter, and I hated my life, where the woman I loved did not care a bit about me!

That was not the end of my torture, however. I heard how she dialed a number and all of a sudden her cheerful, excited voice said into the receiver: “Hi, darling, I’m almost ready… My stupid boyfriend? He left me, it’s over… at last! I’m coming right now. See you, darling. Bye.”

Then  she hгng up and left the apartment.

I don’t remember how I got up to my feet. I was shocked, confused, bewildered, and smashed. I walked around the bed, and there was her note on my pillow. It said:

I can see your long feet sticking out from under the bed. Please, get out. I am off to a bakery store for a moment, I will bring you your favorite pie. Boil some eggs, I am starving. Love you. Wife.

Beerlosopher Vasya… or the Russian Approach to Dating

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1.

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Lewis Carroll

One day philosopher Vasya took his beer and decided to leave.

Hey! You! Are you going to pay?” The saleswoman yelled at his back.

I could pour you with money,” he said, slowly turning around, “but money is transient.” He hiccupped. “I could enrich you spiritually, but that would be only words. No one can make you rich, only you – yourself – can.”

Where can I find you, Teacher?” Murmured bewildered saleswoman.

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there,” quoted philosopher Vasya, and added, You won’t have to look for me, I will come by myself… as soon as I run out of beer.”

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2.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Lao Tzu

Later that day, philosopher Vasya came along to fetch a new bottle of his favorite drink, but the saleswoman was already closing the kiosk.

Will you give me some drink of enlightenment?” He asked humbly.

My working day is over. Come tomorrow, I will gladly give you some,” replied the saleswoman.

But I need it now, because now I’m closer to enlightenment than ever.”

The kiosk is closed,” she said sharply. “I can see no sense in following my own footsteps.”

Philosopher Vasya looked right into her eyes. After a long, thoughtful pause, he uttered: The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” He raised his forefinger. You can’t come to enlightenment unless you change your Self, and changing your habits could be the very first step on the way.”

He turned around with dignity and headed for another kiosk.

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3.

Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Next day, on his way to the beer source, philosopher Vasya could not restrain himself and relieved his physical need right near the kiosk wall. The saleswoman saw this.

What are you doing?!” She shrieked and ran out of the kiosk.

She had beautiful shoulders and gorgeous hips.

Think big thoughts, but relish small pleasures,” replied philosopher Vasya, as he eyed her up. Her gorgeous hips swayed like fishermen’s boats during the tide. Being angry only made her look better.

She approached him.

Tell me this,” she enquired rather sternly, “this wonderful drink that grants you true knowledge… it seems to pass through you without a stop. If so, why do you need it at all?”

All words of wisdom must be rethought,” philosopher Vasya announced. “This foamy drink, which shows us the way, passes through me, that’s true, but it sharpens my feelings and opens my mind, so I can get to know my Self.”

Next time, keep your Self away from my kiosk,” said the saleswoman briskly, and the gorgeous hips disappeared behind the door.

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4.

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Socrates

Later that week, the saleswoman put a corked bottle in front of philosopher Vasya.

Can you open it for me?” He asked.

I can’t open this foamy source of wisdom for you, I have no opener,” she replied.

Our daily mishaps are just rocks on the road. We should not neglect them, however, as they are our steps toward enlightenment,” answered philosopher Vasya and opened the bottle by hitting it hard against the kiosk wall.

I don’t know…” started the saleswoman, but philosopher Vasya had already turned his back to her.

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing,” he said over his shoulder and took a swig of his drink in thirst for enlightenment.

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5.

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion.

These three are your greatest treasures.”
Lao Tzu

The next time philosopher Vasya turned up at the kiosk window, the saleswoman was not in it. A head in the window sneered as philosopher Vasya approached; it produced an empty beer bottle with a note sticking out of it. The note was handwritten and smelled of a ladies perfume. It said:

Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. If you find them appealing, you can learn them from me, but remember: one’s got to deserve them by diligent, daily labor. You’ll be planting tomatoes and ploughing my land, only then you may hope that your foamy drink of enlightement will appear on your table… sometimes.”

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A Blond Date

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(A short story based on real life anecdotes.)

When I told my friend Igor about her, he said: “That blonde from Human Resources? Mmm, no. Not a good choice, pal. No potential,” he started counting his fingers. “She is too young, too hot, it will be damn expensive, the whole office will see it, and also… hmm,” he moved closer to my ear and lowered his voice, “she is blond. They are dumb, the blondes, all of them. What if you start repeating dumb stuff after her?”

Well, honestly, I wouldn’t give a damn to Igor‘s smart tips. After all, she was my girlfriend, not his! She was affectionate, charming, talkative, funny – I couldn’t remember being bored for a minute when she was around… Who said they were dumb? What a nonsense! I told Igor to go to hell and went my way.

I spent a whole weekend with her for a start. It was an awesome weekend, every minute of it– well, it would be, if it were not for Igor‘s words. They must have found a vacant cell in my brain and got stuck there like a splinter, I could not help thinking them over again and again. On Monday morning I caught myself on being obsessed with the question: what if Igor was right? An old proverb said, “you live and learn from those you live with”. What if I was already growing silly?

By early afternoon on Monday I was nearly going out of my mind. I needed to talk to my girl face to face, I wanted to test her and check myself… but how?

As ill luck would have it, I remembered an epizode from our Saturday stroll: we were shopping together in a large supermarket, when she saw a bathroom scale and decided to try it. The number on the scale did not satisfy her, she frowned, but not for long: she came up with a sudden idea to draw her belly in and step on the scale again. A dozen of people threw glances at us when she suddenly squealed, as if stung: Oh, look! With my stomach in Im almost two pounds less!”

She was playful, and chatty, and sweet, but my mind kept torturing me till the end of the day. I recalled another odd story, which had happened a few days before, in the office. I wanted to see her, so I stopped by her table. She looked a bit stressed – I love it when she is preoccupied with a task – her mouth was open, the tip of her nose got tense, and her lips moved forward, as if preparing for a passionate kiss. She was busy feeding some paper to printer.

“What are you doing?” I asked her.

“Printing a document,” she answered matter-of-factly.

I glanced at her laptop screen.

“Hey, it is 450 pages! The toner…”

“Calm down,” she broke in,”it’s all right, they are all empty pages.”

“W-what?”

I remembered Igor’s words once again.

“Why are you printing an empty document?” I asked, trying my best to sound casual.

She sat down to the table and took out a nail trimmer.

“It’s easy,” she said.”My boss needs exactly four hundred fifty pages of paper. Do you think I’m supposed to count them by hand?”

By the end of the day on Monday I was so tired of feeding my stupid doubts that I decided to spend the evening sipping beer in a company of men. The guys got together in no time. At five minutes to six, I slipped behind my girl’s table and rushed out to the elevator.

My beer mates, a group of five noisy guys, were already waiting. They held the elevator door for me, but when I jumped in, the overload button started buzzing.

I don’t know what happened to me at that moment, but I did something that I never normally do– I said rather loudly“Listen, guys, you each need to raise one leg now.”

There was a moment of silence and– what do you think? They did! Everyone did!

Well, I waited a second enjoying the view of five bulky guys struggling hard to keep balance, and then, before they could do or say anything, I pushed myself out into the hall and ran back to the office.

She was still at her table, getting ready to leave.

“Hi,” I said, coming up. “I could not wait to the end of the day to see you again. Let’s go out and eat somewhere tonight. Are you hungry?”

Shelf Love

live mines and duds: the reading life

May The Best Book Win!

here nests a librocubicularist who prefers nonfiction and moonlights as the host of Silent Book Club Kota Kinabalu. writes on Scrivener for pleasure.