Speaking In Tongues

Scribbling In Voices


by Yury Stroykov

Translated by Max Nemtsov

Il a mis du lait

Dans la tasse de cafe

Il a mis du sucre

Dans son cafe au lait

Avec la petite cuiller

Il a tourne

Jacques Prevert

She was the first to sit at that table. Why here? Because tree branches bend so low, and leaves rustle five inches from her chair. She always liked to have a window seat. He liked it too. He liked when rain beat the windowpane, and trickles ran down like small snakes, transparent like fingers holding a glass. And the glass was filled with champaigne.

«How can you drink champaigne in the morning?» Aunt Klava used to wonder, very seriously.

«No, no, how can I indeed,» she usually said, but then confessed, «well, sometimes.»

And else.... Imagine him entering the cafe deep in some thought, concentrated, he comes up to the window, with the rain pouring outside, and suddenly sees her already sitting there. Drinking.

Il a bu son cafe au lait

Et il a repose la tasse

sans me parler

They said hi to each other, of course, and he even kissed those very small fingers of her hand, that were like five crystal stems of five crystal glasses turned upside down. «Bing bong,» something clanked when he touched them. They seemed to fall down from some great height, and shards flew everywhere, with the smallest and nearly invisible one piercing his eye. Anyhow, he fished a handkerchief out of his pocket, the blue checkered hankerchief that had been given to him as a wedding gift complete with other necessary stuff. He wiped his eyes with it. No use.

And at the same time she was fumbling in her dark brown leather purse («ymportyd,» as Zurik Shergelashvili used to say), searching for something very important at that moment, and that most important thing was a cigarette. And they lit up and blew smoke at each other's faces, and nothing could be seen through that curtain of smoke, especially their eyes, but they tried to see something in there anyway, although he knew the look in her eyes very well indeed: when you kiss you always try to look, from the corner of your eye at least, and his photo, buried under the pile of stupid letters and shreds of paper is still lying in the bottom drawer all this time.

Il a allume

Une cigarette

Il a fait de ronds

Avec la fumee

They were immersed in thoughts. Somewhere nearby somebody was singing something about rain. They couldn't guess the tune at first. Just for a second they seemed to listen in to that silly little song, heard about two hundred times before, and he even started to drum his fingers to it, but realised how foolish he might look and wanted to look directly in her eyes, those immense black drops, but was unable to do so, and so he looked at her lips instead and began chattering. His eyes approached her distant eyes at enourmous speed, covering thousands of kilometers, and reached them at last. And after that he was never shy and acted as Thantalus forgiven by Gods could, after he'd been granted his access to forbidden fruit. His eyes ate her like a long-coveted slice of chocolate cake never tasted before, that had sat in a cupboard for a long long time and all of a sudden was given as a reward for tiresome waiting.

But she seemed not to care a bit. What the heck? She thought about a chocolate soaked in ice-cream for some reason. She brushed his stare from her lips with a flick of her wrist. He didn't even protest, he looked in an opposite corner at two fifteen- or sixteen-years-old, charming blondes chirping near a fake marble column.

Il a mis les cendres

dans les cendrier

Sans me parler

Sans me regarder

Looking at those smug kids he thought that their own daughter (it should be a daughter by all means) could've been a fair-haired girl like them, eating an ice-cream cone and throwing furtive glances around waiting for something unheard of before to happen. And maybe they could have had two. Yes, two of them. For some reason, to feel a complete happiness perhaps, he needed two. Maybe to split the influence zones with her. He didn't know the names of those two girls, but he knew this: his daughters would have been happy like them, he would have dressed them expensively and fashionably, but on the other hand how he could have found the money? He didn't know that, although he could have begged, stolen or borrowed for them without any remorse.

She guessed what he was thinking, of course, and what he could think in the next minute, so she asked a waitress to bring another bottle of champaigne herself. He didn't mind when a hand with some yellowish-green stone on a finger pushed his glass closer. He only smiled gratefully.

Il s'est leve

Il a mis

Son chapeau sur sa tete

Il a mis son manteau de pluie

Parce qu'il pleuvait

His first smile in a month, or in a year. He may have spent all those five years unsmiling. He drank his champaigne thinking about that. He drank it like they drink hot tea, blistering his lips and blowing on the surface. He realised that it was true: he never smiled without her, like that, -- and he couldn't quite believe that idea himself. And now, cheered up again, looking at her being cheerful too, he started throwing questions at her, whole bunches of questions, a lot of different questions, including the ones about her career status.

She didn't want to hide anything. She told him simply and abundantly, mocking almost everything as she always did. He learned a wealth of curious things. About her daughter Katenka who was four years and two months old now, about her own work in school as a common art teacher, and not a Vera Mukhina at all, unlike Aunt Klava had predicted, and that just yesterday she told her children about Matisse, and her all-around excellent pupil Misha Savelyev stood up with silent support of the best part of the class and said that in reality there can't be any fish that red, and if there are could she please provide the name of the species. She didn't know the name of the species. Naturally. It was just fish.

Et il est parti

Sons la pluie

Sans me parler

Sans me regarder

And her husband worked as a CEO somewhere -- he didn't understand the name of the place, it was so long and complicated -- and got an awful lot of money. She looked at him winningly saying that, and he realized very clearly that this was the defeat, and she understood that too and tried to convey it to him as best as she could but without others' understanding, especially those two girls'.

Then it was his turn to show off, but upon informing her that two of his articles were published by «Komsomolka» he suddenly blurted out that his own paper couldn't afford to pay contributors, and he himself had to be content with more than modest salary, and had to provide his wife at her fifth month of pregnancy with lunches from take-away kitchenette for expectant mothers, but all this was bollocks because very soon he was going to finish his novel, the one that had been in progress for about six years now, and after that he might move to some city with continental climate, Vologda most probably, because Vasily Belov (have you read him?) was a good friend and invited to come repeatedly.

And she was happy for him. And he was glad too, to hear that all was well in her life. Could it have been better? They poured again and decided that it couldn't. This was the absolutely best possible way.

And they spent a long time telling each other something vitally important, arguing, making their points now and then -- but did it only for their own sake, passing on to each other their own uncertainty alone, together with their ignorance of certain facts, crucial to both of them and to everybody sitting in that cafe at that hour, or to all of us who had already left, or who just came in, like myself, to drink something cold, as the rain had stopped long ago and the sun was hot.

And at this point she stood up abruptly and waving her arms merrily («thirty years, I can't believe it») came up to a mirror. I sat close to the exit door and leafed through Prevert waiting for my drink to arrive.

The stunning woman in yellow checkered jacket looking from within the mirror's depth had her right eye crying, I could clearly see that. But he couldn't. Because he, with his Fidel beard and eyes like the eyes of some furry pet, was asking the waitress to bring a cognac and double eggs sunny side up, and bread, please, the more the better.

Et moi j'ai pris

Ma tete dans mes mains

Et j'ai pleure

He sipped his cognac and then he wanted a smoke. He looked at an empty pack she had left on their table. The pack was so intensely blue that it hurt his eyes. A small aircraft was gaining height on the picture.

He remembered how they flew over to Moscow and Sochi in a similar plane, but were going to travel around the world, and that very summer they almost went to the Baltic, to T to be more exact, they had dreamt about going there for years. And they also had their Petrozavodsk and Vologda, and San Marino, and St. Louis, and Caracas, and Mogadisho, and Bangkok, and Katmandu, and a lot of other places they never visited and never would, most probably.

The girl in green lumberjack shirt who sat to the right from him laughed very loudly and made him pay attention. She was not alone: close to her there sat her look-alike in the blue shirt.

They should be twins, I thought, but I made a mistake. It was just that Tolya looked exactly like Olya.

He stood up and approached them, swaying a little.

«Girls, are you from Finland by any chance?»

The blue shirt arched its back and rather rudely answered:

«Beat it, man.»

And he realised that it was a boy.