Speaking In Tongues

Scribbling In Voices


By Dmitry Kovalenin

The Eve

Someday Very Soon

A Man and a Wind

Birds over the Abyss


"Some day when we meet again

we'll talk, without fail,

of how people enter and exit

each other's lives..."

-- O.N.

A man on the sand beside me. Large lazy drops, drying up unhurriedly, are still dotting the smooth skin on his shoulders, his back and his breast together with some pieces of the ocean.

The man on the sand beside me is a bit unlike me. He's a little... well, different. And especially now, when he's fresh from the water.

Like a tangerine peel on the white sand, there is our crumpled orange beach towel. His book lies a little to one side; the breeze is leafing through it, page after page, with a whisper I can hardly hear. The man's lips are slightly moving when he talks to himself. His voice:

"It feels as if... one day I'll try it again, I might never return. Wish you knew that - I've just..."

The crying seagulls fall silent, the air is uneasy.

"...swum into him, after all, so far that he wasn't going to let me back out. How strangely warm it is in there!"

Swollen out, heavy but smooth, a huge wave hisses - and tumbles down on our feet. His face on the sand beside me, dotted with fresh drops.

"Don't you feel it, the way he's watching us?"

"Well... We all are watchers, somehow."

"No, you just cannot feel it. When he's staring at me like that, I feel as if I'm all naked.and whenever I feel that way, I very much want him to... swallow me."

Kicking the sand up in small fountains, the man beside me suddenly springs to his feet. The sand, the sand... on this face of mine, on my lips. The wind from the sea catches our one-for-two tangerine beach towel by surprise, licks it up - and, getting burnt, spits it out into the chilled heaven above. Both of us are silently following its flight, its desperate dancing in the air, somersaulting farther and farther away, down to the black teeth of pebbles speckled with shreds of foam.

"And you hear me?!.. Somehow it's not frightening at a-a-all!!!..."

But the Sea has no echo.

With his head tossed back, with his arms spread out, as fast as his legs will carry him, he runs away from me along the narrow tide, then slips from it somewhere on the horizon - and then, a tiny drop, he mingles with the old grey-haired Ocean.

I'm alone, once again, on the sand that's getting cold as the twilight creeps closer.

A camera beside my numb feet. A spray from his wringing wet hair is upon its objective lense. I don't want to wipe the lense: somehow I know, there'll be no need for any pictures any more.

I'm listening.

A dull, unfamiliar pain heaves from my lungs to my throat. As if some body part that must have died off a million years ago is now aching and tingling with all its unclaimed longing from my very inside.

The man on the sand beside me: all cold, his lips turned blue.

"Just put on any damn thing."

"No. It's all the same now. If I swim as far as the place where there's no fear at all, then it wouldn't be cold any more..."

The man on the sand nestles up a bit closer to me. His wet hair now rests on my shoulder.

"Speak to me. About anything..."

His temples, with just a taste of salt.

Very slowly I stroke his wet hair and speak straight into his hair through it.

"Down in the ocean's deep, where it's all pitch-dark..."

The man on my shoulder closes his eyes.

"...Even the tiny brainless plankton can sense you without fail. In its fluorescent flock, from as far as thousands miles, it's sure to be drawn to you. Following them, or maybe just to warm up, there come whales, the snouty giants, swimming closer and closer. All other creatures, too, when they happen to drift by, immediately forget their trivial concerns and soon they are all lumped together inside you."

A strange tickling rises up in my throat; I try to clear it - if only he'd listen through to the end...

"Wherever you are, a place and a purpose can always be found for everyone. It's been like that for millennia... I guess it's going to be so forever."

"Fine, but how about you?"

His eyes, grey-green like the heaven above them, are gazing straight into mine. Silent, I wait till they close again. And after they do, I smile:

"Only I can't, for the life of me, figure out where you are. Sweet and tender. Restoring our chilled and bored lives. Calling me in the dead of the night - Kuroshio, my warm Black Current..."

His eyes, wide open again.

"Isn't it time?"

"Yeah, perhaps so... you're ready?"

"Oh, could you hang on for a sec? Just for the very very last time?.."

He's rising to his feet again - and he's leaving me.

For the waves calling with all their seagulls. For the sky getting cold as the sun dies. Moving farther and farther away from the shore.

The mighty mirror-like surface dissolves everything, like black coffee dissolves helpless sugar. Now he's up to his knees in water. Now - half melted away. Now there's only his head left.

And only the foam ever after.

The waves, the waves - tempting us and fading away just to come back again.

Two cigarettes equal to fifteen minutes. Then three more, forty-five all in all. Calculations never worked with the man on the sand beside me.

Because that's how you, black warm Kuroshio, carry away everyone who's still got something to hear you with.

His book is getting sand-bound, its pages rustle and whisper softer and softer to me.

Bare soles of my feet on the warm asphalt on the way to the bus stop.

My left hand (slippers in the right one) is clenching and rubbing my throat. I'm still trying so hard to quiet down that itch, so familiar to anyone who had ever sprouted gills.


It's all because we're still afraid of old Margla. Still turning our glances back to her as she sits crookedly, dozing. Still frightening kids, "Hey, be a nice boy, or there will come the faceless old hag, and then..." Never heard anyone saying exactly what follows "and then", but everyone dreads it. Her foul breath and hands with hook-a-fish fingers. That's why no one dares to stay alone.

One day, before leaving home for a long,long time, my father told me, "Don't enter anyone's house. When the night falls, try not to turn on your lamp. Just imagine, for instance, that the oil has run out. Soon, from outside your window you'll hear harsh breathing. And wracking coughs. You'll find everything you need at the far side of the attic".

Having said that, he was gone - my father.

And then Margla came to my window, and man, I felt those floor boards groan as my heels took root in them out of terror. It was the first time in my life I felt her so close. I remember, I snatched up my father's letter-opener and stood still for a very long slice of time.

"Where on earth did she crawl out of?" I thought, numb with dread now. "The oldest people in our small town remember her from time out of mind, though no one has ever talked to her, because she's gor no face. They say, she can even lure people away. But whwre to?!"

I had never traveled outside of the valley in my whole life. Long ago, in the dead of my childhood's winter, I remember that we ran out of firewood. My father got ready and left for the mountains for the first time. Then he returned, all frostbitten - and even now I'm scared to remember him raving in bed, dreadful, his eyes burning wild, I can hear him trying to sing some song, but his cough always choked back the words. His hands clawed for some invisible fiddle-stick, cutting and chopping the air with violent, convulsive jerks of his wrists, knocking over candles by the pillow...

He recovered later, but never breathed a word of what had happened to him. He simply began going out more and more often, for longer periods of time, each time saying awkward goodbyes to me, his eyes always hidden. I felt scared without him, scared of the old woman appearing from thin air in different places, her figure always twisted and still.

Now she's overtaken me, old Margla, and here I stand still listening to the wheezing and whistling of her breath. It seems as if there was no one else in the whole world, only two of us. At the same moment, in the gnashing of her decrepit lungs, I suddenly sensed someone else's voice, young and mournful, strangely familiar to me. I can't remember now if the voice was singing or weeping; but it sounded as if it was calling from afar, from some faraway place I had never been before, living in my valley for all my life, and some other people's lives too.

At the far side of the attic I found them, my father's old boots. The split fiddle and disheveled bow, too, were nearby, wrapped in Mom's downy shawl, the last trace of her that still lingered.

As for me, I'd never played a single note. He had patiently tried to show me how, but no, I'd given up straight away. In those days traveling actors came to town, so we boys spent our days through with them in their caravan, hardly thinking of anything else.

So when right out of the blue I managed to start that song for Margla I was shaken. "Wow, never thought I could do that!" she joined me and sang it back to me, so mournful, so tender and pure that no one could tell in that darkness, is it an old woman singigng or someone else... That's when I realized that I would leave the valley, someday very soon! - and the very next morning I greased my father's boots with rank sunflower seed oil.

But Margla never returned.

I kept playing those songs for her every night, hoping she'd be back one day. I still play them, with no hope left and for no particular reason.

These days I don't come very close to people. They say my fingers are getting crooked, and my face becomes more terrifying to look at. And it wasn't so bad, or at least I hadn't noticed it until yesterday, when I scared their girl so much that she dropped a pailful of water when crossing my path.

I think I'll pay her a visit tomorrow night. Right under her window, playing some of old Margla's songs for her might please me a lot.

At least she might agree to leave the valley with me?


(The tale I heard from a Suomi girl in a hotel bed in the cold city of St. Petersburgh)

Far, far away, at the Northernmost tip of the Earth, there lived a Man in his small wooden hut. He was very lonely and very old. Every year when the leaves on the trees began turning brown, and autumn was ready to come to its end, the North Wind stopped by the Old Man's hut on his long, long way from the North Pole to take a rest, warm himself up with a tea made from the fallen maple leaves, and listen to the Old Man's fairy tales. The Old Man and the Wind would talk till midnight or even later, and in the morning the Wind would leave and continue his important journey, bringing winter to the people of the Earth. The Old Man would always come out to have a smoke with the Wind and say, "Bye, come again". And he would begin his long waiting for his friend, till the next year.

And they both were happy with each other. But once upon a time, when the autumn was coming to its end and the days were getting shorter and shorter, the North Wind flew right up to the hut's door and found it locked. He was very surprised and shouted, "Hey, Old Man! Are you asleep?" But no one answered. The Wind was very tired and cold; he wanted the Old Man to let him in IMMEDIATELY, the way it had always been. He knocked again and again, but nobody opened the door.

And the North Wind felt very lonely and very angry. He gathered all his might and blew and kicked and crashed the door, and the hut fell down smitten to pieces.

And only then the Wind saw that nobody was inside.

"Silly, silly Wind!" said the Oak Tree that was growing near the hut. "What have you done? The Old Man just ran out of firewood, went to the forest, and will be back very soon..."


(The tale my father told me before I left)

High up in the rocky mountains, in a big black nest there lived an Eagle with his two sons. The eaglets' wings were too short and had too few feathers yet, so each time the Eagle had to fly down to the valley below to find them some food. And the mountains were their home, and they lived there in peace.

But one morning a horrible thing happened. The earthquake came, and the mountains and rocks began to tremble and crack to pieces. And below the mountains' feet a vast bottomless Abyss opened wide and cut them off from the rest of the world. And the Nest itself was already slipping down into the burning lava floating all around from under the solid rocks.

And so the Eagle had to carry his sons away from the nest, all the way over the Abyss to a safer place. He took the elder son and, holding him tight with his talons, flew over the dreadful pit.

And right in the middle of their way, just as they flew over the most terrifying place, the father said to his son:

"Well, son, my time is coming. I'm getting old, and very soon I won't be able to feed you any longer, and I won't be able to fly neither. Will you treat me then the way I've been treating you, and will you take care of me till the very last breath of my life?"

The elder son looked into his fathers eyes, then looked down into the dreadful Abyss below and answered, his voice terrified:

"Sure, Father, how can you ask me such a thing? I'm your son, and I'll be with you, and of course I'll be treating you the way you've been treating me, and I will be bringing you food till the very last sparkle of life in your eyes!.."

The old Eagle listened to his elder son, shook his head bitterly and unclenched his talons -- and his elder son fell head over heels down into the dreadful Abyss.

So the Eagle flew back to their nest for the younger son, and took him in his talons, and flew again, holdind him tight, and as they were crossing the scariest place of the Abyss, he asked him as well:

"Tell me, son. Very soon I'll be unable to take care of you any more. I'll be too old even to fly. Will you then treat me the way I've been treating you, and will you take care of me the rest of my days?"

The younger son looked into the horrible pit below, and then looked straight into his father's eyes. And answered, all trembling with fear:

"No, Father. I'll have my own sons then, and I'll be treating them exactly the way you treated me, and will be taking care of them the way like you did as long as I can..."

The Eagle didn't say anything. Very carefully he carried his younger son to the safer edge of the Abyss. Then he rose up high, very high to the sky above and folded his wings there, and dropped downf, like a heavy stone, into the most dreadful part of the Abyss.