After calm (story)
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After calm (story)

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The first issue of the literary almanac “Grono”, which was published in 2018 with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation, contains works by Crimean poets and prose writers who write in Ukrainian, as well as works by Ukrainian and foreign writers about Crimea, its past and present. Along with well-known names – young authors, the future of the Ukrainian Crimea. Today we offer stories from this collection of poetess, novelist, playwright, translator, member of the National Union of Writers of Ukraine and the Association of Ukrainian Writers Anna Bagryana, whose prose and poetry have already been published in our newspaper. And at the same time we announce that during the next year we will acquaint our readers with works from the first literary almanac “Grono”.


After calm

Anna Bagryan

At the age of three, I saw the Black Sea for the first time. Now I am with him again, in his salty and noisy captivity, smashing every lived moment against the high white-foamy crests of his waves.

How did it happen that I found myself here, in this colorful, like an old actress, seaside town, where a foreign language prevails, foreign customs, where everything but the sea seems artificial and lifeless? After all, she could continue to teach Ukrainian literature of the twentieth century at the capital’s university, research the works of her favorite authors…
It all started with a proposal to get married. It happened last year, at the end of February, on the next anniversary of our acquaintance with Taras. We were sitting in the same restaurant where we used to be, five years ago, on the day we met. Taras spread his left palm and, smiling gently, said, “Become my wife.” A gold wedding ring shone on his palm. We finished our wine and left the bar on a cool autumn night.

Embankment of YaltaThere was not really a single wedding, only a formal marriage registration, as it should be – with a Mendelssohn march, champagne, an official and two witnesses. The morning after the first wedding night, I learned that the company where my husband works, buys part of the Black Sea coast and begins construction of a new recreation complex near Yalta.
– Another hangout for officials and deputies, – Taras explained, – but I am appointed the head of this project and promised a salary three times higher than the one I receive now, as a regular manager.
– How long will the construction last? I asked, already mentally saying goodbye to my scientific career.
– At least a year, but then it will take some more time – to launch the facility into operation, to check how it works. If you want, you can stay in Kiev. I have no right, to build someone else’s house, to destroy the life of the dearest person, – Taras said it insincerely.
We got out of the house at dawn. So that my husband would not fall asleep behind the wheel, I read him Lesya Ukrainka’s poems from the series “Crimean Memories”, and then told him about a strange saxifrage flower, which the poet once found among the rocks on top of Ai-Petri and called “crowbar”.
“Interesting,” Taras said, yawning.

I looked out the window: there were still clumps of dirty snow on the roadsides, but the first grass was breaking out from under the protalin. Who knows, maybe two years is not really that much, I thought then, on the way.
We settled on the fourth floor of an old house, have two spacious rooms, a kitchen and a large balcony overlooking the sea. Neighbors are almost invisible, only when I return from the store, I hardly notice a young mother with a wheelchair in the yard, and another elderly man who is always sitting on a bench, looking fascinated in the distance – either on the disappearing network of cool morning fog, or on sunlight extreme sky.

Yalta is not such a foreign town, – I sometimes convince myself when I hear the defiant local “this is not Ukraine” – because here, in addition to Lesya, at one time rested and worked famous figures of our culture: Ambrose Metlinsky, Stepan Rudansky, Christya Alchevskaya , Chaika Dniprova, Mykola Chernyavsky, Mykhailo Kotsyubynsky, Agatangel Krymsky, Oleksandr Oles, Ivan Karpenko-Kary, from 1905 to 1918 the Ukrainian theater flourished in Yalta and books were published in Ukrainian…
A whole year has passed since we moved here. At first I thought of getting a vocabulary teacher at a local high school, but this was hampered by my ideological differences with the principal and two female headmasters. Then I simply printed out and posted a small announcement on the porches of the houses that I was giving private lessons in Ukrainian language and literature – I was preparing high school students for entrance exams. A week later, calls began. However, as a result, there were few people willing to study science: two ninth-graders and two eleventh-graders.

In the first days of our stay here, it seemed to me that time was moving extremely slowly and monotonously, and that my life would one day get stuck in its course, like a thin willow branch between the spokes of a bicycle wheel. But four months after our move to the Crimea, the beach season began. The half-alive town suddenly seemed to recover, awoke from a heavy lethargic sleep, became like a noisy anthill or a huge moving canvas woven by a crazy avant-garde artist from bright swimsuits, posters, signs, umbrellas, inflatable balls and frosts. From a modest, dreamy young lady, Yalta instantly turned into a painted, vulgar prostitute. Having prepared my students for the entrance exams, I gained the actual status of unemployed. The inspiration also left me, so all the stories I started remained unfinished.

“Aren’t you too lonely with me?” Taras asked cautiously as we sat on the cool sea sand.
It was a late windless evening. The stars fell over the collar of the earth. Crickets burst from singing, lulling fish and birds. The sea splashed lightly against the shore, once again reminding us of the deep and crushed continuity of the world’s existence. The warmth of the day passed into the night with its incomprehensible mysteries and chimeras, time turned into one big point, the moment became eternity, eternity – the moment. I felt attached to a tall tree, connected to the tree by the force of still undiscovered gravity: the wind confuses my hair, the sand covers my eyes, some underground creatures slowly undermine my unhealthy roots, I need to break away and run away, but to overcome myself is even harder than to fan the flames of lost earthly passion.

Today, the central beach is much less crowded than usual at this time. And it’s not even the clouds that carelessly float across the sky, hardly obscuring the sun. The storm is to blame – it started at night, and now the waves continue their mad dance of death: they rise noisily, then fly down, crashing hard against the rocky shore – foam, turn into a pile of splinters. At this time, the sea does not pity anyone. Drowning, the desperate people, seduced by the sea element, grab the coastal stones – they go out, or rather crawl out, to the shore with their faces, bellies, chests, and their eyes full of horror.

I looked around: two skinny aunts of pre-retirement age, probably an employee of a government office; a young couple with two twin babies; a small company of students; a few more single vacationers who prefer to give their bodies to the sun, wind, but not to that terrible monster Sea. I thought about Taras’s parents, that they would soon come to us on vacation and I would have to go to the beach with them, always watching my own courtesy. Such thoughts made me want to dive into one of the nearby waves, so I got up from the deck chair and went to the water. Cool salt spray splashed on my legs.

But suddenly something incredible happened – the sky and the sea merged together, leaving no hint of the horizon. A heavy wave covered my head and pulled me along. I took a deep breath and felt the water fill my ears, my lungs. Familiar faces, smiles, landscapes appeared before my eyes like an accelerated electronic slide show… And then it all disappeared, flooded with thick light. Feeling the mantelpiece with my bare feet, I leaned forward to the shore, but another wave tore me off the ground and carried me back to the sea. Suddenly she heard a torn, plaintive cry behind her.

Crimean mountainsShe looked around. Pale with terror, the girl desperately beat her slender arms against the immensely crazy blue and cried for help. A new giant wave was coming from the sea, so I didn’t have a second to think. Succumbing to a hitherto unknown instinct, mobilizing the remnants of physical strength, I hurried to the stranger.

“Hold on to me!” She shouted at her when she was very close, but the wind snatched my words and carried me far into the heights.
For a moment she met familiar eyes. Where have I seen them before? .. In those eyes, death and life competed. Dilated from fear, the pupils sparkled, shimmering in the sun. Thin fingers squeezed my wrist painfully. We climbed to the top of the water ridge and flew down together – a heavy wave hit me hard on the bottom of the fireplace. Choking, overcoming the hellish pain in my shin and forearm, I picked up the half-conscious girl in my arms and tried to straighten to full height. Bright sunlight shone through my eyelids. There were a few meters to the shore, and two tanned rescuers were already hurrying to meet us.

My left forearm was completely scratched with stones, and blood flowed from my broken knee. From the salt and the sun, the fresh wounds on her skin became more and more burning, but she had to endure in silence, happy that she was alive. Rescuers meanwhile brought to consciousness the girl unknown to me.
– Let there be no riveting in her head, but why drag a child with her? Really completely fooled? Didn’t you see how hard it was? – heard behind her comments of outraged beachgoers.
We went far from where I left my things, and so no one could explain to these already elderly and overly emotional women that the child was at sea regardless of my presence here, that she had nothing to do with my life at all and, what maybe if I didn’t…

I stood and breathed the sea. It felt like a drop, or even a whole wave, separated from others by the accidental aversion of death. Imbued with his spirit and flesh, absorbed his shawl and immensity. Every human action arises out of fear or love. My fear passed – picked up by a new wave, went beyond the horizon. All that remained was love – more immeasurable than any blue, hotter than the sun, hotter than pain. I rummaged in my own memory, trying to find the answer to a single question: how do I know these eyes? and hearts, shouted different names, rumbled with every effort in every door, but no one answered, did not open, did not meet. Desperately wandered on…

– I almost took my child out of the world! How is that possible? What nonsense! What kind of mother? – continued to be heard everywhere, but I was no longer worthy to understand where the line lies between reality and my painful imagination, between heaven and sea, between me and the girl I saved.
She didn’t tell anyone. She simply walked silently along the shore, where she had left a towel, sunscreen, and sunglasses. I didn’t look back – behind me nothing depended on me.
Suddenly, it was like a flash of consciousness: I had just saved myself! Yes, of course, that girl’s eyes were just reflections of my eyes! ..

We had dinner, as always, on the balcony – at a burnt plastic table, inherited from former tenants.
– Do you remember the builder who helped us find housing? Such a cheerful man with a scar on his face. He drowned in the sea last night, ”Taras said sadly, uncorking a bottle of dry red wine.
“The sea is a god, and every god needs sacrifices,” she replied, looking into the distance, at the round moon, at the still turbulent water creature.

And suddenly I felt inside the birth of a long-forgotten, ruthlessly repulsed on the outskirts of memory, strength. This force first ignited my womb, then struck the brain with hot fire, penetrated the veins, drove the blood – at an insane speed – forward – up – down – in a circle… I closed my eyes and saw the sea. I heard the voice of a stranger girl – she was screaming, choking on sea foam, calling me for help… But in fact it was my voice. And my fear. My release from fear. My next birth is from the sea.

“Beloved,” she whispered hotly, leaning over her husband. – Let’s start a new life.

The project was implemented with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation

Anna Bagryana

poet, novelist, playwright, translator, member of the National Union of Writers of Ukraine and the Association of Ukrainian Writers

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