Pashka Bystrov, known around the village as Speedy, was leaning back against the warm stove and despondently watching his wife, Galka. Her hair still in curlers, she was tossing her dresses, skirts, and fleece tights into a suitcase, wadding up her feather-light stockings, and yelling at him that she was sick up to here, and then some, with village life, and she wanted to hear her heels tapping on asphalt and get a proper salon perm. Pashka had no arguments against any of that, so he just smoked, sending soft, grayish circles up toward the ceiling. When the door slammed shut behind her, Pashka felt a sudden surge of the rage that had been burning him up inside for months now, hauled off, and smashed a fist into the wedding photograph that hung on the wall, framed behind glass. Then, licking the blood from his fingers, Pashka groped around in the basement for a bottle, wrenched out the cork, and drank the whole thing without bothering about a glass. And promptly fell asleep.
The state farm that went bust a couple of years earlier had allotted plots of land to the workers, but that land was worthless, impossible to plow, more bogs and gullies than anything else. And selling it would bring in small change, at best.
Everyone who was able to scattered, to the towns and the cities, but those who as children had fallen heart and soul for the dense stands of pine and the clean little river, who couldn’t have hacked it in a human anthill – they stayed in the village, to live out their days there. And somehow they slogged through it. Whoever could still muster the strength did the traditional potato planting around May Day, brined their cabbages in fall, drove the webby-footed gray geese to the pond, and kept empty-headed, bleating sheep, although there’d long been no call for their wool. Then all of a sudden outsiders came, quickly set up a logging operation, hired guys for hilariously stingy wages, and again life flowed on. Not exactly a river of life, but… well, a rivulet at least.
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Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.
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