Our neighbor was a fishwife; imperialistically large and loud, impudent like someone cash-flushed, and physically strong like a sambo wrestler. Her name was thoroughly masculine, Vlada, and only the prefix “Auntie” made her hips and bosom more rounded, disguised those sparse black hairs on her chin and redrawn the outlines of her face, adding a few strokes of femininity to it. Auntie Vlada was our relative; either the cousin of my Da, or the second cousin of my Ma, or perhaps an ex-wife of the uncle on the Da's side. Being a relative, she burst into our house, looked around, as if thinking over her retreat, chopped off a piece of the pie sprawled on a large dish under a woven towel, reported the latest news from the village and from the Kremlin, and left.

What can I say about my Da? An ordinary collective farmer, all his life he had been driving his Belarus tractor; there in the cab behind him hung a poster with a half-naked model from the 90s, and on the rear view mirror he hung the icon of St. Seraphim Zhirovitsky. All his life he had been trading diesel fuel for a bottle of bum vino, all his life when sozzled he had been thrashing Ma, all his life I had been beaten, too. Ma had hidden me in a barn, in an old bottomless closet, in the cellar among jars of lard, and in a prickly hayloft, under winter apples. As soon as I grew up enough to understand that you can walk outside late, I got a parallel universe, and I thought of the house as a place where they fed you potatoes with sour milk and let you sleep under an off-white duvet cover with a hole in the center. For a nine-year-old kid, this was not so bad until Ma went to work in Poland during the summer season of vegetable garden weeding and stayed there for two months, two weeks and three days, until the head of my school called her.

That day I came home from the street early; I wanted to wash some muddy potatoes and boil them right in their jackets. I ran into our house, heard screams, and absent-mindedly opened the door to the parent's bedroom. The wide back of the neighbor with those small fat wings of her blade-bones moved in the rhythm of an unknown adult dance. Some conversation the boys had at the school stadium flashed through my head, and I realized that the neighbor and father were fucking. Along with this word, a lump of borscht eaten at dinner Ma cooked two days ago, before leaving, rose in my throat, and shouting over the fucking, screaming with hurt, wheezing, I threw up onto the brown floorboards. Auntie Vlada's back turned, and she faced me with her huge tits and their swollen dark brown nipples, my father's head rose from the bed and shouted: “Well, git outta here!”

I ran out onto the porch, where Ma’s borscht came out of me in lumps of cabbage, potatoes, and beets. I threw up on the marigolds glowing with happiness and wiped my mouth with the collar of my T-shirt. My father, bare-chested and wearing sweatpants, came out with an electric water heater in his hand. He grabbed me from behind, dragged me into the house, and whipped my ass with a water boiler’s wire. Auntie Vlada, dressed in a velvet dressing gown with Khokhloma burgundy roses, angrily stepping on the rug, went outside. In those moments I felt ashamed, and it was more painful than the wire of the water boiler. Shame for fat wings, for soft tits with hard nipples, for the disheveled head of my father, animal cries and groans. I was ashamed to the point of red vomit.

After that intrusion, my father had been thrashing me every day. First with a cord from a water heater, then with his army belt with a heavy buckle that left traces of soldiers' boots, then with twigs. If you think I’m inventing it, like some gal in a short skirt heading home late at night down a dark alley, think twice. No kidding; once he was moving hay on his tractor, and willows grew nearby, and he cut the rods, and he whipped me on the back with them.

I took to coming home late, and Auntie Vlada took to lingering as well. At first, I noticed her black rubber boots caked with dried cow shit on our porch, then I heard groans and laughter, sat down on the steps, looked at the cheerful marigolds and thought about my grandma and grandpa, whom I never had. During these weeks, our house got filled to the brim with Auntie Vlada; I smelled her fake floral perfume, found her huge washed-out knitted underpants in the bathroom, noticed her lilac marks, as if from a water heater, on my father’s neck. Auntie Vlada, like some powerful male, marked her territory, tried to win it, but Ma did not give up: her beloved sky-colored blue jacket still hung on a hanger in the veranda; in the kitchen, an apron with yellow sunflowers stroke the eye, Ma made dumplings with blueberries in it; on the wall in the hall, nailed to the wall, hung a photograph of happy Ma and me.

It was Sunday. Sashka Paishchikov mimicked my Da and Auntie Vlada fucking, for all the boys to see. The likeness was so striking, with all the screams and groans, that the boys sitting on the dug-in tractor wheels neighed like steeds, and I could not resist and punched him in his freckled face. And there it started! Free-for-all, torn tees, elastic bands burst in the pants, black eyes, blood. Long story short, I ran home in tears and snot, nose broken. I wanted to go and hug my grandma and grandad, hug Ma and feel love, without screams, sighs, and Auntie Vlada. True love and no fucking. My father was already standing on the porch with the water heater in his hands, he shook it like a withering cock pulled out of Auntie Vlada, and headed into the house. I knew that he would sit on a chair with his back to the door, waiting. He always did this, as if he was trying to say: I'm not afraid of you, you louse! And I knew that the ax was in the woodshed, to the right of the entrance, I felt it with my hand, wiped the randomly flowing tears, snot, and blood, so that they would drip again on my tee, on my mother’s colorful rugs, on the wooden floor, mixed with drops of blood from my father's head.

Ma arrived the next day. Gray-haired, thin, very beautiful. People said she rushed at once to Auntie Vlada and, with her veiny hands of a hard-working woman, grabbed Auntie Vlada’s neck, greasy like oil. The neighbors rescued both of them; they set them apart, gave Ma a drink of well water, and took her to the county town. She walked into the colorless visitation room and rushed towards me with her love at the ready; I knelt down and cried.

*Shame (Belarusian).

March 2022

Translated by Shashi Martynova

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