Odessa, Ukraine

Photo by kind permission of Michal Novotný © 2006

FROM ‘MARA, MARIETTA’
Intermezzo 5: Vera

Down a manhole, in a cement chamber, on rag-covered ground strewn with trash, they live—orphaned, abandoned, on the run—beneath the contempt of the people above. Anton scratches his head and crushes a louse; under a leaking pipe he splashes his face. The yellowy glimmer of a bare light bulb can’t warm the blue of his eyes; the bloodstain on the tarnished mirror can’t weaken his will to get high.

Into his lungs from a plastic bag Ivan draws acrid fumes of airplane glue; he stares at the light bulb and laughs as it pops in his mind.

Trembling with fever, Vadim, sitting on his haunches, slaps invisible flies from his face.

Dima bends to pick up a needle and sees a crown of thorns; dizziness overcomes him as the spiky mound spins round and round: In a splatter of vomit he tries to find what he’s looking for.

Photo by kind permission of Michal Novotný © 2006

Photo by kind permission of Michal Novotný © 2006

Stripped to the waist, feet bare, Anton lies with drawn-up legs on a carpet of blackened purple. He offers his arm to Ivan. From the violet fabric red birds rise to beguile Ivan’s eyes; idly in one hand he holds the syringe of baltushka while with the other he vaguely strokes Anton’s arm.

̶  Hey, come on.

Out of the haze in Ivan’s head an image takes shape, an icy blue image of Lake Baikal.

̶  Hurry up!

Glimpsed in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, glimpsed in another lifetime, the Pearl of Siberia dissolves into the blue of Anton’s eyes.

̶  Stop wasting time!

Hurrying to get the needle in, Ivan misses the vein: Anton screams in pain.