THE STORY OF LIFE 13
PARABLE OF THE DRAGON 20
THREE SHORT TALES ABOUT SOUTHERNERS, FOREIGN CARS, MILITARY CUNNING AND A SPECIAL USE FOR ALCOHOL 24
MY FRIEND FROM BOMBAY 30
THE DEVIL, CAVIAR AND A VERY QUIET PLACE 51
THE REVENGE OF “SOYACAC”56
APPLES FROM THE OTHER SIDE 65
LEGEND OF THE FOUR BARONS 72
LIKE THE STARS 89
FLOWERS OF DARKNESS 104
IN THE LAND OF THE GREE 130
THE CASE OF LAST NIGHT’S DREAM (BUT THEN AGAIN…)134
All rights of distribution, also through movies, radio and television, photomechanical reproduction, sound carrier, electronic medium and reprinting in excerpts are reserved.
© 2020 novum publishing
ISBN print edition: 978-3-99064-895-7
ISBN e-book: 978-3-99064-896-4
Editor: Ashleigh Brassfield, DipEdit
Coverdesign, Layout & Type: novum publishing
I wish to say “Thank You” to Charlotte Foster, for her outstanding job of interpretation the majority of those texts originally written in Russian language, into English. To John Wilkinson for initial editing of “The Story of Life”. And so to “Novum Publishing” for their great work of editing. Without your time and attention to the details – this collection of novels would have never appeared in English.
“The next day the Romans climbed up to Masada, and when they discovered the piles of corpses, they took no joy in the sight of their slain enemies, but were frozen in silence, struck by their greatness of spirit and steadfast contempt for death.”
(Flavius Josephus (from the words of two unidentified women and five children, who survived))
Each day is the last, each day is the last, each day is the last, each day is the last, each day is the last, each day is the last, each day is the last. Each day, if only for a fraction of a second, this thought enters your head – between breathing in and breathing out.
There are two of them in the room. They are smoking and drinking from cups. Their wings are extraordinarily beautiful, an awesome sight.
“What is the difference between dreams and reality? What do you think?”
“Well, just between you and me… Dreams give us wings to fly. In our dreams, we create miracles. In our dreams, we are free, and we can go wherever and be whoever we like!”
“But in reality, we create life. Isn’t that a miracle? A dream is gone in an instant, but wakefulness is a hard slog. You favour dreams because dreams are an illusion and that’s the easy route.”
“In reality, we catch up on sleep. In our dreams we come alive. If it is truly the easy way out, why haven’t they learned how to control dreams? They like to keep reality under control, but so far, they are powerless against dreams!”
“I don’t quite agree with that statement. We act in the name of the life granted to us by our Father. We are small particles of it, and we constitute it. We act according to His will. This is still reality, even if we spend part of it asleep. Dreams are just an extension – reality is the essence of life!”
“What makes you so sure that our Father didn’t create all this chaos in a dream? Will you ask Him when you see Him?”
“The Bible, my brother – you know very well that all the answers are there in the Bible. But I think we’ve hung around here long enough. Finish your cigarette and let’s get to work.”
“We didn’t write the Bible, nor did our Father. But you’re right, it’s time to get back to work. That’s something we all have in common – everyone has a job to do.”
They smiled at each other, walked out of the room and vanished with a flap of their wings.
The fledgling crow was pitiful with its broken wing. “It won’t ever be able to fly again,” Olav said, holding it in the palm of his hand. His bearded friends sneered.
Somebody said: “Olav, you need to find a wife. You’re ready to jump on a crow. I bet you twisted its wing just to stop it flying off to another…” There was friendly laughter from the bearded hulks, as they landed on the shore.
“I feel sorry for the poor little thing,” Olav thought to himself. “He can’t fly like his brothers, he’s totally on his own.”
Walking out into a clearing, Olav bent down and placed the fledgling on the grass. “I’ll get you something to eat in a minute,” he said to the bird. “Wait for me here.”
After a while they returned, covered in blood and ashes. It was an easy job. The folk at the monastery didn’t know how to fight, so they fell quickly. Their blood was now nourishing the hills. Olav’s companions were carrying some sort of church plate, four silver crosses, engravings depicting some figures and a chalice made of silver and gold plate. That was their entire haul. He was also carrying something in his hand. It was dripping heavily onto the ground… The monastery was burning – there was nobody left alive.
At the clearing Olav searched all around, but he couldn’t find the bird anywhere. “He’s gone? OK, I’ll leave it for him – he might come back later.”
He placed the dismembered hand next to a stone; young fingers which had tried to clutch onto life for the last time. But life had slipped away, leaving them crooked and growing cold. “It’s like a new wing for the bird,” Olav thought, smiling, as he walked to the boat. He found this idea amusing, and as he walked away, he considered that he had kept his promise to the little crow. “It’s a pity he went off – he didn’t believe me. But it would have been great to see him again. He’s just like me – totally on his own.”
“But who was better, the Greeks or the Romans? Who made history greater? Who gave more to the world?
“Socrates and Plato or Seneca and Marcus Aurelius? Whose empire was stronger in its heyday? Who, who??
“What an excruciating choice!”
The man just couldn’t decide, but then he said to himself: “I know!” He took a bottle of Greek Kormilitsa and an Italian Barabesco and pushed his trolley to the check-out. “Now we have equilibrium!1No more intolerable questions.”
1 Equilibrium from the Latin “aequus” – equal, “libra” – scales.
The Holy Father, Adam Bezhinsky, seemed calm on the outside, but his head and his heart were in turmoil. For several days in a row he had been drinking wine in the evenings, quite an expensive, dry wine, which he had found in the neighbouring grocery. He was tormented by a question to which he could find no answer.
“The Lord created the Land and Sea… and all living creatures – that’s a fact. The Bible says that the Lord did that… But the Bible doesn’t say where the Lord came from. And what if…?” He was afraid to ask this question out loud, his body in a sweat. “And what if the Lord was sent by someone above Him? Somebody who created the Lord?”
He could not find the answer and was frightened to ask the senior confessor, feeling this question gnawing, like a worm, at his conscience. The foundations of his concept of existence were being rocked by a tremor from outside. He was becoming more and more enslaved by the thought. His glass was half full. Adam continued to drink, alone. The wine unravelled his thoughts.
“Praise the Lord for creating the vine and teaching us sinners how to make wine. The sea and the stars were, of course, a great feat, but what would this civilisation have done without wine?! Wine was a massive breakthrough.
“A more groundbreaking invention than the creation of the Internet. What can you do with the Internet? You can ask it questions! But with wine you can pose questions to Almighty God himself, to whoever you like. And you can… Yes, but all the same, somebody sent You to us, oh Lord!
“Where do You come from?”
A small boy was picking his nose and watching the world go by. The street where he lived was not in the best part of town – it was just an ordinary street. But he was special, this little lad. From the balcony on the fifth floor of his drab block of flats, from the small litter-strewn balcony, he looked down onto the street below.
What was unusual about his world view was that he did not see people as ordinary homo sapiens2see them.
2 Homo sapiens (Latin) – wise man
After his father abandoned the family, and his mother started to drink and to beat him and his brother… and after she once beat him half to death and they took her away for treatment, and they, the boys, were left to live with Auntie Angela… after that, he began to see people, animals and the world differently.
People appeared to him as if they were composed entirely of light. Often he could not even make out the outline of their faces, for the light washed away their individuality. Everyone seemed to look the same – as if they all shared one face.
And it was not just people. Food appeared to him as light, like a flickering burst of energy – sometimes dim, sometimes bright. Water seemed like a slurry of light, glowing with different hues. Smells and voices were somehow strange, while the outlines of solid objects and their contents were luminescent.
Some people seemed to shine in a special way. He did not know what to call such light, for he didn’t have the words to describe it. But this strange light made his heart beat stronger – sometimes with anxiety, sometimes with joy.
Sometimes, light would speak to him in the form of a person.
And now he could see a light flying towards him. It looked like a dolphin… Just imagine – a dolphin, flying through the sky as if it were the ocean!
The dolphin flew up quite close and the little boy, Billy, saw emptiness in its eyes. There was nothing there…nothing came from them. There was just a warm outer shell, a kind of peace. It wasn’t frightening; there was simply a sensation of approaching emptiness.
“Hello. Do you know where I can find someone called Auntie Mendl around here? They told me you could help. I have to deliver some news to her,” said the light-being as it neared the balcony where Billy was sitting. It seemed as if the creature was smiling at him.
Billy started to shake his head and said: “She’s downstairs. I don’t know exactly where. I’m too small to know everything.”
The dolphin laughed.
“Qua, qua, qua…” he made a quacking sort of sound. “That’s a funny thing to say. Of course you know, otherwise I wouldn’t have asked you. You have already helped, and when we call for you and I bring you the news, you will become one of us. You will be a guardian of the secret.”
The little boy was pleased. He was proud of the fact that he was to be entrusted with an important job. And he asked the light-dolphin-creature: “What sort of secret?”
“A secret is secret for a reason – so that you don’t go blabbing about it. I have to hurry because I am on an errand. I’ll see you again.”
The special little boy, Billy, was extremely excited, and he resolved not to tell anyone about this conversation or the meeting.
Twenty minutes later he looked down at the street again. He could hear shouting and there was a commotion. The usual thing.
The boy didn’t pay any attention to the play of light down below… He was strangely contemplative, without any clear thoughts in his head. He was calm and agitated at the same time; his eyes were empty and gazed down from the balcony, while the thoughts in his head sparked his imagination.
Just a few thoughts slipped across the surface of his mind like pond skaters: “A secret! Guardian of the secret!” Anybody would be excited by this!
Then he went back into the room. It was a small dirty room, full of different-coloured light-objects. Aunt Angela was cooking something on the stove and chatting on her mobile phone.
He heard the words: “Yes. Today. Only about half an hour ago! Yes, our Mendl was crossing the road and she just dropped down dead! She looked up at the sky, as if she had seen something, and dropped down dead! Poor old soul. I feel sorry for her, there isn’t even anyone to bury her, but let the bloody council pay for her death now. Nobody pays for you in life, but at least the old girl has got her own back in death…”
Auntie Angela laughed her dry smoker’s laugh.
Little Billy stood pensively in the room. “So it’s out – that’s the secret! Somebody always has to pay for death! I will ask him next time he comes flying by. I guess this “bloody council” must be very rich, paying for the death of every single person! I wonder what message he was taking to Auntie Mendl? Maybe he was late getting to her because he stopped off with me, then she took it and died! I must suss it all out next time.”
A girl was playing the piano to the audience in the hall. She was playing Frederic Chopin’s Waltz No. 1, the “Grande Valse Brillante”. She always played so passionately that the adults called her a child prodigy…she was indifferent to praise.
The music rang out: Passion and simplicity. Vigour and melancholy.The girl played and saw nothing except for herself in her blue and white silk kimono with the cherry tree, Mount Fuji and the dragon… And her friend, her real, true friend.
This friend was a katana3, which she called “Gentle Death”. They had already supported each other for a long time. “Gentle Death” had never betrayed her and never abandoned her. It was an extension of the girl in her battles.
3 Katana– a long Japanese sword
The girl’s hands touched the keys, which created a sound in intricate combination with the instrument’s other mechanisms. The sound filled the celestial spheres. There was whispering from the people in the hall, and the pedal creaked slightly when the girl pressed it with her foot.
She was focussed on her battle. Nothing else interested her. She was an ordinary Ukrainian girl who had read a lot of books and had wanted to learn the art of sword fighting ever since she had been diagnosed with a tumour. Or, more consciously, since Oleg Kulbida, the boy she had fallen for, had moved to another part of the town three years ago – transferred from her school to another and found himself a new girlfriend.
She wanted to cut herself off from the past, or to cut the ugly head off this banal and stupid past.
And for this she needed a sword.
Of all the swords she had read about in books and seen in films, she liked the Japanese ones the best. They had class and spirit. The ones they used for killing in “Kill Bill”; a trashy film, but wicked swords!
She told her parents about her wish – for a long time she was too afraid to ask, but then, brimming with determination, she came out with it. Her parents just shook their heads. They didn’t understand that she needed this to become strong!
Her parents could not conceive of it – it was too dangerous, and very odd: their daughter, at thirteen years old, wanted to set out on a military path! The piano – that’s where your success lies, child…
She played with the katana. It was great when “Gentle Death” cut through the air and sang its song, clashing in battle with the blades of her adversaries. Strength and steel. The blood of her enemies flowed from the blade, but this did not particularly worry her. They were vulgar and surly people, who wanted to lock her up. To hide her away from her true friend! Of course, all of this dissolved into the air, appeared again and disappeared, fluttered and then vanished. It was just like the vibrations in the air which she produced with her fingers. Her heart beat faster, no doubt in time with the music. She was calm and seemed detached, yet her eyes gleamed with passion when she slashed the world with her music. She was going into the unknown, and “Gentle Death” was with her.
“Each day is the last,” pounded in her head, and she lived in the sounds of the music, in the sounds of her battle.
“Just look at her eyes,” her teacher whispered to the person sitting next to her, “So much passion!” And she continued, with sincerity: “She’s a lovely, gentle girl. And so talented! A pianist sent from God, and such an awful illness… Her poor parents are really suffering!”
Odessa, 16–18 May 2015
THE STORY OF LIFE
I confess: I hated paying taxes. Wherever I have lived and worked before, I have tried to avoid it, to escape it, or to defer it as much as possible.
I liked to get the cash into my hands, rather than fill and feed those cards or bank accounts. Some people called me old fashioned! Others saidI have been poisoned with the ideas of anarchy, and my way would lead me to crime or criminals one day.
“Well,” thought I, “not bad: being old fashioned is not a crime.”
For your information, the heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano also accepted only cash, in a time of cheques! So I was not a great anachronism, I just loved to sense the cash. Nothing personal – with all those scandals, schemes and suicidal tendencies in today’s business-like supreme financial spheres, I have simply lost any trust in the banks, their plastic cards and their e-money.
As for the route to crime – you know, I was not going to enter into politics or to wage wars, and thusI felt no closer to criminals than, say, to the Martians.
It depends how you classify it and what you consider to bea crime!
My way was almost as innocent as the wolf’s in the wild forest. The wolf wants to eat – would you penalise him for that?! The wolf wants to be free in his choice of what to eat; so do I.
For me, the freedom, so much talked about and advertised in America over recent centuries, is an ability to live my own life with no pressure on me from all those loafers who tax me and suck from my pocket to create all that nonsense they call “stability”.
“Hey, you guys at the top, d’you hear me now?! I don’t need your stability! It becomes way too expensive for a guy like me! Ok, call me what you will, but I consider myself a‘cautious tax payer’; too cautious to follow every bill I receive, and that’s why I try to receive as few bills as possible. Easy living when you are bill-less!”
One day, going about my lovely smuggling job,I crossed the border with Mexico to meet a client of mine, to whom I was delivering … books! Yeah, a strange business.
He had opened a sort of public library in his home. A large house, lots of space, and it was like a kingdom for the books. He did not let the people take the books outside, but he let them read in the reading hall of his castle.
With such a large space and just a trickle of visitors,from those who could read in English, loved to read, and could find the time to come and read, the whole idea of this client of mine lacked any commercial sense.
However, my client was solvent. And, ah, let me introduce the man: Silvio De Granito.
Normally, he sends me an order by fax only, as he doesn’t trust the internet. I collect the books for him in LA, or order them viathe internet from New York, Seattle, or even from Canada or England from time to time.
Once I complete the order – I cross the border and deliver the goods. And he pays me triple the price or sometimes even more! A very generous man with a very strange business, but you’ll find it interesting in a moment.
He told me a story, a life story. There was a storm outside and Iasked if I could stay at his house for the night, until the weather calmed down. He liked the idea and immediately agreed. It felt like he had been missinggood company for a while.
With some whiskey consumed, in an hour or so we saw that the storm had just become stronger, and there was no hurry for me to rush even in the morning, so we had plenty of time to talk.
Silvio, (I am still not sure if that was his real name) told me his story, and if someone believes it the way that I did, then I am happy to share what he told me!
He was a gangster, and well, the prophecy was true – the one about love for cash. By the way, Rocky Marciano who I mentioned before, also had his way to the criminals, so the theory shows a trend. But people are people, good or bad – they all love cash but only a few will admit it openly.
Silvio and his gang planned and executed seven armed robberies of jewellery shops in the New York area and then got caught by police and the FBI. He was sentenced (thanks to his lawyers) to eleven years in prison. But his organisation survived and continued to generate income for when freedom came, while he received accommodation and food from the State.
After he hadserved his term and was released, he met with the former crew. But times had changed, you know …
What I mean, is that as per the criminal code, they owed him his share, a sort of a pension fund. Part of it had already been spent on food, drink, light drugs, and other pleasures of life, sinceall of that had been supplied and delivered to Silvio while he used the cell paid by budget.
Now, all money transactions had become complicated. Bankers were no longer reliable and were likely to share the data with the Federals, so big cash transfers attracted too much attention.
But he insisted on getting the cash. Like me, he loved to see de facto money.
His boys consulted with a nice guy, obviously a smart one – a lawyer who was used by their organization (for the sake of causing no harm to myself, I have left the real names off the deck, you know!) and Mr. Shemkis (the lawyer) advised them to use a private foundationin Belize to remit the cash as a grant for some piece of art or a book et cetera.
The book seemed, most of all, a legit idea.
Silvio had to write a book to get his cash, so his brotherhood found him a young writer from New Jersey who had written some novels but could not sell them well.
They found their way to him and then their cash did the same. So, speaking openly, a young writer, let’s call him Andrew here, sold them the rights to the book he had written along with the authorship.Hey presto! Silvio became an author!
All was fine – the transfer proceeded safely but to prove the story was very true, his brotherhood convinced a small publisher to print a few thousand hard copies that went to the bookstores.
Again, the cash made it happen, otherwise who would be aware? No name, no number…a new author.All of a sudden, the book sold well!
Wow!, the orders were coming in thick and fast, which was a serious concern for our author, as he wanted to take his time and not to become an advertisment with reporters following his every step. He had been eleven long years in a public institution, so it was absolutely natural that he wanted to stay away from being photographed and interviewed.
He hired a manager and Mr. Shemkisprotected his rights and his privacy from a legal standpoint, and for some time, life stablilized. Silvio thought he was a lucky guy and that it was a case of “God’s will’ to pay the bill after his years of service to the State!
But Andrew, the young writer, had other ideas. He also hired lawyers, and they smelled blood! They lodged a claim against Silvio in the courts and demanded that he disclosed the name of the actual author, Andrew Bolshowitz, who wrote the book.
After almost a year, those hyenas, as Silvio calledhis opponents, managed to prove the authorship of the book (apparently, one of the early originals was found at one publisher’s house…the legacy of one of Andrew’s early efforts to find a way to success) creating quite a problem for Silvio.
His solicitor told him to go speak to the journalists as silenceonly made things worse. As you may imagine, the FBI, knowing Silvio, were showing a lot of interest in the Charity Foundation which had paid almost a million dollars in ‘grants’ to the gangster, who was now involved in a scandal over the fake authorship of a famous book!
Silvio started to give interviews. He spoke about his hard life in prison and how he spent the long days and nights writing the book…
A few of the former prison officers, who had known Silvio for years, were recipients of luxurySwiss watches and confirmed, “Yeah, this guy spent all his time in prison, writing his story…”
And in public, Silvio showed good manners and gentle speech, was modest and dedicated to his art, so he looked to the journalists like the samaritan victim of unprecedented lies.
Andrew, his opponent, on the other hand behaved aggressively, and the journalists made him out to be a gangster-like person; disregarding the fact he had no relation at all to the Mafia before this story began. Again, cash was king!
Finally, Silvio started to get the upper hand in this battle, and his brotherhood paid a visit to Andrew Bolshowitz to persuade him to accept an “amicable solution”. The guy gave up… which was understandable in the circumstances!
The Mafia team celebrated the victory, but it was, unfortunately, a bit premature, for after a few days, when the court convened to ruleagainst him, Mr. Bolshowitz made it all just a bit more complicated! He took his revenge on Silvio and his organisation by committing suicide… leaving paperwork explaining “who is who”in the game and blaming Silvio and the Mafia for “destroying the Life and Hope of America”!
There was a huge campaign against Silvio on the TV, and the FBI visited him for an “interview