By Oleksandr Fraze-Frazenko
I have to leave the apartment on Allston St today, building number 198, on the hill, apartment 12a, the top floor, the third, in the city of Boston, the state of Massachusetts. I must move out by eleven o’clock. as always, something holds me back, I can’t pack my things, several shirts, various pants, some underwear, books, my laptop, I look around, the walls are a pale color, woodwork white, the windows are covered in a thin material with vertical stripes, there is a glass table by the window, a white entry door, across from which is a short hallway, with a bathroom on my right, and across from it is a bedroom with a double bed, covered with a dark-blue bedspread, on both sides is an unpainted wooden night stand, the wood practically unfinished, two boats with a blue sea between them. on the walls there is nothing, only the walls themselves. if you just walk past the bedroom and bathroom, there will be a kitchen, there will be a window, with a table the length of the wall in front of it, and to the right, a small kitchen, an old refrigerator and a Kenmore stove, this is New England after all, everything here must be named with the customary endings, -more, -shire, -ton, if you turn around and if you walk out of the kitchen through the hallway, you will see me, sitting on the armchair with soft patches of a bright red color. I am naked, in front of me on the black square table stands a white bowl with apple oatmeal, which I drowned in boiling water about a half an hour ago. I like apples, and also bananas, they are cheap fruits, they grow, usually, wherever I am, these are from California for sure, though I’ve never been there. anyway I’m sitting naked, I was getting ready to shower, but I sit, I plan to eat my oatmeal, still not cold. at one o’clock my bus departs from South Station for New York, I won’t make it. but I don’t know this yet, like a lot of other things, that could happen to me in the future. and maybe won’t happen. it doesn’t make sense to make any predictions. one way or another, my oatmeal should be swallowed, my things should be gathered, the apartment should be vacated, turned over to anxious hands, empty and unoccupied, god willing, by the time Pamela, the owner, returns.
Pamela will probably find Sandy’s cold body on the double bed, on the left side, on the left side of the bed, because she lies on the right side of her body, turned towards the window, I stabbed her in the back with a knife, slowly thrusting the blade between her ribs, her skin separating, like the opening of a pocket that you reach into for a key, while standing in the dark hallway in front of the door to my apartment, in the softness of a pocket, a warm place. I was ready for her to wake up at any moment, I even wanted for her to wake up, this slowly growing desire lasted for such a long time, without butterflies in my stomach, without any soul flying out of her body, her soul slowly flowing from the wound, like thick blood, no, I didn’t want her to wake, I wanted, instead, to find out about her last dream, furthermore, if she started to wake up, I would try to hold her by her pinkies, my mother told me this in my childhood, that if you hold a sleeping person by their pinkies, they will answer any question that you ask, but why? I never asked myself why, not myself, not anyone else, but who could know, my brother Viktor and I tried this trick out on Agatha, our grandmother, we slept then in the same room, we were teenagers, and she was an old woman, in general, she had always been an old woman to us, so she was an old lady, that is how I saw her then in old photos, young, in old dresses, and then she smeared her face with sunflower oil before bed, so that her skin would be soft and younger looking, her pillow always smelled of that oil, thick and yellow, almost orange, like spots of urine on the soft white linen, spots of urine with the scent of sunflower oil. maybe I was remembering this when I plunged in the knife. it’s possible, because really, I did it very slowly. And Agatha would start talking in her sleep. it was like turning on and off the sound of a television, imagine, that its screen is facing the wall, or is covered with a blanket, you can’t see the image, you turn the sound on and off, you hold the round volume button with two or three fingers, or that slider control that you have to push left or right, you turn it and slide it, that way the night’s programming continues, and you hear only parts, with which you can put together the approximate course of events. it was worse with my brother, the moon outside his window often grabbed him by the pinkies, eventually we started to cover the windows tightly, with a very thick material, one time he stood up in the middle of the night, we slept together in one bed, he stood up in the middle of the night, Agatha asked him:
“Viktor, where are you going?” (by the way, why wasn’t she asleep at that time?) “where are you going?”
he slowly walked halfway across the room, from the bed, which was next to the window lit by the moon, covered with a net formed by the shadows of three pines, slowly rocking, the windows were age old guardians, then he stopped, she said his name sleepily in a surprised voice again:
then he continued to the door and I heard him put his hand on the door’s lock, the ceiling was high, so that sounds in the room were very clear, he put his hand on the lock and said:
“I’m going to get a shovel, I’ll get a shovel and lie down next to my brother.”
“Vitia, why do you need a shovel,” she asked. he became lost in thought.
so he stood still for some time with his hand on the lock, no sound was heard. I would have thought he had fallen asleep, but he was already asleep.
“go to sleep, Vitia,” she said calmly. after some time, not a long time or very short time, he removed his hand from the lock and silently turned back towards the bed, he pulled the covers over himself, I think we had separate ones, and he continued sleeping. he was also sleeping when he went for the shovel. dreams. nothing is simple. nothing is so simple on some particular night. they say that the day of your death is the same as all others, but shorter.
and Sandy didn’t wake up, she should have been dreaming about the warm blue sea, about lying in the water and slowly going under, because blood had poured over her back, her nightgown was painted by the waves of the sea, the sea had already cooled down and didn’t flow anymore, in other words it didn’t ebb, because the sea wasn’t a river. there were times when it was not just seas that separated us, but entire oceans, sadness is a quiet song, sung only at a distance, and the greater the distance the fainter your song, a thin stream of your sadness, then memories become transparent, you peel away memories, like an onion, with each layer of skin you want to cry more, you really don’t want to, but there is some kind of juice that gets into your eyes, so that you can’t help crying, memories are like the juice of the onion, it gets on your fingers, it gets on your hands, and you always touch your face with your hands, touch your eyelids with your fingers, then your eyes burn and you cry. the main guiding principles of our lives together are cause and effect, like for Shevchenko. you tear off the skin, and then you cry, never in reverse, you push in the knife, and then you die. this was our life together, now we’ve hit a wall here, because you are dead and not breathing, and I am sitting naked starting the introduction to a story. my brain just naturally generates an endless supply of images, it’s possible there are gaps in my memory, I carry a box with old photographs, so that if its bottom breaks apart and one, or two slides fall out at a time, bent slides, black and white and colored photos, then if someone wanted to hunt me down, they could track me by these clues. if they track me down and arrest me, I will have to say that the body stabbed itself with the knife. that I am not guilty of your death, Sandy, it wasn’t my intention, if you were alive you would support me, you would say that I only wanted the best for you, that I could be found guilty of many things, some of which are really awful, but there are just some things that have an unintentional side effect resulting in the ending of an existence, in other words, death. I ran away from my grandmother, I ran away from my grandfather. I will run away from you too, o, the knife in your back.
you are still a child, a teenager, at least you look like one, your hair is straight or wavy, your overall description can vary, but your body is slender, everything you are wearing fits you perfectly, it suits you, your body suits you well, your nose is in the right place on your face, your shoulders are the correct width and are perfectly aligned, you are thin enough not to desire to gain or lose weight, in the morning you drink coffee and most of the time eat an unknown amount of random food, so you can say that you don’t eat breakfast, you can be compared to a sparrow, who in essence is prettier than you, your hair works in a number of styles, almost all that you have tried out, but I like it best when it is gathered on the top of your head in a large or small bun, it is like a ball of thread on your head, that you can’t buy in a store for seamstresses, your hair is so thin that you could easily thread it through the eye of a needle, the threads only capable of sewing through the thinnest fabrics, which would breathe, your body covered with the thinnest fabrics, would flutter on your bones, usually, like the sails on small boats, the sailboats docked. the sail boats rocking far from one another in the open waters on a clear day, the shore not visible, the sail boats swaying so that there is no great need to know the day and time, your bones warmed by the sun, the skin of your body tightly stretched out in the sunlight, evenly tanning. your voice, it seems, sounds a little lower than I expected, but after a few sentences, usually of short and simple construction, because that’s how you speak, it immediately begins to suit your mouth and appearance in general, your voice suits your clothes, your gestures and your way of walking, you walk softly, in your walk there is something disturbing because it captures my attention and holds it, in other words. there is something hypnotic about it, maybe you are a serpent? maybe you are Eve? maybe you are the apple? most likely neither, because you are yourself, and so you can’t be anything else, at least everything that you do seems to suit you, so that you fit into the landscape of your life quite naturally. how could you fall asleep just like that at such an untimely moment, lying on your right side, so that all your blood would flow closer to the bed, occupying the empty spaces according to the forces of gravity, which now I have set free, like bunnies from a cage for the first time, they ran around the yard, but, not knowing what to do next, they finally fell asleep not far away, even though no one returned to the cage. I tried to gather them with my hands and herd them back into your body, nothing worked, I only made things worse. you always knew how to wash away red stains and I didn’t even try, because I always knew that it was impossible.
the knowledge that God doesn’t exist didn’t come easily. and how could it have been otherwise, I never considered that he didn’t exist. he, it, she, them, not anyone/anything and furthermore. from early childhood you believe that he exists, that Santa Claus exists, and other important characters. I always knew that Mr. Winding exists. he lived in the vents in the kitchen, on Kasarniy Street in Lviv, where I grew up, on the attic level we had a kitchen without windows, its entrance was under the roof of the old Polish building, third floor, with a spiral staircase, the third floor was enclosed in darkness, which sometimes made it scary to enter, the ceiling was low, right above your head, on the right there was a door to the kitchen, straight ahead, totally covered by darkness, was an old mop, or a twisted broom, or one or the other, on the left there was also a door, secured with a prehistoric an additional padlock, grandpa Steve was the only one who had the key. that meant that the key really hung on the door frame in the kitchen, on a grey, at some point white, shoelace, it hung available to everyone, but I knew that key belonged to Steve. behind that door was the attic, behind the door was the oldest part of this building. it was there that old Agatha told me, that Mr. Winding lived. he kidnapped small naughty children, his voice could be heard through the kitchen vents, maybe through the 30 centimeters wide pipe, which, for ten or fifteen centimeters protruded from the ceiling above the kitchen cabinet, they were separated by maybe 10 centimeters of kitchen air, it was enough space for us to look at the black round form, from which sometimes echoed a sad and sinister howling, “listen, Sasha, Mr. Winding is howling after you, if you’re naughty, he will kidnap you.”
Mr. Winding lived in the pipes, sometimes I heard him howl and fear seized my small mischievous body. I was afraid of walking up the steps, there usually was no light in front of the door, you had to screw the lightbulb into the socket above your head left of the stairs, it would crackle for a moment and then pour yellow light through the glass of the lightbulb, most of the time the lightbulb would burn out from the cracking and the area would become dark, sometimes for entire months, I walked up the stairs, holding on to the old railings painted in a wine or brown color, was it them that supported me, on the right was a wall, which also went severely upwards next to the overly steep stairs, the walls were half green, later blue, and half white, the colors converged at a red stripe that both united and separated them somewhere at the level of my shoulders, the stairs were severely steep, day light illuminated them through open doors of the balcony, which were across from the first stair on the second floor, then there was a winding turn to the left, the adults were forced to bend their heads and walk into the darkness, the darkness of two doors and one wall, mops and a twisted broom, and also a metal bucket without a bottom, we lived to the right and to the left lived Mr. Winding. I never saw him. but maybe I did. In those strange dreams of mine, when it’s as if some pillows latch onto me, one after another, engulfing me like a snowball, when I cry out his name in the mountains, who was in front or who behind, the pillows flew at me constantly getting closer, at night I couldn’t sleep and ran out of my room on the second floor, ran through Grandpa Steve’s and ran upstairs, because past the kitchen was, my parents’ room, separated by a door that was never closed, on its the frame hung Steve’s key to the attic. I ran upstairs and yelled for my mother to save me, my father never took part in this, she told me to say a prayer, to read “Our Father” together with her, she didn’t really know the words well herself, but we read in unison, “Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” then she chanted some spells and said some words, made some gesture with her hands, as if she was chasing small flies from my head, from my left ear, from my right ear, from above my head and from my face. she said, “now you’ll fall asleep,” and I believed that I didn’t have any other choice. how could I not believe in God. later, I turned to God on my own, when I had nightmares and even wept, I put my hands together and raised the window shade, I sometimes looked between the branches of trees into the sky and in a trembling quiet voice, or even whisper, read “Our Father” and like always the fear went away, amen. now I know that God doesn’t exist, now I don’t have nightmares anymore, nevermore.
so, just yesterday I was reading the introduction that Bohdan Rubchak wrote to the book, “Ostap Lutskyi: Young Muse,” he started writing about his views of Edgar Allen Poe and his literary criticism in “Poetic Principles” and the “The Philosophy of Composition” in the essay “The Philosophy of Composition, for example, Poe asserts that the death of a beautiful woman is without a doubt, “the most poetic” theme in the world…here we should remember, that however generally applicable the theme is, it is only a literary theme of a “poetic creation.”
suddenly I stopped thinking and remembering. someone was knocking on the door.
different versions of who knocks on the door. Pamela’s neighbor knocks, I go to the door and open it, turn the lock one time and remove the chain, at the bottom of the door there is a strip of plastic that makes a terrible scraping sound, when you open the door, the strip is supposed to prevent drafts, but it only clatters ominously when the wind blows from the open window in the hallway, this time the strip scrapes also, before me stands a woman about 70 years old and smiles warmly, she looks like all the friendly neighbors down the hall, out in front of her, at the level of her breast, she holds a freshly baked apple pie with both hands, it releases its beguiling scent, she says:
“I came to see how you killed your Sandy, can I glance into the bedroom, just for a quick peek? Pamela said that I could go in.”
she smiles at me very warmly, the pie smells very tempting, I can’t help myself from letting her look even longer. then the three of us eat pie and laugh with one another. no.
I open the door, a man stands there, he is about forty, in a cheap gray suit with a wide tie, with bright colors, it doesn’t matter what colors when he sees me, he smiles insincerely and forces a wide smile and in a practiced and calm voice he starts his spiel:
“good day, sir, I represent an international window company, we noticed, that you don’t have windows in your apartment! I have an amazing offer for cutting holes in the walls and installing wonderful noise and light blocking windows! they will look totally like your walls, when you look at them, you won’t notice any difference, here look at our samples and convince yourself – I just slam the door in his face, not wanting to listen. no.
suddenly I hear someone knocking on the door. I slowly approach it and ask:
I wait for some time. I listen, try to hear an answer, it seems, no one answers, I ask “who’s there?” one more time, I turn my head and place my right ear to the door, so that I can try to hear an answer, because usually after a knock on the door and the question “who’s there?” there is the answer to who but again I don’t hear anything that is like an answer. then I raise my right hand, look at the door, knock on it myself and listen again. from the window on the right, a faint crooked light falls onto the door. after a short while I hear a knock in reply. I am surprised and ask the question again. why didn’t I just open the door, if I hadn’t asked, who’s there, I would not have hesitated and would have opened the door a long time ago but a lot of things happen randomly, suitcases are checked randomly by airport security, they randomly search people, not according to their sex, conductors randomly check tickets on trams, one time I say good day, another how are you, sometimes I just open the door, sometimes, like now, I ask, who’s there. there is no answer. I start to get annoyed and worried. I decide to open the door and find out, turn the lock, take off the chain, listen to the scrape of the plastic strip, which is attached to the door so there wouldn’t be a draft.
the door opens. Sandy stands in front of me. but that’s not exactly right, I stand behind her, or rather she stands with her back to the door and to me, and to the whole apartment. and to the hallway, and to the glass table, and to the light from the window, and to the couch, and to the apple oatmeal in the bowl, and to the kitchen with all its contexts, and to herself, lying on the bed in the bedroom, turned towards the window, in a puddle of her own blood. I can smell her skin, the scent reached my nose with the draft. she stands unmoving, calm. I see her dark wavy hair, I see her clothed shoulders, her arms hanging freely at her sides, in her left had she holds a knife. a large knife. I freeze where I stand, I slowly look at her figure, I just don’t understand what is happening. she is lying in the bed in the bedroom. I turn around, let go of the door and run into the bedroom, it was about seven steps away, I look into the open door, the breeze from the draft moves the shades, Sandy lies on the bed without any sign of life, the bed is red around her. I turn my head left and throw a puzzled glance at the entry door, where Sandy stands with her back to me, nothing makes sense, she stands there with her back to me, but she is lying on the bed. I must have been sweating because I find that my hands are wet, and something is dripping down my cheeks, and I also realize that I am crying, but I don’t question any of these versions, it totally doesn’t matter to me, what will happen to my body now. I turn around and go to the open entry door, holding myself up by the walls, the backs of chairs, as if I am on a rocky boat, or a train car, although a train car can rock very fast because of its small amplitude, two steps from Sandy, I stop, I hold onto the back of a chair with my right hand, I hold my left before me, as if walking in the dark, suddenly I let out a ferocious cry.
but I completely recognize this figure in the doorway, with her back turned towards me, my question doesn’t make sense, or maybe it does, maybe I just don’t trust myself, and there isn’t anything strange, who would believe it, my body becomes a question mark. then my body emits a frightened prolonged wailing, my brain sends such a crazy command of desperation to my vocal cords and throat, I start to approach Sandy, I slowly step out into the hallway and walk around so that I can see her face. it is calm, her eyes are closed, her muscles relaxed, she is calm. I ask:
with intonation that is normal for a question, but I really just state her name. Sandy opens her eyes and just says:
up to the time that I walked around her, I was calm and even happy that she was alive, but in one quick second, a second that was never so fast, I become enraged as the Russians say “I become disembodied,” I become disembodied in a flash, I grab the knife from her hand and start to stab her with an unimaginable hate, simply start to stab her indiscriminately all over her body with the knife, I am disembodied, my body flies downward from a great height and all possible emotions flow out of me, red petals of blood begin to fall on all sides, Sandy’s body falls to the floor, I continue on without any control over my hands to dig out pieces of muscle and blood from beneath her clothes, smearing them across the whole hallway, the rug, the white doors, the windows, the walls, the nearby stairs going down and those to the right coming down from the third floor. for some reason no one looks out from the doors of the neighboring apartments, no one comes out when they hear my cries, when I stop and catch my breath for a while, for some reason I don’t hear the sounds of sirens outside, no help is coming from anywhere.
I drop the knife in my hands, drop down on, I breathe hard, with both hands I wipe the blood and sweat from my face, because this mixture has started to get into my eyes and burns. I look around, a familiar silence surrounds me, nothing special. so what now, I had to kill the same person twice in two different ways?
you could describe my appearance in various ways. am I old? am I young? fat or thin? do I have all my fingers? what kind of hair do I have? what kind of teeth? are my eyes narrow? and lips? broad shoulders, or not really? hunched over? I, by the way, sat naked then, when someone knocked on the door, as you remember. was my body hairy? was my skin pale, or dark? or what? could you see my penis? what was it like? what other aspects of my appearance can you remember? after some moment, I hear someone walking up the stairs, but not quickly, just the opposite, very deliberately, it was Sandy, I caught sight of her after a moment when her head and then whole body started to emerge from beneath the level of the floor to the right revealing more of her body, step by step, to the left, until I could see all of her. she asks me.
“why are you sitting on the floor in the hallway? go inside,” she says this all calmly, not even pausing and enters through the open door of the apartment, stepping over her body, which lies with its head inside the doorway, the body in the hallways, left leg dangling down the steps, a hand dangling in the air above the highest step. I hear Agatha’s voice in the building and the scent of apple pie. what should I do? should I just pretend that there aren’t any bodies here? and then later clear everything up? or leave everything here, as it is, since it’s not bothering anyone? so now there isn’t any necessity for descriptions of internal monologue. as Panas Myrnyi said, “to clear up dirt, to create order in many places. you need to provide everyone with the means to wash, dress their children, make their beds, clean their houses.” in houses, in other words, in apartments, they used to say this.