Oct/Nov 2020  •   Fiction


by Daryana Antipova

Public domain street art

Public domain street art

A big bull stood next to a sandbox and looked at me with its bloodshot eyes. I was afraid to make eye contact with him, especially when he stopped chewing and fanned his tail.

Well, what had he forgotten in our sandbox?

But what had I forgotten in the sandbox? I am ten years old, and playing in the sandbox is already somehow indecent.

— Go away. — I said softly.

The bull roared. His dirty hair shook. But he returned to chewing.

The sandbox was fenced by old military missiles. Daddy said they were cleared many years ago, and pilots decided to decorate the playground with them.

Behind the sandbox with its banked rockets, there was our gray, three-story house. Then the field with the runway and the aircrafts my dad flew on. Next to them, there was the forest and the wire. The wire was the border of our small military town. Last night our relatives visited us. Mom did not have time to make passes, so uncles with jam jars got under the wire. There should be electricity and towers with machine guns, but there hasn't been any for a long time. Therefore, we sometimes go for berries, creeping between two or three wires.

The bull looked at the herd aimlessly wandering near the house. I got away from him and began to draw a map in the sand with the toes of my sandals.

The teacher in the classroom said the closest bombproof shelter was near Kozulka.

— Repeat, kids! Ko-zu-lka!

— Ko-zuuuuu lka! — the class said.

— When the Americans bomb our country, after Moscow, they will bomb us... because there is a nuclear plant and a hydroelectric power station. And if they blow up the hydro, we are all flooded. So where should you go?

— To Ko-zuuuuu lka! — we repeated.

That was the day I learned a lot about the different types of bombs. Especially I did not like the one from which people have to hide in the water.

I started to draw a new map. Here is the school, that's the forest, there the forest lake. How many minutes will I need after the warning to explain to my parents that we have to run to the woods and hide in the water? How much time do I need to grab my little sister and run through the wire? And is it possible to hide from such a bomb in a shelter in Kozulka?

— Forest or Kozulka? — I wondered and looked at the bull.

Should we build a lake in the woods for all the residents of our city? How will I breathe underwater while a bomb's destroying all surrounding life?

I walked to the tall grass. The whole area was overgrown. I found one of last year's stems, hollow inside, I hoped I could use for breathing underwater.

At night I could not sleep. Dad came back from work and went straight to bed. The relatives had left. My sister was in my parents' room. I lay alone, staring at the bottomless ceiling. Huge shadows circled there like planets. They approached, then moved away from me, bent and throbbed. I could not figure out what size they were. Some of them flew very close to my bed, and I thought if I touched them, they would project me into the abyss of space.

Outside the window, poplars rustled, and I realized it was raining. Under the pillow, I gripped my dry stem through which I planned to breathe in the lake.

At this point, someone walked down the corridor.

He was definitely not my father.

We moved into this apartment about a month ago. We had practically nothing with us. We were used to constant moving. The hallways were long and bare, cold and dark.

Outside the window, the lights winked, and I saw the figure.

It walked up to my bed.

I squealed, grabbed a blanket, and ran to my parents' room through a side door.

I was afraid of waking my dad up, of making him upset at my behavior, but I climbed onto the bed and lay down between my parents. At first, I clung to my mother's soft hand and buried my nose in her pillow. I sang children's songs to myself from the Bremen Town Musicians cartoon and was wrapped in a blanket. But then I felt something heavy and warm drop at my feet. Afraid to open my eyes, I climbed out from under my mother's arms.

A large creature sat on the bed at my feet. It had horns and a hairy face. It had the same eyes as the bull. It raised a long-nailed finger to its lips.

The next day a pop in a black cassock came to our class. He looked like a balloon. The teacher said he would give us a few lessons on religion. The pop hung up a big picture of a skinny man on the board.

— This is Jesus. — he said.

I did not know what he expected to hear from us. But we already knew there were chemical, bacteriological, graphite, and electromagnetic bombs. We remembered where the nearest bomb shelter was. We all saw the pop looked like a bomb. But we did not know who Jesus was.

Then the pop was boring, talking about how we needed to believe in something, to pray to someone.

Then I asked:

— When they drop the bomb, should we pray or hide in the lake?

— Bomb? — the pop asked, and did not answer my question.

Then the pop hung another picture on the board. There were lots of naked, skinny men.

— Where do they go? — the pop asked us.

— To Kozulka? — I heard my voice answering.

I was dismissed from the lesson. I walked slowly past the gray houses and high, wild grass. Sometimes the windows shook from a plane taking off, and dried flower heads swayed in different directions. I saw the herd and decided to go through another yard. When I emerged from the grass, troubled with thorns, I saw him again. The bull was standing at the sandbox, intently looking at me.

Then I waved my schoolbag at him and shouted:

— Don't come to me anymore, do you hear? Do not come ever again!