“Hey young fellow, it’s your stop . . .”
Sluzhkin was being prodded by the old guy on the opposite bench. He unglued his eyes, sprang onto his knees still in his sleeping bag, and shot a look through the upper window pane, because the lower one was thickly overgrown with a dense cover of icy ferns. The lopsided, gray little houses of Valyozhnaya were undulating past the electric train, across the hillside.
“Code red, gang!” Sluzhkin roared. “We nearly missed Valyozhnaya!”
The gang in their sleeping bags flew off their benches onto the floor.
A chalky, white light filled the empty train car. The train moaned as it braked, its metallic heart beginning to fibrillate beneath the floor. “Valyozhnaya!” the public address system croaked, content with the one word.
Drowsy, with caps askew, jackets unbuttoned, and sweaters hiked up, the gang feverishly dashed about the car, wadding up their sleeping bags, odds and ends of clothing, and open backpacks.
Sluzhkin hoisted himself onto a bench and yelled, “Just throw everything out as is! We’ll put it together afterward!”
The train stopped. The vestibule doors opened with a hiss. Falling over each other, slamming against the benches, dropping pieces of clothing, the laces of their ski boots flapping loose, the gang milled toward the vestibule. Backpacks and sleeping bags sailed through the opened doors, landing in a snowdrift on the platform.
“Tyutin, hold the doors! Demenev, man the emergency brake! Ovechkin, Chebykin, get the skis! Barmin, check the car!” Sluzhkin was barking out the orders.
“We won’t make it, Viktor Sergeevich! No way we’ll make it!” Tyutin groaned.
Ovechkin and Chebykin each grabbed an armful of skis and poles, and banged them down in the vestibule. Barmin went diving under the benches for lost mittens. Sluzhkin devoured the car with his eyes—what had they left?
“Go! Go!” he yelled, like a partisan who had just blown up a bridge.
They tumbled through the vestibule door into the snowdrift. The doors hissed and closed. The train gave an empty-stomach hiccup, jerked, and began to move. The rails shuddered, and the turning wheels kicked up a sparkling dust that peeled from the snow in layers.
Picking up speed, its lights flashing, the train streamed by them with a wail and a rumble. And as it flew away, it revealed, like a giant zipper opening up a view onto a vast, smooth-sided hollow. Downward from the tracks flowed sloping hills overgrown with blue-gray forest. In the far distance, those hills transformed into gray waves that lapped against the uneven, pendant plane of the grizzled blue field of clouds overhead.
They stood on the empty platform amid a jumble of gear scattered in the snow—a scene that was a little reminiscent of the last camp ever made by Captain Rusanov, the lost polar explorer. Sluzhkin lit up and blew out a white plume of smoke.
“So here we are,” he said. “Good morning, comrades.”
After unhurriedly regrouping, they marched uphill along the street that led from the station, in the deep imprints of tractor treads.
This place had evidently been long in the grip of a deep, desolate winter. The houses were sunk to the nostrils in snow and wore tall white fur hats clamped down over their eyes. Their windows, glittering darkly, sullenly watched the gang go by.. Hot air shimmered over the chimneys—the breathing of stoves that had stayed warm through the night. Every picket in the long fences sported a dapper cuff. The roadside was lined with endless log piles that looked a little like wooden calendars.
As if the uphill trek were a struggle that had taxed its strength to the limit, Valyozhnaya ended, in a cockeyed bath-house. Beyond that spread the drowsy swoon of a clean-swept plain. The road flew away across it, rushing toward an unknown goal all its own. The gang marched as far as the bend in the road and stopped.
“Get onto your skis, gang,” Sluzhkin said. “Here we’re turning off and striking out across open country to a ravine. On the other side of that is a well-defined ski track that will take us to the Shikhan cave.”
Tyutin sagged. “But what if there is no ski track?”
“There is,” Sluzhkin assured him.
“But what if we don’t find the cave?”
“But what if the box car’s not there any more? Where will we spend the night? . .”
“Now, why wouldn’t it be there? Where would it have gone?”
“It could have . . . taken off.”
“You’ve taken off,” an annoyed Barmin said.
The gang put on their skis and stamped them on the road to knock off the snow that was sticking to their not-yet-frozen runners. The stamping only pointed up the silence that stood above the field, above the hillside, above Valyozhnaya. It seemed that nothing should be said unthinkingly in that silence, so great was the meaning held within it.
Sluzhkin thought for a moment, then said, “I’m standing on the asphalt, with skis all good to go. Either the skis aren’t working or I’m a little slow.”
“Viktor Sergeevich,” Ovechkin suddenly said quietly. “My ski broke when it got thrown out of the railway car . . .”
He pulled the tip of the tip off and picked at the splintered edge.
The gang looked at him tight-lipped, as if afraid to pass sentence.
“I’d probably best go back to the station,” Ovechkin said in a dead voice. “The return train comes at ten tonight, and I’ll go home . . .”
Sluzhkin took off his cap and scratched the back of his head with his ski pole handle.
“Seeing the New Year in on a train is a bum deal,” he announced at last. “And leaving you to fend for yourself, that’s what wild animals do. But if we all go home, that’s just wrong. So what are we going to do? Here’s what: I’ll use your skis.”
“But I can manage,” Ovechkin protested feebly. “Why should you?”
Sluzhkin cut him off. “Don’t argue. First, there’s nothing I can’t do—been there, done that. Second, I know the way, and it won’t seem as long to me as it will to you.”
The gang waited while Sluzhkin and Ovechkin swapped skis.
“Then let me carry your backpack,” Ovechkin offered.
“That you can do,” Sluzhkin willingly agreed.
They climbed over a roadside snow-berm and came out into open country. Barmin went first, busily laying down the ski track. Behind him, Chebykin trampled it flat. Demenev came third—Demon, who in his long black jacket and pointed black cap really did look like a shabby demon, the kind that is sent on unimportant errands. Fourth was Ovechkin, carrying the biggest backpack, which was Sluzhkin’s. Then carefully, as if tiptoeing over the first ice of the season, Tyutin moved gingerly along. And bringing up the rear was Sluzhkin, limping noticeably on his right ski.
They gouged their way across the field, coming to a slope that led into a deep gorge, descended to the bottom over the eggshell-thin snow-crust and halted. Here there was a ski track running across a stream that was solid ice. Sluzhkin jabbed at it with his ski pole.
“This is it.” The lecture was for Tyutin. “And there you were, bawling like a big baby.”
The ski track—figuratively grunting and groaning, so riddled with potholes it was—climbed the other side of the gorge and went on up the next slope. Trudging along behind on his broken ski, Sluzhkin now and then scooped up snow in his mittened hand and crammed it into his mouth. The summit of the hill gave a view of Valyozhnaya, which rolled downward toward the distant blue-gray forest. Ahead lay rangy slopes crossed by an old logging trail. The sky reluctantly followed the silhouette of the slopes but at the horizon drooped languidly, brushing the spruce tops.
“Off we go, gang,” Sluzhkin said, eyeing the rapidly retreating ski track.
And the gang moved out. First they were going at too fast a clip, then they slowed it down, settling into a steady, monotonous pace. They were talking, hollering at each other, yucking it up when they started, but soon they went quiet, going red in the face as if making a first-ever declaration of love. Little by little a silence fell in which only the swishing of skis or, occasionally, a ski pole happening to knock against a trackside stump, could be heard.
Diving and surfacing smoothly, the logging trail stretched through a forest knee-deep in snow. The forlorn twigs of buried underbrush protruded haphazardly from the snow banks. The wind had shaken the snow from the branches, and the forest stood gray, bareheaded, as if tormented by some incomprehensible expectation. There should perhaps have been a line of sight right through it, but in fact twenty paces from the ski track a kind of blindness enveloped it. Dark clouds billowed from the trail in the distance, and it did not shrink down to nothing, as the laws of perspective would have it do, but also seemed to melt away no one knew where. The clouds slowly crowded together overhead, jostling each other, mischievously, mistily overflowing into each other, and staggered off in an unexplained direction. Only in one place, where the sun should have been, hung a pale, glowing jellyfish, lazily wriggling its shaggy tentacles.
It was a long run, a couple of hours, until the trail plunged hard, like a spearhead, into the side of a huge clearing made for a gas pipeline. The clearing was cluttered and lumpy even under the snow. Great piles of logs, left behind, were scattered about, like bombed-out fortifications. The plump pipeline, wrapped in tin plate, hung like a bridge from steel cables, twanging with tension, that stretched between iron latticework towers. The pipe flew like a sparkling wire out of the unimaginably hazy distance, hurtled past, and flew on into the unimaginably hazy distance. The ski track went straight underneath it, and the pipe passed overhead, lashing the eyes like a branch in the face.
After the pipe, an abandoned skidder came into view. It was red, and against the grayish-whitish-bluish landscape it looked like a fresh scrape. Only at close quarters could it be seen that the skidder wasn’t actually red, but rusty. It stood atilt, track-deep in snowdrifts, like a motor launch ditched by its crew and grounded on a shoal by the whim of fate. Its windows were broken out, the cab door hung on one hinge, a snowy cap perched on its roof, and a long tongue of snow climbed up the incline of its blade.
They took a break by the skidder, balancing unsteadily on icy logs. Chebykin took out a thermos of hot tea while Barmin produced cold and petrified rolls, hard as the links in an anchor chain.
The logging trail stopped there, while the ski track went on, under the spruces’ spreading boughs. Before ducking under the stalactite arches of the spruce grove, Sluzhkin looked around. Glints of sunlight were running along the sparkling pipeline. The wind had evidently been rampaging among the dark clouds and had scoured a clear patch to the north, in which the bed of the sky, piercingly blue, burned brightly. The hulking, unkempt masses of cloud were somehow more clear-cut now, and separated by serpentine streams of blue. There was a clarity, a hint of ice-drift in that encampment in the sky.
The shadows of that black stand of spruces pressed in from all sides. The snow could not slide down through the spruces’ dense canopy, and lay instead in great heaps on the trees, but once in a while clots of snow still broke through the barrier and plopped onto the ground. There were no snowdrifts here. The ski track looped nimbly across a thin crust of snow hastily inscribed with the dark runes of fallen needles. Only an hour later did the spruce-dusk gradually lighten, and suddenly sunshine came pounding in through all the crevices. Instantly the earth was as gaudy as a Mexican shirt, with the sun’s amber rays on the crusted snow, the whiteness of snow, the blue shadows, and the green broom-heads of baby spruce.
Just a little while later, the spruce stand began to thin. The crowns of distant trees were now outlined against the sky that had begun to shine between their trunks. The spruces were becoming sparser, sturdier. Finally they were at the edge, and the forest ended, stamping its last, mighty trees in a fit of pique.
The gang pulled up, stunned, at the edge of the forest, from where they could see, in panorama, an entire valley between two facing ridges of gentle, snowbound slopes. The valley’s untouched snow gleamed like a spotlight reflector bowl. Sparse stands of trees on the mountain sides grew together down below, in dense strips lining the narrow, winding river that ran through the two sides of the valley like a seam. The wind had swept the sky clean, sculpting the remnants of cloud into immense mounds. Their molded, ornate, whimsical turrets hung in an improbable mass of neon blue that seemed to rise in a column from the earth and vanish away into the cosmos. The burning sun was an endless explosion. That vista, coming so suddenly into view, was spine-tingling.
“Dead man’s drop . . .” Chebykin announced.
“Like jumping out of a plane,” Ovechkin added.
Noiselessly the shadows of the clouds slid across the snowy fields.
“Now we’re heading down, to the river,” Sluzhkin said.
“That’s a neck-breaker right there.” Tyutin was spooked.
The gang lined up along the edge of the slope.
“Last one there—except me—is a wuss,” Sluzhkin said. “Let’s roll!”
The gang crouched, pushed off with their poles, and coasted down together. At first they sped along nearly neck-and-neck, rapidly turning into miniatures of themselves, but then their neat formation began to fan out. Five feathery comet tails stretched down the slope and detonated one by one into snowy fountains when the skiers finally keeled over. Only Demon, bent double and his hair sticking straight up, pressed proficiently on to the river.
Sidestepping into Demon’s ski track, Sluzhkin hunched over and set off slowly, as if wheelchair-bound. The slope unscrolled before him. He looked left and right as he went, examining the meteor craters in the snow. In one pit he saw a green mitten, and speared it on the spiked end of his ski pole.
The gang was waiting for him in the thickets by the river, standing in a cloud of steam, damp, with red faces and mauve hands, their mouths open and their eyes bugged out.
“There you go, gang,” Sluzhkin told them solemnly. “That’s how the big boys do it.”
“Where now, Viktor Sergeevich?” Barmin wanted to know.
“Now we cross the river.”
Sluzhkin took off his skis and led the way, slithering down the steep, short bank.
The wind had blown the snow off the river ice, and no one could keep his footing. As they walked along the other bank, looking for a good place to climb up, even Sluzhkin took a couple of headers, but Tyutin did such a face-plant that the skis flew out of his hands like boomerangs. He crawled after them on all fours. The ice under their feet was a light greenish-blue, with near-transparent pockets where small, diamond-bright bubbles clustered. Under the ice flickered the dim stirrings of a mysterious, dark-blue, congealed life.
Clutching at branches, Sluzhkin clambered up the steep bank and, once at the top, gave the gang a hand, pulling them up like radishes from a vegetable plot. Further on stretched a humpbacked, rocky plain lightly dusted with snow, strewn with broken, angular stones, and overgrown with tall yellow grass that protruded from the snow in tufts. On the other side of the plain was a dense copse and beyond that, a high embankment. The gang climbed the embankment, and came upon two rusty narrow-gauge rails. And in the distance, a small, two-axle, converted box car sat stolidly on the tracks.
“Ye-e-e-es,” Chebykin drawled, glancing inside. “It’s passable.”
The box car had long been a favorite place for hikers to spend the night. A partition of plywood and boards knocked together any old how divided it in two. One half was for sleeping: here the cracks had been plugged with rags and scraps of plastic bags. The other half served as the dining room. It had a gaping hole in the roof to let the smoke out, and under that, on the floor, lay a curved sheet of iron, which was the fire pit. Stone pyramids supported an iron rod from which cooking pots could be hung. And around all this was a tumble of boxes in various states of repair, for the guests to sit on.
“Where does the line go?” Barmin asked.
“That way to an old logging site and the other way to an abandoned settlement.”
After dropping their backpacks and recharging, the gang followed Sluzhkin down the embankment toward the cave. At just the right spot they veered off into the copse, crossed it with a crackle of branches, and came out by a sheer, uneven slope overrun with crooked spruces. Towering over that slope was the vast, craggy wall of Mount Shikhan.
The wall that was Shikhan resembled a smoothed-out sheet of crumpled paper. Snow lay on its ledges, and spots of frost-burned lichen showed brown here and there. There was in the great bulk of Shikhan that loomed over the valley something perfectly pre-human, no longer comprehensible, and the whole world seemed to recoil from it, forming a gulf of inviolable silence and twilight. It was a blood-curdling silence that made the sickly, dwarf trees on the slope twist and turn as they tried to escape but found themselves pinned, as if by wizardry, to the spot. Shikhan eclipsed the setting sun, and behind it, in a sky of caustic blue, a fantastic halo burned.
“Shikhan’s a reef from the Permian period,” Sluzhkin explained.
It was strange to hear the word “reef” used to describe a prehistoric monolith that had outlived by an immeasurably long time its parent ocean and now stood alone in the midst of a continent, in the middle of a world utterly alien to it that was lit by entirely other constellations.
Immediately below the craggy wall was a foot-worn platform that angled down to a long, narrow, horizontal crevice that could have been the bluff’s half-open mouth. Warm breath flowed from it.
“There’s the cave,” Sluzhkin told the gang, and tossed a pine cone into its gullet.
“Would you come with us?” Tyutin asked Sluzhkin wistfully.
“No, gang,” Sluzhkin balked. “I’ve already been, and it’s perfectly safe in there. And it won’t kill you to go in on your own. Truth be told, I don’t care for caves. You crawl along like a pig in slop, in the dark, and crack your dome on the corners. If I go back to school with a goose egg on my forehead, who’s going to believe that I didn’t get it in a drunken brawl on New Year’s Eve? In you go, and I’ll wait for you back at the box car.”
Barmin was the first to brave it. He squatted down on his haunches, stared into the darkness, and crept carefully forward, lighting the way with a flashlight. The soles of his feet disappeared. The gang waited. Then a hollow yowling came from the cave: “Ooo-ooo-ooo . . . skeletons, skeletons! . .”
The gang filed in after Barmin. Tyutin went last, with the air of one condemned to death, after gazing at the sky in a lingering farewell.
Sluzhkin stood for a while, then turned around and went back. The colors of evening grew quietly denser around him, as if someone had added to them just one drop of blue too many. The gray, snow-covered scarp turned blue-gray. The copses flowed together into jagged strips. The red sun turned lilac. And a green moon showed itself in the toxic-blue, Northern-lights sky.
Sluzhkin went back to the box car and started playing homemaker. He cut spruce boughs for the “bedroom” and disemboweled the backpacks. In one corner, he made a supplies cache, consisting of his little sack of ground buckwheat, Ovechkin’s cake, Demenev’s tea and preserves, Barmin’s curd tarts, Chebykin’s pastries, and Tyutin’s five jars of stew. The bottles of vodka Sluzhkin jammed into a snowdrift. He broke up a box to make a fire, filled some pots with snow, and hung them over the flames. Then he sat by the fire and started drinking leftover hot coffee from a thermos.
The gang came back ninety minutes or so later. Crimson smoke was rising from the sinkholes, and they emerged from it like devils from the underworld, black with dirt and soot, and spattered with candle wax.
“That cave rocked!” a delighted Chebykin said to Sluzhkin.
“Beyond awesome,” Ovechkin added.
“We had a hard time getting out,” Tyutin reported.
The gang crowded around the fire, stretching out their hands to it.
“Where’s the coffee? I want something hot.” Chebykin was looking around for the thermos.
“I drank all the coffee,” Sluzhkin confessed.
“You’re such a creep, Viktor Sergeevich . . .”
“So we’ll hit the vodka instead,” Sluzhkin countered, setting out the mugs and twisting the cap off the bottle. “And then you’ll toddle off to the settlement for wood. And make it snappy, no slacking off.”
The gang groused. Still, they handed round the mugs, clinked them, and drank their vodka. Then, groaning, they climbed out of the box car and plodded off down the tracks toward the abandoned settlement. Soon they rounded the bend and disappeared from sight, and Sluzhkin was left alone, sitting on a box in front of the little fire. He smoked, took an occasional swig of vodka, and looked around.
Meanwhile, the sunset was burning with all the surplus colors left by the departing year. A smoky, coal-red sun hung over the horizon. The fading sky ran the spectrum; the narrow, lemon-yellow strip of sunset transitioning smoothly into an unearthly emerald green that morphed at the zenith into a powerful, bright, full-bodied blue. And to the east, that concentration of blue grew into a profound blackness in which stars ignited, as though an improbable pressure there had begun a process of crystallization.
And the earth reflected the sky in reverse: in the west, the fire-blackened forest gnawed with uneven teeth at the darkling disk in the sky, while under the arches of darkness in the east, the forest glimmered like a blue iceberg lit from within. The snow had taken on a mirrored sheen and blazed blood-red.
But most puzzling of all was the noiseless movement that enveloped the world. Weightily, wearily, the sun was sinking. Lengthening shadows crept ominously on, palpating the path ahead and plunging, snake-like, into the folds of the sinkholes. A murky swell rolled down from above, washing away one light after another. Crimson smoke billowed after the sun, past the embankment, and the box car seemed to have gone away too, following the curve of the earth and carrying Sluzhkin, crouched over the fire, off with it.
The gang returned out of the starry darkness carrying huge armfuls of scrap wood stripped from the abandoned settlement’s fences. The fire came alive again and the gang settled around it. Their faces, lit oddly from below, looked alike. Soon the tea was on the boil and the buckwheat was simmering briskly. Born from a handful of dried grains, like Aphrodite from the sea-foam, it fidgeted under the pot lid, trying to be comfortable, and sighing, complaining, and muttering under its breath all the while. It was a high-strung, skittish lady. As pitch darkness fell outside the box car, the gang sat down to supper.
“Ye-e-e-es, Viktor Sergeevich,” Chebykin drawled, licking his spoon. “We’ve never had a New Year’s like this before . . .”
“It’s a hundred times better seeing in the New Year this way than at home,” Ovechkin volunteered. “Our buddies have probably just managed to bail on their folks and now they’re getting wasted in an entryway somewhere, and that’s all the partying they’ll do.”
“Do you always see the New Year in like this?”
“No, this is the first time,” Sluzhkin replied.
“Huh? You’re here for the first time?” Tyutin was shocked.
“It’s the first time I’m here for New Year’s. But I’ve been here a hundred times for no particular reason.”
“This place rocks,” Chebykin agreed. “I wouldn’t mind coming here every week.”
“I really enjoy hiking to Shikhan,” Sluzhkin confided to them. “And not for the cave, but just because, for all this . . .” He gave a vague wave of the hand. “I even wrote a poem about it when I was your age . . .”
The gang didn’t hesitate: “Let’s hear it.”
“But it’s a lyrical poem, not like my song about Susanin and the Poles.”
“So what? Do we look like we care?
“Suit yourself,” Sluzhkin said.
Railroad halt Valyozhnaya, in the snowy taiga: Quiet, undistinguished, sleepy-eyed at dawn. Skies are sparkling mirrors and the forests crystal. Red sun over taiga Risen slow and stately From the silver snowdrifts And the frozen earth. White and frigid snowfall, What have you done to me? I could wander nightlong In this silent world.
Over snowy landscapes stands a boundless darkness, Slim moon shining softly, Big Dipper above. Enveloped by the blueness, tousled by the wind gusts, Railroad halt Valyozhnaya You’re the journey’s fate: All the joy of landfall, All the tears of leaving. Soon the train will pull out, Wind’s horse-soldiers soaring And across the hillsides Dashing swift away.
The gang listened, unusually serious.
“Turns out you’re quite a talent, Viktor Sergeevich,” Chebykin said respectfully.
“Oh, come on!” Sluzhkin balked. “There’s nothing special in that poem. It’s just a good, run-of-the-mill piece of verse. I like it because it’s simple and sincere. But anyone who knows Russian can write good poetry. No, gang, I’m not a talent. I’m just creative.”
“Perhaps that’s why you go on expeditions,” Barmin concluded.
“Shoot, I really want to go on an expedition,” Chebykin sighed. “Viktor Sergeevich, have you thought where we’ll be going?”
“Give me a break, it’s a hundred years until spring. You’ll have second thoughts a million times over, and by then you’ll have pestered me to death.”
“No. I won’t have second thoughts,” Tyutin promised.
“Then maybe I’ll have second thoughts about you, Tyutin. You’re one heck of a bellyacher.”
“No I’m not!” Tyutin exclaimed. “It’s just the way I am. I’m creative too. And I watch what I do.”
“But really, Viktor Sergeevich . . .”—Chebykin would not let it drop—”Where are we going?”
Sluzhkin gave in. “There’s a good little river, called the Ledyanaya. It’s rated class one in difficulty, with one set of class four rapids. So we’re going to the Ledyanaya.”
The box car’s plank walls, illuminated by the swaying fire, made them feel cozy and safe, although flittering spider webs of gloom still lurked in the corners. Sluzhkin glanced at his watch, turned on the radio, and adjusted the dial, so that no broadcasting station in the world would distract the gang from what he was going to say.
“Gang!” Sluzhkin said. “It’s only half an hour to the New Year. This past year has been one thing and another—good and bad, hard and easy. Let’s be quiet in the time that’s left, and remember what we will never remember again, so we can go on into the future with no excess baggage.”
The gang stopped talking, and stared thoughtfully into the fire. Sluzhkin was quiet too. The night before the New Year was upon them, its open eyes all-knowing—a sphinx amid the snows of the North. It was a photo negative of a time, when the white earth was brighter, purer, and larger than the black sky. The radio whistled, hissed, and gurgled, as if in a hurry to tell people something important, something they needed to know. The earth was flying through the mysterious radio waves of the universe, while the cold of all creation licked at its rounded flanks. The crystal tips of the eternal silence slender spears surveyed the distant tracery of the hoarfrost sky. Sparks ran along the unseen arcs of meridians overhead and from beyond the horizon drifted the inaudible peal of fluttering poles. The smoke from the fire flowed into the Milky Way; the fire seemed to be exhaling stars.
“It’s time,” said Sluzhkin and turned the dial again.
The resonant silence in the speaker faltered, whimpered, and suddenly, like a stone flung into a deep pool, the radio was blurting out the first chime of a bell. It was followed by a scatter of other bells, reverberating like a bucket bouncing down a flight of stairs. The last was followed by a ghastly, nerve-knotting silence, and now the great bell came like a penitent and began to bow low to the ground, beating its cast iron forehead against an icy floor. It set the hair on end and made everyone ache for its inhuman torments. Sluzhkin stood, and the gang got up too. Lips moved soundlessly, counting off the strokes.
“Happy New Year,” Sluzhkin said.
“And happy days,” the gang responded raggedly, bringing their mugs together.
And the clatter of those mugs echoed—touchingly, provincially—the majestic thunder of the Kremlin chimes.
From Geograf globus propil (St. Petersburg, Russia: Azbooka, 2005). By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2009 by Liv Bliss. All rights reserved.