A novel by Ksenia Anske, Draft 2
Chapter 1. The Bed in the Woods
Irka Myshko woke up at a quarter to six in the morning next to a boar and a catfish, on a bed in the middle of the woods. She looked them over and her mouth tightened. Nothing changed since yesterday; on the contrary, they looked a bit less threatening, peaceful even. Morning sun sent feeble rays through dense ceiling of leaves. Light greased the boar’s fur with shine. Its snout wheezed in guttural snores, the bulk of its beastly body heaved. Irka passed her eyes over the shape next to it. The bloated sot of a bottom feeder. Parasitic. Naked. Its barbels fluttered like a mutated mustache. As big as the hog, the fish opened its suckermouth and wiggled. Old bed’s springs whined under its weight. The boar snorted and turned to the side, exposing its paunch. The kill zone area.
It’s good you have a fat dick. I’ll have something to hold on to while I gut you. Thought Irka, seething, forcibly immobile. It was important not to wake the boar. Last night she failed to change into a mouse, to scurry out of her mind, to hide behind the subliminal barrier of indifference. Last night that swine has dined between her legs, the usual, only it didn’t get satisfied with what it tasted, it went farther. It crunched on her spine, it ripped her in half, from thigh to thigh, it devoured her all the way to her heart, sucked on her lungs, leaving her no air to scream, and stopped only when it chewed the last of her neck, kicking at the head to swim in a pool of soaked sheets.
It fell asleep after, but Irka didn’t, couldn’t. She waited for two painful hours until all was still, then gathered her remains and washed them one by one in the narrow bathtub littered with chipped enamel spots, with cheap soap. She endured the sting, taking care to lather and rinse every fold, douched with pink water of potassium permanganate, then dried herself with a large bed sheet since no towels were big enough to wrap her body in, and returned to bed, to plan her escape. Only where? In the whole of the overwhelmingly vast Moscow, there wasn’t a single place for her to disappear into.
Every day Irka hitched a ride to a feral sub-reality inside her head. It made life bearable. It made her forget the violent faces of the family that hurt her. She turned animal. She turned them animal. Boreal. Wild. As wild as the wildest taiga devoid of people. People were pain, they brought suffering. It was easier to descend into numbness, to beat confusion with the macabre, the bizarre, the prankish and the clowny, with the grotesque over-exaggerations instead of the stark reality of aggression. Cruelty. Malice.
Detachment helped Irka survive.
The boar’s piggy eyes fluttered open for a moment, closed. Its breathing pattern quickened. It started losing its fur, shedding at an alarming rate. Clumps of dark hair littered the camel wool blanket stuffed into a duvet cover with a diamond opening in the middle. Swine trotters morphed into callused hands and feet sticking out from under threadbare cotton. The snout shrunk to a pear-shaped nose riddled with veins. The stink of a wild pig gave place to that of an unwashed man’s body. Irka had to make up her mind, fast. Soon the hog would turn back to Lyosha Kabansky, her mother’s drunkard boyfriend of one year, the longest any of them stayed.
Irka glanced up. The ceiling acquired the density of a soot-darkened plaster in place of leaves. The bed didn’t float in the woods anymore, it plopped right on the creaky parquet, each leg slammed snugly into a hole from missing boards, either worn out by age or pissed through by dogs and cats. The gigantic catfish next to the boar stirred. Fat arms and breasts sprouted on its girth, spilled unsightly over the blanket. Its whiskers grew small, thinned to a mustache on a face of a sleeping woman, bloated from the alcohol consumed last night.
I wish we weren’t related. Thought Irka. I wish you weren’t my mother. I wish I was never born. Gritting her teeth, she glanced at the window and retracted fourteen years past, to when she was two, to a sunny September morning. The catfish wasn’t a catfish back then, it was Marina Somina, the woman Irka, in her absolute toddler naïveté, loved and feared above anyone else. She just got done peeing into an enameled pot with bright crimson peonies painted on it and waddled over to her mother, proud. She learned how to say her first word.
“Dua!” Said Irka brightly. She couldn’t roll a proper Russian ‘r’ yet, so it came out wrong but recognizable. She heard the word dura often, unaware that it meant ‘female fool’, under the best of circumstances. Under the worst of circumstances, it meant ‘retarded bitch’, which is exactly how it was used in Irka’s household, at the time comprised entirely of women: Irka’s mother Marina Somina, aunt Sonya Seledkina with her daughter Lenochka, grandmother Valentina Tarakanova and great grandmother Nadezhda Koza, all crammed into a three-room flat on the last floor of a nine-story Brezhnevka.
“Dua, dua, dua!” Irka poked the snoring shape on the naked mattress.
Marina grunted and opened one eye. Her normal morning started with a couple bottles of beer. Money ran scarce that month. She couldn’t afford her hangover remedy and suffered the consequences in the form of a blinding headache several days in a row, dousing it in vodka. The sun didn’t help.
Marina turned to the other side.
“Dua! Dua!” Irka chanted on repeat, clapping hands, her feet doing a little dance.
“Go away. I’m sleeping.” Marina mumbled into the pillow.
“Dua.” Said Irka uncertainly. In her short life she learned to recognize her mother’s tone of voice, predicting the future with astounding accuracy. It went down two paths, bad and not so bad.