Skip to content

The Snake In Lace-up Shoes and Cap

The old lady, silly twit, listens with her mouth open and smiles dreamily, looking at me. She shouldn’t stare at me. I stick out my tongue. Maryvanna, shutting her eyes in shame, whispers hatefully, “Hideous creature!”

That night she’ll read her uncle’s poetry to me again:

Nanny, who screamed so loudly outside,
Flashing past the window,
Creaking the porch door,
Sighing under the bed?

Sleep, don’t worry,
God will watch over you,
Those were ravens calling,
Flying to the cemetery.

Nanny, who touched the candle,
Who’s scratching in the corner,
Who’s stretched in a black shadow
On the floor from the door?

Sleep, child, don’t worry,
The door is strong, the fence is high,
The thief won’t escape the block
The axe will thud in the night.

Nanny, who’s breathing down my back,
Who’s invisible and climbing
Ever closer up my crumpled bed sheet?

Oh child, don’t frown
Wipe your tears and don’t cry.
The ropes are pulled tight,
The executioner knows his job.

Well, after hearing a poem like that, who’d be brave enough to lower her feet from the bed, to use the potty, say? Everybody knows that under the bed, near the wall, is the Snake: in lace-up shoes, cap, gloves, motorcycle goggles, and holding a crook in his hand. The Snake isn’t there during the day, but he coagulates by night from twilight stuff and waits very quietly: who will dare lower a leg? And out comes the crook! He’s unlikely to eat you, but he’ll pull you in and shove you under the plinth, and you’ll fall endlessly, under the floor, between the dusty partitions. The room is guarded by other species of nocturnal creatures: the fragile and translucent Dry One, weak but terrible, who stands all night in the closet and in the morning goes into the cracks. Behind the peeling wallpaper are Indrik and Hindrik: one is greenish and the other gray, and they both run fast and have many feet. And in the corner on the floor is a rectangle of copper grating, and under that a black abyss: “ventilation.” It’s dangerous to approach even in the daytime; the Eyes stare out, without blinking. Yes, the most horrible is the nameless one who is always behind me, almost touching my hair (Uncle knows!). Many times he plans to reach out, but he keeps missing his chance and slowly, sadly, lowers his incorporeal hands. I wrap myself tight in the blanket, only my nose sticking out—they don’t attack from the front.

Having frightened me with her uncle’s poems, Maryvanna goes back to her place in a communal apartment, where, besides her, live Iraida Anatolyevna with her diabetes, and dusty Sonya, and the Badylovs, who were deprived of parental rights, and the hanged uncle… And she’ll be back tomorrow if we don’t get sick. We often are.

—Tatyana Tolstaya, Loves Me, Loves Me Not, translated by Antonina W. Bouis and Jamey Gambrell

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.