November 01, 2023

An Old Man and his Dog

An Old Man and his Dog

Grandpa Sasha Panteleyev was sitting, numb with cold, on his glass-screened porch in the early evening chill, gloomily watching the flies butting stubbornly against the grimy panes as he traced a finger over paisley-patterned oilcloth and felt just terrible. Even out here, he could hear the voices of his children – Vitya the eldest, Ninka, the middle one, and Vova, the youngest – rattling on back in the house. They’d come together to mark the forty days since the death of their mother, who had passed away in a quiet hurry, as if remaining ever true to her lifelong way of not being a bother to anyone. She’d leaned over to drop the bucket into the well and stiffened like that, then she keeled over sideways and seemed to fall asleep. It was an hour before Grandpa Sasha noticed she wasn’t there; he thought she’d gone to clean up around the cow, or collect the eggs, or swap nonsense with the neighbor woman over the fence, or soak the linens to be laundered, or do any of the simple everyday things that in the countryside aren’t even considered work.

The whole village mourned Grandma Valya, and they carried her coffin themselves instead of loading it onto a truck, like all the others. After his wife’s death, Grandpa Sasha became strangely distracted and kept thinking that he was still little, a towheaded kid running to the river in knee-length trousers and a shirt sewn from his father’s army smock, carrying a hazelwood pole and a big can that had once held American hardtack and had been made over into a fishing pail. Or he was off to school, in a jacket his grandmother had knitted that embarrassed him horribly, so he pulled it off behind the granary near the school and then ran at breakneck speed, his teeth chattering from the cold. Or he was a tractor driver, and the hot sun was full in his eyes, and the tractor was rumbling and laboring, pulling a harrow behind, and, with his bangs flopping over his forehead and a cheap cigarette glued to the corner of his mouth, he tried to spot Valya among all the girls in her work crew. Or, in a new jacket and holding an accordion with a patent-leather strap, he was sitting in the back of a truck on his way to court Valya and went flying out of the truck bed into the muddy runoff from the farm... And he carried on picturing himself in various ways, both old and young, and now he’s meeting Valya and his firstborn at the district maternity hospital, and now three-year-old Vitya has cut his finger on an axe, and the blood’s gushing out, and Sasha puts his lips to the wound and tries so hard to make it stop, and now Ninka, the middle one, is running to him out on the hayfield with the first jar of strawberries she’s ever picked, and she trips, and the strawberries scatter across the stubble, and Ninka’s crying, but Sasha gathers them carefully, so as not to crush them, and feeds them to her out of his hand, and now the youngest, has got wasted on moonshine for the first time, in the sixth grade, and Sasha takes Valya’s belt and gives him a good thrashing, along with an earful of hair-raising language.

All of this filled his days, while the whole of his usual life went missing. Everything else was needless to him, because the one and only important thing was his memory of Valya, with whom he’d lived for nigh on half a century and with whom his soul had grown together as two tree trunks grow together and intertwine. So strong was the yearning for his wife that Sasha felt no desire to eat or drink. All he wanted was to sit and smoke and watch the clouds rising from his cigarette and catch a glimpse of his darling Valya.

Digital Subscription Required

Get unlimited digital access for just $2 a month.

Don't have an account? signup

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602