July 15, 2022

The Tankman and the Sailor


The Tankman and the Sailor

The village of Myakishino had handed over all its men to the war, not that anyone asked their opinion on the matter. In the cemetery, by the ruined church, lay soldiers from other places who’d been brought to the little local hospital. But only two of their own came back, the Tankman and the Sailor – both Sashas and both with the same family name, Smirnov. The Sailor had fought at sea, on a torpedo boat, but he’d got hit just as they were tying up the ship in Murmansk, during Operation Silver Fox, deep in the fall of 1941. After that he rattled around from rear area to rear area and infirmary to infirmary, but then again, Sasha the Sailor was not especially keen on getting back to the front.

He being a two-fisted drinker and all, as soon as his pension came in, its fate was sealed. He’d be down at the store throwing his money around on drinks for everyone, but then he’d insist they sing with him, and it was always that golden oldie “The Boundless Expanse of the Ocean.” But how could you disrespect a combat veteran? So sing they did.

The Sailor was married – to a woman from “way up North,” as he put it. Either Finnish or Latvian she was, and a spry, dried-up, shrill old thing. They kept rabbits for sale, and the whole village said that the Sailor must know magic spells because for him they bred like mad. So the Sailor would make the rounds, would humbly ask the villagers to let him mow their land, and afterward, he’d shuffle off, stooping under the weight of the grass bundle and roaring “Brave and scrappy were we lads on our torpedo boats...” at the top of his voice.


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