Королевство кривых зеркал[xcvii]

Hush. He will tell the story forwards, but it makes more sense in reverse.[xcviii]

He was at his house, leaving. He closed a red door and he thought “I must have it painted black.”[xcix]

His car was broken. It was a Mercedes Benz. It had been broken since 1969.[c]

So, he walked up the road. It was a long row to hoe and he would be walking for two solid days to get to where he was going.

And on that second day, the waters parted from the waters.[ci] The mirror crack’d from side to side as the man turned to the dirt path from the paved.[cii] There were trees crowded around the road and twigs dropped into the puddles from above. Again, he looked above at the clouded sky. There was no rain falling. Yet. But it was pregnant and foreboding. The late winter weather seemed waiting to drench him again. At least it was not snow.

He trudged along the basin. To his right, there were glimpses of a large reservoir. The reservoir was where the Dnipro and the Pripyat merged and converted. It was a Kingdom of crooked mirrors – which bank was which?[ciii] He realized he was more tired than he thought.

There was the quiver of spring, but not yet, not yet. Then ahead a yellow pickup truck was parked in the distance. Joy leapt from his heart. He ran very slowly because the trail was made of mud, and he had a long way to go. His eyes were fixed on the yellow back of the truck hoping that he could rest. Even if rest was in the back. Even if rest meant sitting in the rain. Anything was better than this. Anything.

So along he ran with drench green boots and tatter fur on the inside with brown coat draping and gray hat dropping. Then he saw, he saw… He saw nothing. The was no driver behind the wheel. It seemed as if the truck was abandoned. A crushing feeling made him feel more alone. He went walking; a sad walk at that.

Along the truck’s edge until he reached the driver’s side. There, there was a body. He could see red that exited towards the back. He did not see the face. It was a civilian – all the good that got him. Then he spied the keys still in the ignition. Never one to look at the teeth he opened the door and pulled the corpse out.[civ] For a moment he saw the wrinkled face. It had a white and black freckled beard. The man looked away, quickly. Very quickly. One should not look at a dead man. It would be irreligious and sacrilegious.

But in the driver’s seat, everything felt different. He felt a little bit in charge. He sat upright. His boots still felt wet and outside the precipitation went to ice, but these things did not matter. He checked the petrol and found it half full. He ignored the murmuring in his head that it was just too fortunate to find a truck with any amount of fuel in it. Coincidence.

The wheels slogged through the grime. It had been raining much of the time and the road showed the wear and tear of the late winter rain with a vengeance. He focused now on driving because his eyesight was not as it used to be. But he ignored glasses. Too fragile, too delicate, to easily lost, to easily forgotten.

He was a man, God damn it.[cv] Oleg was his God-given name.

Then up ahead there were men on the road. Infantry men. Green clad infantry men. Russian green clad infantry men.

There were only two choices, and he did not have time to choose either. The truck stopped.

The window was rolled down by inches which a manual window handle moved. Teeth.

The first man on the outside placed his hands over the door, and began to speak:

“What are you doing driving around here?” The face was young, the words were plastic. The young face stared blankly into his eyes with a brown surreptitious look.


The man could see that there was a hidden agenda. The man started to sweat in the snow fluttering in. The snow had no colors anymore.[cvi] Black edged in from his eyes. He stuttered: “I am going to my cousin’s house.”

“Not anymore. Get out of the truck.” He seemed a God to the man with a 30 second attention span.[cvii]

Panic reigned. They would find out that he did not own the truck. He knew how dangerous panic is. He once wanted to be a hero. Two battles would do. Though he knew what happened after a couple of battles. [cviii]

The man stepped out into the falling snow.

They searched.

They found.

They looked at him.

They made a decision.

It was the wrong one for Oleg.

But they decided.

But the psychopathic God declared:[cix]

“We have seen your evil. Taking a truck from a deadman.”

The man went to his knees and wept. Jesus wept.[cx]

The God proclaimed the sentence under the code; the code of those to whom evil is done, do evil in return.[cxi] It is what all schoolchildren learn.[cxii]

The mob herded him a mile and he saw a red painted barn.[cxiii] He wished it was painted black.[cxiv] Piled like goats into a pen but he knew that a truck, massive produce-truck with aluminum sides and steel driver’s cage, was going to maw them down inside its gullet. Even if the driver did not know why he was here.

He could see broken men stomped up the side door in double file like they were to work that sets you free.[cxv] Dull in their drab fervor. Cows to be loaded into the slaughter.

That would be his fate he realized as he moved through a line that magically appeared. He became like all the others: a good soldier Švejk, a little teensy-weensy gift to the propetariat.[cxvi] How we drown in stylistic audacity like a parrot.[cxvii]

He put one foot ahead of the other. He did this several more times, each time became less, less, less of a man and more, more, more of a robot. That is, it was his job to step. Робота – robota – job – крок – krok – step – робота – це крок – job step, job step, job step – until he did not know. He was now a private and twisted himself it to knots and quivers in an ecstatic terror at the approach of a Russian soldier.[cxviii] As he when from open snow to closed spruce barn he looked around: there was no torture chamber, of KGB-style, here, but each man had to undress and be examined by the young nurse of tightly knit blond hair or her opposite number who looked the same but was sloppy in the details of uniform and dress. He imagined them to have opposite names, like Uyla and Yalu.[cxix]

He slowly robot-step until he was at the front of the queue. The slovenly one addressed him. “Name?”

“Oleg Moskalenko.”

“What rank?”

“I am a civilian.”

Her opposite number, seated on a metal chair behind a plywood desk wrote down Moskalenko, Oleg, Ryadovóu on her paper.[cxx]

But he could read. “That is not right, I said I was a civilian.”

The nurse at the table stared into the paper and then into his eyes: “This life’s not for living, it’s for fighting and for war.[cxxi] I have done you the favor of conscripting you.” She then went down to writing.

Uyla, the standing one then asked: “What was your job here?”

He smiled: “To step.”

Yalu wrote down: Infantry man.

And so it went. Each question was asked. But the response was distorted in translation. They went in as free men and left as Jigsaw puzzle traitors.[cxxii] He was then thrown into a shorter line on the egress side. He quickly put on his clothes before the wind from the outside swirled and swooshed around him but was forbidden by a guard to put on boats or socks. So did the others. He was placed on barefoot on metal plates; he imagined that they were charged with electricity.[cxxiii]

Outside again. Then robot-step onto the truck. As the doors were closing in on the prisoners, the man realized there was no light. He sat quickly on a long, low wooden seat. The side door closed, and it was black. The ripeness of 40 male frames already started to wreak in the darkness. He bumped on both sides with other jackets.

Then he heard on his left: “So what did they catch you for?”

Before the man could answer another middle-aged voice chimed up: “I stole a loaf of bread.”

Another older voice: “I stole a cup with water in it.”

Finally, Oleg said: “I was more of a thief, I stole a truck.”

Then a booming voice rang out: “I was in an abandoned grocery store; I could take everything you had and give you change.”

Another Voice: “There is more change on the other side.”

The First Voice: “What do you think will happen?”

Another Voice: “Are you actually a soldier?”

First Voice: “No.”

Another Voice: “I am. They trained us for torture. We are probably going to be extreme renditioned as non-civilian combatants. If we were women, the unspeakable would happen.”

First Voice: “But we are not.”

Booming Voice: “We stole, that means we are the enemy.”

Another Voice: “Give that man a cheroot.”[cxxiv]

Oleg dreamed they were like angels, with no bodies, only stench. Surely, thought Oleg. there had to be some kind of discipline, a military order. But all he heard was the snoozing of the men, with occasional swerve on the road and the banging from the inside by slaps on the metal. Occasionally, he heard the Russian driver talk to his infantry man. The was panic in his voice along with a dose of tired. They wept. He also heard the guard talking about rape patrol. The guard laughed.

But then the truck stopped. The doors were opened wide, and the guards roughly tore down each and every man and laid him on the ground. His turn: face to the black ground. It rotted even under the gray snow though heard bells, as if by a church.

Suddenly there was a dull pain in his left leg from a rifle butt. The man grunted but this was for effect. But then the rifle butt was followed by others – a parade of pounding with an organizing rhythmic pulsing black.

Oleg faded to black with only the church bells chiming.


He opened his eyes and was aware that he had been moved. There was a brackish pool that lapped upon his skin. The was a prickling as his blood rolled to his limbs. A flush in his eyes as if his face was turned to a frozen sun.

A strong sting from a rod climbing up his left leg.

“Keep your head down.” It was a Russian accent.

The man kept his down. He kept it still. He could only hear his own breathing and the of another man – raspy, grapply, and heavy.

“I do not think you realize how deep a hole you are in. Why were you spying on us?”

“I was not spying. I was go…” And then he coughed as two whips sting his back.

“We know that you were spying. Do not answer an affirmative question with a negative response. It is impolite.”

Oleg nodded slowly. Strong stings on his right leg. Oleg grimaced.

The accent continued: “Next time it will cost you.”

Oleg nodded slowly. A gulp formed in the throat of Oleg.

“You may … you will not be… alive. If I say so.”

Oleg nodded slowly. He swallowed, rather dryly.

“So, what were you looking for?” There was anger for the first time in the accent’s tremolo. A darkness, a bile. There are bells from the nearby church. Oleg looked up: there he saw a dimly lit figure, perhaps in a nurse’s uniform but her face was scored, as if painted black.[cxxv]

Down his face and over his neck came a canvas bag. The accent said: “I warned you not to move.” Oleg’s hands were tied. Then a sharp slit washed asunder his left pinky. It torn brutally into the skin and then to flesh, and to the articulated bone and gnawed the digit from the hand. The hand was wet with blood and red flesh. Oleg could not feel the finger. There were 9 fingers left on his ring of doom.[cxxvi]

Oleg faded to black with only the church bells chiming.


He awoke again. It seemed like night, but he did not lift his head. He waited and then a heavy-set creature dropped himself in the chair.

“Are you listening? We have done this a few times.”

Oleg counted his fingers. There were 5 fingers and part of a sixth. He must have not remembered.

“You will wait until I decide what to do with you and others.”

Oleg’s groin pinched in a knot.

The accent spoked: “Do you understand? Just nod.”

With the earth pummeling into Oleg’s nose, he groveled in the ‘yes’ direction.

He heard two sets of boots come down the wooden stairs. The footprint gouged the wooden floor. The bag was put back on. He was carried and slung on a different, and smaller, truck. He then noticed that his legs were tied. Mashed along he was in a morass askew of other prisoners, each one different, each on the same. Some were staring at their hands, lightened of the load of fingers and thumbs, lightened of white flesh.

They rode for some distance; Oleg did not know how far. Snow was the companion for much of this time. The truck stopped.

They were thrown in a storm cellar which was shut. The faces looked up at once with wisps of hair and beard falling as a gray twilight sacked across all the bodies. Skin, sweat, and tears. They were, everyone, bags. Bag of bones.

There was no talking. The was not pointed in the castle of mirrors.

They simply waited to be rescued or called by the angel of death painted to black.

The old man waiting for the pasture of the open sea from the war.

There are different boots. A white crow?[cxxvii] Hush.




Full moon scours down upon the midnight.[cxxix] This any could see. Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.[cxxx]

But anything else, for a Russian, requires higher approval: rapes did not happen. Summary executions? Just ask them if they were summary.[cxxxi]

Or look at the moon over the graves.

Earlier this afternoon the babushkas mourned the fallen. They wailed over the purple flashes over the coffins. Weeping. Weeping. Weeping.

A tip where rotting waste. There was heavy smoke from the thurible, a metal censer suspended on chains. Ora cen porta l’un de’ duri margini; e ‘l fummo del ruscel di sopra aduggia, sì che dal foco salva l’acqua e li argini.[cxxxii]

Then the congregation slipped to St. Cyril’s church, numbed by malignant glow, and took communion until they vomited.[cxxxiii] The ashen pillars mixed with the sooty air created an aura with which was tormented respite. Kneeling before the priest atoning for their sins, particularly for the ones committed to perished and appointed. Life is so strange, when it binds missing persons to a destination unknown.[cxxxiv]

And then the sun went down below both the dacha and the hovel. The women saw the Cossacks. The women were afraid. When they had fear, they were hungry, even for a little bread. They clasped and cuddled near their sons or their husband. They asked but the husband looked to the stormtrooper and their tanks and shook their heads.

The women cried: “I do not want to loot the corpses in my lust for plunder.[cxxxv] You can see the bakery with bread that is free. Take a little for me.”

The men shook their heads and pointed to the bayonets a thousand.

The women cried out: “My flesh and blood seek nourishment. Give me life or I will go up in flames.”[cxxxvi]

But the men shook their heads. They pointed to the blood-red holes into which the slain had been pushed.[cxxxvii] At the priests who were loyal to St. Cyril’s Russian Church.


But still, the women wailed. And then men’s hearts had been softened. One man and then another calculated the step which would bring home wafers to the one that they once loved, if only in a memory.

They heard the hissing petrol from several tanks gushing to feed the awful smoke.[cxxxviii] They became black and rust-cover rotting garbage.[cxxxix] They saw that it was cold and clear. These factors weigh one against the other. A chance. The husbands ran.

They took a chance and became part of the little holocaust, reenacted. A sorrow for their deaths came too late.

The women continue to pray. “Oh, my Lord, I will not ask him to go out for food this time. Not even by the light of the full moon.”

In days they are buried with flowers on the graves. The night comes and the full moon scours down upon the midnight unquieted.


бурлеск, балаган, буфонада[cxl]


Ladies and germinals, terminals, the clock is nearly striking the hour over space but not time, precluding overreach of spare.[cxli] Frob, tweek, twiddle, it is time for the espresso and burlesque.[cxlii] O, e, iye in Chomskian slur on the Theatre of Beautiful Flowers,[cxliii] where everything valuable is free and everything cheap costs dough. (Do not believe me?[cxliv] Candide is free, the annotations, translations, are expensive. Make a good joke bad for money. You can even get a degree in Translation at Tsinghua University.)

The record player skips a bit because the ending is near. A burlesque sideshow in buffoonery,[cxlv] in this micro stage below the underground. It is better this way: dirty pink curtains and a lower chance to be annihilated by something untoward happening. And the seats were close enough to the table that they would not know where one body began, and the next one ended. A mausoleum du jour in Kharkiv.

Eat gamely! Scotch and chocolate for all concerned! Then go outside to look at the sky and squares litter in the night downtown. It will only mean a moment of disorientation on the location for a piecewise of time. 12 rings or so.[cxlvi] Then sing out songs for the dead rooster for the day Misses Day Died. (9 of May when victory was lost when the Devil hid the cheese, and the Moskva was accidentally sunk on purpose. The Ruskies bomb Kyiv in retaliation.)

Live from Belgorod across the nominal border where the once and future invasion would start. You can tell which side you are on because on one side it is a war and on the other side, you get arrested for holding up Tolstoy’s classic. (Shhh, its title is secret instead of a novel.)

This theatre is the throng which spans out from Konstyutsii Square. Not a theatre Bolshoi, of course, nor one of the normal, but one of the nano. Nanu, Nanu. Of course, the humor is blacker – but it is black outside, so why not inside? The tables are black, the seats are black, the costumes are black – even the coffee is black since the barista has no milk. Only the spotlights aren’t black (But we are working on it! The next shipment from Moskva should have some.) And bien sur, the burlesque is blacker the blackest black. But delivered by virgins. But you don’t believe me? Ask them yourself.[cxlvii] (Old joke. But you cannot be too fussy, we are here to laugh until tears flow in.)

Satire – firing blanks until one hits (Whereas parody you pull out the joke in bound stitches 😉

Ba-dump-dump-borscht. Ah. (Coffee gets you going.)

There a three on the stage. One man, two women. It is his name first on the card because he has the only agent. Or more exactly, the only agent who sleeps, or not-sleeps, with the owner. They are young because you can make a living on nothing when you are young. (Old people need to be paid to make a living to work for nothing.) The boy is Artem, and the girls are Lina and Tetiana.[cxlviii] Let me tell you about all three: Tetiana is a heavenly garden, of a self-portrait with lilies of the valley; Lina is her because she went apolitical and then wandered in heart, (And what is more political than that? One has to eat! On the left when the heart rules the mind, you fall in love, but on the right, when the mind rules the heart, you only weep.)[cxlix] And where to start with Artem? He grew up near the Red Zone (but not near Hongjing.)[cl] He takes pictures for the newspaper, especially about fires burning in shops. He is leaving with the rest of his unit. But he needs a chance to have tears-amid-laughter before he goes.

Of course, since this is Comedy (with a subtle smile, because as the Comedian says to Rorschach, a human death is tragedy but a million deaths is comedy)[cli] there is a pull of the stage for the attention on the lights. Look at the audience’s giggling-gaggling-geeing-guffawing mischance – they know the off-stage is at least as juicy as the jokes. It is the sweep of the skirts as they tangle that gives it away. Specifically, when the jokes are lame as a tank in retreat. (I meant redeployment, прости́ть.)[clii] She sleeps with him and then he sleeps with the other she and then the two shes, in revenge au revanche, sleep with one another like sheep on the clock. (In English there is no elles, hells bells Welles in revision.)[cliii]

“I love you!” Glare.

“I love you.” Sweet.

“I love you!” Glare.

“I love you!” Slap.

And the pantomime slapstick breaks out. Spread your arms in black to the dark crucifixion on stage. It is almost time for the electrician to snap the power at the Moskva Street station, across the river. Let the next-blacklights go dark. It is about 54 minutes or so until the hour bleeds. People will go out and laugh, but they do not know what about. But they will discuss with glowing eyes outré on sweaters lucid.

Tick-tock. The fortress besieged.[cliv] (Where everyone inside gets needs to get out, everyone on the outside desires to get in.[clv] And all the half-truths come up lying on Vicomte de Bragelonne lounge chairs.)[clvi] Tick-tock – the wolves do bark for the blaggarts are coming to town.[clvii] Putin spits out threats like a World War I belligerent synchronizing chain and the whole gag turns rancid.

Ba-dump-dump-borscht. Ah.

Tootle loo.