קטרילבקה קידמה

The show must go on. There must be progress – in costumes for example.[xi] She twirled to see the whole of the outfit. Serafina was truly unhappy.

Not that she didn’t have reasons – unhappy from inside to outside. Ukrainian in a country being overrun by Russian forces, Jewish in an Orthodox Christian nation; acting in a town of straights, and an atheist in a land of believers. The president’s face looked at her from his portrait stuck on her mirror.

She looked at her face. Did it show? Jewish did – there was a lilt to her features – nothing so gauche as a crooked nose but a sweep to her cheekbones. Some of the young men worshiped that. She thought: everywhere there are those who want something different. She was thin and there were those who felt she was attractive. Who is she to judge? She glanced at the other chair that had a man’s sweater.

“Are you ready?” The voice came from behind. It was the techie – the man who could get you anyone, but for himself, nothing. The paunch said it all. Likes women but indulges in latkes. The second let you down easily and was eager for late nights. Unlike Serafina. He had tried. Repeatedly.

“I’m only me when I’m acting.”

“Limelight is in 5.” He placed his fingers like a pistol.

She thought: “What an Imaginary Invalid.” But out her mouth came: “Break a leg.”

“Toi, Toi, Toi.” He tried to pinch her … anywhere.

She looked to the stage at Kolesca Theater -it was an Academic, part of the gaggle of theatre, schools, churches, museums, coffee bars, and wine hangouts. People needed to be picked-up or gently let down. She glanced over at the audience, who were quieting down. The pale-yellow bricks with white arches had attracted the weary to the street curved near the thicket of woods. She blinked.

And within the blink, she remembered coming up the Funicular – a cable car that went up and down. It was a freezing day, it was січень, the month when the Orthodox Christians celebrated what they wished to be on a child. She saw a young man reading a novel, patiently lost in thought. She envied the book – to inspire such attention.

But then, in the present, she moved to her position. The wheel of dialog had begun. The nylon curtain had begun. A steam whistle from stage right called. She waited while the lead played out the opening with his pharmacist then the lead rang a bell. It was almost time for her entrance – but she had to wait for him to shout. The script had an exact number but the director left the exact number to the lead. The director thought it would be more pressure she had to listen; she rememberedthe director admonished during the first rehearsal “She comes out of her room only when it is clear she must go.” To have a room of our own – she thought that would be heavenly.

As her left hand waited to make an entrance, she again recalled the young man and the very moment that he looked up with his narrow dark-rimmed specs. It was an inner event in her mind, a flight that still had shades.

Back in the present, she saw the tiny audience and then turned to the lead and said. With. Dead. Pan. “Coming, coming.” She waited for the lead’s abuse, which was more than an act. He had tried, too. He tried cold Northern tears to get his way but in theatre, everyone knew what was live and what was Memorex. He wanted the “Ohs” to be with exclamation points.[xii]

“Oh.” She acted in the present. With deadpan.

“Oh.” When her line came up. With sarcasm.

“Oh.” Remember a different moment. It was later and night wrapped its dirty blanket as they went inside to the bedroom which she borrowed. Here were all the exclamation points. They went out. She wanted to show him where she worked.

“So, what do you think, Kuzma?”

He examined the building. He nodded. “Lots of yellow going up the slope.” He looked at all the quaint builds out of a different century, and an age of asymmetry with arches.

“I come every day from below to see the tree in the backdrop.”

But the present interrupted her memories of lines that were read. Then another verse, a little bit louder and a little worse, of the refrain: “Oh!” With feeling.

She knew that she was a bit player. She knew she was not doing well tonight but the memories kept intruding. Earlier that night they had wandered. Up a gentle hill, they reached a statue – of a clown. A tear ran down the statue’s cheek. His paperback book, all torn from reading, was upon his chest, it read: Demons – in Russian of course.

He turned to her looking at the statue: “Do you know who he was?”

“Yes. Do you?”

“Yes, yes, yes, yes. He was Aleksandr Vertinskiy, the Russian clown.”

“A Jewish clown.”

“Are you Jewish?”

She looked up and down, then giggled. She covered her mouth with both hands. “As the saying goes: only on my parent’s side.”

“What does that mean?”

“I am descended from Israel, but I do not believe.”

He closed his mouth rightly. She could see a decision being made. He straightened in his pinstripe pants and there was a tightening in his navy jacket.

“I do believe either.” His breath left a frost in the air.

“When did you make up your mind?”

“Now.” He waited with an intense gaze. “It is a struggle.” He held up his book. “My favorite author believed.” Then he put it into his jacket pocket.

She dropped her hand, finding another close to hers. They linked and then she said: “Do you want to see where I work?”

Then in the present again, they were taking their bows. She was acting by rote.

Then the ultimate memory: if it was in the acting room she borrowed, again.

She roused herself from the quilted bed. It was morning and sunlight gazed through. There was straightness to her midsection.

“May I ask you something, my Kulbaba?”[xiii]

She looked around at him with suspicion.

“Why do you have no curve?” Though it was intimated there was no hint of evil in either his face or words.

“It is a secret. But like Screwtape, it is obvious if you think about lower down.”[xiv]

“If you tell me that, then I will as well.”

She halted. She hesitated. Then she began: “I was pregnant. My father insisted that I keep it. They are Orthodox and my father’s position is that it is forbidden. Then he gave the child away. I left. Now you know.”

He straightened to sitt. There was no hesitation. “I got a letter yesterday. I have been called up.” He reached out and snagged a sweater and offered it to her.

“If I come back, I will offer you a room of your own.”

She look away towards the promenade, her heart skipped in five, and dreamed of the day.[xv]



You will not find this in any Encyclopedia of the world.[xvii] Try as you may, it will elude you. And yet it is – existence as yours, as unreality. And yet by habit, it will sound strange to you when I tell this story. On a road with many writers, one of them stopped to capture the dull brown grass at his feet. It was wartime and he realized that many people would not recognize the subtle shades that brown could muster. Brown sky over the city made of brown smoke.[xviii] Pounding with violence on the Sea of Azov.


But high overhead there was smoke mixed in with the white clouds and salt air from the city. The roof of the Cathedral had a hole in it with only one person kneeled over praying for forgiveness. Anastasiya knew that the Russians were closing in on the center of the city and would stop here soon enough. She did not weep for there were no tears. She took a moment to slice a pear with a short sharp knife. Wolfing down the juices.

All around her, there were ghosts in the machine.[xix] The time was short – what did she have to pray for? One vision of forgiveness. But then light came rushing headlong. Her neck looked up. She could feel the wind. She thought of the wind in the bushes and the aftertaste of forbidden knowledge to be plucked there. At midnight, after the night shift whirs by on bicycles towards the smelters.[xx] At midnight, after the night shift whirs by on bicycles towards the smelters.

It was in the far past, that the forbidden fruit is the sweetest if plucked but the most poisonous if enraptured. No innovation can change this. No bench disdains, no position decommences.

In the present, half a statue of the Virgin Mary half looked down – because she had only one eye under the blue cloak. Two fingers were raised up on one of her one hands. A bird’s nest had already laid out of the devastation. She tried to look closer.

But all she saw in her mind’s eye were factories with rusted bicycles though enchanted by the view of the Cathedral at anti-night.[xxi] The was music from within the Holy Church of God, silently harmonizing the intricate lines of silence.[xxii] She closed her eyes tighter because she thought she heard the hoofprints of men. Here in Mariupol, the buildings fell to a shamble of soldiers – after they had been destroyed. She turned to kneel.

The thunder of the collapse of liturgies – on the sleek point forward bombers, seeking redemption from the Satan of Earth. It is still full of sins, repentance, confessions, cupolas and … and the ecstasy.[xxiii] She counted the engines. 4. She imagined them piloted by men which gray languid, yet intertwined, baroque tales of the gallantry that they perform – littering on a cathedral and a bizarre steel factory. Their consciences slept behind the anesthesia of cosmonaut taste and whimsical abundant silver inflorescences. A laugh at those poor slobs taking sanctuary from the pilots’ temperament and derision.

Factories melted outside as she looked in at the twisted inside. What she knew was coming was what had been before. She knew that wasn’t her high-legged silhouette. It was that the man’s ugliness could penetrate and expunge and decay.

She remembered how two months ago she had wandered down the avenue by the sea, watched the delectable boys masquerading as men The spray, the waves, the torrent of grainy sand that, for the time, she did mind as she huddled close. She licked her lips wanting to taste. But she, then, was a virgin too.

Footsteps by the doorway. It was the epicenter of the domain of death, she was sure. For her anyway. She mouthed a scream. The horror, the horror, the horror.

The horror of the smashed ripple brick with yellow stucco cinders beneath lie the bodies, the bodies of children and the young women who nursed them.

The crows that fed on the tendons picked at the eyes.

The blocks of buildings scored sideways in blacked and white stitched rows. She had seen them, each and every one, as ghosts with the torn clothes of the fallen. The gaps in the concrete tops are scattered with sticks. She had seen them with their hands stuck out sideways, reaching for the light. Dead in the doorways burning. Dead that haunted her, as she crawled for the cathedral, away from the low rumble of Russian tanks growling on the turf. There were dogs strapped to uniform hunters on the splay of green splashed below. The living carried some of the dead in sheets. Trundle trundle march march.

Outside in the harbor teeth of pure titanium exposed to rain death conclusive maul. There was no fire she heard on a Russian dezinformatsiya channel from a passerby while scurrying. Cats and birds and dogs swoop down to catch the floating debris.


Hail Mary,

Full of Grace,

The Lord is with thee.

Blessed art thou among women,

and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,


Holy Mary,

Mother of God,

pray for us sinners now,

and at the hour of our death.



In spirit, she rose above the nest to the dome. Over and above the distant citadels the men built over ruins of the dead and ruined by the moonlight. It was like an alien looked down and questioned the expansive complexities, not of the universe, but of man. Of all the secrets proportionated and fragile to be torn and wrapped asunder by bright acacia.[xxiv]

Her bare flesh desecrated. She then made a decision – she turned around and took the knife, placing it across the nape of her own neck. She imagined the slice. She stood and went erect anyway. The wind from the roof stopped.

It was not Russians but a Ukrainian, and a face that she recognized intimately. But 5 days of beard. A disheveled body. A weary face. A husk of the man she had wanted to flicker.

He stood and she rushed up to him. She reached him and rushed into a sweltering embrace. But as she held him glowing up, he caressed the floor.

Banned from life for a visage too surreal as a number: he was dead and delivered. [xxv]

And that is the way you will find them in fallen Mariupol – looking up through the roof, perhaps with a sun beamed piercing through the hole.

Towards God, if there is one.


І в дорогу далеку ти мене на зорі проводжала[xxvi]

t was just dawn and in the quiet rustle of grass, a shot rang out.[xxvii]

“Be goody Johnny.”[xxviii] A voice called to the fat British man from the Serzhant behind him. It was close. But beneath the leaden gray sky it still snowed. Over to the right, behind the old oaks still waiting for leaves, some skirmishing fire was launched – but everyone knew on the Ukrainian side that the sniper had gotten away.

Thomas brushed away with his right hand the dirt which had been bloomed by the kinetic visitor. “Just making sure I was awake. Would not want to lose my head.”

A smirk rode the Serzhant mouth. “Well, were you? One cannot tell with all the blubber you seize around.”

It would not be true to call Thomas McKenzie truly fat, but he was compared to his Ukrainian counterparts. What is more, was that he knew and ever so gradually he ate less and became trimmer as his time on the reporting gig that he had gotten. But first impressions counted, and he knew that his rotundity was his nom de la guerre. He had heard him being called “жирна війна”, that is “fat war,” in the small bit of Ukrainian that he had scrounged up. Not even “fat,” but oily, greasy, and smeared on bread – a kind of unctuous creamy.[xxix] Ukrainian was like the music of Béla Bartók: if you start from Russian, it makes your head hurt because of all the differences which piled up to make its din.

Thomas whispered back: “I thought that my camo would hide me.”

“Russians do not care if you are civilian or not, and they most definitely target reporters.”

“The truth does not play in Moskva anymore.” Emamh7em.[xxx]

“Did it ever?”

“You know me, I travel to Moskva just to check.”

“Doubting as always?”

Thomas replied: “Evermore.”[xxxi] It was only a quiet half sigh of a cry. The crows echoed.

Thomas moved to the backward side of the trench and looked at the Serzhant with a careful eye that came from reporting, reporting on every continent except Antarctica. Thomas liked war, and he was very good at finagling a front-row seat to the festivities. And that meant Donbas had a ticket to the far flat plains with occasional perks of trees. Emamgd.[xxxii] Om.

The Thomas did stride down the single-file trench across dirty vert expanse that closed in from every side and spattered the broken trees slot angelo from the loose fresh ground. He squeezed around some soldaty go up to the front butts hanging out with the cleft. One was rank, with the piss, that traveled from mouth to leg in the night. There was no thought of privacy here. Emamdg.[xxxiii] Om. Ah. Om.

However, Marines surrendering by the hundreds were on everyone’s mind even if the kontrpropahanda of marines taking shelter from the bombardment were playing a DJ on loop back at the base. Dirty green as the laugh track. Thomas looked around and then copied what he saw in his notebook. He murmured: “Write drunk. Edit sober.” Amdg.[xxxiv] Ah. Om.

He looked down and saw a towel, distended by carrying from the front clear the front. The sad blue eyes looked back at him – Thomas did not know if the empty brain held a snapshot near dawn. Of a mother’s love or a sparrow feeding near a close by a denuded village.

Then a shot rang out. He turned. He grabbed a soldat. “What happened?”

“The Serzhant popped up and angrily told a man to keep down.”

“And then.”

“The sniper shot him in the head, of course.” The Serzhant had forgotten to noetically edit sober. Amh7em.[xxxv]

On the E minor chord. Om.



Да, Да, Да. (Do-Do-Do, Da-Da-Da)[xxxvi]

“Da, da, da. We have done nothing wrong. All I want to say to everyone in the West: this is only deNazification and demilitarization.”

The speaker affirmed his innocence with a nod. Mikhail was his given name, but he was called Romanovich because of his father, thus he was Mikhail Romanovich Vasilev. Few people call him Misha. Most of them were dead or in a far hovel in Siberia.

They were in a Korean BBQ Restaurant not far from the Moskva River. The speaker said this to his girlfriend du jour, Vera Smirnoff (though no relationship to the Vodka,) and to two friends, the Volkov’s: Maxim and Victoria, or as everyone called them Max and Vicky. Nicknames were common in this crowd. Four peas in a pod, 3 of them alike. All in power suits with pinstripes.

All three of them nodded in unison.

Vicky took a drink of her sparkling water and peered around. “Everyone listens to the same programs: MSNBC, CNN, the BBC, DW. Only the movement of real politicians tells the real truth.” Which, bien sur, was a Bolshoi Lie.

Vera poked at her Banchan bowl, then looked at Galbi in the center of the table. Then she offered her advice: “Perhaps LePen will win the final election.”

Max merely nodded, but without conviction. The brown brick was cold and the high seats with the dark brown cushions offered no advice. Vicky merely looked at the light brown Hangul modern glyphs present as drawings.

There was a pause.

The speaker waited for just an instant, and the pontificated: “Ours is the victory. Kyiv was only a feint to gobble up the rest of the Donbas region.” Words to thank for his position.

Max leaned back. “1000 marine traitors just surrendered.”[xxxvii]

Vicky looked about hesitantly. “More will come.”

The speaker noted: “They are running out of food, fuel, and frozen rope.[xxxviii] It will not be much longer.”

Vera glanced aimlessly. “I need to wash up.” She then stared at Vicky and half-smiled.

Vicky took the hint. “Scusi,” then to her husband with a slight smile: “permesso.” The girl left arm in arm.

Maxim looked after his wife, then two men waited and then settled down to a more conspiratorial stance.

Romanovich glanced around the room but there were not many people there. “You met her in Italy?”

“They used to have – lax – enforcement of rules. Especially where income is concerned.” He peered around.

“Da. Da. Da. Officials cracking down.”

“I want to ask you Romanovich: is the explosion on the Moskva an accident?”

“If the news says it is true, who am I to doubt their word?”

Max leaned back into the cushion.

“You never know.”

“No, one can’t be too careful.”

The girls returned.

The Romanovich excused himself and entered the WC. Once inside he took the loo and closed the door. He fumbled with his pinstripe suit and then slide his hand to the outer pocket. The white magic came to. He had paid the owners a small sum of money, not rubles, to be discreet about his habits. The white powder was more than just drugs, it was power in a plastic bag.

Romanovich leaned onto his back, his eyes taking in the floor. Ecstasy in fine powder. Whap thump. He soaked in the awareness and then left quietly. Heel-toe heel-toe.

After that, there was laughing. A bit too loud but not overly so.

But then there was silence. The large mahogany double doors pushed open, and there were 4 men, 3 in black, one in a trench coat. The owner asked a question of the woman who waited at the tables. She only pointed. At Romanovich.

Vicky, under the table, clenched her hands. But Vera lit a cigarette and smoked, though this was now forbidden. Long puff. Long puff.

The men moved with robotic grace and stopped in front of the high table.

The man in the trench coat looked at Misha. “We have some questions. Come with us.” It was in the imperative. Everyone knew what would happen if the command was questioned.

But Misha leaped over the couch into the other table and tried to make a run for it. He failed with the three goons on top of him. He was dragged to a black car kicking and screaming.

Back at the table Max leaned over to Vera and smiled. She merely tilted her head with no inflection. Then the three were all alike. Finally, Vera said: “Misha was a first-class goat.” The other two nodded. But Vera was a Блять, and a fine one too.

Max said: “Let us get out of her and into something warmer.” Vera nodded, she needed to wander around in the night.

Outside the trench-coated man kept repeating the name of a blogger. She had not taken the party line on the police action. Misha denied everything but receipts were found for the meow-meow – the mephedrone. The plastic blue lights revolved; Misha kept repeating: “This is all I want to say to you: I have done nothing wrong!”

Whap thump. Curtain.