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Словесность


Наши авторы в переводах:
Дмитрий Горчев
Dmitry Gorchev
Translated by Adam Weiner and Alex Demyanov



A Fairy Tale Everybody Knows

Сказка, которую все знают

Перевод на английский Адама Вейнера и Александра Демьянова.
Адам Вейнер - профессор русского языка и сравнительной литературы в Wellesley College (Wellesley, MA). В 1997 в издательстве Northwestern University Press вышла его книга The Demonic Novel in Russia. С 1999 г. он сотрудничает с переводчиком Александром Демьяновым, эмигрантом из России. В настоящее время они работают над переводами романа Филипа Рота Operation Shylock, "Мелкого беса" Федора Сологуба и рассказов Кати Капович.

Adam Weiner is a professor of Russian and Comparative Literature at Wellesley College (Wellesley, MA) and the author of The Demonic Novel in Russia (Northwestern University Press, 1997). Since 1999 he has been collaborating with Alex Demyanov, a Russian emigre and professional translator. Their current projects include translations of Philip Roth's Operation Shylock, Fyodor Sologub's Petty Demon ("Мелкий бес"), short stories by Katya Kapovich.



I am sure you all know this fairy tale. The one about the capricious Princess who, once upon a time, was married off to the first beggar to happen along, just to take her down a peg or two. And of course, the beggar later turns out to be the king of the neighboring realm.
I don't know about you but I have always been suspicious of the whole story. What kind of a princess was she, anyway? She should have given this beggar a good whack in the ear, especially since, as it turned out, he was only mocking her and making a perfect ass of her for all that time. But instead she breaks out in an ear-to-ear grin and dies on the same day as he. Personally, I don't know too many princesses, of course, but on the other hand, I have met my fair share of sewing machine operators. Well, here's the thing: even a sewing machine operator would immediately spit on that king's cape and go back to her room in the factory dorm.
Here someone is sure to butt in and start explaining in a tone of patronizing compassion that the Princess lived a long, long time ago, and on top of that, in a faraway kingdom. I don't even want to hear about it. For whatever reason it is taken for granted that a long, long time ago everybody was as simple as a rutabaga, with none of your fancy tricks. It somehow seems obvious to everybody that each coming generation is much more sophisticated than the previous one, or at the very least smarter. We even view our own parents as children: if they have grown this old without having gone nuts, drowning themselves or joining a monastery, then, consequently, they must have lived a straightforward, boring life and can't have the slightest idea of our spiritual storms.
People though have always been the same. Take you, my dearest reader. Since you have read up to this point, you must be uncommonly sophisticated. Meanwhile, that guy over there, the one passing by in the cheap windbreaker - he really is simple as a rutabaga, even though he is, alas, our contemporary.

Ah, dear Lord my God! Please help me somehow find my way back to the slippery path of the plot.
Because look, I know this lady. Many a time she would set about telling a story. The whole thing is a few steps across but after the very first phrase she strays into some thicket full of fallen trees where she staggers about wildly like a hired Santa Claus on Christmas Eve after toasting the holiday at a dozen homes in a row. Finally she wanders into some totally frozen wasteland where the last distant acquaintances of little known relatives have long gone extinct, and suddenly a miracle happens: using a simple "and so" she makes a huge leap like some kangaroo and ends up at the finish line, where nobody is waiting for her anymore, and even the referee has long been sleeping in the bushes, having covered his face with the checkered flag to prevent himself from accidentally swallowing a fly in his sleep.
So, what is my point? No point. Just that.

And so (making a leap) that’s absolutely not what really happened with the Princess. However, I do not insist that everything was the way I am telling it. I am neither Mathew, nor Luke, although just as in their story, one thing is clear: something did happen.
But I am mostly concerned with preventing that acquaintance of mine, the one who likes to tell stories, from taking offence at me.

You know, though, once I did write a story about a princess.
For some reason, that princess came out strikingly like another of my female acquaintances, a completely different one.
Why is this? Why do they always intrude, these acquaintances? How to get away from them? Should I not meet anybody at all? But now it’s too late for that, isn’t it? It would be nice, of course, to emerge somewhere in the middle of the ocean as a result of volcanic activity, sit there on a bare rock and create pure art, as Oscar Wilde advised.
Although this Oscar Wilde, when you get down to it, was quite a fungus.
Damn it! I've got to keep on thinking, "princess, princess, princess," or else I'll forget.
Or try the opposite: just forget and the hell with her. Then she'll start coming out through all the cracks. Or maybe not. "Pull the latch and the door will open" doesn’t work here. It’s in their story that the door opens. In mine the latch will fall off. Or it won’t but a brick will fall on my head. Or the door will open and some hairy fellow will come out and punch my teeth down my throat. Things happen, you know. What if there was no princess at all but instead only some Debbie Dimwitt, seventeen months pregnant?
Better tread softly here.
And, by God, no pulling any latches.

But, anyway, back to the princess.
So, they say the princess was capricious.
That’s not true. She was a perfectly normal person.
By the way, take a look some time at any female being you don't happen to be married to and, amazingly, you'll see a perfectly normal person! Sometimes even more normal than you. This is just the moment to size them up. They are really like spies in a foreign country, like the famous Russian spy Schtirlitz, who was way more horribly German, than the very Germanest Hitler.
But here we need a particular perspective, a specific distortion that develops only after suffering multiple cases of shell shock upon the battlefield of love, a sort of lucky concussion, like the guy who suddenly started speaking Ancient Greek after a chandelier fell on his head.
Here, sadly, I must admit that despite my numerous concussions I personally do not possess such a distortion and do trust them every time like a child whom a kind gentleman invites to come to the bushes for some candy.
Well, let them be. They too need to procreate somehow. In spite of everything I love them all. Except perhaps for certain particularly outrageous specimens.

You know what? If you indeed want to know the story about the princess, stop reading this. I don’t know myself whether I am going to reach the end or not. Just don't think I don’t care a damn about this princess. It may turn out that I love her more than I do you.
Anything is possible though. I may confess to love you more than a princess whom I incidentally never actually met.
Which is a pity. God, what a pity I don’t know so many people! But the greater pity is that some of them I nevertheless do know.

As for the princess, I would be delighted to meet her. Besides not being capricious, she was also smart. No, she didn’t talk about Schopenhauer. And thank God. If you ask me, this Schopenhauer is even worse than Nietzsche. And as far as Nietzsche goes, you'd better not even mention him in my presence. But then the princess possessed that very store of common sense that from birth distinguishes any female from all those snotty war-gamers, pimply masturbators and mangy terrorists.
In addition, the princess was beautiful.
Alright, if we were to peep from behind a curtain we could philosophize about making this curve more prominent or that bulge subtler... But we are not going to start philosophizing, even in our private thoughts. And God save us from a woman with flawless bodies and features. What would we be next to her? As it is, the very plainest of them are way better arranged than Apollo Belvedere. Just look at yourself, fellas: limbs sticking out every which way, a wisp of hair of unknown function, and then there's this... this... well, you can only throw up your hands.

Therefore, I can tell you, hand on heart, that the princess was in fact beautiful. All the neighboring kings and princes thought so, or pretended to think so anyway. They composed sonnets and madrigals for her. Or maybe they didn’t... Maybe they ordered them from the court janitor. There's no telling. A king who is also a poet would be a rare find, and rightly so. I’ve seen plenty of poets. Few of them are able to pronounce more than fifteen letters; they are all so twangy, so warty. As for a king, he has to be liked by women; otherwise their husband will establish a republic in no time.
Poets, they are best found among janitors and hot dog vendors. One friend of mine once told me: "When I was single, I even wrote poetry, believe it or not". However, the main thing here is to marry right.
But the princess did not really read those sonnets. She couldn’t stand any poetry at all and was suspicious of kings and princes.
The main trouble was the dowry of half-the-realm her dad was ready to throw into the bargain. The princess had well founded doubts: what if it was her they wanted to take into the bargain? You see, even a princess wishes for someone who would suddenly fall in love with her, and not with half the realm. To fall in love with a half-realm is not much of a trick, but let’s see you falling in love with her, with her bad temper, her whims, plus, she knows they are whims, but will tell you they are a matter of life and death.
Right, this half-realm-into-the-bargain isn't so easy to swallow.
I haven't tried it, nor, I suspect, have you. But all those billionaires and billionairesses are so convincing when they overdose on sleeping pills and undergo treatment for depression that a street bum digging in a spittoon may suddenly take a blasphemous suspicion into his head: what if it's really true that money can't buy you happiness? Then where the hell is it, happiness? And why live then? But no, you can't pull the wool over our eyes, and the bum, taking a drag from a snotty butt, will thrust his arm into to the spittoon up to the elbow hoping to find a walnut-size diamond there.
Why don’t we, my dear reader, imagine just for fun, that you and I have everything but no more happiness than before? So, where to look for it? Now we know exactly where to look, but what about then?
But my good reader is waving his hand at me: "What do you mean we have everything but happiness? Doesn’t happen."
I don’t know about that. Haven’t been there.

Yes, the princess had it hard.
But kings and princes, too, can be pitied. Imagine a princess sitting before you, in all her royal glory, like a municipal tram conductor, all buttoned and laced up in a bulletproof corset, and you are supposed to fall in love with her, right then and there. And everybody around is staring curiously: will he or won't he? People, they are always ready to go poking their fingers into someone other’s love. They don’t know how to make their own love, you know.
No, this is not how love is made.
This statement may cause the unhappy masses to run to me from all sides with one question: then how? How is it made?
Hey, leave me alone, all of you! If I knew how I wouldn’t write stories about princesses.

However, there are experts. Take, for example, that same tram conductor and approach her from the right angle – you will discover such treasures that you will be afraid to step foot on a tram for the next ten years. Talk about princesses!
I, for one, would never have the courage to love a princess. Loving some sewing machine operator – even then it’s a hard call whether to jump out the window or to write a poem. But just get too close to a princess – nothing will be left of you but a pair of smoldering socks.
No, better let the heroes love them. Heroes are pretty straightforward. Their heads are Government Issue and filled with nothing but the will to serve the Motherland anyway. Love for them is not frightening at all but rather quite pleasant. Just give them an excuse for some heroic exploits.
A whole herd of such heroes passed in front of the princess. Love one of those and he'll smash anybody’s skull in for you. But the princess, already familiar with the mysteries of love in theory, only shrugged her shoulders: why go through so many extra body movements just to smash in somebody’s skull? Why not just use a flat iron? And one more hero shuffled off, with nothing for his pains, in search of new unwanted exploits in the name of the Fair Princess.
He would catch a Saracen, flog him about his soft parts and release him with strict orders to praise the princess on every corner. Which is bad enough even if the Saracen turns out to be a swindler forgetting the order immediately after he turns the first corner. But what if it's the other way around? Would you be happy if some unwashed Saracen were praising you on every corner? And hell knows what he's babbling there in his Saracenish.
For whatever reason, princesses are supposed to love this. Surprisingly nobody takes them for normal people. Is it right to say to a normal person: "Ah, star of my eyes!" But princesses suffer through this and emerge in one piece. Meanwhile, they want the same as you and I or that sewing machine operator.
Although, the sewing machine operator will be exactly the one to disagree with me. "I", she'll claim, "want a mink coat. Your princess, I'm sure, has a couple of wardrobes packed with fur coats". I wouldn’t know. A princess has never hid me from anybody in those wardrobes. As for the mink coat, you're barking up the wrong tree there. A mink coat is not what you need, my dear. Why would you need one? For warmth? Then put on a couple of padded jackets and you will be warm enough. But no, you want men to ogle at you and to thrill with desire and women to stare at you and turn blue and then for all of them to be driven off by that very man who... Well, the devil knows what a seamstress dreams about.
And so it turns out that all of us need the same thing but everybody calls it by a different name. One says "mink coat"; another - something else; the princess, who already has everything, wants a little love, but it has to be happy, you better believe it. For my part, I can say definitively that I don’t need anything at all. Well, I do, of course I do need, and roughly the same thing they all need – the princess, the seamstress, the rail conductor and the mangy hero, may he rot.

And now let’s leave the princess for a moment , even though I haven't paid her enough attention as it is.
This is, probably, the best method to deal with them. Talking to a princess one ought to look good and bored and yawn a lot. Then they will instantly start loving you more than life itself. But you-don’t you even think about loving the princess more than life itself, otherwise she in her turn starts looking bored and yawning.
That's a piece of advice for you. You may try it sometime. But if something goes wrong, don't go slamming me in the kisser! You ought to think with your own brain.

Meanwhile we will consider the neighboring king instead of the princess.
But right away I'm bored. What on earth can you say about him?
Catch a guy on the street, for example. His face is red, his nose like a plum. Enough. Get the hell out of here, man. Even he can’t say anything for himself.
A princess is a completely different matter. There's nothing to say about her either. Just hold out your arms and wiggle your fingers like so – and that’s it.
That’s the way they are, these princesses.
Only for God's sake, don’t ask me what way.
Therefore, for the moment we will put the princess aside with the exhibits A, B, and C and take up the neighboring king. If for no other reason, this king is worthy of our attention because he never sent the princess any madrigals.
And not because he wanted to stand out against the gray masses of archdukes and padishahs but for quite objective reasons.
The thing is that in his kingdom the only janitor even remotely capable of writing madrigals, was, by order of the king himself, sentenced to life in the guardhouse for showing up drunk at the morning guard review.
So, the king, clanking his ammunition but with no poetic support, presented himself personally to the princess for the purpose of falling in love and was, no less personally, thrown out by her under the "martinet and stableman" clause.
Some feeble kingiepooh might take offence at such an insult and start waving his swordie-wordie, declaring wars, and heroically falling into a marmot hole on the field of battle.
Not our king. After a surprise inspection of his provision and kit depots, he shot the responsible supply managers and concluded that he lacked the wherewithal to wage a war.
However, the half-realm attached to the princess was so rich with strategic heights from which one could take direct aim and whale on anybody, including the Turkish Sultan, that something simply had to be done.
This would have been the moment to ask our king: "So what exactly was it that the Sultan did to wrong you"? But it's to no avail. He would shrug his shoulders and say: "What do you mean, not fire at the Turkish Sultan"? That is how things are done.
Well, if that is how the things are done, then who could argue?
The sun is to rise in the East and the Turkish Sultan is to be fired at with artillery and sent obscene letters.
That's the order of things in this world.
Therefore let him, that idiot king, shoot at the Sultan. The Sultan, he has been through some worse things.

Now, what happened next, I thought, and suddenly remembered that you already know this story.
Of course, everything was going completely differently but, alas, a fairy tale must have a happy ending. Otherwise it would be not a fairy tale but a historical novel about Mary Stuart. She could at least wind up beheaded, but a princess, who knows why, has to marry someone in the end. I could, of course, make the pauper king stay a pauper except I am not sure if he himself would welcome such a turn.
But to take the nice, not at all capricious and, as agreed, beautiful princess and with my own hands turn her into a fat, rowdy queen suffering from every known disease? No thanks. I don't think so.
Better let her stay sitting on her throne in her bulletproof corset, with nobody, as it were, getting her in the end.
The problem is, that to make anybody (let alone a princess) happy is very difficult, if he doesn’t have a good sense of what it is he really needs.
What's still more repulsive is when a person knows precisely what he really needs and has a clear plan for the next fifty years.
Take, for example, this lady I know... But no, that one wouldn’t do even for my story.
But I will come up with something.
Someday, somewhere there has to be a happy ending, no?



© Дмитрий Горчев, 1994-2017.
© Adam Weiner, Alex Demyanov, перевод, 2003-2017.
© Сетевая Словесность, 2003-2017.






 
 


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Словесность