Читать онлайн "The Fox Was Ever the Hunter"

автора "Мюллер Герта"

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... r. At the last stop the men climbed out slowly, and at the first the women climbed in quickly. Early in the morning they ran to catch the streetcar with matted hair and flying purses and sweat stains under their arms. The stains were often dried out and rimmed with white. Their nail polish was eaten away by machine oil and rust. And even as they rushed to catch the streetcar their faces already carried the weariness from the wire factory.

At the sound of the first streetcars Adina woke up. She felt cold in her summer dress. The dress had a pattern of trees, but the tops were upside down. The seamstress had stitched the material the wrong way.

The seamstress lived in two small rooms, the floor was full of angles and the walls had bellied out from the damp. The windows opened onto the courtyard. One window had a sign propped up that said COOPERATIVE OF PROGRESS.

The seamstress called the rooms the WORKSHOP. Every surface — table, bed, chairs, chest and even the floor — was covered with snippets and scraps. And each piece of fabric had a piece of paper with a name. A wooden crate behind the bed held a sack full of scraps. On the crate was a label NO LONGER OF USE.

The seamstress kept her clients’ measurements in a small notebook. Anyone who’d been coming for years was considered a longtimer. Whoever came rarely, by chance, or only once was a short-termer. If a longtimer brought some material, the seamstress didn’t need to take more measurements, except for one woman who went into the slaughterhouse every day and was as emaciated as the men — for her the seamstress had to take new measurements every time. She held the tape in her mouth and said, really, you’d be better off going to the vet and having him outfit you with a dress instead of me. Every summer you get thinner and thinner. Pretty soon my notebook will get filled up with just your bones.

Several times a year the woman brought the seamstress a new notebook. On the cover it said BRIGADE NOTEBOOK and above the columns on each page it said LIVE WEIGHT and SLAUGHTER WEIGHT.

Adina was never allowed to go barefoot in the workshop, the scraps and snippets littering the floor were full of pins. Only the seamstress knew how to move without getting pricked. Once a week she crawled through the rooms with a magnet and all the pins and needles jumped into her hand.

When Adina tried on the dress, her mother said to the seamstress, can’t you see that the trees are growing the wrong way, you turned the fabric upside down. The seamstress could still have turned it right side up, the fabric was only basted with white thread. But with two pins in her mouth she said, what’s important is front and back, and that the zipper’s on the left. Besides, when I look from here, the bottom is the top. She lowered her face to the floor. That’s how the chickens see it, she said. And the dwarves, said Adina. Her mother looked out the window at the courtyard.

On the side of the courtyard that faced the street was a display window with crosses, stovepipes and watering cans made of tin. They were propped up with old newspapers, and in front of the display was an embroidered blanket with a tin sign on top that said COOPERATIVE OF PROGRESS.

The crosses, stovepipes and watering cans shuddered whenever the streetcar passed by. But they didn’t tip over.

Behind the display window was a table with scissors, pliers and screws, behind the table sat a man. He was a tinsmith. He wore a leather apron. His wedding ring hung on a string around his neck, because both hands were missing the ring finger.

Some people said that his first wife had been dead a long time, and that he never found a second because he kept his wedding ring around his neck. The barber claimed that the tinsmith had never had a wife at all, that he’d used the same ring four times to get engaged but never married. If there were enough crosses, stovepipes and watering cans to fill the display window, he could turn to repairing old pots and pans.

When the streetcar passed, the faces in the tram hovered in the display window between the stovepipes and crosses. On the watering cans the faces were wavy from the movement and from the sheen of the tin. Once the streetcar moved on, the only thing left on the watering cans was the gleam of trampled snow.

For several summers Adina wore her dress with the falling trees. Every summer Adina grew taller, and the dress got shorter. And every summer the trees hung upside down and they felt as heavy as ever. Underneath the rising trees that lined the sidewalk, the girl from the outskirts of town had a shy face. The shade never covered it entirely. Her shaded cheek stayed cool, and Adina had the feeling she could zip it open or shut, like her dress. Her cheek in the sunlight turned hot and soft.

After a summer rain that failed to cool off the paving stones, black chains of ants crawled inside the cracks in the courtyard. Adina took a tube from a circular knitting needle and poured sugar water into the transparent plastic and set the tube in one of the cracks. The ants crawled inside and lined up: head, abdomen, head, abdomen. Adina lit a match, sealed the ends of the tube and hung it around her neck. Stepping to the mirror she saw that the necklace was alive, even though the ants were dead, stuck to the sugar, each in the place where it had suffocated.

Only when the ants were in the tube did the human eye consider them animals.

Adina went to the barber every week, because her hair grew quickly and she wasn’t allowed to let it cover her ears. On the way she passed the display window with the crosses, stovepipes and watering cans. The tinsmith waved and she went inside. He handed her a cone rolled from newspaper. The cone had cherries in May, apricots as early as June, and grapes just a little later, even though no ripe ones could be found in any of the gardens. At the time Adina was convinced that the newspaper caused the change of fruit.

When he handed her the cone the tinsmith said eat the fruit now or else it’ll go bad. And she started to eat very quickly, fearing it might go bad even while he was talking. Then the tinsmith said, eat slowly so you can savor every bite for a long time.

She chewed and swallowed and watched as the flame flickered from the soldering iron, covering and filling the pits in the bottom of the pot. The filled holes gleamed like the stovepipes, watering cans and crosses in the window. When fire stops chewing your pot, death will bite you in the ass, said the tinsmith.

One afternoon Adina went to get her haircut wearing her necklace of ants. She sat in front of the big mirror and let her legs dangle off the chair. The barber combed down her hair and when he reached her neck he stopped, shielded his eyes with the comb, and said, that’s it, either the ants go this minute or else you do.

A man was sleeping in the corner. The barber’s cat was sprawled across his thighs, also sleeping. The man was emaciated and had a cockscomb every morning when he crossed the bridge on his way to the slaughterhouse. He woke with a start and flung the cat out the door. I’ve got enough dead animals in the slaughterhouse, he shouted, then spat on the floor.

The floor was matted with hair clippings from emaciated men who all knew one another. The hair was brittle, dark gray, light gray and white and made the floor seem like a giant scalp. Cockroaches crawled among the strands. The hair moved up and down. The hair was alive because it was being carried by the cockroaches. But it was not alive on the heads of the men.

The barber dropped his scissors into the open drawer, I can’t cut your hair like this, he said, I can feel the ants crawling inside my clothes. He jerked his shirt out of his pants and scratched himself. His fingers left red marks on his stomach. Mother of ants, he cursed. Mother of corpses, said the man from the slaughterhouse. Suddenly the mirror moved and Adina saw herself cut off by the drawer, her feet looked like they were hanging from a roof. She ran out the door and past the cat, who gazed after her with more than its own two eyes.

A week later the barber gave Adina some sweets. The candy had hair sticking to it that scratched her tongue. Adina tried to spit out the hair, but the barber told her it was good for cleaning the throat.

The candy scratched inside her mouth and Adina asked when the man who had flung the cat outside was going to die. The barber crammed a handful of candy into his mouth and said, when a man’s had enough hair cut to fill a stamped-down sack, and the sack weighs the same as the man, the man dies. I put all the men’s hair into a sack and stamp it down and wait until it’s full, said the barber. I don’t weigh the hair on the scale, I weigh it with my eyes. I know how much hair I’ve cut off every one of my customers over the years. My eyes can feel the weight. And I’m never mistaken. He blew on the back of Adina’s neck.

The client who threw out the cat will come here seven or eight more times, he said. That’s why I didn’t say anything, even though the cat hasn’t eaten a thing since. I don’t want to send a longtime client into the unknown with some other barber for his last haircuts. A wrinkle curled up from his mouth and sliced into his cheek.

* * *

Clara sits up on the blanket to put on her summer blouse. The thimble on her forefinger burns in the sun. Her legs are bony, in one motion she pulls them close to her chest and rocks forward as she puts on the blouse. It’s the movement of a bony bird who doesn’t need to do anything except gaze into the summer and be beautiful. The nearby poplar knife watches. The stubble growing back inside her shaved armpits has already turned into the chin of the man she’s talking about. A man with style, she says, is som