Vasya’s Surprise

by Steve Komarnyckyj

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Vasya’s Surprise


I followed you stumbling over the tussocks with my five year old’s feet while you swished at dandelion clocks in the fallow pasture with the ebony walking stick - considered by some a dandyish affectation. The water spattering into the tin bath.  Once when I was praying to the brass Christ hung over my bed he shook his head slightly as if refusing my prayers. I turned off the light to hide from his face but it was your face I saw absurdly hovering in the dark, disembodied like the moon. I tried to speak but the words turned to iron and fell out of my mouth as wing nuts, a bolt, drill bits. 


The shell had crashed through the thatch in nineteen fifteen and failed to explode. Now it laid its brass muzzle resting on a beam angled like a seal diving.

Forever frozen in mid-flight its tail fins caught and held in the straw of the roof. It had hung over your bed for ten years, invisible above the lacquered wood of the ceiling. As you fell asleep sometimes you thought of the shadow of death hanging over you or wondered when your father would return from Gdansk, his visits now so remote that he seemed alien in his patent leather shoes shiny as a cockroach shell, his hair lacquered into place and a pair of wire rimmed pince nez. There was a point when you hated him but now he is merely a stranger who talks to you of the joys of flying and how one day you will soar like an eagle over the Baltic. He brings your mother an amber pendant like an ochre tear but her eyes remain glazed and shiny as his hands fasten the clasp of the chain behind her neck and he kisses the top of her head gently. He leaves the next day before dawn, you hear his Praga Picollo car start into life with a noise which still sounds strange and alien. You think of its radiator grille like the smile on a Greek comedic mask. Your cat Franz named after the Austro Hungarian Emperor purrs under the bed like a finely tuned motor. As you go back to sleep you dream of bees, of running water.


You cross a plank bridge which hangs from wooden posts on gently sagging ropes over the water to get to the church. There are gaps between the wood on which you step, through which you see the surface of the river opaque and brown, sometimes glimmering with sunlight, monstrous and robed in a subtle garment of silk. Sometimes the bridge sways and tilts so you find yourself hanging on face to face with a death
that resembles yourself, your reflection breaking and coagulating like globules of mercury. You look away and see a small black bull eyeing you curiously with what seems to be a state of recognition before swishing its tail dismissively, then you swing still higher and see the sky and then see the water again.

Vasya grabs your arm when you get to the other side and drags you through a clump of bushes to where the graves of a cemetery used by the colonists are gradually disappearing under weeds and grass. He and his friends have lifted the massive stone slab to one side to reveal the dark corpse of a man in the stone catacomb underneath wearing a shroud that resembles a nighty. Strangely he is not laid out flat but has been moved into a sitting position with a chair improvised from whatever stones came to hand a kind of small cairn really. His blank eye sockets stare up at you. Feeling sick you force a smile, even pat Vasya on the back. Well done.

Steve Komarnyckyj is a British Ukrainian writer and linguist who combines a career working in the NHS with his literary and translation work. He was born in 1963 and has lived and worked for most of his life in his native Yorkshire while maintaining strong links with Ukraine. His literary translations and poems have appeared in Poetry Salzburg Review, Vsesvit magazine (Ukraine’s most influential literary journal), The North, The Echo Room, and Modern Poetry in Translation. He has been interviewed on the subject of Britain’s view of Ukaine by the Den (Day) Newspaper one of Ukraine’s most important daily papers and is currently working on a number of literary projects including a novel set in Ukraine in addition to editing a website dedicated to campaigning for recognition of the famine - genocide (ukrainian- Holodomor) of 1932-33 in Ukraine - see .

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