by Andrei Dichenko
translated by Andrea Gregovich
Toward the end of his holiday in the Crimea, Alexander realized he hadn’t bought any souvenirs for his beloved girlfriend Lera and his good friend Mikhail. So the day before he left, he strolled about the little Crimean village and carefully considered the range of offerings from all the street vendors. Somehow nothing was quite right.
As he wandered aimlessly around Simferopol on the day of his train’s departure, he paid a desperate visit to an inconspicuous little shop with curtained windows. A young woman with Asiatic eyes was sitting beside a tray of clay pots. There was pleasant music playing inside and it smelled like vanilla pastries. Alexander was taken with the shop’s uniquely local atmosphere.
“My name is Zarina!” The girl stood up when she saw her guest, straightened her bunched, floor-length skirt, and smiled pleasantly.
Alexander introduced himself as a tourist from Belarus, returned the girl’s smile, and began to peruse the little pots. They were blue, red, and green, and painted with mysterious runes and unfamiliar characters that made it feel as if they were asking for his hands to hold them.
“Can you feel them?” Zarina asked.
Alexander knew what she meant, of course, but just in case he asked.
“These little energy pots were made by my older brother. He’s a lonely man and he’s almost blind. But it is this very blindness that allows him to communicate with otherworldly entities. He calls them his ‘organisms’, and he says that his blindness is nothing but darkness. I love him so much.”
When she saw the confusion on Alexander’s face, Zarina added, “They will bring you good fortune, I promise!”
Alexander was convinced by Zarina’s sincerity, so he bought three of the pots with the last of his money. By the time he was sitting on the train, he realized they probably weren’t worth the money, and that he had simply fallen for a scam. But when he picked up a pot and closed his eyes, he suddenly felt a very real charge and a rush of warmth, the kind of thing that only happens at the end of making love to one’s soul mate.
When he got home to Minsk, Alexander met up first with Lera. They took a long walk, went in a noisy café and had some coffee, and then went to the home of a friend they had in common (to experience a stronger feeling of intimacy). After his third glass of cognac in the friend’s kitchen, Alexander handed Lera her gift. She was very pleased when she saw the little pot, and right away put her gold earrings in it. Her grandmother once told her that clay accumulates positive energy, and gold is like the golden rays of the sun, so the combination of these two elements would most certainly ensure the best possible outcomes, by her thinking.
It was only a few months after she moved on from Alexander that she met another man and accidentally got pregnant with twins. She couldn’t even remember his name, but nonetheless considered herself blessed with good fortune. She also forgot who it was that gave her the little clay pot.
A week after he saw Lera and well in advance of any and all future events associated with her, Alexander paid his friend Mikhail a visit. Mikhail was working in the state planning institute and was working on a design for a structure of global significance on the outskirts of the city. Mikhail didn’t have very many answers to any of Alexander’s questions. When Alexander realized he had absolutely nothing else to say, he handed his friend a small clay pot and said he brought it back from Crimea.
Mikhail quite liked his gift. He set the little pot on his desk and filled it with all the pencils he used to cover his drafting paper with complex geometric drawings.
A few years later, Mikhail defended his dissertation and became a prominent scientist in a cold European country.
All alone with the blue pot, Mikhail felt lonely. His friends were pursuing their fates, but he was still indecisive and quickly becoming an embittered young man. One evening, as he nearly froze in his rented apartment, he decided to go back to Crimea and give the pot back to Zarina. Surely this blue pot had some kind of defect – his good fortune must not have been coming to him because it was being rerouted to some roguish stranger for some reason.
On the train, Alexander stretched out on a hard passenger berth and fell into such a dead sleep that he didn’t feel it when a fire ignited in his train car. As the heat melted the car’s plastic upholstery and the acrid smoke gushed from it, Alexander imagined himself a dangerous virus with a tough shell, one that reproduces at a rapid speed and consciously alters the minds of decent, kind-hearted people. As he penetrated their skulls and into the soft tissues of their brains, he bit, scratched, and forced his darkness on everyone around him, stoking their negative impulses.
Alexander was disgusted with himself in his dream, so much so that he decided he would never awaken again. Then reality crashed into his dream and fused with it, giving birth to an ugly hybrid, its essence corrupted by this unrelenting hate.
The only victim of the sudden fire, Alexander departed for to the next world cleansed and free, finally at peace with his human sins.
Some of his ashes later crumbled into the blue pot, which remained miraculously intact after this outlandish tragedy. At night, a crimson glow sometimes shone in the pot’s strange writing. But no one showed any indication that this was worthy of note except for Zarina’s older brother. His sight returned after Alexander’s death, and he never again dabbled in pottery.
Born in 1988, Andrei Dichenko is a Belarusian writer, poet and journalist. He has been editor-in-chief of the lifestyle magazine Я (“I“) and several other magazines in Minsk. His books include the Soviet-nostalgic cyberpunk novel Minsk Sky and a collection of stories called You and Me. He writes in the realms of dystopia, post-cyberpunk and metaphysical realism (which he explains as magic realism, only “really scary”), and his stories have been published in Belarusian, Russian, Azerbaijani, Serbian, and Israeli literary journals. “Energy” is his first story published in English.
Andrea Gregovich translates fiction by several fascinating Russian writers. Her “first book” is a translation of the novel USSR: Diary of a Perestroika Kid by Vladimir Kozlov, available from Fiction Advocate. She’s also writing a book about her cowboy grandfather, and blogs about the literary merits of professional wrestling at thespectacleofexcess.com. Her own short story “The Unshakable Kayfabe of Tommy Rage” appeared in New Pop Lit last year.