Fred Fingers was born in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Upon graduating from the University of Cape Town, he left the country and spent years traveling around East Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America. Apart from his mother tongue, Afrikaans, Fingers is proficient in English, Spanish, Russian, and Japanese. He now works as a translator of experimental and splatterpunk fiction.
“Tanya’s Manoeuvres” by Andrei Dichenko, translated from the Russian by Fred Fingers
Tanya was a poetess. Hence, when lonely, she dreamed of being recognized on the streets, and signing autographs for strangers. As a child, she once believed in her own words; they were supposed to charge with magic and change other people’s perception. But those malicious creatures only despised her, sometimes to a degree of utmost hatred.
Every weekday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., she had to deal with a mass of papers. Dull numbers and complicated phrases were hidden in there; but there was no poetry at all. Maybe that’s why working hours made no sense to Tanya, and she always looked forward to the evening, when she could go to her favorite places—dark, smelling of coffee, and mould, and bookworms. Besides, some unacknowledged artists were always to be found there; although it was hard to listen to their soliloquies, Tanya would readily make them her friends, sometimes intimate enough to trust with her secrets.
‘Hi, I’m Tanya, and I’m a poetess,’ she would approach a newly-entered shabby man with the shine of unreachable dead stars in his eyes. She would imagine then how a snowy machine-gun nest mows the whole platoon of his clones into bloody mash. The autonomy of death warmed her up somehow.
These men tried not look at Tanya directly; instead, they preferred to stare at the black gaps between the painted wooden boards behind while listening to her. Nonetheless, they willingly slept with her from time to time, using her own worn-out house, telling her some tender things before leaving. Oddly enough, each of them would tend to remember Tanya’s surname long afterwards; a weird-sounding name which no writing system could have seemingly contained.
She wished she could hear unfamiliar voices reading poetry to her, piercing the perpetual stream of consciousness with an invisible thread. Perhaps all she wanted from men were speech organs capable of pronouncing terrible things.
One day the poetess decided that the reason why she was being treated in such a consumerist way was the lack of written poems. So, having locked herself up in the poky room, and turning on the overly bright medical lamp, she started writing.
But something went wrong. Instead of exquisite stanzas, or anything resembling poetry, only blots and sixes appeared on the sheet of squared paper. Blending in another dimension, they were gradually turning into demons. Three sixes, five blots, yet some more; when it was thirteen of each on the sheet, Tanya has seriously thought of spatial incompatibility with the rest of the world.
‘Fine, I’m gonna start writing on October 1st!’ she exclaimed, crumpled the sheet, and fed it to Agatha, the neighbors’ goat. (Although she’s heard that squared paper caused a stomach ache in goats, she was way too angry with all these sixes ‘n’ bloats thing.) Her grandma, too, taught Tanya that one’s wickedness can only be digested in oneself, but Tanya certainly didn’t have any desire to chew this unlucky paper herself.
The day before the appointed date, Tanya understood that not only was literary triumph unlikely, but also that the postponement itself was a fatal error. Therefore, in order not to do anything stupid, she just adjourned it until later.
‘So how am I going to solve this problem?’ she asked the scruffy men; she asked the girls that went insane from glamour journal fashion; she asked the full-of-hatred elderly gentlemen blackened by social workers’ death wishes. All of them, as if conspired beforehand, only answered her vaguely, or even threatened her horribly.
As a result, Tanya decided to make a binary manoeuvre; henceforth, number one will turn into number eleven in the tenth month of the year. On October 11, she will take the notebook and write down her texts in it; these texts, in turn, will allow her not to think about the price of sitting in big-city warm cafes.
Nevertheless, when the day came, the same story reoccurred: the ill sixes were now cramming into the sheet even more intensely than before, and the demons were painting metallic blue whole swaths of paper. Her ballpoint was only scratching the sheet, filling it with the same mysterious number over and over again, making Tanya believe in a sort of inexorable dramatic destiny.
When there were no more squares left, Tanya tore the damn sheet to pieces and furiously slashed her face with the pen.
‘A sting was bestowed to my flesh to keep me from rising!’ she repeated hysterically, spearing her cheeks, her lips, and her eyebrow, cutting the skin open, and tearing whole chunks off of it. She only stopped when the table got all covered with bloody constellations. Then she took a deep breath and groped the gashes. They hurt badly; the pulsing flesh felt like molluscs’ mouths.
That evening, Tanya ended up wrapping her face with bandages, taking a dozen painkiller pills, and finally going to bed.
Since October 11th, Tanya has become a sacred demigoddess to the people. Retirees felt sorry for her, schoolchildren sought her advice, and adult men tried to recognise their imagined daughters in her person. In any case, though, this sublimation of theirs was merely caused by their fear of Tanya’s nature. Maybe that’s why she was no longer attracted to them, having never accomplished the dream of her non-existent past.