I Came to Spit on Your Graves
“What are you gonna find in those graves?” she’d yell.
“Gold,” I’d say.
“What kind of gold, you psychotic freak?” She’d appear in the doorway of the bathroom, her arms bent at her sides, as usual.
“Listen, you – Scram!” I’d say, combing my hair.
“What are you combing? You’ve lost nearly all your hair thanks to your binging. Swallowed it together with the last of your brains,” she would shout.
“Listen, Natasha, don’t bug me,” I’d say patiently, and open a beer on the edge of the bathtub.
“Don’t bother him!” she’d shout. “Oh, sure. Uh-huh.”
“Get the hell outta here!” I’d scream.
“Shut up over there, you morons,” the neighbor would yell.
“Shove it, you half-wits.”
“That’s it. Now you’ll pay.”
And he’d start busting down the door. Natasha would let out a little yelp, then run onto the balcony and yell:
In answer to which, seeing how it was three in the morning, somebody from the neighboring building would say, “Shut up already, bitch.”
“Who, me?” my crazy girlfriend used to ask, putting on a different face.
“You,” they’d say from somewhere in the darkness. They’d laugh, and then go quiet.
I’d drink the last of my beer, smash the bottle, take the bottleneck in my right hand with its very—VERY—uneven edges, and jerk open the door with my left. The neighbor would be standing behind it. The first thing the terrified man would say was, “Let’s drink.”
“Buzz off,” I’d tell him.
It’s not that I didn’t want to drink. It’s just, this was my last bastion; I didn’t drink with anybody in my building on Zelinsky Street in Chișinău. In one of the city’s many slums. As I was saying – I didn’t drink with anybody in my building. On principle. The remains of my pride, perhaps. I’ll say it again: when you drink with somebody, they take you for one of their own, and then you’re finished. As it was, I’d barely written a thing that year, and if I’d drunk with the alcoholics from Old Botany—that’s the neighborhood—I’d have just dropped dead. It wasn’t such a long journey. I was headed to the cemetery, after all. Which my girlfriend, Natasha, used to get all worked up about. Thank God, we weren’t official, although we planned on it. But I was too depressed to go with her to the marriage bureau, like she wanted. Really wanted.
“Well, are you satisfied,” I’d ask her, after I sent my neighbor packing. “Satisfied that you drove a man to tears?!” I’d take another sip of beer. “No hair, you say?”
There was a delayed reaction. Her insult about the scant growth on my head had finally come through to me, and I was really hurt.
“That’s right – no hair!” she’d yell.
“Then look at this, you stinker!” I’d say, and undo my trousers.
“Foo! Zip up!” she’d shout.
“Foo? Foo?” I’d yell. “I’m gonna give it to you!”
“You’ll never give it to me again,” she’d shout.
“Yeah, thank God for that!” I’d yell. “I’ll find my gold in the cemetery, publish a few books, become world famous, like Fitz…Fitzger… You know, F. Scott!”
“F.U.!” she would yell.
“You don’t even know who F. Scott is, you numbskull.” I would shout.
“Eh, F. U. and F. Scott, too!”
“I’ll enter the world pantheon!” I’d yell. “And you, you zero, you’ll die like plankton.”
“Who needs you, with those books of yours?” she’d yell.
“Not you, that’s for sure!” I’d shout.
My eye would twitch, because I’d been drinking for nearly four months.
I hadn’t been on one long binge. Nothing like that; it was more of a slow and steady thing. Kind of got in the way of certain obligations. Regardless, I wasn’t hurrying to go back to work. I still had enough money put away for a year, year and a half. And my good health. It wasn’t for nothing that two years—while I was working—I ran at the track, lifted weights. That’s how I always operate. First you store up fat and then you hibernate. When you suck a bottle, the body loses its reserves. Plus, now there was the crazy girlfriend, pestering me all the time with her “Let’s get married.” But I didn’t want to because I saw perfectly well what drove her crazy. That was the whole issue.
Natasha promised me she’d be the ideal spouse.
“That so, sweetheart?” I used to ask her all the time. “You’ve already slept with half the city and you’ve got the other half penciled into your date book in the not-so-distant future.”
“Well,” she’d say, “if you’ll be mine, I won’t need anybody else.”
“How’s that?” I’d say. “Slutting around – it’s like a disease. She who sleeps around on her husband once, will sleep around till the end of her days.”
“You,” she’d say, “who are you to speak? After all, who was it fucked me when I was married, if not you?”
“Get lost,” I’d tell her.
“Ah, you prick,” she’d say. “You’re trying to say I’ve got a weakness for men and I’m a slut?”
“Shut up,” I’d say. “I’m not trying – I’ll tell you straight away you’ve got a weakness for men and you’re a slut.
“Shut up yourself, you freak.”
“Ok,” I’d say. I’d drink the last of my beer, smash the bottle, grab the bottleneck with my right hand, Natasha’s neck with my left. She’d break away from me, run onto the balcony, and while I kept trying to break the bottle, she’d scream:
I didn’t have the strength to stay home any longer. As usual, this “ideal wife,” who loved talking about her superb culinary skills and throwing out words like risotto, clair, and molecular gastronomy, didn’t cook worth a damn, rarely cleaned house, and the word “comfort” had a very abstract meaning in our home. To be frank, it had NO meaning. Because there was no comfort in our home. And so, after shaving, I got dressed in my best suit—it had waited out its hour—and went three stops on the bus to the railroad station. There was a brilliant dive bar where I used to drink until seven in the morning, surrounded by railway station prostitutes, station police, station beggars and others simply waiting for their night trains. Well, and of course, station prostitutes. Did I already mention them? Anyway. One of them, with a body to die for but a face not worth a damn, I made into the hero of an old short story of mine. Luckily, she never found out about it. Otherwise, I think, she’d have increased her rates.
The café was full of smoke, but you could still make some things out. I always wanted to bring Natasha here in order to show her what REAL problems look like, and not those “great troubles,” about which she was constantly whimpering like a fool. Among the enumeration of these Scourges of Civilization were: my reluctance to marry her; her shitty broken heel; some fashionable Moldovan magazine that wouldn’t take her stupid photographs with their pretensions to originality; and so on. I think if I mentioned this to all the sleepwalkers, syphilitic whores, cops “protecting” the gambling machines, the poor teenagers who sometimes shoot themselves because of the syphilitic prostitutes they fall in love with, and the rest of the contingent – if I mentioned it to them, they’d laugh and grumble so hard the chandelier would drop. Actually, I take that back. There’s no chandelier.
In any case, I never brought Natasha here. I didn’t bring anybody here. Except for my first—and only—wife, Irina. My love. But she broke my heart and I don’t want to talk about her.
So yeah, if I were to bring Natasha here, she’d go out of her mind from jealousy, looking at that prostitute I mentioned. Her body was like Naomi Campbell in her best years. And even though Natasha was cute, her legs were a little stubby and her back was a little too wide, and she was always battling extra pounds. For now she had it under control, but it was obvious what was going to happen in fifteen years. Yet another reason not to go to the marriage bureau.
To get back to the beautiful prostitute… No, I never slept with her. I’m telling you, the clap would be the least painful thing you could catch at the train station. I discovered this incredible world when I was a student and I used to come here to sleep in the waiting hall. Since then I’ve been a regular visitor. Here, and at the cemetery, where I loved to walk when I wanted to be alone.
By the way – the cemetery opened at seven in the morning.
Before I headed out, I went into the bathroom, stepped over a few steaming piles, and looked at myself in the cloudy mirror. I was satisfied. I looked how I was supposed to look. Like a person usually looks after he’s been drinking for a while and can’t sleep anymore.
Not that I’d completely gone to the dogs, but I was looking shady.
I took a taxi to the cemetery.
The guy behind the wheel was gloomy. All signs pointed to him being high.
“What are you, high?” I asked?
“Yeah, something like that,” he mumbled.
“Then pull over here,” I said.
He pulled over. I went into a store, bought a few bottles of wine—“Gewürz”—and came back out to the car. I got in.
“I thought you were going to skip out,” he said.
“Then why didn’t you drive off?” I asked, opening a bottle.
“I mean, I’m high, you know…” he said slowly.
“Let’s drive. Wine?” I asked.
“No, I’d rather smoke,” he said.
“Chișinău taxi drivers,” I said. “Later you’ll complain everybody thinks you guys are monsters.”
“Stressful work,” he said, and smoked half a joint, and we drove.
“Dude, what do you want at the cemetery in the morning?” he asked.
I paid him. “I catch up on sleep there during the day.”
“What are you, a vampire?” he asked slowly.
“What’s worse than that?” he asked, confused.
“Go get some sleep,” I told him.
Ivanov, Petrov, Sidorov, Mikhailov, Lorinkov – I read the last names of the heroes of Bessarabia who fell during the Second World War for the glory of King Michael of Romania.
At least, that’s what was written on their pretentious graves.
“Idiots,” I said, and I spit. “Not a single authentic Moldovan last name…”
By the way, for a person who dodged the Moldovan army, I spit extremely enthusiastically. There was nobody nearby, so I wasn’t putting on a show. And then I lost interest.
The Alley of the Heroes was right at the entrance. The gates were already open, so I entered the grounds easily. It didn’t matter that I had wine with me, or that it was so early in the morning. Crazier things have happened. There was no security at the Armenian Cemetery, even though it was the most hoity-toity cemetery in the city. These Moldovans pinch pennies everywhere they can. I tried to pinch on flowers by buying a candle at the kiosk in front of the church. I strolled over to my graves, lit the candle, chugged a liter of wine, and started walking. But that’s not what I came for. I came for gold.
It wasn’t a matter of greediness, of course.
It’s just, when you’ve been drinking for four months and there’s no foreseeable work in the next half a year or year, you start not so much to panic but to ask yourself certain questions. You ask yourself: “What am I going to do when the money runs out?” And the longer you drink, the more clearly you understand you really don’t want to go out and get a job. You tell yourself, “OK, then what should I do?” When I was young I always knew that when the money runs out and you’ve got no strength left to start from scratch, suicide’s what’s left. With age, like all cowardly dogs, I grew fond of that abominable pastime spent waiting for the end – a.k.a. life. So when I just happened to pass by the cemetery a few weeks back, I immediately understood.
“It’s like the Klondike!” I said to my neighbor on the bus, who moved away because of the stench.
Of alcohol, that is. I myself am terribly hygienic. I bathe three times a day. Natasha says it’s the instinctive wish to wash away the black from my soul. Dark as the inside of a chimney pipe, she says. She’s a moron, if you ask me. Anyway, God will be the judge. God, and World War Three.
“One way or another, when I land me some money, I’ll tell her exactly where to go, and I’ll turn over a new leaf,” I thought, and calmed down.
Anyway. The cemetery really was like the Klondike. It was here that the geezers and their old women were buried with their gold teeth and crosses, along with the banknotes their barbaric loved ones toss into their graves …. And the crypts? Each one was just stuffed with money, I was sure of it. I decided to have a stroll through the crypts. I’d get rich off all those treasures. Especially, I was thinking to myself as I turned toward the store at the edge of the cemetery for some wine, especially in those ancient crypts, there’s lots of gold. All of those counts, princes and merchants didn’t just lay their loved ones to rest, but laid them down in a bed of precious stones, for sure. After all, there was prestige, éclat, or whatever they called it two hundred years ago.
“A pile of gold,” I said to myself, entering the cemetery again. “The old crypts of the noble families of Bessafuckingrabia,” I said, settling down on a bench in a shaded lane of nineteenth-century graves, where hardly anybody ever walked.
“Bloody jewels, the deceased got no use for ’em,” I said, taking a bottle out of the shopping bag. “Meanwhile, it’s time I came into my own,” I said, pushing the cork into the bottle.
“A free man, free to do whatever I please, how I please and where I please,” I said, taking a swallow. “Enough drinking, anyway,” I said, sadly swallowing half the bottle.
“On the other hand,” I said, finishing the bottle, “it’s too late now to ransack the crypts, it’s morning already, they’ll cart in another stiff and catch sight of me…”
“Don’t try to back out of this,” I said to myself, uncorking a new one.
“What do you keep drinking and drinking for?” I said.
“You’re a sponge,” I said.
“Enough already. Shut up,” I said to myself.
“Let’s do it,” I said.
I drank some more. I turned to all the corpses in this damn cemetery:
“I’m a living, breathing man.”
“Uberman,” I added.
“I came to spit on your graves!” I said.
“It’ll be a literary act,” I said to the corpses.
“An act of the avant-garde, and I’m the creator,” I said.
“And thus: I came to spit on your graves,” I repeated.
I realized I’d said this very loudly. A wee bit more and I’d be completely smashed. It was time to decide what to do. I chose the glory and the gold. I stood up, with regret I looked at the two empty bottles—I’m no idiot, I’d bought four—and sauntered over to the crypt I’d chosen. A large stone construction, surrounded by wire mesh, holes in places. With a bust in the center. A captain of the cavalry who’d died here, in this cursed Bessarabia, in a duel, in 1864. That’s what the inscription on the stone underneath it said. The bust depicted a young man with all his medals. I figured they definitely buried him with his decorations. Which back then they made using precious metals. Excellent. The cavalry officer was twenty-seven years old.
“Captain, you’re an idiot,” I said, and I realized I was wobbly on my feet.
“You could have spent the night lurking around the corner and shot that motherfucker in the back. I mean, the one who wasted you in an honest duel,” I said.
“Moron,” I said.
And I started to cry. Because right below it was another inscription, “from an inconsolable young mother,” and I was moved to tears with pity for the young lad. I burst out sobbing. I wiped my face, opened another bottle and realized I was seriously in it. Ok. I emptied the bottle into myself without even tasting it. I chucked the bottle and climbed into the tomb. I entered that moist, musty little hut not feeling a thing—which is strange, since I’m scared of dead bodies—and I saw a ladder with a few black rungs. I stood on the top one. Began to go down. The step buckled to the side. I twisted my ankle. Fell. Hit my head hard.
Before I conked out, I noticed with relief that the last bottle had fallen with me, and didn’t break.
I came to about five hours later.
I was lying in the crypt, next to the dead body. Rather, next to whatever remained of him. Some rags, a few yellowed bones. No trace of worms or flesh, so I wasn’t worried. As strange as it was, I didn’t mind it too bad. I checked the date and time on my cell phone. Of course, I rummaged through the remains, but I didn’t find anything. Nothing. By the way, to a sober mind the idea of getting rich off of treasure hunting in a cemetery didn’t seem so brilliant. I was checking out the officer’s bones as a matter of form, really. I was already down there…
I ran my hands over my legs and head. Everything hurt, but it was bearable. I tried to get up, with success. True, I hit my head on the ceiling of the crypt.
Half-bent, I climbed out by the steps, holding onto the wall with my hands. I looked down. A regular black hole. Swaying a little, I emerged onto God’s green earth. Got myself beyond the territory of the crypt and wandered over to a secluded corner of the cemetery, which very few people know about. A glade, fenced in by bushes, behind the largest graves. I stood there, in the sun, and I realized all of a sudden that I’d survived the winter, and it was already April in the city. Everything was green, the trees were in bloom and the birds were singing. I lay down.
The sun was getting warmer and I fell asleep for the first time in months.
I had a dream. I was at a battle between the Persians and the Romans, commanding a cohort. I was walking slightly off to the side, crying, shouting, pleading with my men to hold their line. We were being attacked by a cavalry unit, and I killed three horsemen. I didn’t manage to get out of the way of the fourth horseman’s spear, and I felt the prick of icy metal in my breast. I woke up and saw that the sun was setting, the ground was already cold. I sat up. Rubbed my temples. Finished the wine. Exited the gates and hailed a taxi. There was nobody at home. Just a note.
“youre a narcissistic drunken prick, im leaving you, i am coming down off you like a drug, screw you, go to hell, and im not the slut, you are, got it? i dumped you, haha, and not the other way around!”
I threw the note into the trash and lay a hand on my chest. My heart was thumping, beads of sweat were forming on my temples. This always happens at the end of a drinking binge. I undressed and for three hours I scrubbed the apartment. Finally, when it sparkled, I turned on the radio and got into the bath. Added a capful of bubbles. Closed my eyes. The tub filled with water after ten minutes and I turned off the tap. Now I could hear the radio.
They were playing Bach.
Translated by Ross Ufberg