THE LOW SUN
dedicated to M.P.
…The city was full with before the holidays ado again. Christmas had just passed, there were some days left before the New Year. People were busy with present-buying, they would smile, a great babble of conversation would be seeped out from everywhere. There were queues in all the post houses. A lot of people would carry there boxes of different sizes: those who had failed in sending presents for Christmas, were trying to cheer their relatives and friends at least then. The population of that big industrial center of the West Scandinavia was still numerous enough, though during the latest years after the business boom had already been topped off, having not found an outlet for their energies here lots of people had to leave.
…When he reached the street, the afternoon was well along. As in winter the greenish-blue sky was quite free from clouds. The in-shore wind was blowing all the streets and lanes. Struck on the eve frost had managed to keep somewhere ashes of snow. Abundance of hills and high grounds, naked sorrel-brown trees, tarnished grass of the same colour – all at a time created the most perfect effect of Old Dutch painting. The low sun only added to the impression shaping and sharping heaps of details which would be left unnoticed in the usual light. But all those could be observed only if you would stand at gaze or with your back toward the sun. If you would head the sun, nothing but the aglare shining and the silhouettes burned by that shining, would be seen. It did not matter whether you would put or not the palm of your hand in the eye-shade manner – the rays were beating almost in parallel to the ground.
…The frosty air braced up. He did not put on a scarf purposely to feel acutely the wind's inrush: not only with all his face, with his colled iron-grey hair, but also with his uncovered neck. His usually tightly bound tie protected him to a certain extend from the chill. He was loping in his common manner, not very quickly, sometimes he would stop for a minute to have a look at shop-fronts looking back to pedestrians. There dragged a smell of different bread and spicery from shops' and stores' constantly opening doors. After he had come abreast of a successive patisserie, a young lady with a big paper packet in her hands which she was holding gathered in her arms, came out of it. There poked two long crackly loaves out over the packet and smelled coffee. That creamy aroma of coffee was extra well in the frost. She was walking ahead of him. As a matter of fact, it was he who had decided not to get ahead of her, keeping to fall in behind her. Her lightish hair was gathered and caught up into a bun on the back of her head, her long black dress gave accent to her height, her small heeled bootees allowed to notice her thin bijou wrists of the foot. The fact that her both hands carried the packet added a peculiar inimitable zest to her amble…The sun was shining into their backs discovering the roundness of her calves in the black stockings demonstrated time and again by the wind…On the corner she entered a telephone booth. The packet was de trop to her. She could not manage with it. The only one place for it was a row of telephone books threaded with their flat-ends up on the metal axle. But the books would turn freely around the axle, and the packet strove to tumble down. She was holding the telephone receiver by her left hand putting it to her left ear, while she was inserting the telephone card by her right hand freed in advance from a narrow stiff glove. It was seen that it was habitual to her, that she always did so, not only that time because of the state when the books and the packet were on the right to the apparatus. It meant she was not a southpaw. (He found out in special literature that right-handers who usually hold the receiver by the left hand at the left ear during telephone conversations, have some functional peculiarities of intellection which make them highly amenable to a string of mental derangements.) He took the opposite side of the street and started watching her being reflected among gold and pearls on the black velure in the goldsmithery shop's vitrine. She did not see him. During the talk again and again she would glance at the other side through the booth's glass.
…Opening the taut glass door by her back and adpressing the packet again by her both hands, she started drawing the gloves on blindly, it was quite inconvenient to her – she did not see her hands because of her burden, the packet was tall, heavy, and being not tightly handled it could slip down on the causeway – the glove fell, she bent to pick it up, and that very moment a big green apple slipped out of the packet and rolled – downward, across the street – right towards him. There were no cars on that tiny street that minute, and the apple finished its short dangerous way successfully in his hand.
…All the words had already been said, there had already been her thankful smile, abashed complaints of her angularity, and she herself had already disappeared around the bend, while that apple's smell and caller hardness was still with him. Strange enough, but never until that day, during all those long, long years apples had never been smelling in the way that apple did – in the same way like there, in Volga there had smelled the same heavy green apples adored so much by her. Having messed everything did appear before his eyes again: the high porch of the green timbered house on the dusty street in Kuibyshev, the garden's damp grass in the night, a hurcheon on the path, her eyes when a frog frightened her, her sun-dress’ froufrou when they were strolling along one of the backwaters, her willyart words: "you began to sniff…" as an answer to his: "how did you discover I had fallen asleep first?", how they were lying in the grass, and then curious cows came, and an artless sturdy sheepherder asked what time it was, how he was jealous of anglers on another bank who were staring down at her as she was topless getting sunburn, and he was angry at her because it was a fun to her, her sore to blood by her new peep-toes heels, how she was imparting her warmth to him after he had been swimming for too long in still cold spring water, while the same piscators were still sitting with their angling rods, a small steamer in the river, how she was running hastily and athrilly down a dusty winding road to the quay, as he was walking and watching her retreating figure, how protecting themselves by their hands from the sun kolkhoz-farmerettes in head-kerchiefs near the quay were looking at them, how she was running on the platform along with the still open wagon's door, and the trainwoman was ballyragging, her words that evening, her last letter and unexpected call a year later. All those as if from a far-away strange life. However, not as if – it had been really so.
…In a certain moment he did realize that half-consciously not for the first minute he had been heading the sun, and therefore he had been seeing almost nothing not controlling the situation as a result. The novelty of that feeling baffled him. He was going and going without a pause. His consciousness was signalizing desperately the intolerable transgression against the rule practiced for years – even a few months before on any sunny day he would organize his walking-tour around the city just to avoid completely, when it was a necessity or when it was a possibility, of his pedestrian movement towards the sun beating and blinding his eyes. The strict during all those long years necessity of abiding that rule made it naturally automatical, and his body answered physiologically to this rule's abduction, as if it was a rude outer invasion into one of the most vital important functions… The sea-turn helped to bound the creeping queasiness. It was good it was blowing a little sideways to his face and did not bother his breathing.
…He was walking ahead towards the sun piercing his eyes. He was walking as if for the first time in his life. On his way he would drop in at the caf? where everybody had known him well for a long time under the name of Jan Svenson.
Minsk, December, 1999
Russian-English translation: Andrey Bursau, Minsk