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Authors: Eva Hornung

Dog Boy (30 page)

BOOK: Dog Boy
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A man staggered along the trail. He looked and smelled just like any other drunken bomzh, wearing a miscellany of ragged garments and an old soldier’s woollen hat. His grey hair was long and lank and dangled in strings over his scarves. He walked gingerly up the pathway, controlling his unsteadiness. Then he tapped his forehead with his middle finger.
Uncle.
The man turned his thin face briefly towards them. He was unmistakeable. Romochka bit down on a cry and then stiffened into the stillness of a hunt. The dogs looked at him in surprise.
Uncle had changed. The almost-respectable suit and greatcoat were gone. Even in this light it was clear that his body and face were gaunt. He was old. He was homeless. He gave the two dogs and boy plenty of room as he swayed, humming and cursing, up the path from the mountain towards the metro. In a dizzy moment, Romochka realised he knew the song the old man was trying to sing.
‘Am I to blame…Am I to blame…
Fuck…Fuck!

Romochka felt faint. His mother’s song from long long ago picked up his heart and tossed it about painfully. He followed and the two dogs fell in behind him, padding after the drunken man. They hadn’t harassed a drunk for a long time now, not since they were young and silly, but they never questioned Romochka’s choices.
Romochka kept Uncle close; he wanted to hear the song. Uncle trilled in falsetto over the first line, again and again, without getting any further. The whole song, as complete as when his mother sang it, plunged into Romochka’s chest and rang through him, while up ahead Uncle swore and slurred. A kind of yearning entangled itself with Romochka’s anger and misery. He placed his feet with the silence of a hunt, but it was the song he was stalking, not the thin old man. He picked up each halting word like a crumb, a pebble, dropped just for him to follow. He could recall each word: it seemed to become the only thing he truly knew.
‘Am I to blame, for being in love?!…
Fuck, fuck, fuck!’
His mother’s voice battered at Romochka’s heart until his body sang with pain and longing. He felt the huge block rise in his chest and throat again and knew now that it was made not of wood but of tears, teeming like a ball of summer maggots inside him.
Uncle, unaware at first that he was being followed, swayed through the twilit alleys. But at a wide street corner, he turned and saw Romochka, the two dogs at his heels, staring open-mouthed. Uncle stopped, frowning with concentration. He hummed the tune, slowly, mindlessly, as he stared back.
He gave Romochka a sudden gleaming look of drunken recognition and stopped singing. He pointed three times and left his hand hanging in the air at the end, a gesture as familiar as the song.
‘You little shit. I
know
you.’
Romochka held his breath. He raised supplicant hands. He had a sudden vision of his mother in an apron, cooking porridge for all three of them, singing, as Uncle laughed happily.
‘Yeah…I know you. You’re that weird little dog-fucker. I saw you just now, back there at the mountain, staring like an imbecile. What are you following me for?’
Romochka didn’t move. He was still impaled on the song. So broken open in that moment that, had his uncle really known him, had he shown one moment of softness towards him, Romochka would have wept. White Sister and Grey Brother, bewildered at all the strange crosscurrents in this hunt, had stiffened beside him, and he felt himself pulled away from Uncle’s eyes into the same defensive stance. A strange tension flickered for a moment between the wild child and the broken old man, but Uncle’s gaze flicked away nervously.
‘Fuck off, stinky, and take your dogs with you.’ He turned to lurch away.
The song, as soft and cruel as snow, faded from Romochka’s heart. He and the dogs followed in silence, without knowing why. Uncle knew they were still behind him; Romochka sensed the moment when he began to be afraid of them.
The knot filled his stomach and a confused anger seeped back.
Uncle picked up speed, glancing back at the three now and then. His step seemed steadier. Romochka guessed that he was heading for lights and crowds, a lone pebble rolling frantically towards strength in numbers. They turned into an alley that Uncle didn’t seem to know; he tried a few of the street doors to see whether one had failed to latch. Romochka felt his strength returning.
Look at that foolish pebble, Puppy! Mark it closely, stalk it, get ready…No, don’t make a noise, not now! Ready…
He could feel the two dogs beside him wavering. They didn’t know this game. He gripped his club tight as Uncle turned into a smaller laneway. Romochka and the dogs rounded the corner wide. It was a rubbish-filled cul-de-sac between two buildings. Uncle stood in the middle, hunched a little; facing them with a knife in his hand. White Sister growled a low, uncertain warning.
Uncle spoke in a loud, firm voice: ‘Look kid, enough’s enough. Go home! I haven’t got anything. If you come any closer I’ll cut you, right?’ Romochka could hear the undertone of fear in Uncle’s voice.
Puppy, look! Mark! Watch closely. Almost time!
He crouched slightly, White Sister to his left, Grey Brother to his right and his club gripped in both hands. He bared his teeth, lifted his face so that the matted black hair fell back. He snarled a drawn-out battle crescendo, White Sister and Grey Brother joining their voices to his, strengthened by his conviction. Uncle stepped back, and Romochka smelled his terror.
Now, Puppy!
He leapt forward so quickly that Uncle was still frozen on the spot when Romochka hit him hard in the thigh—a wide, swift full-body swing with the strength of his hard little body and his hatred behind it. Uncle shrieked and half dropped, breathing loudly in fear and pain. He lunged, grabbing Romochka’s hair. The dogs growled and crouched but did nothing, uncertain about the strange passions of this hunt.
Romochka twisted in an instant, dropping the club and clawing at Uncle’s face with his hands, while trying to bite the arm that held his hair. Uncle held on easily, even when Romochka got flesh between his teeth. Uncle was shaking him and yelping in pain, one knee on Romochka’s writhing body while he scrabbled with his free hand for the knife.
White Sister finally leapt, then, and Grey Brother followed. Romochka heard Uncle’s shriek close to his ear, then a hoarse gurgle as White Sister got him by the throat. Grey Brother sank his teeth into Uncle’s thigh, and Romochka was free. Romochka picked up his club, stood over Uncle’s body. His legs wide-straddled the braced form of White Sister and the man’s bony torso. White Sister had the kill grip. Romochka swung his club high, aimed, and smashed it down into the side of Uncle’s head. One rolling, terrified eye reached insistently, with an urgent childish inquiry, for Romochka’s glance. Romochka brought his club down again, then again; battering until that eye quieted and stared blankly.
He wiped his club clean in the dead grass on the pavement outside the cul-de-sac. The knot was gone from his stomach; he felt calm and still, floating in peace. Puppy was dead, but not like this. Just curled up asleep around a sick tummy, sick breath, then not breathing anymore. Then cold. Then after a while either frozen solid or smelly and inedible. Uncle shouldn’t have abandoned Puppy.
No…He felt a little dizzy. Puppy was not Uncle’s Puppy. He half turned to go back to the cul-de-sac; he looked down. White Sister had a red muzzle. He knelt and licked her face clean, tasting blood like his own. Or like Puppy’s. Then he turned to go. White Sister hesitated, and followed. Grey Brother fell in behind.
They didn’t understand this hunt at all.
Dmitry waited for a week and a half, then alerted the authorities and initiated the dogboy hunt. He did it without talking to Natalya, or indeed thinking of Natalya at all in the moment he made the call. He was sitting at his desk, his third coffee cooling in his mug, when the unpleasant churning of feelings that had troubled him since Marko’s death clustered suddenly, powerfully, at his anus, and rose like a hand through his belly to his throat. He swallowed. He didn’t think at all, just reached for the phone and dialled the number.
He was shocked at the blaze in Natalya’s eyes and the snarling curl of her lip. He suddenly remembered that Natalya had a stake in this story and should have been consulted.
‘Have you
thought
about what you have just done?’ She was shouting.
‘Natalya! Of course I have thought and thought! What else could I do? He can’t stay living as he is, alone with a pack of dogs!’
How could he explain to Natalya that this involved no thought? He was conscious that he had done a
volte face
, and was presenting as insupportable something they had both been happy to tolerate for months. He was exposed now in his belief that Romochka was special; he had violated their unspoken agreement that Romochka was an ordinary street kid.
She was so angry that she had turned white. Her clarion voice rang out, fierce, quivering. ‘Dmitry! How
could
you! Of all the poncy, do-good, gutless…I know this boy, Dmitry: you
don’t
. What will he think of us now? What is his future? How will I ever
help
him?’
‘Help him?
H-Help
…’ Dmitry choked on his outrage, ‘Natalya, when have you
ever
done anything that was not about you? Everything on principle, so you can avoid the pain of really…seeing! You think you have nothing to learn from me, from Romochka—from any…Never acknowledging…a-and you are still…won’t even show me your bedroom at home, you could not give up…Has it ever occurred to you that some people know, see, feel…less crudely than…Could you…Is… C-can…’ He ran his hands through his thinning hair. ‘Can you really think I am helped in some way rather than hampered by you…your know-it-all…You
arrogant
little girl! You…you, you…
blockhead
!’
Natalya was silent, her eyes huge and dark in a white face, her hair somehow electrified into a beautiful echo of Romochka’s.
He wanted to catch the words, that last word, haul them back in; but it was too late. He could not move. The silence lengthened between them. He shut his eyes. He felt the full horror of what he had done and what it was going to cost him. And where had it come from? All the times…how
hard
had he tried to talk to her, only to jam up; and then to spill nonsense like this, things he had never even thought!
Under the influence of multiple stressors, the subject’s usual self alters…
A solitary life yawned before him, barren and confused, swinging without meaning between success and misery.
‘Oh, Dmitry.’ He heard Natalya sigh, her voice wavering slightly, but clear. ‘When you lose it you really…do, don’t you?’ She laughed uncertainly. ‘Did you mean it? No, I know you didn’t. You just wanted to hurt because…’ She breathed in, gathered herself up. ‘Dmitry, I
am really
worried about everything we have done to Romochka—it’s as if we have meddled unprofessionally, without direction or purpose or princip… Well, now we have this tragedy.’
He opened his eyes and sank into his chair. She was still pale, proud; but looking at him in a way that made him want to weep with relief.
‘I know,’ he said timidly. ‘This will be very terrible for him, but it is for the best. I’ll take responsibility for him personally.’
Natalya was suddenly animated. ‘Dmitry!’ Her eyes flashed. ‘I know exactly what to do! You will do more than take responsibility for him. No institutions for this boy, no scientific studies. We’re going to foster him! Take him into our home, and you bind yourself to him for good or ill until the day of your death.’
Strangely, Dmitry’s heart didn’t quail. He was in that moment complete, open, ardent. He did not even find her contrary or melodramatic; he saw how she too exposed herself and her affection for this boy. Something in him stilled and calmed and, for the first time since his vigil by Marko’s deathbed, he did not feel wretched. He looked up into Natalya’s radiant face.
‘Of course, Natalochka,’ he said quietly.
She kissed him then, drawing his lips into the taut circle of hers, drawing him in. He closed his eyes and melted into this new belonging for a long moment, and then felt the tears hot behind his eyelids.
It wasn’t her world that he was entering, he thought, but, hand in hand with her, Romochka’s. Romochka’s impenetrable, unknowable world that he, Dmitry, was going to smash to pieces with no way of predicting or tabulating the consequences. And, amazingly, he was to take his pure-hearted, incorrigible Natalya with him.
BOOK: Dog Boy
12.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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