Masha And The Alien

excerpt 'I can hardly understand what you're saying, your words make my hair stand on end... What do you want, actually?' Masha could hardly contain herself. This talk raised her suspicions. The visitor's look could very well be deceitful. Whoever was hiding behind his back? The alien being combed the sweat drops on his temple with his fingers and added: 'Maybe she thinks my appearance is odd... After all, this is nothing but a transient appearance... We're so different from how you can see or imagine us... We do not resemble you in the least... Rather we look like some airy molluscs, or like snails floating in the void and trailing behind an extremely sophisticated whorl, made of an inexistent crust, that helps us move from one place to another through the cosmic space. 'In contact with you or with anything else we suffer a metamorphosis of sorts... We become human, in some way. We may come into contact with any being whatsoever and with any world, too. And it all happens almost instantaneously and it costs us no effort. If we want to come into contact with insects, we turn into insects and take on their living habits, too... We grow crusts and elytra all over... If we want, for instance, to figure out the ways of a heron when it is mating (the visitor cast a glance in the direction of the storks' nest posted like a turban over the telegraph pole in front of the house, where you could see a stork standing cross-legged, opening and closing its long beak that appeared to have been previously immersed in some bath of blood-red paint) – then we simply metamorphose into a heron and help it mate... And all this should I put more than a split second. The time one needs to close one's eyelids or to beat one's wings...' 'Don't tell me,' Masha exclaimed, 'So that's what you do, is it? You help herons to mate, you do... I thought you did rather should I say...more things of the...' 'These things have to be done by someone, too, don't they?' the guest replied. 'Maybe they seem of no import to you, but for us, who are capable of feeling the things with our own senses, such experiences are absolutely necessary.' 'Absolutely necessary,' Masha murmured to herself. 'You'd better see to more serious things,' she retorted mumbling . After the revolution, the village had unexpectedly grown old. Not only had the old people grown old, but also the trees and the houses. Neither was the grass as fresh and green as before. The spring itself had a pale way of shining forth. And the summer rained its dew as so many drops of rust. The tree leaves would start turning yellow as early as the month of May. All the kinds of cherry-trees hosted vermin, starting from the time when they grew their first buds, and the vegetables came to be blighted with acid rain. You could only see wrack and ruin everywhere. The doors of the houses hung open suspended from a single hinge only, and there was constant creaking of the hinges, the gates were beaten to and fro by the wind. The dogs looked like sorry curs, and the cattle had been struck by scabies. The shingles of the house roofs were overgrown with moss, several fingers thick and the house chimneys had been invaded by weeds. From time to time a tenuous thread of smoke spread up towards the yellowish sky which bore on it the full imprint of the end. You could see only people who had stepped over the threshold of their life's latter half – especially old women dressed in black and old men with yellowing beards resting on trunks and staring vacantly, with what may have been their thoughts straying in the space of the otherworld. The cemetery – once very well cared for – had transformed into an impenetrable coppice, now used as their venue by skunks, foxes, badgers and other specimens of wild life. The crosses had been stolen, piled and burnt away efficiently, and the graves themselves were now teeming with serpents. The ponds had been covered with green weeds and became mere pools of stench. The steam baths and outhouses, once shining in the sunlight, had become dilapidated. Even the border, once so well guarded, had been left alone, and it went to seed. The cattle crossed the border and returned before the soldiers on guard shot the least fire to warn anyone who happened to cross the untilled strip of land, which they had once used, to be wary enough to guard against trespassers. In fact the border held no temptation for anybody now. The village across the border was equally dilapidated – just like the one over here. The young people had gradually left Brodina, finding shelter in the nearby town at first, then they'd set out even further, becoming scattered in the wide world – you could not see a trace of them at all. So what point was there now in guarding the border between these two countries, when even the borderline between life and death had been wiped out? There were no children born, but the storks had become so prolific and numerous instead... You could see one nest on practically each telegraph pole, on each chimney, on each slightly higher tree, or over the well frames that were still standing in the air. They would beat open and closed their long red beaks, accompanying the tocsin and the bells ringing to announce the evening service. In the morning, they always deserted their nests to waddle in flight over the strip of land that stood for border, and they'd come back at dusk, bringing back in their beaks all sorts of wild creatures that they dropped into the yards below, or that they'd take up to the roofs to give as food to their increasingly hungry offspring, who consequently were daily growing bigger and bigger in everyone's sight. The storks went breeding three times each summer, the baby-storks brought along further baby mates – which made the village teem with storks. They'd stay until late in the winter, and it was only the biting cold winds of winter that managed to chase them away in flight to the warmer zones. But never would all of them leave, some stayed behind to winter in the village; you could see them crouching on the roofs filled with snow, holding their beaks well covered in their wings, while they fed on the smoke rising from the chimneys and on the blood-soaked sound of the tolling bells. Raising their eyes in their direction, people went berserk with despair. The old men shook their crutches menacingly at them through the air. Some of the men had already taken long prongs as arms against the storks; they shook these along the village streets, pretending to pull down all the birds' nests one by one. But the fear of fire made them desist eventually. 'Cause they'd known by ancestral word of mouth for so long now that you're not to touch a stork's nest, or else your house is sure to catch fire. Storks were peaceful creatures but they could be vengeful. If you spoilt their nests, they'd bring live embers in their beaks and they'd drop these on your roof. So everyone had rather bear with the birds' droppings of wild livestock from their beaks in people's yards, and they'd turn a deaf ear to the prelude of clamping noises from the opening and closing beaks that could be heard at dusk time; they'd cast looks of deep concern at the storks' nests as big as some tractor's huge wheels that menacingly crowned the city all over. Many people could still remember how the village had been invaded by rooks right before the private lands had all been confiscated to be included in the state collective-ownership farms. Now it had been the birds who had come. Could this be a good sign? Or was their dear God testing the men's faith again? The stranger who'd come from some unknown galaxy had told Masha no end of stories about the body and the soul, and about all sorts of metamorphoses, saying that he'd come to study the ways of the mating herons... Why ever had he not rather taken up more serious work?! Herons mate and increase even without help from alien beings coming from the outer space or other galaxies – but what had happened, one wondered, to the people? People grow old and die, and there are no others being born; or if they are born they are born somewhere else, not in Brodina or the nearby villages for that matter. Yes, the village had got old. It had become lesser and underdeveloped. The old people had forgotten the language they'd learned from their ancestors. They'd forgotten the customs they'd been taught. Even – they'd forgotten the prayers and church rites. Were a child to be born, which was something so unlikely that it became really absurd, there would be no one to baptize the newborn baby. The priest Fadei could hardly rise from his sick bed, so they only had the ministrant and the caretaker of the church to minister to people's heavenly business, and they were the two of them old, they'd aged up far too early; they'd cut on the prayers and delivered make shift services... Neither the weddings nor the funerals were as they'd been before. Actually no one knew any other prayer beside the Pater Noster, no one could recite any other prayer by heart. 'We shall set order in your people's business, too, don't worry!' the guest whispered after a short while. 'I shall give them increase just as before the time of the Flood.' Of course, Masha had no idea how much mankind had increased before the Flood; maybe, she thought to herself, they'd increased in number as much as the rooks did before the collective farms came into being – it was rumoured that one had no room to live in the village because of the proliferating rooks at the time – or maybe they grew just as much in numbers as the storks did right now, so it was necessary to send a wave of flooding water over them to make their numbers dwindle... Now there was no need for a flood – in her village, mankind was disappearing of its own accord. It was becoming extinct just as a fire in a feeble hearth. So there was no need for a Flood or for Noah and his ark, for that matter – the village was daily going to seed, eroded, as it were, by the work of some unseen tags. But Masha came up against exactly the kind of event that she'd feared all through. Quite unexpectedly, the alien being, who seemed rather tipsy, rose from his chair and approached the couch. On it was Masha, who had had a bad night's sleep fretting in bed to and fro – so that the sheets looked just like a lawn on which a storm had been rolling over to craze it up. Here and there a louse would pop over the creases in which there were other insects waiting to feed ravenously on the hot blood of the woman who was still in full strength, ready – even if not directly ready to bring other men and women into the world – ready to see to others, to herself and to her own house. Living in seclusion, she had very rarely had an old woman come to her place to chat, or ask for a handful of yellow semolina perhaps, so she'd got used to leaving things lying all over the place in sheer disorder. The couch would remain untidy for weeks on end, the dishes undone, and the house not being seen to for months at a time. If she happened to have a chance guest coming to her place out of the blue, the woman would gather all the things thrown about the house and she'd cast a carpet she'd bought from the Moldavians over the bed. This untidiness did not oppress her in the least, it made her feel at her ease. 'See to it,' her lamented grandmother kept telling her, 'or you'll get to raise cats and dogs when you grow old, as it happens with those townswomen...' Her ole' babushka had had such a poor opinion of all the women who lived anywhere else than in Borodina. As for those girlies who walked noisily, piercing the sidewalk with their pointed, nail-sharp high heels – she would not hear of this species of women. 'Their lips look just like the assholes of the monkeys. Don't let me catch you painting your face!' The babushka had seen a pair of baboons at the circus that had pitched a tent at Rădăuţi. They'd eat hen's claws spitting at each other and always starting scuffles. When they raised their tails you could see their butts with the red-hot spot in the middle. 'That's how we'll get to look if we put red smearing on our lips,' concluded the old woman, while backing away from the tent, where a python dwelt side by side with the monkeys. Townswomen smeared paint over their mouths to make them look like the butt of a monkey. When they reached old age, these hags took to raising dogs, cats and the like of these wild life exemplars, bringing them to live in their town homes. They'd take off their clothes and walk on all fours among these animals. There was no end of dirt all over the place. Some of these women would mate with the vipers, others with the dogs, with hippopotamuses or crocodiles. They entertained Sodom and Gomorrah in their homes. All this stuff had been reported by the educationist, who'd been a tenant at an old Polish woman's; she lived together with 60 cats. At night, the old woman would undress and walk about the place stark naked; this brought the kids of the neighbourhood gaping through the windows and shouting dirty words at the top of their voices. If only she'd hung shutters or curtains at the windows at least: but it seemed the old Polish woman derived so much pleasure from this kind of show that, as she was crawling and sweeping her tits excitedly over the floor boards, she also went meowing in imitation of the tomcats' mating calls... In addition to this, the old woman had cut open all the pillows she had in her house to bathe and bask in the feathers. The antiquated hag's lips smeared with several layers of paint looked just like the red tassels of a turkey's beard and comb.Polirom, 2005

by Nichita Danilov (b. 1952)