The Magic Fish or the story of the war
Author Natalia Zagrebina-Wirtz
translated by Igor Step
- Hey! - He called me.
I really felt my back that he was waving to me. I quickened pace - I didn’t want to talk to anyone.
- Hold on! he shouted even louder, and from the sounds that came to me, I realized that he was running.
Then I harshly turned to him. It was the weirdest guy named Max, who came with us to the lake today.
Approaching me, he stopped. And, having taken a breath, said:
- You go to a stop, but the last bus is already gone.
I said nothing, walking slowly along the road.
He grabbed my sleeve and pulled me to him.
- Yes, wait! We have to go other way! Come along, I will show you the way. Then, looking around, he added:
- If you got here, it will be very difficult to get out!
And I succumbed, turned, and we walked together along a dusty, sun-scorched road, framed around the edges with pebbles and thorny bushes.
I came here a couple of days ago. It was very hot, as always here at this time. From the sun scorching from the sky the grass withered and turned yellow. The trees still held, lowering their crowns below. Their sweaty leaves became thinner and sluggish like rags dangling. I wanted to go to the very lake that I used to go with the old man when I was a child. Even then, before the war. I was irresistibly drawn there. Probably, I once again wanted to remember everything. But maybe I was waiting for some kind of miracle?
Local village’s boys, like in the past, went to this lake to swim.
This place has always been enmeshed with legends that could not destroy either war or time. It seems they will never disappear. According to legend, there was a big magic fish in this lake, and if lucky enough to see her, will fulfill your cherished desire. A lot of people just pursued their mercantile goals …
I did not remember the way to the lake, which was going through the forest and could get lost. So, I joined the boys, and we went together. There were seven or eight of us. Dima and Max were older. They were about seventeen years old, almost like me. And the rest of the kids were younger.
We covered a larger section of the road by bus. It was a large, painted yellow and already peeling paint, tipped on one side due to improperly working springs. If I’m not mistaken, they are no longer released. Inside the bus, the walls and in some places the ceiling was dotted with inscriptions of different colors and contents.
Plastic seat handles were cut with a knife, and their rubbed coating in places strongly departed from the metal frame.
It was the notable fact that almost more than half of the upper glass was not in place. And the boys now and then laughed out through the windows to the street. This caused terrible hails of the driver. But the boys just had more fun from it. Finally, the bus pulled over to the side of the road and the guys poured into the street into the hot summer air.
Then you had to go on foot. On the sunburned land to the forest, which was visible at the horizon.
There was not a single building around which the eye could catch, in order to return consciousness to the reality that began to slip away from it.
Only in the distance was the tower of a long-abandoned mine with a pyramid of waste rock nearby. However, she only aggravated the picture that appeared before her, making her even more fantastic. The hot air lay above the red soil with quivering transparent layers, distorting the reflections passing through it and making the horizon even more subtle. After a short period of time it began to seem that you are somewhere in the middle of the prairie of North America and that incomprehensible point on the horizon is just a cowboy riding a purebred stallion. He may be jumping to a meeting with his friend to show off the newly acquired red Quarter Horse instead of the previously rented slow black Morgan. In less than a minute, as he approaches and the details of the harness of his horse become visible. And next to it will be a saloon from which a beauty in a dress will come out to meet him, carrying large beer mugs in her hands. Like in some Westerns.
The prairie invented by our imagination soon ended and we reached the last obstacle, a forest overgrown with bushes. There were traces of fallen mines, almost completely covered with grass. Traces of war. Which could already be forgotten, and live on, as if nothing had happened. Moreover, everywhere was this cheerful green. But nothing was forgotten. Particularly this is ...
Next, we had to wade through the forest.
Here Max appeared oddities in behavior.
The last part of the way was remained. Only one thought was in my head to get faster to the lake.
And at this crucial moment, he began to freak.
This is what is called freaks, you cannot say otherwise.
Because of this mallrat Max we moved more slowly than we could. It was not enough that in this often with prickly bushes the legs continually flooded dry grass, which made it very difficult to walk.
So, this freak made the situation worse, throwing out his tricks.
I do not know what happened to him. But imagine that you go through these impassable bushes, sweat pours in a stream and the heat is unbearable. And then some idiot starts to run from tree to tree looking at it. What would you think why? Flowers!
Little blue, little white, pink flowers!
When I asked him why he was doing it, he replied: “Just because they are beautiful!“.
So, he wanted to look at the flowers, and all of us have to stand and wait for him?!
And the further we went, the worse it became. He stopped and looked at something for about ten minutes: a fur tree, or a stump that was left of it.
It was beyond my strength!
Seeing that I was losing my temper, one of the younger boys told me:
- Do not pay attention, he always has such freaks.
But I approached this crank, wanting to talk to him.
- What are you doing? - I asked him, unable to hide the irritation in my voice.
- Don’t you see? He replied to me just as annoyed.
“No,” I said. My voice sounded clear and hard, so it seemed to me.
- What do I have to do with this? - responded this idiot.
- What have you got to do with it ?! - repeated, almost shouted, I told him.
“I have nothing to do with it,” he answered me calmly and with a smirk.
- You have nothing to do with it? - I finally exploded, - is it you who have nothing to do with it? We have been walking along this road for an hour, although it takes about fifteen minutes on the force! If we didn’t stop every two fucking steps!
- This road takes much longer. But this is not for your understanding!
He began to wrung the clever man.
- Good! - I said. I decided that we could not agree on anything if I didn’t try to be calm. - If you wouldn’t stopped…
And here he is calm, much calmer than I, said:
“I have to look!” He snapped. And turning to me, he continued:
- How the light falls on the leaves, see? As the rays pass through the crown of trees, and painted in light green hues, they fall on the ground and everything is illuminated by them. See how beautiful it is?
I looked at him with all my eyes. I tried to pretend that there is nothing strange in this conversation. Although everything was strange there!
I suddenly felt embarrassed at the thought that someone could hear us.
- Can you look for a second and go on! - I hissed quietly in response. Then, looking around, I said louder:
- Take a look for a second! It’s not necessarily to stop!
Then he looked at me as a complete idiot.
- Just imagine, he said, - you have, suppose, such a dear person to whom you frankly are not at all indifferent. Not indifferent to such a strong degree that you are a pain in the neck. And so, he did something for you. For example, a postcard with his own hands on your birthday.
And what, even if only out of a sense of gratitude, you won’t take it in your hands in order to consider better? If you know that it was made especially for you?
You look at her for only a second, saying something like: “Nothing special!” or: “So-so! It happens better, besides, I’m in a hurry,” and you will go further?! Especially if you see that this is not just some kind of postcard there! This is what I wouldn’t definitely want, because it is so ugly to behave!
I was rooted to the spot. My lands!! What a smart man!
For some reason, I felt uncomfortable. But then he did something extremely utter. He fell the ground and began to scream at the top of lungs:
- Come from the right flank! Do not climb the bridge! Take it to the right! Shoot! We are surrounded! Shoot!
He lay and shouted somewhere ahead, into the void. He was so stiff with a cry that his face turned red and veins protruded from his neck. He spoke to someone there in front. But there was only a green thicket, and nothing more.
He did this several times. To say that I was scared is to say nothing. Of course, I didn’t say anything more to him. Deciding that silence is the best possible behavior in the current situation. For the rest of my journey, I trailed behind everyone. Suddenly one of the boys caught up with me. He said:
- Leave him, he always does that. This is after the essay that we were asked at school.
- Essay? I asked.
Yes, we were asked to write an essay about the doll at school. It was found on the chapel after the war and everyone at the school was asked to write an essay on how she could get there. Such a task for ingenuity. Everybody thought out what they could. Any bullshit, especially girls, think what can creatures always come up with looking in the mirror and spending their time gossiping? And Max went to the archive. Well, you know where all the documents are stored. And he found one old newspaper, in which there was a note about a little girl. Her dad went to war. And she did not know what happened to him and where he was. There was no news from him. Do you understand? And she decided to put her doll on the highest place in the city, so that the doll told her where her dad was.
“Very interesting,” I said, “but how is this related…”
- How is this related to what you saw? said the boy. Then he continued: - Everything is very simple. When he found this article in the newspaper, and found out the name of the girl and her last name. He made a request to the archive about the shelf in which her father fought, and whether he survived. The answer came, but there was nothing about whether the fighters survived. It said only that their detachment was surrounded in this very place. There used to be a bridge. And nothing more. Then Max decided that he could help them get out of the encirclement and survive this battle. And now he shouts to the fighters where to go and what to do. Do you understand? He believes that it is possible to change the past. I do not know if it is possible to change something like that, but he believes in it.
- He believes that the girl’s father survived, and returned to her? I asked.
“Yes,” said the boy, “he is sure that this is what happened.” But there are no records about it in the archive. Despite this, Max goes there all the time, he hopes that he will find information that the girl’s father survived and returned home.”
Finally, we got to the lake.
Its black surface, turning into a sparkling turquoise, perfectly smooth surface a little further, caught the eye.
When there was not even the smallest ripple on the lake, the blue sky was reflected in it, as in the photo. It seemed bottomless in the heat.
And now only those days stand. Like then. Before the war.
I sat on the shore and looked at the water. One boy explained to another who came here for the first time:
- Swim to the very edge, not touching the spot in the center. If you look closely, you will notice - there the water is slightly different in color. Very little. And when you swim nearby, you will feel it. Cool. This means that you are near the danger zone.
I understood. They had such entertainment - like a test of will. To do this, it was necessary not to be frightened and swim across the lake, going out on the other side. The usual boy’s games.
“Why can’t you swim there?” The boy asked.
- Because everything is drowned there. All! This is the point to swim nearby on the border. To be able to swim, decide on it and not be frightened.
Yes, I heard before that fresh water is not as safe as it seems. And there are places where several people can drown in a row and no one will tell you the reasons, they will just shrug their shoulders.
This has already happened. It seems to me that this is due to the peculiarities in the bottom surface. Any differences that lead to a difference in pressure, and you never know what else. Or maybe mine just got there...
- And suddenly I do not understand where you need to swim? - scared asked the boy.
- You will understand, because everyone understands! You will be prompted by your inner feeling ...
The boy finally decided and swam with everyone.
And I stayed on the beach. Looking after retreating heads wrapped in T-shirts.
It was all about it. In this water.
It fascinated, attracted attention to herself and engendered a desire to compose a legend in people’s minds. For example, the legend of the magic fish. In which many believed, as the old man, with whom I went here before the war. He wanted the magic fish to help him see his future - he told me then ...
Old man. I have always remembered him. From early childhood. In that July eleven years ago, my parents brought me to the village to my aunt. And I immediately got into the company of the boys, who every morning was waiting for the old man by the road. When he showed up, broad-shouldered, with a gray beard, carrying a long wooden fishing pole at the ready, the guys began to shout at him:
- Fish, fish!
- There is a fish!
- Buy fish!
Then, when he was slightly removed, we ran after him. We continued to shout and called him each other names and threw pebbles after him. Unfortunately, we were ordinary evil boys who did not understand what they were doing. The quintessence of stupidity and desire mischiefs.
- Where does he go every morning? - I once asked one of them.
- He goes fishing. And then sells it at the market, the boy answered.
- But this is only a cover! -raised another.
“Cover for what?” - I asked.
- He is waiting...
I held my breath, catching every word.
- He is waiting for the Magic Fish! - the boy answered, - my father said he was just crazy. Every morning he goes there and peers into the water, he waits, that, finally, the Magic Fish will appear to him.
- And what will he do with it? I asked.
- You don’t understand anything at all? - Said another boy to me, - because if the fish is magic, then it can fulfill wishes! He wants to make a wish!
- I wonder what? I asked.
- What? It is clear - what! Did you see his eyebrows? They are so wide that they close their eyes. And why? Because he has evil eyes! And if you meet his gaze, you will immediately die!
- If he catches a fish, he will make us all disappear, because he hates everyone!
The whole village was laughing at him. But he continued to walk every morning to the lake. Stooped strong old man with a white beard, carrying a long fishing pole at the ready.
Once, one of those days, I was sent to the store to buy bread. When I came back, I saw an Old Man sitting on a bench located very close to the road. He just sat and stroked the cat. Then the thought occurred to me that a person who is so quietly sitting, warming himself in the sun, and even stroking a cat that purrs in response and putting on his big hand, cannot be so bad as everyone tells him about him. But still, just in case, I slowed down, and then stopped altogether - too close to the road was a bench on which a mysterious old man was sitting. Frozen from the fear that came from nowhere, I retreated to the fence, then slowly walked along it, trying not to attract attention. The habit of being afraid of the Old Man played its insidious role - we were brave only when we were sitting in the bushes by the road, and secretly threw pebbles after him. But meeting face to face revealed the whole essence of our boy’s “courage.” The old man continued to sit in the same position and stroke the cat and seemed not to notice me and my torment at all. But then he turned, obviously, at the sound of striking the fence of my plastic gun, which I always carried with me at the ready. The old man turned and looked right at me.
At this moment I, not remembering myself from fear, screamed shrilly and rushed to at the top of lungs to my heels. Behind his back came the rolling old man’s laughter.
Yes, I imagine what an idiot I looked in his eyes. And, for sure, he understood that I was in the team of those “brave souls”, who teased him in the mornings and shouted from their safe haven: “Fish, fish! Buy fish!”. Finally, our house appeared. I flew into the yard like a bullet and, slamming the gate behind me, pressed my back to it, trying to catch my breath.
At that moment, I was literally burning with shame.
I thought to myself how wonderful it would be if no one ever knew about this incident and about my shameful escape. To my right, sitting by the booth, our dog Jim quietly whined. Putting his paws together and putting his face on them, he looked at me in a special way pitifully. It seemed to me that the look of his faithful canine eyes expressed an understanding of all that had happened now, as if he knew and sympathized with everything.
- You would be scared in my place too! - I said to the dog with irritation, - It is still unknown how you would run away, at what speed, if you met him on the same road! You know how terrible he is and what they say about him! If this wasn’t so, then I would not scream and would not run away from there, but would quietly go myself.
Jim, was listening attentively to me, raised one ear and bowed his head. His eyes expressed doubt and distrust.
When I saw that the dog did not fully share my point of view, I told him:
- I’m not a fool to just run around the street. So, there was a serious reason. You would definitely run even faster than me, because you have four legs, and I have only two legs.
In response to these words, the dog wagged his tail amiably and began to whimper softly. It seems that this time my words satisfied him and Jim was now completely behind me in this matter.
- Go, I will give you bread! - I suggested to the dog, beckoning it with my finger, - you must be hungry.
Bursting with a chain, Jim deftly stood up and obediently approached me. I ran my hand into the dog’s short soft hair, scratched it behind the ear. Then he squatted next to him and hugged his stomach, feeling his quick breathing and the hot heat that usually emanates from animals.
“Friend, my friend,” I repeated gently, pulling the dog on the sides.
The rest of the day I sat in the yard and built towns from sand. I was ashamed to appear on the street because of the situation with the run, and even more so I did not want to go and tease the Old Man in the morning. It seemed to me that he remembered me very well. In addition, it seemed to me that there were witnesses of my shameful run on the street, and the Old Man himself, when he saw me again, could begin to laugh in his loud rolling voice.
In the evening it became cooler. The air was filled with the scent of flowering, fresh greenery and impending rain. Grasshoppers chirped loudly. It seemed that life was more diverse, mysterious and interesting in this impenetrable darkness than in the daytime.
I looked out through the open door, standing on the threshold of the house. Trying to make out at least one grasshopper, whose chirping was so loud that it seemed that one or the other could be detected without any difficulty. But the yellow light falling a long line from the house to the ground prevented me from doing this. And I was afraid to go out. In the dark, bushes and even an apple tree with a familiar flowerbed of flowers turned into some frightening shadows that did not promise anything good for the researcher. There, ten paces away, in the dark, Jim slept, snugly curled up in a tangle at the booth. Finally, I slammed the door and returned to the room.
Reaching the couch, I flopped on it. And he began to watch the aunt, who sewed something, sitting at the table.
- Tell me about the old man who goes to the lake every day and wants to catch the Magic Fish! - I asked her.
Aunt looked at me in surprise.
- What are you talking about, Sasha? she asked.
- That old man who is being teased by boys. They said he wants to catch the magic fish. And make a wish that we all disappear.
- Why does he need it? she asked me.
- Because he’s angry!
“Probably you mean Anatoly Ignatievich,” said my aunt thoughtfully, “he goes fishing in the morning to the lake and then sells it at the market.” But he is not an evil. The boys all lie! I never noticed anything bad about him.
- I hope you don’t tease him with them? she asked sternly.
- Not! I exclaimed and blushed.
Aunt smiled and carefully looked at me, said:
- Do you want me to introduce you to him? I buy goat milk from him every Tuesday. Next time I will take you with me! And you will be convinced that he is not evil, but on the contrary, he is very kind. At the same time and ask about the magic fish!
I sat leaning against the back of the couch and blinked in frightened eyes. I did not expect such a turn of events.
- Can you tell me about the Magic Fish? - I asked my aunt.
She smiled, looking at me.
- There is such a legend that in this large lake there has long been a magic fish that can fulfill desires. But only one who is pure in heart can see it, my aunt told me.
Falling asleep, I imagined how the Magic Fish was swimming among the blue waves, in a huge, huge lake, and looking for someone with a pure heart, who was also looking for it to appear to him.
On particularly hot days, the boys went swimming in a small pond, located near the village. I went with them, although I did not know how to swim. All day I was splashing in the water, near the shore, pretending to be floating. It was noticed by older guys walking past the pond.
- Look at him, he looks like a frog! shouted one of them with a laugh. Then he continued:
- No, you just look at him! This is a real frog!
It looks like he was drunk. He went in my direction, shouting to me:
- Hey, you! Frog! If you do not swim now, then I will take you and throw you into the middle of this pond!
I got up, transfixed. And he looked at them in horror. For fear, I described myself and felt a hot trickle of urine running down my leg.
Suddenly, one of the guys grabbed the boor’s arm and said to him:
- Let’s go to! What did you stick to him?!
But he pushed his hand away and shouted to me:
- Okay, today I will not touch you! But remember that the next time I throw you in the middle of this pond. And I don’t care if you drown, frog!
Then they laughed. And turning, finally walked away.
The rest of the time I was sitting on the shore, raking the sand with my hands, but did not even try to build something from it. It was then that I made a promise to myself that I would overcome my fear and shame from my recent escape, and I would approach the old man. I wanted to ask him to take me to the lake. I wanted to see the Magic Fish and ask it to teach me how to swim so well that it would cause a feeling of envy from everyone, no matter who became the witness!
The next morning, when the boys again gathered on the road to wait for the old man, I went out to meet him.
When the old man caught up with us, I, fighting in my soul, a feeling of fear and timidity, approached him and said:
- Please take me to the lake, please!
The old man stopped and looked at me in surprise.
- Can I go with you? - I asked again plaintively.
- Why do you want to go to the lake? he asked gently.
“I want to meet the Magic Fish so that she can teach me how to swim!” -I said. -Because otherwise the older boys threaten to throw me in the middle of the pond. And from there I cannot swim out!
The old man smiled.
- Well, let’s go, since you are so brave! - he said.
And I walked beside him.
The boys did not make a single sound. They quietly watched us from the bushes with raspberries. So, I began to go with the Old Man to the lake every day. And he taught me how to swim. Not once, but from the sixth time, I swam quite myself tolerably.
One day, burning with curiosity, I asked him:
- They all say you want to catch the Magic Fish. What do you want to ask her?
“I want to see my future, as before,” answered the Old Man, “now only the past stands before my eyes,” said the old man.
-But why? I asked.
- When I was young, I served in the army. Then I was sent to the war. There I saw a lot of grief. People I knew died every day next to me. Then I was wounded, and I went to the hospital. There was a very beautiful doctor. Blonde beauty. She was so beautiful that all the soldiers dreamed to mention a word with her, but no one dared. And once I spoke to her. We went to have lunch together. And while we were sitting there, she showed me her hand. Her forearm was covered with thin scars. Some of which were healed by white connective tissue; others were bleeding under a thin, dried crust of blood.
“This way I mark every day spent here,” she told me, “I seem to be walking on something sharp. And I do not see the end of this. To recover, I have to carry a penknife on the skin. Then I come to my senses. I saw a lot of grief there, like her. It disfigured me like the delicate skin on a beautiful doctor’s hand with a penknife. My whole life stayed there at the war. I think that when I see a fish, I will see my future again - bright and colorful. As once before. I sit and look at the water, and I can never see anything that is behind this lake - the other shore. I always walk on the waves, but never reach my goal ...
Then the war began. That day I climbed into the water and swam to the middle of the lake. At that moment I heard shots and a scream behind my back. I saw the old man fall to the ground. Trembling, I swam up to the shore, my fingers were cut by the grass, but I climbed onto the shore and ran away. Leaves and branches whipped around my face and body. I ran until the outlines of the village seemed ahead. Then bombs began to fly from the sky, one after another. They blew up a school and two houses. War is the limit of human hatred and anger. The limit of destruction. I do not know how, but we managed to evacuate from there. And I went back to my parents.
But I was irresistibly drawn here. Probably, I once again wanted to remember everything. But maybe I was waiting for some kind of miracle?
And I came back, and went to the same lake with the boys.
I was thinking about all this when I was walking along the road with a strange guy named Max. It has long been dark. The wind was cool. Stars were shining in the sky, very bright, as is usually the case in the south. We walked in silence. And suddenly, unexpectedly for myself, I suddenly asked him:
- Did you know that old man who went to the lake every day and wanted to catch the Magic Fish? Everyone in the village was laughing at him...
Max looked at me. Without waiting for his answer, I continued:
- He was shot before my eyes when the war began.
Tears rolled down my cheeks. Then Max turned to me and put his arm around my shoulders.
“Yes, I know him,” said this Strange guy, “the old man was still alive! When we come to the village, you will be convinced of this. We will go to him in the morning with you, and you will be convinced!
“And yes!“, - he also said - “the Old Man finally saw the magic fish. He told everyone in the village about it. He was incredibly happy...“.
I didn’t know if it was true, or if it was another fiction of Max. But I would like to believe in it, I would really like to.
On the horizon, on the border of the sky with the earth, a narrow light, not clear and thin strip of dawn began to see through. But in my soul the dawn was shining with full force, with the sun rising, somewhere in the middle of my soul and heart.
The only thing I forgot to tell Max at that moment was that I had a ticket for the morning bus. I had to go back to my home. Only a few hours left before departure...
We were approaching the village, the sky was becoming more and more bright, and more and more radiant from the sun rising to the edge of the earth. And finally, his huge white side appeared over the village and the land, and we were able to see its magnificence in full force… I looked at it without stopping when I rode the bus, squeezing the ticket in my hand with the remaining dawn in my heart and my soul. The war in each of us has left its mark. What could be worse, I do not even know? And he healed, or not, shows, as a rule, only time, a long time...
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Natalya Zagrebina-WirtzWrite a Review