A NOVEL ABOUT LIFE
She was twelwe when she understood, for the
first time, that she would die.
She glances at the sky, holding a head of cabbage her mother gave her to
cut up for the bowl; a sharp pain in her stomach doubles her over. And
before she comprehends what she understood in a flash, she stands up and
looks around: someone might be watching. As though she did something
wrong, something inappropriate, something that should be hidden from
view. As though she wet her pants.
I shall die, she tells herself, gazing at the sky. And once again, there
is that pain, not so intense now but like thunder in the distance. Not
like the first pain. Her heart beats wildly: it wants to flee to the
I shall die.
What do you mean, die? What is it like?
I don't know. But I'm going to die.
But how does someone die?
I don't know. I guess it's like you're just gone.
But what does that mean: gone? I don't understand.
It means you are gone. As though you close your eyes and the sky is
gone, and the house is gone, and Mama is gone.
She closes her eyes. Darknes, full of sparkles under her trembling
eyelids. And the frenzied pounding at her temples. The thought of Mama
rips through her stomach again and doubles her over.
It can't be. Mama will always be there.
She opens her eyes. Brilliant sunshine floods over her; she grows dizzy
for a moment. Than she looks away from the sky to the door of the house,
her eyes filled with violet circles of darkness: Mama appears there, as
though she was invited to be there. Mama: round, smiling, hasty. She
takes the bowl of cabbage, glances at her, smiles, and vanishes into the
If she dies, I'll go with her.
I'll lay me down with her in the grave.
The word grave, said for the first time in full awareness of the
meaning, makes her fragile slim body shake.
It can't be that way. Mama said the older people die first and then
Yes, but why did Hana's six-mont-old die last year and not Hana?
I don't know. By mistake, I guess. You should ask Mama about that, she
She knows it's inappropriate and rude to ask Mama about some things, and
so she tries to swallow something heavy which grew in her throat while
she was thinking about it.
Buty someone must know about death.
No one must know. Everyone must die.
But why must everyone die?
Grandma said so.
She doesn't remember when she first heard Grandma say this, but now it
floods her mind, and her mind hurts, her mind is swelling, her mind is
pounding. It's just like when she gets strep throat: pounding, swelling.
And Grandma once said, Don't let the little one see me when I am dead,
she might be terrified.
She crouches: her legs, heavy as wood, don't let her stand. She glances
at the cabbage in her hand and her thought take a concrete form.
Like this cabbage.
What about cabbage? I don't understand.
Yes, itís like this cabbage. It grows, and grows, and then someone cuts
it off, and it's not alive anymore. It will happen to me. And to
Grandma. An Mama, too.
No. Not to mama. Everyone can die but Mama.
OK. But I can die, I'll grow and grow, and someone will cut me off, and
I won't live anymore.
Then I die. And they bury me. Underground.
No, I won't. I won't. I will not.
She stands up so fast that a kind of knife twists into her spine. And
again she looks around: someone might be watching her again. There is no
one. Thank God, she thinks.
No, I won't. I don't want to die.
But who can I tell this to? I don't have anyone to tell this to.
Mama says you can tell your problem to someone you love.
But somehow she knows that even Mama, beloved Mama, doesn't have the
The little girl doesn't know why, but for the first time she understands
that there are things no one will ever understand. Not even Mama. Not
When she was twenty, she decided to write a novel about her life. And
she wrote the first sentence:
She was twelwe when she understod, for the first time, that she would
And she never wrote another word.
When she was twenty-six, she finally decided to write a novel about her
life. She wrote the first sentence:
I am twenty-six. When I was twelwe, I understood for the first time that
I would die.
And she never wrote another word.
She is forty. And for the first time in years--tucking her little
daughter into sleep during a warm afternoon, watching her mother take
pieces of cabbage from a bowl and put them in glass jars--she remembers
a song she learned during her music classes when she was twelwe:
The Sun circle
and the sky
a little boy is drawing.
He is drawing, he is writing
at the top of his drawing:
May it always be the sun.
May it always be the sky.
May it always be my Mama,
May it always be me...
Yes, she tells herself.
But this is the song of a little boy.
From a country non-existing any more.
From the Soviet Union.