Ilya Danishevsky’s Mannelig In Chains


By Ilya Danishevsky

Excerpt from Chapter 1, ‘Shadows over Mutabor’, translated from the Russian by Alex Karsavin and Anne O. Fisher. Read their blog post about translating Danishevsky here.

Contact the translators for rights enquiries: Alex Karsavin and Anne O. Fisher 

Almost daily I go over to his and his three brothers’ place. The rest of the time we go over to mine. The youngest of his brothers always angling for a hug; we watch The Langoliers: large lumps of flesh consume time, chase after the ship’s crew; large stray dogs that have been turned inside out—leaving only the sticky side and drool. He asks me, so what’s it like to fly on an airplane? I explain. Whenever I turn up, his mother always ties up her hair with a scarf and watches the same films with us, ignoring their age limitations. Sometimes we hear her crying in the kitchen and we turn up the sound so as not to intrude, so that on the one hand she’ll be aware that we know, and on the other—that we don’t know it fully from beginning to end. When we take our math exams, I’m allowed to fill in both sets, so that his father doesn’t beat him. Afterwards we walk down the street—if it’s warmer out, this can go on for some time—he says that he will sell suckers paintball capsules (milk caps, slammers, Pokémon and Mortal Kombat trading cards) because he needs to buy his brother a Tamagotchi. When it gets dark, we sometimes continue to walk, more often than not circling around the defunct boiler room separating our buildings and when it becomes completely dark, we go to his, where his mother puts his brothers to sleep. We watch films with the sound off, sometimes on rewind, only our favorite moments, like for example, in Starship Troopers when the brain bug sticks its proboscis into a human skull and sucks out the neurons, or in Sleepwalkers when someone sticks a pencil inside the cemetery caretaker’s ear. His father gives me a shave with electric clippers, while mine takes us out to a large lake, quiet lights dissolving and for some reason falling into the water, although they’ve got to be fireflies or the distorted vision of a friendship that’s being examined under glass. It is in great detail that I observe the fascination with which he fishes. This is a time when we don’t speak for very long, although empty bodies of water distract us from time, and although they are empty and he hardly catches anything, as if he has been holding his fishing rod at the wrong angle, the azimuth leading us awry—somewhere far off. When we return, he immediately goes home to make sure nothing has happened to his mother. Sometimes when we’re taking our strolls around the boiler room it’s important for him to notice how the windows of his apartment glow. He likes to remember his sister, hazy, like an object from the Earth’s deepest layers that he re-examines for assurance. He thinks about which of the girls he should like. Then come the sleek flows of autumn bearing an undecidable scent—he thinks out loud about Nastya, Polina, Masha, about how something’s always sighing and popping, making a sound like bubble wrap, how something always happens between us whenever he says their names… we stare at large accumulations of standing water by the railway tracks.

But (2; next or second?) what bothered him most was the name, Kuzma. He stammered when he had to introduce himself; his desire, as far as social hierarchy was concerned, was more about everyone already knowing everyone’s name so there was no need to introduce yourself—if only there was no more of that. He walks around in a Distemper t-shirt, but sleeps cuddling his big tomcat; in his apartment, the smell of hardwood floors. Every time we go to the quarry – the whole way – the whole time – every ascent – he reminds me that maybe we should come up with something else; he’s too fat for this dull shit. Then he demonstratively sprays the back of his throat. He likes to talk about his asthma, how it induces spasms, bloodied foam which rises to the surface, like with his ginger cat when it was tiny and they had to de-worm it for the first time—glossy worms crawling not only out its ass, but also its mouth. This cat, which shrank, having literally deflated after purging all its worms, is a synonym for his asthma—a special excuse to close himself off, come to a stand-still in space, and look ahead, trying to make out convulsions and signs. For several days he didn’t let the cat into bed, and when we – every time – find ourselves at the quarry, he starts in again on his ‘I’m too fat’ to undress, even—or especially—if we are here all alone. He would like to be the commander of the Dark Eldar flagship, but now there is nothing left to do but get in the water. He swims so abysmally, so abysmally that it becomes especially consuming for me, slightly haunting, sluggish, but large, ever growing (with each of our days) inside me, sometimes too much—and sometimes, when my muscles cramp in the water, it becomes what’s needed for this to seem real, not only now, at this moment, but even a little later—even way later on. By his home there is a large fabric store; we often stare at those going in and out, not understanding why someone would buy fabric, why this should even be possible—and we attempt to excuse them, these fabric-buying weirdos. We sit next to the chestnut trees, which express autumn before the rest… on my way home I always worry that suddenly we will no longer go anywhere, that suddenly everything will come to an exact end, nothing more, yet I feel better because of the abundance of his secrets—how once he wiped his cum off with the cat, how abysmally he swims, how to work the inhaler in case he breaks out in a bloodied foam—it is as if they protect me against it and divert it. Sometimes these secrets are told with a loud warning, a vibration, in accelerated montage, in order to prolong and not experience the anxiety that soon we won’t find ourselves somewhere and almost touching.

Translated by Alex Karsavin and Anne O. Fisher (2020).                                                           Read Alex and Anne on translating Danishevsky here.