FICTION365: the man with the russian tattoo and other highlights in original stories
Enjoy… and relax! You can go to Fiction365 for a fix of new fiction every day. Here’s a story by Irena Pasvinter, followed by a short list of other highlights from the last two weeks.
The Man With the Russian Tattoo
I first saw him on my way to a post office one sweltering August morning. He sat on a low stone fence, in a precious spot shaded by a tree where the last traces of the night’s relative coolness still lingered — not easy to find a place like that in Israel in August, especially in the humid realms of Tel Aviv’s surroundings. He shared this strategic position with three elderly women who were busy chatting. He was a frail, grey haired man dressed in shorts and a white sleeveless undershirt. Something in his dull, bent posture and fogy glance made me think about Alzheimer’s, as if an aura of dementia was spreading from him in tangible ripples.
And then it caught my eye, his tattoo. Thin and shaky bluish letters on his right upper arm proclaimed: “нет в жизни счастья“(“there is no happiness in life”). The words got stuck in my mind. Long after I hurried by the old man with the Russian tattoo, I kept wondering how this unhappy statement got there.
The first twenty-five years of my life spent in Russia informed me well enough that people most often got their tattoos in prison. Some sailors had tattoos as well; a small percentage of tattooed individuals got their marks in the army. On the average, if it wasn’t prison or fleet, tattoos signified a difficult childhood and questionable company.
My first impulse was to imagine this old man as an innocent victim of Stalin’s labor camps, shuffled to Siberia for one false accusation or another. There, amidst cold, hunger, and frustration, he acquired his “there is no happiness in life” slogan. It made perfect sense except that he seemed too young for Stalin’s labor camps — he was about my late dad’s age. This meant this man was in his twenties when Stalin departed to organize purges and labor camps in hell. Unless this old guy was a real troublemaker or a uniquely unlucky person, the labor camp hypothesis seemed not too plausible.
So, I opted for the army possibility and imagined a letter from home telling this man that his girlfriend married his best friend. That’s when “there is no happiness in life “was carved on his upper arm. It made sense — to me, at least.
Two mornings later I saw him again, at the same shadowed spot. Now he sat not on the fence, but on a camping chair. He was dressed in the same white sleeveless undershirt which must have been his favorite summer outfit. A white cap was perched on his grey head, and his company consisted of the same elderly women. But now his left side was turned to me …
[ Read the rest of “The Man With the Russian Tattoo” ]
[ More Fiction365 highlights ]
- Strangers at Sea, by Jonathan Deane (this one’s long but outstanding)
- The Studio, by Chloë Gladstone (very short and long-lasting)
- Naproxen Sodium, by Cary Tennis (smart short and funny)
- HOODOO, a serialization of Caitlin Myer‘s novel — this is a link to the second and latest post, which includes a link to the first — new posts every Sunday
I so wish I could read the first one; these are really lolevy.I got my tattoo (a solid black fleur-de-lys, about 2″ high and 1.5″ across) on my left shoulderblade when I was just 19. It’s really overdue for a touch-up. I love it. I love that it has brought people up to talk to me – mostly Quebecois and people from Louisville, KY – I love when my students suddenly “discover” that their instructor is tattooed, etc. My brother and I made a pact almost 10 years ago that we would get inked together at each of our parents’ passings (both have serious health issues and have for a long time). Maybe that sounds morbid, but for me, it has been very comforting to know that when that day comes, my brother and I will be together, hold each other’s hands, and memorialize our parents’ kind and selfless hearts in a way that lasts forever.