May 02, 2009

Spraktopina


The morning dew kissed its heavy breath over the country side. Leaves, blades of grass, crumpled sheets from an ancient newspaper, yellowed by the sun and the weather. A confusing jumble of Cyrillic characters covers the front page, the words blending and mashing into one another like a train of cars bumping into a barrier. A photograph of a pudgy official yelling into a podium microphone covers the rest of the yellow newsprint.

The figure of a man lays sprawled underneath a dying tree. His body is covered in a muddied, torn and stained mackintosh which looks as if it came out of a catalog from thirty years ago. His face is not covered in wrinkles, but there is a youthful bounce to his skin. His eyes remain shut, though they waver, restless against his dreams. Over the barren grassy plain, the first rays of the sun begin to reach his body. Still partially shaded in the tall grass, it first touch his side, then his midsection, then his entire body. He stirs, rubbing his eyes with grimy fists and sits up. Standing, he shakes off the coat of dew on his body. His name is Anton. Just Anton, no last name. The people in the village call him the dummy, and no one seems to know where he came from.

The local official in his reports state he first appeared in town on April 18, 1972. That was six years ago, his files are still locked in the tarnished steel cabinet in the local police station. No one wanted to adopt him, Khrushchev forbade any sort of adoption of local runaways. But one largehearted man decided to travel to Moscow to argue a case since no one knew if he was a runaway or not. He just emerged from nowhere. That man had never returned, his house still stands empty, the door locked, paint peeling from the front and the inside. Some local teenagers had broken into it once and in the village, it became notorious as a place to engage in bad activities. But one day, the Police chief entered, kicked people out, boarded up the windows and padlocked the door.

Anton didn't have a home. Or a family. Everyday, he did the same thing, he would wake up, eat a few leaves as well as a loaf of bread usually left outside the church. Then he would do exercises by running around the entire village two or three times. Then he would play along the railway tracks, nearly getting hit by a State Railways train carrying pig iron once, he was caught in the front fender then thrown aside. He didn't seem to sustain any injuries, but the villagers remarked not seeing him for a week or so, then he reappeared completely healed, no bruises or scratches.

But it was winter in 1978, the area had not seen snow in several years since it was close to the Caspian. From the factories in Odessa trains would rumble by with cars filled with toys to be sold in Moscow, Leningrad, Stalingrad and Volgograd. On this day, Anton was sitting alongside the tracks when he felt the ground begin to shake. He understood this as a train coming and he sat on a discarded tie alongside. The steam engine rumbled by and wooshed steam into his face. He liked the warmth. But as the boxcars started passing by, there was one with an open door and several vagrants inside. They spotted him and threw something out at him. It landed with a clunk a few feet in front of him. He peered at the mysterious shape with curiosity and continued to watch the train rumble by with his eye. As soon as the red lamp was out of sight in the horizion, Anton stood up and walked over to it. He stood in front of it, dumbfounded. It was a wooden sled with iron runners and a iron back. He didn't know that though. He picked it up, it felt remarkably light. He took it back to his tree where he slept and placed it in the grass.

That night, he laid on the ground on his side, watching the thing with some mysticism as well as caution. But he only could compete in this contest for another hour before he fell asleep. The next morning, he did his usual routine, but cutting down his second lap short to run back to his tree. He squatted in front of the sled, poked it with curiosity, and he straddled it. Then he sat down in it. He leaned back in the iron railing seat back, suddenly, he imagined he was flying through the air. The little village was retreating fast behind as he soared in his magical machine. He sailed above the clouds, riding the pressure currents with the geese and then he reemerged below the clouds, this time, flying over a great vast ocean. He saw a beautiful red and yellow fishing boat with its sails full of wind. He zoomed by it, then circled it twice.

Night slid its blanket over the plains, he eagerly placed his new machine under the tree. He took his mackintosh and covered it up. The cold plains wind chilled him but he slept soundly. The morning came and he stood up, jumped around making a grunting sound. He whipped off the mackintosh and grabbed the sled and he ran to the train tracks. He had a rusted milk pail and he placed it on top of his like a helmet. The tracks stretched into infinity before him. He closed his eyes and he began fly again. The 12pm express to Volgograd materialized before him. His eyes still shut tight. He began to shake violently, if it was the train or him, it could not be determined. The steam engine's front grew, it started getting bigger and bigger. The earth subsided before him, the gravel falling away from the rails. The rusted cowcatcher smashed the sled, throwing Anton a few feet forward before the point of the catcher dragged his body along the rails. His body lay there for two days before the village people noticed he was gone. The men searched with their battery torches and found the smashed pieces of wood alongside the rails. They ran up and with their torches they scanned the immediate area. The circles of light converged onto a bloodied mass. They ran over and looked at the poor body of Anton.

Anton was given a burial, the coffin provided by the local carpenter. The priest led the ceremony, the ladies in the village were dressed in somber black, the men in town wore black, the teenagers didn't even show up. They didn't want to appear at the funeral for what they thought was a social retard. They lowered the pine coffin into the earth and everyone threw a splash of dirt into the hole. As the workmen filled in the hole, the priest read the last rites. As the hole was soon filled, they realized there was no headstone. The men who had found his body walked to the tracks and grabbed the largest plank that was still left from the remains of the sled. A policeman produced a marker from his pocket and wrote Anton above the company logo. He asked the villagers what his last name was. He looked around only to be rebutted with blank, vacant faces. He shrugged and stabbed the plank into the loose earth mound. He lived as Anton. He was remembered as Anton Spraktopina. After the wooden toy company.

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