Sergeant Bertrand: sample English translation – first 6 chapters from the novel – chapter 6
Trees at the window
‘Women have a far easier time achieving what they want than men,’ Bertrand would say with a meaningful nod, and Nikolai believed him. It was impossible not to believe, because he was always right, this Bertrand. ‘While a man has to be clever, talented and bold, a woman doesn’t: when a girlie walks into my office, and she has a tender bosom like yours has…’
Bertrand laughs and rubs his hands together; his habitual gesture.
‘I grant all her wishes. After she has granted me all of mine, naturally…’
‘And so with your wife. Remember she played the role of… you know… what was her name again… Damn it, I can’t recall.’
‘It doesn’t matter… Right from the start there were three contenders for the part, and they all desperately wanted to play her — who was she? — and each of them, bear in mind, lovely as a spring flower, fresh, slender and sweet smelling… To say nothing of the curves.’
‘Ophelia, God damn it!’
‘But I took my time, observed them closely. Truth be told, I liked your wife, Verochka, from the start. She’s heaps better than all of the rest, but in this kind of situation a distinctive logic applies: the enjoyment lies in stalling, in tormenting them and myself a little, because I knew how it would end, it wasn’t the first time after all…’
‘They all rehearsed Ophelia together, while (take note! take note!) your wife wasn’t the leading candidate at all, but had been told beforehand that it was only out of respect and personal affection, and in the hope of a sudden burgeoning talent. Someone else went through it as the number one hopeful, one not as good as yours, not by a mile.’
‘How she suffered, poor Verochka, what a joy it was to watch her! While another strutted the stage, yours sat in the dark stalls, watching and listening, gnawed by envy, and do you have any idea what envy is among actors? Verochka even lost weight during those few weeks, she grew pale, but it made her even lovelier. Do you remember those days? Remember how slender she’d become?’
‘And then, I called her to my office. It was, if I’m not mistaken, at the end of the fourth week of rehearsals. Everyone went home before the evening performance, and only the stagehands remained to set up the props. I asked Verochka to stay behind and come to my office. I sent the secretary home, as I usually do in such situations.
** ** **
Vera knew of course the reason he’d requested her presence. He had walked over to her where she sat in the dark auditorium, idly watching the sets being raised, greeted her with a gallant and somewhat old-fashioned kiss on the hand, as he liked to do, then looked around and said it quietly, leaning down towards her ear, so that no one could hear. If he had needed something else from her, if he had summoned her for some mundane matter, he would have said it loudly, as he normally did: such and such, see me after rehearsals my dear, it won’t take long — or he would have spoken with her right there, without asking her to come to his office.
She stood by the mirror; slim waist slightly bent, smoothed her hair, and then returned a transparent brown comb to her handbag. She thought: I have dreamed of this role all my life. This may be the one to bring me renown. I would certainly play it better than the others. I will do this for art’s sake. And she leaned forward on the heavy black door.
He was already walking towards her, smiling; began to kiss her hand, proceeded to her fingers, and Vera felt how sticky his lips were. Moist and sticky. Why were they sticky? She shuddered — she couldn’t help herself. Fortunately he didn’t notice. A terrible sadness, like that of losing a dear and beloved person without warning, suddenly overcame her. In fact, it was not only sadness, but also longing, loneliness, even a hint of fear. To rid herself of these unpleasant and unwelcome feelings she quickly thought of something else: the chairs neatly arranged around the table, for instance, the trees at the window, the new sofa which four workmen had lugged to the office just a few days before, the trees at the window, trees at the window, those trees there at that window, and why not, what is so terrible about it, I ask you, if no one finds out? Relax girlie, and enjoy yourself.
He locked the door behind her and kissed her fingers all over again; he glanced at her, and she looked at him, at him and at the window where enormous old poplars stood, silver poplars, and the wind constantly rustled their branches.
It went on for a long time, so long that it became unbearable. And then she walked over to the black leather sofa, sat down, and while she held the man’s gaze she slipped her blouse off over her head…
Then she turned to the window and leaned against the back of the sofa, and her own back spasmed momentarily at the touch of the cold black leather.
He smelled bad.
** ** **
Nikolai saw everything because he sat inside the armoire, or the safe, which had some sort of glass in it, or maybe a secret two-way mirror, but the doors were shut and Nikolai couldn’t get out. He shouted and banged on the doors (the glass fogged up from his breath), but they — out there in the room — couldn’t hear, or didn’t want to hear, or pretended not to hear him.
He saw Bertrand come closer to Vera, and lay his hand on her breast; he saw Vera close her eyes when Bertrand lowered himself to his knees before her and embraced her legs, how she was about to stop Bertrand when he began to push up the hem of her skirt and pry apart her legs, squeezing them at the knees; how Vera shut her eyes again, how her hands fell onto Bertrand’s shoulders when he was already there, kissing, biting, in that place where thighs are especially tender and pale, where sunlight rarely touches, how she slowly stretched out onto the sofa… Nikolai screamed and screamed, unable to bear it, feeling that he would go insane, that his heart would shatter from pain, but they didn’t hear him, and they went on, they went on, they went on.
** ** **
Nikolai screamed and wept in bed, without waking, and Vera sat beside him without turning on the light, held his hand, stroked it, wiped his tears away, and constantly changed the moist bandage on his head, a bandage that grew warm so quickly.
** ** **
‘And that’s why I love this girl, your gentle Verochka,’ Bertrand would say, approaching the safe where Nikolai was raving. ‘She’s a rare breed; understand? And breeding is a mighty thing. Others lie under you as if receiving alms, but yours is the embodiment of prideful passion: it is not you who uses her, but the other way around.’
Bertrand tucked his shirt into his trousers unhurriedly, zipped his fly, jangled the keys, found the right one, pushed it into the keyhole and turned it. The heavy door of the steel safe creaked open.
Vera stood naked and still by the window, her slim arms crossed over her chest, her back arched a bit, belly somewhat thrust out and touching the marble windowsill, looking detachedly into the street. Nikolai crept towards his wife, picked up a decanter from a table along the way, and she was unaware of him, stayed where she was, and looked out of the window. When he raised the decanter to strike her, the stopper suddenly popped out from its neck and a jet of icy water showered Nikolai. Vera looked around as though waking up, as though she had only just noticed his presence next to her, and with an exclamation of surprise, ran off down the corridors, still naked, and everyone stopped and looked hungrily upon her flesh.
** ** **
The ambulance arrived, but Nikolai was already coming to. The doctor took his blood pressure, gave him some kind of intravenous injection, said something to his wife (she shook her head — no, no), jotted something down in his papers, took a long time explaining something to Nikolai, moved his lips and made incomprehensible noises, stood over his bed like some awful highwayman from a children’s story book.
After the injection, Nikolai slowly drifted off again, lay there with his eyes open, while his wife and the tall silver-haired man in the white coat and superfluous stethoscope around his neck, stood over him. The old man spoke loudly, almost shouted, and somehow seemed angry with his wife for refusing him something.
Then all went dark, the sounds disappeared, and from within the blackness a terrifying ball of fire sailed out.
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And that’s the end of the sample translation
of the first 6 chapters of the novel.
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