fiction by Smithy writer
n the black crown of the factory smokestack stands a flagpole with the cobweblike remnants of a red flag. It was raised during the spring holiday, accompanied by shouts and songs. It churned in the blue sky like a bundle of blood, visible to the fields, forest, villages, and the city wrapped in mist. The wind cut it, shred it, and carried the tattered pieces away into the vast open spaces, traversed by a dead embankment.
Crows clean their beaks against the flagpole, caw, and calmly gaze into the black maw from which for decades the skeletons of smoky birds rose and were carried far and wide.
The glass roofs of the workshops are full of holes. From the darkness, immobile relays stare roundly into the sky. Motors slumber. Rain and snow have wounded the pulleys which were made silver by the motion and embrace of belts. Support beams stick to the dry mountings. The articulated arm of the electric crane is broken off and hangs helplessly on a layout block. On the bed of the dusty planer--looking like a gigantic throne--bolts, angle brackets, lathes, and wrenches lay sprawled out like a skeleton.
In the bins of the gravity-feeders, snares of cobwebs, powdered with snow, tremble. A scab of stagnation obscures the tracks of chisels on slipshod shafts and levers. A tongue of silence has passed along the shining threads of the screw mechanisms, licked off the oil, and rounded them off with a core of rust.
From the southern wall a browning inscription stares out dully; "At least put up some blinds--it's stifling". The walls did not betray them. From the outside they were wounded with bullets and shells. So much faith, anguish, pains, joys, and rage exploded in them.
Hey, stones!...you understand?!
There in the corner, amid the turret lathes and two-wheeled carts, accompanied by the whistling of belts, the clacking of ratchet pawls, and the murmur of cogwheels, an entire generation secretly rustled through books. Do they sense the yearning of the frozen wheels and levers to run free and to feel the warmth of human muscles? The storm which swooped down has spread them across all the land, like a ploughman tossing seeds. The bed of the dusty planer more than once served as a platform for speeches. From the support beams, like from a gate, they hung banners with gold and white lettering. "Long live...."
The boilers in the boiler-house are buzzing in the wind. Darkness speckled with light gapes in through the open maw of a broken window frame. A whistle is heard amid the presses. The rusted floor glitters like diamonds. Sawhorses, boxes, and twisted steel stare out from mounds of snow by the windows. The hand forges are barely visible.
In the corner, on the wall, under the brown-red transmission shaft, are black spots. This is blood. A metal worker, caught on a coupling bolt, got crucified on the shaft. His feet knocked against the screw of the hydraulic press until they managed to turn the motor off. The wall, ceiling, and press were splattered with blood and pieces of flesh. At twilight they brought him down from his iron cross. A cross and the Gospels stood shining on a hastily assembled altar. The requiem song echoed tearfully in the emptiness of the boilers and was drowned in the noise of the adjacent workshops. Candles trembled in hands sprinkled with iron dust.
...From the wall of the boarded-up blacksmith shop, through the pearllike pattern of frost, the grey-haired St. Nikolai Mirlikisky gazes out.
Each year on the ninth of May, after the strike, the walls of the smithy shop were decorated with garlands of maple, birch, and asp; the floor was covered with grass and red dots of clover. The choir sang. Backs beaten with whips bent low. Crystal-clear splashes of holy water covered them, the anvils, furnaces, steam hammers, and forges.
The voices, smiles, and attire of the women and children made it seem like a holiday. The blacksmiths led their wives, brides, and children through the workshop, showing off their forges and anvils.
After the prayers, a lively, motley procession stretched from the factory gates to the town. On the way, small groups set off on their own, sailing across the fields to the forest, into the valley, and there they managed their own prayers. Across the open spaces, rising to the heavens rolled a resonant, "Stand up, arise...."
In the middle of the courtyard, in a heap extending to the foundry and yellowing in the snow lie rusted bands of metal and cylinders which never trembled under steam pressure.
The electric station--the slumbering, orphaned, dethroned heart of the factory--lay flat in the snow. The siren--the voice summoning all to work and to battle as if crying in pain--is gone, removed and taken God knows where. The barriers at the gates are broken. In the entrance gate office, the lobby is piled high with rafters and saw-horses that have been hacked to pieces. Like broken and shattered bones they gaze at the dancing flames and await...their fate.
The watchmen are sleeping. The stove crackles, and from outside is heard the tinkling of glass blown by the wind. The entrance hall, staring with icy windows at the snowdrifts in the courtyard, seemed delirious. At one time it trembled from the pounding of steam hammers and the thunderings, sirens, clangs and whistles swirling above it. Occasionally the iron fell silent at an untimely moment. Talking and shouting splashed up from the workshops in streams. The courtyard seethed with spotted blue blouses, transformed faces and hands. Bells jingled, gates squeaked. Cossacks rode in; companies of soldiers passed, bayonets glimmering. The command rang out; whips whistled. Clouds of screws, bolts, and metal remnants flew out of the workshop. Horses thundered and whinnied in fear. And a song, carried by a thousand voices, smashed against the ceilings.
The remnants of some small shops are standing across from the factory. A string of small houses are huddled together behind them. Remaining here are the old, the widowed, cripples, and those to whom the wretched are more dear than the rich. They drag firewood in from the forest on sleds, they somehow manage to eek out a living, they patiently endure the mocking comments of passing peasants about the silent factory, and they frown when the same peasants turn to the factory and trade grain and meat to the watchmen for window glass and pieces of iron and tin.
In the blue twilight, the wives of the watchmen drag meals into the factory on sleds, and they drag out what had been bartered from the peasants along with sawed-off pieces of beams and rafters. Curses fly after them from the direction of the small houses.
...Night licks the blue flood of twilight from the snows. Phantoms creep from the town and the houses toward the rear of the factory. Singly and in flocks they break fences, booths, and awnings, they cut pieces of wire. The watchmen shout and shoot. In panic, the phantoms hide and wait. The watchmen run from one to the other, then, worn out, they shuffle off to the warmth.
The factory gazes into the grain-golden sky and moans and sighs. The bones which are being broken off it crawl away, rustling, toward the road.
The wind drives the blizzard through the widening gap in the fence, blows it through the smashed and broken glass into the workshops, and it wails in the prison of iron until it smashes itself to death.
So it is, day after day...decay, watchmen, and phantoms hang about the factory.
From time to time a car with a red flag runs out from the town. It approaches with a roar, races past the little houses, and comes to a stop by the factory gates. Fur caps, overcoats, and leather jackets flash. The watchmen fearfully bustle about. The arrivals walk along the well-worn pathways to the workshops. Footsteps resound distinctly then fade away amid the frozen iron. The arrivals listen to the stony silence, sigh, and leave. They marvel at the fields which are boldly marching toward the factory; they hear the watchmen mumble about the thievery; they write something in their little books; they warm themselves in the foyer, then drive off.
The watchmen gaze after the car as it melts away, its speck of blood flapping in the wind. They exchange winks and say:
"Strange people, really..."
Once a week, the silence oppressing the factory shudders amid a thundering and a ringing and fearfully flies away. The workshops come alive with the warbling, crashing song of iron. The crows resting on the crown of the factory take fright and fly off cawing.
The watchmen come running toward the cries of iron in the boiler room. They see: a man in a short sheepskin coat, with all his strength, is pounding an old cauldron with a sledgehammer:
It's Stepa, a former hammerer. They say he's a fool, but that's not true. He looks sideways at the approaching watchmen with his enigmatic single eye, puts down his sledgehammer, and sarcastically asks:
"Were you scared?"
"Cut it out, Stepa. You're making a disturbance. Is it our fault?"
"Disturbance," Stepa teases the watchmen. "You'd like to pick the factory clean quietly...so sly," and he laughs.
The watchmen lunge at him and try to snatch away the sledgehammer. He pulls it away from them, darts behind the press, the cauldron, and out the window.
From outside he snidely asks:
"You want to sell my sledgehammer, too? Oh-ho-ho...bunch of thieves."
The boilers in a happy chorus repeat his cries -- and then silence. A minute later, iron cries out under the sledgehammer from the blacksmith shop. Sounds merge, fly up with the wind, and put the fields on alert.
People appear at the gates in front of the little houses. They are moved and shake their heads.
"Stepushka's drinking again..."
"Oh, he's so..."
"Looks like he's found some real work."
But Stepa's strength flags. The sledgehammer falls from his hands, and the factory is gripped with silence. Stepa hides the sledgehammer and with a blissful smirk walks along the thief-beaten path from the factory.
On the way he stops and, bending his head, he listens... Silence weighs on the machines, work benches, and boilers. Stepa sighs, shivers, and mutters on the way:
"There's nothing to take care of...here, there...they're just tearing it apart."
Behind him the anguish of the silent iron creeps into the walls, made sooty by the caustic smoke of cast iron. He senses it nearby, shakes his head, gets all worked up, and rushes into the office lobby. He cusses out the watchmen, threatens them, then, preoccupied, walks off into the town. There he stamps around in the foyer of the Soviet, complaining to everyone, begging everyone to start up the factory again; then calmed and encouraged, he returns home.
In his sleep, he waves his sinewy hands, tosses about and shouts:
"Hey! The rivets... Fire up the riveter... Hit it, hit it!..."
Original Russian text from the Smithy journal Kuznitsa, No.2, 1920.
Translated by: Eric Konkol
"On the Tasks of the Writer-Worker" by Nikolai Lyashko
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