fiction by "Smithy" writer
Mikhail Gerasimov
The sea heaved and seethed as if preparing to throw off the legions of white waves running along its spine and the hundreds of warships with their weapons of death. It strained to break the thousands of chains with which people fixed it to the granite embankment.

The sea wind, with a strong fragrance of algae and tuberose, fell on Marcelle in gusts. Now it hid itself somewhere in the abyss of the sea, and now it rushed into the city from the unbounded watery fields, groping buildings and people with thousands of damp fingers, as if selecting a victim; a nervous shudder ran through the countless lamps of the city. Now it embraced the delicate figure of a girl, whispered something extraordinary but indistinct in her skirts; with mischievous fingers it tousled the light hair under her shabby, beat-up hat, and pushed her into a door.

She entered the Mad Sailors Café on King's Lion Street.

The heady and sharp scent of absinthe, liqueurs, and wines, the drone of voices, the swearing of sailors, the hissing of the large, nickel-plated coffee pot, looking like a vertical machine cylinder, smoke from pipes loaded with strong, Algerian tobacco sticking to the ceiling--all this splashed acridly and cruelly into the face of the girl, who just a minute ago was like a quivering bird in the gray paws of the autumn sea wind as she sought refuge from it.

She had just managed to sit at a small marble table streaked with blue when the tall figure of a sailor with bell-bottomed pants bent over her, looking like an anchor. He squeezed her fingers with his hand, which was knotty and strong like a bundle of sea chains.

"I thought you wouldn't make it, Marcelle, there's such a strong sou'western blowing," he said in a friendly tone.

"If it had turned into a terrible Saharan simoom, I still would've been here," she replied simply but excitedly.

She nervously pulled a packet of newspapers out from her jacket and handed it to him.

He tore open "The French Communist" and--like a starving man into a loaf of bread--he plunged hungrily into each line with his eyes, weathered by the salty sprays of the ocean winds.

Marcelle soaked in the surroundings with her eyes, which were like two large drops of sea water, calm and contemplative, as if containing the entire secret depth of the sea and all its majesty.

The smoky café hummed. The voices of men and women, coarse and sublime, intertwined and circled like the ceaseless hubbub of birds and beasts in a tropical forest. It was strange to see here that this sailor, as coarse and vulgar as other sailors from any other nation, was so hungrily devouring every letter of this poorly printed newspaper, and, from it, a miraculous and extraordinary revelation, bringing happiness to all of humanity.

Just six months ago, crazy and delirious, he twirled around here in a drunken whirlwind, amidst other sailors who mingled and staggered on the smoky threads of the heady fog, like on a sea wave, disgorging an unceasing stream of vulgarity, the choicest and most shameless that has ever flown from a human's tongue. In a crowd they climbed up the squeaking staircase, whose fragile, bending steps cried and moaned under their feet.

A mad orgy of bodies and absinthe. The spring southern sun, on waves of the scents of palms, liana, oleanders, and the special aroma of the African coasts, looking in through the Venetian window, could still see the monstrous entanglement of the mass of swaying bodies in the small and sickening room.

Martin silently and hungrily gulped down the lines of text, like pieces of bread, even though this same room hung over him, the steps leading into it wept the same and nervously trembled, extending up and down into the Mad Sailors Café on King's Lion Street.

"It's time, Martin. Let's go," said Marcelle. He jumped up, as if suddenly awakened, and stuffed the newspaper into his pocket.

Behind the counter, the fat tavern-keeper swayed like a seal on his legs, which had become atrophied from constant sitting; on his belly was a whole row of fat golden chains, like hoops on a beer barrel.

"Are these your guys?" Marcelle asked, nodding toward a dozen sailors standing under the chandelier.

"No, they're from the French Republic," he answered.

"With them we should also--"

The slamming door cut off the sentence, and the in-rushing wind muffled and tore it to pieces.

They walked along the small, winding streets, descending to the harbor. The wind alternately pushed them together and apart.

They turned onto the granite pier, which stretched out into the waves like an extended arm with a red lighthouse-index finger at the end.

In front and to the sides was the sea. It heaved and seethed as if preparing to throw off the legions of white waves running along its spine and the hundreds of warships with their weapons of death. It strained to break the thousands of chains with which people fixed it to the granite embankment.

Here and there the peaks of the swells glimmered, diving into the depths with a muffled chuckle.

Marcelle and Martin sat in the launch and slipped into the snarling maw of the sea and night.

The blades of the oars splashed confidently and evenly, then helplessly and flounderingly. The launch was shaking and quivering like a small, frightened heart in the paws of the shaggy waves, and Marcelle, under the sea spray, shivered with cold in the exposed launch.

Against the background of the sea and night, the silhouettes of the battleships loomed black like massive steel cliffs; they planted themselves into the sea, and the storm did not rock them. The searchlight on the watch vessel cast columns of blinding light into the depths, or groped along with a light, firey hand, feeling the grey hairs of the wave crests.

A steel spike approached in a black and murky mass, like a splinter of some other night, more black and murky than this one, where unextinguished lights still quivered here and there above the city and water and where stars rocked in the southern sky on the golden threads of their rays.

The dreadnought grew closer, covering the sky and the frightened eyes of the winking lights.

It drew the launch toward it like a magnet draws a metal shaving.

They climbed the gangway. Her heels tapped along the steel deck. They went down through a hatch. The iron door slammed behind them; the hatch swallowed them up.

"Comrades, the hour of great daring for international labor has struck!" Marcelle began with enthusiasm.

"The sun, the red banner of the oppressed and exploited is now rising from the Moscow Kremlin, where you'll find the SovNarKom, this iron heart of the Workers' Dictatorship, where its radio broadcasts and those from the 3rd fighting International, like singing express birds of uprising, fly and fly all over the world, soaring with its call to action above every nation, above every tormented heart.

"Neither the blockade by all the dark forces, nor the hunger threatening village and city, not even the polar cold can kill the creatively sunny soul of the Republic of the Soviets.

"On the snowy fields of Russia, here and there red banners are bursting forth like fountains of flame from under the ash of the snows.

"Russia, Russia!"

Speaking so excitedly was Marcelle, a fragile girl, an unremarkable weaver, one of the millions of working women. Her golden hair was coming undone and, like strands of fire, poked out from under her shabby, worn hat; her eyes burned, and her heart burned under the jacket with torn seams.

She, like a miraculous, unknown flower, grew and blossomed in the iron cage of the war ship, where a virtual wall of sailors surrounded her, giving out a breath made excited by her bold, incendiary speech, full of daring and struggle.

She talked and talked. This sunny flower swayed, shining light, warmth, and creative impulses into each soul.

Martin stood in the ring of other sailors, tensely bending like a bow at the moment it lets fly an arrow. He was ready to fly through the steel cage of the ship, race along the ploughed field of the sea together with the storms and lightening to reach the snowy fields of the Republic of the Soviets where a determined, heroic struggle was under way for the happiness of all humanity.

Red Jacques, with a face as rusty as a lump of iron-ore, clenched his giant firsts like a knot of anchor chains. He was ready to tear apart and smash everything, this abused batman; the blood still burned on his ruddy cheek from the slap of his midshipman who at this moment was in the officers' wardroom, suffused with bright light, where tender music inspired, where wildflowers mixed their sweet scent with the refined aroma of Havana cigars, where champagne corks popped and golden sparks danced in glasses.

Stoker Bertrand's red eyes burned like pieces of fiery metal on his ashen face, which was wrinkled and burned with the unendurable flame of the fire-boxes. His blue sailor's blouse, burned through in many places, noticeably rose and fell on his chest. He was excited, not taking his gaze off the light drops of sweat breaking out on Marcelle's forehead.

Many other blackened coalmen and light, curly-haired sailors stood in the circle. In each of these strong and powerful men, buried in the steel prisons of this military monster, boiled an entire volcano of thoughts and feelings. They hungrily took in the words, bored into the radiant girl with their eyes, which were eaten away by the heat of the boilers and the salty ocean winds. They saw how sparks flashed in her eyes, and that far away land of Russia, where different sparks--sparks of red banners--were growing and breaking through on snowy fields, became close to them, something they could understand.

Her words were strong and convincing, like love.
Martin saw Marcelle off.

They passed under the giant gun, which, like a monstrous steel snake, stretched out, raising it jaws to the starry sky. They passed the sentry. He turned his back, as if not noticing them. They began to descend to the launch.

The strains of radio waves solemnly buzzed high above in the never-ceasing conversation with other, secret worlds across the incredible expanse of blue skies.

It seems that the strains were now singing a different song, the red song of Labor. A different tremor ran along its copper nerves, the unseen waves of its pulsations, intermingling with the hearts of millions of workers from all lands.

The launch playfully slipped along the night waves; inspired, it raced to the welcoming lights on the embankment, and two inspired heart were flying along inside it.

Here and there buoys, jostled by the swells pouring over them, happily rang out, shaking out the golden curls of their lanterns.

The sea was blooming. The oars became silver, turning up shining, phosphorescent streams. Drops of spray shone like blue sparks on their clothes and faces.

"Marcelle, what happiness it is to dive among the waves!"

"Yes, my dear comrade!"

The October wind poured a spring aroma over the hills of Provence. It was no longer angry; it was a southern, murmuring mistral. And the stars in it swayed invitingly on the golden threads of their rays. The sea and the night were gently swaying; they slowly rocked back and forth, lulling the ships and stalks of the quivering beacons.

They went along the winding street to the Mad Sailors Café, on King's Lion Street. The on-coming wind no longer pushed them apart.

Her eyes--two large drops of sea water--quivered with a ripple of a smile and happiness.


(Russian text from the journal Kuznitsa, No. 1, 1920)

Translated by: Eric Konkol

GERASIMOV, MIKHAIL PROKOFIEVICH (1889-1939). Proletarian poet and prose writer, active in the Proletkult and the Smithy. He joined the Communist Party in 1905 and began publishing works in Bolshevik journals in 1913. His works celebrate labor and the worldwide proletarian struggle. Often identified with "cosmism", a literary attempt to involve nature, the stars, and all of the universe in the revolutionary struggle. Like many members of the Smithy, Gerasimov was disillusioned by the NEP and resigned from the Party in 1921. He was arrested in 1937. Later rehabilitated.

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