Prose Header

Near Zero

by Natan Dubovitsky

translated by Bill Bowler

Near Zero: synopsis

Yegor Samokhodov was happy as a youth in the Russian heartland but now, in Moscow, in middle age, he is estranged from his wife and daughter, and his low-paying job as an assistant editor is going nowhere. Looking for a way out, he joins a criminal gang, the Brotherhood of the Black Book. The Brotherhood is involved in forgery, theft of intellectual property, black-marketeering, intimidation, extortion, bribery, murder, etc.

Yegor’s girlfriend, Crybaby, invites him to a private screening of her new film, although she cannot attend. Yegor goes, hoping she may show up, and is horrified to discover he is watching a snuff movie where Crybaby is slowly murdered. After the screening, Yegor finds that Crybaby has disappeared. He sets out to Kazakhstan, to find and kill her murderer, the film director Albert Mamaev.

The story is set against a panoramic backdrop of Russia during and after the collapse of the USSR. Yegor’s quest brings him into contact with a cast of characters from a broad spectrum of Russian life, culture, history, politics and government.

Near Zero header links
Translator’s Foreword Cast of Characters Table of Contents

Chapter 12: Dvenadtsat’

Returning home from the Diamond restaurant, Yegor heard high-pitched singing from the direction of his bedroom and thought it was actually quite appropriate. Clearly, it was Sara, an American model who had fled her unenlightened Minnesota to the climatically similar but — money aside — more adventurous and daring Moscow.

Sara sang:

Young men will do’t, if they come to’t;
By Cock, they are to blame.
Quoth she, before you tumbled me,
You promised me to wed.

Yegor answered:

So would I ha’done
By yonder sun,
And thou hadst not come to my bed.

Miliy, ya davno tebya zhdu” [”I’ve been waiting a long time for you, dear.”] Sara cried out in Russian.

She was a musical model who sang dreadfully but softly. She usually kept quiet in Russian and was generally not clingy. When Yegor broke up with Crybaby, the Chief had given him Sara as an Easter present. He sent instructions with her: “Recommended for single men. She has only one but essential advantage over a rubber doll: she’s not made of rubber. She won’t ask to eat. She’ll do more than talk. The refueling, minor repairs, and washing are no more expensive than a Ford. Enjoy!”

In truth, Sara was convenient. Compact, easy to exploit. Her memory was not capacious, but sufficient to preserve all the poses from the Kamasutra, a few Russian words, and three dozen popular melodies. She had an uncomplicated sensory control system. A light touch to her right shoulder instantly brought her sexual apparatus into working condition.

She made love beyond reproach. There was no instance of her getting jammed or turned off. She automatically returned to standby mode immediately following sex, or ahead of schedule by touching the left shoulder. Then she would remain silent for hours, like a turned off CD player, or would speak in monosyllables, economically and ecologically.

She would leave at first request and return the same way. She broke only once, coming down with a runny nose, but was repaired in three days. After that, she worked trouble-free, never asked to get married, and didn’t make scenes. In short, “Made in USA,” the right price and high quality.

Sara pleased Yegor very much. He even gave her a set of keys, to come and go as she pleased. She came when he wanted. And she always sensed when it was time to come. Like now.

For around an hour, they writhed through some rather decent sex, after which Sara, realizing that Yegor was no longer interested, gathered her things to go. He gave her some money and suddenly, almost in a burst of pity, took a sheet of sticky paper from the dressing table. He used them to leave notes for himself everywhere, since he could not rely on his memory. He took a blue pen that was lying there, drew three flowers in a naive style, the kind you learn to draw in children’s art class, and put the sticky on Sara’s bag.

“You love me?” she asked from the hallway.

“No,” he said, “but someone somewhere definitely loves you and is waiting for you. So don’t get upset.”

“Someone like Jesus?”

“That’s the type. So long. Don’t cheat on me. I’m joking.”

“Fak yu veri mahtch.” Sara spoke the English words with a Russian pronunciation and, laughing indifferently, went out into the dark city.

Proceed to Chapter 13...

translation © 2019 by Bill Bowler

Proceed to Challenge 849...


Home Page