This is an excerpt from my literary translation. Just so that you know what it is I’m working on. The story is completely true.
Once she made sure that Zinovi and Vladimir Fedorovich were prepared for everything, Berta began her story.
“In our communal apartment, we have a young family. These are amazing people, a young married couple called Tonia and Fedia. Their last name is Gustokasha. They have a son called Misha who is three and a half years old.”
“Klara also wants to call her son Misha,” Zinovi observed.
“Maria will never agree to that,” Vladimir Fedorovich said, shaking his head.
“I hope Klara’s Misha never has to experience what our Misha did!” sighed Berta wistfully.
Zinovi had a tragic premonition, just like the one he’d felt when sausage was discussed.
“Berta,” he asked in a half-whisper, “is the kid alive?”
“Bite your tongue, Ziama!” exclaimed Berta. “Would I even be telling the story if the kid, God forbid. . . God help you, Ziama, how could you even think of something like this? Of course, the kid is alive. But just barely, poor mite.”
Vladimir Fedorovich smiled, while Berta calmed down a little and continued, “The parents asked Tonia’s grandmother, Baba Klava, to stay home with the kid until he is old enough for daycare. The grandmother agreed and moved to Kharkov from her village. She is a good person but she’s hard of hearing in both ears. More importantly, she is also tall and as fat as a rhino, especially in the front. And in the back, too, of course.”
“Berta,” Zinovi murmured, “I never realized you had this tendency to recur to Naturalist descriptions in the style of Emile Zola. It’s almost like you’ve become a completely different person right before my eyes.”
“Just hear me out,” said Berta and gave an insistent nod that was to serve as a warning to the listeners. “Once, little Misha went to the outdoor facilities to do his business. The outdoor toilet is quite narrow but one can still turn around in there. And there is a seat. I’m not telling you all this because I love Naturalism but just to make sure you understand the story.”
Zinovi and Vladimir Fedorovich looked at each other. Neither of them had the slightest idea about how the seemingly innocent story was going to end. Berta continued, trying to sound as mysterious as possible in order to keep her listeners in suspense.
“Little Misha always found it easy to go into the facility and sit down. He’d come in, take his seat, and stay there as long as he needed. Baba Klava, however, had a lot of trouble trying to get inside the booth. She couldn’t squeeze in there sideways because her chest made that impossible. If she just walked in there, she found it impossible to turn around in order to take a seat comfortable. The only remaining option was for her to remove her underwear before entering the toilet, bend over, and enter the facility by walking backwards. She always introduced herself into the little booth very slowly and carefully to avoid catching her shoulder on the wall or hitting her head against the toilet’s ceiling.”
Vladimir Fedorovich and Zinovi seemed to start realizing what was going to happen. They were afraid, however, to confess what it was that they had started to realize. Berta, in the meanwhile, continued her story with an implacable determination to get it to the ending that could have become tragic.
“Tonia and Fedia don’t allow little Misha to lock the toilet door from the inside. They want to make sure that in case something happens to the kid, they will be able to rush in and save him, without wasting time on breaking the door down. So little Misha went into the toilet and had barely had time to sit down, when suddenly the door opened, and he saw a hugely grandiose backside of Baba Klava moving towards him.”
As they imagined this scene, the men felt their blood run cold, inhaled and forgot to exhale. Berta didn’t allow them to recover their senses and continued her story.
“If you, two grown men, are so terrified, just imagine what the poor child must have felt! Little Misha screamed, yelled, cried, but Baba Klava’s backside kept moving in his direction. She didn’t hear his screams because, as I said, she was hard of hearing.”
“How hard of hearing do you have to be not to hear a scared child scream?” Zinovi finally managed to exhale.
“Between the child and Baba Klava’s ears, Ziama, her humongous backside was located, that same backside that was moving towards the child like the “Tiger” tank.”
“Do you remember, Berta, how I told you what we used to do to those tanks during the war?” Zinovi commented.
“I can imagine,” Vladimir Fedorovich smiled. “Did the kid chase Baba Klava all the way to Berlin, like you guys did with the German tanks?”
Berta triumphantly finished her story.
“He chased her even further than that. When Baba Klava’s huge behind came close to little Misha’s face, he bit it with all his might. He practically took a chunk out of it with his teeth. Poor Baba Klava grabbed her, to use a polite term, underwear and ran out of the scary facility. She was yelling so loud that she even managed to hear her own screams. She told us that herself when we went to see her at the hospital.”
“And what about the kid?” asked Vladimir Fedorovich and Zinovi who still didn’t dare to laugh.
“Dr. Gilman cured him,” Berta reassured them. “He prescribed showers, relaxing conversations, and a nutritious diet. Of course, Tonia had to take care of the child’s diet while Baba Klava was hospitalized.”