Елена Аронова

Живу в Рязани. Работала корреспондентом газет «Комсомольская правда», «Благовест». Серебряный лауреат национальной литературной премии «Золотое перо Руси». Победитель всероссийского литературного конкурса «Большой финал». Лонг-листер конкурса «Русский Гофман» (2017) Публиковалась в журналах «Балтика-Калининград», «Кольцо А», «Новая реальность», «Рефлексия абсурда». Участник XIV Форума молодых писателей России, стран СНГ и Зарубежья, семинаров Совещания молодых писателей при Союзе писателей Москвы, мастер-класса Сергея Лукьяненко (Роскон-2017).


Fiction «Where Reality Becomes a Dream«

fragment

A cosy room. Subdued lighting. Friendly female administrators in white shirts and black trousers. A security guard is yawning at the front door. All kinds of people — respectable men with self-content on their faces, strange individuals with shifty eyes, loose youth. In front of Ivashka, there is a wheel with red and black pockets with white numbers on them.
For as long as Ivashka could recall, he had always been, as one might say, the one bringing up the rear. The younger son, the younger brother. The smallest and youngest in the class. He had invariably come last in all his school competitions — both physical and  intellectual. He was the last option for girls to pick-a- pair to walk with at the 1 September “Starting School” parades. He drank the least mead at street contests. Girls wouldn’t date him, preferring tough guys to a “sissy.” Zlata was the only person not to laugh at him. When they bumped into each other, she always asked how he was and laughed at his jokes. Eventually, Ivashka’s heart began to beat faster each time he recognised her from a distance by her golden hair. When his parents matched him with Zlata, he was on cloud nine. The only thing that cast a shadow over his joy was that he knew she did not truly “love” him.
But, in front of the red and black wheel, everything has changed instantly. Dozens of pairs of eyes are looking at him, tens of hearts beating in anticipation of the ball falling into a specific pocket. Five minutes ago, no-one had seen Ivashka with his ‘odd-even’ bets. Holding their breath, everyone had been looking at a chubby man with a red face who bet ten thousand on “split”. If he won, he would be given one hundred and seventy thousand coins! Another turn, another turn … No, the chubby man lost his ten thousand. Sighs of relief were heard — if he had won, the other players would not have been able to sleep peacefully at night, because many of them didn’t even earn ten thousand in a month. The red-faced man shrugged and sipped from his glass: it became obvious that, for him, that ten thousand was like ten coins would be for most.
The casino guests were still looking at him but this time with jealousy and admiration.

‘Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen,’ the croupier said and suddenly Ivashka heard his own voice:
‘Straight up. Fifteen thousand coins.’
Fifteen thousand was all the money that Ivashka had on him. Out of it, his was eight and the other seven thousand was Zlata’s. This being the first time in her life that she had been so far away from home and with such a large sum of money, she was afraid that it would be stolen from her small backpack. Who else could she trust but her own fiancé, her friend with whom she had chased chickens in the yard in their childhood years?
The admiring gazes moved from the chubby man to Ivashka. The guests’ eyes were full of bewilderment: ‘How? How can this ordinary man bet fifteen?? On the riskiest bet?’

A cosy room. Subdued lighting. Friendly female administrators. A security guard with door-wide shoulders. All kinds of people. A wheel with black and red pockets with white numbers on them. Dozens of pairs of eyes are looking at Ivashka. Tens of hearts are beating in anticipation of the ball falling into a specific pocket. At that moment, for all those in the room, Ivashka was a king, the centre of the universe. For them, he was more attractive than all the gold in the world. More interesting than Juliette for Romeo, Dulcinee for Don Quichotte, Isolde for Tristan. It only lasted a minute but for Ivashka, this minute was more precious than all the previous years of his life.
Click. The ball falls into a pocket.
Not the one that Ivashka has placed his bet on.
A joint sigh of relief.
‘No. How can it be?’ as if hit by an axe, Ivashka realises that he has just lost everything — his own and Zlata’s.
‘No. How can it be?’ he repeats, perplexed, unable to believe that this is really happening to him. ‘This is some kind of a mistake.’
He looks blank, his eyes gazing nowhere. Ivashka automatically runs his fingers through his hair and ruffles it. Now he looks like a drunken madman.
‘No. How can it be? This is some kind of a mistake.’

He is no longer a king. He is a pathetic and broken loser. A king’s fool, degraded to horseman.
It is as if there has never been any admiration in the eyes of the other players and observers — their eyes now express only a mixture of contempt and compassion.

Ivashka had come back to the hotel in the morning. He’d locked himself in his room and was afraid to come out—what if Zlata should see him? But hunger breaks stone walls and he had no money to buy food anywhere else. Not being able to think of anything at all, he went downstairs for breakfast, quietly said hello to the others and started drinking his coffee, unable to detect its taste. But then the waitress had brought that special dish, goddammit, and it re-awoke the awful memories of the previous night.
What was Zlata remembering meanwhile? The mischief of her childhood days? Her first kiss as a teenager? Some incredible, tender May morning? No, with the first spoonful of the broth, Zlata remembered something completely different. Someone. The man who was sitting opposite her, the one with his head in the clouds of his own memories. The man in the kaftan with twenty-three holes and only eighteen patches. Yes-yes, Zlata remembered Trishka’s face at the first moment when she went out through the garden gate and saw him holding an apple from her garden.
She knew right away that he had come to disturb her quiet and plain life. Not just to disturb, in fact, but to destroy, to burn it to ashes, to blow it to ruins. Like a terrorist with a TNT belt on blows up a high-rise building. Like a tsunami washes away a whole town.

She regained her senses and opened her eyes. Trishka had also come back from his dreams and, smiling with just the corners of his mouth, he looked at her as if he knew what she had been thinking of. His gaze smothered her, stroked her hair, even covered as was by her headscarf, touched her skin. ‘Are you with me?’ it asked Zlata. ‘Of course, I’m with you,’ her eyes answered him.
Beneath her dress, a fissure appeared in Zlata’s chest. It grew bigger, her chest opened and her Heart jumped out of it. She flew from under her collar and alighted on the table, spinning like a top. Trishka’s heart joined it, and together they started to waltz together so feverishly that all the guests from the bar ran over and began to clap. Having danced to their content, the two hearts touched each other in a tender “au revoir” and then parted to whence they had come.

Ploughing through the crowd, Genius Poet made his way to the reception.
‘Somebody’s broken into the hotel safe. All the money’s gone,’ he gasped.

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