The Lubiyanka Embankment

Pavel shivered in the market on Bolshoi Prokovskaya street. In front of him on a folding table lay his potatoes. He had not sold a single potato the entire day. The sun neared the horizon. To his left, Irina and Yulia pulled out the frame of their green canvas tent and packed their remaining cans into a brown backpack. Irina stopped and looked at Pavel’s potatoes. She clicked her tongue and shook her head twice.
“Tomorrow will be better,” she said. Pavel said nothing. He worried about the Lubiyanka embankment. It grew dark. He stood alone in the market. All the other vendors had gone home. Finally, he packed his potatoes into his duffel bag and folded up his table. He threw the duffel bag on his back and walked up Bolshoi Prokovskaya. His breath whistled through the hairs in his nose. His forehead grew wet as he walked. He stared at the concrete sidewalk. The red #10 tramvai train passed him on the tracks in the center of the street. The train wobbled side-to-side as it moved and gave off bright blue flashes from the arc where the contact touched the wire overhead.
Pavel did not notice the blue flashes that illuminated the darkness. He did not hear the screech of the wheels. He did not smell the ozone or feel the cold through his thin jacket. That morning he and Alyanka decided they needed a different crop, but even that was not on his mind.
Pavel thought only of the Lubiyanka, a creek that ran alongside their dacha—where they grew the vegetables they sold to live. Every day the Lubiyanka ate away a few more crumbs of soil from his land. Never before did they have to worry about the Lubiyanka, because it had been just a trickle. Then, after the second revolution of 1989, came great troubles. Pavel lost his job at the Kirovskii Zavod, where he painted white glaze on bathtubs used all over the Soviet Union. Pavel, Alyanka and her father Volodya Sergeivich lived in the dacha twenty minutes by avtobus from Leningrad. Pavel never got used to calling St. Petersburg by its new name. What had this new name brought him, but suffering?
When St. Petersburg was called Leningrad, the Lubiyanka was a little creek. But now, upstream, in the Golovory place they had combined ten smaller dachas into one large farm. The runoff from the new farm had been diverted by a long embankment that channeled the majority of the water into the tiny Lubiyanka. This change wiped out two old bridges made of felled trees. The government only tied a flagged rope across the bridges on either side. Now, the upstream bridge was the only road across the Lubiyanka, which itself fed into the mighty Slavyanka. Now, thanks to the diversion, the hamlet of Petro-Slavyanka—a small village of tiny one-man dachas—was nearly cut off. But this change only presented an annoyance. The diversion of water into the Lubiyanka was a disaster. It caused the edge of his land to erode and steal precious crumbles of soil, the earth that grew the vegetables they lived on.
As Pavel got on the avtobus for home, he looked at his bulging duffel bag. The heavy load had torn it where the straps joined the seam. Alyanka would have to mend it. But his greatest fear wasn’t his broken backpack, or the unsold vegetables sitting at his feet, slowly rotting. His great fear centered around a leak in the pilings he had built at the edge of his land to block the erosion. That morning, he went out and checked on the pilings he sank.
As the avtobus left the city, the moon rose and shed its light on the fields. The bus stopped and Pavel shouldered his bag. He stepped off into a cold wind. The leaves of the trees rustled in the moonlight. He crossed the bridge and saw the Lubiyanka, moving swiftly under him. He reached the dacha and went to look at the pilings. His duffle bag slid off his shoulder and he crumpled to the ground. The Lubiyanka had broken through the pilings and eaten away a meter of his land. Pavel held his head in his hands. His eyes began to blur and he felt tears on his palms as he listened to the current lick and cluck against the pilings. He lay down on the ground and rested his head in the dirt. Then he heard a sudden splash of water. He opened his eyes. A fish jumped out of the water and landed on the bank, flopping.

The Lubiyanka Embankment

Tom Hunter

Brooklyn, United States

  • Artist
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Artist's Description

The original version of this story was written in 1997 when I lived in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Artwork Comments

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