(Isobelino, a village in Western Belorus, 1987)

Basil Wolenski was allowed to have a minor superiority complex, being a gem of westernization, at least by Isobelino standards. He owned not one, not two, but three pairs of stonewashed Levis, while most of his friends rejoiced if they could procure a pair of Polish knock-offs on the black market. The pockets of those Levis were filled with condoms of all colors and flavors, while his friends were still relying on those Soviet-era torture devices that smelled like car tires and ripped after the first thrust.

Tragically, Basil did not get too many opportunities to use his colorful contraceptive arsenal. There were only four single girls in his village, and they were going to stay single, for very good reasons. What man in his right mind would deal with a woman who hasn’t managed to marry herself off by the age of twenty-two?

Basil had thought of trying his luck in another village, but that was seven kilometers away, much too far to walk in those Reebok sneakers that lit up in the back but were a size too small. He didn’t own a motorcycle, and he wouldn’t be caught dead riding an ordinary bicycle like a seventh-grader or a mailman.

So the condoms waited. The Reebok sneakers waited. The electric guitar waited. For what? For Alesya Melekh to come home for the mid-semester break. Alesya studied music theory at the Minsk Conservatory where she was exposed to all sorts of delicious perversions that other girls in the village didn’t dare to fancy. Every three or four months she would appear on the streets of Isobelino, wrapped in a black cellophane that she called “leather”, with her toenails painted purple. The boys would whistle and howl. Her mother would offer her a plate of borsch, and Alesya would spit out her cigarette, stamp her heels, pull her bleached hair and scream:

“Borsch is for peasants! You just don’t offer sour beet juice to someone with a Ph.D. in progress.”

“Settle down, child,” her mother would say. “Don’t agitate yourself. How about some stuffed cabbage?”

“Ma, you just don’t get it! I’m writing a dissertation on Scott Joplin, and I desperately need to get into Creole spirit. What does it take to get some jambalaya around here?”


“Jambalaya, Ma! It’s this famous international dish made of burned corn and raw fish. In Japan they call it paella. In Portugal they call it tempura. Isobelino must be the last place on earth where they don’t have it. How I hate this swamp!”

The first time Basil witnessed one of Alesya’s tantrums he had to pull his shirt out of his jeans to conceal such an obvious reaction to her squirming and wiggling. Luckily for him, in Minsk she adopted the concept of free love. The two had a few explosive encounters in hazelnut bushes behind the Melekhs’ house.

“You know, Les, I’d rather do it with you three times a year than with any of the local girls every day,” he confessed to her once.

The left corner of Alesya’s painted mouth twitched. A true Western woman does not allow herself a full-blown smile. She communicates with subtle smirks and hums.

“While you were gone,” Basil continued, “I’ve been learning some chords from this Deep Purple song. Would you like to hear it?”

“Drop it, Bas,” she replied, unwrapping for a stick of gum. “I listen to this bloody music all day long. I’m so sick of it. I’m sick of life. Jean-Paul Sartoris was right. Life is a tale told by idiots, signifying nothing.”

Watching Alesya blow her first bubble, Basil trembled with reverence. How progressive, how civilized she was! It takes finesse to chew gum so gracefully.

In Alesya’s absence Basil religiously maintained his sleek Western image. He kept collecting bubble gum inserts and those hard-to-find pocket calendars with German movie stars and American body builders.

In spite of all his lofty occidental pursuits, Basil did not slight the company of his compatriots. On Fridays they drank together. On Saturdays they made trouble together. On Sundays they all chipped in to pay for the damage done the night before and prayed for their sins in a stuffy little chapel. Yes, Catholicism was making a comeback. Atheism was so 1970s. Jesus was in fashion again. There are definite benefits to living so close to the Polish border. All kinds of Western knick-knack teasers seep through. Not only can you get bubble gum and jeans, you can also get icons, crucifixes and statues of Virgin. Almost every house had a shrine now. Portraits of Lenin were being taken down and replaced with images of saints.

“We really need God now,” Basil’s mother lamented. “Our dear Prime Minister will do our country in, with those Chernobyl clouds floating over our fields, and that war in Kabul. Remember your second cousin Nasthasia? She gave birth to a baby who had lobster claws instead of hands. They looked like pliers, swear God. The same year her husband got shot in the war. Or rather, that’s what the letter said. But then she got another letter from her husband’s friend, who witnessed the whole thing. He said Nasthasia’s husband got blown to pieces.”

Basil said a prayer for Nasthasia’s baby, who would never know the joys of playing electric guitar or any other instrument. He also said a prayer for himself, because his own musical career was in jeopardy now. He had just turned eighteen, and everyone knows what happens to eighteen-year old boys who aren’t attending a higher educational institution. They get that dreadful letter summoning them to the nearest military headquarters. That’s right. Goodbye Isobelino. Hello Kabul.

“There must be another way to get out of the draft,” Basil murmured, studying his long bony hands. “I can’t let them chop off my trigger finger. How am I gonna play my guitar?”

Complete story available in the print edition of Big Pulp Winter 2010


Marina Julia Neary is an award-winning historical essayist, multilingual arts & entertainment journalist, novelist, dramatist and poet. She is the author of three novels: Brendan Malone (All Things That Matter Press), and Wynfield's Kingdom and Wynfield's War (Fireship Press). Her play "Hugo in London" was acquired by Heuer, and the sequel Lady With A Lamp was published by Fireship Press with the photos from the show. She also has a book of poetry, Bipolar Express, published by Fireship Press. She is currently an editorial reviewer and steady contributor for Bewildering Stories e-zine.

For more of Marina's work,
visit her Big Pulp author page


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Ted Bundy's Beetle

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