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Vidas Morkūnas (b. 1962) is a Lithuanian prose writer, poet, and literary translator. He graduated from the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre in 1992 with a degree in screenplay writing. He is the author of three short story collections: Manekeno gimtadienis (“The Birthday of a Manequin,” 2001), Reportažas iš kiaušinio (“Report from an Egg,” Lithuanian Writers Union Publishing House, 2012), and Pakeleivingų stotys (“The Wayfarers’ Stations,” Odilė, 2019); Morkūnas is also the author of a collection of poems titled Nekropolių šviesos (“The Lights of Necropolises,” Lithuanian Writers Union Publishing House, 2015). He has translated many books from English, Polish, Russian, or German. Creative works by Vidas Morkūnas have also been published in major Lithuanian literary magazines. He is a member of the Lithuanian Writers Union and of the Lithuanian Association of Literary Translators. Vidas Morkūnas has won several literary awards for his poems and short stories. For his short story Mirtis (“Death”), Vidas Morkūnas received the A. Vaičiulaitis Award – one of the most significant literary awards in Lithuania. Vidas Morkūnas lives in Vilnius, his wife, Anita Kapočiūtė, is also a writer and translator. Together, they have raised three children. The creative works of Vidas Morkūnas are based mostly on the play and possibilities of imagination; the author uses real-life details and enjoys developing context around them.

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reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Graphic Novels

Dainius Dirgėla, Re-transmission

 

 

Short stories from the book The Wayfarers‘ Stations

 

the unarmed

We’ve been hanging around for a good three hours on the crumbled supermarket loading dock dotted with old stains. Nearby, beyond the dusty shrubs, the town sweltered in the summer forenoon heat. When the determination of our trio to load whatever needs to be loaded was finally dying out, when we were running out of jokes to tell and cigarettes to smoke, a single rumbling truck nevertheless pulled up, carrying a shipment of tomato sauce.

We got to work in earnest. We took only short breaks – the supermarket boss kindly let us have a box of mineral water from the warehouse – and so we completely emptied the truck in a couple of hours. When we got to the last stack by the rear wall, Rulie got a little unlucky. The crates, used for many years and never washed, were dirty, sticky, and so, as Rulie took a box of jars from the upper row, he accidently lifted another that had stuck to its surface. The lower one immediately came loose and dropped to the truck’s floor. The sauce splattered all over the place. Around us soughed a most beautiful summer, and we had almost made a considerable amount of money – 10 rubles each, no concerns troubling our heads, no sorrows in our hearts. Rulie stood with his legs splayed, backhandedly brushing the red sauce off of his forehead, and chuckled with us, cursing but not really angrily. Not one of us knew, on that wearisome afternoon in June, that many years later – on a gloomy, cloudy autumn day – Rulie will have to stop by the house, by the woodshed specifically, where a rickety bed will be thrown out and left standing; that two people will be lying in it, that an axe will be nearby, hewn into a log – so conveniently there, as if on purpose, waiting to be grasped – that Rulie will swing it a total of six times – just enough – that he will then stand with his legs splayed just the same, and again brush his forehead backhandedly. But not chuckling.

 

the early ones

There were still four more hours until the train came, so Stasys R., more out of boredom than curiosity, explored all of the station’s nooks, and read the train schedule for maybe the third time.

The train platform right beside the station, however wrinkled, was still held in place, but it was already cracked a little farther, alongside the tracks on both sides. Grass was squeezing out of the openings and stretching toward the sun. Hens were picking at the ground around the red-brick water tower with boarded up doors; a fat cat sat languidly blinking on a wooden fence post.

For some reason, Stasys R. remembered the stack of crossties laying at the end of the platform – when he rode from this station last time, ten years ago, the crossties were already laying there. Now blackened, the lower ones grown over and stuck to the ground, they still gave off a pleasant smell of oil, creosote, and the sensation of movement.

Having spent four boring hours, and when it was already time to board the train, he went and sat down on a hard, worn bench. And he never got up.

Suddenly he realized that he hadn’t caught the train after all, and so went home on foot, even though there was a good seventy kilometers for him to cover. He strode along a dusty road. Shrubs and bushes surrounded him on both sides. They looked stiff. At times, Stasys R. would turn around and each time be permeated with anxiety. The forest behind his back, rather than moving away, kept getting closer. On his left, he saw something white between the willows, and with no hesitation waded through the vegetation in that direction – presumably, the right thing to do. Stretched out near a shrub, on tall grass, was a fairly large piece of canvas with a full-length image of Stasys R.’s young mother. Like a sepia tinted photograph. Back then, Mom was a real heavenly beauty, he thought. A gust of wind suddenly ran through the canvas, and Stasys R. thought that he saw his mother’s face warp, and her body convulse. Disgusted, he turned away and at once saw something white on a distant osier. He waded nearer and saw a canvas strewn on some branches with a full-length image of his little brother. The boy, who had died while still a child, was smiling and wearing a grey shirt and a pair of shorts with suspenders. The piece of cloth was hung unevenly and wrinkled, but the child’s smile appeared like an eerie grimace, his body – as if fractured. The greenery around Stasys R. was receding, and in various places he saw white canvases with images of people like patches of dirty snow. They covered the grass, the shrubs, and the trees; Stasys R. waded like he would through snowbanks, not caring for the path, ardently searching, he trod on the imprinted bodies of his recently and long ago-deceased relatives, loved ones, friends, and the people he did not remember anymore but with whom he was probably associated in some way; sometimes the wind would howl and the sheets would wildly flutter and soar, and it looked like the dead were trying their best to rise and escape from the clutches of something. To no purpose. He finally found it – he walked up to what he was looking for. The canvas stretched on level ground was bright white, freshly starched. No imprint.

 

the ill-fated

For thirty years, Elvyra S. has been leading the morning exercises in the factory that manufactures components for wind instruments. Throughout this whole time, she had been applying her own unique method that deserves some new name and should radically revolutionize the field. However, Elvyra S. did not know whether anybody is applying her developed techniques, as she could not finally publish the textbook that she had already written over all these years. The factory workers for whom she headed the exercises did not wriggle or bend, they did not squat or prance, oh no! Such primitive forms would not coincide with the artistic ambitions of Elvyra S. They would have offended her dignity as a creator. Every morning, before eight, the manufacturers of wind instrument components would gather in the company’s auditorium and, before beginning their work, pretended to be deer for fifteen minutes. They swayed across the slippery parquet, wiggling their buttocks, holding their hands crossed above their heads with their fingers extended. Back then, on her first day of work, Elvyra S. realized that not a single member of this workforce could be raised to the level of a worthy apprentice. Sadly, her fears proved to be correct. A great many cadres had changed in the factory during the course of three decades, but in that numerous crowd of personnel Elvyra S. had come across only a few that were at all gifted for the exercises. Perhaps they were able to cast the most perfect metal reeds for French horns, but they were good-for-nothing deer. It seemed as if the company hired exclusively soulless oafs, the very definitions of bumpkins. Elvyra S. was most insulted by their indifference. However patiently she would wait for them to comprehend the Stanislavskian Task and line of active action, those slouches did not care for it. The years went by, and the employees changed, but the attitude did not: to find a way to somehow pass the fifteen minutes of exercise and manage to have a smoke before eventually going off to the mouthpieces, the valves, and the tubes. The more Elvyra S. delved into the psychology, physiology, behavior, and anatomy of the deer, striving to pass on her knowledge to the staff (for she was certain that for a person to authentically recreate the movements of this elegant beast, one must know the forest from which it hails, its age, what it recently chewed on, the number of times it went through heat, what diseases it had contracted, and the like), so, the more she delved into the being of the deer, the more openly and brazenly the component manufacturers ignored her efforts. The crooked grins, the boredom in those faces, the clumsy lumbering just kept devastating Elvyra S. She painfully realized herself to have naively sacrificed the best years of her life for a brilliant concept that was just too hard to grasp for those God-forsaken louts. Oh dear, if only she had remained in the much more promising enterprise that used to make strings for tennis rackets. No wonder everybody kept persuading her to stay there… Oh dear…

The human element was very important for the factory that manufactured components for wind instruments. The record-breakers of employment would earn their places in the Gallery of Glory; the veterans finally leaving for their hard-earned rest would be awarded Copper Tonality Statues; the ones who left this world – especially if while on company premises – were lamented in a solemn manner.

So, having put on her exercise clothes, Elvyra S. walked through the service doors onto the minor auditorium stage and was struck with astonishment. Beside the rear wall of the podium were hung two large digits cut from plywood: 3 and 0. Meticulously plastered with colorful splinters from broken Christmas decorations, the three and the zero glistered nicely in the rays of sunlight that shone through the perpetually dirty windows of the auditorium. For the first time in the three-decade career of Elvyra S., all of the employees had gathered for exercise, from the watchwoman to the director. All of them were wearing brand new grey robes, and all had antlers made of foam rubber sticking from their heads. Instructed beforehand by the factory spokeswoman, the deer bellowed in unison and, holding onto their flimsy antlers, quickly began exercising.

Elvyra S.’s eyes welled with tears.

 

the nameless

The wire fence should have been absolutely worn down, and the hospital behind it – abandoned. The fierce wind should have been causing the exterior doors of the former medical department to open and shut, while their eerie creak should have recalled the wails of those that had suffered within its walls. The moon, cornered by clouds black as coal, should have cowardly peeked at the grim street beneath the sick, elderly trees and the naked twigs protruding from their branches. It should have been a dreary night. But it was instead a spectacular morning in May, the street wallowed in the lush greenery of lilacs and lindens so favored by nightingales, and the hospital fence – freshly painted, even – was made of tin. The two of them stopped under a great tree. He always sought to “take five” – that’s how he used to describe the process – amid cozy shadows, where the air is a little cooler, where, if you tilt your head, you’ll see how the light seeps through tangled branches, through the mosaic of leaves, how it thrusts downward and does not break through, does not reach the ground. During the winter, on the other hand, he would enjoy taking five on some patch of deceptive, false, muddy light. He would never take five at home. The wife, boring, mechanically activated light – what light, mere electricity, nothing more – and the dog, suspicious and always on guard…

So, they stopped in the shadow of a great linden. He put his palm on top of his son’s head and, as if with a gentle stroke, began to satisfy himself. Leisurely, like a true connoisseur. The boy’s strength waned slowly, the child resisted, subconsciously but in vain.

I once happened to walk past them as they were “taking five.” Even though we knew each other, he didn’t even notice me, only his son glanced at me with pain-stricken fear and quickly averted his eyes.

He would end the process with some lesson or a short episode from the nation’s history or culture. This time, he repeated a couple of verses written by a revered poet. “Do you feel the beauty?” he asked and, full of energy, with a lively look on his face, took his son to kindergarten. In the cloakroom, he helped the boy change his shoes, combed his hair, tidied what little was in the child’s locker, and, patting the boy on the back, let him in with the other kids. He smiled shyly after overhearing the whispers of two mothers:

“What a caring father!”

“What a beautiful, happy family!”

 

the early ones

We would really prefer that the circumstances surrounding mysterious occurrences or pricking insights, these so-called realizations, always be interesting and unique. Sadly, they’re often banal and mundane, even worse – as if transplanted to life from a bad motion picture.

Bus 30 pulled up to the stop, Darius K. got on and sat down beside a window. I remained at the bus stop. He didn’t look at me. He’s angry – I knew it. As it were, the glass right beside his head was all foggy – and here’s that damn banality – so, I could barely see his face.

A bad feeling overwhelmed me, and an idea pricked my mind: that dull stain separates Darius K. from this world, and we will never see each other again.

He died a month later.

 

 

 

Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas

 

 

 

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