2022 Winner of the Best Short Story Collection — A HUSBAND AND WIFE ARE ONE SATAN

by Jeff Fearnside

Kazakhstan 2002–04

 

 

I find a great deal of pleasure in reading fiction set in other cultures or countries, especially when the work demonstrates more than a superficial understanding of the place about which it is written.

That was one motivation behind the anthology series I curated, Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet (Press 53 2016). It was also in that context that I first became aware of Jeff Fearnside’s work when his story set in Kazakhstan, “A Husband and Wife are One Satan,” was included in the first volume of that series. I recognized then that, having been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kazakhstan, Fearnside had the depth of knowledge of his chosen setting to bring the culture and his characters to life in both an informative and entertaining way.

Jeff Fearnside (Kazakhstan 2002–04)

It was a joy, then, to discover that the story we published is the title story in Fearnside’s recent chapbook, published last year by Orison Books. It is a slim book, just forty pages, comprising five stories all set in Kazakhstan. Each story is a gem, and while they share a setting, each focuses on a unique aspect of Kazakh life rooted in the singular traditions of this little-known Central Asian republic.

The first story in the collection, “Accomplices to a Tradition,” illuminates the horrific practice of bride stealing, in which a woman is, essentially, kidnapped by a man and then, if accepted by the man’s family, must marry him. Along the way, the story shows us the prevalence of police corruption, tensions between ethnic Russians, such as the narrator of the story, and ethnic Kazakhs, and the ubiquity of the vodka bottle. (I witnessed all these things myself during the year I worked in Kazakhstan and have also written about them in my own fiction.) It’s a marvelously well-made story, too, with the kind of riveting suspense that keeps the reader turning pages.

The title story, “A Husband and Wife Are One Satan,” is both poignant and funny. Here the voice is omniscient, delving into the lives and thoughts of a consistent set of customers in a village café operated by Raim and Railya, the ethnic Tatar couple who are the husband and wife of the title. The customers themselves give us a glimpse into life in the country, coming as they do from a variety of professions and ethnicities: Kolya, a Russian Christian, who, despite being married, comes to the café with his girlfriend, Larisa; Murat, a Kazakh Muslim and his Russian friend Tikhan; a pair of teenage girls, Olya and Dilya, looking for husbands; and an older, widowed alcoholic, Alikhan. Raim and Railya discover that their café business becomes more robust when they argue loudly in front of their customers, providing endless entertainment, and they each give as good as they get in their battles. (The title of the story comes from a saying that means, essentially, “It takes two to tango.”) The story takes a darker turn, however, when the arguments get out of hand, leading to the inevitable climax.

As I have been reading Fearnside’s excellent book and writing this review, much of Kazakhstan is in turmoil, possibly heading into an existential crisis. Some of the stories in this collection touch on the changes in Kazakhstan over the years, from its contributions to the Great Patriotic War to its troubling ethnic divisions and its new existence as an independent state following the collapse of the Soviet Union. One has the impression, though, that little really changes there. The traditions and the struggles persist. It is gratifying to read about them in the hands of a skillful writer like Fearnside.

Reviewed by Clifford Garstang (Korea 1976-77)

A Husband and Wife Are One Satan: Stories
Jeff Fearnside (Kazakhstan 2002–04)
Orison Books
September 2021
38 pages
$12.00 (paperback), $7.49 (Kindle)

 

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  • 14. Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal
    Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
    Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
    Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font:
    The firefly wakens: waken thou with me.

    Now droops the milkwhite peacock like a ghost,
    And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.

    Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars,
    And all thy heart lies open unto me.

    Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
    A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.

    Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
    And slips into the bosom of the lake:
    So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
    Into my bosom and be lost in me.
    Alfred Tennyson

    15. Dying Speech of an Old Philosopher
    I strove with none, for none was worth my strife:
    Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art:
    I warm’d both hands before the fire of Life;
    It sinks; and I am ready to depart.
    Walter Savage Landor

    16. All in green went my love riding
    All in green went my love riding
    on a great horse of gold
    into the silver dawn.

    four lean hounds crouched low and smiling
    the merry deer ran before.

    Fleeter be they than dappled dreams
    the swift sweet deer
    the red rare deer.

    Four red roebuck at a white water
    the cruel bugle sang before.

    Horn at hip went my love riding
    riding the echo down
    into the silver dawn.

    four lean hounds crouched low and smiling
    the level meadows ran before.

    Softer be they than slippered sleep
    the lean lithe deer
    the fleet flown deer.

    Four fleet does at a gold valley
    the famished arrow sang before.

    Bow at belt went my love riding
    riding the mountain down
    into the silver dawn.

    four lean hounds crouched low and smiling
    the sheer peaks ran before.

    Paler be they than daunting death
    the sleek slim deer
    the tall tense deer.

    Four tall stags at the green mountain
    the lucky hunter sang before.

    All in green went my love riding
    on a great horse of gold
    into the silver dawn.

    Four lean hounds crouched low and smiling
    my heart fell dead before.
    E.E. Cummings
    18. My Lost Youth
    Often I think of the beautiful town
    That is seated by the sea;
    Often in thought go up and down
    The pleasant streets of that dear old town,
    And my youth comes back to me.
    And a verse of a Lapland song
    Is haunting my memory still:
    “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
    And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”
    I can see the shadowy lines of its trees,
    And catch, in sudden gleams,
    The sheen of the far-surrounding seas,
    And islands that were the Hersperides
    Of all my boyish dreams.
    And the burden of that old song,
    It murmurs and whispers still:
    “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
    And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”
    I remember the black wharves and the slips,
    And the sea-tides tossing free;
    And Spanish sailors with bearded lips,
    And the beauty and mystery of the ships,
    And the magic of the sea.
    And the voice of that wayward song
    Is singing and saying still:
    “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
    And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”
    I remember the bulwarks by the shore,
    And the fort upon the hill;
    The sunrise gun, with its hollow roar,
    The drum-beat repeated o’er and o’er,
    And the bugle wild and shrill.
    And the music of that old song
    Throbs in my memory still:
    “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
    And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”
    I remember the sea-fight far away,
    How it thundered o’er the tide!
    And the dead captains, as they lay
    In their graves, o’erlooking the tranquil bay,
    Where they in battle died.
    And the sound of that mournful song
    Goes through me with a thrill:
    “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
    And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”
    I can see the breezy dome of groves,
    The shadows of Deering’s Woods;
    And the friendships old and the early loves
    Come back with a sabbath sound, as of doves
    In quiet neighborhoods.
    And the verse of that sweet old song,
    It flutters and murmurs still:
    “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
    And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”
    I remember the gleams and glooms that dart
    Across the school-boy’s brain;
    The song and the silence in the heart,
    That in part are prophecies, and in part
    Are longings wild and vain.
    And the voice of that fitful song
    Sings on, and is never still:
    “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
    And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”
    There are things of which I may not speak;
    There are dreams that cannot die;
    There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,
    And bring a pallor into the cheek,
    And a mist before the eye.
    And the words of that fatal song
    Come over me like a chill:
    “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
    And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”
    Strange to me now are the forms I meet
    When I visit the dear old town;
    But the native air is pure and sweet,
    And the trees that o’ershadow each well-known street,
    As they balance up and down,
    Are singing the beautiful song,
    Are sighing and whispering still:
    “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
    And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”
    And Deering’s Woods are fresh and fair,
    And with joy that is almost pain
    My heart goes back to wander there,
    And among the dreams of the days that were,
    I find my lost youth again.
    And the strange and beautiful song,
    The groves are repeating it still:
    “A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
    And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”
    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
    19. THE SHIP OF DEATH
    I

    Now it is autumn and the falling fruit
    and the long journey towards oblivion.

    The apples falling like great drops of dew
    to bruise themselves an exit from themselves.

    And it is time to go, to bid farewell
    to one’s own self, and find an exit
    from the fallen self.

    II

    Have you built your ship of death, O have you?
    O build your ship of death, for you will need it.

    The grim frost is at hand, when the apples will fall
    thick, almost thundrous, on the hardened earth.

    And death is on the air like a smell of ashes!
    Ah! can’t you smell it?
    And in the bruised body, the frightened soul
    finds itself shrinking, wincing from the cold
    that blows upon it through the orifices.

    III

    And can a man his own quietus make
    with a bare bodkin?

    With daggers, bodkins, bullets, man can make
    a bruise or break of exit for his life;
    but is that a quietus, O tell me, is it quietus?

    Surely not so! for how could murder, even self-murder
    ever a quietus make?

    IV

    O let us talk of quiet that we know,
    that we can know, the deep and lovely quiet
    of a strong heart at peace!

    How can we this, our own quietus, make?

    V

    Build then the ship of death, for you must take
    the longest journey, to oblivion.

    And die the death, the long and painful death
    that lies between the old self and the new.

    Already our bodies are fallen, bruised, badly bruised,
    already our souls are oozing through the exit
    of the cruel bruise.

    Already the dark and endless ocean of the end
    is washing in through the breaches of our wounds,
    Already the flood is upon us.

    Oh build your ship of death, your little ark
    and furnish it with food, with little cakes, and wine
    for the dark flight down oblivion.

    VI

    Piecemeal the body dies, and the timid soul
    has her footing washed away, as the dark flood rises.

    We are dying, we are dying, we are all of us dying
    and nothing will stay the death-flood rising within us
    and soon it will rise on the world, on the outside world.

    We are dying, we are dying, piecemeal our bodies are dying
    and our strength leaves us,
    and our soul cowers naked in the dark rain over the flood,
    cowering in the last branches of the tree of our life.

    VII

    We are dying, we are dying, so all we can do
    is now to be willing to die, and to build the ship
    of death to carry the soul on the longest journey.

    A little ship, with oars and food
    and little dishes, and all accoutrements
    fitting and ready for the departing soul.

    Now launch the small ship, now as the body dies
    and life departs, launch out, the fragile soul
    in the fragile ship of courage, the ark of faith
    with its store of food and little cooking pans
    and change of clothes,
    upon the flood’s black waste
    upon the waters of the end
    upon the sea of death, where still we sail
    darkly, for we cannot steer, and have no port.

    There is no port, there is nowhere to go
    only the deepening blackness darkening still
    blacker upon the soundless, ungurgling flood
    darkness at one with darkness, up and down
    and sideways utterly dark, so there is no direction any more
    and the little ship is there; yet she is gone.
    She is not seen, for there is nothing to see her by.
    She is gone! gone! and yet
    somewhere she is there.
    Nowhere!

    VIII

    And everything is gone, the body is gone
    completely under, gone, entirely gone.
    The upper darkness is heavy as the lower,
    between them the little ship
    is gone

    It is the end, it is oblivion.

    IX

    And yet out of eternity a thread
    separates itself on the blackness,
    a horizontal thread
    that fumes a little with pallor upon the dark.

    Is it illusion? or does the pallor fume
    A little higher?
    Ah wait, wait, for there’s the dawn
    the cruel dawn of coming back to life
    out of oblivion

    Wait, wait, the little ship
    drifting, beneath the deathly ashy grey
    of a flood-dawn.

    Wait, wait! even so, a flush of yellow
    and strangely, O chilled wan soul, a flush of rose.

    A flush of rose, and the whole thing starts again.

    X

    The flood subsides, and the body, like a worn sea-shell
    emerges strange and lovely.
    And the little ship wings home, faltering and lapsing
    on the pink flood,
    and the frail soul steps out, into the house again
    filling the heart with peace.

    Swings the heart renewed with peace
    even of oblivion.

    Oh build your ship of death. Oh build it!
    for you will need it.
    For the voyage of oblivion awaits you.
    D. H. (David Herbert) Lawrence

    20. Heraclitus
    They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead;
    They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed;
    I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I
    Had tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky.
    And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
    A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
    Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
    For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.
    William Johnson Cory, trans from Callimachus

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