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Sunday

Today’s Sunday. But how’s it different to other days of the week? It’s not like you can get off the ship because it’s Sunday. Everyone finds a corner to sit in, and a film’s playing in the crew quarters, but tomorrow’s Monday and everything will begin to drag on again for the whole Week. That’s how it is, lieutenant Petrukhin. There’s a knock at the door.

“Yes.”

A messenger comes in.

“Comrade lieutenant, the first mate is calling you.” On the way over he thinks: what for? He felt sick at heart.

He couldn’t recall any errors. Then again, who knows. He’s been on the ship for a year and the first mate has done nothing but tear him mercilessly to shreds and always for some rubbish, and always watching him like a boa watches a rabbit. Maybe he’s been in the crew quarters again and found something or other there?

“May I?”

The first mate was sitting at his desk but, despite the colossal glare, the lieutenant understood that he wouldn’t be torn to shreds this time. He immediately relaxed. The first mate thrust a sheet of paper across the table:

“Here, lieutenant, read this and sign it, you’re a member of our committee.”

What committee, he wondered? It was a document writing off forty litres of pure alcohol. A quarter of a year’s worth. Out of which, three litres were allegedly given personally to him, lieutenant Petrukhin. He hadn’t so much as got a glimpse of it. It’s obvious. They’ve consumed the whole lot without us.

Trying not to look at the first mate’s heavy face, he signed the document. Afterwards, one more was thrust under his nose. About the use of provisions. He’d heard rumours about ninety kilograms of butter which had gone missing but here all was as smooth as in a fairytale. Last time he was on watch, he saw a quarter master making several trips off the ship, carrying away bags which contained something so similar to tin cans that he found it painful to watch. He carried them off and put them in a mini-truck. To hell with them! Let them choke on it. In the end, what happens to the supplies depart ment isn’t for him to worry about. It looks good in the document. True, the sailors have only had margarine instead of butter and the morning portions of it have been melting; and instead of meat, it’s some hairy scraps floating in the pot but, on this bloody ship, there is after all a commander, his first mate and the political officer (here’s his signature, by the way). What, do you need more than anyone else? Just forget it… forget the whole thing. What else? A document discharging ammu nitions. Half a year’s worth – one hundred and fifty signalling flares! That must have been quite a bang! Why so many? Perhaps they were shooting each other?! “Come on, now, lieutenant, sign it quickly. Why are you reading it over for the tenth time? Don’t worry, I’ve checked it myself. You understand – we don’t have time to gather you all. Time is of the essence.”

Fine. The weapons? Well, they’re counted every day.

Where could they go? The ammunitions? Well, there were fire drills. Anyone can confirm that. And if some inspection happens to come – you can always say that at the time of last checking everything was there. Fine.

The first mate puts the papers into his desk and pulls out yet another.

“Here, another one.”

It was to discharge one of two new nautical binoculars that had come in two days ago. That’s why this document had been drawn up. And here’s the administrative report attached to the document: the sailor Kukin, a signalman, dropped it over board; the strap broke and all efforts to save the military property were in vain. The officer of the watch is to get a “severe reprimand”; Kukin to be given his deserts up to his ears, the rest – to be reprimanded, and the binoculars are to be written off as the weather conditions were, let’s be honest, stormy, not far short of all-out war-time conditions, so really – thank God nobody was killed in it.

The first mate feels it’s necessary to explain:

“Our admiral is turning fifty. You understand, we need to give him a present. These binoculars were issued to us on condition that we only discharged one pair for use. Well, you lieutenant, know how things work around here already. Any questions? No? Good man,” the paper goes into his desk. “Well, lieutenant, bring over your bottle.”

He left the first mate puzzled: what does he mean, my bottle? But then the penny dropped: he wants to pour me some of that pure alcohol.

He found a bottle in the bags rack.

“May I? Here, comrade captain second grade.”

The first mate takes the bottle and begins the holy rite: he opens the door of the cupboard and extracts a container. A twenty-litre container. Then other things appear: a funnel and some tubing. One end of the tubing disappears into the container while the other goes into the mouth of the first mate. He’s going to suck it. The first mate’s face is straining with effort, he goes bright red, he screws up his eyes with zeal – the first mate sucks hard and – phew, the sod! – a silver stream of pure alcohol starts shooting into the bottle.

The first mate wrinkles his face – a drop got into his windpipe, he’s coughing and croaking syphilitically:

“That’s how we’re poisoning ourselves… every day… fuck it… fucking… went right down to my core.” The first mate had tears in his eyes, he drank some water and sighed with relief. “Ugh, shit, I’ll end up dying here with you lot. Here, lieutenant, next time you’ll suck it your self. And now hide it, so no one sees it…”

Evening was falling. “The heavenly stars, the faraway stars…” The town was glittering in the distance. There was a row of lights along the water. People were sitting now in their warm flats… Shit…

He called the messenger. A young one arrived: puny, a blank stare, puffy lips, dirty hands, and he’s stinking, his overcoat burnt through in at least ten places, trousers covered in patches, beat-up shoes, some sort of moron: he came in and said nothing.

“Why aren’t you saying anything, you choleric corpse, what’s your message?”

“The sailor, Kukin, has arrived, as you ordered.”

“A-ah, you old friend. Are you an old friend? Eh? What trash they draft into the navy…“

This was the one who had drowned the binoculars in accordance with the official report. Someone like him can easily drown his own head, no sweat. And tomorrow they’l give the binoculars “To the great leader of the navy. From his loving subordinates.” And he’ll accept it, without even asking where it came from. Everyone understands. The tarts You’re stuck here, and there’s not a single human being around, they’re all bastards. And this one is standing here like a dimwit. Ears sticking out, mug covered in spots. Look a this scarecrow. White eyelashes like on a pig. And his cap’s two sizes too big, knocking around on his head like a used condom. Can you even call him a human?

“Well, well, you bog’s curse, come nearer. Do you wan a punch in the face?”

The sailor came nearer, hesitating along the way. He’s afraid. At least someone on the ship is afraid of you. He’s afraid – it means he respects you.

“You must look me in the eyes when you’re receiving orders! Into my eyes!”

Pushes up his chin.

“Maybe you’re unhappy about something? Eh? Wha could you be unhappy about, putrid virus? So, you rotten rookie, on the double, find me the political officer and tell him to come over here. I’m giving you five minutes.”

Fifteen minutes later, the youngest and the lowest of the boat’s political crew, was sitting next to him in the cabin.

The door’s locked, the porthole bolted and curtain drawn; on the table – a bottle (the same one), some bread, a couple of tins of food, a heavy metal teapot from the galley with dark, hot tea (one has friends in the galley, too). “Where’s this from?” the political officer looked sideways at the bottle.

Carelessly:

“They give it out for cleaning. It’s by the rules.”

“You live well,” he sighs, “but they don’t give me any, there’s nothing to clean.”

“It’s fine, you’ll grow up, become a mate, and you’ll get some yourself. For cleaning. You’ll be cleaning your subordinates’…”

After the first glass, the political officer became emotional and related how the first mate had yelled at him today in front of the sailors for not filling in the registration forms. They fell silent and picked at the tins. Then they were off again, discussing life in the navy, always life in the navy… And the first mate was so friendly today. With the documents. He needed the binoculars. When they need something, they’re as sweet as…

They finished the bottle. Then tea and then the political officer went off to get some sleep.

He called for the messenger. He waited – but no one came. Where is he loafing around, he wondered? He called again and was told: he’s already left.

“What d’you mean ‘he’s left’? Where’s he gone? What are you soiling my brains for?”

His shift is over. Or he’d have been here a long time ago.

The messenger came in.

“Kukin, you bastard, where’ve you been, moron? How dare you present yourself before an officer dressed in that despicable way? Got no one to look after you, is that it? What are you muttering there? Come closer. Where were you?”

The sailor stays silent. He comes over timidly. He stands head forward so that he could easily recoil.

His terror is annoying, just annoying.

“Shut the door!” He shuts it.

“And take off your belt.”

He takes it off. His trousers fall down and he tries to keep them up.

“Give it here!” The lieutenant bends the boy over, shoves his shaven, feeble head between his knees and – in a frenzy – whips him on his stuck-out buttocks. The boy doesn’t resist. Because he’s cattle, cattle!

“And now clean the place!”

He crawls around, cleaning. It takes ten minutes.

“Finished?”

“Yes, Sir!”

“Get lost!”

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