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Lasochka — a short story by Hryhir Tyutyunnyk
By the time the sun began to paint the eastern sky red, Arsen had been already sitting for some time in his boat, watching the floats of the water. The boat that was moored at a big willow on the bank bristled with fishing rods. The forest was still filled with mist, which was pierced here and there with the golden rays of the rising sun. Muffled noises coming from the distant road could be heard in the morning stillness; woodpeckers’ drumming sounded much more distinctly; then, for a little while sharp crackling of dry brushwood and short grunts and squeals were the loudest sounds.
Arsen thought that it must be a hog with her offspring moving through the undergrowth.
As it grew warmer, Arsen became drowsy and dozed off. He woke with a start only to nod off again. Drifting in this way into and out of sleep, he became aware at one point of mewling that came right from behind him on the bank.
He turned to see a fox cob that stood at the edge of the rather steep bank, its head to the side, and its eyes staring at him with a surprised rather than cunning look in them. Then the cub shifted its gaze towards the stern of the boat where, on a layer of grass, lay a fish.
Arsen cried ‘shoo’ and slapped himself on the knee to back up his shooing with a loud sound.
The fox backed up a little but did not run away.
“Aha, you are a brave one, aren’t you?” he said. “You want that fish so much, eh?”
The cub made a squeaking sound.
“All right, all right, Lasochka*, you’ll have it.”
Arsen was surprised a little at himself — he said “Lasochka” automatically, without thinking.
He picked up the fish and flung it towards the fox. The throw proved to be aimed a bit too high but the fox jumped up and knocked down the fish with its front paws.
“Aren’t you smart?” Arsen said and returned to his rods to check the baits.
When he looked at the bank again, the fox was no longer there.
Next morning Arsen was fishing at the same place again. The fox turned up too and Arsen gave it a fish. The cub seemed to be quite satisfied with one fish, and trotted off without asking for another one.
As days passed Arsen and the fox became friends. The fox learnt that its name was Lasochka; it even learnt to react to such simple commands as “Get up,” or “Lie down.” It also seemed to understand that not always the fish were biting — not a single of Arsen’s bobs would move for quite some time. Seeing there was no fish in the boat, Lasochka did not mewl or stamp her front paws on the ground impatiently, but just lied down in the grass and waited. With no floats signalling that the fish was biting, Arsen would nod off.
Once, through his doze he heard some yelping with a tone of urgency in it. Waking up, he saw that one of his bobs was gone and the fishing line was taut and moving. The fox on the bank, its ears pricked up, was performing a sort of a dance of impatience. Arsen grabbed the rod and pulled. The catch was a good-sized perch.
“That’s for you, Lasochka — you’ve earned it,” Arsen cried out cheerfully and threw the perch to the fox. From that day on Arsen was not worried any longer about falling asleep in the boat — whenever one of the floats would disappear from the surface of the water, Lasochka would give a signal.
Arsen began to think of Lasochka as a mate in fishing.
But summer and then fall came to an end. The winter froze the river, put rime on the branches of the trees and snow on the ground. Birds flew away and instead of their chirping and singing, one could hear the howling of the wind or of the wolves.
The elderly Arsen did not do any ice fishing and once in a while in the warmth of his house he would remember Lasochka, wondering how this fox was doing in the bitter cold.
He lived to see the spring melt the snow and break the ice. When it became warm enough for him to start fishing again, he got his boat on the water and resumed his fishing, mooring the boat at the same place he did it the previous year. The fish he caught was a useful addition to his and his old wife diet, and some of his catch he would give to his grandchildren to make a fish soup with.
Sitting in his boat and watching the floats, he kept glancing at the bank but there was no fox there that he half-expected to see. When he almost lost hope to see his Lasochka again, he became aware of a presence on the bank. He turned and saw a large fox, fluffy and beautiful, its eyes full of intelligence rather than of cunning; there was a small cub standing by the fox’s side.
“Lasochka?” Arsen said tentatively.
In reply, the fox pounded the ground with her paws, her long tail moving briskly too. Then she lied down by the side of her cub that spotted fish in the boat, licked its lips and made a low begging sound.
“Ah, you want some fish!” Arsen exclaimed in a cheerful tone. “Lasochka, it looks I’ll have to feed your little one too!”
He picked a fish from the bottom of his boat and threw it on the bank.
His throw was again too forceful but the cub knocked the fish down with its front paws and immediately started eating. Lasochka continued lying by the cub’s side, watching the bobs on the water.
Since that day, their fishing company numbered three members.
* Translator’s note: the word Lasochka in Ukrainian is used
as a term of endearment by men in addressing women; at the same
time, it is a diminutive from the word laska which has several meanings, one of which is “a weasel” or any similar small animal; the same word describes benevolence, friendliness, kindness, endearing
and well-wishing (it also has some other usages).
Hryhir Tyutyunnyk (1931–1980), a prominent Ukrainian writer best known for his short stories, stylistically brilliant and psychologically penetrative, wrote a lot about hard life in the Ukrainian countryside; the central theme of many of his short stories and novels is kindness and love that stand out particularly vividly against the inhumane soviet regime. Tyutyunnyk was never an open dissident but the biting truth of his writings was frowned upon by the regime. The pressure that was put on him was so intolerable that at one point in his life, being only 49 years old, he chose self-destruction.