Fiction from NER 34.3-4.
The Christmas party was fun. There were crowds of guests, big and small. There was even one boy who had been flogged that day—so Katya’s nanny told her in a whisper. This was so intriguing that Katya barely left the boy’s side all evening; she kept thinking he would say something special, and she watched him with respect and even fear. But the flogged boy behaved in the most ordinary manner; he kept begging for gingerbread, blowing a toy trumpet, and pulling crackers. In the end, bitter though this was for her, Katya had to admit defeat and move away from the boy.
The evening was already drawing to a close, and the very smallest, loudly howling children were being got ready to go home, when Katya was given her main present—a large woolly ram. He was all soft, with a long, meek face and eyes that were quite human. He smelt of sour wool, and if you pulled his head down he bleated affectionately and persistently: “Ba-a-a!”
Katya was so struck by the ram, by the way he looked, smelt, and talked, that she even, to ease her conscience, asked, “Mama, are you sure he’s not alive?” Her mother turned her little birdlike face away and said nothing; she had long ago stopped answering Katya’s questions, she never had time. Katya sighed and went to the dining room to give the ram some milk. She stuck the ram’s face right into the milk jug, wetting it right up to the eyes. Then a young lady she didn’t know came up to her, shaking her head: “Oh, dearie me, what are you doing? Really, giving living milk to a creature that isn’t alive! It’ll be the end of him. You need to give him pretend milk. Like this.”
She scooped up some air in an empty cup, held it to the ram’s mouth, and smacked her lips. “See?”
This story will appear in Subtly Worded and Other Stories, translated by Anne Marie Jackson, Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, and others, to be published by Pushkin Press (2014).