Maksim Gorky: My Childhood

IN a narrow, darkened room, my father, dressed in a white and unusually long garment, lay on the floor under the window. The toes of his bare feet were curiously extended, and the fingers of the still hands, which rested peacefully upon his breast, were curved; his merry eyes were tightly closed by the black disks of two copper coins; the light had gone out of his still face, and I was frightened by the ugly way he showed his teeth.

My mother, only half clad in a red petticoat, knelt and combed my father’s long, soft hair, from his brow to the nape of his neck, with the same black comb which I loved to use to tear the rind of watermelons; she talked unceasingly in her low, husky voice, and it seemed as if her swollen eyes must be washed away by the incessant flow of tears.

Holding me by the hand was my grandmother, who had a big, round head, large eyes, and a nose like a sponge a dark, tender, wonderfully interesting person. She also was weeping, and her grief formed a fitting accompaniment to my mother’s, as, shuddering the while, she pushed me towards my father; but I, terrified and uneasy, obstinately tried to hide myself against her. I had never seen grown-up people cry before, and I did not understand the words which my grandmother uttered again and again:

“Say good-by to daddy. You will never see him any more. He is dead before his time.”

I had been very ill, had only just left my bed in fact, and I remember perfectly well that at the beginning of my illness my father used to merrily bustle about me. Then he suddenly disappeared and his place was taken by my grandmother, a stranger to me.

“Where did you come from?” I asked her.

“From up there, from Nijni,” she answered; “but I did not walk here, I came by boat. One does not walk on water, you little imp.”

This was ludicrous, incomprehensible, and untrue; upstairs there lived a bearded, gaudy Persian, and in the cellar an old, yellow Kalmuck who sold sheepskins. One could get upstairs by riding on the banisters, or if one fell that way, one could roll. I knew this by experience. But where was there room for water? It was all untrue and delightfully muddled.

“And why am I a little imp?”

“Why? Because you are so noisy,” she said, laughing.

She spoke sweetly, merrily, melodiously, and from the very first day I made friends with her; all I wanted now was for her to make haste and take me out of that room.

My Childhood, by Maksim Gorky


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