Leonid Andreyev : The Crushed Flower
His name was Yura.
He was six years old, and the world was to him enormous, alive and bewitchingly mysterious. He knew the sky quite well. He knew its deep azure by day, and the white-breasted, half silvery, half golden clouds slowly floating by. He often watched them as he lay on his back upon the grass or upon the roof. But he did not know the stars so well, for he went to bed early. He knew well and remembered only one star—the green, bright and very attentive star that rises in the pale sky just before you go to bed, and that seemed to be the only star so large in the whole sky.
But best of all, he knew the earth in the yard, in the street and in the garden, with all its inexhaustible wealth of stones, of velvety grass, of hot sand and of that wonderfully varied, mysterious and delightful dust which grown people did not notice at all from the height of their enormous size. And in falling asleep, as the last bright image of the passing day, he took along to his dreams a bit of hot, rubbed off stone bathed in sunshine or a thick layer of tenderly tickling, burning dust.
When he went with his mother to the centre of the city along the large streets, he remembered best of all, upon his return, the wide, flat stones upon which his steps and his feet seemed terribly small, like two little boats. And even the multitude of revolving wheels and horses' heads did not impress themselves so clearly upon his memory as this new and unusually interesting appearance of the ground.
Everything was enormous to him—the fences, the dogs and the people—but that did not at all surprise or frighten him; that only made everything particularly interesting; that transformed life into an uninterrupted miracle. According to his measures, various objects seemed to him as follows:
His father—ten yards tall.
His mother—three yards.
The neighbour's angry dog—thirty yards.
Their own dog—ten yards, like papa.
Their house of one story was very, very tall—a mile.
The distance between one side of the street and the other—two miles.
Their garden and the trees in their garden seemed immense, infinitely tall.
The city—a million—just how much he did not know.
And everything else appeared to him in the same way. He knew many people, large and small, but he knew and appreciated better the little ones with whom he could speak of everything. The grown people behaved so foolishly and asked such absurd, dull questions about things that everybody knew, that it was necessary for him also to make believe that he was foolish. He had to lisp and give nonsensical answers; and, of course, he felt like running away from them as soon as possible. But there were over him and around him and within him two entirely extraordinary persons, at once big and small, wise and foolish, at once his own and strangers—his father and mother.
They must have been very good people, otherwise they could not have been his father and mother; at any rate, they were charming and unlike other people. He could say with certainty that his father was very great, terribly wise, that he possessed immense power, which made him a person to be feared somewhat, and it was interesting to talk with him about unusual things, placing his hand in father's large, strong, warm hand for safety's sake.
Mamma was not so large, and sometimes she was even very small; she was very kind hearted, she kissed tenderly; she understood very well how he felt when he had a pain in his little stomach, and only with her could he relieve his heart when he grew tired of life, of his games or when he was the victim of some cruel injustice. And if it was unpleasant to cry in father's presence, and even dangerous to be capricious, his tears had an unusually pleasant taste in mother's presence and filled his soul with a peculiar serene sadness, which he could find neither in his games nor in laughter, nor even in the reading of the most terrible fairy tales.
It should be added that mamma was a beautiful woman and that everybody was in love with her. That was good, for he felt proud of it, but that was also bad—for he feared that she might be taken away. And every time one of the men, one of those enormous, invariably inimical men who were busy with themselves, looked at mamma fixedly for a long time, Yura felt bored and uneasy. He felt like stationing himself between him and mamma, and no matter where he went to attend to his own affairs, something was drawing him back.
Sometimes mamma would utter a bad, terrifying phrase:
"Why are you forever staying around here? Go and play in your own room."
There was nothing left for him to do but to go away. He would take a book along or he would sit down to draw, but that did not always help him. Sometimes mamma would praise him for reading but sometimes she would say again:
"You had better go to your own room, Yurochka. You see, you've spilt water on the tablecloth again; you always do some mischief with your drawing."
And then she would reproach him for being perverse. But he felt worst of all when a dangerous and suspicious guest would come when Yura had to go to bed. But when he lay down in his bed a sense of easiness came over him and he felt as though all was ended; the lights went out, life stopped; everything slept.
In all such cases with suspicious men Yura felt vaguely but very strongly that he was replacing father in some way. And that made him somewhat like a grown man—he was in a bad frame of mind, like a grown person, but, therefore, he was unusually calculating, wise and serious. Of course, he said nothing about this to any one, for no one would understand him; but, by the manner in which he caressed father when he arrived and sat down on his knees patronisingly, one could see in the boy a man who fulfilled his duty to the end. At times father could not understand him and would simply send him away to play or to sleep—Yura never felt offended and went away with a feeling of great satisfaction. He did not feel the need of being understood; he even feared it. At times he would not tell under any circumstances why he was crying; at times he would make believe that he was absent minded, that he heard nothing, that he was occupied with his own affairs, but he heard and understood.
Translated by Herman Bernstein