Mikhail Gerasimov: Marcelle

The sea wind, with a strong fragrance of algae and tuberose, fell on Marcelle in gusts. Now it hid itself somewhere in the abyss of the sea, and now it rushed into the city from the unbounded watery fields, groping buildings and people with thousands of damp fingers, as if selecting a victim; a nervous shudder ran through the countless lamps of the city. Now it embraced the delicate figure of a girl, whispered something extraordinary but indistinct in her skirts; with mischievous fingers it tousled the light hair under her shabby, beat-up hat, and pushed her into a door.

She entered the Mad Sailors Café on King's Lion Street.

The heady and sharp scent of absinthe, liqueurs, and wines, the drone of voices, the swearing of sailors, the hissing of the large, nickel-plated coffee pot, looking like a vertical machine cylinder, smoke from pipes loaded with strong, Algerian tobacco sticking to the ceiling--all this splashed acridly and cruelly into the face of the girl, who just a minute ago was like a quivering bird in the gray paws of the autumn sea wind as she sought refuge from it.

She had just managed to sit at a small marble table streaked with blue when the tall figure of a sailor with bell-bottomed pants bent over her, looking like an anchor. He squeezed her fingers with his hand, which was knotty and strong like a bundle of sea chains.

"I thought you wouldn't make it, Marcelle, there's such a strong sou'western blowing," he said in a friendly tone.

"If it had turned into a terrible Saharan simoom, I still would've been here," she replied simply but excitedly.

She nervously pulled a packet of newspapers out from her jacket and handed it to him.

He tore open "The French Communist" and--like a starving man into a loaf of bread--he plunged hungrily into each line with his eyes, weathered by the salty sprays of the ocean winds.

Marcelle soaked in the surroundings with her eyes, which were like two large drops of sea water, calm and contemplative, as if containing the entire secret depth of the sea and all its majesty.

The smoky café hummed. The voices of men and women, coarse and sublime, intertwined and circled like the ceaseless hubbub of birds and beasts in a tropical forest. It was strange to see here that this sailor, as coarse and vulgar as other sailors from any other nation, was so hungrily devouring every letter of this poorly printed newspaper, and, from it, a miraculous and extraordinary revelation, bringing happiness to all of humanity.

Just six months ago, crazy and delirious, he twirled around here in a drunken whirlwind, amidst other sailors who mingled and staggered on the smoky threads of the heady fog, like on a sea wave, disgorging an unceasing stream of vulgarity, the choicest and most shameless that has ever flown from a human's tongue. In a crowd they climbed up the squeaking staircase, whose fragile, bending steps cried and moaned under their feet.

A mad orgy of bodies and absinthe. The spring southern sun, on waves of the scents of palms, liana, oleanders, and the special aroma of the African coasts, looking in through the Venetian window, could still see the monstrous entanglement of the mass of swaying bodies in the small and sickening room.

Martin silently and hungrily gulped down the lines of text, like pieces of bread, even though this same room hung over him, the steps leading into it wept the same and nervously trembled, extending up and down into the Mad Sailors Café on King's Lion Street.

"It's time, Martin. Let's go," said Marcelle. He jumped up, as if suddenly awakened, and stuffed the newspaper into his pocket.

Behind the counter, the fat tavern-keeper swayed like a seal on his legs, which had become atrophied from constant sitting; on his belly was a whole row of fat golden chains, like hoops on a beer barrel.

"Are these your guys?" Marcelle asked, nodding toward a dozen sailors standing under the chandelier.

"No, they're from the French Republic," he answered.

"With them we should also--"

The slamming door cut off the sentence, and the in-rushing wind muffled and tore it to pieces.

They walked along the small, winding streets, descending to the harbor. The wind alternately pushed them together and apart.

They turned onto the granite pier, which stretched out into the waves like an extended arm with a red lighthouse-index finger at the end.


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