Belka, Why Don't You Bark - By Hideo Furukawa

This book is dedicated to Boris Yeltsin:

Hey, Boris, I know your secret.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

“I want to set them loose.”

1943

“Nighty-Night, Vor.”

1944–1947

“Russians are better off dead.”

1950–1956

“What, are those fucking dog names?”

1957

“Don’t mess with a yakuza girl.”

1958–1962 (Year 5 Anno Canis)

“Woof!”

1963–1989

“This is not 1991.”

1990

“Belka, why don’t you bark?”

You’ll say this is fiction.

Sure, I’ll admit that. But

then what isn’t a fiction?

“I want to set them loose.”

—Siberia (the sleeping land), 199X

The snow had let up, but the temperature remained below zero. The road was hemmed in on each side by a forest of white birches. The young man trudged onward, bundled from head to toe against the cold, snow crunching underfoot. He had been walking an hour already. Then, at last, he saw a house. A cabin—made of logs, rough-hewn. Clearly inhabited. The smoking chimney proved that.

The young man’s face brightened.

The place looked as if it belonged to a hunter. The man noted the four skis propped against the wall. Two inhabitants, maybe? Or was one pair an extra? You’d think there’d be a guard dog, but there wasn’t. Instead, the owner himself pushed the door open, stepped outdoors. Must have heard the footsteps in the snow. Realized he had an unanticipated visitor.

He was old. An old man. His expression softened in response to the young man’s greeting. “What are you doing way out here?” he said. “So deep in the hills, this time of year, in this no man’s land? There is not a dacha for miles. Lost your way?”

“Does the road lead to a village?” the young man asked.

The old man nodded. “It does, but it is a five-hour walk.”

“The back wheels of our car got stuck in a stream,” the young man said. “We couldn’t push the car out, so I left my friend and came on alone to ask for help in the village.”

“Come in for a bit,” the old man said. “You had better warm up.”

The young man thanked him and stepped inside. The temperature was easily seventy degrees. Which made it at least seventy degrees warmer than outside. The young man removed his mink shapka, his heavy gloves, his coat. He scanned the room, not even trying to conceal his curiosity. Just inside the door was a hunting knife, a hatchet. Farther back in the room was a rifle. A shelf lined with bottles of vodka, a globe. A map of the world on the wall. It was old, though. The Soviet Union carpeted the Eurasian supercontinent. Tacked up around the map, several family photographs, portraits of the old “founding fathers.” It’s been ages, the young man mused, since I last saw that profile of Vladimir Lenin.

“Never seen how a hunter lives, I take it? Here, take a chair.”

“Thanks.”

“I was just getting some lunch together,” the old man said. “I have stewed venison. Will you join me?”

“That would be great, thank you.”

Vodka appeared. They toasted.

“It is too quiet out here,” the old man said. “You have made my day, turning up like this. It is a delight to host you.”

“You live alone here?” the young man asked.

“Never liked hunting with others. Not my style.”

“No hunting dogs either?”

“No,” the old man said. “I do not keep any.”

The young man observed his host across the table. It was hard to gauge his exact age. He was in his sixties, maybe seventies. His hair and beard were white. The young man could tell what color it had been. It had never been black. This old man had been blond in his youth. His features were pure Slav.

The young man was Central Asian.

“Have another glass.” The old man poured more vodka.

A woodpecker called outside.

The young man kept looking around. “You shot this deer yourself?” he asked. He kept talking, scanning the room. Beside the table was a shelf crammed with jars of pickles and preserved foods. Mushrooms, cucumbers. The old man was complaining about his pension. The whole system would be bankrupt soon, he said. His tone was calm, measured; these financial issues didn’t appear to be causing him any real trouble. “Worked my whole life in the Ministry of Railroads, you know. Who would think times would get so bad?” he said. “They were always screwing with us.”

There was a radio by the wall.

“You get your news from that?” the young man asked.

“Yes, though I try not to run the batteries down,” the old man said with a chuckle. “Still, I know what is happening in the world. Even here in the woods, miles from anywhere.”

“Do you really?” the young man said.

“You know

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