Published: Azure Cities, International Publishers 1929;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for marxists.org in 2000.
We knew many like that. She was tall, full-breasted, her eye-brows lifted like two arches-black. And her husband–as big as a thimble. Goat, we used to call him. You could hide him in a hat. And angry–good Lord preserve us! He'd start a battle with Marya, and bang on the table like a blacksmith on an anvil.
"I will kill you. I will rip your soul out!"
But Marya was a sly one. She'd begin to make much of him just for the fun of it, as if she were frightened.
"Prokofi Mitrich! Prokofi Mitrich I what is it?"
"I will cut your head off!"
"I've just cooked some porridge. You want some ?"
She'd fill a plate for him to the very brim, and cover it with melted butter, and make butter stars. And she'd stand there bowing to him and feed him as if they were newlyweds.
"Eat, Prokofi Mitrich. I wronged you." He'd like it–the woman was good to him, so he'd turn up his nose, and feel important.
"I don't want it."
And Marya like a serving maid near him–now a glass of water, now a pipe of tobacco. And when he'd undress in the middle of the room–she'd put his best shoes in their place,–hide his socks behind the stove. And at night she'd rest him on her arm, stroke his hair, and purr in his ear like a cat....The Goat would pinch her–she'd only smile.
"Now, now, Prokofi Mitrich! It hurts..."
"And suppose it does hurt.... It won't kill you."
And he'd pinch her again–he was her husband, not a stranger to her. And as soon as he was satisfied, she'd begin with him.
"Ah, you Goat, you Goat. Let me only swing twice–and that would be the end of you....You think I am made of wood? You think it does not hurt to take it from a mushroom like you?"
At the beginning Marya didn't say very much, and carried her domestic troubles mostly within herself. But when the Bolsheviks came and freedom, when they began to tell women that they were equal to the muzhiks now, Marya also opened her eyes. Just let an orator come–she'd run to the meeting. As if she had lost all shame. She came to the orator one time and started making eyes at him like a girl. "Come," she said, "Comrade Orator, and drink tea in our house." The Goat was there, of course–on the spot–his face changed. His eyes grew dark, his nostrils expanded. Well, we thought that he'd start at her right at the meeting. But he bore up under it somehow. He sidled up to her and said:
"Come on home."
And she, to spite him, perhaps, got up in front of us, and began a speech:
"Comrades and peasants!"
We just rolled with laughter. And here the Goat lost his temper too.
"Comrade Orator, give her hell."
At home he threw himself at her with his fists.
"I will rip your soul out."
And Marya teased him:
"Who's making all this noise here, Prokofi Mitrich? It's a bother, but nobody is afraid."
"I will cut your skirt short if you go to the meetings."
"You couldn't do it."
The Goat got excited, started to look for something to hit her with,–and Marya, threateningly:
"Just touch me. I will break all the pots on your goat's head!"
This was the beginning. The Goat would show his power–Marya hers. The Goat would lie down on the bed, Marya–on the oven. The Goat would go to her, she–from him.
"No, darling, things aren't what they used to be. Fast awhile."
"Come to me."
"I will not."
The Goat would jump about the bed, and go to sleep under a cold blanket, and when the affair reached that stage, people began to laugh. She stopped giving birth to children. She had borne two –and buried them. The Goat was waiting for a third, but Marya struck. "I'm sick of this business.
"This business. You never gave birth."
"What do you think I am, a woman?"
"Well, I'm not a cow to give you calves every year. When I get good and ready–I may.
The Goat got up on his hind legs.
"I will tear your head off, if you dare to say such things."
But Marya insisted on her own. "I," she says, "have become barren."
"If you try to force me–I'll leave you."
She drove the Goat to desperation. He used to joke on the street, go visiting, but now–nowhere. He'd climb up on the oven and lie there like a widower. If he should beat her, she might go away. And that was not all. She'd drag him to court, and the Bolsheviks would certainly put him in the jug. That was their style–to let women have their way. He gave her her freedom,–but he was ashamed of what people would say: that he had no character, that he was frightened. He went to a fortune-teller twice,–even that didn't help. Marya began to drag newspapers and books home from the Union Club. She'd spread them on the table, and sit there reading as if she were a teacher, moving her lips. She did not read aloud. The Goat, of course, would keep still. Let her read as long as she stayed home. Sometimes he'd even laugh at her.
"You're holding your telegram upside down. Some reader!"
Marya wouldn't pay any attention,–and books and papers, as everybody knows, make a different person of him who reads them. Marya reached that point too. She'd stand at the window and look out. "I am lonely," she'd say.
"What do you want?" The Goat would ask her.
"I want something–something..."
The Goat would control himself, control himself, –only he couldn't control himself any longer.
"I'll lace it into you, the Devil take your head. Something! What are you dreaming of?"
And it's true that she began to talk a little too much. She began to butt into the muzhiks' business. We would have a meeting–she'd always be there. The muzhiks began to get angry.
"Marya, go cook the cabbage."
What cabbage? She'd only roll her eyes. And then she invented a Woman's Department. We never even heard of a word like that–it didn't sound Russian. We looked, one woman came to her, another came, and–what the Devil! They opened study-courses in the Goat's house. They'd meet together, and begin to talk, to talk. The Commissar from the Soviet also began to come to them. He was our own man, from the village, we used to call him Vaska Shlyapunok, but when he joined the Bolsheviks he became Vassili Ivanich. And the Goat had to keep still. We only had to say one word, and ten voices would come in answer:
"Hey, hey, keep still."
The Commissar, of course, helped the women–that was his programme. "At present," he would say, "Prokofi Mitrich, you cannot yell at women–the Revolution." And the Goat would smile like a fool in answer. In his heart he was ready to tear all this Revolution in two–but he was afraid. There might be unpleasantness. And Marya was going on and on. "I," she, said, "want to join the Bolshevik party." The Goat tried to shame her out of it. "Aren't you ashamed of yourself? Where is your conscience? Remember, God will not forgive you the way you misbehave yourself."
But Marya would only giggle.
"God? What God? When did you invent Him ?"
She became altogether crazy. She lost almost all shame before the Commissar. He would bring her Bolshevik books, mix up the thoughts in her head, and she would only blush with pleasure. Once they sat at the table,–they thought that they were alone. But the Goat was under the bed. Jealousy had begun to torture him. He let the coverlet down to the floor and sat like a woodchuck in his hole. And the Commissar says:
"Your husband is so insignificant-looking, Comrade Grishagina. I cannot understand how you live with him."
Marya laughed. "I haven't lived with him," she said, "the last four months." He took her hands.
"Impossible, I will never believe it." And he looked into her eyes and pressed closer to her. He embraced her waist, and held her. "I," he said, "sympathise with you."
The Goat heard all this under the bed, and began to feel bad. He wanted to take an axe and finish both of them–but he was afraid. He stuck his head out from under the coverlet and looked at them, and they started to laugh at him. "We knew all the time that you were under the bed."
The time came to re-elect the Soviet. The women came flying as to a fair. We were all making a racket, debating, when all of a sudden we heard:
"We want Marya, Marya Grishagina."
One of us said just for the fun of it:
We thought it was a joke–but before we looked around it became serious. The women began to peck at their husbands like crows. Widows,–soldiers' wives–a cloud of them. What's more, our people didn't like to hold office, especially at that time–so they agreed. Marya? All right, let it be Marya. Let her burn her fingers.
We began to count Marya's votes–two hundred and fifteen.
Commissar Vassili Ivanich made a speech of congratulation. "Well," says he, "Marya Grishagina, you are the first woman in the Soviet of Peasants' Deputies. I," says he, "congratulate you upon your new office in the name of the Soviet Republic, and hope that you will uphold the interests of the working proletariat."
Marya's eyes became big, blushes covered her cheeks. But she stood there without a smile. "I," she says, "will serve you, comrades. Don't blame me if I fail,–help me."
The Goat began to feel terribly bad. He didn't know whether they were laughing at him or paying him honour. He came home and started to think: "How am I to speak to her now? She belongs to the Government." We also felt strange. Was it a play going on before our eyes? A woman–and suddenly in the District Soviet–to run our business.
We began to swear amongst ourselves: "Fools that we were, what right had we to put a woman into such an office?"
Grandfather Nazarov told Marya straight to her face:
"Marya, you walked in at the wrong gates."
But she only shook her head. "You elected me. I didn't go myself."
Later we came to the Soviet to take a look at her. We didn't recognise her. She put a table there, an ink-stand, two pencils, a blue one and a red one–a secretary stood in front of her with papers. She glanced swiftly over the lines on those papers. "This," she says, "is about the food question, Comrade Yeremeyev?"
She wrote her name on the paper and then again, like an office manager:
"Are the lists ready? Finish them quickly."
We didn't believe our eyes. This was our Marya! And she didn't even blush once. And she started to call all of us Comrades. Old man Klemov came to her once, and she to him:
"What," she says, "do you wish, Comrade?" And he couldn't bear the word. It would have been better to step on his corn. "Although," says he, "you are a District Member, I am no Comrade of yours." But do you think it rattled her? She only laughed. After another month she began to wear a pointed hat, a muzhik's blouse, and pinned a red star to the hat. The Goat tormented himself, tormented himself and began to ask her for a divorce, "Free me," says he, "free me from this kind of life. "I," says he, "cannot bear it any longer. I will look for another woman," says he, "one I can bear." Marya only waved her hand. "All right, " says she, "I agreed long ago."
She worked five months among us–and we got tired of her,–she was too much of a Bolshevik, and the other women had also started imitating her,–one would balk, another would balk, two of them left their husbands altogether.
We thought we'd never get rid of her, but a little thing happened–the Cossacks came down on the village.
Marya got into a wagon with the Bolsheviks, and left us. Where she went–I never found out. They say somebody saw her in another village, but maybe it wasn't she–maybe it was another one who looked like her. There are a lot of them around nowadays.