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Eglė Frank is a prose writer and essayist, born in Vilnius. She graduated from Vilnius Pedagogical University and has worked in editorial offices and an advertisement agency. The Dead Also Dance is her first book. “Writing for me is a legal way to express my inner darkness, while peeking out of the corner of my eye into the beyond. I dare say, I know the price of this deal”.
The short stories of Eglė Frank are sensual, inventive, uncanny, with a certain Lynchian vibe, but still firmly rooted in everyday life. And in that life anything can happen.

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Graphic Novels

Violeta Bubelytė, Nudity 11, 1982, 21 x 14,5 cm. From the MO Museum collection

Short story from the book “The Dead Also Dance”

Translated by Rimas Uzgiris

 

The Moose on the Road

Ilma first thought it was brains: a steaming bloody mass on the asphalt, the road gleaming as if coated in oil. The temperature had dropped below freezing and the road surface was growing a dangerously slick slime. It all happened in a matter of seconds. One moment she realized it was a liver – too big to be human. And in one more moment she had to slam on the brakes – a young moose was lying on the road. There was no head to be seen, as it had been horribly twisted back.

She felt she would fail to stop in time. She would turn the wheel and by mistake press the gas instead of the brakes, and crash at high speed into the one-hundred-year-old pine. One of those which seemed to moan, as if from some unearthly yearning, as they sway in the forest, and whether the moan sounded animal or human – it was impossible to say.

The SUV stopped just in front of the roadkill. The cold, bright LED lights illuminated the spilled guts as if they were in an operating room. Turning on her hazards, Ilma climbed out and looked around – unlikely that anyone would come by at such an hour. She approached the animal and caressed its fur. An oft-repeated dream flashed through her mind: she’s in an abandoned house, a bull moose is scratching at the door, wanting to mate with her. Terrified, unable to catch her breath, she tries with all her might to close the rusty bolt. Huddled by the door, she hears the moose snorting – it smells her.

A little further away, she saw the station-wagon stuck in a ditch, some dark color, camouflaged now in the band of bordering brush – that’s why she didn’t see it right away.

Slipping down the small slope she descended to the car. The blinking orange lights of the SUV ripped the forest out of darkness, then hid it once more. Turning on her telephone, she illuminated the interior of the car. There was a woman sitting inside – Ilma could tell by the graceful neck. Though at first glance, she could have been taken for a man – wearing a man’s leather jacket, sporting a close-shaved head, bloody hands gripping the steering wheel. The front of the car was crushed, the windshield a spider’s web of cracks. Ilma knocked on the window and the woman raised her head. Her pale face revealed neither fear nor shock. Her mouth was strangely hollow, she could not have been more than fifty.

“I can’t get out,” she said, slowly. Ilma had to read her lips more than hear. The woman was missing a few front teeth.

She began to pull at the door – shit, it was stuck. She climbed up the slope and turned, slowly as if in a dream, towards her car. As she walked, she saw once more the trail of moose fur on asphalt – it looked like someone, wanting to soak up the blood, had scattered fresh sawdust. She stopped when she understood that what she saw was uncannily beautiful. Continuing to her SUV, she pulled a fire extinguisher out of the back.

The woman was still sitting there as if paralyzed, and Ilma quietly showed her the extinguisher. They looked at each other for a few seconds. The blinking hazard lights caused the woman’s face to appear in pale, ghostly form, then to disappear again into darkness. Ilma suddenly realized the woman was smiling. She could clearly make out the gap, like a child’s, between her teeth. If I gave her my breast, she thought to herself, would my nipple fit in between those teeth, and what would it feel like? When she had breast-fed her son, after his first teeth had come in, he bit her hard, and she slapped him. She remembers his expression to this day – complete horror. And her looking down at him angrily, repeating, “It hurts Mommy! It hurts Mommy!” He began to cry unconsolably, unable to understand why he was struck, and then she began to cry as well.

“Break the back window, but careful of the extinguisher’s base. It’s an old piece of shit, but the windows are automatic,” said the woman with a coarse voice.

Ilma took a breath and struck the window. Then once more. Glass shards were left hanging on the safety glass film, and the woman, pulling a hood over her head, climbed like a cat into the back. Ilma tried to pull out the shards with her bare hands.

“Wait, you’ll cut yourself. I’ll do it.”

It seemed to Ilma that when she first had come to the car, there had been a different woman there, and this one showed up only now, taking Ilma aback with her frightful animal dexterity, as if she were someone used to prowling in shadows.

“I have gloves here.” She looked around and put on some work gloves, then adroitly, as if she did it every day, pulled the glass out of the window frame. “Help me out.”

She poked her head out, and with Ilma holding her under the arms, wiggled out of the car. They stood very close to each other for a few seconds. Ilma could smell cheap tobacco, the cured leather of the jacket, and something else, very familiar, but she couldn’t remember what. The woman’s forehead was bloody, cut along her hairline, and dark blood was staining her jeans. Ilma stepped back.

“He jumped in front of me out of nowhere, the fucker.” She nodded towards the moose.

“Do you have insurance? I’ll call the police.”

“No. You won’t.” The woman’s voice was imperative. She gazed at Ilma from below, like a predator surrounded and ready to use your slightest lack of attention to attack.

“Your head needs stitches. Let me have a look.” Ilma stretched out her hand, but the woman quickly caught it and held Ilma’s wrist powerfully, smiling with that same menacing grimace.

“This is the boondocks, little girl. What’s the use of insurance in the boondocks.” Her smile disappeared, but she didn’t release the wrist.

“Someone is going to come by at some point.” Ilma pulled her hand away, amazed that she felt no fear. “We need to get the moose off the road.”

“Do you smoke?” The woman rummaged through her pockets with her bloody fingers and pulled out a scrunched-up pack, stretching it to Ilma. “I’m Lona,” she stated. “You?”

“Ilma.” Ilma took a cigarette.

“Our names are each missing a letter.” She spat. “A fine motherfucker. I’ll call someone who could use it. You can’t leave such a fine specimen behind. You like game?” Lona inhaled with relish, holding the cigarette between her thumb and forefinger, which formed a circle. It was like a tunnel through which she was sucking, her fingers covering it like a ceiling. With her other hand, she punched in some numbers on an old Nokia and made a call. She spoke Russian then, tossing in a few strings of curse words for good measure.

“Assholes. You ask for something and they would rather bury you than help.” She stuck the phone in the back pocket of her jeans.

Lona pulled another cigarette from the pack. Irma watched as Lona tossed out a few broken matches from the Maxima box, then finally lit up with the third.

Did she like game? Ilma was used to it since childhood. She remembered her mother’s bloody hands while dressing a wild boar, the feel of a flattened, cold bullet in her palm, just recently ripped out of the muscle. He father’s hunting rifle lay on top of the closet, sequestered in a stiff, cured leather sheath. The rifle’s bore, mounted on a carved, wooden butt, smelled of gunpowder and something else – something exciting and frightening at the same time. The night before a hunt, her father would take it down and give it a thorough cleaning. He would let her play with the variegated cartridges that he separated out by color in the box. And when he wasn’t looking, she would lick the gunmetal – a bitter but pleasant taste, not unlike blood. Does she like game? Yes, probably yes.

Lost in her reverie, Ilma hadn’t noticed that the woman had been watching her for some time now.

“Your cigarette is out,” the woman said without a smile.

It started to snow. White flakes fell without any wind straight into the puddle of blood, covering the moose’s body. They didn’t melt.

“Fuck, it’s gonna snow in the car.”

They slipped and slid to the car. The woman, in the same way she had gotten out, adroitly wiggled in through the broken window. As she rummaged for something, Ilma held the telephone for light. She only now noticed that there was no back seat. Instead, there were large canvas bags like those used for potatoes.

“Hold this.” Lona stretched a shovel through the window.

Climbing back out, she use several large bags to cover up the empty space of the window.

“You want to bury it?”

“The fucker’s at least two-hundred kilos. We won’t be able to move it.”

“So why the shovel?”

“Too many questions. Can you drive me to my farmstead?”

“And the moose?”

The headlights of another car ripped their forms out of darkness. Car tires skidded on the icy gravel of the roadside. Three got out, Ilma could only make out silhouettes. Lit from behind they looked like cardboard cutouts. Lona went over to them.

“Lonnie, Lonnie, you’re really something. Harvesting moose now?” They whistled and shook their heads as they looked over the dead animal.

Their faces were dark and shiny, their movements weasel-like, all similar, all men, and Lona like them too, explaining something to them. It was like a strange sort of seance: curses, saliva flying, curses.

“Did anyone else come by?”

Lona gestured toward Ilma.

She used to find moose tracks by her summer house. Once she tried to follow them. A swampy place, where the only paths were those of wild animals, the tracks took her to a bog of dark waters from which, following a new game trail, she would come right back to the swamp – it was as if someone were intentionally leading her in circles, someone who wanted her to stay in the forest. Her telephone died on her and it was getting dark. One way or another, she found her way home, recognizing an old pine that had fallen years ago: it looked like a giant rocket, branches covered in white lichen. She clambered over it, crossed a tiny, half-dry stream coated in black slime, and came upon great rotted trunks that had been broken off in some storm. Further on, there was a grove of young alders with heavy undergrowth, and she ripped her jeans on a wire fence left there from some old pasturage. The forest expanded apace, enfolding, unasked, everything that humans did not touch or care for. Squatting to check her scratched knee, she looked around and realized that she was on the territory of her own farmstead – the fence had been built by the previous owners who had kept a herd of cows.

“We never lock the doors,” she said to Lona. “Why bother when you can go a week without seeing another living soul.”

The woman didn’t answer. From the time she got in the car, she hadn’t said a word, and Ilma felt as if she were talking to herself. She grew quiet. Snowflakes battered the windshield, swirling in magical circles. Just watch them and you’ll soon find yourself bewitched into the fragile borderland between reality and nightmare.

“You won’t fall asleep?” The coarse voice in the warm air of the car sounded like a handful of thrown gravel. Ilma flinched. “The turn is just past the forest – don’t miss it.”

Why had she gotten involved with this woman? They could have gone their separate ways. Some dangerous curiosity in her –balancing on an edge beyond which lay something dark and intangible, like the moose that scratched at the door, the door whose bolt never held up at the end. Why did she decide to help? It was all the same to her who this woman was. What did she care about the split forehead? Something dark about the woman attracted her instinctually. That feeling had a scent – ether, blood, gunmetal wet with spit.

“You didn’t answer me about the shovel.” Ilma turned onto the side road that lead to a small farmstead.

“I’m going to dig a hole, girlfriend. For corpses.” She glared at Ilma and let out a wicked laugh. Then she swore in Russian and was quiet again.

Lona caressed the smooth, dark blue shaft a few times – she held the shovel between her legs. “All kinds of things happen here. Recently, there was this girl, small, still not in school. Her mother, the bitch, didn’t watch her, always needed men, you understand… And the kid – hard to know exactly what happened – she’s there and then she’s gone, forgotten for days. So they found her in a pond. The mother didn’t even show up for the funeral. She herself vanished as if into that water – such people should be strung up. You have kids?

Ilma felt her temples twitch with pain, holding the wheel tightly – the faster she could get rid of her passenger the sooner she’ll be left alone.

They came to the farmstead. The headlights ripped it out of the darkness, apple tree boughs glowed like ghosts. The forest loomed nearby, quiet as a graveyard on a winter’s night.

“What did you have for a light? Turn it on and let’s go.”

“I need to go home.” Ilma was still holding the steering wheel, and didn’t turn off the car.

“Stay and you can leave tomorrow,” said the women with her coarse voice. “You know, believe it or not, but I saw her on the road. I would have driven around that fucker that jumped out. I’ve been driving for dozens of years, usually returning at night, now a boar, now a moose, it’s a forest after all. But she was just standing there, you understand. The girl. As if she was waiting for something.”

A few winters ago, Ilma almost ran over a dog that had been hit by a car – a huge guard dog lying on the road, still alive, looking straight at the car, and as it seemed then, straight at her. Both forelegs were broken, a pool of blood growing black in the night. Then, not heeding her brand new fur coat, she took him in her arms and lifted him into the car. She drove to the only all-night veterinary hospital around, near the substance abuse rehab center. They suggested putting the dog to sleep. Without a word, she paid what was needed, and heard the dog howl. Only later did she understand that before injecting the deadly dose into his spine, they didn’t give him any painkillers, to save money, as it goes. She didn’t have the strength to fight with them. She took the large, still warm bag out with her. In the car, it gave off the sweet scent of ether. It was the middle of winter, severe cold, the ground frozen solid as a bone – asleep, unwelcoming, not wanting to accept the dead. She drove a long time on the highway, turned off when she saw plowed fields, thinking she might find softer earth. She didn’t notice the police car behind her. “There’s a dead dog in my car,” she calmly told the young patrolman who was shining his flashlight through her interior, suspiciously sniffing at the ether-scented air. “Should I show you?”

The cops helped her bury the dog, cursing the whole time. “These women, always think of something. Who would’ve thought we’d be burying a dog? But you have to help a pretty girl, don’t you?” Their eyes flashed with twisted thoughts, their faces shining voluptuously. “Is it warm in your car?” she asked them. “I’m frozen.” While she made love to one of them, though she invited both, the other smoked nervously outside. “Do you like it?” he kept asking her, trying to cuddle like some little boy.

When she got home, she threw out the blood-soaked gloves. From then on she knew that the blood of a dog has a bitter smell, like that of a wild animal.

Finally getting her telephone out she turned it on and shined the light towards the woman. There was no one in the car. She got out and looked around, holding the light while stumbling over tufts. She went over to the cottage – the path had been recently covered in snow: no footprints. The door was latched, without a lock. She went in and closed the door.

Ilma first thought it was brains: the steaming bloody mass on asphalt, the road gleaming as if coated in oil. Its surface was growing a dangerously slick slime. A young moose was lying on the road. There was no head to be seen, as it had been horribly twisted back. Ilma suddenly turned the wheel and by mistake pressed the gas instead of the brakes. She crashed into a one-hundred-year-old pine. One of those which seemed to moan, as if from some unearthly yearning, as they sway in the forest, and whether the moan sounded animal or human – it was impossible to say.

 

 

 

 

 

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