Aggie Zilvaljevic’s “Dog Days In Vilnius”

A new story by alumna Aggie Zilvaljevic (fiction, ’05) appears online in Grey Sparrow Journal:

Late afternoon that Sunday the two brothers, Vaidas and Jonas, had run after a speeding train, pretending they were wild horses. They’d rested in an empty courtyard near their apartment block, eating boiled corn on the cob. Vaidas nibbled his around, and Jonas ate it across. After that they smoked unfiltered cigarettes stolen from their father. But the lull only made them more restless and more tired, at the same time. They chased crows in the linden trees, swinging long wooden swords, clicking their tongues at the blackbirds and calling, “Caw-caw!”

They sucked hard red berry sweets and stuck out their candy-colored red tongues at each other’s dirt-coated faces. The six-o’clock passenger train passed by, and the boys gazed after it for a long, long time. Where did it go? The boys wanted to run away, somewhere far away from Vilnius, past Trakai and Klaipeda, even further than Riga.

Instead, they snuck out all the way to Vilnia river. They took their shoes off to walk along its muddy embankment, kiss the bronze mermaid statue and look for round pebbles. All of a sudden, a dark cloud enveloped them in shadow. Right then, just before the padlock bridge, they saw old Jurgita, sitting on her rickety chair on the street corner. She was dressed in her torn big man’s coat and hat, her one hand extended with a chipped enamel cup, the other hand clutching a small pup in her lap. Jurgita was tormented by something and her wretched dog trembled in fear. She hugged it and kissed it, all along crying and yelling at the passerbys, “Jis mano draugas! Jis mano draugas! This is my friend! This is my friend!”

The church bells tolled. The pigeons began roosting under the bridge.

The boys walked back home, dust settling on their eyelashes, dirt covering their bare legs, and corn silk mustaches hanging from their faces. Their pockets sagged with rocks, feathers, bottle caps and colored glass. It was too early to face their aproned mother, so the brothers climbed the linden tree in front of their aunt’s green wooden house, just behind their apartment block, and nestled between the tree branches.

Their mother and their aunt had come out to smoke and drink coffee. The two women sat at the old wooden table between the tall white phlox and even taller red hollyhocks. Hidden in the treetop, the brothers dangled their feet and silently counted the scars and scabs on their bodies.

Their aunt said, “Those wicked boys don’t have better things to do but torture sick cats and dogs or catch rides on top of railroad cars.”

Their mother replied, “Only an evildoer could throw living puppies into a thirty-foot deep pit. Not four puppies, not five puppies, but six live puppies! Ay! Who could do such a thing?”

The boys could still hear the pups’ crying from the pit, and avoided the hole and carcasses around its entrance. They feared the pit more than they feared a child-snatching thief in a black Mercedes marked with a human skull on the license plates, more than the old Bernardine cemetery, and even more than the crazy women from the Lukiškės prison.

“Do not to go near the pit,” their mother warned them every day before going outside, “the earth could swallow you up, just like that hoodlum Julius.”

The light shifted and women glimpsed the boys’ silhouettes up in the trees.

Their mother shouted, “Lord have mercy, look at those two devils! Rascals, come down at once before I tell your poor father!”

“We’re not poor,” Jonas yelled back.

“Come down, brats, before your father sees what you’re up to and gives you a good spanking!”

“He won’t see us! He’s away on a business trip!”

Their aunt yelled, “Come down, mischief-makers, before I climb up after you and twist your ears!”

“You can’t…you’re old. And everybody will see your underwear.”

“I’m joking. Come down, darlings, I’ll give each of you a sugar cube.”

The boys scrambled a couple of branches higher, laughing.

“Dear me,” their aunt muttered, her voice hoarse from shouting.

“You might end up in Lukiškės prison one day! Just wait when you get home!” their mother warned.

The sun was getting low. The train whistle pierced the air and the long freight train halted at the station.

The boys heard the raucous voices of the murder of crows arriving at their linden trees roost at dusk. The brothers climbed down from the tree as fast as they could, and walked home with their heads down, covered in summer dust.

They will slip off to their beds, punished, without wash and supper and hide their magpie treasure under their pillows, sparkling pebbles, shiny glass and iridescent black and blue crows’ feathers. They will snivel and gnash their teeth in their sleep, like pups in a pit.

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