The whole village knew of Semenych. He was deaf. But Semenych was not deaf from birth; he became so from the war. He was commissioned back in 1944, and he returned to his father’s house, from which he left with his father but returned alone. Baba Nyura, Vovka’s mother, at first a little miffed, and then calmed down; she was still alive. But her husband—Vovka’s father—did not return at all. A separate engineer-sapper company, in which the senior Dokukin served, led the crossing to the Don and came under fire from the German “violinists.” It was a hot summer, the sappers undressed—some to the waist, some more—and a myriad of fragments mercilessly sliced ​​the naked bodies of the soldiers along with their commander. Nobody had time to take cover, the company fell completely, and the regiment commander, to whom she was seconded, only waved it off; then we sent out the funeral, and so it was forgotten. Vovka himself recalled at the military registration and enlistment office, where he had come to receive the medal “For the Victory over Germany.” The military commissar was also deaf, a concussion typical of a war, and he wrote to Vovka on a piece of paper, “We’ll figure it out!” And a few months later, the family received a notice: missing. The mother howled, Vovka sniffed in exasperation, but what can you do: even though the whole of Germany is buried, you won’t regain your father.

Life went on. Vovka got married, children appeared. He matured, became a Semenych from a guy; his hands were golden. One hindrance was deafness.

Semenych tried to be treated, but going to the doctors was in vain; they shrugged. The trade union committee allocated a ticket to the sanatorium, he went with his wife, rested like all people, healed. The doctor said to write how it happened: a concussion. The wife bought a notebook, asked her husband to dictate, and began to write.

The war was drawing to a close. Volodya, like his father, was in the engineer-sapper battalion. It was not the first time he had smashed Mother Earth to dig many kilometers of ditches, build dugouts and dugouts, to tear and erect crossings. The former miner is a jack-of-all-trades. Hitlerites retreated. Only the unfinished hid a lot; they made their way to their own. And once, a platoon of Dokukin ran into such. Rather, the Germans left the encirclement and stumbled upon sappers. The Nazis would have surrendered, but feared the enemy. The Soviets were merciless; the Germans brought them too much grief. They were eager for the Americans; they were kinder to the prisoners, and they fed them well.

The German “Schmeissers” chirped and the Soviet “three-lines” clicked. Several grenade explosions struck. Vovka grabbed a rifle and a cartridge pouch; but where to run? You jump out of the house; what if the Germans are on the street? How many of them? Yes, and by his own mistake, he could shoot. Vovka knocked down a table; a German, good, oak, crouched behind him, sent a cartridge to the chamber, and began to look out for who would appear in the window or door. A German appeared; Vovka fired once, twice. A window shattered with a jingle, but Vovka didn’t understand—he hit—he didn’t. And a grenade flew into the broken window. A German one; a kind of cylinder on a long wooden handle. It fell far. I won’t have time to throw it out! Vovka thought and flopped to the floor at the table. He closed his eyes with his hands, and there weren’t enough finger on his ears. A grenade hit, a blast wave hit him in the ears and pierced his head with pain. But the fragments did not reach him; the table absorbed them. Vovka was brutalized; whenever he was in a brawl at dances, they gave him an ear, he always weighed in on the change. He grabbed the rifle again, and when the German again looked into the room, he slammed a bullet into his head, his brains scattered. But the Germans were also not simpletons; a second grenade flew into the house. Vovka was lucky again—the fascist threw her far and inaccurate—she fell in the corridor. Vovka did not see her, but his fenced-off wall not only saved him from the explosion, but weakened the wave. Again, Vovka shook his ears, caught his eye, and he fell off.

He woke up from the smell of ammonia. Opened his eyes. Saw someone’s blurry, misty face, moving lips. His head was buzzing, ringing, tukal. Nothing was heard. His ears and eyes hurt. The doctor who examined him waved his hand and went on. There were many wounded.

A week later, his vision began to recover. The fog was gone and sharpness reappeared. True, bright sunlight caused tears in his eyes, tears began to flow, but Volodya at that time lay down on his bed, covered his eyes with a towel, and tried to sleep. It was worse with hearing. Although the blood flow stopped, no sounds were heard, and this drove Dokukin into longing. “Deaf, deaf…” stirring in the brain…

Doctors checked meticulously, not fooling the Stalinist Aesculapiuses. They called the specialist. Volodya twisted his head, shrugged his hands: “I cannot hear.” The special officer scribbled on a piece of paper, “Write what you remember about that battle.” He pushed a few sheets of paper, a pen with an inkwell; he leaned back against the wall, lit a cigarette. Vovka wrote. The special officer read, nodded his head, and put the papers in a folder. He showed him the way out. Dokukin asked him for a few cigarettes; the special officer gave him a whole pack. Volodya thankedhim and returned to the ward. A week later, his vision was fully restored; only black circles under the eyes reminded him of the concussion. The pain left his ears, but Volodya still could not hear anything. They called him for a commission. Several doctors examined his head from all sides and looked into his ears, nose, and throat. Some funnels were inserted into the ears, probing them with sharp metal sticks; sometimes it tickled, more often it was painful. They let him go. The next day, they brought the Red Army book and issued several printed sheets with signatures and seals. “Decommissioned for health reasons…total hearing loss.” They held out another leaflet. It contained the phrase, handwritten, “Upon arrival home within three days, register.” And below: “Disability formalizes the place of residence.” Dokukin nodded his head thank you, gathered up his few belongings, and trudged to the station.

In the morning, Lucy gave the notebook to the doctor. He took it with him and Lucy did not see the notebook anymore. The stay in the sanatorium was over; the couple returned home. Deafness did not pass.

In 1955, the youngest son Serega was born to Semenych, my peer.

In 1960, an event began on the street: power engineers led a high-voltage line. It was something! The foundation was poured into the ground, huge metal structures were assembled nearby, and tractors were placed in an upright position. The whole street came to such a sight, and even people came from neighboring ones. Then the track went into the landing and reached across the field. The boys began to master the supports, and it turned out that they were very easy to climb, and the lower part was almost ideally suited for football goals using the “hole-hole” system.

The first victim appeared. The boys played patch. Running away from the pursuer, Mishka Shchipanovsky jumped onto a support and deftly climbed up like a monkey. Vaska was chasing after him laughing, older than him, but not so dexterous. He climbed on a support. Mishka easily avoided the chase, moving from one side of the structure to the other, but did not notice the grease with which the electricians dirtied some of the struts in the support structure. Mishka’s foot slipped and jumped from a metal corner. Shchipanovsky tried to grab the upper strut, but it was high, and he could not reach it. He grabbed the bottom, but stained with grease, it was slippery, and the body was already rushing down. There wasn’t enough strength to hold on with one hand, and Mishka collapsed from a four-meter height. He was lucky; he did not hit his head on the pieces of concrete sticking out here and there, which remained in disarray on the ground after pouring the foundation, but, nevertheless, the blow to the ground was so strong that the kid lost consciousness. A trickle of blood flowed from his nose. We crowded around him, scared. Someone ran after Mishka’s mother. Vaska slowly slipped home; we all knew the low character of the older Shchipanovsky. Finally, Mishka stirred and opened his eyes. We helped him up, and he trudged home. Mishka walked like a drunk, rocking from side to side; reaching the fence, he suddenly stopped, grabbed the picket with his hands, bent over, and began to puke. His mother ran out of the gate. Seeing Mishka vomiting, she grabbed a twig and began to ready it, but Mishka did not pay attention. He was shaking heavily, he barely stood, bent over and clutching the fence, mucus stretched from his mouth to the ground, and blood dripped from his nose. Mother stopped whipping him, grabbed his shirt, and dragged him home.

Mishka rested for more than a week. When he began to go outside, he did not play football with us, but he sat modestly on a bench and watched from afar. We stopped climbing on the supports.

A year passed. The boys got used to the high-voltage line, no one climbed the poles, and only their outlines in the fog resembled the clumsy aliens from H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds.

Summer, too, was drawing to a close. This year was supposed to be significant for me and my friend and namesake Sergei, Semenych’s son. We had to go to first grade.

The first of September I vaguely remember. The month passed quickly. September was drawing to a close. The excitement among the first graders had stopped. My hooked sticks took on an acceptable shape, and on Sundays, my mother allowed me to kick the ball with my friends. We drove selflessly into the “hole-hole” and only Valerka Postovoi and Vitka Lysenko occasionally violated our established order. Their appearance had always been a delight. They already practiced with might and power and played for the second team of Shakhtar, so they could run with us in the “hole-hole” only when they did not have training and competition.

That Sunday, the Shakhtar main team had a match for the U.S.S.R. Cup and the double-team training was canceled. The guys watched as we ran after the ball and decided to enter the game. We enthusiastically accepted their offer. Undoubtedly, this was their element of dribbling training. They did not compete with each other, but gave the enemy to the boys to be torn to pieces. The boys fighting off the gang needed to show extraordinary possession of the ball in order to break through the stockade of legs. Vitka made a fraudulent move, but the ball hit one of the boys in the hand; the opposing team screamed heartbrokenly and demanded a free kick. Valera took the ball and put it in front of the goal. He decided to break the penalty kick himself. Seeing such a thing, Vitka ran to the gate.

The blow was strong, but not accurate. The ball went above the goal and to the side, hit the spreader rib and flew up the parabola. We were alert. To get into someone else’s garden meant running into trouble. But the ball did not fly into the garden. Having made the arc, it rapidly fell on Semenych, who at that time was patcheingd the roof of the barn. Screaming was useless; Semyonitch was deaf. He sat half-sitting on the roof, leaning on the elbow and knee of the left side, rested his other leg on a block, and held in his right hand a hammer with which he was going to hammer a nail. The ball hit him right on the top of his head. Semenych, who did not expect such meanness, at first poked his nose into the roof, then dropped his hammer and nails, and, preparing somersaults, flipped from the roof. We were stunned.

Semenych flopped to the ground, while we all heard his head bang deafly about the ground. He did not move. We came closer and saw that he, like Mishka, had blood flowing from his nose. Vitka and Valera came up, but they couldn’t say anything intelligible either. Someone ran to call an ambulance; someone else went to look for his wife. Suddenly, the eyes of the lying man opened, and Semyonitch looked around everyone.

“But I can hear,” he whispered. “I can hear! I can hear!! I can hear!!!”

Semenych jumped to his feet and began to dance and bounce, shouting: “I can hear! I can hear!! I can hear!!!” His wife ran out to screams. She looked stunned at her husband until she met his gaze.

“What are you doing?” barked her husband. “Set the table: my hearing has returned!”

A woman with a cry of joy threw herself into the house. Semyonitch took the bag and went for vodka. The head of the mine gave him three days off, and the courtyard of the former deaf man turned into a fun feast. On the third day, in the morning, on the porch, screaming heartrendingly, Semenych’s wife ran out.

“He died! He died!” she screamed.

The ambulance arrived, but he was already gone. Semenych was taken to the morgue. An autopsy revealed that he died of a brain hemorrhage. Frayed by the war and expanding from the effects of alcohol, the walls of the vessels burst, unable to withstand the pressure. The old soldier died.


For all installments from In the Shadow of the Belt, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Introduction
  2. Chapter 1: Early Childhood
  3. Chapter 2: School? This is Just the Beginning, Baby…
  4. Chapter 3: Cognizing Life
  5. Chapter 4: Football as it Is
  6. Chapter 5: My Friend Sasha Bichukov
  7. Chapter 6: Score
  8. Chapter 7: Again, the Transience of Being, Part 1