Dedicated to Vladimir Arshinov, the unforgettable Air Force pilot…


Potap was pitiful since childhood. Even military school did not help. Potap was accepted because of good health; the school trained pilots, the requirements were strict. Although the boy had flunked math, he did not go home; he stood among the applicants and was not about to leave the formation. The foreman reported to the head of the selection committee, the one to the head of the school. The general came to look at the stubborn one. “I want to learn, Comrade General!” shouted Potap. “I will try my best!” The head of the school looked at the unlucky applicant. He probably reminded him of himself; the young man was sent to OSOAVIAHIM* school via a Komsomol** permit. Education—two winters in the church-parish school, in the head was empty—except that he knew how to read by syllables, but there was a desire to fly. The young man was noticed and accepted without exams. He became attached to military aviation. The General once again glanced at Potap and briefly said to the adjutant, “Enroll!”, thereby deciding Potap’s fate.

So Potap became a cadet. But bad luck—all cadets—the eagles, as on the selection, he alone in a drooping form with a codpiece to the knees—it was ridiculous. The cadets received military uniforms in the warehouse; they had to be content with what they had. Endured, studied, tried, graduated. Officers were given uniforms in the atelier; Potap had changed. But the beautiful uniform did not guarantee successful service—Potap was not lucky either—the regiment would be disbanded, the squadron would be reduced. There was no war and in the army were many excess people; what to do with the rootless ones? So he transferred from one flight unit to another until he was in the Kapustin Yar*** air regiment. Personnel officers could demobilize him, but they regretted doing it; fly to retirement, a little left, the captain can quit at 40, and you’re already 35. And they put Potap as a co-pilot on transport Li-2.****

Potap especially not was grieved. His heart was warming up waiting for an early pension and returning to his native Voronezh. Suddenly, love came to life; a waitress divorced from an officer’s cafeteria was led to a hackneyed captain. True, she was older than Potap, and, as colleagues said, very affordable, but beautiful and childless. Got married. They made friends with the families, the Potapov Cell of Society, the deputy chief of the parachute service, and the ensign from the fuel and lubricant service. A year passed, another…

Summer was good; Podstiopka, Volga duct, almost near. In his spare time, he was on the river, there the water was warm, the sun was frying, the sand; you couldn’t walk with your bare feet.

In August, Potap was given leave, and he and his wife decided to go to a sanatorium, arranged a waste. They were boozing at the apartment, they were escorted to the bus station; getting on the bus, the ensign thrust the key to Potap and whispered: “Look at the apartment to whom my wife left the key…”

August 18 was Air Force Day, celebrated at the Comfort café. They drank a lot, went out to smoke. The time came to midnight. Time to go home. Potap rushed to look for his spouse; the darling woman was absent. Lost somewhere. Walked around the café; was absent. Passed the hotel on all the floors; all the lobbies were empty. She probably went home with her friends. Knocked near the ladies’ room; stumbled upon the wife of the deputy head of PDS.***** She was looking for her spouse; he had also disappeared. Potap found the key in his pocket as a crazy thought flashed through him.

“I have a bottle of champagne…” he whispered in the woman’s ear.

“Where?” Those bluntly bummed eyes.

“Come, I will show you.” Potap put his hand on her waist, and they went into the darkness.

They walked almost silently, trying to avoid the lighted places. If people saw someone’s wife with someone else’s husband, they would tell the public. They walked upstairs to the flat almost on tiptoes. Potap gently inserted the key into the keyhole and slowly opened the door. The loops and the lock of the apartment of the head of the warehouse of fuel and lubricants were well lubricated; they did not creak.

They walked into the corridor, closed the door, and in the silence of the dark apartment, they heard fuss coming from the bedroom and intermittent breathing. Though they were under the chauffeur, they guessed what was going on there. Drunk, they decided to scare the lovers: “We will demand a bottle of cognac from them!” Potap whispered to his woman.

They burst in, barked, lit the light, and were stunned: Potap saw his spouse naked, with her legs spread, and on her was the deputy of PDS. The deputy’s wife screamed over her husband, dug her nails into his face, and they rolled off the bed to the floor, shouting foul language.

Potap was initially numb, but when the beloved jumped up and started shouting—“This is not what you think! I came to listen to music!”—and she began to get into her panties, Potap, from the soul, hit her in the eye. The woman fell, jumped up, grabbed a dress lying on the floor, a hat on a hanger, and ran out into the porch.

The noise in the apartment and on the staircase aroused curiosity around the house; onlookers began to look out the doors and give advice:

“Let her run naked, naked! Less air resistance!” someone shouted to Potap with laughter.

“Run to me, preoccupied woman, I will plunge into you as if from a hose!” to his wife.

“I’ll give you a bicycle! You will leave faster, otherwise he will beat you to death!” mockers scoffed.

“Aphrodite de Milo! Ha-ha-ha!!!”

Potap, sobered at once, covered his eyes in shame, stumbling and shaking his head as if saying “No…no…no…”, walked home.

Potap did not file for divorce; he knew very well what would happen after that; they would kill him at service and party meetings. But he didn’t forgive his wife; he stopped having sex with her, and as soon as his beloved one started to climb on her own to him, he beat her with fist in snout.

The army people treated the beaten women condescendingly; in the army towns, this was common. Finally, the woman got tired of walking into the garrison with a broken face, and she left Potap herself.

At first, she was lucky to be with boyfriends, but…none of them were going to marry her. Where the bulk—there was booze, where was the booze—there were fights, and fights—this was already a serious violation.

The rowdy ones were punished. The commander summoned Potap’s wife into the office and said that if she did not stop participating in mischief, she would be fired and thrown out of the garrison. Then he led the frightened woman into the rest room at the office; she gave herself to him and said “thank you.” “Okay, don’t worry! I will call and come once or twice a week, but look; do not tell anything to anyone, only me.” The woman fell silent.

Potap, left alone, behaved calmly. He was not rowdy, he didn’t have a selfish passion for alcohol, and didn’t scuffle around when he was drunk or leading a lover.

Women did not give him much attention, but did not completely spurn him, either. He hooked the lady from the meteorological service; her faithful served as a senior operational officer at the command post at the main headquarters of the test site, and when he went on duty, the “preoccupied” woman came to Potap. He fucked her as much as he could.

The ladies rarely came; Potap was unpromising, only the most anxious visited him, and they ran off at the slightest appearance of a more attractive gentleman.

One thing was bad; he was bored. Potap was returning to a depopulated apartment, and loneliness overwhelmed him. He wanted to have a cat or a dog— colleagues discouraged him—to hold the tray with the soil, feed it regularly, and walk the dog. Who will do all this, especially when Potap was sent on a business trip for a week, or even for ten days, and almost every month.

Potap decided to buy a parrot. He saw it on TV; the bird could be taught to talk, food—poured into the box—it will peck a week, drink—put a cup with water, let it sip, crap—if the dung fell out, he could clean it on his return. So for a week, he could calmly leave without supervision; nothing would happen. It remained to choose. He decided on that.

Potap went to Volgograd and came to the bird market. His eyes were amazed at the abundance of birds. He chose the brown-tailed Jaco. The bird was large and was bundled with a cage.

“Can he talk?” Potap asked the seller.

“Oh, can he!” the birdman convincingly answered.

“Why is he silent now?”

“Stress. When you bring him home—when he gets used to it—he will start talking.” The seller showed a veterinarian’s certificate. “The parrot is healthy. As for the price; almost nothing. He takes up space and I need money; I want to get an iguana. Take; you will not regret it. In addition, the parrot has a funny surprise; you will laugh when he talks!”

“He cusses?” Potap had heard about such a trick.

“No, no! He makes compliments to women.”

The price was really small. The seller said nothing more about the surprise; Potap took the cage with the bird and went to the bus station.

Potap soon learned about the “surprise.” As soon as he brought home a woman, the parrot began to rage in its cage, and, swaying and burring, he began to shout “Whore! He led the whore!!!” After such a warm reception, even the woman most inclined to coitus ran away without looking back. Potap began to scold the parrot, and he, as if agreeing, humbly hung upside down, without making a sound in reply to the owner’s indignation.

Trying to avoid such situations, Potap began to put the cage with the parrot on the balcony. Autumn came and it got cold outsie. The bird stoically endured this test until one of the curious ladies could not resist and looked at the balcony during her acquaintance with Potap’s flat. The cage with a parrot attracted her attention, and she enthusiastically exclaimed, “Oh, what a beautiful parrot!” to which the parrot did not delay with the answer: “Because of you, whore, I will become a penguin!” The woman, who became crazy with that answer, ran away, and the parrot thereby exceeded his master’s patience and signed the verdict for himself; Potap locked him up on the balcony and stopped feeding and watering him. A week later, the parrot died. Potap threw the cage with the dead bird into the garbage can, and public utilities took him to a landfill.

After winter, spring began. The flood was gone, the midge had disappeared, the water in Podstiopka had warmed so much that it became possible to go to the beach and swim. To get around faster, Potap bought a bicycle. On the weekend, he folded up the groceries into his backpack and left for the river from early morning, staying there until late in the evening.

So it was during the next festive Air Force Day. Remembering what happened some years ago, he refused to participate in the banquet and went to the beach. The day was hot, but the light breeze pleasantly swept his body, and Potap fell asleep on a terry towel left in the apartment of his former wife.

He woke up from a noise that arose among the people. Vacationers twisted their heads and shouted, “Parrot! Parrot!!” Potap, looking around, tried to see where the bird was, but could not until he heard a squeaky cry: “ Killer! Bastard!! Killer!!!”

The parrot flew out of the bushes, gained altitude, and darted down on Potap. The stunned pilot barely dodged the blow. The men present on the beach began throwing lumps of earth at the bird, but it did not bother the parrot; he gained altitude again, and, like a hawk, repeated the approach. Potap tried to throw a towel on him, but the parrot made a sharp maneuver up, grabbed the towel in its clawed paws, and dropped it on the top of the tallest tree.

Fear gripped Potap. He saddled his bike and, pushing the pedals, rushed home. The parrot didn’t sleep, either. The bird waited for Potap, appeared from under the crowns of trees, and repeated the raid. Now Potap had to put into practice the knowledge gained by him in the air force. The pilot sharply braked, wagged left and right, tried to make other turns, when the bird went into the final peak phase. Stopping near the bush, Potap broke off a branch and waved it in order to injure the parrot or knock the bird to the ground. He almost succeeded, but in the fight with the branch, the parrot still punched a gap in the branch and poked Potap in the head several times. Bleeding and rabid, Potap threw the bicycle and, waving a branch, rushed to the checkpoint. The infuriated bird flew after him and continued its attacks.

The outfit at the checkpoint was dumbfounded when a bloody man stumbled into their booth, poking a finger into the stained-glass window, croaking, “Parrot! Mad! Attacked me!”

The person on duty at the checkpoint looked to the side where Potap was pointing, and saw a parrot sitting on a branch and cleaning feathers. Potap did not smell of alcohol. The officer called the guard on duty at the garrison, and Potap heard him instructing him to carefully destroy the bird, but not to injure people.

The parrot was sitting on a tree, watching the glass box in which Potap was located, and did not look on other people. The officer on duty walked along the sidewalk toward the residential town, made a semicircle, and walked down another path to the parrot from behind. The shot was accurate; a bullet pierced the bird from the bottom up, feathers splashed in all directions, and the parrot fell to the ground. The duty officer ordered a soldier to take a shovel and bury the bird in the steppe behind the garrison fence. Potap went home.


* OSOAVIAHIM: Soviet sociopolitical defense organization that existed from 1927 to 1948.

** Komsomol: youth organization of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

*** Kapustin Yar: military base in the northwestern part of the Astrakhan region of Russia.

**** Li-2: Soviet military transport aircraft, produced from 1939 to 1953.

***** PDS: the parachute service, designed to perform tasks for parachute, rescue, and airborne training of aviation personnel.


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