Translated from the Ukrainian by Patrick John Corness
This is the tale of my grandfather’s sister Anna. Her husband caught her with another man and he beat her so badly that she died two days later. That’s what some people said, while others said he didn’t beat her, but wrenched her to her feet, lifted her up and shook her so violently that she was crippled, and two days after that she departed this world. For ages now I have been wanting to write about my grandfather’s sister, but I never got round to it. And then one day I had a dream about a woman dancing in an orchard with the wind and I realised how it had all really come about.
In our village there lived a young man who kept an immaculate orchard; it was like a paradise, a haven of peace and quiet. People were amazed by it and they told the young man that all the orchard lacked now for total perfection was a beautiful woman. So it had to be graced by the presence of the most attractive girl in the village. And the man found her; Anna was the one. At first, though, she refused to marry him. However, the orchard had taught this young man patience and he did not give up. He began currying favour with the girl’s parents. Quite rightly anticipating that with such a hard-working husband their child would never want for anything and that she would have excellent prospects, solid as a rock you could say, they gradually began to talk their daughter round; they were so persistent that she felt obliged to marry him. So now the most beautiful girl in the village adorned his orchard. But from the very first day things failed to go according to the dream. The young woman did not take to the orchard, though her husband continued to live for it; it was the orchard that he loved, not his gorgeous wife. During the day he worked so hard in the orchard that at night he slept the sleep of the dead. And the woman was burning with desire, longing for her husband’s tender caresses. One night the wind stole indoors to her. It gently caressed and kissed her, luring her out of the house. And she submitted to its enticement. Then all of a sudden her husband was awoken by a soft rustling sound coming from the orchard. He reached out, but his young wife was not lying by his side. At that moment he heard a woman’s delicious moan. The husband ran outside. The moon shone and all was calm. The woman was standing silently in her white nightdress by the house, leaning against the wall and gazing up at the sky. In the bushes, or so it seemed to the man, something rustled.
‘Who was that?’ he asked, but the woman apparently didn’t even hear him.
‘Someone was here,’ said her husband, ‘there was a rustling in the bushes.’
‘Perhaps it was the wind,’ she replied with a dismissive smile.
The man looked at his young wife distrustfully.
‘What are you doing out here?’
‘I’m getting some fresh air, because I can’t sleep.’
‘Go in the house,’ he said, and the woman went indoors without saying a word.
She lay in bed, but she still couldn’t sleep. She listened to the wind passionately whispering beneath the window, softly singing and lovingly observing her through the window, calling to her, luring her into the orchard.
She began to hate the orchard. To her, it was like some predatory creature and she refused outright to give her husband any help. But he wasn’t even particularly offended, and he vanished into the orchard from morning till night while she busied herself around the house. And then the wind, unimpeded, began approaching her, whispering ever more tenderly, saying it loved her and could not live without her. It kissed her hands and the bronzed calves of her legs, slipped into her cleavage and nestled in her firm, alabaster breasts, moaning and swooning with pleasure. It implored her to run away with it, no matter where, or at least come out to it at night-time. They would hide in the orchard, where her husband would not look for them, knowing her hostile dislike of it. The young woman was unable to resist and she gave in to the persuasiveness of the wind. Night after night she stole out into the orchard, and the wind caressed her and danced with her. And she was happy. But one night her husband saw her dancing in the orchard with the wind and in his intense jealousy he hurled a pitchfork at the wind, wounding it. Groaning, it retreated into a gully.
‘Don’t trifle with death,’ he told his wife angrily.
‘You shouldn’t have done that,’ she said calmly. ‘Now the wind is bound to take its revenge on you.’
And sure enough, even though the weather was calm during the night, the wind split a walnut tree, the pride and joy of her husband’s orchard.
‘I’ll grow a new walnut tree,’ said the man, adding: ‘But I want to warn you once again that I don’t take kindly to being made fun of.’
‘I’m not scared of you, you know,’ said his wife with a laugh. ‘I’m not in the least afraid. Because you are caring for the wrong orchard.’
And after that everything took place just as people say.