Tiger

Wel­come to our reg­u­lar fea­ture show­cas­ing the tal­ents of the na­tion’s best writ­ers.

The Scotsman - - ARTS - By Polly Clark

Rus­sian Taiga, Win­ter 1992 Oy, mo­roz, mo­roz… Oh, frost, frost! Don’t freeze me… … My wife is of the jeal­ous kind… Oy, mo­roz…

As he sang, Dmitry knot­ted the snare rope tight around the tree base. No mat­ter how drunk he was, he could make a fault­less bow­line knot – one that tight­ened when pulled, but could be eas­ily re­leased. Sway­ing now, Dmitry paused in his song as he sur­veyed his work. A snare is a thing of beauty, he thought. El­e­gant, bru­tal, sim­ple. Around this small clear­ing, formed by a fallen Korean pine tree, he had laid four snares. This was the last. With a lit­tle brush­wood and snow, he cov­ered the metal ring with its coil of steel wire and plate for the tiger to stand on. Then he swept the area clean of foot­prints.

‘ Care­ful, Yana!’ he said to the peach­coloured ter­rier sniff­ing round the fire. ‘ Hope you were watch­ing where I put them.’

My wife, such a beauty, Awaits my re­turn,

Awaits in sad­ness.

I’ll re­turn home at sun­set, em­brace her…

Oy, mo­roz, mo­roz…

Re­turn­ing to his seat made from a stump, and his bot­tle, Dmitry did not pause in his singing – or rather the saw of breath across the polyps of his lar­ynx – un­til the flames of the camp­fire sank and freez­ing air be­gan to jump. It was like tens of Jack Frosts, leap­ing and land­ing, but, in­stead of a brush for his de­signs, each car­ried a khan­jali blade, like the dead­li­est of Cos­sacks, slash­ing at the skin.

Yana, as al­ways, re­fused to climb on to his lap. There was very lit­tle room, with Dmitry’s belly bulging to­wards his knees, and by this point in the day Dmitry’s breath was fiery with spir­its. He pat­ted his lap, want­ing her warmth to de­lay the mo­ment when he’d have to go and get more wood. ‘ Come on, girl!’ he urged, but she twirled a lit­tle dis­tance away. ‘ Humph,’ said Dmitry, light­ing a cig­a­rette, tak­ing sev­eral sec­onds to align flame and tip. Dmitry was a man with a plan. He was go­ing to be rich.

‘ Very soon!’ With th­ese words, Dmitry hauled him­self from the stump, grabbed his axe and weaved his way heav­ily through the snow into the trees.

‘ Oy, mo­roz, mo­roz,’ he sang. ‘ Don’t freeze me…’

Yana bounced af­ter him, ears like blinks, her snout aloft like a flare. The snow was just that bit too deep for her.

Dmitry car­ried an arm­ful of branches back to the fire. Splash­ing the flames with vodka, he took a warm­ing swig him­self, then strode a few ad­mir­ing times around the shel­ter he’d made. It was a pa­thetic struc­ture, con­sist­ing of a piece of rusted cor­ru­gated iron which he had found pok­ing from the snow. He’d leant the iron against the im­mense fallen trunk and piled twigs and brush­wood on it, weighed with branches, then he’d chopped more branches to block the end, cre­at­ing what was ba­si­cally a crawl space. It was woe­fully in­ad­e­quate against the el­e­ments, but he was not go­ing to be here long. The plan de­manded only viril­ity and courage, and th­ese were Dmitry’s finest qual­i­ties, eclips­ing any prac­ti­cal deficits. And he had Yana to keep him warm. The dog re­garded the shel­ter sus­pi­ciously.

A few me­tres ahead hung a deer car­cass, pur­ple and im­mo­bile, slowly freez­ing into rock. It was bait for the tiger, but he was hav­ing to eat from it him­self now. He hacked a piece off, hold­ing it in the fire while it hissed and dripped, then he chewed and swilled it down with vodka. He chucked a piece to Yana.

‘ Come on, tiger!’ he yelled into the thick­en­ing dusk. Si­lence banged af­ter the words. Dmitry sat down, fac­ing the deer car­cass, with his gun cocked and ready on his lap. Yana rested her snout on her paws, be­side the fire. n

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