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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