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She told me about the city’s fortifications and underground passageways, about the metal dragons that breathe fire in the dark caves of the trolley depots, and the impenetrable shells protecting the fierce animals that hide out in sandy burrows around the reservoir. She told me about the models of flying factories and engines of mass destruction manufactured by children at the Young Pioneer centers, mentioning something about fertile soccer fields and their strange plants that help you sleep and improve your memory, whispering jumbled rumors about the Polytechnic Institute’s secret labs that loom unreachably on the horizon, the research institutions that have been trying to produce an elixir of youth for a good hundred years now, and the shortest trolley lines of all, the ones that run right through the city’s apartment blocks. She mentioned something about the cold steel weapons cranked out by old factories, the trees plastering the sky in the summertime, and the fact that you couldn’t see the moon or stars at night. That’s why some people say there are witches living around here, and they’re right, she declared. Things are just dandy for them, because Kharkiv is a pretty livable city — that’s why people who have drowned or hanged themselves wind up here, floating down the rivers, penetrating the city through its train stations, multiplying, and improving the country’s demographic situation. But in the winter, the moon hangs right outside your window — just reach out and grab it — it looks cheese molded from clay and grass.

She said it was easy to endure the long winters in the city, because the factories always warm up the morning air. Come spring, thaw water erodes the foundations of old health resorts in the suburbs, the rivers run red and smell like medicine, so the smell of spring is ammonium chloride. She said they were shooting people in the streets, that there was still a war going on, and nobody was planning on surrendering. It will all keep going as long as we keep loving one another, she explained, as if offering a hint she expected me to pick up. There’s enough love to go around. I didn’t get what she meant by that.

© Serhiy Zhadan

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