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Photo of Tanya Maliarchuk
Tanya Malyarchuk

Twenty-eight year old Ukrainian writer Tanya Malyarchuk was born in 1983 in the small and somewhat isolated Western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk at the foothills of the largely untouched and wild Carpathian Mountains. She received her degree in philology at the Vasyl Stefanyk National Precarpathian University in Ivano-Frankivsk. After graduation, she moved for several years to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv where she worked as a journalist, much of that time for the Channel 5 television station. Her first novel, Adolpho's Endspiel, or a Rose for Liza, was published in 2004. Her later collections of shorter prose works include: From Above Looking Down. A Book of Fears (2006), How I Became a Saint (2006), To Speak (2007), Bestiary of Words (2009), and Divine Comedy (2009). The last is a collection of four previously published books in one volume. She is currently living in Austria as a writer-in-residence. English translations of her stories have appeared in Harpers Ferry Review and will shortly be appearing in the British journal Stand.

Tanya Malyarchuk's writing immediately enthralled me when I first read her, particularly her shorter prose pieces, which I found to be a breath of fresh air. Here was a young writer, who avoided dominant literary trends such as postmodernism to go her own way, to seek her own style of writing and voice. Her path led away from stylistic complexity and verbal trickery to a light but thoughtful simplicity. Her prose is laconic and spare, yet engaging and always to the point. She has many stories to tell, many culled from her childhood and youth to the present day, and taken from acute observations of various people and their everyday life experiences. In her narratives she often tries to see things from the point of view of her fictional characters and manages to give profound insight into their psychology and way of perceiving the world. She's a bit like a modern-day version of Chekhov writing in the style of magical realism. She presents many characters trapped in the boxes of their lives, and lets readers observe their inability to even understand much less escape their life situations. Her stories that have more of an autobiographical focus show the wonder and beauty of a childhood that might be perceived as less than perfect, and the insight that reflection on it from an adult perspective can provide. She is a writer who often connects with the child within her. —Michael M. Naydan

Canis Lupus Familiaris
by Tanya Malyarchuk
Translated from the Ukrainian by Michael M. Naydan

Elvira Volodymyrivna is sitting in office No. 17. To find it, you need to go up the wooden steps to the second floor and pass through to the end of a dark corridor.

Everyone is fearful of Elvira Volodymyrivna, because she's highly principled. That's why, as a rule, only those, who never met her before, end up visiting her office. Or go there by mistake. Or out of curiosity—so they can catch a glimpse of the most principled woman in the world with their own eyes.

Outwardly Elvira Volodymyrivna is a tiny, gray woman, bleached white with hydrogen peroxide. She has a harsh little face that knows no mercy. Teeny-tiny violet lips, drawn into a little bow—those little bows that are pinned to funeral wreaths. Her nails are painted in the prim red color of arterial blood. Her skirt—just below her knees, in elegant narrow stripes. She has a matching elegantly striped suit jacket. A minimum amount of jewelry: a thin chain on her neck, earrings, a ring with man-made Polish amber on the middle finger of her right hand, all in gold. Sometimes Elvira Volodymyrivna puts on her glasses—"TO SEE YOU BETTER."

You come to Elvira Volodymyrivna on Monday, for instance.

Monday is her only receiving day.

You are a citizen of Ukraine sure of himself. You've been abroad twice. You are fluent in conversational English. You know about bureaucrats, because you agreed to this. You pay their salary. You feed them. In a word, you burst into Elvira Volodymyrivna's office with the entire pride of a country that in twenty years or so, perhaps, will be brought into the European Union.

Elvira Volodymyrivna is sitting at that moment at her desk. Not for a second is she surprised at your appearance. One might say, she was expecting you.

She painstakingly scans the arrival from head to toe and, with a grating, astringent voice, says:

"Be so kind as to wait outside the door."

"Why?!" You get upset. "Why do I have to wait outside the door?! There's no one here, you're not talking to anyone on the phone, you're not writing anything, and it's not lunchtime right now… Why do I have to wait outside the door?? Please, have some respect for me!"

Elvira Volodymyrivna doesn't answer, but just stares at you, and you, although you continue to be upset, for some reason you step outside the door and wait anyway. Your civil dignity is shattered. Against your will you focus on the idiotic placards that are hung all over in the corridor, and you find out that ALCOHOL PLUS CIGARETTES = FIRE, or SEX MINUS A CONDOM = AIDS, you mutter to yourself under your breath a children's counting rhyme "one, two, buckle my shoe," but it doesn't calm you down.

What's going on?! You burst out. How much of this can you bear?!

The second time you bolt into office No. 17, you're desperate and angry. Your diminished civic dignity in an instant rose up three sabers high. You'll show her now! She'll be on her knees begging for forgiveness in a second!

Elvira Vododymyrivna at that moment is sitting at her desk. She's not surprised. She's expecting you. She knew what you're capable of and is ready to take on the battle.

"Tell me," you begin to scream, "who gave you the right to keep me outside the door?! I'm not your servant! I'm a citizen of Ukraine, who punctually pays his taxes and obeys the laws. I came to you because I have a problem that you need to resolve! And your job is to help me, and not sit at your desk and paint your nails that awful red color! You need to smile at me, talk cheerfully with me, apologize incessantly, and… and… kiss my behind!"

"Do you really want that?" Elvira Volodymyrivna asks tartly but melodically, and you suddenly become a teeny-tiny frog in a big swamp again.

"Listen," you say already more calmly this time, "I live on Frunze Street, in building No. 30-13. You are responsible for that building. Your ZHEK¹, I meant to say. And in that, that building, the elevator hasn't been working for three months. My apartment is on the ninth floor. For three months I've been running up and down the steps like a fifteen-year-old boy. 162 steps. It seems like not a lot if you walk up and down them a day or two. But three months?! Why haven't you done anything for three months?!"

Elvira Volodymirovna rises up from behind the desk and laughs. But somehow so terribly strangely. The way really hungry people laugh at a full plate of tasty food.

You don't want her to answer. You totally regret that you came here. Damn that elevator. You walked up those steps for three months—you'll walk up them another three. As if, look at you—a socially active man has been found! Let someone else complain. In a big building there's always someone who will need to more than you.

"What have you been doing these three months?" You whisper and walk backward in the direction of the open door. "What have you done in these three months?"

Elvira Volodymyrivna stands facing you, and it seems as though her laughter suddenly will turn into tears.

"And you?" She says. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!!"

"Me?" You point your finger at yourself and with your last strength hope that there is someone else in the office. "ME?"

"You! What have you done in these three months while the elevator hasn't been working?"

Your head begins to whirl. You want to hide your head in some moist, warm peat. You want not to have a head—just a stem. What have you done? You can't answer that question. Because everything depends on from which side you approach it, how you look at it all.

"What do yo specifically want to know?" You mutter. "What I did where? Are you talking about the elevator?"

Elvira Voodymyrivna remains silent.

"But I'm not supposed to fix the elevator—I'm not qualified to do that— That's not my responsibility..."


"Are you talking about my work? My own work? Or about my home, yes? What I did at home? Explain what you're talking about because I don't understand anything!"

You see a gigantic tear appear on Elvira Volodymyrivna's harsh, dry face. The tear flows along her sunken cheek, according to the laws of gravity, it takes in bits of the ZHEK's dust, black India ink and cheap toning cream, and then with a crash falls onto the floor of office No. 17. And you shudder. You shuffle to the door. You want to scamper out of there to your cosy ninth floor because you've already had enough. Enough. You're not at Judgement Day. You're not confessing to a priest.

"All men—are dogs," Elvira Volodymyrivna says and returns to her desk. "Get out of here!"

And you go away, barely keeping yourself from howling.

You agonize. Several days after that you can't settle down. You can't sleep at night. You're a bundle of nerves.

What did she, this shitty bureaucrat want to say? What is she presuming? The elevator hasn't been fixed for three months. 162 steps in the morning and evening. Up—down, down—up. And you, even though you aren't riding the elevator, pay taxes for the elevator. Yes-yes. Every month a hryvnia with a few kopecks. And you don't begrudge those hrynvias and kopecks. It's simply principle. What are you paying for? Like a pack mule every day you drag yourself up the steps and pay the ZHEK money for this. You'd only have something like this here, in this shitty country, which, possibly, in twenty years or so will be brought into the European Union.

You need to complain about her to someone, you think. Someone higher up. Bureaucrats usually like it when you tell tales about their subordinates. This is the essence of the hierarchical pyramid. Every member of it is simultaneously a supervisor and a subordinate. They taunt those below them from above, and they in turn taunt those above them from below. And everyone is satisfied. It’s worst, certainly, for someone who's at the very bottom.

For several days you don't leave your apartment. You mull over your plans for revenge and one by one cast them aside. I'll beat her, you think. That little bleached mutt. I'll go over and without any discussion smash her in her painted, insolent muzzle.

You rearrange your sweaters and shirts in your dresser. You sort your socks. You polish your shoes. You look yourself over in the mirror and you seem to look wise and staid to yourself. You're a person whose opinion can be valued. A respected person.

What have you done? A lot, you answer to yourself. You can't even enumerate it all. But that's not the point. What right did she have to ask you about this?! What is this?! The reality of the elevator and your personal life are incomparable. You didn't ask, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? You just asked what she had been doing the last three months that she didn't have time to give a work order to fix the elevator. That's it.

You phone your friends. You suggest going out to drink a couple of pints of draft beer and watch soccer on TV, but all your friends are busy these days. Maybe next week?

You watch TV till really late, and then you wake up in front of it sometime around five in the morning when the first buses appear on Frunze Street.

How could such a thing happen to me, you think? How did I let it get to this? Maybe this is depression? Maybe this is how depression starts?

The next Monday you go to the ZHEK.

The elderly cleaning woman at the entrance recognizes you, tosses her mop and runs to an unknown destination. To get reinforcements. People don't come to Elvira Volodymyrivna a second time. It means disaster's on the way.

You go up the wooden steps to the second floor. A long, dark corridor, placards on the walls that don't have an expiration date.


Office No. 17.

You lean your ear to the door to find out if someone is inside. Silence on the other side. Elvira Volodymyrivna is on the other side. You clench your palms into fists and open the door.

"Should I wait in the corridor?" You ask carefully.

"No-no, come in, I'm not busy."

Elvira Vododymyrivna looks just like she looked a week ago. Harsh and merciless. Her lips like a funeral bow. Nails the color of blood. She gets up from her chair, ready to do battle.

You hang about the doorway without having anything to say. You've changed in a week. You've grown gaunt. Thin. Turned pale. Blackened. Dressed carelessly. Your brows twitch nervously.

"You know… I… for me…"

"You don't need an elevator," Elvira Volodymyrivna says instead of you.

"That's right. Yes. That's why I came. To tell you that I really don't need an elevator. You know, walking up and down steps is good exercise. The last three months I've started to feel better. As though I've grown younger. I came to thank you."

"You're welcome. Sit down. Sit a bit."

Exhausted, you fall into the chair for visitors and breathe heavily. Hot, sticky sweat forms on your brow. You feel like you're going to dart off right then and there.


"Calm down," Elvira Volodymyrivna strokes your hair with her tiny waxen palm, and you sob into her elegantly striped suit jacket. "Don't take it so hard. Everything will be fine. Are you hungry? Here, you need some strength."

It was unclear from where, maybe from the pocket of her jacket, Elvira Volodymyrivna pulls out a packet and offers its contents to you.

It was a piece of fried meat. Juicy, still warm, fragrant.

You gobble it up in one piece straight away. You lick your chops.

Then you scratch yourself behind your ear.

¹ The Soviet Union had a penchant for acronyms such as the ZHEK, the local communal housing authority, which continues in post-soviet Ukraine.

"Canis Lupus Familiaris" Copyright © remains with the author and translator. Published with the permission of both.

Translator's note: "Many thanks to Svitlana Bednazh for checking over this translation and offering several excellent suggestions for emendations."