Tag Archives: Scarlet Field

Cody Boutilier: “Semyon” (Excerpt from ‘Scarlet Field’)

(The following is an except from the novel-in-progress Scarlet Field):

As far back as he could remember, Semyon always wanted to see the Empire State Building. He knew those five syllables before he knew his patronymic. Some of his earliest memories were of gazing at the Sea of Okhotsk, looking out from his cold world of perpetual hunger, waiting for the merchant ships to come ashore so he could ask the sailors to take him to the empayr-steyt-beeldeeng. He had only made the summer trek to the shore a few times, maybe twice – each time his mother was trudging close behind, hastening to bring him back to the kommunalka where they’d been enjoying a midday portion of black bread a few minutes before. In those starbursts of euphoria that followed the bellow of the ships’ horns, Semyon was oblivious to his mother’s calls and the perilous terrain of the beach. He’d have swum out to the ships if he’d only known how. Instead he’d cup his hands to his little mouth and call in his piccolo voice: “Take me to New York City! I want to go! Take me to see the Empire State Building!” He’d have strained his voice to the point of muteness if his mother hadn’t snatched him away each time, carrying the screaming little body back to the kommunalka with strength that her withered frame could never have summoned under less urgent circumstances.

It was early 1954 then. Semyon was four, his mother forty-three. Semyon’s conception, not to speak of his birth, was a small miracle. It had been decades since she thought in terms of religious mysticism, but she intuitively knew that Semyon’s very existence was too extraordinary to end prematurely in some meaningless accident. This knowledge didn’t mute her protective maternal instinct, and she kept herself alive in the frozen wasteland of Kolyma for Semyon’s sake only. She had already lost a son and daughter to an orphanage, and barely clung to the hope of recovering trace of them. Her life thus far had been an incessant spectacle of mass death – by bullet and bomb, by starvation and cannibalism, and by cold and fatigue – and Semyon’s miraculous birth had infused her with faith in the ultimate triumph and transcendent power of life over death. It had been a late-term, unlikely reprieve from her life’s bitter cup of misery and betrayal.

The Hustings


Cody Boutilier: “Jim meets Yusuf” (Excerpt from ‘Scarlet Field’)

(The following is an except from the novel-in-progress Scarlet Field):

Jim had arrived in Sochi’s Lazarevskoye Microdistrict the previous night. The train ride from Moscow took a day and a half. The proprietors of his guesthouse were a family of three generations (four counting the baby girl), and the matriarch’s daughter readily obliged to drive the mysterious young American back to the city center. Jim wanted to swim in the sea; he wanted to find hot mineral springs like the ones he’d bathed in outside of Kislovodsk a year before; and most of all he wanted to meet people. He strode into a doorless shawarma shack and asked for a beer, resting on a stool.

What do you recommend eating?” he asked the cook, a wiry Central Asian about his age, after taking a swig of Baltika 9. The cafe’s walls were a garish sea-blue stucco. The heavy aroma of grease-soaked meat hung precariously in the open summer air of the shack. The hit of the summer, Natali’s “O bozhe, kakoi muzhchina,” wafted from a speaker in the ceiling corner, the singer squealing, “oh God, what a man, I want a son by you.” Jim chortled. He turned around on the stool and contemplated the boardwalk. Families with small children, a dying breed in Russia, strolled by in their beachwear. Blacks appeared to be common here – mostly young African men, presumably students, and pretty half-Slavic girls, presumably locals.

Taking the chef’s advice, Jim ordered a lamb sandwich. Most of the people in Lazarevskoye, Jim had noticed, were Russians and Armenians. The cook seemed out of place.

“Where are you from?” Jim asked.

“Andijan. You?”

“USA. California. Where is Andijan?”

Oho! Amerikanets!” He shoved a greasy shawarma plate onto the counter. Jim started with the pickled vegetable garnishes. “Andijan is in Uzbekistan – Ferghana Valley. You know Babur, the conqueror of India? He came from Andijan.”

Jim nodded enthusiastically. “Quite a history! What’s your name? I’m Jim.”

“I’m Yusuf,” said the Uzbek. His Russian was accented but intelligible, much like Jim’s.

The Hustings