souren sarumyanThe boy was carefully hiding Grandpa’s photo under the mattress with his head on the pillow, pretending asleep. On the weather-stained photo Grandpa was still young – he was standing by a big round table and sadly smiling. Grandpa’s fists were big, almost in size with the table. Even in the dead of the night, the street gang would stay far behind those strong fists. The boy’s tiny heart was wrung, as he looked at those huge fists – he missed his Grandpa. The boy knew well how much warmth was there within those fists. Each callus on Grangpa’s palms was a nuclear reactor able to produce a large quantity of heat, but only the boy knew about it – the only consumer of that heat. Before going for a walk, Grandpa would fasten the boy’s noodle-like, thin laces on the shoes with his sausage-like, thick and fleshy fingers, then he would start up his arms, and the boy would get an armchair – safe, comfortable, floppy. The boy would dangle his legs over the world and observe the clouds, which were sluggishly hovering over the sky like an elder. At the entrance to the park Grandpa would carefully put him down on the ground and go up to the woman sitting behind the machine which was making a furious noise like that of an electric coffee grinder. Grandpa would give the woman coins, and the latter would carelessly throw them into the crumpled-brim bowl and add some spoons of sugar into the narrow mouth of the machine, then handily take out one of the clouds magically appeared on the wider mouth, she would set it on a stick and hand it to the boy. The sugar cloud would melt in the boy’s mouth, and again he would sit in his floppy armchair and dangle his legs over the world – it seemed to be endless.
One day Grandpa didn’t wake up, and only the weather-stained photo kept his sad smile. The sleeping Grandpa was put in a narrow box and irretrievably taken out of the house under the horrified look of the boy. Ever since, the boy would no longer observe the clouds sluggishly hovering over the sky like the elder. He knew that if he looked at the clouds, he could never depart from them, cause he would continually seek for his Grandpa among them.
A while passed after Grandpa was irretrievably taken out of the house, but the boy didn’t know if that while was long or short, for in the boy’s universe time obeyed some other laws, and when his parents were speaking about that while, he caught some “forty days” mysterious words. Mother had taken away and closed in the buffet drawer Grandpa’s photos and all his belongings – the watch, the pocket knife and the tazbeh:

From the endless talks of his parents, the boy could apprehend some stingy words about Grandpa and understood that the drawer would be opened just a year later, when a frightening, mysterious man – the burner of memories, visited them. For a little boy a year was as long as an eternity, but in a human life, even the eternity unavoidably comes to an end one day. That day the boy had gone to the cemetery. Ever since Grandpa was taken out of the home in a narrow box, the boy had never been so close to him. It was astonishing how his Grandpa, with big fists, could nestle under a triangular form, tiny stone, covered with obscure symbols. He felt the stone, and ignoring Mom’s scathing remarks, examined it thoroughly, but Grandpa’s disappearance and the mystery of nestling under the tiny stone could not be solved. The spot of Grandpa’s mysterious disappearance was covered with red flowers. The colour of the flowers reminded the boy of polyclinic and of the doctor with a gentle voice and the ridged glass needle, which the boy considered a magic stick. Then the doctor, in an elusive way, had made a swift motion, and the red blood on the boy’s fingertip had invisibly become a growing ball. The red petals of the flowers with broken stems, that were spread over the grave, seemed blood drops to the boy. He joined in the silence of his parents. The silence was broken by the twittering of invisible birds in the foliage of the trees, which was later accompanied by the restrained turbulence of the yellow bulldozer engine.
“Let’s go!” said Father, as soon as the huge metal mount got alive. “No need at all to watch the cemetery being flattened.”
As they left, the turbulence of the bulldozer engine got tenser, the sound of the steel carver rasping the stones was heard at a distance, and the boy wanted to look back, but father closed his eyes.
“Let’s go, sunny! You need not watch such things. When you get older, you’ll understand why the cemetery is passed to the bulldozer a year later.”
The boy didn’t comprehend anything from Father’s words, but he felt some cold wind blowing from an endless, snow-clad field, and he got upset. At home, around the table, everybody was silent and thoughtful. They had some brandy from small silver glasses, but this time there were heavy, depressing sighs on the bottoms of the glasses, instead of the laughter once echoing on their shining sides. Then the boy’s younger uncle left, walking heavily, with his head down, as if he was carrying a huge pile of wet grass. The boy’s Mom had fetched some cellophane bags to place Grandpa’s belongings.
Grandpa’s papers and photos had been placed in the biggest bag – his bed sheets where he used to sleep, clothes and shoes were put in three alike bags. Grandpa had never been coquettish, and his two pairs of shoes, a grey coat, two or three trousers and shirts could be easily placed in one bag. Mother had put the bed sheets of Grandpa’s bedroom in the second bag, and some of their own sheets in the third one.
“It’s a shame! People would think this man had no clothes at all,” noticing Father’s questioning look, Mother gave a proof of the necessity of the third bag.
From the bags full of Grandpa’s clothes, the boy felt some smell of antiquity, some valuable sense of memory that irretrievably vanished, and sadness, rapidly sating the corners of the room. Drops of tears shined in Mom’s eyes, as she was putting Grandpa’s tazbeh, watch and pocket knife in the smallish bags. With the pocket knife Grandpa would make pipes, which usually aroused jealousy within the children of the neighbourhood and sometimes even brought about scuffles among them. Grandpa would swiftly open some holes on the slim reed bole. The boy would admiringly watch the knife quickly carving a thin layer out of the thick golden body of the reed. Then Grandpa’s thick, fleshy fingers would dance on the holes, and the reed, admired from the dance, would selflessly begin to sing. Grandpa’s cheeks would puff out, the boy would laugh, for Grandpa’s cheeks were like watermelons with red peel. The boy had never seen a watermelon with red peel and he considered Grandpa a magician.
Grandpa’s only ornament – the gold chain, was put in a cigarette box, and now, having put the valuable box in front of her husband, Mom was silently sitting by Dad. Dad took the box, thoughtfully observed it and again put it on the table. When the shadows of the dusk mixed up with the silence of the people at table, the boy’s mother jumped up from her seat by the heavy knock at the door. The stranger, one never knows why, didn’t ring the bell but knocked at the door with all his power. He knocked with pauses. The boy was sure it was the horrible hero from the film “Scream”, hidden behind the door, with the black cloak sweeping the ground, with bloody shoes, holding a sharp dagger that reflected his scary features and the fierce shine of the cold eyes in its smooth mirror surface. Father gave a hearty laugh.
“Why did you get afraid?” Father much scolded Mom. “It’s the burner of the memories. Haven’t we made an appointment for this hour? Make some tea, and I’ll open the door.”
The boy was left in the room along with his fear. The heavy steps had filled his tiny heart with horror. His strained ears considered the door squeak as a sound of a poleaxe, scratching the floor. The door squeak was followed by a fine shade penetrating into the middle of the room. The boy raised his eyes and, seeing the black posture of the burner of memories, got confused. Catching sight of Father’s serious look in the doorframe, he calmed down a bit. Father made a gesture with the hand and invited the burner of memories to the table. Much surprised, the boy looked at the new-comer’s walking stick with a silver tip, then he long observed Father’s face through the dark glasses of the black-rimmed, round spectacles.
“Will you present me the task, before my wife brings in the tea?” asked Father.
“Certainly, sir, with pleasure! For the sake of us all, the government does anything away that might bother us and be in the way of our happiness. No man, no memory. Even at the happiest moments a weather-stained photo, an inoperative clock, or a rusty pocket knife can obsess a man with inconsolable sadness. You already carry the gene of your predecessors, the beating of your heart is now the symphony of their memory. You are the walking lineage of your family – a walking history. And what is material, must be destroyed. Your parents will be retained in every cell of Yours, then let their faces be forgotten. You are the monument of your parent, then let their graves be flattened a year after their funeral.”
Seeing the hostess coming in, the burner of memories got silent. He respectfully greeted her, helped himself to some strong tea, and with a look of an expert, gave praise to the hostess’s delicate taste. The boy’s mother gently smiled to the courteous guest. It was pleasant to see a guest with good manners in the home of respectable people.
“What about the gold?” unexpectedly asked Mother. “What are we to do with the gold chain?”
“Mrs., anything made of precious metal belongs to you and is inviolable. In this case I simply transform them. In one of the tubes of my machine, it’ll melt into a bar of gold and be given back to you. Oh, not to forget, before and after the transformation it’ll be accurately weighed, so that you’ll get sure that no weight would be lost at all.”
“What about other things?”
“Other things must be burnt down. Take into consideration that I have nothing against those things. I just burn the memories they stir up. I want to release your pain and sorrow,” willingly explained the guest. “I burn the memories.”
The little boy was amazed, cause for many times he had been told that he was still young and didn’t understand much, but this time he was sure that it was impossible to burn memories. Don’t memories live in our heads, and don’t they at times set in our hearts, evoking soft smiles on our lips and deep sadness in our eyes at those moments? Memories shouldn’t appear in the machine tube of the guest with a walking-stick, they just couldn’t appear there, they are not material. The boy ran upstairs to Grandfather’s bedroom. From the boxes full of weather-stained photos and documents he chose the very photo, where Grandfather was standing by the round stone table and sadly smiling. He thought that if Grangpa had been alive, he would have chased the guest away with his huge fists for stealing the memories. Holding the photo, he ran to his room, carefully hid it under the mattress, put his head on the pillow and pretended asleep. He felt the beating of his heart in his temples, then the beating became stronger and stronger, as they were accompanied by the heavy steps approaching his room.
“My God, I wish they wouldn’t find it… I don’t want my memories to be burnt down. For god’s sake, let me be sad, but I never let me forget my Grandpa’s face…”
He felt his father stand by the bed. He was afraid that Father could hear the beating of his heart that was spread all over the room. Father bent down, made his son’s quilt and left the room.
Many years passed, and the little boy grew up and became the father of a little boy. His parents had moved to Grandpa’s room long before. He would often secretly look at Grandfather’s weather-stained photo. Аs the years went by, Grandfather’s sad smile was noticed on his lips as well. And over those years he became to comprehend the reason of that sadness. He even tооk the point of the burner of memories. For his son Grandpa’s photo was merely an image of a sad man with big fists. No memory, no sadness. Only the dust of the years on the photo. He knew that one day he would pass Grandpa’s photo to the burner of memories…

Translated by Liana Sargsyan

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