Once a Commissar

Once a Commissar

Once a Commissar

Once a Commissar

Excerpt

A TALL kerosene lamp stood on the heavy oak desk. Its light fell on the shiny leather surface, slid to the floor, and splashed over the edge of the carpet. The rest of the room was in half-darkness. My father sat in the shadow. Only his hands, resting on the book spread open before him, were lighted by the lamp. I knew this book well. It smelled of ashes and the cellar. Its leaves were yellow and the corners had brown streaks. I could not read the lines which ran like files of ants across the pages, but I knew that they were Sanskrit. I watched my father's lips moving. In an even voice he was telling a Hindu tale whose episodes wound themselves endlessly in and out of one another.

By the door at a respectful distance sat Stepanida, our cook. She was old and she liked Sanskrit tales. Stepanida sat quietly in her chair knitting the woolen stockings which were to fend off the rheumatism next winter. Her chair was too far from the lamp, but it was useless to ask her to move closer. "Every person should know his own place," was her belief.

No sound came from the street. It was raining. The windows were closed, and only by listening carefully could one hear the footsteps of the rare passersby. The house was still. The ticking of the clock in the dining room and father's voice dominated the silence.

There was no mystery in the fact that the fish spoke exquisitely because it was really a princess under a spell. The senile cobra could not help being wise for she had met so many prophets in her life that she had learned to be realistic. The prince could not stay patiently at home, for he was young and . . .

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