Nelly Shulman | The Boy

Nelly Shulman | The Boy


     He was a sickly child. Instead of sending him to the kindergarten, his parents decided to keep the boy at home. An elderly neighbor, a quiet woman with a timid trembling dog, looked after him during the day.

     On a damp March morning, after the obligatory porridge and a slice of bread with a thick layer of butter, they would begin to dress up for a walk. Being somewhat slow, the boy would often freeze, pressing his nose against the window, contemplating the wet ochre of the city roofs. Having put the dog into a vest made from an old raincoat, the neighbor would patiently wait for him on the threshold of the apartment.

     After descending the echoey stairs, they walked along the canal to the only tree in the neighborhood. Examining the cast-iron chains of an old bridge, the boy breathed in the whiff of the rotten algae. They returned home through endless passageways, dissecting the crumbling buildings.

     The dog trailed behind, and the boy thought about his great-grandfather, who died here on the way from the factory. The child always avoided one particularly neglected corner behind the trash cans, thinking for some reason that the emaciated body of his great-grandfather, revealed by the melting snow, was found exactly there almost a hundred years ago.

The Summer Rain

     The rain rumbled behind the wooden shutters. As a child, he rejoiced at the damp summer days when the poor northern greens smelled so sweet, and the mallow and wild rose shone with silver drops. The wet grass squelched under his scratched bare feet. His bike leaned against the wall of the country barn.

     The boy waited for the clouds to move to the empty sand strip of the seaside. Wrapped up in a blanket, he settled on a sagging ottoman, standing on the cramped terrace. Leafing through a volume of an encyclopedia, he drew the maps of medieval cities and strange lands in his school notebook.

The Chest of Drawers

     Grandmother allowed the boy to rummage through an old chest of drawers. The left side was burned in the spacious stove that still occupied the center of the kitchen. After the war, his grandfather nailed plywood to what was left of the previously magnificent furniture.

     The boy loved to touch the scratched but still noble walnut panels, hiding the mysterious vials of dark glass wrapped in gauze faintly smelling of drugs and the yellowed photographs that had survived the war.

     His grandmother, wearing a crepe de chine dress and beret, put aside the round toe of her shoe. She smiled at the camera of a photographer from an atelier, where the boy posed as a baby in a sweater knitted by his grandmother, suspiciously looking sideways at a shabby bear taller than him.

Nelly Shulman is a writer currently based in Berlin. She is a Hawthornden Fellow and a Fulbright scholar. Her work has appeared in the Vine Leaves Press Anthology of the Best 2021 Flash Fiction and in the various literary magazines.


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