Issue #76

Fall 2020

The Myriad Deaths of Michaela Andreskaya ... and two others

by Ali Hildyard


Just after 8pm Michaela Andreskaya started to sneeze uncontrollably; her sneezing bout lasted until 7pm the following day, at which point she died. This was equivalent, Manetti noted, to the entire child population of a small Austrian town standing on their doorsteps and sneezing in unison every minute for thirty minutes, and then the boy children going back in, and just the girl children remaining there and continuing to sneeze for a further four minutes.


Sometime before midnight, Michaela Andreskaya was crushed to death by an artificial policeman she had fabricated from hessian, jute and builders sand. The incident occurred after she had carried (or more probably dragged) the artificial policeman to a vantage point above the town. Then the two appear to have taken a tumble down the bank, where they were found the following morning.


Michaela Andreskaya died aboard the train from Bolansk to Petrabad following a largely ineffectual discussion. She had asked when they would be arriving, and Blagasz told her that the next stop was Tod. Andreskaya did not know where Tod was, so Blagasz explained that it was not far from Lieberhallen. But she did not know where Lieberhallen was either. Lieberhallen, Blagasz elaborated, was near Trieser, in the easternmost reaches of the province. Unsurprisingly, Andreskaya disclaimed all knowledge of Trieser. At that point, according to Blagasz, she got up and entered the next carriage; she did not return.


The death of Anders Andreissen created understandable confusion in Bolansk since there were two residents by that name, and both were to die in the same way, in an incident which seems too contrived to have been purely coincidental. Brigadier Petrov mowed down the first Andreissen as he crossed a busy junction near the town hall at around 10am. He then drove across the bridge to the other side of the town, where he ran over the second Andreissen as he stood in line at a barber's shop on Avenida Alva.


The counsel to leap from a cliff is not to be taken lightly, but the Manettis of this world were oddly persuasive. From circumspect personal accounts to well-attested precedents, and even a concordance in English (the lingua franca of ratiocination), the credibility of the thing was soon established; all that remained, most probably, was a good reason for doing so. Having come this far though, Andreskaya shrugged off any lingering objections. With impulsive mysticism, she jumped.

Things transpired exactly as expected, if the Manettis remained adamant to the last that "faulty method" was to blame. Andreskaya's leap had in it a "habitual stumbling" or an "ill-considered innovation", and had she stuck to the letter of the text, all would surely have been well.


I hate to tell so many lies about Michaela Andreskaya, said Petrov. Well, what lies have you told? After a fashion, I have told none … yet, said Petrov. But the fact remains she was born an orphan here, in Bolansk; she had few friends for company, and every day she would go out to the town square, wearing that white and black dress of hers. What white and black dress? The one she wore, continued Petrov, and she would sit down on a bench and do her knitting. What knitting? The knitting that she did, said Petrov, abiding by his contract. And then, I don't know, time passed. In what way did time pass? I'm not sure that time passes in any particular way. So you're saying that she grew older. Yes, older, said Petrov. Did you ever see her with a man? No, I never saw her with any man, said Petrov. Did she ever say anything to you? No, she never said anything to me, said Petrov. But you were watching her go into the square every day, in her black and white dress, watching her knitting? Well no, said Petrov; it's just what she did. Was it always the same dress, do you think? I wouldn't know, said Petrov. It's not that I paid particular attention. I seems to me that, on the contrary, you paid very particular attention. That's not how it was, repeated Petrov. Then how was it? It was how I said, said Petrov. Oh, it was how you said. Yes, said Petrov. And you have nothing to add to that? Well, yes and no. Yes, and no? In what way? I have nothing that would advance your estimation further. And what would you know of our estimation, as you put it? Nothing. So are you refusing to say something? No. But you are refraining from saying something, all the same. It's true, and since I sense you will get it out of me, by hook or by crook, anyway — I was only going to say that she seemed a little sad at times. What makes you think that? Because of the way she held herself. And how should a person hold oneself? I have no idea; perhaps it's nothing; perhaps it doesn't matter; it was just a feeling that I had.


The sum total of Michaela Andreskaya's existence is the 1942 telephone directory of Bolansk. At that time she existed by way of the prefix "437", within the jurisdiction of Gdalz within the wider province of Mieremschauten. If you were to ring that number today you would find … well, nothing. The number no longer exists; the exchange no longer exists; the entire town was bombed to smithereens; the number is invalid in a hundred ways. Most who fled made their way west; far fewer, of a more visionary persuasion, headed east. We don't know when exactly she was rounded up, or if indeed, leaving her name along with her homeland, she is still alive somewhere today. It doesn't seem likely, all things told. All things told, in the great scheme of things, it doesn't seem likely that she escaped. It doesn't seem likely, I keep repeating, as if thereby I can keep some conversation going, imagining other ways she might have died or lived, maybe farcical, maybe irrelevant, but without being forced to admit that I am simply talking to myself. It doesn't seem likely, I say, locking the door as I go into the street; it doesn't seem likely. It doesn't seem likely, as I walk down the street toward the river. It doesn't seem likely, as I walk past the bridge and into the town. It doesn't seem likely -- but who am I to say that silence means extinction? We all hope for the best, even if we believe the worst, and until the day comes which will never come, I will still say "It doesn't seem likely", and thus keep in flight one moment of potential time, one moment of history too long in suspension, but which can have no place to rest, since its meaning and simultaneously its annihilation are one.

Author Bio


Ali Hildyard lives in London. His story, "The House Above the Bay," appeared in Issue #62 of The Cafe Irreal, and "The Number of the Heart" appeared in Issue #64. You can contact him at: