«Fyu-fyu… fyu!» A bird whistles three times. The youth Limonov sighs and grudgingly opens his eyes. Sunlight pours into the narrow room from Tevelev Square, through the big window, yellow as margarine. The walls, decorated by painter friends, always delight the just-awakened young man. Tranquil again, the young man closes his eyes.
«Fyu-fyu… fyu!» again calls the bird, then adds, in an angry whisper, «Ed!» The young man throws off the covers, gets up, opens the window and looks down. Beneath the window, by the low wall of the green square, stands his friend Genochka the Magnificent, wearing a bright blue suit, and smiling, head tilted upward, at him.
«You asleep, you son of a bitch? Get down here!» Behind the magnificent Genochka, on the emerald grass, camps a company of gypsies, breakfasting on watermelon and bread, laid out on shawls as on tablecloths.
«Rise and shine, the day is fine!» says a young Gypsy woman near Genochka, and actually beckons with her hand to the young man at the window.
The youth, placing a finger to his lips, indicates the neighboring window and, nodding his head in agreement, whispers, «Right!» — shuts the window and, carefully going to the sliding door which leads to the next room, listens. Rustling and some breathing can be heard from within, and the smell of tobacco seeps from under the door. His mother-in-law is undoubtedly sitting in her classic morning pose, with her tangled grey hair over her shoulders, before her mirror, smoking a cigarette. It seems that she, Celia Yakovlyevna, didn't hear her son-in-law's brief conversation with Genochka the Magnificent, her most fearsome enemy. Now, the young man realizes, it is time to act quickly and decisively.
Taking from the bookcase, the lower part of which has been made into a cabinet, his pride and joy, a cocoa-colored suit with gold highlights shining through the cloth, the young man quickly pulls on his pants, a pink shirt and a coat. At the head of the bed stands a card-table, and scattered over it are pencils, pens, paper, a half-drunk bottle of wine, and an opened notebook. Glancing with pleasure at some half-written poems, the young man closes his homemade notebook and, raising the lid of the table, takes from the drawer several five-ruble notes. He places the notebook in the drawer and closes the lid. The poems will have to wait for tomorrow. Holding his shoes in his hands, he carefully opens the door to the dark hallway. Fumblingly, without turning on the light, he goes past the Amimov's door and carefully places the key in the lock of the door leading out, out of the apartment, to freedom…
«Eduard, where are you going?» Somehow, Celia Yakovlyevna, having heard the metallic sound of the key in the lock, or simply intuitively sensed that her son-in-law was escaping, has come out of her room and is now standing, having turned on the light in the entrance-hall, in her classical pose Number Two. One hand rests on her hip, the other — complete with the diminishing cigarette — by her mouth, her gray, slightly longer than waist-length hair loose, her well-bred face angrily turned toward her escaping son-in-law. The Russian son-in-law of her younger daughter.
«Are you going out to see Gena again, Eduard? Don't deny it — I know it. Don't forget that you promised that today you'd finish the pants for Tsintsipyer. If you get together with that Gena, you'll just… wander around…»
Celia Yakovlyevna Rubinshtein is an educated woman. It is awkward for her to say to a Russian young man, who is living with her daughter, that if he meets up with Gena, he will once again get drunk as a pig, and perhaps, like they did last time, his friends will have to carry him home.
«Look, Celia Yakovlyevna… I'm just going down for some thread… then straight back,» lies the shorthaired, somewhat puffy-looking poet, embarrassedly putting his shoes on the floor. He slips into his shoes and makes for the door, into the long corridor, bordered on both sides by dining tables, electric ranges and kerosene stoves. The fenced-off compartment with the kitchen and toilet — the priority for all the families who still live in this old building, number nineteen, Tevelyev Square — the corridor serves as a kitchen and the toilet is a communal one. Having passed through the entire row of tables, and inhaled, one after another, the smells of dozens of future lunches, the poet reaches the far end of the and heads down the stairs, taking them three at at a time. «Don't forget about Tsintsiper!» The pointless reminder from Celia Yakovlyevna reaches him. The poet smiles. What a name God gave this man! Tsin-tsi-per! The Devil knows what it is, but it isn't a name. Those two whole «ts»es, plus the completely obscene sound, «iiper»!
Genochka is waiting for the poet by the exit at the path to the Seminary District. There's a suitcase in Genochka's hand. «How much money have you got?» asks the Magnificent One, in place of a greeting. «Fifteen rubles.»
«Let's go, quick, or I'll have to wait in line.» Gennadii and the Poet walk hurriedly down through the Seminary Quarter, and, reaching the first corner, turn left toward the pawnshop.
The shadows on the street are heavy, dark blue. The sun is yellow as a rich, concentrated film of dyed butter. Without even taking your eyes from the asphalt, you can tell that it's August in Kharkov.
Even while they're several dozen meters away from the massive, fortress-like old brick building, the sharp, strong smell of mothballs reaches the two friends. For a hundred years, mothballs have been the foundation of this district, and it seems that even the old white acacias in this part of the street smell of mothballs. Hurrying along, the two friends go up the steps into a hall. The hall is high, roomy and cold, like the interior of a temple. Squeezing in among the old men and women, they get on one of the lines leading to the pawnbroker's window. The old men and women stare in surprise at the youngsters. It's unusual to see youngsters at a pawnshop in Kharkov. The poet, however, has already been to a pawnshop dozens of times. With Genochka.
«What have you got?» the poet asks his friend.
«My mother and father's plastic raincoats, a suit of my father's, and a couple of gold watches.» lists Genochka, smiling. His is a unique smile: malicious and precise.
«You're for it, Gennadii Sergeevich!»
«It's not your problem, Eduard Venyaminovich!» parries Genochka. But, obviously determined that his friend be subjected to a commentary, he adds, «They went off on vacation. For a month. And left me with just 200 rubles. I told them that wasn't going to be enough. And now look what happens; they must pay for wronging their only son.»
Genochka goes to the pawnbroker often, with his things and his parents'. He discovered this method of getting money before he met the poet Eduard. He pawns all of his father's things. His papa, Sergei Sergeevich, loves his handsome, stocky, blue-eyed son. Though Papa worries about his son's complete indifference to all human affairs except the quest for adventures and going to restaurants, and worries above all that now that Genadii is 21, worse things than pawnbrokers will befall him. A bad marriage, for example. It's Papa, not Genochka, who pays alimony to Genadii's former wife, and their son — his grandson. Papa Sergei Sergeevich is the director of the «Crystal,» the finest restaurant in Kharkov, and of the restaurant trust of the same name, handling many other «trading points.»
Genochka, not troubling himself about the things in the suitcase, pushes it through the welcoming slot in the window-cage and impatiently pounds on the patterned ceramic tiles of the floor with the heel of his shoe. They know young Ocharenko quite well in this pawnshop, and the transaction takes very little time. Ten minutes later the friends are already heading down the street, which smells of acacia and mothballs. Genochka has already contentedly placed notes worth sixty rubles in his black leather wallet. And, in another compartment, the pawn ticket. With revulsion.
«Well, where shall we go?»
«Deep South», v.2 n.1 (Autumn, 1996)
They're climbing over the stone wall which separates Taras Grigoryevich Shevchenko Park from the Kharkov Zoo. Naturally, they could simply buy tickets — for just one ruble twenty kopeks apiece — but the youths consider it a point of honor not to pay to enter «their» territory. The Zoo is a traditional playground for Ed and Genka, as for all the other members of the «SS»: the painter, Vagrich Bakhchanyan; «The Frenchman,» Paul Shemmetov; «Fritz» Viktorushka; and Fima, nicknamed «Dog.» Every member of the «SS» is in some way out of the ordinary. You couldn't call the «SS» a typical group of young people…
In Kharkov the August sun is pitiless. Nonetheless the two young men are wearing suits of the «dandy» style, introduced by Genadii and formerly championed by members of the foundry-workers' guild, and nowadays by the poet, Ed. Usually, once they've made it through the broken glass atop the stone wall, the kids jump to earth among the jungles of the Zoo, weaving through gigantic tussocks of steppe-grass and burdock, nut-trees and other August exuberances, then descending into the ravine by a little path which only they know, passing by an old oak which grows at the bottom of the ravine, and coming up out of the ravine right next to the «Tavern.» Its ancient sides, having once been covered with paint which started out as a reddish yellow, lean against each other. The young men's shoes are covered with the pollens exuberantly packed in several years'-worth of Ukrainian grasses — the heavily fertilized, crude, mighty Ukrainian grasses of the field across the way. Genadii is holding a package of bottles. Vodka. In the «Tavern,» they don't officially sell spirits.
Climbing up the path after his friend, Ed wipes his face with a handkerchief. From time to time they overtake a thick cloud of midges, which try to draw as many milligrams of blood as they can from their quickly-moving prey. Gena and Ed constantly wave their arms, or the cigarettes they're smoking, to repel the raids. Dripping sweat but unperturbed, they take the path to the summit and go on, along a narrow path between carefully-planted flowers, to the front of the «Tavern.» As if greeting their arrival, from the depths of the Zoo sounds the roar of a tiger.
«Zhul'bars,» states the poet.
«Sultan.» disagrees Gena.
On the open veranda of the «Tavern,» all by herself, doing something with the chairs, is «Auntie» Dusya. A big, strong woman in her thirties, with a red Bulgarian face, but still «Auntie.» «Hey, look vat showed up! Genochka showed up!» she exclaims joyfully. And why wouldn't she be glad? The dandy, Genochka, gives her more in tips than she gets in a week of serving eggs, sausage with peas, or chicken to visitors to the Zoo.
«If you please, Dusya, put this in the freezer!» says Genka, imitating his father, a former Colonel in the KGB and the Director of a Trust. Like his father, Genka addresses everyone with the formal pronoun. This is his own idea of chic. And Genka doesn't swear, which distinguishes him from Ed's many other friends, who curse non-stop.
«I am certain you have met Eduard Limonov, Dusya…?» Genka stares, with a certain patronizing irony, at Ed.
«Sure, you've had your friend here with you, Genochka…»
«Certainly, Dusya. But since then he's changed his name. Please take note: 'Eduard Limonov.'»
Eduard didn't change his last name, Savyenko. It's just that the «SS» and some other friends — Lyonka Ivanov, the poet Motrich, Tolya Melekhov, were sitting with Ed and Ann in their room, playing, out of sheer boredom, a sort of literary game, and they decided they would live in turn-of-the-century Kharkov and be poets and symbolist painters. And Vagrich Bakhchanyan made a rule that they all had to think up appropriate last names for themselves. Lyonka Ivanov decided to call himself Blanket. Melekhov became Breadman. And Bakhchanyan decided that Ed would be called Limonov. The game ended, they all went home, but the next day, while introducing Ed to a painter-friend from the newspaper «Leninist ____,» at the Automatic, Bakhchanyan referred to him as «Limonov.» And has called him that ever since. And it turned out that Genka really liked the nickname. All the young «Decadents» in the Automatic now call him Ed Limonov. The nickname stuck, and now even Ed himself doesn't call himself Eduard Savyenko much anymore. He has remained «Limonov.» Nobody calls Lyonka Ivanov «Blanket» anymore; nobody calls Melekhov»Breadman» any more; but Ed remains «Limonov.» Besides, for reasons even he doesn't understand, Ed himself likes «Limonov.» His real name, the very common, ordinary Ukrainian family-name, «Savyenko,» always depressed him. So let it stay «Limonov.»
The two young men are sitting at a table on the veranda, so that they can look out at the pond, and the swans and ducks swimming around on it. The «Tavern» is definitely the most picturesque restaurant in Kharkov, which is why Genka chose it as his headquarters. From the pond wafts the smell of muddy water. Two workers are lazily pulling a hose and just as lazily starting to sprinkle the heavy flowers.
«Well, what shall we have to go with our vodka, Comrade Limonov?» Genka takes off his jacket and drapes it over the back of the chair. He rolls up the sleeves of his immaculate white shirt and loosens the knot of his tie.
«Maybe some chicken?» Uncertainty can be heard in the poet's voice. He's gotten used to deferring to the more elegant, experienced and self-assured Genka on this sort of question.
«Dusya, what's good today?» Genka turns to «Auntie» Dusya, who has once again come up on the veranda.
«Oh, Genochka… it's still so early; how…» Dusya twists her frace into a pitiful frown. «The cook still isn't here; we only open at noon. I could get you a little snack, and, if you want, I could make eggs with sausage. When the cook gets here, he can make you Chicken Kiev…» Suddenly, a peacock cries out, long and loudly. As if at this signal, the whole Zoo begins to cry, roar and howl.
«Well, what do you think, Ed? Should we have some eggs with sausage?»
«Dusya, make us some fried eggs with sausage. Six eggs each. With salt, but without lard — the way I like them. Bring them in the frying pan. And more vegetables, please — tomatoes, cucumbers…»
«Do you want your cucumbers pickled, boys?»
«Of course, Dusya, pickled. And a couple of bottles of cold lemonade. To wash them down with.»
«I'll pour you a little decanter of vodka, shall I?» Dusya glances at Genadii's face.
«No thank you. It would be warm. Bring us two wineglasses and put a bottle on ice, please, Dusya.»
The waitress leaves the veranda.
«Wonderful — eh, Ed?» Gena's fond gaze is directed toward the pond. Directly across the pond is the peacocks' aviary. Far away , among the cages, looms the huge bulk of an elephant. A draft suddenly wafts to the veranda the smell of dung and the nauseous smell of some musky beast. «Magnificent!» — And Gennadii's handsome face beams with tranquil delight. This is what he wants from life: a beautiful view, cold vodka, chatting with a friend. Even women are second-rate to Genadii. It's been a year since the beautiful Nonna, whom everybody thought he loved, appeared in his life, but even Nonna couldn't drag him away from his drinking sprees in the company of the «SS,» from his trips to a restaurant called the Monte-Carlo, from strolling down Sumskii Street with Ed, from the pleasures of wasting time. Ed Limonov looks with pleasure at his strange friend. Genka seems to have absolutely no ambition. He himself has admitted more than once that he doesn't want to be a poet, like Motrich and Ed, or a painter, like Bakhchanyan. «You'll paint and write poems; I'll bask in your success!»laughs Genka. Celia Yakovlyevna and Anna consider Genadii to be Ed's evil genius — they think he makes Ed squander money on drink, and takes him away from Anna. But this view of theirs is explained, actually, by jealousy. It's true, of course, that now and then Ed spends, with Genka, the money they've made sewing pants. Not often. But he doesn't go out drinking with Genka all the time. In any case, the miserly sums — ten, twenty rubles — he spends with Genka don't compare to the amounts squandered by Genka. And that phrase, «squandered on drink» somehow doesn't capture the Magnificent Genadii Sergeevich's style. The last time they went carousing at the Monte-Carlo — an out-of-town restaurant in Pesochin, watering hole for the high officials and KGB elite of Kharkov — Genka went first in one taxi, showing the way, and Ed followed in another taxi, and behind him came another taxi, empty, which Genka hired solely for the style of it, to make up a a cavalcade. In his youth, Sergei Sergeevich had been a regular at the Monte-Carlo — until his stomach ulcer. Gennadii inherited the place from his father. The staff knows Genadii Sergeevich well, and always gives him the best table. Until he met Genka, Ed had only read of «best tables» in books. At the Monte-Carlo, the chickens wander around right outside the window of the best table, and you can pick the one you want and they'll make chicken tabak from it. The paradox of the Monte-Carlo consists of the fact that the truck drivers eat in the big room, right next to a big highway. But at the best tables, it's the good life…
Auntie Dusya brings them their snacks, vodka, lemonade and, for each of them, a sizzling-hot frying pan full of fried eggs. Genka gazes with pleasure at the heavily-laden table. With one hand he raises the wine-glass of vodka, and with the other his glass of lemonade. «Come on, Ed! — Let's drink to this magnificent August day, and to the animals of our beloved Zoo!»
«Right!» agrees Ed, and they gulp down the burning vodka. And instantly start drinking the lemonade. And grab the pickled cucumbers and eat the fried eggs, burning themselves…
* * *
«Well, Ed, did you get a good scolding from Celia Yakovlyevna yesterday?» Genka has decided to take a break for a smoke, disengaging himself for the purpose from what's left of his eggs.
«I swear to God, I'm fucked if I can remember!» laughs the poet. «I remember getting out of a taxi, and grabbing the doorknob, and then… it all goes blank, I can't remember a thing. What time was it, anyway? Two o'clock?»
«What do you mean, two? It was still early. You passed out early last night. But Fima and I carried on drinking at the airport.
«No way I passed out.» The poet is offended. «I hadn't slept at all the night before, I was writing til dawn. Of course you're going to be tired after a whole night without sleep. You yourself threw up yesterday.»
«I throw up a lot.» agrees Gyenka calmly. «That's how the Romans did it. They'd throw up, then come back and drink some more.»
«That Celia Yakovlyevna caught me right at the door. 'And where are you going,' she says, 'Eduard?'»
«And what did you say to her, Eduard Venyaminovich?»
«Out for some thread, Celia Yakovlyevna, I'm going to the store.' With my shoes in my hands. I wanted to get out without being heard.»
«For some thread!» guffaws Genka. «Limonov went out to buy some thread!»
«Naturally Celia didn't believe me. But how is an intellectual woman going to argue with her Russian son-in-law? 'Then how come you've got your shoes in your hand, you drunk, if you're going for some thread? It's not a criminal activity, going for thread…'»
«She'd be ashamed to catch you in a lie. That's what comes of culture and education. A Russian mother-in-law would storm through the whole building, tear your sleeve off, dragging you back inside. It's a good thing you're living with a Jewish family… and Anna?»
«Yesterday Anna slept — and snored. She just opened her eyes and said, 'You got drunk with Genka again, you damned alcoholic!' and went back to sleep. And today I slept, once she went out.»
«You need to get Anna some kind of gift.» Genka frowns. «Ed, heading toward us are the first representatives of the goat-herd, who have already completed their morning excursion to the Zoo.»
A family is coming to the «Tavern.» Two children — boys of around ten — dressed, in spite of the heat, in blue wool thermal pants. The pants are too long; the cuffs, dragging on the ground, are gray with dust. The mother is powerfully built, surprisingly old for a mother with children of this age. Her hands and feet stick out awkwardly from her too-tight, too-short, white-and-blue polka-dotted dress. The father — who undoubtedly works in one of the many factories in Kharkov — is wearing a fake-silk yellow shirt and black trousers, sandals over bare feet, and carries in his hand a string bag. and in it something covered with torn-up and, for some reason, wet newspaper.
The morose children are the first up the steps. The mother after them. Having helped them climb onto the veranda, the father puts his foot on the first step. Genka stands up and sraightening his tie, assumes a stern look: «Comrades, comrades, entry prohibited! The restaurant is closed to the public today. Today is the All-Soviet-Union Convention of Bengal-Tiger trainers. Entry restricted to those with letters of invitation!»
The family leaves silently and submissively, dragging their string bag behind them. Ed even begins to pity the goat-herd family. «Why'd you do that to them?» he asks his friend. «Hell, they'd've drunk their lemonade, taken some sandwiches, and gone…»
«There's always noise from the goat-herd, Ed. Did you direct your attention to the children? Like little old men. Can you imagine how they would have gobbled, chomped?»
«You can't get rid of all of them… Now somebody else will show up.»
«Dusya, please place on all the tables on our side of the restaurant a «Reserved» sign.»
«Oh, Genochka, we don't have any signs like that!» whines Dusya. From beneath her feet, a big green grasshopper suddenly leaps, landing on the next table. This is the countryside; what do they know about signs? There's not even a toilet; visitors run to the ravine.
«In that case, write 'Reserved' on some pieces of paper, and put them on each table. Of course, your labor will be compensated.»
Dusya goes off to obey her orders. Her obedience is explained not only by the fact that Genka passes her a five-ruble or ten-ruble note as she leaves, but by the fact that the little Zoo restaurant belongs to the restaurant network of his Papa, Sergei Sergeevich, and in this network Papa is Tsar, Papa is God. True, Papa has sternly forbidden Gennadii to abuse his official position to get better treatment, but the power-hungry Genka can't resist the temptation to «abuse» it. Power — that's what Genka loves, Ed suddenly realizes. Power is Genka's ambition. Genka wants to brandish enormous power.
«Genka, why don't you join the Party and become an important man — say, District Administrator?»
«Are you kidding, Ed? That's so fucking depressing — making a career as a communist. It's bad enough that it ruined most of my dad's life — crawling on his knees.»
Even the fact that Genya swore testifies to his aversion to a Communist career. Genka is indifferent to ideology, Genka has no political views. What Genka wants from life is the «high»: pleasure, adventure, romance. And what kind of «high» is there in wearing a hole in your trousers sitting at Party meetings? Genka's favorite film is «The Adventurers» with Alain Delon and Lena Ventura in starring roles. That's what Genka loves — treasure-hunting, gunfights, expensive restaurants, crystal, cognac, candlelight, champagne… Ed remembers Genka's dilated pupils after the film. They watched «The Adventurers» twice — Genka, Nonna, as beautiful as Genka, and Ed. Genka is as handsome as Alain Delon, «The Beautiful One,» Bakhchanyan calls him. He's blond, six feet tall, light-blue eyes, a straight nose, a noble bearing. After «The Adventurers,» they drank and wandered around for a few days, and were arrested one night on the runway-area of the Kharkov Airport while trying to get into a jet transport. What they wanted on the jet will remain an insoluble mystery, but it is worth noting that «The Adventurers» begins with Alain Delon flying through the Arc de Triomphe.
«Let's do it, Ed!»
«Let's do it.» Ed looks fondly at his friend.
«Deep South», v.2 n.1 (Autumn, 1996)
«They're drinking, the scoundrels!»
Anna Moiseevna has appeared at the very moment when Dusya had refilled the young men's wineglasses. She is standing on the grass by the veranda, her bright eyes angry. Her robust body is covered by a crepe-de-chine dress. There are green, black and white flowers on Anna's body. She has a purse in her hand. Her graying hair is tied back in a tight chignon. Her turned-up nose gives her face a pert look.
«Ganna Miseyevna!» The idlers call out amiably. «Come over here and have some chicken kiev with us!»
«Scoundrels! Aren't you ashamed! Drinking vodka since early in the morning!» scolds Anna, but she goes around the edge of the veranda and up the staircase. A few representatives of the Proletariat, who have forced their way onto the veranda, stare inquisitively at the scene.
«You scoundrel! Deceiving Celia Yakovlevna, a poor Jewish woman, yet again! 'He went for some thread!' The simplehearted Celia Yakovlevna, child of another era — the angel who married my father… Celia Yakovlevna doesn't know what it is to lie! She trustingly believed that absurdity! 'For some thread, he went'!
«Fine — hit me! Give me a slap in the face!» The poet melodramatically turns his profile to his girlfriend and offers his cheek.
Gennadii Sergeevich becomes elegantly cordial.
«Pardon us, Ganna Moisyevna, for the love of God, and be kind enough to share this humble meal with us!» Genka takes Anna's hand and kisses it. Then, without releasing her hand, with his free hand he shifts the table and eases Anna into place at the table. Though she is still angry, she sits down.
«Dusya — please, set a place for Anna Moiseyevna… Anna Moiseyevna, it's my fault that your husband is here. Finding myself feeling somewhat lonely and depressed this morning, I deceitfully lured Ed away from his family, heedlessly seeking only personal and egotistical self-satisfaction…»
«The poor Jewish woman…» Anna Moiseyevna starts up her usual dramatic monologue, but provokes no reaction on the faces of Genka or the poet… «I ran right home… not a crumb in the house… 'Eduard went off to get some thread,' Mama announced, bewildered… 'He went off at nine o'clock, Mama!' I said, 'It's eleven o'clock — he went off drinking!' 'No… maybe he'll come back?' timidly suggested Celia Yakovlyevna, still believing in you…» Anna stared angrily at the poet. He bowed his head humbly, and Genka gestured to him with his eyes and his hands, «Just put up with it. Let her talk.»
«You didn't even leave the poor Jewish woman a ruble for food, you scoundrel!» Anna continues, «Meanwhile, we've spent all of her pension. I don't have any money — you know perfectly well I don't get anything in advance… after the account showed a gigantic overdraft, Gennadii» — Anna appeals to Genka. Genka nods sympathetically. «There was some hope that the young scoundrel would finish Tsintsiper's pants today and get ten rubles for them, and Celia Yakovlyevna could go down to Blagovyeshchenskii market and get some food… But the young scoundrel ran off…»
«Ganna Miseyevna,» says Genka quickly, while Anna gathers her strength for the next part of the monologue, «Be be good enough to accept from me a humble offering» — he takes a tenner from his wallet and pushes it toward Anna.
«We don't need your money, Gennadii Sergeyevich,» proudly declares Anna, who nonetheless looks at the tenner with some interest.
«Take it, Ganna Miseyevna! After all, it was I who took Ed out into the countryside, away from Tsintsiper's pants! It follows that I should pay the forfeit.»
«What?» Anna Moiseyevna stares questioningly at the poet. «Well, I'll take it… After all, we have nothing. Not so much as a crumb in the house.»
«Don't you dare…» spits out the poet. He curses himself for neglecting to leave Celia Yakovlyevna at least five out of the fifteen rubles left. Now Anna has the right to lecture him on morality and call him a young scoundrel. Normally Anna's a little scared of her poet, although she's six years older than he is. And weighs perhaps twice as much as the poet.
«Take it! You'll use it somehow or other!» With the help of an agile motion, the tenner ends up in Anna Moiseyevna's hand, and, from there, disappears into her purse.
«Have a drink, Anna Moiseyevna, a little vodka!» Genka himself pours Anna a glass, out of the bottle of Stolichnaya Dusya left with them the last time. «Have a drink and forget your cares!»
Anna can no longer resist; she smiles. «Scoundrel, you've been drinking for three days! And never once thought of the poor Jewish woman, wasting away in a newspaper kiosk. You could at least have taken the time to invite the Jewish woman to the restaurant.» Anna frowns and sips carefully at the vodka, unlike Genka and the poet.
«How in the world did you find us, Anna Moiseyevna?» Genka doesn't hide his pleasure and delight. He likes it when things happen. They've already gotten a bit bored, just the two of them making small talk; but now, voila, an unexpected appearance by Anna Moiseyevna.
«Genulik!» Anna looks at Genka with undisguised condescension. «Everybody knows that you and the young scoundrel are the only ones in the whole city with chocolate-colored suits with gold thread. First I went to the «Theater Club» and they told me they'd seen you this morning going down Sumsky street. I went to the «Lux,» and you weren't there. You weren't at the «Three Musketeers,» either. I ran around to all your hangouts, and at the «Automatic,» Mark told me that the young scoundrel, accompanied by you, Gennadii Sergeevich, had gone down into Shyevchenko Park. 'Where would people like you go, at this time of the year, when Nature is unbelievably flourishing, and the chesnuts are ripe, and the smell of flowers fills the air, and the world is making love endlessly?' I asked myself. Anna Moiseyevna sighs. Elaborate oratory is her weakness. Very often she inserts in her speech verses by living or deceased poets. «'People like Genulik and the young scoundrel can only go to the «Tavern,» and Dusya.' I said to myself, and came running here. Anna Moiseyevna has stopped, pleased with herself. «And here, if you please, I am. I'm not going to work!» She announces, after looking at her little watch.»What's the point!» she exclaims, staring defiantly at her «husband.» «I'll tell them I got sick.»
«You could be the Sherlock Holmes of the KGB, Anna Moiseyevna,» Genka says approvingly. «Yes indeed.»
«Lyonka Ivanov says Sherlock Holmes was a cocaine addict. That in between cases, he snorted cocaine.» observes the poet, after gulping some vodka.
«Lyonka Ivanov is a meshugginah,» Anna declares authoritatively. «They even kicked him out of the Army for being a meshugginah.»
«No way. Lyonka himself wanted to get out of the Army. When Lyonka came home on leave, already a sergeant, Viktorushka taught him what to do. The smartest thing is to pretend to be crazy. Viktor told Lyonka, and when Lyonka returned to his unit, he did exactly what Viktor suggested. At lunch time he went to the cafeteria, put a bowl of porridge on his head, stuck cutlets under his sergeant's epaulettes, and in this costume went running out of the dining hall… another time he went into the hall where the soldiers were watching a film and ripped the screen off the wall… but all just so he could get home; actually Lyonka's saner than me or Genka,» Ed ends his apologia for Ivanov.
«Ed, I think Anna's right; Lyonchik Ivanov really is crazy.» disagrees Genka. «Not dangerous, but pretty brainless. Have you noticed his expression?»
«Oh — then who's sane? Is Ganna Miseyevna sane?» Ed laughs scornfully.
«I tried to do away with myself once. But you, Ed — lots of times!» Anna almost shouts, leaping out of her chair. «It's true, I was classified as a Group One invalid by reason of craziness, but I was nineteen, and that son of a bitch, my first husband, had dumped me. When you were nineteen, you still believed in people!» Anna Moiseyevna, having lost her aggressive look, and aware of the goat heard, sits down.
«The hell with him, with Ivanov…» Genka says to them soothingly. Let's drink to you, Anna Moiseyevna, and to you, Eduard Venyaminovich, and to your union. May it be long and enduring!»
«To our cohabitation! To our unlicensed union!» laughs Anna. «To our situation! You know, Genulik, when the young scoundrel was already living with me in my room, but we were trying to make it look like we weren't living together… I would slam the door loudly at night, to deceive my poor Mama… so that when my Auntie Ginda suggested that we come visit her in a little room with two roommates, even that was an improvement in our material life. The intellectual Celia Yakovlyevna couldn't admit to the sister of her beloved deceased husband that her daughter was keeping in her room a boy six years younger than she, and sleeping with him. 'Akh, Ginda, we have such a situation at home!' that's all my Mama would say. How unlucky she's been in life. Papa Moise died of a heart attack, and her daughters have never found a decent life…»
«What? Her second daughter is married to the director of a factory. She lives in Kiev, right on the main street — on Kreshatik, in a big bourgeois apartment. People dream of a son-in-law like Teodor. The director of a factory…»
«My kid sister is in a good situation, __________[dazhe toshno],» agrees Anna Moiseyevna, taking a tidbit of cucumber, «but my niece, Styelka, is a whore. And she's sure to become an even bigger whore. Already she sleeps with any loser who comes along. Gyenulik, this long-legged Styekla keeps an eye out for every prick around, the kid had her first abortion at age 14! I only lost my virginity at 18…
Genka laughs. «Different times, different customs, Anna Moiseyevna!»
«'O, Lautrec, you will never reach the pedals!'» Anna suddenly recites. «'O Lautrec… __________________________________/'» Anna falls silent, having forgotten the next line, as usual.
«Whose is that?» Genka asks respectfully. He considers Anna an intelligent and well-educated woman.
«Miloslavskii. From his early poems.» mumbles Ed. «Yura poses, frenchifies, and nasalizes. He invokes the romantic underground life of the Parisian cafe and studio. Lautrec…»
«'Yet still I remembered how all these Magdalenes mended the cloak of the pockmarked Christ…» Glancing insolently at her «husband,» Anna once again recites Miloslavskii. And, of course, she can't remember the last lines. «Three Bandits with Aphrodite by the Fire,» she manages to force out, and then falls silent.
Anna's memory is stuffed with bits of poems, songs, which she heard some time, or clever phrases she read somewhere, from various philosophers and writers. From time to time Anna brings to light some fragment, line, verse or phrase, and inserts it in the appropriate part of her monologue. When they were just getting to know each other, in their youth on the outskirts of Kharkov, straight from the «Hammer and Sickle» shop section, Anna's erudition seemed the height of intellectual achievement. Now, Eduard, having become Limonov, laughs at Anna's «streams of consciousness.» He uses her singsong intonation, imitating the pompous Romanticism with which, it seems to him, Anna recites poetry:
Give me a blue-blue woman
I'll trace a blue line along her spine
And I'll marry that bright blue line…
Ah, I don't need no blue girls to marry
I'll howl with the cats on roofs so starry…
«Shut up, scoundrelly Savyenko!» cries Anna. «Don't torture my friend Burich's verses! You're not mature enough to understand them yet!»
«A bad poet,» rules Limonov remorselessly. «I, Genka, thought for a long time that Burich was a good poet, or at any rate an original one — and suddenly I happen to come across a book of poems by the Polish poet, Ruzhevich. And what do I see there, Genka?! Ah! What's it called? — Plagiarism! Especially when you consider that Burich and his wife are paid to translate Polish poets!»
«Burich is a great poet!» Anna's eyes rest, with nervous hatred, on her «husband.» «Especially because they publish so little of Vova Burich.»
«'Vova…'» snorts her «husband.» «They say he's already as bald as a kneecap. Vagrich saw him in Moscow, your Vovik. A big fat slob. A bourgeois of literature.
«That's not true! Burich is very handsome. Curly-haired, like an Apollo. Bakh was probably mistaken; it wasn't Burich…»
«What do you mean, mistaken… It was him — Apollo, your husband's friend — a genius from Simferopol…»
«They were all so talented, Genka. Don't listen to the young scoundrel. Talented and exceptionally intelligent. They knew everything. They read all the time. They were better educated than you…
«Talent has nothing to do with education.» Ed scowls.
Ed envies Anna's generation — her former husband, a television director; her husband's friends, who all moved to Moscow — the poet Burich, the film critic Myron Chernenko, the painter Brusilovskii. For Kharkov youth of Ed's age, for the bohemians and the decadents who got together several times a day at the «Automatic» to drink coffee, Moscow burns, as it did for Chekhov's three sisters, with a blinding, alluring light. Among Anna's contemporaries, the painter Brusilovskii is especially noteworthy. Vagrich Bakhchanyan speaks respectfully of Brusilovskii's work. Brusilovskii long ago started showing even in international exhibitions, and from time to time, reproductions of his works appear in Western publications. Anna's former husband is the least successful of them; he doesn't even live in Moscow, only Simferopol. Eduard very much wants to go to Moscow, so that he can join the previous generation — those about ten or fifteen years older. Join them, fight them, and hold tauntingly over Anna's head the name of her own Eduard Limonov.
The sun has suddenly peeked over the roof of the tavern, right above the table, and the wooden table, cleaned over and over, scratched, laid with tablecloth and snacks, nestling bottles of vodka and lemonade, the table is suddenly bathed in light. Very beautiful is their table, reader. A salad of red, blood-red Ukrainian tomatoes and tender green cucumbers, dripping with salted butter; the sun — many suns — refracted in the wineglasses and tumblers on the table.The dark burning hands of the poet, Anna's hands, her fingernails, as always coated with an unusual lilac polish, Gennadii's beautiful hand grasping the stem of a wineglass… the stone in Genka's cufflink, suddenly catching the sun, shines out a pure red light.
«Is that a real stone?» Anna takes Genka's hand. There is respect in her voice.
«Are you serious?» Genka laughs. «It's fake. But fashionable. I'd've pawned a real one long ago.»
«Oh Genchik… you're going to break Sergey Sergeevich's heart.»
«It's nothing, Anna. My Dad's got lots of money. And then too, he owes me something in this life…»
«Deep South», v.2 n.1 (Autumn, 1996)
Eduard met Anna Moiseyevna Rubinshtein in the Autumn of l964. Borka Churilov introduced them. Eduard was 21, and had just quit the «Hammer and Sickle» factory, where he had worked with Borka in the foundry for a whole year and a half. A short-haired, sunburned, _______ [mordatii] young worker, squinting to hide his extreme nearsightedness, looking for work, and his guardian angel, Borka, introduced him to the Poetry Shop, which needed a bookseller. In walked Anna Moiseyevna: beautiful, greyhaired at 27, scraping with her sharp metallic heels, inquisitively flashing her blue-violet eyes. And the bookselling job was instantly taken.
It would be simple to explain their liason by saying that the young worker needed a Mama. But, in this case, primitive Freudianism cannot offer any explanation or critique of so self-reliant and self-willed a personality as that of Eduard Savyenko. And Anna Moiseyevna, an unstable, eccentric, volcanic woman, would never have been able to be that sort of Mama. Therefore, instead of a Freudian, a socio-psychological explanation suggests itself. To wit: Eduard Savyenko needed a milieu. And the people among whom Anna Moiseyevna lived suited him. By the age of 21, he had been a thief, a burglar, a foundry-worker, a high-rise fitter, a stevedore, a wanderer through the Crimea, the Caucasus, and Asia, sometimes beginning poems,then throwing away poems; yet he had never found himself. He didn't know who he was.
At the foundry he was a good worker, and his portrait had appeared on the honor roll. He had six suits and three overcoats, and every Saturday he drank precisely eight hundred grams of cognac at the «Crystal» restaurant with his friends, young workers and girls. He was not, of course, acquainted with Genulik, son of the restaurant manager. The girls from the neighboring area, moulded from paraffin in the foundry forms, called our young hero «The Slave,» for his inexplicable persistence and diligence in the heavy, terrible three-shift work of the foundry floor. His partner on the shift, the fiftyish slob Uncle Seryozha, who looked like a crab, considered Eduard a good fellow, though too fond of work, and called him «Endik.» And then, one day,
«Endik,» to the utter surprise of Uncle Seryozha and the whole foundry team (he had already worked there _______________________) quit the division. He was bored. He'd had enough of it.
The main reason, which was not known by many people, and which has remained little-known (actually, every event, except the most obvious ones, has a real, secret reason) was that in the spring of 1964 Eduard met Mikhail Issarov, already known to the criminal investigation divisions of the countries of the Soviet Union for his brilliant credit fraud schemes. An affable little Jew, who had flunked out of the Gornii Institute, and fled from the Don Basin, where he had worked for a few years as a mine-director, to Kharkov. Besides this, he had also worked as the main organizer of gangs of con-men. Mishka appeared in Kharkov with his partner, the only remaining members of a group of arrestees. Mishka had family in Kharkov — his mother, father, and brother Yurka — noble toilers already known to us at the «Hammer and Sickle» Factory. Standing by the bars of the cell, Yurka introduced Ed to his brother-in-crime. Ed liked Mishka. Mishka was small and cheerful, wore a moustache, and lived the life of a millionaire. For example, he used to fly from the Don Basin to Moscow every week to get his hair cut.
Mishka had money. He needed two internal passports. For himself and his partner, Vitka. And our hero, remembering his criminal past, used his old connections to put Mishka in touch with his friends at the «Hammer and Sickle» dormitory. They «found» Mishka passports, 35 rubles each, stolen from other friends in the very same dormitory. Mishka stayed on in Kharkov and returned to credit scams. Every day, Mishka and Vitka left the Red Star Hotel on Sverdlov Street, which they shared with majors and captains, since it was a military hotel, and went out raiding the shops of Kharkov. With the stolen passports and certificates from their places of work, they «bought» on credit piles of gold watches, jewelry, expensive material for making suits and overcoats, and even televisions. All these blessings of civilization were acquired via swindle at less than one-quarter their price and resold on the black market. Mishka had invited Ed to dinner many times; one day, Ed, desiring to show his gratitude, introduced Mishka to the Asiatics from the Horse Market, who bought a good part of Mishka's goods. Another time, the inquisitive worker Savyenko, one week when he was on the third shift, helped the swindlers remove large quantities of jewelry, keeping watch while Mishka and Vitka worked.
Even law-abiding people get nervous. What, then, can one expect of criminals, whose work involves so much anxiety? Soon Mishka and Vitka began quarreling and arguing. And split up for good. There was a fight at the Red Star Hotel, and at the time of the fight, the buddies split up the cloth and jewelry, summoning the terribly carefully noble Yurka, and the far less scrupulous worker Eduard.
Several days later Mishka invited Ed to a restaurant and, at the end of the meal, over cognac and cigars, invited Ed, in the tone of a gangster from a Western film, to work with him. Tapping the ashes from his cigar, Mishka withdrew from his pocket a carelessly crumpled bundle of twenty-five ruble notes, paying Ed off and simultaneously suggesting for Ed the prospects in his «work» in Odessa, Kiev and Simferopol.
«And then, Ed, with all the loot (but we're going to specialize in jewelry, just jewelry, this time) we'll move on to the Caucasus and sell it all there. Here in Kharkov, we'd have to give the stuff away at half price to the Chuchmeks; there, we can sell it at full price. Well, Ed?»
Reader, when you are twenty-one and someone offers you money and travel, how can you resist? Eduard, whose prospects consisted of boring work in a hot foundry, agreed to join Mishka.
Mishka decided to go to Odessa at once. It would have been dangerous to stay in Kharkov, where Vitka and Mishka had been operating all summer. The occasion of the break between the partners, alas, was a genuinely dangerous occurrence in which our hero, as it happens, had a part. Mishka (he insisted that the head of the credit bureau of a big department store had realized the picture on his passport was fake, or maybe he just got nervous) ran out of the department store, knocking people down. After him ran Vitka and Eduard. But Mishka had left in the hands of the thieves' enemy his passport, with his photograph! Mishka wanted to get out of Kharkov in a hurry.
Eduard was delighted with the prospect of changing his life and said he was willing to leave that very day.
«No,» Mishka said suddenly, «Settle accounts with your work. Write a statement of resignation today and keep working for the next two weeks. At least one of us ought to have an authentic internal passport. With registration and all the stamps on it.
Eduard pouted, unsatisfied. «Listen to an older and more experienced comrade,» Mishka said. «Never do anything illegal, if it's possible to do it by legal means… I'm going on ahead to Odessa, but I won't be «working» there. In two weeks you'll meet up with me. As soon as it's set up, I'll send you a telegram with my address in Odessa… By the way, you don't happen to know a good tough kid who'd be willing to come along with me… I'll pay, of course. He doesn't have to know anything about our business. I need a bodyguard.»
Oh, Mishka Issarov had style! Eduard found him a bodyguard; the robust athlete Tolik Lysyenko traveled to Odessa with Mishka that same evening. Eduard gave notice at work and began waiting…
Two weeks went by, and the foundry boss tried for two hours to persuade the «Slave» not to leave; but running into Eduard's stony determination, gave up and signed the form. Eduard got his severance pay, but there was no telegram from Mishka. «He must've been lying to me…?» Eduard wondered sadly. «Just making fun of me…» «The Slave» wanted a new, wild life; his childhood dream of becoming a great criminal had been so close to coming true, and now…
Three weeks after Mishka's departure someone knocked on the door of the Savyenko apartment. Eduard opened it. The frightened and guilty-looking Tolik Lysyenko stood at the door. «Let's go. I have to talk to you, Ed!» They went out by some vacant land. Tolik kept looking around the whole time. sitting down on a pile of warm bricks, Tolik told him his Odessa story.
In the beginning everything was fine. Thanks to a bribe, Mishka and Tolik managed to get set up in the safest possible place: a KGB sanatorium! They played tennis, got some sun, swam… Then a former girlfriend, an actress, betrayed Mishka. She ran into Mishka by accident on Deribosovskii Street, saw and called out to him, and agreed to a date. When Mishka showed up for the date, they arrested him. It turned out that the actress, knowing there was a big hunt for him, had gone around asking about Mishka that spring… Oh, women… The actress had some kind of grudge against Mishka — he'd dumped her or something, way back…
True to his tradition of swindling with style, Mishka, whom they should have transferred to Donyetsk, the scene of his crimes, to be tried and judged, bought for himself and his two guards a first-class cell, and passed the time getting drunk with them. The agents had no objection, since Mishka's money would have gone to the State anyway — that is to say, to nobody.
After a month Eduard was restless. Despite an acquaintance of many years, and an entirely truthful explanation by Tolik, he wondered why Tolik had not been arrested with Mishka. He considered the possibility that Tolik had betrayed Mishka. People betray each other all the time, and everyone has a dark side. Or maybe Mishka decided he didn't need them involved in his business.
But Mishka had not deserted, and even Vitka had not betrayed them. Mishka even managed to hide his Kharkov period from the trashes. It was only for his «business» dealings in the Donets Basin that he got nine years penal servitude. The name of Mikhail Issarov, the first man to have robbed the Soviet State in the area of credit fraud, may be found in Soviet textbooks on criminology. As for our hero, he, as you see, had been, for the second time (the first being the day in 1962 when his mother had persuaded him to go with her to celebrate Aunt Katya's birthday, and Kostya Bondarenko, Yurka Bembel, and Slavka «The Suvorovian,» who had come to pick him up, couldn't find his building and went off on their errand without him) miraculously saved from prison.
«Deep South», v.2 n.1 (Autumn, 1996)
At any rate, Borka Churilov established his lifelong protege as bookseller. In store No. 41, which had branched off from The Poetry Shop. The boss, Liliya, was a mean little blonde, whom Anna christened «The Little Fascist.» She accepted «the little boy» willingly. Only «little girls» worked in the store. Liliya, Flora and «The Zombie» in a scraggly fur coat.
Every morning he came in on the trolley from the Saltovka district. Every morning he would pick up his stock and take it to the place where, having put it on a folding table, he would sell it. After completing the transfer of the books, he would begin arranging them on the stand. At first, while they were still explaining things to him, he set up his stand on Sumskii Street, right at the very doors of Store No. 41. Afterwards, he operated in the foyer of the Komsomolskii Theatre and at other crowded spots.
The bookseller's profession has some similarities to that of street-hawkers or snack-vendors. The bookseller recieves a paltry salary, but has the right to keep a certain percentage of the take. The outstanding bookseller in Kharkov, at the time Eduard Savyenko joined the profession, was the former railwayman Igor Iosifovich Kovalchuk, who had sold, at one time or another, for all the bookstores in the city. Of course, neither at the beginning of his career as a bookseller nor at its end could Eduard Savyenko compare in productivity with Igor Iosifovich. They hired Igor Iosifovich when they needed to fulfil their quota. They offered him higher salaries or bribed him. Because Igor Iosifovich could sell any book. Usually he set up his several tables in the center of Tevelyev Square, like an Asian vendor, crying out to the sky, about his books, hawking his wares in a hoarse voice: «Look! A history of the most terrible crimes in Antiquity! The battle between black and white magic!» It was difficult for passers-by to withstand these lures. There were always crowds gathered around Igor Iosifovich's stand. The «Story of the Greatest Crimes in Antiquity» might turn out to be simply a volume from the textbook, «Treasury of World Literature,» issued by the Academy of Sciences.
«Ed,» as Anna called him before the adoption of the last name, «Limonov,» was shy. He hunched timidly behind his book-covered display table. Sometimes there were two tables. Ed sat timidly and, for the most part, said nothing or smiled diffidently. Despite the straight-razor the bookseller often carried in his pocket, the bookseller of store No. 41 was not an agressive young man. Sometimes Liliya would send out, to reinforce him, «The Zombie» — a skinny being of the feminine variety, always wrapped in a shabby old fur coat. «The Zombie's» nose was always frozen, and its long tip was of a bluish color.
Eduard Savyenko didn't earn much money. To speak more precisely, he earned almost nothing. Yet the rapid pace of events managed, in October, November and December, to transform the half-criminal young worker into something else, something not quite clear — but at the very least, he entered, in those cold months, an entirely new social class. Imagine, reader, how difficult a process this is. Sometimes this sort of transformation requires several generations!
Every evening the bookseller hurried to get the stacks of books, and the tables, back to Store No. 41. Like a worker-bee hurrying back to the hive, like a bird to its nest, a jet to the airport. The bookseller hurried along — awaiting him was an appointment with the future, concealed in the alleys of Shevchenko Park, in the «automaticic snack-bar» on Sumskii Street, and in several Kharkov apartments. The future was hidden in the murky urban twilight, draped in rather old-fashioned clothes — symbolist, surrealist clothes. Though provincial, Kharkov, former capital of Ukraine, knew how to play cultural games.
There were many people around. Hundreds, at the very least. New, interesting people, unlike anyone else. In the little «storeroom» of Store No. 41 there were always lots of people sitting, avidly reading manuscripts. Poems, for the most part. The clean-shaven physicist Lyev, who had just returned from an expedition to Leningrad, brought back five or six examples of Brodskii's poem «Procession». An early poem, an imitation of Tsvetaeva, this poem lacked artistic integrity, but suited very well the socio-cultural stage which was occupied (better to say, at which will always be occupied) by Kharkov and the majority of the «Decadents,» who tramped along the triangle formed by Bookstore No. 41, The Poetry Shop, and the Automatic. So the poem enjoyed an unusual popularity. People stood in line to read Brodskii, from the time the bookstore opened to the time it closed. One of these readers was the poet Motrich.
Looking back and placing Motrich's greatness in historical perspective, it is necessary to note that at that time, Motrich was not the genius his worshippers considered him in 1964; he was not even known as a poet by many people. If there was a spark of genius in him, it was unnoticed. Yet Vladimir Motrich — as the past master again reminds us of his «Hammer and Sickle» factory (later Eduard Savyenko suddenly remember remembered, that Boris Churilov took him to the furnace, where the «real poet» Motrich still worked in l963) was, beyond any doubt, a POET. An original POET, since a poet is not merely a certain number of verses, but a soul, an aura, a taut field of passion, a radiant personality. But Motrich worked at it, oh yes…
One day… Ed the bookseller handed over the books to Director Liliya and she determined what he would make for the day. This operation was supposed to take place every evening, but both the bookseller and the director arranged,through laziness, to fix the books only weekly… alas, it came up 19 rubles short. In a rotten mood, Eduard came up out of the basement-level office to go down Sumskii Street to the stop where he would take the tram back to boring old Saltovka. But right at the last step the bookseller came face to face with a sort of moving wall, composed of the girls Mila and Vera and the poet Motrich. Snow was falling; Motrich's long skinny frame was encased in a remarkable black overcoat with a shawl-like collar. The Kharkov «Decadents» had already christened Motrich's overcoat the «badger-fur coat.» It all likelihood, even Motrich himself considered his coat to be badger-fur. At any rate, he often, and eagerly, declaimed the appropriate verses from Mandelshtam.
«Ed!» Motrich called out to the bookseller. He was secretly delighted. A smile was dying on the poet's Croatian face, a face with dark, hollow cheeks and a long hawk-nose with dark, coarse bristly whiskers, clearly visible in daylight, growing from the nostrils. «So it's you, Ed? You work here, with Liliya?»
«Yes,» acknowledged the poet, «It's me.»
«Great!» Motrich exulted, and the girls laughed melodiously.
«What're you doing, Ed? You busy?»
«I'm going home,» the poet announced gloomily. «I'm not doing anything.» He had already worked «with Liliya» for a week, and he had already noted enviously that in the evenings, a crowd would form, gathering either at the store or near it, and set off happily for the secret nocturnal Kharkov. Ed the Bookseller usually went home. One time Borka Churilov, he was on the first shift, took Ed to the «Automatic,» also called the «Machine-gun.» In the clear light of late afternoon the long, horribly contemporary self-service cafe stood snobs in high-collared overcoats and tight pants, drinking coffee from tiny little cups. There was even one with an umbrella-walking stick.
«You want to go have a drink with us?» asked Motrich, and then explained, «In honor of the first snow.»
«Sure,» agreed the bookseller, almost jumping for joy. Motrich was the first living poet he had ever met in his life. How could one refuse an invitation from one's first living poet to drink to the first snowfall? Mila took the bookseller by the hand, and the foursome went off down Sumskii Street, and the snow came down, and for some reason they were all smiling…
They drank coffee and port at the «Automatic.» The bookseller, indescribably honoured to form part of Motrich's entourage, was introduced to a number of snobs — and to a number of young people of another category: intentionally badly dressed and unhappy-looking. «Bohemian,» explained Motrich, noticing the astonished expression of the former steelworker, when a pale, greenish youth in a military greatcoat without belt or overcoat, and black boots that were falling apart, shuffled past them, leaving a damp trail behind him (undoubtedly his boots were leaking) and tossing out a few words in Motrich's metre.
«Kuchukov, a surrealist painter,» was Motrich's commentary. «His daddy's a militia colonel.» — and, seeing that a militia colonel did not make much of an impression on the bookseller, added, «But that's not even the most surprising thing, Ed. Yurka's an Ostyak, the last representative of a dying Siberian tribe. He swears that his ancestor is Kuchum Khan… the one who was defeated by Yermak Timofeevich…»
«The guy's probably lying,» thought the not very trusting bookseller, but he did not confide his thoughts to Motrich, maintaining his reserve. The other young men and women he met that night were also provided with absorbing capsule biographies by Motrich.
Having spent an hour in the «Automatic/Machine-Gun,» in which time Motrich had three «triples,» little cups of special-strength coffee made for him by «Auntie» Shura, they got a couple of bottles of port from the grocery store and, strolling down Sumskii Street, set out through Shevchyenko Park, already white with snow. The company amused itself at the expense of the round-faced Tolik Melekhov, who taught in the Philological Faculty of Kharkov University and kept watch by night in the boiler-room of a multi-story apartment building. Sitting down on a bench, Vera took off her mittens and with them brushed away the snow on the bench for a long time and with evident pleasure, and they stood to listen in the trampled snow in front of Motrich's bench. The poet's badger-fur coat was open. In one hand he held a bottle of port, and from time to time took a good gulp of it. Motrich recited poetry. Eagerly, the way starving people eat. Hardly stopping to take a breath, he read. As substantial things, rather than light, immaterial words, proceeded the verses from his Croatian throat. He read Mandelshtam and Brodskii's «Rat-Catcher»; he read his own verses:
And Jesus himself, like a horse-thief,
In a shirt of colored cotton…
The deep whisper (and especially disturbing, like a mutter, the «s» sound in the name «Jeessss-ussssss) of the living poet made all the hair on the bookseller's neck stand up for the first time in his life. Unmoving, hypnotized, mouths open, Mila and Vera leaned against each other, staring at Motrich. Having heard this poetry hundreds of times, perhaps…
«Recite 'The Wooden Man',» asked the student Melekhov. «OK, Volodya?»
No one had to twist Volodya's arm. Moving closer to the bookseller, his newest listener, Motrich recited the story about the wooden man. This wooden fellow…
Lived in a little garret, up
A hundred winding steps
And on each one found
The bookseller learned that the wooden man loved an unfortunate doll, who betrayed him, dumping him.
From the glass beads
His soul is covered with broken glass
The doll went to the pink puppet,
To her secret liason
And away from the heartless doll
Upstairs to his garret ran
The little wooden man
The wooden man…
Despite several serious criminal incidents, several factories in which he had had to work, and several complex and not entirely innocent adventures in the Crimea, Caucasus and Asia, the bookseller still did not understand the doll's nature, did not know that it was all in the way of things, that the world is like that, that the doll always goes out to a secret liason with the pink puppet. The Croatian, whose family God-knows-what wind had blown into Kharkov, convinced him, overcoming the bookseller's own experience. And Eduard Savenko believed, that the doll's nature is like that… That's her, strongly depicted. In an instant Ed Savenko, not yet even having become Limonov, understood what awaited him. Understood and forgot.
Gazing at the dark poet (Croatian bristles poking through the skin), the bookseller promised himself to become a poet. like Motrich — »To be like that» he stubbornly insisted. To have two girls sitting beside each other staring admiringly at him. To have the roundfaced student Melekhov smiling in admiration and delight and silently moving his lips, keeping time, perhaps, to the rhythm of the verses… his choice of profession was settled.
Until three a.m. Motrich stood with the bookseller at the trolley stop and recited verses to him. That snowy night at the end of l964 was the first time the bookseller heard the names of Khlebnikov and Khodasyevich. The name «Andrei Bely.» And perhaps a dozen no less distinguished names. The last tram took a long time running out to Saltovka,
Melekhov's fate was tragic. But it would hardly be reasonable to part the years and go into it now. The bookseller walked home. It took him almost two hours to make his way along the white streets of Kharkov to the Saltovka stop and, at last, to go up to his parents' flat and lie down on the sofa which served him as a bed. But even then he could not get to sleep…
«Deep South», v.2 n.2 (Winter, 1996)
The next day, Melekhov, in a fashionable plastic overcoat, which he made look awkward — his simple round face not harmonizing well with the futuristic product of the Riga atelier — walked into the muddy foyer of the «Komsomol» Theatre, where the Bookseller had set up his tables. He took from his case, which he had laid on its side, a time-yellowed book in a shredded paper cover, covered with tracings.
«There!» said Melekhov. «Let's start with this one. This forms the base, the foundation. Without this book the contemporary world will be impenetrable for you. If you don't understand it — don't worry. You don't have to grasp it all at once. If you want, I can then explain the unclear parts to you. You have to pay really careful attention with this book!» — And, having furnished the Bookseller with the adress of the boiler-room at which he worked, Melekhov walked off to his shift, carrying in one hand his sack stuffed with books and abstracts. Ed took a look at the book. Introduction to Psychoanalysis. S. Freud. With Preface by Professor Ermakov.
«Tolik Melekhov's a really good guy. Get to know him!» commented The Zombie, who had set up next to Ed. It was the end of the month, It was the end of the month, the bookstore was trying to fulfil the plan, so they'd sent The Zombie along to help the Bookseller. «And how well he knows books!» The Zombie enthusiastically wiped her always-moist eyelashes. «Oooo! Tolik's got a real library! But he's really poor. He assembled it book by book, out of sheer devotion. What a guy!» The Zombie even clicked her tongue. «How lucky Anka is! What a husband he'll be!» The Zombie very much wanted to get married herself, and although she was still only twenty, from time to time The Zombie lamented her fate, still unfastened by the bonds of wedlock. Meanwhile, she was seeing some Yurii, practicing for pregnancy and householding.
«Who's this Anka?» wondered the Bookseller, thinking, Isn't it that maybe-Jewish lady with the stiletto heels and eyes as sharp as her heels, to whom Borka Churilov introduced him in the «Poetry» store?
«Anka Volkova's the daughter of a very important man!» said the Zombie very significantly, and for some reason in a whisper, as if entrusting to a comrade an old secret. Her pale-blue face, like that of a chicken which has been dead for several days, shone with her particular sort of religious rapture. «Anka Volkova's the daughter of Volkov himself!» and The Zombie stared triumphantly at her workmate.
«But who's Volkov?» wondered the ex-foundry-worker.
«Are you kidding? You don't know who Volkov is?» The Zombie suddenly stood up behind the counter and firmly grabbed an adolescent hooligan by the hand. The Bookseller got up too, and together the two of them managed to get the stolen book out of the thief's spacious overcoat. Then, having given the would-be thief a slap on the head, The Zombie sighed.
«Volkov,» she said, «is the director of the Kharkov Meat-Fish Trust.»
«Meat-Fish Trust» made no impression whatever on the Bookseller. Secretary of OBKOM, General of the KGB — there were several titles which could impress him. But «Director of the the Meat-Fish Trust»?
«So is she pretty, this girl?»
«You mean you never saw her — Anka? She comes here often. She was in the store just yesterday. Wears glasses. Tall. Rimless glasses.»
The Bookseller recalled this girl. Glasses. Surprised pink cheeks. Nothing fantastic, maybe a certain assurance in her manner… But for all his erudition, Melekhov had a simple peasant face. Even after a year the Bookseller would say, «The face of an intellectual of the first generation.» But now he changed his definition: «A simple face — in fact, a peasant's face.»
Obviously the Bookseller's dreams of the grandeur of the «Meat-Fish Trust» and of the daughter of its director showed on his face, because The Zombie filled in more detail on Anka Volkov. «Anka's very spoiled, and a girl of character. She loves Melekhov, but still torments him a lot. See, Anka also studies Philology. That's how they met.»
The Bookseller looked at his watch and started piling his books in the sack. The Zombie didn't object, and joined in putting away the goods. It was a quarter to eight. Early. Liliya always asked them to stay in the foyer of the theatre at least til a quarter-hour after tickets for the eight-o'clock showing were sold. Director Liliay insisted that book-lovers always chose this showing. The Bookseller knew that, counting the group of hooligans who had chosen the foyer of the «Komsolol» for their headquarters, the guys who had arranged to meet their dates there among the cracked batteries, there wasn't a soul in the foyer of the theatre by eight o'clock. So what books were they going to sell? Out on the street it was snowing hard, and people had long since gone home from work.
«Anka and Tolik want to get married. Anka's Mama is on their side, but her father doesn't know about it. They're afraid to tell him that Tolik even exists. He probably won't agree to it. Melekhov has no father, but his mother's a yardworker. The father wanted to give his only daughter Anna to someone of his own circle…» — The Zombie babbled as usual and as usual put the books into the strong, durable sack, while the Bookseller, Ed, tightens the drawstring of the sack.
«They marry off their daughters, just like in bourgeois society,» grumbled the Bookseller. «Who's Anka anyway… what's it to her who Melekhov's father was… 'Yardworker-Mother' — Anka, with her glasses, will look just as much like the daughter of a yardworker!»
«And what's your father?» Asked The Zombie.
«A captain,» admits the Bookseller. In the past couple of years, he's grown indifferent to what rank his father holds. Before, he was embarrassed about his father-captain. Another time he would have lied, and said that his father was a colonel. Why would he have lied? Maybe in order that the effulgent radiance of a full regimental colonel might have shone its social light on him, Eduard.
«Captain of what?»
«God only knows of what now. I lived with my parents for so few years that I don't even know where he serves.» This answer was truthful. Captain Savyenko worked, in his time, in the NKVD/MVD. Where he works now, Eduard has no idea.
* * *
«Guys! They sent us to take you away!» The poet Vladimir Motrich appeared in the foyer of the theatre, in person, shaking the snow from his lordly fur coat. Behind him entered a tall, stooped youth with a fat, dark face and a shiny profile. The youth stared amusedly and condescendingly at the books, at The Zombie, and at Ed. From one of the batteries in another corner of the hall, the hooligans, who until this moment had been peacefully carving coarse words into the plaster with their knives, greeted Motrich. Motrich answered the hooligans with a haughty circling gesture, hand over his head. Of course, the hooligans didn't read Motrich's verses, but Motrich lived on Rimarskoy Street, which runs parallel to Sumskaya, right past the theatre; that is to say, he was local, and and the local hooligans knew him.
«Let me introduce you, Ed — this is the painter Misha Basov,» ceremoniously stepping aside in order to give the Bookseller the opportunity to see the youth with the shiny profile. By the attentive way in which he stood aside — the care, thoughtfulness, even — it could be seen that the shiny youth was his close friend, and that Motrich was proud of him. The youth stared unceremoniously at the Bookseller. It might not be fair to call his glance haughty. But an untroubled arrogance was in this glance. The Bookseller noticed that the youth somewhat resembled a portrait from the beginning of the century — possibly he looked like Aleksandr Blok, the only poet, besides Yesenin, whose work the Bookseller knew well. Borka Churilov, back when they worked together in the foundry shop, gave him, for his birthday, nine blue volumes of Blok. Borka, like Pygmalion, guided our young hero into life.
«You're a friend of Churilov's, right?» asked the shiny youth Basov, in place of a greeting. «And, if memory serves, you write verses?»
«Used to.» Answered the Bookseller, ashamed.
«And what, you gave it up?»
The Bookseller nodded.
«And you were right to do so» — said the Blok mouth in calm approval. «Nowadays everyone writes poems… But Motrich is our only real poet.» He cocluded with this gross flattery and stared at his friend the poet. who at that moment, having removed from his head his fur hat, was brushing the snow from it. The tiled, «marbled» floor of the foyer was covered with a layer of dirty slush, carried in from the street by hundreds of feet. In the slush stood Motrich's skinny trouser legs, ending in short Czech shoes; and further on, the skinny black trousers of of the youth Misha Basov, covered with mud and tucked into two formless homemade boots tied up with many lace-holes. Having noticed these boots, the Bookseller forgave the painter for his outrageous falshood — that no one but Motrich could write good poems. For all his gifts, the youth was poor. Poor and intelligent — this combination the Bookseller respected in people. A thief or a bandit shouldn't be poor, thought the Bookseller. But a man of the arts — that's another matter. The classic artist — the painter, the poet — should be poor. It's obligatory. Like Van Gogh, whose amazing letters have just been translated into Russian, together with reproductions of his work, in a large, heavy book like a family album. The Bookseller got the book from Liliya and read it from cover to cover. Poor like Yesenin, who was always short of money…
With one hand, Motrich took the folded-up chair , and with the other he took hold of a packet of books. The bookseller took grabbed three packets, the table and one packet, and the Zombie, happily relieved of burden, ran ahead, then stopped further up Sumskaya Street, revelling in the snow which had already been muddied and churned by thousands of walking feet.
«Deep South», v.2 n.2 (Winter, 1996)
At this point it is necessary to provide an elementary outline of the history and topography of Kharkov, so as to make it easier to follow our heroes' movements in time and space.
«A large Southern city,» as Bunin called it… located in Europe, in the northernmost part of the Ukranian Soviet Republic, a few hundred kilometres from the border of the Russian Soviet Republic. It was founded either at the end of the 16th century or at the beginning of the 17th, by wild Cossacks who had been causing a great deal of trouble in the huge area between the fiftieth parallel (on which sits precisely the fat dot of the city, if you look at a map) and the shores of the warm Black Sea itself.
After the Great Revolution, and right up to the year 1928, the city served as capital of Ukraine. In those ten years Kharkov managed to build several absurd architectural monuments, which would never have been built if Kharkov had not been the capital. In November l930 a Conference of Proletarian Writers was held in the city, in which took part, among others, Romain Rolland, Barbusse, and Louis Aragon. In this city was born Tatlin, celebrated author of the tower project of the International, as well as the second-greatest poet of the OBERIYU Group, Vvedenskii — not to mention that insignificant figure, Kosygin. A further point of Kharkov pride is the multitude of factories located on its outskirts. Kharkov is a gigantic industrial center, much like Detroit, for example, in the United States…
Sumskaya Street is the main artery of the city, but not because it is the longest, widest, or most fashionable. Its popularity as an ancient road, leading to the other Ukrainian city, Suma, is founded on the fact that it's central — located in the exact center of the Old City — and also on the fact that at its exact center are located the city's best-known restaurants, theatres, and administrative centers. Sumskaya Street begins at Tevelev Square and runs, climbing upwards, to Dzerzhinskii Square. And right there at No. 19 Tevelev Square Anna Moiseyevna Rubinshtein lives quite comfortably with her mother, Celia; and there, at the beginning of l965, our hero, the «Young Rascal» Eduard Savenko, moved in. From the windows of the Rubinshtein apartment on Tevelev Square can be seen the building formerly occupied by the Assembly of Nobles, the corner of Sumskaya on which is located the «Theatrical» restaurant, and the building of the Refrigeration Technical School.
On Dzerzhinskii Square are located the many-columned and many-floored barracks-yellow headquarters of the Party Regional Committee. The square, which is still the largest in Europe, accomodates other, no less remarkable but less massive architectural landmarks: the ochre-coloured Kharkov Hotel, which recalls the step-pyramids of the Aztecs; the University, a smaller version of Moscow State University; and finally, that marvel, «GOSPROM» — the prison-like constructivist headquarters of State Industries — a grotesque heap of glass and concrete.
Basically, our hero's life has taken place between Tevelev and Dzerzhinskii Squares. On Sumskaya Street, between the two squares, is located not only Store No. 41, but also the Theatrical Institute, with its beauties promenading down Sumskaya at lunchtime, and the fabulous «Mirror Stream,» an unremarkable little pond with a waterfall, immortalized nonetheless on dozens of postcards and in every tour-guide to Kharkov. (In the archives of our hero's Mama, Raisa Fyodorovna Savenko rests a photograph of Eduard, age ten, standing by the «Mirror Stream» in a sky-blue belted jacket and knickers.) Just behind the «Mirror Stream» and the Theatrical Institute is located, on the ground floor of a tall building, the famous «Automatic» — a snack bar which is Kharkov's «Cafe Rotunda,» «Cloiserie de Lilas» or «Cafe Flore.» More precisely, the Automat fulfils all the functions of all these famous cafes. (It was here that an interesting idea occurred to our author: was not the sudden flourishing of Kharkov's cultural life at this time related to the opening of the «Automatic» Snack Bar?) A few buildings on from the «Automatic,» directly opposite the towering monument in memory of the «Great Kobza-Player» Taras Schevchenko, is located the central supermarket, rather important in the history of Kharkov during this period. In this very store the heroes of our book purchased their wine and vodka. Up Sumskaya, behind the grocery store, is located a two-story building housing the combined editorial offices of «Leninist Zmin» and «Socialist Kharkov.»
Taras Schevchenko Park begins immediately opposite the first entrance of the «Automatic» — assuming, of course, that the pedestrian is proceeding along Sumskaya starting from Tevelev Square. The Park consists of several square kilometres of trees and shrubs, stretching right to the territory of Kharkov University, and including the Zoo (where Genka, Ed and Anna are now sitting), a summertime film-theatre, several public toilet-bunkers (with exquisite wall illustrations!) and Genka's Father's restaurant — the «Crystal.» Where the Park runs into the fenced perimeters of Dzerzhinskii Square, almost from its underbrush, the Pioneer House stares askance at the grand classical building of the Party's Regional Committee.
In the ravines which have etched the surface of the park, Kharkovites play Preference and Chemin-de-fer for big money. Like any self-respecting park, Schevchyenko Park has a central fountain, where on holidays a military orchestra conducted by an Armenian plays gallant marches. This Armenian's moustache is as thick as a push-broom, and is famed throughout the city.
Rimarskaya Street, as we have already observed, runs parallel to Sumskaya. It begins almost at Anna Rubinshtein's very door. Below, right past Anna's door, the famous Bursatskii Gulch descends. On it, halfway to the sprawling Blagovyeschchenskii Market, the biggest in the city, stands the former Seminary Building, now the Library Institute. The Seminary was described by Pomyalovskii in a popular nineteenth-century book, «Seminary Sketches.» From this building hordes of wild seminarians used to fall upon the peaceful vendors of Blagovyeschchenskii Market. According to legend, here on the benches of Bursatskii Gulch the great Khlebnikov wrote his poem, «Ladomir.» Beyond Sumskaya, beyond the Blagovyeschchenskii Market, beyond Dzenzhinskii Square, stretch the petty-bourgeois districts of the city and its proletarian outskirts. But fortunately they are outside the boundaries of the present narrative.
* * *
«Rackles, crazies and galakhs», in Khlebnikov's words, populated the city in his time. «Rackle» is a local Kharkov word, or rather a Bursatskii word, born in the Bursatskii Gulch. It seems to the Bookseller that now, after many years, Rackles and Crazies have again appeared in Kharkov. Crazies especially. Something is happening in Kharkov. Something still not quite understood by the Bookseller, dragging around his heavy sacks of books.
* * *
«Ed, we're going to Anna Rubinshtein's. You want to go with us?» asked Motrich, as they cheerfully delivered the cargo to Store No. 41 and handed it to Liliya, who it turned out was rushing off to the cinema with her young husband, Alik. The Directress didn't even get up to help and simply slipped the money into the cashier's kiosk, after putting it into an envelope.
«Yeah, I want to.» And he did want to. For the first time in the Bookseller's life, maybe, he was with the people he really wanted to be with. A strange, tranquil pleasure came over him.
«We just have to buy something to drink.» Motrich stood searching the pockets of his fur coat for change. He hadn't worked anywhere at all for a long, long time, and as the Bookseller knew, he had no money. Directress Liliya always sternly warned the Bookseller not to lend Motrich any money. Either the Bookseller's own or money from the cash register. «Even if he promises to give the money back to you in a few hours, don't give him any. Volodya's a poetic genius; maybe that's why he drinks so much. Getting him to pay back a debt is impossible. It's awkward squeezing a debt out of our poetic genius. Remember: you have no money for Motrich!»
The Bookseller contributed a five-ruble note toward the drinks. Misha Basov didn't even pretend to look for money in his pockets. Obviously he never has any money either. The Bookseller, who still had a hundred rubles severance pay from the foundry shop, and six suits hanging in his closet in Saltovka, condescendingly pardoned the intellectual for his unworldly poverty.
Wet, greasy snow slopped clumsily onto Kharkov, blown in from time to time by gusts of wind from the streets perpendicular to Sumskaya, where the Bookseller was hurrying, barely keeping pace with the big Motrich in his fur coat and the elk-like Basov in a light woolen jacket. The snow of Blok's «Blockade,» or perhaps the snow of «The Twelve,» fell on the heads and shoulders of the young people. On the black, Georgian-style cap of the Bookseller — it, and the heavy ratiné overcoat, remained to the Bookseller in memory of the brave little Jew Mishka Issarov, who had wanted to outwit life and had paid dearly for trying. Before he offered Ed the chance to work with him he gave Ed three meters of ratiné for an overcoat, at a price of 57 rubles a meter… The Symbolist snow clogged the city of Vrubel and Khlebnikov, Tatlin and Vedenskii, and through it walked Motrich and Misha Basov, in their present, and, distinct from them, into the future walked the Bookseller. In the future, awaiting him, was Anna Moiseyevna Rubinshtein, «prodigal daughter of the Jewish nation,» as she sometimes called herself — a woman who was destined to play a major role in the fate of Eduard Savenko. The ex-steelworker, not entirely sure what he wanted, having found Anna, unconsciously chose her for this role. Afterwards, he called his choice «Fate,» «Destiny,» «the Roll of the Dice.» But if we turn to a romantic, yet more truthful explanation, we will see that the worker very much wanted to become an intellectual, to become a poet, to learn, to study more and more. And wanted this passionately, heedlessly, violently. Having read a few dozen pages of the Introduction to Psychoanalysis, he got a big notebook and started copying out the book word-for-word because he knew that he needed this book. Alas, there was no other way of obtaining a copy of this rarely-republished work. And he couldn't bring himself simply to commandeer Melekhov's book. Anna Moiseevna served as another study-aid, and it was necessary to commandeer her.
Anna Moiseevna herself opened the door to the damp Symbolist, his pockets full of bottles of port. Backing up against their primus stoves in their nightgowns, the women of the corridor stared in terror at this invasion of hulking Decadents. Crying, «Hey, Vovka! Misha!» Anna, in a heavy dress… and in a complex aroma redolent of some twenty very different dinners, the four of them made their way through the doorway of her private compartment. And led the Decadents, herself among them, into the tiny inner corridor of her apartment-compartment and, heavily opening the door to her room (on the door were hanging her overcoat and dresses),herded the decadents into the room. On the little card table (At which the poet will write the whole of his first book of poems, as well as «The Cook» and «The Notebook») a candle burned, and from a low wooden bed Anna's friend, the broad-faced Vika Kuligina, rose smiling…
«Who are these guys, Anna?» From behind the panel of a folding door which divided Anna's room from the main room appeared — first the cigarette of Celia Yakovlevna, and then the aforesaid Celia Yakovlevna herself. «Ah, the poets have arrived!» At this point Celia Yakovlevna was still pleased at the appearance of the poets.
«Good evening, Celia Yakovlevna!» Basov, swooping suddenly, darted past the surprised poet and, grabbing the hand of the lady with the cigarette in his own wet hand, brought it to his lips. The bookseller did not yet know that Misha Basov, whom he knew as a symbolist, was also a surrealist; and this well-read youth was imitating the manner of Andre Breton in kissing ladies' hands. The not-so-well-read bookseller timidly mumbled, «Good evening.»
«Mama, go to your room! Time for you to go to sleep!» Softly but mercilessly, Anna pushed her mother into her room. And lit a second candle, standing it on the windowsill. Beyond the window the wild, featureless snow was falling. Falling on Tevelyev Square, and on the former cathedral which faced it, on the Theatrical Restaurant at the corner of of Tevelyev and Sumskaya, on the people coming through the raised gates, on the venom-red sign reading «Keep your savings in the credit union!» — the amateurish product of a Kharkov advertising agency, low in the Kharkov sky…
Why such snow? — wondered the Bookseller, glancing out the window. Maybe something's happened? The present becoming the future? — he thought, and was afraid.
«Deep South», v.3 n.1 (Autumn, 1997)
Up out of the green ravine encircling the tavern come two more members of the illustrious «SS»: Paul and Viktorushka. The latter with a green sprig stuck in his straw hat. Genka greets his friends by standing and adressing a few authoritative orders to Dusya, the barmaid.
When Ed joined the «SS,» Paul and Viktorushka were already SS men. Genka became acquainted with Paul/Pavel during the brief period in which he was a foreman (!) in the «Piston» Factory. Genka in a factory! It's difficult to imagine Gennadii Sergeevich against the background of machines and greasy iron. Even in blue overalls and with an office-worker's notebook in his hand. Still, the Piston Period in Genka's biography is real enough, and Genka is actually proud of this working-class episode in his biography. Even though a friend of his father's rather prosaically installed him at the factory so that he would have a Place of Work to write down on his application to the Institute. It's very possible that Genka took up his job at the factory as an exotic adventure, and that, in this light, he very much liked the metallic jungles of the Piston. Ed has had to listen many times to the stories of the legendary era in which the SS was founded, when Pavel Shemmetov was working in the foundry of the Piston, Fima was an engineer, Genka was supervising, and Vagrich Bakhchanyan was writing cliche motivational slogans. Ed still isn't entirely clear on who met whom, and how they got to know each other. It seems that the stout Frankophile, Paul, introduced Bakhchanyan to Genulik.
His whole strong face a smile, the former sailor Paul — his pants, sewn by «Monsieur Eduard» (as Paul calls our hero), falling like accordion pleats over his boots — »Monsieur Curlers» (as Viktorushka calls Paul, on account of the mop of chesnut curls which cover the ex-sailor's head) lets his un-Soviet walk carry him into the Tavern. The dry, compact Teutonophile follows him with the gait of a mechanical doll. These guys have attained perfection in the personae they've adopted. «Monsieur Curlers» has managed, without ever so much as setting foot on French soil, to learn French so well he speaks it without an accent. For four years, in the Navy, he studied French with a teach-yourself course and a dictionary, then he got rid of his accent by talking with repatriated French people. Pavel was born and raised on the outskirts of Kharkov, in Tyurenka. To Tyurenka he returned after his service in the fleet, to his parents — »The Slobs» as he scornfully calls them, obviously ashamed of the non-French-speaking quasi-peasants of Tyurenka. But it's a year since «Monsieur Curlers» married a girl from the Centre, nicknamed «Zaychik,» and moved in with her and her mother, just like our main hero. Notice how provincial youths are drawn to the centre of town! Ed's known Paul/Pavel for almost two years now, but only recently did they discover that they had old friends in common. Paul, it turns out, knew the Vishnyevskii family, who were repatriated from France and whose younger daughter, Asya (or Liza) had at some point become friends with the adolescent Savenko. Not surprising; Paul, after all, was living in Tyurenka, and Asya and Ed in the adjacent district, Saltovka. Rummaging around in his memory, the patient seeker is rewarded, as always, with a new discovery — Ed remembers the scene on Zhuralyevskii Beach in 1958. Beneath the thickening clouds, the half-naked Tyurenka mob pointed out to him this healthy-looking, bearded fellow running along the beach with gigantic dumbells in his hands.
«Our sailor, Polyushka. He just got out of the Navy,» said the Tyurenka kids. «Healthy as a bull, and talks French, but he's a little…» — the Gypsy, Kolya, put his finger to his temple and turned it. Meaning that the sailor's a little strange, maybe even crazy. Fitness fanatics were respected in Tyurenka, «tetched» people were not. Thus it came about that Ed saw «Monsieur Curlers» for the first time, nine years ago.
The SS men come out onto the veranda, and Paul, wrinkling still further his gray-and-black striped pants, bows reverently. He speaks little as a rule, simply murmuring «Bonjour,» and sitting at the table. Cheerful, trim, and ebullient as a young officer, Viktorushka, in a cap, khaki trousers, and sandals, and a fake-silk shirt with short sleeves, is, by contrast, very talkative. Inspecting the veranda and deciding there is a sufficient number of spectators, he assumes a pose and exclaims, «Heil!» throwing out his arm in a Hitler salute. The shocked «goat herd,» snacking and drinking vodka (but passing it under the table) grumbles deeply and indistinctly. «Such an outrage!» — a woman in glasses at the next table turns to him in horror. Her unattractive face is lined with revulsion.
«Zoldaten!» Viktor begins his speech, beaming. One of Hitler's speeches. Viktor, by no small effort, managed to learn by heart around ten of Hitler's orations, getting down even the intonation and emotional style of the Fuhrer. His German is perfect. Viktorushka graduated from the Institute of Foreign Languages and even managed to get appointed director of studies at a school in Siberia, in Bratsk, from which he returned after six months. In his six months in Bratsk, however, he managed to get married — and divorced, after throwing a knife at his father-in-law, a doctor. The knife stuck in the door just above the doctor's scalp, having shaved a few of the father-in-law's hairs.
Viktorushka finishes his speech, and for a moment it seems to Ed that the entire mass of the goat herd will turn on them, so ominous is the silence on the veranda; only the roar of hungry, or perhaps annoyed tigers can be heard in the distance. Genulik waits, savoring the ominous silence, not in any hurry to leave the table; then stands, and at last speaks, addressing the diners: «Comrades! Let's have a big hand for this student from the German Democratic Republic, for perfroming so wonderfully for us one of Hitler's speeches from the play, 'The Fall of Berlin'!»
The goat herd applauds even more enthusiastically willingly than required. Their honor has been preserved. An incident has been avoided. Maybe nobody really believed in the existence of the play, «The Fall of Berlin,» but the important thing is that the utterance of the few words they understood in the speech, unpleasant German words like «kommunisten,» «kommisaren,» «Juden,» and «Partizanen,» has been legitimised and explained. The hot August day is wonderful, the vodka and port good and strong, the arm-pits of the women's dresses are stained and the smell of sweat — carnal, corporeal, alive — floats among the tables, mixing with the smells of food. And across the way — maybe ten paces off — is the ravine, into which you can go to indulge your particular needs, from simple peepee and caca to the grossest summer orgies. What's there to fight about?
«I zank you, Gomradz!» Clicking his heels, the Democratic German once again gives the Hitler salute, and Genka, who adores his friends and dangerous moments, hands him a glass of vodka with a satisfied, but typically self-contained smile. The student from the Nice German Republic takes a little gulp and sits down. He drinks little. Perhaps the cause of his dislike of alcohol is that his father is an alcoholic. An alcoholic who, six years ago, became a one-eyed alcoholic. Viktor put out his eye.
It happened, according to the account of «M. Curlers,» like this. Viktor's parents, like «M. Curlers's» live in Tyurenka, in a little private house. One day, after lunch, Viktoryushka, who'd just gotten married (for the first time) was lying with his young bride in the garden, on a bed under the apple-tree. Viktor was having a nap after his lunch. «But I don't know whether they were 'humping' or not…» laughed Paul, since besides French M. Curlers knows only the vulgar tongue of his native Tyurenka. «They were lying there… Dad came home from work drunk and started stumbling around the garden… up to his ass in adventure… Finding the young people on the bed, Dad started laughing and grabbed Viktor's wife by the foot… 'Get the fuck out of here, you old fool!' said Viktor. The old fool not only didn't leave, he started shaking and pulling the bed with the young couple in it, maybe trying to tip them out… Viktor told his Dad to fuck off once again, and warned him not to interfere in his, Viktor's, life. Then Dad told Viktor to fuck off, and, sticking his hand under the covers, grabbed Viktor's wife by the ass…» Here, the storyteller, M. Curlers, suffered a fit of soundless laughter and slapped his palm against his thigh. Then he continued: «Viktor stood up, took a log that was lying on the ground and smashed Papa in the head with it. Smashed him so hard that 'First Aid' came for Papa» — obviously finding this story extremely amusing, the narrator again crumpled in a fit of laughter. «But it didn't aid, Ed — not even 'first.' It turned out the log had a branch on it, and this branch hit Papa in the eye… It fucked Papa's eye real good, it splattered it completely, like an egg in a frying pan…»
«They're real savages, these Tyurenka people —» reflects Ed, pressed between two strong, hot bodies — his wife, Anna Moiseyevich, and M. Curlers «— even the best of them.» Viktorushka, who went on living with his parents — somehow or other his father forgave him — obviously isn't harried with remorse for having put out dear Papa's eye. One day he calmly and laughingly told Ed his own version of the story, which hardly differs from Paul's version. This happened after a French lesson. Viktor gives Ed French lessons twice a week. Yes, Viktor knows the language of the Franks; it was his second language at University.
Why does Viktor teach Ed French, and not Paul? The snobbish M. Curlers said that he will converse with Ed with pleasure, once he's learned the language with Viktor's help, but he cannot and will not teach the basics. Therefore Viktor teaches Ed French, for a little money. For half the normal price. Ed doesn't want to learn German. He already studied French in school and at the Culinary School where fate directed him in l961. (The Militia demanded that he establish a place of work, and he preferred writing out recipes for borsch and pie, plucking chickens and dismembering pigs, to being exiled 101 kilometers away from Kharkov. He was very promptly expelled for stealing chickens and non-attendance.) Why is Ed trying to revive his French, lost in the course of his vagabond life?* What the point of studying French? It's hard to say; maybe some vague future adventures on the surface of the globe. In the style of «The Adventurers»: Alain Delon and Lino Venturi. Maybe he and Genka…
Nonetheless, Eduard understands quite well that his Magnificent pal Genka — his pride, his friend, in a sense his leader and guide — is a weakling… Of course, this weakness is not physical, but a weakness of character. Genka's desires, and even his fantasies, do not extend beyond sitting at the Tavern, a trip to the Monte Carlo, swimming in the river in winter, drinking bouts and petty hooliganism in all its attractive variants. It's a sweet life in Kharkov. The most dangerous of their undertakings was the attempt to get onto the transport aircraft, though it was not crowned with success. They got arrested. It's true that Genka, the haughty, sleek, elegant thoroughbred, passed himself and Eduard off as KGB — he dropped the names of some genuine bigwigs in the Kharkov KGB, and the airport security guards let them go, and even offered them cognac and a buffet. «What idiots!» laughed Genka and Ed in the taxi which was carrying them away from the gates of the Kharkov Airport.
* * *
«Hey, Ed! Ed, what, have you fallen asleep?» asks Anna Moiseyevna, waving her hand in front of his eyes. «Are you dreaming?»
«What did you see before you, dear poet?» eagerly asks the enthusiast, Viktorushka. He treats his pupil with a certain degree of irony, respecting Ed not for his poems but because Ed knows how to sew pants and can make money without leaving home. Few are those who believe in his poems. Everyone believes in pants. Pants are obvious. Ed can sew two pairs a day, or, if he works from early morning til late at night, he can even make three pair.
«Deep South», v.3 n.1 (Autumn, 1997)
It's Anna's fault he started sewing pants. Somehow he went on a date with the Jewish woman in bell-bottomed jeans of some khaki material. Bell-bottomed jeans were high fashion in Kharkov in the winter of 1964-65.
«What wonderful pants, Ed!» said Anna approvingly. «Who sewed them for you?»
«I sewed them myself,» Ed lied, thereby solving all his financial problems for the next ten years.
«I didn't know you knew how to sew,» Anna was truly amazed. Before this she had not taken him seriously. This was still before the kid went to see her in Alushta, in the Women's Sanatorium, where Anna went to get some rest from Kharkov and its problems. This was before they started sleeping together, before Ed moved in with Anna and went to live with the Jewish family as a new member. This was before our era. At that time, Ed and Anna were just friends. At that time, he would go to Anna Moiseyevna's place and sit in the corner and for the most part, keep silent, looking at the guests in amazement, with the innocent eyes of a working class guy and criminal. He kept silent because there was nothing for him to say — he didn't know the names of the painters, writers, or poets of Russia, or the world; he didn't have an opinion about the poems of Pasternak which were in fashion at the time… Ugh, he didn't even know who Van Gogh was, and it would take him several months for him to stop confusing him with Gaugin, and another month to be certain who the severed ear belonged to.
However, despite his confusion and embarrassment at this unavoidable muteness, the bookseller stubbornly kept coming to Anna Moiseyevna's each evening, inevitably bringing with him a bottle of port, knowing that the port would make it easier for him. Every evening, that Autumn, there were arguments, poetry reading, and port at 19 Tevelev Square. In Anna's company — Vicki Kuligina and Vicki's former husband, Tolik Kuligin — -port was preferred to «'biomitsin.» The evolving bookseller willingly gave up fortified white wine for port.
Now, through the thick stratum of time, the conduct of the working-class guy Savenko seems to have been admirably directed by his powerful intuitive faculty. If he did not understand the reason that he needed Anna, needed these sometimes incomprehensible and sometimes simply comical and affected people, his mighty instinct whispered to him: «Sit here. This is what you need. This place. These are the ones, the people you searched for, fruitlessly, in the factories, in the vegetable plots, on the roads of the Crimea, the Caucasus, and Asia. Sit down, keep quiet, and learn.» And that's what he did. Ignoring the unwanted sympathy and, at other times, mockery. The elk-like Misha Basov was more ironical than the others. And many times the bookseller noticed Misha's mocking glance directed at him.
…Pants. After ten days or so, Anna suddenly asked him «Listen, Ed, sew a pair of pants for my friend? He's as thin as a rake, and on him normal soviet-style goods look like a sack. And his girlfriend, my friend Zhenya, wants Bunny to look handsome. Will you sew them?»
«With pleasure, Anna. He needs to buy one metre twenty centimetres of cloth» — the liar answered, remembering how Maskim the guy who sewed his khaki jeans measured him. Of course this lie involved him in all sorts of unnecessary trouble — but, thought the liar, he would get out of it somehow. He'd measure Anna's friend, take the material and the measurements to Maksim, and Maksim would make the pants. Then Ed would give them to Anna's friend, and everybody'd be happy.
But an amusing incident occurred, causing this little drama to conclude otherwise. When he had gotten from Yurii Issarov, the brother of the unfortunate adventurer, Mishka — the address of the young man, Maksim, the liar arrived at last at a beautiful little old street, and knocked on an abstract art-piece which, he realised, was the door of a one-story house there appeared before the frozen, package-carrying bookseller not Maskim but an old woman, as attractive as the street and the door. «Akh! they took Maskim away to the army last week!» said the old woman joyously. «Thanl God!» What Maskim had done to merit this «Thank God!» Ed never found out. The beautiful old street smelled beautifully of smoke, as the unhappy bookseller trudged toward the tram.
He didn't know any other tailors. Normal tailors, the kind who work in shops, didn't know how, and wouldn't want, to sell bell-bottom pants. What could he do? When Eduoard went to Yurii Ossarov for advice, Yurii said that he didn't know any other fashion-making tailors, and observer philosophically, «Why did you lie?»
Returning the material to Bunny was out of the question, that would mean losing his newly-acquired friends' respect — above all Anna's. He'd look like a phoney. After thinking about it, Ed decided to sew the pants himself. First of all, he measured his own bell-bottomed pants at hundreds of different points, and drew the measurements on a piece of paper. This gave him the dimensions of the pants. Raisa Fyodorovna looked sceptically at her son, who had covered the table in their one and only room with his paper, chalk, cloth and ruler. «How are you going to sew? You don't even know how!» she observed. Still, she found it all quite interesting, since her son disclosed to her the entire story, which he, normally secretive, decided for some reason to reveal.
Of course, he had never sewed pants, but he knew how to hold a sewing needle in his hands. Several years of practice — -clandestinely mending and altering his own clothes, keeping it a secret from his mother — -had taught him how to alter pants. He had always had obvious talent as a draftsman, and he knew geometry well. While still a boy, he sometimes managed to earn a few rubles by drawing patterns from «Working Woman» magazine for the woman who lived in his building, and even, as his fame spread, for women from other buildings. Or any other pattern.
Equipped with these basic skills and common sense, and having spent forty-eight hours on the project (it turned out to be particularly difficult to figure out how to make the pockets) he finished the pants. And his mother, Raisa Fyodrovna, admitted, to her own surprise, when she saw her son put them on, that these were good pants. You could even say great pants. Still, not wanting to surrender her position (basically her position consisted of the absolute certainty that her son was «no good at anything»), Raisa Fyodorovna asked, «And this what's-his-name, Bunny, is he really the same measurements as you?»
«A little skinnier, maybe…» mumbled her son. On Monday, going out to sell books to the people, he brought along Bunny's new pants. The thins, wrinkled Bunny — he was actually the learned Viktor Zaytsyev; the magnificent Zhenya Katznelson, with her white skin and jet-black hair, in a black fur coat; and Anna, in a bright flowered shawl over a coarsely-woven wool overcoat with a fur collar, showed up during the lunch break. On this cold winter day, the bookseller had been allowed to set up his stall right next to Store No. 41 — so Bunny, with Liliya's permission, went into the back room to try on the pants. Bunny came out of the back room a different man.
«Bunny, what a beautiful figure you have!» cried Anna. «I always thought you had a skinny body and a huge butt. But it turns out that was just the terrible pants you've been wearing! You're terrific, Ed!» and Anna kissed Ed.
«Indeed, well done» said Bunny. «Much better than I expected. How much do I owe you?» «Nothing» said the bookseller, looking away. At that time he still couldn't take money from people for his work.
«Wait a minute, Bunny — turn around!» commanded Zhenya. Bunny, grimacing, turned obediently around. «Aren't they a little tight in the back?» Zheyna asked the bookseller.
«That's just the cut,» said Directress Lilya, proud of her talented subordinate.
«So how much do I owe you?» Bunny asked again, slapping Ed on the shoulder in a friendly manner.
«You said seven rubles, didn't you Ed?» said Anna. (Maybe he had said seven; he'd had to say something. He forgot how much he gave Maskim.)
«Here… and thanks very much, old man» — Bunny awkwardly put a ten ruble not in the bookseller's hand.
«Now I have to give you back…» the bookseller dug into his pockets.
«No, no — forget about it.» At this point Bunny became embarrassed. «Are you going somewhere for lunch? Come to the cafe with us. My treat.»
«I don't know… I usually have to work…» The bookseller looked over at the Directress.
«Ask the Zombie to cover for you for an hour…»
«I'll stay, I'm free!» agreed the Zombie, popping up from behind the curtain, where she had been doing accounts. the delighted bookseller flew from the shop with his new friends, and they set off for the cafe on Gogol Square to drink to the first pants sewn by Ed. That's how he became a tailor.
After Bunny, he sewed pants for Kuligin, Vicki's ex-husband and Anna's ex-lover. Though maybe Anna was sill sleeping with Tolik back then. or maybe not? It seemed to Ed that she was, but then at that point, Ed had not yet slept with her. Kuligin… a guy with glasses, a guy with a book… the clever Tolik, the exceedingly clever Tolik, the omniscient Tolik, the fascinating Tolik… For Kuligin's one negative trait — he drank a lot — it seemed there were 99 positive ones.
Two and a half years went by. Ed Limonov, older and more experienced, is sitting with his friends in the Tavern and, distracted from the general conversation, thinking about Kuliin, about man in general, about man's fate, about whether it's possible to foresee what will happen to this or that boy, youth, adolescent. Take Kuligin. Everyone around him always considered him extremely talented, gifted, promising. His letters, and a few stories which Anna once showed Ed, did indeed abound in interesting observations and were written in good clear prose. The only thing Ed didn't like was the effeminate purple paper, and the fact that the letters were written in red ink. But the colour of the paper and ink cannot serve as a serious critique. The talent in those letters was evident — a fact.
Still, those letters and stories came from Kuligin's and Anna's past, without Ed. Kuligin hasn't even written letters for a long time. He drinks more and more, and reads more and more. he reads like a maniac! Why didn't Kuligin develop his talent? God only knows! Maybe he has no desire for glory? Nothing of the motor which makes a man try with all his strength to write more interestingly than anyone else, and try to reach the highest peak? Kuligin is nice, but it seems like he wants nothing but port, peace and quiet, and books. Kuligin has a dog, and a daughter, Tanya, with whom he sometimes strolls in Schevchenko Park. he used to work as a night watchman, and now he's watchman in the boiler-room of a chemical factory. Doesn't Kuligin have any ambition? Obviously not.
Then does he, Ed, have ambition? He does. All through the spring and summer of 1965 he kept to himself, writing poems. He filled two notebooks of rough gray paper, 500 pages each, which Anna snuck home for him from the store. And everything he wrote seemed worthless to him, next day… from time to time he resolved to show what he'd written to the one and only person he was not embarrassed by: Tolik Melekhov.
«Bad!» sadly pronounced Melekhov, handing Eduoard the notebooks of coarse gray paper. «Bad — but keep writing, and don't throw these away.»
And Ed, once again, locked himself away in Anna's room all day. At that time, she was working at the respectable Academic Bookstore. Discipline was stricter there and Anna wouldn't get home until after seven in the evening. Summer was hot, there wasn't a breath of air, but the glory-seeking youth kept writing his lines on the gray paper… And once again, Melekhov, glancing to the side announced his verdict: «Bad, Ed…» For maybe a year, he had been writing bad poems, and then one day, in despair, he suddenly managed to drag from deep within himself a melody which, even if it was expressed in vague or poorly organised words, was his own melody — and Ed felt this. Quickly Ed wrote out two dozen more of these vague melodies drawn from deep within himself and gave them to Melekhov. Melekhov didn't show up for a week, and for a week Ed waited nervously for Melekhov's arrival. Finally one evening Melekhov met him at the «Automatic.» Tolik drew from his briefcase — he now, at the insistence of Anna Volkova and her mother, carried a briefcase instead of a sack — his, Eduoard's poems, and said seriously, not smiling: «There Ed, now you can call yourself a poet. You've written some real poems. your own poems.» And he added sadly, «I've never written any.»
Ed Knew one of Melekhov's poems, «Pale and Ghostly.» The poem was actually kind of funny; in it, «Pale» strove for «Ghostliness.»
«Intellectual fucking-around,» was Motrich's characterization of Melekhov's wok, thrusting his nose, for a moment, out of his lordly fur coat. «You, Tolka — don't try to write poems. you know all about poems - but don't write them. you should be writing poetry criticism» And Motrich gulped his «triple» — his extra-strong coffee. Motrich no longer «took» ordinary coffee from the Hungarian percolator.
Eduoard trusted Tolik Melekhov's taste. The red-faced, simple son of a janitress was always trying to trying to educate Ed Savenko, perhaps finding in this task a certain pleasure. Melekhov made Ed read, one after the other, three volumes of Khlebnikov's poems, edited by Professor Stepanov, and the youth Savenko obediently wrote out the poems, line by line. he had long ago discovered that if you do a little bit of work each day, you can complete even the most enormous project. He wrote out all three volumes, but without the commentaries. Melekhov explained to the young Savenko what «unconscious learning» was, and started to bring Eduoard the yellowed brochures of the «Oppositionists» — members of the formalist tendency in the Soviet literary criticism of the Twenties. Thanks to Shklovskii, Eichenbaum, Tomashevskii, and Tolik Melekhov, the young Savenko learned that «the blue sky» doesn't move the reader, inasmuch as there have been thousands of blue skies shimmering up at the reader from thousands of books… so the poor reader no longer reacts to the blue sky. You must surprise the reader, the young Savenko grasped, just as — in what seemed like only a few days — he was being transformed into Limonov.
«Deep South», v.3. n.2. (Winter 1997)
«So, Ed — you going to fuck off to Moscow again?» says Paul, smirking.
«Where could he do better than in Kharkov, M. Curlers?» Genka takes up the theme. Genka really doesn't want Ed to leave. Genka would be bored. And he doesn't believe Ed will get away.
«We have firmly resolved to abandon you come September, friends.» confirms Anna. «I'm going first, Ed's following in about ten days. We take Celia Yakovlyevna to Kiev, find tenants for the apartment, and farewell Kharkov!»
«And back again in two weeks!» laughs Genka. «Ed already went to Moscow, in April. He couldn't bear being torn from hearth and home!»
«But our Bakhushka's already there. He stuck it out — good for him! He wasn't made for Kharkov. Torn is right — torn from this Ukrainian faggotry» M. Curlers gestures to the side at the visitors of the Tavern. «How I despise them, this merde!» he mutters, clenching his fist against his curly hair. «I'll head off for Muscovy too, when Bunny has the baby.»
«And you'll come back, too, Paul Why you all can't just stay in Kharkov…» Genka doesn't like conversations about leaving. Doesn't like them at all. Maybe he himself would go to Moscow, but here in Kharkov, where his father is a restaurant director, life is just so much easier. Who would he be in Moscow? Just another Muscovite. In Kharkov, Genka is the son of Sergei Sergeevich Ovcharenko. Even in little things, it's comfier for him here. Yesterday, for example, they needed money, as always; they were sitting around in Genka's house. Without even thinking about it, Genka took from the refrigerator several jars of crab and a couple of jars of caviar and threw the jars into a briefcase. They went down Sumskaya to the hairdresser's by the «Penguin» Cafe, and in five minutes they sold the jars of scarce goodies. And then went over to the «Lux» for shashlik. In Moscow, Genka wouldn't have a refrigerator like that, no matter how much money his father sent him.
* * *
Genka can't move to Moscow. Therefore Genka doesn't want Ed to move. Or Anna. Genka wants to keep the gang together. He can always come over to Ed and Anna's, at any time of day or night, if he's passing by. If a vertical line of light were drawn from Anna's window, that line would go right down the stairs leading to a wine cellar hidden under the asphalt of Tevelyev Square. In the summer, when it's hot, the winey smell rises straight up and permeates the trolley-shaped room, irritating the nostrils of the young poet. When Genka goes to the wine-cellar to drink, he may, if he's bored, whistle for Ed, and a few minutes later his co-imbiber will be standing next to him, leaning his shoulder against the wall decorated with Russian colors. It's strange that, in a city with a population of one million, such patriarchal customs, more characteristic of a sleepy little town, have endured so long. Genka's comfortable living in Kharkov. Therefore he doesn't like conversations about leaving.
«Ed came back from Moscow last spring because of me!» proudly declares Anna, glancing defiantly at the group. Her little nose goes all red, and her tanned face too. «Right, Ed?»
«Right.» Ed feels guilty, so he avoids the usual quarrel. Normally, to provoke Anna Moiseyevna, he'd say, «No, not at all…» And Anna would say, «You scum! Young scoundrel!» and a skirmish would begin. And it's true, actually, that without Anna he'd feel awfully alone in Moscow. He's gotten used to Anna Moiseyevna; after all, they've been living together for what will soon be three years! Anna's his grandma, his friend, his drinking buddy. As Motrich says, «Anna's a good guy!» — and Ed agrees with him. She's insane, of course. But Eduard Savyenko himself spent some time in a mental hospital. He tried to do away with himself. He opened his veins onto Stendahl's novel, «The Red and the Black». The bloodstained book is on the shelf, among other books, in his parents' bookcase. It was open to the page where the ardent Julien Sorel sneaks into Mme de Renal's bedroom.
But it wasn't just because of Anna that Ed returned to Kharkov. It was hard on him, moving to Moscow. He had nowhere to live. He stayed with his friend Anna, the former Kharkovite Alla Borobevskaya, formerly married to a Muscovite, Senya Pisman. Senya, of course, wasn't exactly delighted by the Kharkov youth's presence in his home. After all, who would be? To make a long story short, the first attack failed. Ed came home.
* * *
«But why do you want to go to Moscow, anyway? Moscow can't hold everyone; it's not made of rubber» — said Anna's friend, the well-known painter Brusilovskii, who was in Kharkov for a brief visit. Smelling of leather and some obviously foreign perfume, smoking a sweet-smelling tobacco (Bakh said it had raisins in it!) from a beautiful, curving pipe, moustachioed, with sideburns and a beard — Brusilovskii, striking Ed as uncommonly elegant, came to see the girlfriend of his youth. Anna had vowed to drag the Muscovite to her home, and she did.
The family made elaborate preparations for the visit. Ed went down to the Blagovyeschchenskii Market and got the groceries, and Celia Yakovlyevna made Forschmak, gefilte fish and pirogii.
The Muscovite ate like a boa-constrictor. Vagrich Bakhchyanin, who had also been invited, showed some of his works.
«Interesting… interesting…» mumbled Brusilovskii, examining Bakh's enamels. «How was it done?» Ed read poems. In essence, it was in order to show the young people's work to the Muscovite that the meeting was arranged. An important meeting. The volunteer promotional tandem, Anna and Celia Yakovlyevna, tried to palm off on Brusilovskii the young talents. Ed was the first to notice how excited Anna was. She even bit her fingernails.
«Wonderful! Remarkable!» exclaimed Brusilovskii after each poem was read — though he didn't forget to gobble the pirogii. The Muscovite's praises seemed to the poet a bit too greasy and too sweet; but, remembering Anna's instructions, he kept reading.
Such a handsome white-skinned boy doughnut of flattened leather like a column. So brilliant, his little head was transluscent Such a boy perished, eh? Like a little girl, and they'd dressed him like a girl Only later he wouldn't stand for it. He said «What am I, a little girl?» Such a cute little tyke…
The Muscovite lavished on «Knizhishii» the greasiest praise he had in his thesaurus. «Magnificent! Magnificent! Up to Moscow standards!» he cried, stuffing pirog into his beard. But it wasn't clear what he had in mind: the meat pirog — the work of Celia Yakovlyevna — or the poem — the work of Ed Limonov.
«Tolya, tell me truthfully, as an old girlfriend… you and I have known each other for ten years, if not longer. If Ed takes poems like this to Moscow, he might win… renown, perhaps?» Anna hesitated. Ed, embarrassed, gulped a wineglass of vodka. The Muscovite didn't drink vodka.
The energetic Brusilovskii, who, pink and flushed wherever there wasn't beard, had come to Kharkov against his will — to visit his sick Papa, Rafail, the Kharkov writer — looked at Anna Moiseyevna attentively. This girlfriend of Anatolii Brusilov's youth knew a great many things about him, things she considered shameful, things which, from a higher perspective, might not really be so terrible, but had certainly been rather painfully unpleasant for the masculine pride of the young Brusilov, ten years earlier. For example, she recalled how some of Tolik's evilly-inclined acquaintances (Anna's ex-husband among them) had hung the puny Tolya from a chesnut-tree in Schevchenko Park, having already removed the clothing from the lower part of his body… Tolya thought for a moment, and, obviously decided to treat the girlfriend of his youth humanely, having transcended his youthful humiliations.
«In the official literature, avant-garde poems like the ones your present husband writes could not, of course, be acceptable and it would, as far as I know, be impossible to print them. Even Andrei had a great deal of trouble publishing his avant-garde work. (By «Andrei,» as Eduard correctly guessed, he meant Andrei Voznesenskii.) Even for him…»
* * *
Anna grew sad. She considered Brusilovskii intelligent, flexible and nimble. So if Tolik says «No,» it's clear that the poems of her boy-husband and protege can't be published in Moscow. Her genius…
«But…» Brusilovskii put another piece of pirog on his plate, and, lifting the plate, prepared to bring it closer to his mouth, «…many of my poet-friends live outside the official culture. Not to mention my old friends, Kholin and Sapgir. (Ed pricked up his ears, hearing these unfamiliar names), «both of whom make a living by writing poems for children…» Brusilovskii stuffed the pirog into the slit between his beard and his carefully-curled, glossy moustache. «Even the SMOGISTS manage to get by somehow…»
Once again Ed pricked up his ears. What the hell are SMOGISTS?
«You've never heard of the smogists?» asked the Muscovite, noticing the embarrassment on the provincials' faces.
«Something… a little…» Vagrich answered diplomatically. Vagrich having just shaved his Armenian beard, is looking younger, and is very determined to go to Moscow.
«SMOG is the newest avant-garde tendency in literature. It stands for Smartest Modern Organization of Geniuses. The most ingenious genius is Lenya Gubanov. Then there's Volodya Aleynikov. They're all very young, just kids really. Gubanov was recognized as a genius at sixteen!» Brusilovskii gazed condescendingly at the provincials. The twenty-two-year-old Ed felt old. He was even ashamed of his advanced age. Vagrich was even five years older than he. Maybe they shouldn't go to Moscow? Maybe it's too late? Maybe they're too far behind already?
«Now why, in general, do you people want so much to go to Moscow?» the self-assured and dynamic Muscovite smiled condescendingly at the provincials. Ed noticed that the Muscovite's hand, which was resting on a glass of some soft drink, was small, with short fingers. «You can work and develop just as successfully here. From what Anna told me — «here Brusilovskii, for some reason, snorted in delight, «— I understood that you have a complex, highly-developed intellectual milieu. Meet with each other more often, write poems, show your work to each other, put on exhibitions in private apartments… Since, after all…» — The Muscovite gulped down the soft drink — «…after all, guys, Moscow can't hold everybody, Moscow's not made of rubber!»
Fuck you and your sideburns, asshole! — thought the poet. This non-rubber Moscow holds you! You married a Moscow girl. But for us there's no room. — Out loud he said shyly, «I read somewhere recently that in order to learn to play chess well, you have to play people who are better than you are. If you just go around playing people who are worse, or at the same level, you won't improve.»
«Yes, very wise!» Brusilovskii suddenly agreed. «How did that one of yours go?…'hot weather'…
A hot summer day… they come to visit,
Anton and my Uncle Ivan…
Some Pavel, and some Ribsy
And with them their nephew Kraska…
— There's something in that one. Something at once both Ukrainian-Kharkovian and eternal, Buddhistic, was in that poem of yours. Yes, that one will go over well in Moscow.» As if Brusilovskii were talking to himself.
Ed — such is human nature — instantly forgave the Muscovite for his short fingers, his greedy wolfing of the pirogii — even the Muscovite's sideburns suddenly became pleasant.
«Tolya! You remembered it! After hearing it only once!» Anna Moiseyevna smiled at Brusilovskii. In honor of this distinguished friend of her youth, Anna is wearing a black velvet dress with a white collar made of old lace, borrowed from Celia Yakovlyevna.
«I have a powerful memory,» says Brusilovskii, shrugging his shoulders. «Still, Moscow… it's a cruel city.» he continued. «To survive in Moscow… to get famous in Moscow… Oh, for that you have to be a very strong person. Brusilovskii doubtfully looked over the skinny young poet, whose attire heightened the impression of frailness: black pants, black vest, white shirt. It must be noted that after becoming a poet, the working-class lad had lost several kilograms of his working weight, and and after a couple of years of clever books and agitated discussions, of associating with painters, writers and artists, his thin intellectual face had become unusually elongated and thin. (Just as the faces of Sinologists, they say, become more Chinese after years of working in the Heavenly Empire.) It's true that the vulgar insist there's another solution for the poet's thinning face — that Anna has fucked the life out of the poet. Indeed, the discrepancy between the powerful, elastic, plump Anna and her boy gives rise to many obscene hypostheses. But of their sex-life we will talk later. Their sex-life wasn't the main thing. Maybe Ed Limonov wouldn't have given the impression of being a strong man, but if you looked carefully you would notice in the young man's manner a certain dignity. Dignity was always linked in his character with self-love. «
«How old is Gubanov?» Ed asked enviously, comparing the Moscow genius to himself. Exactly as he used to compare himself to Motrich at one time. Ed was thinking of what Melekhov had told him not long ago: that he, Ed, was a much more interesting and original poet than Motrich. Although what Melekhov said had not surprised him; in his own mind, he had already toppled the figure of Motrich.
Gubanov is twenty…
It's not I in the Kremlin's eyes,
Nasally, obviously imitating the author, Brusilovskii recited. «Gubanov reads his own poetry marvellously. He doesn't really read them — he practically sobs them. Have you ever heard the way they cry out in northern Russia? Like that — Gubanov cries just as wellwell.»
Brusilovskii got up to leave. He was leaving town the next day. According to the girlfriend of his youth, Brusilovskii hated Kharkov and hated his former friends, who had tormented him ten years ago. He had come home only because his father had had a heart attack. Otherwise nothing could have lured him to Kharkov. In moving to Moscow, he had changed even his last name — he'd started signing his pieces in the magazine Meaning is Strength with the name «Brusilov.»
«So… how's Igor?» asked Brusilov, already stepping across the threshold. «He still stuck in Simfernopol?» — Joy shone in the eyes of the famous Moscow avant-garde painter. It seemed that of all his former friends, Anna's former husband was his special hatred.
«Igor? I called him when Ed and I were in Alushta. He's married, and I told her that if Igor wants to keep working in television he'd better send me 25 rubles. And he sent it to me, like a dear!»
Brusilov laughed heartily and even kissed Anna. As far as Ed knew, those 25 rubles were the only sum Anna had ever managed to get out of her former husband. But listening to Anna's anecdotes, you'd think she was a professional extortionist and blackmailer. When in reality she drank the miserable 25 rubles away in one winter night in Alushta.
«If you two are ever in Moscow, give me a call. I'll introduce you to some interesting people,» Brusilov promised, and left. The inhabitants of the corridor, blasé as ever, hovered above their saucepans.
From the window he could see the solid little Brusilov, in a loose-fitting suede coat which reached the ground, walking quickly past the refrigeration-repair school, through a crowd of future refrigerator-repair technicians, who were pouring out of the building for a coffee-break. The broad belt of the coat fastened around his sturdy rump, the Muscovite turned onto Sumskaya street and was gone.
«Well, what do you think, Ed?» asked Anna Moiseyevna, sitting down and finally taking some pirog.
«We have to go,» said Vagrich. «We'll make room, we'll find a place big enough for two.»
«For three,» said Anna Moiseyevna touchily.
«For three,» Vagrich corrected himself.
«Deep South», v.3 n.3 (Spring 1997)
«Students! Stop that immediately! Students! Get off those camels! Immediately! Militia!» The limping guard runs around the enclosure in distress, blowing a whistle on a chain, then spitting it out of his mouth to shout, «Students!» — then suddenly he begins to cry, out of shane and frustration. He cries and limps, whistling for the militia.
The «students» are Fima on a two-humper, and Lyonka Ivanov on a one-humper, which he was spurring unmercifully. They're sitting on the camels, playing Lawrence of Arabia or Tuaregs intercepting a caravan in the Sahara. The camels, as stunned as the lame guard by the insolence of the students, are snorting and gasping. Fima and Lyonka, with the help of their «SS» unit, managed to herd the camels against the massive fence of black iron, and from there Fima, and then Lyonka, too, had managed to bellyflop onto the bald, discolored backs of the beasts. The thick-lipped Jew-Tuareg Fima found himself right between the humps, and hung on for several unpleasant minutes, during which the frightened beast carried him to the opposite end of the enclosure, snorting, jumping up and down and trying to bite him with its big yellow fangs; somehow taming the beast, and kicking it in the side with his heels, he forced it to parade pretty smoothly past Gennadii, Ed and Anna, Viktorushka and Paul, who had remained behind the fence. The lunatic Lyonka had quickly failed. The former sergeant jumped, screaming, from the fence — but the beast shied, and Lyonka landed on the gravel which, in the minds of the Kharkov zoologists, represented the surface of the camel's native desert. Getting up from his knees and licking his wounded hand, Lyonka hobbled across the enclosure after his camel. Along the way he was almost trampled under the feet of Fima's camel, which made Fima laugh happily, sitting high in the sky, and even try to aim his yellow-fanged mount at the clumsily running Lyonka. Literally by a miracle, with the help of Viktorushka and Paul, both of whom had climbed over the fence and herded a one-humper into a corner of the enclosure, between a hay-cart and the iron railings, Lyonka managed to get up on the beast. Now, showing itself to be much less amenable to control than Fima's camel, the one-humper tirelessly bucks Lyonka around the enclosure, not allowing him a calm moment in which to utter the a ppropriate muzzein's cry: «There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet!» The sly, evil beast lists to one side, jumps up and down, and finally resorts to the tactic of scraping against the fence. The beast has decided to scrape Lyonka off its back, and in fact almost succeeds in breaking his foot, jamming it into the rails of the fence.
Anna with Genka's clothes in her hands, the wet Genka in swimming trunks and shoes, Ed with a blood-red dahlia tucked into his collar, laugh drunkenly, foreheads pressed against the fence.
«Lyonchik, the camel doesn't want you! Get off, or he'll chew you up!»
«No fucking way! I'm a man and he's a beast! Man is the crown of creation! He must submit!»
The camel suddenly falls on its front feet and onto its side. Not expecting such a devious move, Lyonka flies off the beast, hands extended, and slams into the gravel. «Fucking monster! Snotty, vicious, humped beast!» curses Lyonka, lying on the gravel and in no hurry to get up.
«Let's leave, huh guys? The guard'll come back with the trashes.» Ed suggests. And moves away from the fence.
«Right. Time to leave. Let's get out of here, guys.» seconds Anna, who is still sober.
«Surely you're not afraid, Eduard Venyaminovich?» observes Genka ironically, taking his clothes from Anna's hands. Genka went swimming in the hippopotamuses' tank. Genka wanted to take a refreshing dip, and he wanted to do it nowhere but in the hippopotamuses' tank. The skin on Genka's left shoulder is scraped — a rough-skinned hippo surfaced beside the uninvited guest and accidently brushed him with its hide. Genka insists that the hippopotamus was actually very happy to see him, but its hide was like sandpaper.
«I'm not afraid.» counters Ed. adjusting the dahlia in his lapel, «but God helps those who help themselves, as my grandma used to say. You know I can't fall into the trashes' hands, even by accident. For two years I haven't had any visible means of support. They're not being too gentle with `parasites' these days. It's fine for you; you're still officially studying at the Polytech…»
«OK, let's go. Retreat.» agrees Genka. «By the time the gimp comes back with the security guards and the militia gets here, we'll already be drinking cognac at the `Automatic.' I'm not even sure the security guards have a telephone.»
The guffawing Viktorushka throws a bottle at the wolves' enclosure, located opposite the camels' abode. Flying past two gray wolves, their white eyes silently staring with moon pupils at the drunken youths, the bottle smashes to bits against the artificial rock wall. The wolves run off toward their shed, their tails calmly waving. Ed frowns unhappily. When he's drunk, Viktorushka becomes boorish. But Genka never changes. Even when he's falling-down drunk, Genka is unfailingly polite. Bakhchanyan is the wildest drunk of all of them. Like a kamikaze. In fact, it's surprising he's still alive. One day, after a couple of glasses of wine, he got so drunk that he broke loose from his friends' grasp with a cry of «Fucking communists!» and ran onto Sumskaya Street. For which, of course, the patrolling trashes were more than happy to arrest him. The good part is that Motrich saw the arrests and instantly ran into the «Automatic» crying, «They've arrested Bakhchanyan!» Everybody in the «Automatic,» the decadents, intellectuals, poets and painters, something like fifty people, went to the Militia station located next to the «Mirror Stream,» but they couldn't keep Bakh from being put in jail. The official poet Arkadii Filatov, the Vosnesenskii of Kharkov, brandishing his Writer's Union card, managed, with a great deal of effort, to get the cops to let Bakh out of their clutches. Bakh was lucky it happened at 6:30 in the evening, after the end of the workday, when the «Automatic» was full of people. A drunken Bakh at 4:00 in the afternoon… it's terrible to think what would've happened.
Another time, accompanied by Genka, Ed and Fima, the drunken kamikaze (they were walking along the fence outside some factory) suddenly tore down a flag hanging from the wall. Ripping down the flag and tearing it off, he let out a warlike cry and started to run. His less-intoxicated friends, seeing that there was nothing else to do, ran after him. From the passage guards rushed after them, firing their weapons. Whether they were firing into the air or at the kids — that was never discovered, since they didn't stick around to see but ran like sprinters. Luckily it was already dark. Nobody got caught or wounded. Bakh threw the flag off a bridge into the Kharkov River, and it slowly and gracelessly sank, soggily, in the muddy water. The Armenian, the Southerner, ought to be able to drink wine by the gallon without getting drunk… But no, Bakh shouldn't drink at all, he goes berserk.
Genka has gotten dressed, and they leave, passing among the cages and enclosures toward the ravine. If you know the area well enough, you can operate in it easily. They're slowed down a little by having to help the massive Anna Moiseyevna over a wall.
«I advise you to knock the fucking wall down, so as to ensure quick and easy passage to the territory of the Zoo once and for all.» says Lyonka.
«The faggotry will just build it right up again,» says Paul. «A dozen hegemonic elements with shovels and concrete will come along and fill in the gap.»
«They'll even stick broken glass on top.» giggles the drunken Viktorushka.
Landing on the other side, Anna broke a heel and now walks barefoot. Observing in profile the nose and double chin of M. Curlers, who has put on weight in the past year, Ed remembers the portraits painted by Pavel-Paul, as layered as his chins, as filled with eye-slashing colours. In the ex-sailor's works, yellow colors are especially prominent. — Isn't yellow associated with some illness? — Ed thinks. — With paranoia?
What would Doctor Vishnevetskii say on the subject of Paul? It's obvious what he'd say about Anna. But is Paul a normal person or not? To judge by his paintings, he's not normal — probably a paranoiac. Doctor Vishnevetskii is Eduard's tormentor. Executioner, fascist and scholar…
«Deep South», v.3 n.3 (Spring 1997)
«You still insist that you're normal, Eduard?» The Doctor's eyes, weak, greenish, faded as the peephole in the reception area, ironically probe the «patient's» face. «The most basic instinct of any living creature, from the most primitive being to man, is the instinct of self-preservation. Take a tweezers, and put it in a drop of water, and you'll see, under a microscope, the amoebas, these single-celled organisms you find there, fleeing from the tweezer which threatens them. This is the most basic manifestation of the powerful instinct of self-preservation. But in your case, my dear Eduard, this instinct is lacking. You tried to kill yourself, to open your veins, to drain the blood from your body. It follows that you are ill…» The Doctor looks triumphantly at the youth seated before him, who is wearing a faded flannel hospital gown which is too big for him, drawers which stick out from under the hospital gown, and bare feet protruding from gigantic slippers.
«These clothes would make anyone sick, Doctor. You put on these rags, and you'll soon be sick. I don't believe I'm sick.»
«No mentally-ill patient ever admits he's sick,» the Doctor smiled jesuitically with his thin lips. As he got up, his starched smock crackled. «Ask your comrades in the ward — are they sick? Every one will answer, `No.'» The Doctor, going to the window, looked out at the autumnal park. Beyond the window was a sad, sunless autumn day, warm and cloudy. The Institution was surrounded by an immense park, known as Saburov's Dacha. Several patients in quilted blue jerseys were raking dead leaves from the lawn.
«Moreover…» — the tall, thin Doctor returned and graciously, with one finger, pushed his gold-framed glasses higher on his nose — «Moreover, you did not wish to inform me of the real reasons for your act.»
«I already told you, there are no reasons. No…» Eduard thought: after all, it's better to chat with this fascist than to sit in the ward with his drowsy fellow patients. It was his second month in the hospital. A week ago they transferred him out of the violent ward, where they'd casually tossed him on that strange night in October 1962. He endured a month in the violent ward, surrounded by paranoiacs, schizophenics of all sorts, and dangerous psychopaths. For «good behavior,» they transferred him to the «quiet» wing of the Institution. In the quiet wing he was still surrounded by szichophrenics, paranoiacs and psychopaths, but more quiet ones. And in the quiet wing he had his own bed. In the violent wing, for the first couple of weeks he'd had to share a bed with a dull-eyed kid, younger than himself. One night Eduard was awakened by the dull-eyed kid's stroking his penis. He'd had to give the dull-eyed boy one on the jaw.
In the quiet wing, Doctor Vishnevetskii became interested in Eduard. Lately he's been calling Eduard in every evening to interview him, or make him take various tests, most of them extremely stupid.
«Precisely because you cannot state the causes which led you to attempt suicide, you are here, my dear young man!» The Doctor smiles, reservedly, with his eyes only.
Fellow patients, and there are some at Saburov's Dacha with experience, some who've been there for twenty years, have told Edurad that the young Doctor Vishnevetskii obviously wants to make out of him, Edka Savyenko, a medical exhibit, and perhaps to write a dissertation about the history of his illness. Doctor Vyacheslav Ivanovich Vishnevetskii's superior — the head of his department — is Professor «Nina,» Nina Pavlovna, is almost never there, so Vishnevetskii does what he wants. «He's desperate for power, the four-eyed bastard. He wants to be head of the department» say the experienced patients over their jello.
«Doctor, what it comes down to is that it's my life, not yours. Even if I did want to die, that's my business! And please don't call me `my dear young man.' You're six years older than me at the most. Get me out of here and I'll take care of myself just fine. Not one of the orderlies can say I've misbehaved. I've waited patiently for two months. Nina Pavlovna promised to release me in time for the October holiday. But it's already past…»
«We can't let you out until we know the reason or reasons for your abnormal behavior, Eduard. We cannot take that responsibility on ourselves. If you could raise a hand against your own life, how much more easily might you tomorrow decide to take the life of another — to kill someone!» Doctor Vishnevetskii, with his saintly, tranquil little smile, looked at the «patient.» A strand of blond hair fell on his smooth, tranquil forehead.
The patient knits and untangles the fingers of his hands, which rest on his knees. Doctor Vishnevetskii now seems like a villain, a fascist scientist from Auschwitz, thinks the patient. Should he say so? If he does, Vishnevetskii may never let him out of this prison, the bitch. Hooliganism overcomes the instinct of self-preservation, and the patient, placing one foot on the other, the big slipper dangling and the pink heel exposed, blurts out: «You know, Doctor, you remind me of the SS doctors at Auschwitz. I saw doctors like you in a movie. You're ready to torture thousands of people in your experiments, just to prove your theory.»
«That is why I wear a doctor's smock, my dear young man.» Not a muscle twitched on Vishnevetskii's face. «The white smock is a symbol of my profession. In the white smock one may commit crimes — and save people from death. The white smock is like an army uniform. Armies conquer and enslave, but they also liberate. At the time you arrived here, we had a patient named Primachenko. A country fellow. He came to us for the same reason as you: he tried to do away with himself. To hang himself. He was saved by accident. His sister went out to the shed for some peasant trifle — for the ladle, maybe, or the broom. He's hanging there. They cut him down, gave him artificial respiration, and brought him to us. He spent the winter with us. He behaved himself perfectly. We released him into his relatives' custody in spring.» Vishnevetskii stopped and looked exultingly at the young man, who had begun grinding the leg of his chair on the floor. «Two weeks later he hacked his mother and sister to death. So… And now let's get back to our tests… With your permission we will proceed to the laboratory…»
«Deep South», v.3 n.3 (Spring 1997)