“Boris, you giant dildo,” he bellowed, “is it really you?!”
I replied with surprising amiability. Yet another lowlife had caught me unawares. I’m always too slow to gather my thoughts.
“I knew you’d come,” Guryanov went on.
Later I was told this story. There was a big booze-up at the beginning of the season. Someone’s wedding or birthday. One of the guests was a local KGB officer. My name came up in conversation. One of our mutual friends said:
“He’s in Tallinn.”
“No, he’s been in Leningrad at least a year.”
“I heard he was in Riga, staying at Krasilnikov’s.”
More and more versions followed. The KGB agent stayed focused on the braised duck. Then he lifted his head and stated brusquely:
“There’s intel that he’s getting ready for Pushkin Hills…”
“I’m late,” said Guryanov, as if I was keeping him.
He turned to Galina:
“You’re looking good. Don’t tell me, did you get new teeth?”
His pockets bulged heavily.
“You little prick!” blurted Galina. And the next minute:
“It’s a good thing Pushkin isn’t here to see this.”
“Yes,” I said, “it’s not a bad thing.”
The first floor of the Friendship Hotel was home to three establishments: a general store, a hairdresser’s and the restaurant The Seashore. I should, I thought, invite Galina to dinner for all her help. But my funds were appallingly low. One grand gesture could end in catastrophe.
I kept quiet.
We walked up to the barrier, behind which sat the administrator. Galina introduced me. The woman extended a chunky key with the number 231.
“And tomorrow you can find a room,” said Galina. “Perhaps in the settlement» Or in Voronich, but it’s expensive» Or you can look in one of the nearby villages: Savkino, Gaiki»”
“Thank you,” I said. “You’ve been a great help.”
“So, I’ll be going then.”
The words ended with a barely audible question mark: “So, I’ll be going then?”
“Shall I walk you home?”
“I live in the housing development,” the young woman responded mysteriously.
And then – distinctly and clearly, very distinctly and very clearly:
“There’s no need to walk me^ And don’t get any ideas, I’m not that type…”
She gave the administrator a proud nod and strutted away.
I climbed to the second floor and opened the door. The bed was neatly made. The loudspeaker sputtered intermittently. The hangers swung on the crossbar of an open built-in closet.
In this room, in this narrow dinghy, I was setting sail for the distant shores of my independent bachelor life.
I showered, washing away the ticklish residue of Galina’s attentions, the sticky coating of a crammed bus, the lamina of many days of drinking.
My mood improved noticeably. A cold shower worked like a loud scream.
I dried myself, put on a pair of tracksuit bottoms and lit a cigarette.
Footsteps shuffled down the hall. Somewhere music was playing. Trucks and countless mopeds caused a ruckus outside the window.
I lay on top of the duvet and opened a little grey volume by Victor Likhonosov. I decided it was time to find out exactly what this village prose was, to arm myself with a sort of guide…
While reading, I fell asleep. When I woke up it was two in the morning. The shadowy light of summer dawn filled the room. You could already count the leaves of the rubber plant on the window sill.
I decided to think things through calmly, to try and get rid of the feeling of catastrophe and deadlock.
Life spread out before me as an immeasurable minefield and I was at its centre. It was time to divide this field into lots and get down to business. To break the chain of dramatic events, to analyse the feeling of failure, to examine each aspect in isolation.
A man has been writing stories for twenty years. He is convinced that he picked up the pen for a reason. People he trusts are ready to attest to this.
You are not being published. You are not welcomed into their circles, into their band of bandits. But is that really what you dreamt of when you mumbled your first lines?
You want justice? Relax, that fruit doesn’t grow here. A few shining truths were supposed to change the world for the better, but what really happened?
You have a dozen readers and you should pray to God for fewer…
You don’t make any money – now that’s not good. Money is freedom, space, caprice. Money makes poverty bearable.
You must learn to make money without being a hypocrite. Go work as a stevedore and do your writing at night. Mandelstam said that people will preserve what they need. So write.
You have some ability – you might not have. Write. Create a masterpiece. Give your reader a revelation. One single living person. That’s the goal of a lifetime.
And what if you don’t succeed? Well, you’ve said it yourself – morally, a failed attempt is even more noble, if only because it is unrewarded.
Write, since you picked up the pen, and bear this burden. The heavier it is, the easier…
You are weighed down by debts? Name someone who hasn’t been! Don’t let it upset you. After all, it’s the only bond that really connects you to other people.
Looking around, do you see ruins? That was to be expected. He who lives in the world of words does not get along with things.
You envy anyone who calls himself a writer, anyone who can present a legal document with proof of that fact.
But let’s look at what your contemporaries have written. You’ve stumbled on the following in the writer Volin’s work:
“It became comprehensibly clear to me…”
And on the same page:
“With incomprehensible clarity Kim felt…”
A word is turned upside down. Its contents fall out. Or rather, it turns out it didn’t have any. Words piled intangibly, like the shadow of an empty bottle.
But that’s not the point! I’m so tired of your constant manipulation!
Life is impossible. You must either live or write. Either the word or business. But the word is your business. And you detest all Business with a capital B. It is surrounded by empty, dead space. It destroys everything that interferes with your business. It destroys hopes, dreams and memories. It is ruled by contemptible, incontrovertible and unequivocal materialism.
And again – that’s not the point!
What have you done to your wife? She was trusting, flirtatious and fun-loving. You made her jealous, suspicious and neurotic. Her persistent response: “What do you mean by that?” is a monument to your cunning…
Your outrageousness borders on the extraordinary. Do you remember when you came home around four o’clock in the morning and began