At first I thought they will get me in my taxicab. The black limo service Caddie shiny like a concert piano and stretched like a huge dachshund, was taking it easy. Too easy for my comfort, I must say. Considering there was no traffic to speak of, the car was moving slowly, as if on purpose - strictly in limits prescribed by the road signs. I felt desperate, all because of the freaky driver, the law obedient SOB!
Since we departed from the famous address 222 at the lower Broadway, the USB place that is located right across the street from the Saint Paul chapel, the limo guy kept a ridiculous pace - under 25 mph. Everybody knows that this laughable, turtle speed is just a formality invented for profit - to make it easier to write more tickets and collect fines - a well-known lawful rip-off, plain highway robbery. How is it possible - in a car with a hundred horses under the hood, to drag along like you're riding a lady bike?
I was afraid that at the very first intersection, at the very first traffic light, they will pull me out and kill at the spot, the same way they did with Victor Kaldeev.
The limo driver in his fancy uniform, with a cocky imperial cap didn't give a damn about me. Why should he! He was sitting like he just swallowed a stick, an indifferent attachment to his dachshund-piano, a fucking concertmaster. He was going strictly according to the driver's manual, observing meticulously and to the point all and every roadside punctuations. Through the glass partition between us, from the back of his shaven head I felt his aura, the emanations of servitude and correctness. And also - the mockery to my address, I am absolutely sure about that. I don't trust the punctilious servants. The driver, no doubts, despised me. Envious as hell, at the same time, he could not help letting me to indulge all alone in the millionaire's limo salon with all its richness, with its soft aromatic leather, polished sparkling bar, TV, fax and computer.
The chance once in awhile to enjoy such a treat is one of the juicy perks tempting any corporate officer, no matter what rank he or she occupies. Frankly, I would have enjoyed it very much too, but better some other time.
Departing from the United Swiss Bank building, I saw my co-worker clerks alongside the curb, their surprised, envious eyes and open mouths. It was exactly the beginning of lunch time in our bank. Someone yelled to me - High class, Pepper, lucky bastard! (Pepper is a part of my last name.) I wished to roll down the stained glass window and ask them ceremoniously, imitating the famous TV ad - Does anybody have `Grey Poupon', the mustard? -
I didn't do it, of course. But, for Christ sake, what else should I have done in my precarious position as not to perform a comedian shtick? No way will I show them that I'm falling apart. Not yet.
And it was exactly the moment when I saw those Russians for the first time, their mugs blurred by speed - the typical killers. I had also noticed that they saw me back, saw and had surely recognized me pretty well. Because they briskly looked at each other, and nodded meaning - that's him! Look at this money bag in his Cadillac!
They run fast around the corner to where they had parked their car.
Meanwhile my enchanted limo was not moving at all; it was, as I said, making all the feasible stops along the way, literally bowing to every traffic light. I kept repeating to myself - My, poor Kaldeev, my dear buddy, rest in peace, I'll avenge you. -
I had already heard the story of his heinous murder. No doubts, killed by the same cut-throats chasing me now.
Basically, I'm not a coward. I don't think so. Quite objectively, you know. I'm even a risky guy, more so than anybody. I'm capable, you know, performing unbelievable escapades sometimes. In the nut shell, I'm not afraid of things in themselves. To be more specific - I'm not afraid of every thing in a row, of every potentially scary thing. Actually I feel afraid, how should I better say it, only when I have no chance to negotiate, to persuade not to beat me up. For instance, I am afraid of a lightning, a sudden heart attack, tsunami, some indiscriminating wild beasts...
I'm asking God for a small favor - give me a chance to negotiate. Isn't it fair?
How I'm going to talk myself out of trouble - that's another story, that's my business.
But with the professional killers, what can you do? How can you convince them, the cold-blooded robots!
There was a moment - I grabbed a phone. Thank God, in the limo it is right here - within your reach. I wanted to call the all-American SOS line - 911. Well, I changed my mind right away. What I'm going to tell an operator? Even if he gets me, the usual hoopla will follow with all those blinkers, sirens and police. In this hustle-bustle the killers will finish me up only faster. Incidentally, occasional police cars were passing by our limo now and then. But how should I connect with police - yelling for help, waving my hands? I was sitting dead frozen, doing nothing instead.
Till the Tappan-Zee Bridge, I got no coherent ideas in my head, simply fear. Only later, well within the New Jersey borders, a slight hint of a hope had appeared. I started to evaluate the situation in a more reasonable way. I could even afford playing with some ironic and captious reflections I'm accustomed to have. I thought, for instance, that death in the limousine, in this black polished catafalque, you must agree, is too tasteless and pretentious - a superficial metaphor from a cheap pulp fiction; that much more reasonable to expect that the bandits need me alive - I have all the leads, the bank accounts and other valuable information. In any case, I guess, that's how my Russian pursuers should supposedly think, if they are capable of thinking at all.
Incidentally, where are they now, in what car?
Hiding as deep as I could into a blind corner, trying to occupy as little of the salon space as possible, I was busy looking in the left-side driver's mirror for the cars behind us. To start with, I had excluded the ones I knew were theoretically safe - the vans, tracks, and an ice cream vendor. Narrowing my analysis, eventually I had selected no more than three suspicious candidates. These were among cars that stayed in my field of vision for a considerable time and distance. One of them - a compact two-door Plymouth nearest to us, was an unlikely menace, the new Russians will never drive a shameful tin toy like that. Next, a little behind Plymouth, there was a silver Audi with its OOOO logo on the front - the chained Olympic or rather engagement rings. The Audi's front wheel had a damaged cap which was wiggling and winking so playfully that I could not consider this clownish automobile as a serious treat. A third, distant car stayed too far behind us to distinguish its features clearly. I could see but a shimmering pinky blur.
After we had reached my home town and were coming close to my street, I suddenly remembered - Jeez, Roman (my first name) - once in a blue moon you are having a time of your life - like a fat cat occupying all by yourself the luxurious limousine! You have your own uniformed driver. Isn't it something to be proud of! -
I immediately started to fantasize that my neighbor from the same block, a certain dame named Julianne P., a beautiful divorcee, would walk out her doggy and by a lucky chance see me riding my fancy limo.
This boastful wish to impress Julianne, to conquer her with my VIP status, I know, was an inappropriate and rather cheap idea; I got ashamed and remorseful about it. But, at the same time, as an excuse, I recalled the romantic stories about the condemned women who even in face of an imminent death managed in a final moment brace themselves up and rouge their lips to die beautiful. Why couldn't I feel the same?
...So far, none of the suspected cars had turned to my street. Nevertheless, I had things to do. I was quickly preparing myself; I was like a compressed spring, a lynx ready for a jump. I'd done my homework in advance - a secret cipher note to Fadeev, my buddy co-worker, I had scribbled it the limo on the back of an occasional computer printout page, then - a box with the office knickknack was on my knees, a travel bag on my shoulder, and an ignition key from my Mazda - in my right hand.
With the limousine safely on my driveway, I'm immediately dashing out. I drop my cardboard in a garden tool chest by the garage - Fadeev knows the place, he has left me a six-pack in there once. I dive in my Mazda and turn ignition: - zzz, zzz, zzz... The car wouldn't start! I am trying again and again, I am shaking like hell - the car is dead. When you are going berserk, mechanisms behave viciously, they fight back. That's a law you should know. I am praying with no avail. My hands are trembling. Then - I start my Indian yoga - a deep breathing routine. At the same time, I pay no attention to my car, nothing whatsoever. That's a very important psychological stunt as if saying - You don't want to start, bitch, - OK, I don't care!
In an instant, the car revved up. “Machine” is of the feminine gender!
Outpacing the engine's roar, ignoring the red light, I am rushing ahead across the solid lane markings to a nearest intersection. Imagine - how my goody-two-shoes limo driver would be scared to death by this violation of the driving code. Only now he could go to hell as far as I am concerned!
I am sharply turning around into the Maple Street, when in my rearview mirror I notice the silver bullet of Audi slowly, as if hesitating where to go, entering my home street from the other end, from the Oak Avenue.
I rushed straight north along the Hudson River toward Upstate New-York. Speeding, I mercilessly forced my car, erratically changing lanes, bypassing possible traffic jams. I came back to my senses in the vicinity of the Tappan-Zee Bridge, when I entered the wider Throughway. Only then I had realized - what a hot summer day it was. The impossible heat! I could notice nothing before, sitting inside of the cooled comfortable limo. With my old Mazda it was a totally different story - its A/C malfunctioned, I was suffocating. More than that, I was scared that my radiator could start boiling any minute. And when it happens, I thought, that's it - I'm finished! A homeopathic remedy from the overheating, recommended by many auto experts - to turn the car heater on, wasn't good enough in my case. I was already inside a blazing oven.
Considering the hell I put myself in, I got scared anew. It wasn't this time like the fear I had been to in the morning - a somewhat theatrical honor to be shot on Broadway inside a ready-made lacquered catafalque. The new fear wasn't like that. It was rather simple and practical one - what is going to happen to me if any minute now my car explodes in a fireball? And, the first thing first - where I am rushing to anyway?
In addition to these existential problems, I realized I had another one. I didn't feel really good. Yeah, physically I was falling to pieces, almost fainting and close to a panic attack. Not exactly a panic monger still I happen to experience moments when a doomsday is becoming more and more inevitable. In good faith I tried to overcome the condition with the only therapeutic procedure I could think of - still the same my Yoga breathing technique. Very soon, in spite of my deep Yoga inhaling, or rather because of it, I was getting light-headed and dizzy. I was nauseating, especially afraid to lose conscience while behind the wheel. All I could do was waiting. And the waiting, I'll tell you, is the worst. It's a terror.
To distract myself, I turned the radio sound up. In a minute, the musical beats were making me crazy. I switched to news - reports about the fish trailing somewhere in the Bay of Biscay. My vivid imagination sparked again. Now - that was the fishy stink that was killing me, turning my stomach upside down. In front of me, a jelly-like air absolutely with no oxygen in it, was hanging above the molten highway asphalt. It shimmered in my eyes like medusas or something.
- Well, an interesting phenomenon is taking place over there. -
A physiatrist on duty always sitting inside suddenly had commented.
- One should never concentrate attention strictly on oneself. Anybody can lose mind this way. Let us better watch how the air is condensing into a thick jelly prism, how the real world around us, having been refracted through this optical prism, transforms itself right in front of us. -
My relationship with the reality is a pretty complicated one. It's an old story. Many people from our ИmigrИ stock, I believe, are familiar with the strange premonitions and mirages appearing sometimes as if from nowhere. Suddenly - an alien, Halloween-like image of America can appear, shocking and terrifying. I guess it exists somewhere all the time, but in the usual daily life it is probably hidden around the corner, beyond your conscience.
I mean, I'm really suspecting sometimes that this peaceful and beautiful American scenery around me, looking so routinely innocent - `normal', is nothing but a virtual illusion, a kind of parallax. That any moment a diabolic split of space or something other phantasmagoric can happen, when pieces of a mica-like masking cover suddenly crack and fall apart, making it clear that already for the long time you have happened to exist in the emptiness of another world.
Previously a metaphor of magic transformation was typically a spatial one, related to deceiving mirror reflections, - passing through a looking glass window, finding a double existence. Now, there are the Microsoft Windows instead - a click - and you are in another place. That's why - whenever I am becoming hyper, I suspect that what I see is but a temporary window-screen which is going to be replaced in due time. After that I wouldn't be able to ignore anymore the simple fact that I am walking upside-down on the other side of Earth.
I don't think that I'm alone in it. That nobody else have miserably failed to quickly assimilate like me. That only I'm preserving the unusual emotional sensitivity, waiting constantly for mystifications. To the contrary! I am the first who wishes passionately to believe that an American Main Street is just a continuation of the Russian Street of my childhood, that in the States as well as in Russia, the same rain is falling down and the same clouds are traversing the sky.
Not so fast. Somehow it doesn't work this way. I mean - finding the wishful sameness. Something fishy is always happening, spoiling the equivalence. It could be a peculiar light or an unfamiliar smell in seemingly familiar circumstances. Whatever you do, no matter how hard you try to assimilate, a first generation of `displaced persons' like I am, will feel the unremitting grip of their country of origin. Probably until the end, until we die. Reflexes developed in our infancy will invariably break our pronunciation, distorting our vision and smell. They always force us not to see but to compare, not to learn but to remember, to split everything into `ours' and `theirs'. That's what happens when you hear Russian syllables in any indistinct occasional voices. When with no apparent reason, while passing through a Pennsylvanian town, you are coming to the familiar Moscow suburban dacha place of Malakhovka instead.
This weird ability is sometimes a blessing, sometimes - a curse. This persistent demanding reflex leaves me no chance to obediently become an average local inhabitant, equal among equals. No, you have to born in this country. Otherwise, in order to finally become an indistinguishable citizen in the New World, to see everything plainly as it is, without any references and parallels, you probably have to endure a lobotomy or, at least, to live for very long in a place where all contacts with Russians and in Russian, are absolutely excluded. You need an abrupt turn.
That was a moment when I woke up at last from the long train of my psychedelic reflections and repeated aloud to myself: - Exactly, an abrupt turn is needed. -
With these provident words, I had decisively turned the steering wheel, taking at random a nearest exit from the highway. A shady place I had entered was a standard nice and neat American town not unlike thousand of others. Intentionally I parked my car closer to the local police.
- Well, - I was thinking to myself. - Say, I am fainting right now. But first, before losing consciousness, I`ll gather all my remaining strength, I'll honk as loud as I can.
In the area with a police station one can always expect to find help and emergency care.
Logical, isn't it? Sometimes I use these innocent tricks - getting ready for the worst, I am actually trying to cajole my fate.
This time it worked. My condition wasn't that bad after all. In any case, I didn't faint. Getting out of the car, from my hellish oven to the no less oppressive midday heat, I felt unsteady and slightly shaky. The hot asphalt melted under my feet. Where am I really?
Everything around seemed unreal and alien - I had my hallucinations effect big time. I was also hearing strange sounds. The Russian speech, broken and vague, was coming to me from a flock of crows hopping by the road. What gibberish - am I getting quite mad? On a second thought, the words were reaching me from a crowd of local inhabitants gathered around an information stand displaying a colorful poster. The croaking sounds the people uttered, it seemed, were repeating again and again only one word - Krreml, krreml - the Russian for Kremlin.
In my hypersensitive condition, it was enough for me to start imagining the black ravens on the cobblestone of the Moscow Red Squire. I saw the Blessed Basil's cathedral, the Kremlin walls and towers. Now and then I see this Russia's most whimsical cathedral with its twisted floral cupolas and rosettes, depicted in Western media. Most often it's not within a serious historical context, but rather - a frivolous advertisement showing the multicolored rosettes of ice cream or frozen yogurt. I even recall a cupola shaped waffle contraption placed in the risen hand of the Lady Liberty. Thinking about the ice cream, I closed my eyes - on the hot day, just thoughts of the yummy stuff made me feel better.
Still shaky and weak, I'm coming closer to the announcement stand where I discover that my wild guess is right on the money. To my sheer surprise here it is - the unforgettable cupolas of Blessed Basil are actually shown on a poster. Well, they look, if you ask me, kind of different from the Russian original, reminding more the turban of Taj-Mahal than anything else. But, that's okay. I've already encountered this confusion before when I saw an ad of a newly opened Indian restaurant. How does it happen? - Piece of cake. Imagine some smart enterprising boy looking for a quick buck; he clicks the mouse on his computer and copies what he believes is the Russian Icon. Basil or Taj - that's no difference to him, to a clear-eyed all-American teenager, a simple-minded citizen of the planet. For him there are no borders between eras, styles and traditions.
As a result, we have the poster representing a bold eclectic mixture - a fantasy `a-la Russ'. The central part of it is our celebrated cathedral - a so called `garden of impossible fruits'. Underneath - there is a wavy inscription composed of colored letters scattered around in a dancing manner, to apparently underline a humoristic and playful character of the message which presents to the public a new shocking bestseller:
“The Kremlin With Its Pants Down”.
A dispute-discussion of the above-mentioned publication is announced for today.
The place is here - the local public library.
The time - 14:00 p.m. - that is practically in a couple of minutes from now.
The book club announcement gave me a perfect idea. I took it as a proverbial straw for the sinking man I was. Call it - the notorious “Hand of Moscow” stretched to me this time with the better intentions than it is usually understood. Anyway, thanks to Heavens, my native city was taking care of me. I knew right away what I'm going to do.
First, it's going without saying that any public library always has an air-conditioner and other amenities. I'll get a chance to pull myself up and relax in a friendly environment. Second, the event itself looked to me very attractive. The Kremlin baring its ass, I mean - with its pants down - what a title! I have read something like this years ago, back in Russia, but had no idea it was translated in English.
Right away I followed a group of readers going in a single file through a glass covered gallery into the library. We watched directions as we were turning corners, passing through the library proper into a neighboring borough-hall and municipal offices attached to it until we reached the destination - a `Freeholders' Room'. The place dedicated for the book club session. I wasn't exactly sure - who those freeholders must be? What are they holding for free and why? I tried but couldn't remember.
As I had expected, the room was air-conditioned beautifully with the famous American generosity. It was a really nice and richly furnished place. I could tell now that the town I got into wasn't an ordinary one, but kind of a center, a capital, if you wish, of the local county. That's probably why even the doors in the borough-hall were especially massive and carved like some Greek portals. The freeholders' room itself reminded me a classic court-house with its walls covered in marble and red wood, with a long gallery of oil paintings - portraits of mayors, in the impressive gilded frames.
I started to scrutinize the portraits one be one. The gallery demonstrated a gradual disappearance of the facial hair from the faces of fathers of American community - a transformation from fluffy, magnificent beards and moustaches of the olden-time public figures to the closely shaven, `naked' faces of the modern town leaders of nowadays.
If a mayor from the Vietnam War period was a disheveled hippy, the next guy - though bolding a little, he still sported a fancy shovel-shaped skipper beard. The very last one in the line, the currently governing mayor, had managed to reach the supreme ideal. Being extremely hair challenged, he reminded me Michael Jordan.
My chair, I must say, happen to be exceptionally comfortable, with good springs. I was rocking and swinging in it just a little, certainly not violating any norms of admissible public behavior. Meanwhile, I continued my observations.
In every corner of the room there was a national star-n-stripe flag displayed together with a local State banner. Between the flags, stretched were windows in the same Greek portico-like pyramidal frames. Alabaster bas-relieves and sculpted rosettes could be seen everywhere. The room decoration elements recalled a history museum or an Egyptian Pharaoh's tomb. It seemed that this essentially eclectic style was equally pleasing both American population groups - Cowboys and Yankees. You can find this style anywhere, in all places throughout USA, here and there, especially in the federal buildings. No doubts, nothing can surpass our glorious capital in the district Columbia. The downtown of Washington - is an absolutely mausoleum metropolis as if designed by some American Albert Speer.
While members of the book club were taking their seats, I, together with my inner psychiatrist, was very busy restoring my emotional balance by indulging in ethnographic observations and insightful psychological remarks. I believe this is the best, unsurpassable in its efficiency therapy for the people like me. Everything catching my eye, I had immediately analyzed and commented upon to my complaisant opponent.
The suburban American architecture - I was telling him - holds no secrets. Usually it is direct and to the point. Its rational, pragmatic taste is obvious to anybody who can spot the apparent fakes - faux-columns, artificial marble and other ersatz materials imitating brickworks, cobble-stone and whatnot. Isn't it cute - this disarming sincerity with which an unknown teenager artist made the poster with Blessed Basil? There's nothing wrong - with no prejudices to select a style directly from the world history like from a global shopping catalogue. That's exactly the way an average American housewife finds a coffee table or an upholstering for her sofa. It doesn't really matter that the Egyptian tombs are intended for burials. Well, the ancients kept their dead bodies inside; it's okay with us. But, re-considering it the American way, which is strictly positive and practical - a mausoleum design looks solid and impressive, perfectly suitable for a government building.
People were taking their seats around a massive red-wood table, in the chairs I liked so much. Once and again I had my glass refilled from a crystal pitcher in the center of the table. My teeth ached pleasantly from the icy cold water. Melting icicles sparkled and clanked. Alleluia! My fears were fading away, my sweat was drying up. Now relaxed, I felt quite at home - a new citizen, even a patriot. The better mood had imparted a certain twist to my critical observations. It was time to become evenhanded criticizing this time my own brand of people - the Russian ИmigrИs.
- In this magnificent Freeholders' Hall, ladies and gentlemen, an important side of democracy is getting conspicuous - the democratic institutions which we, the adopted children of America, are shamefully missing because of our own negligence. I'm talking about the power of statehood. Just think about it - if I to become a freeholder (whatever it really means), my entire life would probably have taken a different turn! I would have presided like a big shot in a Greek hall like this! I wouldn't be hunted by the hired killers. How come I didn't get it before?
In our freeholder gathering, the majority of the book club members were women. They were mostly energetic American ladies of indefinite age - “forever middle”. It was already late for them to fall head over heels into romantic liaisons, but, at the same, - too early to move to a nursery home. Who even mentions the nursery home here? Any impartial observer wouldn't have problems noticing their wild unspent energy, perhaps not fully requited on various reasons, which made the women hyper sometimes and so difficult to please. But you can imagine their notebooks overflowing with myriads of telephones, appointments and social events - poker, cosmetics, investment, diet and now - the book club.
So, our session is ready to begin. The activists of the club have arranged themselves symmetrically along the long sides of the table; an open volume of the “Kremlin with Its Pants Down” is placed in front of everyone. At the head of the table sitting is a totally different kind of woman - someone quite unremarkable, a grey mouse if you will, probably a local librarian or high-school teacher. When she started to read an introduction in her low voice, the debaters - the big matrons in their fashionable outfits, with their fancy platinum-colored hairdos, got immediately hushed and quiet like the little school girls. They became especially scared when the leader had finished reading and invited everybody to speak out on the subject under discussion.
One of the ladies, a bravest one, raised her hand and energetically rapped out that - this Russian writer is just like a new Dostoevsky, that she loves Dostoevsky from her childhood, and that one of these days there was even a television play from Dostoevsky on a cable channel.
The leader nodded approvingly but suggested, to stick to the subject giving a personal reader's view on the novel, its characters and style. She asked, if possible, to support the opinions by reciting the exact paragraphs right from the book.
No new volunteers responded. The first lady decided probably that she had already earned some credits with her remarks, no matter how scarce. That's why, relieved, she switched her attention to the water pitcher and a tray with cookies. Accompanied by the clink of her glass, two more ladies run into the room, apologizing for being late because of the jury duty they did this morning. One of them, while still apologizing and finding her seat, confessed that “she had started the book but couldn't not finish”. She had rephrased it again, saying that “she honestly read, but not everything”. The other lady, a buxom one, had immediately added that “who the hell can read it all through!”
- You don't like it? - The leader asked.
- No, no, the book is marvelous, - the lady corrected herself. - I adore reading. Ah, I wish I could read it at leisure. Sorry, I have so much on my plate, no spare time absolutely, and now - this freaking jury duty.
- The book shows degradation in the Brezhnev's politburo, criminal cynicism and corruption in the highest echelons of the Soviet government structures. - The librarian came out with a helping note, waiting for continuation.
Then, flashing her eyeglasses, she called a page and read aloud some more - a bookmarked chapter parodying Kremlin machinations behind the scene during a Party Congress.
Next to me there was sitting a little old gentleman with a white ostrich fluff on his wrinkled neck and a wire coming from his ear down to a hearing device. With a very delicate gesture he offered me his extra copy of the book, and even opened it on the right page - the way they do it with the prayer books in temples of worship.
- Excuse me. I don't understand, is Natasha Sergeevitch actually good or bad? - One of the jury dames had posed her principal juridical question.
(I could easily imagine her in court where she had just performed her civil duty.)
- Look, I got it. David and Zachary - dissidents, they are good, while the rest are the terrible bad guys. Oh, the disgusting debauchery they do, the typically Russian way. First of all - they drink all the time, second - they abuse women... -
She could not finish her laundry list, because other voices had interrupted her. Everybody wanted to make a comment. In their noisy outburst all the women got suddenly exited and tried to shout one another down.
- The authoress, she is a typical Moscow misanthrope, hidden misogynist and shameless bitch. She simply hates women.
- I would say otherwise, - said a pensioner dressed like a movie cowboy, in a Stetson hat, leather west-coat and a shoe-lace necktie. - The authoress exhibits hate-love tendencies, she has pervert homosexual treats.
- So what! That's a trivial compensatory reaction, - somebody intervened.
- This Capsule... Kapsulovitch, who the hell is she? In Russia they deport to Siberia people with the non-traditional sexual orientation, they execute them. These poor Russki homos, for them the only way to survive is to use mimicry, that's why, she...
- Girls, does anybody know if she is alive?
- Dostoevsky died; from a bad disease.
- No, I mean, the authoress of this book?
- Certainly not. She was brutally killed. A lesbian in the lawless society, what do you expect...
- Caroline, be so kind, what book we are going to discuss next time? Again a freaky boring translation or we'll start the one from the NYT bestseller list - about molestation of minors and porno on the Internet? Girls, who have the list, put my name on it, please.
- One minute, please everybody! - The librarian pleaded knocking on the table and asking for silence.
- Here's a terrible misunderstanding. Where did you get it from? The author of this book is a male. As far as I know, he is very much alive, a good family man. Now, please - let's start all over, in orderly way. Who is going to say something about stylistic features of the novel?
A long, hopeless pause followed. Then - exclamations coming from here and there:
- The Russian books are too complicated.
- May be the translation is not very good?
There was a new dead silence in the audience, much longer this time. The freeholders' room, by the way, was all packed up at the moment - there was not an empty chair.
A woman sitting apart from everybody by the wall has attracted my attention. Like many others, even more so she was a big matron with the usual Florida style hairdo. May be she was also a bit uglier than the rest. Though among our women-freeholders, even disregarding their age and lighting in the room you wouldn't find any beauties. Still I was attracted by her. There was something special about her - the anxious eyes, the unusual magnetism of her look. Somehow I was convinced I knew this woman from somewhere. I tried to remember - where from? For some time we stared at each other. And then one strangest thing happened - she clearly winked at me, in such a provocative, I'd even say, an indecent way. She winked, you know, and in a disgusting coquettish gesture pressed her finger to her brightly painted lips. Then, in a theatrical manner, she coughed once or twice ceremoniously in her fist.
- Crazy old hag! - I thought. - What she's doing? She is making passes on me. What's wrong with her? Or is it with me?
Jittery, I started swiveling my chair back and forth, trying to hind behind my neighbor, the elderly gent; let she make her filthy advances to him, if she wants. And what do you know - in a minute I wished to sneak a pick at the crazy woman. I felt intrigued. I couldn't help it.
And then, it suddenly came to me as a fascinating illumination - I know the beast! I know whohe is. Saveli Kapsulevitch himself, in person was sitting across the isle from me. He was Savva, Savochka in the common parlance, a well-known in Russia writer of sensational books, the one under discussion as well as of many other scandalous works. There was a period when his name was extremely popular among the leftist intelligentsia in the USSR. Everybody used to gossip about him, discuss in every detail his notorious public persona. Kapsulevitch - a friend of mine; well, not exactly, but once or twice I had really bumped in him in Moscow. Anyway, since my student years, I remember his face from TV screens and newspaper pictures. And now, would you believe it, he is right here, making the strange, conspiratorial signs to me.
He reminded me now another unforgettable historic personality - the head of the Russian Provisional Government, Alexander Theodorovitch Kerensky, who according to rumors had escaped from the Winter Palace, disguised like a peasant woman in a wig and a woman's dress. And here - Saveli Kapsulevitch himself is secretly giving me winks and signs and begging me to sit quiet so as not to break his cover.
(To be continued.)
The novel consists of 45 short chapters.
Before venturing on translation in full (should I?), I have a question.
You are a total mystery to me. It intrigues me and puzzles a lot. I mean - how come that on a Russian Lit website the English versions are finding more readers then the original texts? Well, if a surprise - to me it is a very pleasant one.
I'd appreciate very much your help - if you could give me any kind of feedback. Tell me things of a most general nature - occupation, place, mother tongue... Say - student, Vilnius, German... Whatever, it's up to you.