Scoundrel - Chapter 13 to 16
Deepsouth v.4 n.1 (Autumn 1998)
Copyright (c) 1998 by
|Dr. John Dolan - University of Otago, Department of English|
"When a reasonable quantity of blood had poured out of him, he fell out of the chair on his face, nonetheless succeeding in protecting that face with his hands. He experienced a curious fear that his mother would wake and see him in this state--but at the same time he wanted her to awaken."
Eduard is lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, although according to the rules of the wing, he should be sleeping. In Nina Pavlovna's scheme, theirs is a "sleep" room--that is, they are being given a sleep-cure, all four of them. In reality, the huge Georgian Avaz masturbates, his head covered with a blanket; the "chronic" Uncle Sasha, who has already spent eighteen years of his life in what he lovingly calls "The Saburov Hotel," reads books. The intellectual Mikhailov, across the room, never reads any books and is the only one who really just sleeps, as ordered.
Saburka's worse than a prison, thinks Eduard. In a prison you serve your term and you go home. But here, you never know when they're going to let you out. And you can't complain to anybody. They say you used to be able to get out on the signature of your mother or father or other close relative, who agreed to take responsibility for you and see to it that you didn't get up to anything dangerous when you were free. Now, after that business with Primachenko, you can't get out into somebody else's custody. Eduard horrified his mother and father by telling them the nightmares he'd seen in Saburka and they agreed to take him back home on their responsibility, but the administration, and above all, his particular enemy, Doctor Vishnevetskii, opposed it.
"Hey Avaz! Leave your dick alone! I'll call the orderly!" yells Uncle Sasha, tearing himself away from his book. The springs of Avaz's bed are squeaking faster.
"Let the guy finish, Uncle Sash! You go psycho from boredom here, you've got sperm coming out of your ears. Besides, he's from the south." Eduard doesn't like the coward Uncle Sasha. Avaz is a huge colossus, a cheerful, ruddy fellow. The only problem which arises with him in the room is his daily masturbation sessions, always just once at a time. But in the violent ward Eduard saw much worse things. The bitch Uncle Sasha should've been put in with the former Lieutenant of the Rocket Forces, Igor Romanov, who masturbated 24 hours a day, while yowling like a wounded cat. Or the Tatar Bulat, who used to run around the room naked, going crazy over a torn-up pillow! Or the catatonics! Greasy Uncle Sasha can go fuck himself...
The Georgian, moaning, subsides beneath the blanket.
"He's 'finished'!" announces Uncles Sasha contemptuously.
"How strange," thinks the young man. He wants to get out as quickly as possible, while Uncle Sasha is terrified at the prospect of being released. Nina Pavlovna keeps him on because she found that it's better to have "chronics" because they're less trouble, they just lie there. But there aren't enough beds in this famous hospital for all the madmen in Kharkov and the Kharkov Region and the Ukraine, so they may have to release Uncle Sasha soon. And he's terrified of that. Here he can stuff his face, the food's on time and not that bad, he sleeps well--and best of all, he doesn't have to work. Losing his freedom doesn't seem to bother him. Besides, the doctors and orderlies let him stroll, not just in the courtyard like the normal lunatics, but in the park, if he wants; and if he wants, he can just loaf around the buildings (there are ten or fifteen on Saburka's grounds) to get a bit of fresh air. It's not a life, it's a breeze.
"Uncle Sasha, how about I get out instead of you? And you stick around in my place?"
"Quiet--That's against the rules."
Fucking idiot, thinks Eduard. Worse than the catatonics. At least they don't just lie there like plants because they want to; they're ill. They feed them juice through a tube to their stomachs. Catatonics don't talk. They have been defeated by life. But this fat-face doesn't even want life. He lies there reading a book, then goes off to gobble buttered porridge. God it's sleazy! And he's not the only one like that. There are lots of "chronics" at Saburka, and only a fraction of them seem really ill.
Oh God, it's unbearable here! Every day he curses himself for opening his veins just because he wanted to impress Valka Kurdyukova! Valka...rosy-cheeked, running around all winter in a man's cap with ear-flaps, menstruating-from-age-nine, Valka was his girlfriend before the hospital...
Their romance began in the spring, on the beach at Zhuralyovskii. The sunburned idler Ed and the fourteen-year-old Valka wandered, arm in arm, scuffing through sand up to their ankles, or lay, arm in arm, on the hot sand by the borax-steeped water, already turning blood-red. The only beach in the whole city was located next to a leather-tanning factory, and from time to time the factory would release its toxic liquids into the water...Valka...That was when they'd just sent Tereshkova into space, and the name Valya was fashionable. "Bravo, Valya, bravo-bravo Valya/Bravo-bravo Valya/Encore!"--sang the Polish quartet or quintet from the microphones hanging on columns around the beach. The athletic lifeguards in their dinghies flexed their steely muscles...
When Ed was in the violent wing, she came often to see him--funny, lively, cheerful beneath the window--and they'd talk for a while through the window vent. Valka would call up to him, "Don't get depressed, Ed! They'll let you out soon!" Several violent patients, staring down at the tall, well-built Valka, would go back to bed to masturbate. The first time, Zorik--a Jewish psychopath, head of the mafia in the violent wing (Ed "slashed-wrists" was promptly and eagerly admitted to this mafia--Yes, reader, even in mental institutions, mafias are formed!) and his pals came up behind the masturbators to give them a little something "for soiling the image of our pal's sweetheart" as Zorik put it. Then Ed began paying less and less attention to such trifles, and Valka began coming less and less often. The whole time he's been in the quiet ward, she hasn't come even once. It's sad.
Actually, it's not clear whether it was because of Valka that he opened his veins. It's hard to say why he did it. He turned back to her, "that" night when she asked him, "See you tomorrow, right?"--and for some reason he said, "If tomorrow comes..." Why had he said that? Maybe it seemed to him that Valka didn't care about him anymore? At that time Valka's parents were trying to break up their relationship. Valka's mother and father went to see his parents. They threatened, yelled...Degenerates. Raisa Fyodorovna found Valka's parents vulgar.
Captain Zilberman called him in to the Juvenile Division of the Militia and warned him against relations with a minor.
"If Lt. Colonel Kurdyukov wants, he could have you thrown in prison" said Zilberman. "I'm warning you on account of our old friendship, Eduard. Because I've known you for eight years. What--there aren't enough grown-up girls in the Saltovka projects?" queried Zilberman.
"But Valka's more grown-up than most grown-ups," Ed objected. "She's bigger than her big sister Viktoria. She got her growth early."
"You're right," Zilberman agreed, surprisingly. "I'm on your side. I've seen her. She's a very grown-up girl with a woman's figure. But the law's the law. She's only fourteen. And the law strictly forbids involvement with minors."
"I'm a minor myself..."
"Alas--not anymore, poet" smiled Zilberman, and his little moustache rose to meet his long nose. "You turned eighteen, if I'm not mistaken, in February. You're not a kid anymore. You're not supposed to be sitting in my office anymore. The general, adult division is supposed to deal with you." Zilberman, satisfied, leans against the back of the chair. "I got involved with this business about Valentina Kurdyukova as a favor to her parents, not because of you." Zilberman drummed his fingers on the table. "You know your pal Cat had his sentence--death by firing squad--commuted to twelve years?"
"&I know. I thought it was fifteen."
"Twelve's plenty. Especially when he won't get time off for good behavior. He'll be there for the whole term. Penal servitude." Zilberman fell silent. "I hope that scared you off?"
"It's unjust." Ed blurted out. "Cat's not even a gangster. He's a...romantic."
"Look what it got him. 'A romantic.' The law's the law. It doesn't ask questions." Zilberman sighed, obviously conveying with his sigh a commentary on some private thoughts. "Well, clear out of here. And let's not have any more of this. Forget where Valentina Kurdyukova lives!"
Ed headed for the door.
"Do you still write poems?" Zilberman's question caught up with him.
"I write sometimes."
"Write; don't give it up, you're talented. And remember Cat. It's very easy to throw your life away..."
Scared by the adults, they began meeting less often. "We have to let our parents calm down," explained Valka. "If you come home drunk one more time, I'll shoot your good-for-nothing boyfriend!" Valka's father told her, and started picking her up from school every evening.
Valka went home drunk only once, and Ed wasn't to blame for that. They were together at Sashka Lyakhovich's for his birthday. Ed didn't even notice that Valka was drinking. Apparently she passed out from cognac with champagne. Even if Ed had wanted to follow Valka around to keep her from drinking, he wouldn't have been able to keep track of her in the crowd of something like 150 guests, crammed into the three rooms of Sashka's apartment. He ended up having to carry the soft, sleepily mumbling Valka. There was no way he could just tell her to go home on her own; she'd just pass out again. With some difficulty, he managed to get her up to the second floor of her building, and left her outside the door of her apartment. He planned to ring the doorbell and leave, anticipating a horrible scandal, but Valka passed out again, and she could've been injured falling to the concrete floor. Ed grabbed his falling girlfriend--and at that moment the whole family rushed out of the apartment: her mother, her older sister Viktoriya and the stocky, prickly-haired Lt. Colonel Kurdyukov, in an undershirt, blue Armenian pants, and tennis shoes with no socks.
"Bastard!" the Lt. Colonel, who for some reason had raised his fists, threw himself on the young man. The mother and sister were hanging onto the Lt. Colonel's arms. "What have you done to my daughter, you bastard?!"
"Father! Father! Papa! Grisha--don't! Grisha!"
"You got my daughter drunk, you little creep!"
The Lt. Colonel, dragging the women with him like a wounded boar dragging hounds, raged at Eduard, who was still holding on to Valka.
"So come on then, come on!" taunted the young hooligan, placing a hand in his breast pocket. In his pocket was a straight razor. The Saltovka thugs among whom the young man grew up never had much respect for their elders.
Shaking off the women, the Colonel for some reason rushed back into the apartment instead of throwing himself on the youth.
"Run!" screamed Viktoriya, grabbing Eduard's arm and trying to turn him toward the stairs. "Run, you fool, don't stand there--Daddy'll kill you!":
"We'll see who kills who," mumbled the youth.
"I waa...wan'im stay wi'me," said Valka, slumping to the floor and returning to the real world. "Let him sleep with me!"
"I'll kiii-ill-ll you!" bawled the Colonel, lunging out of the apartment with a hunting rifle.
"Father! Grisha!" the women grabbed their man again.
"My daughter--you scoundrel!" The Colonel raised the rifle. Letting Valka flop to the floor, the young man rushed down the staircase. "Blam!" sounded the rifle, and the window by the entrance was shattered to bits.
"You're still a fool! An old fool!" the young man roared, rushing into the summer Saltovka darkness. "He aimed at the window on purpose!"
Maybe he wanted to stop the cooling-off process which had begun between him and Valka? Maybe he opened his veins to get her attention? When he answered, "If tomorrow comes," Valka got nervous. "What do you mean?" she said, turning. "I mean...tomorrow might not come for everyone." "Stop saying stupid stuff like that," said Valka. People always think you're saying stupid stuff until you prove the significance of your words with actions, he thought, leaving Valka's courtyard, which also served as courtyard for about ten other buildings, among them Borka Churilov's. Leaving the courtyard, he ran into Tolik Tolmachev.
At that time Tolik was going out with a Gypsy girl, Nastya, whom he ended up marrying a few years later. Tolik invited him over to the Gypsies' camp. They bought a few bottles from the grocery store just as it was closing, and went over. The Gypsies lived in Valka's courtyard! The building they lived in was old--with a system of corridors; that is, from a corridor as wide as the horizon opened the doors of various rooms. Except for two bare beds with wire frames, there was no furniture in the room. The whole troop of Gypsies was roaming the southern Ukraine at the time, and Nastya and her younger sister were living in this room alone. In the winter there would be fifteen people living in the room--maybe more, Tolik informed him. Nastya and her sister slept on the floor, on the mattresses they'd taken off the beds--they didn't use beds. "It's a tradition of theirs," explained Tolik.
They stayed up half the night drinking port with the Gypsies, necking and laughing. Nastya sang and played guitar, and when the neighbors knocked on the wall, Nastya sang even louder and they all laughed like mad.
"Take Masha," Tolik said to him, seeing him off in the courtyard. "She's a good girl. Gypsy girls are really passionate...not like your Lt. Colonel's daughter. I think Masha likes you..." And Tolik went back to the Gypsies, and Ed went home along familiar streets, beneath the leaves of the broadleafed trees which grew in great numbers in Saltovka.
At that time he'd gone back to live with his parents. Though it would be more accurate to say that he slept beneath the same roof with them several nights a week.
His father was off on business. His mother was sleeping. Edging between the writing desk and the television, he took The Red and the Black from the bookcase. He had decided to reread some of Julien Sorel's adventures. His mother sighed in her sleep and mumbled from her bed, "You're home? Go to sleep"--and went back to sleep. At that moment Eduard was accompanying Julien into Mme de Renal's bedroom, shivering with terror at the creak of a French floorboard.
What happened next was, just as the careerist Doctor Vishnevetskii explains, due to the complete absence of the instinct of self-preservation which is found even in the lowest forms of life. "Even amoebas in a droplet of water will try to get away if you threaten them with a tweezers." Eduard didn't try to get away from the book and his condition. On the contrary, he very much liked this overpowering and acute condition, in which he saw all at once the tragedy of human life, its chaotic emptiness. To say that he wanted to die would be essentially false. Rather he wanted to do something that would illuminate his existence--that would show, by means of some acute and dangerous action, that he was alive...
It turned out that the blade of a safety razor won't cut veins. The blade of a safety razor will easily cut skin, but the blade glanced off the tough tissue of the veins in the fold of his left hand. The vein, which was visible through the cut in the skin, was blue, slippery, and springy--it didn't want to be cut, even though Eduard passed the blade of the razor over it again and again. Finally he took his unsafe razor out of his breast pocket. The Red and the Black was still open to the same page; Julien was still sneaking into Mme de Renal's bedroom. From the book came the sound of footsteps, one after another, on the parquet tiles of the clean old French floor. Laying his hand on the book, Eduard put the blade of the safety razor on the vein and, turning his head away, drew the straight-razor over it. A fountain of hot blood splattered his chin and, quickly subsiding, flowed onto the book, onto the table and the floor. With a feeling of relief at having carried out his vow, he leaned against the table and began waiting for his blood to drain away. To whom had he made this vow? Was it really to Valya? He liked this colonel's younger daughter. He liked this robust modern creature, standing straight in her stiletto shoes, fourteen years old, high heels on the cracked asphalt, walking beside him, drawing the envy of the other guys. "What an incredible girl!" one of them said about Valka. Yet it wasn't Valka's presence was driving him to the razor that October night but rather the absence of some other, nameless woman, or perhaps spirit...
When a reasonable quantity of blood had poured out of him, he fell out of the chair on his face, nonetheless succeeding in protecting that face with his hands. He experienced a curious fear that his mother would wake and see him in this state--but at the same time he wanted her to awaken. Lying on the floor, he could already feel his hands and feet going cold, but in his breast still lingered a pleasantly quiet and cozy warmth--there gathered all that was left of him...then he heard a distinct squelching noise, like that made by galoshes in Autumn mud puddles. "Chuffk-chuffk-chuffk-chuffk"--it was the beating of his heart. Then floor began to shudder--someone was running around near him, obviously. And he lost consciousness.
Later, many years later, a doctor acquaintance said that it was impossible to bleed to death just by opening one vein on one hand. You'd have to open veins in both hands, at a bare minimum. Maybe so. As it happened, Raisa Fyodorovna was awakened by the sound of the body hitting the floor, and found her son lying in a pool of blood. Their neighbor, pulling on his trousers, ran for the nearest first-aid station, located a few buildings away. There were terribly few telephones in the Saltovka Project in 1962. The medics, arriving after a few moments with the finally awakened neighbor, stopped the bleeding, gave the young suicide an injection and, placing him on a stretcher, took him away. First to the surgical ward of a hospital, unidentified to this day, where they gave him a transfusion and closed the vein. From there, the medics cheerily brought him to Saburka.
Ten p.m. From the depths of the park resounds Kadik's signal: a wolf's howl. He doesn't know how to whistle. "Woooo-ooo! Wooooo-uu!" There aren't any wolves in Saburka. It's stupid.
Eduard pushes away the blanket. Jumps up. He is wearing, to the surprise of the slimy Uncle Sasha, not a hospital gown but civilian clothes, street clothes.The black pants are Kadik's, as is the shirt. From under the pillow he takes his shoes, puts them on; from under the mattress--the leather jacket! "Avaz, it's time! Avaz!" He shakes the Georgian's shoulder.
Avaz gets up, yawning. He always sleeps after masturbating. Huge in his pyjamas--his own pyjamas, not the hospital's--and barefoot, he goes over to the window.Taking the frame in his hands and straining, he pulls it right out of the wall. Uncle Sasha, terrified, watches the proceedings. He's not in on this. He doesn't know that the window-frame has been taken out and put back in. Having removed the window-frame, Avaz, with the young man's help, leans it against the wall. . Then Avaz takes the bar of the window in one of his big paws and bends it back to the side. ..The second bar. The young man has filed the bars down with a hacksaw blade. From the darkness beyond the window's one remaining bar, the Eduard see's Kadik's face grimacing with delight. The nails holding in the second bar have been sawn through or torn out long ago, so Eduard opens it without much trouble, driving the shutters outward, towards Kadik. The wind, and the tired smell of the autumnal park rushes into the ward. Uncle Sasha dives under the covers.
"Hey buddy!" Kadik is standing on a ladder. The ladder wasn't part of the plan. Kadik was just supposed to show up. "Hey, have a gulp, buddy!" Kadik passes a bottle through the gap. Cognac. Eduard takes a good healthy gulp and hands the bottle to the Georgian, who accepts it with enthusiasm.
"Well, so long, Avaz! Thanks!" He shakes the Georgian's hand strongly.
"It's nothing. I'd go with you, but Nina promised that I'd get out in a week.So there's no point. Good luck! I can see that faggot Vishnevetskii's mug tomorrow morning..."
Eduard passes through the gap and, not wanting to use the ladder, jumps down. It's not very high, after all--only the second floor. Kadik takes the ladder away and hides it in the bushes. The later they discover that Patient Savyenko has escaped, the better. Avaz promised to put the bars back in their original positions and replace the window-frame.
In the park there is a strong smell of the real, lingering Kharkov Autumn foliage gradually dying in winter. The sharp and thrilling smell of life.
"Congratulations, buddy!"--Kadik slaps him on the shoulder. "Follow me. My baby's waiting for us beyond the wall." Kadik has a flashlight in his hand, and Eduard follows him obediently along the path, too dark to see--doing his best to stay out of sight of the buildings hidden here and there beyond the trees, which mean prison for him. Life--once more.
This was a carefully conceived, serious escape. It was the "trusty" patients who usually escaped, the ones who are allowed to walk around Saburka's park, but not in the carefully-guarded courtyard of the compound, surrounded by a three-meter-high fence. One of the orderlies, who had worked at Saburka for thirty-three years (!), claimed later that this was the most brilliant escape he'd seen in all those thirty-three years.
Nonetheless, they arrested him the next morning. The thing was, he made the stupidest mistake, the sort of mistake made by most of those who escape from prison or some other penal institution: after escaping, he went back to his old haunts. After drinking with Kadik and his "baby"-girlfriend, he went to spend the night at Tolik Tolmachev's. It would have been impossible for the three of them to sleep in Kadik's nine-meter-square room, as they should have realized sooner. So, at nine a.m., when the orderlies and militia stood at the head of the huge bed in which he and Tolik slumbered, each in his corner, the runaway had, at least, managed to get a good sleep.
His mother brought the orderlies and militia. Tolik wasn't Eduard's best friend, which is why they showed up there only after visiting Borka Churilov, Kadik, Yurka the Boxer (nicknamed "Fats"), Sashka Tishenko, and even Valka Kurdyukova, thus arousing the indescribable wrath of her father.
"Snitched on your own son!" the compact, bandit-like, hook-nosed, ruddy Tolik said reproachfully to Raisa Fyodorovna, keeping his eyes on the floor, embarrassed but unable to stop himself from condemning her. Smiling grimly, Tolik shrugged his bony shoulders, unable to understand how a mother could lead the trashes to her own son. So he just stood there in his shorts, against the wall, glaring contemptuously at Raisa Fyodorovna. Eduard was getting dressed while this went on.
"Shut up, Tolmachev," said the lieutenant, "or we'll charge you with harboring criminals."
"Oh yeah, some big criminal!" muttered Tolik. "You'd be better off catching the real criminals than persecuting harmless kids... Just look at it--five cops showing up for one little kid..."
As they went down the wide staircase--the building in which Tolik lived was new; Tolik's father was an invalid so his family got an apartment in the most beautiful building in Saltovka--Eddie's mother held her son's hand and tried to justify herself.
"I didn't turn you in like your friend, that thief, that bandit, said. They're going to discharge you today, Edik! Nina Pavlovna gave me her word of honor! But you have to go there with them, just so you can get your discharge papers! A simple formality! After all, they're responsible for you! They're afraid. After that business with Primachenko killing his mother and sister..."
The son listened to his mother's breathless self-justifications and thought that, if he were to jump off the flight of stairs, he'd be through for good. He could turn the corner, run across the street and through a hole in the fence around the school. It's easy to get across the schoolyard without being seen, it's full of trees; and once you've crossed the schoolyard, it's easy to disappear into the labyrinth of sheds and garages...
He didn't run away. He believed his mother. And paid very dearly for it. At Saburka they threw him back into the violent ward. The whole shift of orderlies who'd been on duty when he broke out the previous night were back on duty. For starters, they tied him to his bed with towels. "If it weren't for the directress, I'd rip your liver out with pleasure, you little shit!" drooled the head orderly, the bald slob Vasilii, leaning over the bound runaway. For runaway patients the orderlies had a punishment: loss of privileges.
They put him on insulin treatment. Nina Pavlovna and Vishnevetskii didn't even show. The nurse came, the orderlies tied him down, so he wouldn't go off to guzzle sweets, and they stuck the needle in him. He probably didn't need insulin treatment; it was simply revenge. The medical staff at Saburka was taking revenge on him for having dared to run away. Each day the amount of insulin injected increased. If during the first injections Eduard could manage to recited Yesenin's poem "The Black Man" all the way to the end, then as the coma came on he could barely manage to say a few stanzas from memory...
After the first coma, mindlessly devouring a chocolate bar, savouring its sweet flavour, the unsuccessful runaway thought that the fascist doctors would cure him once and for all, in a very short time, if he didn't get out of there. The brain-dead comas he'd seen in other patients, and was now experiencing in his own brain, were no gift for the decapitated brain cells. He had seen people who'd had a few courses of insulin treatment. Sluggish and listless, drowning in fat, showing no emotions, pairs of them shuffling like zombies along the pathways of the park. Very tranquil.
On Sunday he went to see his mother in the visiting room, though til then he'd refused to see his mother, punishin"
"That bandit?" said his mother, "No!"
"You'll go. You owe me. You got me thrown back in here."
"I didn't know they'd inject you with insulin..."
":Get Tolmachev and bring him here!" The son stood up and walked out of the visiting room.
Tolik, in cap and raincoat, white shirt and tie showing at the open top of the coat, listened to him. "What a fucking mess," Tolmachev admits. "You mean every night they check up on you?"
"Yes. Several times a night. They come right up to my bed."
Tolik thought. "To get into the violent ward, you have to go through four doors. That's too many doors."
"Tough doors too! What else can we do? They check the windows now. Getting out of the violent ward isn't like getting out of the sleep-palace. Those don't even have doors. Everything's open there. And there're always at least two orderlies sitting in the corridor."
"There's only one way. We've got to intimidate them. We need...some kind of psychological pressure. I'll talk to the guys." Tolik stood.
"Do it, OK Tol?" begged the prisoner. "My strength's gone. And I'm really going crazy, totally fucked, from the insulin. I already gave the orderlies something to think about. And I'm working on Grishka the Psycho, inciting him."
"We'll try to get you out of here," said Tolik seriously. He belonged to the category of serious people. Which is why, later on, he received a very long sentence.
They came a few days later. They came at night, setting bonfires around the ward--and then they started throwing stones at the windows. "Ed!" they yelled. "You'll be freed!" and then again, "Ed!"
Head covered with the blanket, he cried. They came! The mob came! The Saltovka mob and maybe even the Tyurenka too! There were a lot of voices, and light from the bonfires flickered in the violent ward. He didn't like some of them, he'd even fought them sometimes; with others, on the other hand, he was friends, did things together, stole, drank with them, met them every day at the dances, at the market or just on the street, went to school with them. "What great kids!" he thought, lying in the darkness under a blanket and listening to the noise from outside. They came to rescue him! It was like the storming of the Winter Palace! "Ed! Ed!"
The patients got agitated and started crying out. The orderlies and nurses came running. Several stood, unseen, round his bed.
"Sleeping." said a voice.
"He's faking," said another. "Egor phoned the militia and woke up the duty doctor."
"What good is the duty doctor?" a woman's voice broke in furiously. "Call the militia again! Both the fifteenth precinct and the ninth! They've got to hurry! Tell them that a band of hooligans has fallen upon us! A big one!"
"Just open your eyes," said a voice near him. "We'll break all your bones for you, you mutt!" Despite the threat, the voice was frightened.
When the militia arrived, the mob fled, dissolved, retreated into the bushes and gullies and ruins left around Saburkov's Dacha from the Second World War. The militia, which had shown up in two cars, scouted around the ward for an hour and a half, shone their car spotlights into the darkness, and left. Eduard, who hadn't even gotten out of bed, went to sleep.
They came again the following night. Again there were fires, shouts--even a megaphone (no doubt that was Kadik's doing)--and all the windows of the ward were broken. Next morning, patient Savenko had the honor to be interviewed by Nina Pavlovna herself.
"Eduard, we're going to turn you over to the militia and you'll be charged with inciting insurrection!"
The patient, without asking permission, sat down in an armchair and stared impudently at the directress. For the first time since his coma, he felt strong and self-assured. "You speak the language of a pre-Revolutionary Police chief, professor. I suggest you add to your police lexicon the little word 'sedition.' What, exactly, are we talking about?"
"Oh, You don't know, innocent boy?" Nina Pavlovna stood up, furious, and leaned across her desk: glasses, hair cut short on the sides like the Komsomol girls of the thirties, but with gray hair. "Kindly look at this lovely utlimatum your bandit pals threw in last night!" Nina Pavlovna handed him a piece of red paper, probably just torn off a placard celebrating the 45th anniversary of the Revolution, which read: "If you don't let our little brother go, you scum, we'll burn down your fucking hospital! And no militia will be able to help you! Murderers in white smocks!"
The patient shrugged his shoulders. "I didn't tell them to. They did it on their own."
"Eduard, you will immediately tell your bandits to stop their raids. Or it will be the worse for you and them. The next night, the militia will conduct a major round-up..."
"Wouldn't it be simpler just to let me go, since they want it so much?" the patient observed innocently.
"You think we want you here?!? We don't even have enough beds, people stay on the waiting list for months!"
"Well, if you let me go, that'll free up a bed, and everyone will be satisfied!"
Nina Pavlovna sighed. "And who's responsible if you go out and kill someone? They'll bring you back here, only to a different building, and I'll lose my job." Nina Pavlovna took off her glasses and, looking off to the side, announced, "Tomorrow Professor Arkhipov, a world-class specialist, is flying in from Moscow to testify in a special murder case. Anyway, he's agreed to examine you himself. If he decides that you don't represent a threat to society, we'll let you go. So now do your part; order your gang to leave us alone. It's bad enough already with all the windows broken and the patients in hysterics."
Ed asked permission to make a phone call. He called the shop where Kadik repaired electric appliances. "Cadillac, it's me! Tell the guys that everything's OK. Call off the operation...Maybe tomorrow... Hope so. See you."
Nina Pavlovna put her glasses on and siad with conviction, "You'll die in prision."
Professor Arkhipov, a tired, wrinkled old man with the simple face of a peasant grandfather, sat at Nina Pavlovna's desk. He was wearing a dark shirt with a collar, no tie, and a thick coat. To his left sat a Chinese woman in a white smock, to his right, in sharp contrast to his white smock, sat a smiling black man.
"Hello, poet Eduard Savenko!" The peasant-professor stood and offered the young man his hand. Dumbfounded, Patient Savenko took his hand. "These are my graduate assistants," the Professor indicated the Chinese woman an" the black man. Both the Chinese woman and the black man shook hands with the patient. "Sit down, make yourself more comfortable!"
The young man sat down and crossed his legs. He felt nervous around the Chinese woman and the black man in his absurd hospital/bath clothing. Even though the orderlies had given him a new gown to wear for this interview, new drawers and new slippers. All for show!
Professor Arkhipov, smiling sweetly with all his wrinkles, looked at the patient. "I read your case history, poet," he said, suddenly switching to the informal pronoun.
"And--? What did you decide?" The patient stared aggressively at the professor.
"You're an adventurist. But adventurism isn't an illness, and so you have no right to occupy a place within the walls of this respectable institution." The black man and the Chinese woman smiled as if they understood Russian. "They'll let you out today."
The patient stared dully at the professor. He had expected that they'd let him out, but not like this...The little old man stared cheerfully, wearily, at the patient. "But I...I tried to do away with myself."
"Nonsense. I don't believe that you seriously intended to kill yourself. Here--show me your hand."
The patient rolled up the broad sleeves of the hospital gown and showed the professor the scar. The professor took his hand and, gesturing, invited the black man and the Chinese woman to take a look. He told them something in English. The black man and the Chinese woman nodded in agreement and once again smiled. "People who want to kill themselves don't worry about making accurate cuts, my little friend," said the professor. "Here, look--you didn't even fully cut the vein, just punctured it. You were obviously afraid of going too far, of damaging a tendon. You wanted to live, and therefore were not intending to kill yourself. It may not seem so to you, but believe me, that's how it was. And you fell off your chair in order that your mother could awaken and 'save' you. You were trying to get the world's attention, poet. Apparently the world was not paying enough attention to you..." The patient was silent, listening to the strange professor.
"But the attention of the world has to be fought for. Opening one's veins is a very ineffectual way of fighting for the world's attention." The professor leaned back in his armchair and, head to the side, looked delightedly at Eduard. At any rate, a look of pleasure passed over his face. "An adventurist...an adventurist..." he repeated to himself. "I like that sort of person. I'm an adventurist myself," he concluded. And stood up. "Go--and don't commit any more such idiocies. They're going to release you on my responsibility. Go, live, move about--and remember what I told you."
"Thank you" the patient mumbled, then turned and left. "What a fantastic old man," he thought. "He explained everything so quickly, so clearly. It's true I didn't really intend to kill myself. I had nothing to kill myself about. Life is just so dull. The past year, even breaking into stores got boring..."
By evening his father arrived in an overcoat, and they went home together in a sudden snowfall. His father didn't yell at him. Maybe Professor Arkhipov had a little talk with him, or maybe his father figured out on his own it was better to keep quiet, not talk about Saburka.
Genka, Paul and Fima have gone to the Automatic to help wash off Lyonka Ivanov. Ed and Viktorushka are taking Anna to the farthest exit from the Park. Anna's walking barefoot, holding her shoes in her hands.
Anna wanted to break her other high heel, so she wouldn't have to go home. She's afraid Ed will run off with his friends again, without her, and her life will be one diversion the poorer. But a nail of enormous proportions stuck out of the broken heel, and it proved impossible to pull it out, so Anna had to go home for another pair of shoes.
At the park exit onto the street, opposite Ramskaya Street, Ed and Viktorushka stopped under an acacia tree. "That's it. Go on alone. We need to talk to Viktor. Let's meet in half an hour-and-a-half at the Automatic." Ed, holding on to the acacia's trunk, turned round the tree.
"What, young scoundrel--you can't go another hundred meters to see your Anna home?" Anna Moiseyevna stood, short and round without her high heels, her eyes blinking accusingly, rubbing her back against the ornate granite pedestal standing majestically marking the park exit.
"Annushka, " Viktor bows cheerily and drunkenly before Anna, "Fear not. I shall follow him."
"You'll really be there, at the Automatic?"
"Really. Genka's already at the Automatic."
"Naturally you can't abandon your dear friend Genka for more than ifteen minutes! But Anna you can abandon without shame! Poor martyred Anna!"
The martyr trudges off down Rimskaya. Ed looks after his girlfriend, swinging her shoes and handbag, and thinks what a big ass his girlfriend has. With a little smile. The noble Ed.
"You want me to tell you what they call your girlfriend Anna behind your
back?"--Viktor guffaws suddenly.
"And you won't get mad when I've told you?"
Viktorushka hesitates, rubs his tough, scarred German cheek. "The Tsar-Ass," hisses the Hitler-Jugend inquisitor and, relieved, becomes impudent once more. Smirking.
'The Tsar-Ass.' It's not very flattering, but it's apt, thinks Ed. And if you take it the right way, maybe it's even flattering.'The Ass-Tsar.'
"Maybe it should be 'Tsarina-Ass' instead" laughs Ed. "Anna insists that her ass is due to low metabolism. Every other part of Anna's body is normal. And the metabolism comes is because she's 'schizo.'"
"Anna's a fraulein who's"--Viktorushka is speaking seriously now--"...beautiful. A beautiful face. I wish I had someone like her!"
"You couldn't live with Anna. She wants to take part in everything. You--for as long as I've studied you, Viktorushka, you've thought that a woman should know her place."
"You're right," Viktorushka agrees casually. "Intelligent women get on my nerves."
Is Anna intelligent? Ed wonders. God knows. Sometimes, yes. That Anna is, at times, devastatingly, acutely witty, is indisputable. At other times, she has fits of venomous sarcasm, and then it's watch out, anyone in the vicinity! Ed gets less of it than anyone, himself, although he already knows, from Anna, that he has "a mouth like a chicken's ass" and his eyes are 7quot;like Mama poked a hole in them with a matchstick." Completely unconstrained by social norms, Anna is capable of telling someone to his face everything he keeps carefully hidden. Which is why many people in the circle to which Anna and Ed belong fear Anna and are not particularly fond of her. A sharp woman.
Unhurriedly a soft August breeze blows, day slips almost unnoticed into evening, and Ed and Viktorushka are walking up Sumskaya Street.
"By the way, mon copain, you still owe me five rubles for the last lesson francaise."
"Take it, while I've got it." Ed takes out the untouched fifteen rubles and hands Viktorushka a fiver. Genka never allows Ed to spend money as long as his own, Genka's, money lasts. Genka should be Maecenas, patronizing people of the arts.
"Shall we go to the pie shop? I want to feed again. Let's scarf down a meat pie. My treat." invites Viktorushka. They are walking straight across Shevchenko Park.
Viktor is not a wealthy man. On his feet are sandals which Ed wouldn't wear, not even if his life depended on it. Viktorushka's khaki pants were made by Ed in exchange for French lessons. Actually Ed knows very little about Viktorushka, and hasn't even been to his house in Tyurenka. And if you haven't been in someone's home, and haven't seen his possessions, it's hard to know what kind of person he is. Like that of M. Curlers, Viktorushka's personality is formed on a foundation of language, on German. And on this basis Viktor is already developing: a compact, dry, indefatigible sports instructor for the Hitler Youth, going tramping with bedrolls on their shoulders. Leading the way is Viktor, in a straw hat, explaining the scenery to the barefoot Hitler Youth: "Over there, boys, is the Castle Teblitz. The North Wing was destroyed. When our brave King Friedrich..." and so on. Viktor is from Tyurenka. Ed lived next to Tyurenka for over a decade and knows lots of Tyurenka people. Viktor must be somewhat provincial, even if he tries not to be. A bit of a slob.
Going through the broad-leafed labyrinths of the park, in the incandescent heat, dusty as it always is in August--there's been no rain for a month--they come out at the Schevchenko Monument. The crooked-moustached poet rises above the park trees, staring sullenly. Maybe he doesn't like the fact that the "Muscovites" haven't left his native Ukraine and are in fact growing more numerous. It's more likely that the former serf, who was forcibly conscripted, just has a bad character. A bit below Taras are placed his heroes: Katerina, the bandits, cossack irregulars (nowadays they'd be called "freedom fighters")--and still lower, the granite pedestal merges with some just-planted Autumn flowers--chrysantemums and asters.The staff of Schevchenko Park are uncommonly skillfull. They can easily form, out of flowerbeds, portraits of the leaders--Lenin, Stalin, Marx...At Taras's feet they could plant one of his verses, something really well-known, like:
The may bugs don't buzz in the cherry trees of Ukraine and Russia anymore. They got rid of the may bugs in the year Ed moved in with Anna and her mother, the only man in the Jewish family.
Viktorushka and Ed stride cheerfully along the worn asphalt. The soles of Viktorushka's sandals and the poet's woven shoes slap energetically, as if the youths are on their way to some important business, a business which...is just a trip to the pie-shop. Going down some broad granite steps toward Sumskaya Street, they look to the left...then to the right, and cross the city's most renowned artery, which is actually rather narrow. The old Central Cafeteria is abreast of them, and on the left, opposite the cafeteria, across a little street which flows into Sumskaya, lies their destination, the pie-shop located in the basement level. It's new, with pinewood counters. On the wall is a fresco of a dancing Ukrainian man and a Ukrainian woman with ribbons and braids, in little boots. Artists are well paid for such frescoes. There are no chairs, so you eat your pie and leave. otherwise people would overcrowd the place. Kharkov people love to pack together in crowds--just give them an excuse. Ed and Viktorushka go down into the bright basement. The pie shop is like a bit of Riga transplanted to Kharkov. Ed was in Riga in 1964. He knows there are lots of places like this there.
In the bright pie shop, about ten pie-chewers are leaning on the shiny counters.
"Hi, Viktor! Hi, Ed!" One of the chewers, possessor of a skull as utterly bald as the back of his neck, greets them respectfully, turning from his pie. As distinct from Viktorushka, Viktor Sukhomlinov is called Viktor or Sukhomlinov. Sukhomlinov is cheerful, long-nosed and timid, and has a habit of giggling into his hand. An artist for the newspaper "Leninist Znima" (a newspaper whose office is a few hundred meters further up Sumskaya Street), he's a bit like a Chekhov hero who somehow ended up in the Soviet era. In Bakh's expert opinion, Sukhomlinov, though a modernist, is bland. Most of Sukhumlinov's work is copied from Polish modernists who are not exactly up-to-the-moment themselves, who have themselves copied somebody else.
Milka sometimes brings Sukhomlinov to 19 Tevelev Square. Milka's one of Motrich's girls. Milka and Vera were there that snowy evening in the park, when Ed first heard a "live poet." Since that snowy night, Milka's grown into a good strong mare, and this black-haired, six-foot-tall woman wants to get married. The staff artist of the "Leninist _____" has hopes of becoming staff artist for a bigger newspaper, and would make a very respectable match--so Milka thinks, obviously, but she's evidently bored with Sukhomlinov, and she'd gladly get drunk with Motrich.
Sukhomlinov cheerfully clears away the plate with the remains of the half-eaten pie to give Viktor room to put his down on the table. "How's it going, Viktor?" he asks shyly. Sukhomlinov is shy around anything foreign, whether it's newspapers, pants, shoes, paintings, etchings, or Paul and Viktorushka, in their capacity as speakers of foreign languages.
"It's going gut. And you, Herr Sukhomlinoff?" grimaces Viktorushka, handing Ed the two pies.
"Not bad, thanks." The courteous Sukhomlinov brushes the corners of his thin, lipless mouth with a napkin. "Time to go, gentlemen."
What remarkably pre-Revolutionary manners he has, thinks Ed.