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Beyond Tula A Soviet Pastoral Cultural Revolutions: Russia in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries Series Editor: Boris Wolfson (Amherst College) Editorial Board: Anthony Anemone (The New School, New York) Robert Bird (The University of Chicago, Chicago) Eliot Borenstein (New York University, New York) Angela Brintlinger (The Ohio State University, Columbus) Karen Evans-Romaine (Ohio University, Athens) Jochen Hellbeck (Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey) Lilya Kaganovsky (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) Christina Kiaer (Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois) Alaina Lemon (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) Simon Morrison (Princeton University, Princeton) Eric Naiman (University of California, Berkeley) Joan Neuberger (University of Texas, Austin) Lyudmila Parts (McGill University, Montreal) Ethan Pollock (Brown University, Providence) Cathy Popkin (Columbia University, New York) Stephanie Sandler (Harvard University, Cambridge) Beyond Tula A Soviet Pastoral A N D REI E G UN O V-N I K O L E V Translated by AINSLEY MORSE BOSTON 2019 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Egunov, A. N. (Andrei Nikolaevich), author. | Morse, Ainsley, translator. Title: Beyond Tula : a Soviet pastoral / Andrei Egunov-Nikolev ; translated by Ainsley Morse. Other titles: Po tu storonu Tuly. English Description: Boston : Academic Studies Press, 2019. | Series: Cultural revolutions: Russia in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries | Includes bibliographical references. Identifiers: LCCN 2018057557 (print) | LCCN 2018059716 (ebook) | ISBN 9781618119742 (ebook) | ISBN 9781618119735 (pbk.) Classification: LCC PG3476.E48 (ebook) | LCC PG3476.E48 P613 2019 (print) | DDC 891.73/42--dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018057557 Copyright © 2019 Academic Studies Press All rights reserved. ISBN 978-1-61811-973-5 (hardback) ISBN 978-1-61811-974-2 (electronic) Book design by Lapiz Digital Services Cover design by Ivan Grave. Published by Academic Studies Press. 28 Montfern Avenue Brighton, MA 02135, USA press@academicstudiespress.com www.academicstudiespress.com For Bela and Massimo ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Many heartfelt thanks for help and encouragement from my family, Oleh Kotsyuba, Ilja Kukuj, Massimo Maurizio, Sophie Pinkham, Alexander Skidan, Ivan Sokolov, Bela Shayevich, Faith Wilson Stein, Boris Wolfson, Ekaterina Yanduganova, and many others. The translator and publisher express gratitude to Vadim Somsikov, representative of Egunov’s estate, for permission to publish this work. TABLE OF CONTENTS Introduction: A Soviet Pastoral#8; ix A Note on Names#8; xvi PART I#8; 1 Chapter One#8; 3 Chapter Three#8; 20 Chapter Five#8; 29 Chapter Six#8; 44 PART II#8; 53 Chapter Seven#8; 55 Chapter Ten#8; 82 Chapter Eleven#8; 85 Chapter Thirteen#8; 106 Chapter Eighteen#8; 121 PART III#8; 123 Chapter Twenty#8; 128 Chapter Twenty-Two#8; 131 Chapter Twenty-Five#8; 137 Chapter Twenty-Eight#8; 140 Chapter Twenty-Nine#8; 144 Chapter Thirty#8; 151 Chapter Forty#8; 167 Egunov Bibliography#8; 177 A SOVIET PASTORAL Who thought that peaceful vistas cannot be A fine arena for catastrophe? 1 Andrey Egunov published Beyond Tula: A Soviet Pastoral in 1931, under the pseudonym Andrey Nikolev. This novel invites the reader to take 2 an outrageously tongue-in-cheek jaunt through the earnestly boring and unintentionally campy world of the Socialist Realist “production novel.” It has a transparently insignificant plot: a young writer from the city 3 comes to visit his engineer friend in the country for a couple of days, and everything ends by the grave of Leo Tolstoy. The novel’s homoeroticism is obvious, yet unobtrusive enough to have slipped past the censors. The dialogues are snappy and darkly clever, and strange and terrible things happen in between the cheerful rompings and silly flirtations. As one critic put it, the novel is “gourmandise—in its hedonism and perfectionism; and it possesses a negative charm—for there is abhorrence and terror hidden behind the clowning and the brilliance of its style.” Egunov him4 commented elsewhere on the paradoxical capacity of goofy antics to 1 “Kto vydumal, chto mirnye peizazhi/Ne mogut byt´ arenoi katastrof?” From Mikhail Kuzmin, “The Trout Breaks the Ice” (1929). 2 Egunov published Tula under the pseudonym Andrey Nikolev, which refers to the minor eighteenth-century Russian poet Nikolay Nikolev (1758–1815). With a nod to literary-historical precedent with Russian writers like Alexander Bestuzhev-Marlinsky and Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, I refer to him as Egunov-Nikolev in connection with Beyond Tula, but just Egunov elsewhere. 3 Socialist Realism—which strove to “depict reality in its revolutionary development”— was the official artistic policy in the Soviet Union from 1934 to perestroika. The production novel was a popular early genre—its plot reflected early Soviet efforts to rapidly industrialize, modernize, and improve the nation’s production of goods and raw materials. Novaia real´nost´ 4 Aleksandr Zhitenev, “Antre Liamer & Faiginyu,” no. 29 (2011). x A SOVIET PASTORAL convey both the “agony of experience” and the metaphysics buried within language itself. 5 Egunov was born September 26, 1895, in Ashgabat, the present-day capital of Turkmenistan. His family moved to St. Petersburg in 1905. There young Andrey studied at the prestigious Tenishev Gymnasium, alongside other famous-literati-to-be like Osip Mandelstam and Vladimir Nabokov. He graduated from St. Petersburg State University in 1918 with a degree in classics and subsequently embarked on postgraduate studies in Russian literature, but the postrevolutionary reorganization of the university system caused him to be excluded (as the son of an imperial officer) after one year of study. Egunov found work teaching at the new “workers’ faculties” (rabfak) and as a private tutor. He continued his work in classical philology and was active as a translator; his translation of Plato’s Laws was published in 1923 and is still read today. 6 Beginning in the early 1920s, Egunov was also a member of a more informal collective of translators and friends, known as ABDEM (the acronym is made from the first letters of the participants’ last names). The group collectively translated and published The Adventures of Leucippe and Clitophon, by Achilles Tatius (Gosizdat, 1925) and Aethiopica (or Theagenes and Chariclea), by Heliodorus of Emesa (Academia, 1932). These works— early romances or “novels”—were considered frivolous and met a lukewarm reception among the contemporary scholarly community. But the latter half of the 1920s also saw the flowering of Egunov’s own literary career: between 1928 and 1932 he wrote most of the poems in the cycle “Elysian Joys,” the first draft of the long poem “Objectless Youth,” and the novel Beyond Tula. Another novel, Vasily Island (Vasilii Ostrov), was written in 1929 but lost along the way. During this period, Egunov took part in the lively artistic and literary life of 1920s Leningrad; in particular, he was friendly with the OBERIU poets (especially Konstantin Vaginov) and with Mikhail Kuzmin and his circle. Egunov was arrested in 1933 under suspicion of anti-Soviet activity, much as the OBERIU poets Daniil Kharms and Bespredmetnaia iunost´ 5 Andrei Egunov-Nikolev, “Osmyslenie,” in (Moscow: Intrada, 2009), 39–40. 6 See the Egunov bibliography at the end of the bo ) is a novel by Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin. CHAPTER ONE 5 A tiny old lady in fur-lined slippers was mincing her way along the path leading to the house. The big old-fashioned leather pack hanging from her neck by a ribbon was open, and was crammed to bursting with just-gathered raspberries. The old lady was singing along industriously in time to her little steps in a lifeless voice: The little wind is breathing barely, the little wind doesn’t rustle a leaf, not in the clear field, not a bush in the dark forest, la-la-la, la-la-la. 5 “Haloo, my little eighty-year-old windlet, damn your eyes.” Fyodor plunged his hand into the pack. “Don’t go roving round other people’s wallets, you cheerful bastard, you! What’re you beaming for anyway? Awfully glad your friend’s here?” Going over to Sergey, the grandmother stretched out a wrinkled hand and introduced herself. “Stratelates. Very pleased to meet you. Make your6 at home. I’m sorry I have no cologne.” She went into the house, and the guitar player emerged from the bushes. He strummed a few minor chords. “Never you mind, we’re going to get this horse unharnessed right now. How can you even talk about work when your friend’s just arrived? Listen— without you here, he’s fallen into hermitude. Won’t go out for a jaunt and never drinks a drop, just keeps bowing out and saying: when my friend gets here, then we can have a little fun. I’ll close up my shop today if it means we can go out; I’m doing business every other day anyway. Let’s relive a bit of the good old days, remember how the students used to sing: O people, the people, we share a single fate, rage blazes in our eyes and our soul rages like a thunderstorm.” 7 The sensitive horse twitched an ear: she thought that the guitar was going to be yoked onto her head—an unusual and unnecessary harness. “So we’ll bring the whole gang over to your place today, then,” the co-op operator concluded. “Fine. Grandma, get everything we need.” “For how many people?” “Twenty,” answered the co-op operator. 5 Folk song “A Little Wind.” 6 Fyodor’s name comes from Fyodor Stratelates (stratelates—“the general” or “military commander”), also known as Theodore of Heraclea. He was a martyr and warrior saint during the time of Emperor Licinius (307–24). 7 Sergey Sergeyevich, the co-op operator, garbles some lines from the poem “My Soul is Dark” by Semyon Frug, a minor Romantic poet of the late nineteenth century. 6 Beyond Tula “Good God, Fedya!” “Grandma, don’t contradict me.” “I’m not contradicting you, of course; it’s your money. But you yourself know full well . . .” “Just give the money to Sergey Sergeyevich, he’ll go buy everything himself. I’m not talking about you, Seryozha—you haven’t met yet, I think”—and Fyodor set about introducing the co-op operator and Sergey. “This is my friend Sergey Sergeyevich. And this is also my friend, also Sergey Sergeyevich.” A squeal drowned out the pleasantries. Some kids were shrieking and rolling around on the grass, pulling up their smocks. Two cats politely climbed out of a basket, followed by eight or so kittens. The kittens evidently didn’t make much of a distinction as to which of them belonged to which mother and snuggled up to both equally. Sergey stumbled; there was a piteous moan, and the maimed kitten crawled off like a paralytic, dragging its newly useless hind legs. The only thing that could be made out in the muddle were the following words of the new arrival: “I was buried in Therapnai . . . they are mistaken when they say I was hanged from a tree . . .” The co-op operator didn’t see the hand held out to him. “Give me the money, Grandmother, and don’t worry: all of our stuff is official prix-fixe.” “Fyodor,” whispered Sergey. “I’m not here alone, you know; where can we put the new arrival?” “No problem,” answered Fyodor. “My grandmother’s a good woman, she can look after Helen, too. I remember how an old homeless woman used to live with her: she would sleep on chairs, but since the room was already cramped, they used to take out one of the lower dresser drawers, and the old lady would lie there with her legs stuck in the dresser. But never mind that, I just thought of something even better. Hey, Grisha Ermolov! Take the lady to the lean-to.” Grisha Ermolov materialized, wearing a felt hat. A march started playing. Bronze trumpets blared. Fyodor leapt up onto the cart and was already whipping the horse. Sergey ran alongside and jumped up to join him. “May I go along with you to work, to have a look?” Fyodor began explaining the mechanics of boreholes and bell-shafts, but an approaching chicken sh ancient, were pinned thickly to the icons. 14 Beyond Tula “What a tiresome circumstance,” complained Darya Fyodorovna. “The son died from scarlet fever, so they won’t allow an open coffin. What do you two want for dinner?” “What dinner? You think we’re interested in dinner when Fyodor’s friend has arrived? And your circumstance is tiresome ’cause you don’t know how to live right.” Big Al made his entrance, smooched with the co-op operator, and started relating, “Buddy of mine, three days now I’ve been planning to go to Moscow, but somehow I just can’t leave—there’s so much cultural education to be done here.” The young engineer winked. 16 Another couple of beers appeared on the table, foamy as the engineer’s blond curls. Everyone clinked bottles and Big Al continued his tale. “Romania is a shitty country. People sell all kinds of garbage right out of their houses, right out the window, all over the place; there’s a lawyer in every house and his wife is up to all kinds of dirty business. When I was there, all my underwear got stolen. There are thousands of pillows on the beds, stacked up with the smallest one on top, but they think it’s gauche to sleep on them. In a word—bourgeois bullshit. “But why bother remembering war stories, that’s all in the past. Let’s drink to the health of today’s educational front!” After he drank, Big Al left. The co-op operator splashed the remaining beer onto the chart with the revolutionary leaders’ portraits. “I know everything, y’hear. When Fyodor Fyodorovich first showed up, Domasha went over to his landlady’s place like she was just visiting, sat there for hours, and ended up staying the night. She made up her bed on the floor in the room that’s in between Fyodor’s balcony and his drafting studio, right on the threshold. And what do you think? Fyodor stepped right over her, y’see, very politely, and settled in to work at his desk nearly all night long. Domasha was so insulted she didn’t sleep a wink either. As for me, y’hear, I got it right away: a hermit and a draftsman . . . You know, I myself am . . . anyway, I put my trust in your student’s word of honor.” “I’m not a student,” Sergey objected. “Yeah, right! Don’t be shy, now: that’s what I’ve got my red corner all fitted out for.” 17 16 Big Al is identified as working for KULTPROS, a new Soviet government outfit devoted to “cultural education.” 17 By “red corner,” the co-op operator refers to his chart with the revolutionary leaders. In prerevolutionary times, the “red [krasnyi, also beautiful] corner” in a house was the CHAPTER ONE 15 Sergey turned over on the mahogany, manorly divan and pinched himself terribly painfully on the cracked seat. While the pain was passing and Sergey was surreptitiously rubbing the pinched spot, he managed to take a little stroll with Fyodor. Actually, at first Sergey was walking by himself and looking at the ruts in the road. They were worn deep from all the peasant carts. Kids were sitting atop the haystacks; mongrels were yelping at the horses, sticking out their tongues as far as possible (since dogs don’t sweat, and in hot weather their tongues serve as their only air vent). Fyodor came up from behind and took Sergey by the hand. Sergey pulled him forward; at first Fyodor was embarrassed and didn’t want to keep going forward, although the going was very comfortable: a splendidly swept path led toward the house. Flowerbeds with blooming roses lay to either side. But there was something still more vividly red than the roses there, and this was what had made Fyodor embarrassed. Rods appeared, and the stripes came out after the first blow—white for an instant and crimson immediately afterward. They couldn’t see the face of the young man lying prone on the bench: the hem of his shirt was pulled up over his head. No cries could be heard, either; the flogging was proceeding magnificently and did not disturb Susi’s strolling beneath the shade of the linden trees, a French novel in her hands. The rounded linden leaves cast a shifting shadowy grid onto her gauzy dress. She had plunged with all of her maidenly and innocent heart into the musings of Lelia, whose unquenchable love had forced Adolphe to throw himself headlong into the waterfall. Noticing Fyodor and Sergey moving along the path straight toward her, Susi furrowed her pretty little brow. “Hey, boys, where do you think you’re going?” she exclaimed. “Peasants aren’t allowed to walk in the park.” Then Sergey realized that, indeed, he and Fyodor were stepping out in highly inappropriate outfits. At least they had on trousers instead of just briefs, but everything else was very bad: Fyodor was wearing a sleeveless undershirt, his naked armpits shone with red-gold down, and his bare feet were barely covered with perforated sandals. Susi was getting ready to fall onto the yellow sand with a lifeless “Ah!” when Sergey suddenly got hold of himself. corner where the icons hung, but the Soviet ideologues repurposed the pun. In Soviet institutions the red corner was a recreational area decora re won’t be enough night for all 105 pits.” CHAPTER FIVE 37 “You’re a co-op operator too, Seryozhka. I said that on purpose to tease The Adored. I know his character—he’s always rushing; everything is always a race. I had all the sketches ready ahead of time, and I’ll just finish these two right now.” “Oh, you’re a crafty one! He takes after me,” said Grandma, kissing Fyodor, and it became clear that they really did resemble one another—all the more since Fyodor was still yellow from his recent headache. “Your friend reads well. I could cry out of pity for Margarethe, and that guy, what’s his name?—he’s so bad. Anyway, the samovar’s hot, kids. And I suppose there’s no way around it—I’ll drink down a cuppa along with you.” “I wouldn’t say no myself, Gram. And I can spin such succulent tales that even Fingal would blush.” “Hey, parasites! Come eat up.” Fyodor threw a piece of bread up into the air for the enormous hounds, who leapt toward the balcony ceiling. Grandma surreptitiously crossed herself as she sat down to table. “Why do you have devils in your eyes, Fyodor?” asked Sergey. “I don’t know; because of the pyramidon, probably, or maybe because of the guests, or your arrival, or Margarethe. Today turned out to be so unusual—nothing but disorder from morning on. Or maybe because I get attacks of antireligious feeling in the evenings.” And Fyodor, sipping tea, began to act out a funeral: he sang “Lord, Have Mercy” in a nasal voice and then slipped directly into the funeral march. This meant that church burials had been replaced by civilian ones. Grandma perked up at the sound of Chopin. “Back at our place in Kozikhinsky Lane the actors used to sing for Easter. Sometimes even the ones from the Bolshoi Theater. They would put on such a show that you couldn’t make out a word, and it’s only later you’d figure out they must have been singing ‘The Angel Wails.’” 44 “That really suits your talent,” Sergey pointed out to Fyodor, who was yowling with all his strength. Having finished the part with the trumpets, Fyodor started a new conversation. “In church, everyone’s passing along their candles toward the icons; you get tapped on the shoulder, the guy standing in front of you puts the candle at the wrong icon and the one who passed the candle curses . . .” 44 A prayer from the Orthodox liturgy. The Bolshoi Theater is Moscow’s premier theater for opera and ballet performances. 38 Beyond Tula “Don’t pass the cup, this one’s for you. It’s no good for him to drink such strong tea, he’s still a little boy, and it’s already late.” “Don’t inhibit me, please: I turned twenty-two last week,” squealed Fyodor, pretending to play a flute. Afterward, finishing on a high note, he fell on his grandmother with kisses. “Oh my old lady, damn your eyes, you really believe in yochimania?” “In what? Yochimania?” “In Joachim and Anna.” 45 “How could I not believe? Everyone believes in them.” “Well, I don’t.” “Oh, you scoundrel! Look out, you’ll meet your own Anna one day and then you’ll start believing.” “But I haven’t yet, even though I’ve met various Dunyas here, and plenty of Marys in the city. So your yochimania’s not true.” “Don’t argue, you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. You’ll definitely meet your Anna.” “And what if I meet both—Anna and Joachim?” “You mean if she’s married? Only you would wag your tongue like that. You’d do better to head for the hayloft. It’s late already.” “Good night, Grandma,” said Fyodor and Sergey. They had to walk in the dark around the sloping meadow between the house and the hayloft. “Fedya, should I close the doors?” asked Sergey, walking into the barn. “Yes, we’d better—otherwise the parasites on the laboring masses will crawl in during the night.” Sergey pulled the two ungainly halves of the barn doors toward himself with both hands. It became even darker, but they weren’t allowed to light a light in the hayloft. “Where are you, Fyodor?” “Over here. Walk toward my voice.” Fyodor hallooed like in the woods. Sergey crawled onto the hay, and his clambering brought the bed linens, which Grandma had laid out so carefully, into total disarray: the sheet ended up beneath the hay and the pillow at their feet. But perhaps this happened also because Fyodor, lying on the hay, had started doing Swedish gymnastics before bed. 45 In the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox traditions, according to the apocryphal Gospel of James, St. Joachim and St. Ann Opening lines of a romance by L. L. Ivanov. CHAPTER SIX 49 Everyone sat down by the sea, having gone past the Monplaisir Garden, already emptied of the tubbed palms that had stood there all summer. They were all wearing suits as dark as black bread, and the autumn smell of stagnating water, on the shore clotted with brushwood and dead leaves, made the Shadow suddenly hungry. “Wouldn’t mind breaking a little bread,” said the Shadow and tossed its cigarette butt into the water. It began tossing stones in the flat sea. One of the stones sunk the floating butt. A cart appeared in the avenue—the carter was bringing another load of sticks and brushwood to line the shore with. Evidently, they were cleaning out the park after the summer. The horse twitched its nostrils at the raw sea air. The Shadow thought about riding horseback and selected words. “Jolly, Shining, Gleaming, Sinewy, Silver-withers and Swift-runner, Palelegs, Golden, Light-legs, Golden-withers—these are the names of steeds; they carry knights.” “Well, this horse is hardly likely to carry them,” his companions corrected him. “It’s practically still a colt.” Sergey pulled with all his might, but as soon as he’d freed the reins from Fyodor’s hands, the latter suddenly woke and again took control of them. “Ugh, what are you doing, damn it? Where are you taking us? Oh ho, the big shot, the overnight expert!” Sergey’s teeth were chattering from the jolting and the deep cold; he was afraid he’d bite off his tongue. Fyodor was driving now, raised partway off the seat. He was waving the whip around, but in the nighttime muddle most of the blows landed on Sergey rather than the horse. “One, two.” Fyodor lashed, not noticing Sergey wincing from the accidental flagellation; he was unable to defend himself, since he was holding tightly onto the carriage to keep from falling out. “Come on, Seryozhka, make lively! Enough napping! Giddyup, lazybones!” And Fyodor, friskier than ever, sang out, “In heat and blaze, in the nighttime hour—” 54 in my teeth, I’m quite beneath, your sneakers.” Sergey chimed in, “And “One!”—this blow was particularly powerful. Sergey didn’t cry out, but he felt himself flying through the air with winged arms reaching forward. The hard seat of the charabanc was no longer beneath him. Then his 54 Fyodor begins singing Ratmir’s aria from Mikhail Glinka’s opera Ruslan and Liudmila (1842). 50 Beyond Tula forehead and nose touched the soft dew-covered grass. It wasn’t frightening in the slightest: this sudden gentle flight. “Faiginyu is stretching now, approaching Tula and fixing her hair . . . Are you alive, Seryozha?” came Fyodor’s voice. “Yep, what about you?” “Me too.” “But where are you?” “I’m underneath the charabanc, on the grass. Come over here.” “I can’t see anything.” “Come toward my voice.” Fyodor continued singing in a booming subtly sharpens his arrows, their blows are sharp and bold . . . voice. “He That’s right, Seryozha, lift up this end.” Fyodor crawled out from under the charabanc. The horse had run off with the two front wheels. “You have any matches, Fyodor?” “I had some, but they fell out somewhere.” “We’re really out of luck. Look at these damned tomfooleries . . .” “What are you so upset about, Fyodor?” “How can I not be upset! Faiginyu’s going to think that I forgot about her because of you. We should look and see if the pivot’s in one piece.” “Did she really know that I was coming?” “Yes, I wrote to her, though then it was only tentative, of course.” “Well, we can still fix it—we’ll tell her all about everything tomorrow.” “Yes, but we shouldn’t mention the charabanc: she’ll be worried, even though we’re fine and didn’t get hurt. But I’m so hungry I could die . . .” “Fyodor, dear friend, poor wretch, ay-ay-ay, don’t tarry, do tell: where are our tins?” “Wherever the matches are.” Sergey and Fyodor began crawling around the charabanc. Their trouser knees were soon soaked through, and the palms of their hands washed clean with dew. Finally, clambering up onto the overturned charabanc, they nestled in close, with Fyodor’s leather jacket thrown over their shoulders. “It’s very nice right now down at the bottom of the bell-shaft,” said Fyodor. “It’s warm and there’s no wind.” “Would there be space enough for the two of us down there?” “Standing, yes, but even that would be very tight.” “You know what I’m thinking, Fedenka—why do we even need to go to Kulikovo now? Just look arou into account Russian phonetics -> Faiginyu. 56 Beyond Tula Fyodor’s mother slapped him across the cheeks, and he started spanking her, calling it “educational methods.” It all ended with a foxtrot, in which even the sluggish Fingal was forced to take part, but he soon got out of breath and disappeared. Fyodor made faces, pretending to be an elegant little dandy; this impression was somewhat spoiled, however, by his coarse work uniform. Finally, the mother pushed her son away. “You know, I have a premiere in October. I’ll be singing the Marschallin. You must come.” 61 “Fine, Faiginyu, so be it—you’re the one giving out tickets. We’ll bring Sergey along too.” Sergey stood off to the side, forgotten. Grandma, creaking, dragged in the newly cleaned samovar, but Fyodor refused to sit down for tea as he was hurrying off to work. “Well, goodbye until our next pleasant meeting. Sergey is my replacement; he’ll tell you all about our quiet village life. You must be tired from the trip—he’ll put you right to sleep.” “Can I go to work with you?” asked Sergey. “No, you’re not allowed. You made more than enough gaffes yesterday, so today you’ll stay home. Why d’ya need a ram when ya got a Sam—lotsa fun. ” Having seized a crunchy cucumber and a crust of bread, Fyodor 62 leapt onto the cart and galloped off. On the balcony, everyone sat down properly to table. Sergey reached for his glass, but quickly jerked his hands back. Fyodor’s mother exclaimed, “What, is it too hot? Don’t worry, I didn’t notice anything. But why are they so swollen?” “It’s from the girls,” muttered the embarrassed Sergey. “It wasn’t so bad yesterday, but today there are blisters, and the tips of my fingers seem to have gone numb—guess it was a lethal dose. But it’ll pass.” “Of course, everything passes, Sergey Sergeyevich. Only, you know, one shouldn’t have such a free hand with everything. You must have really liked them?” “Oh yes, very much. That is, it’s a shame that Dunya wipes her mouth with her sleeve, and Fenya sweats so heavily, but in general all is well, Lamere.” “Come again?” “Oh, I’m sorry—yesterday Fyodor and I agreed not to call you that.” 61 The female lead in a comic opera by Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier. 62 In Russian, part of the joke is the “Georgian” (or generally Caucasian) accent; the Caucasus is known as a land of pastoral herders. CHAPTER SEVEN 57 “Well, you know, if it’s already come to this, then we have to think up a nickname for you too, Sergey Sergeyevich. What should I call you? Fyodor hasn’t come up with anything?” “No.” “What about you for him?” “No. The easiest thing is some kind of abbreviation; that’s what everyone’s doing nowadays.” “Perfect. I’ll call you Essess. Agreed?” Sergey was silent for a moment, then pronounced, stirring the nonexistent sugar in his glass, “Yes, agreed. Are we going to call Fyodor Effeff?” “No, we’d better not. Privately I usually call him ‘restless angel.’ Have you noticed his gait? His head hangs down for some reason, as if it’s weighed down by invisible wings. Sometimes, lost in thought, he places his hand on his chest. What is he thinking about? Most likely about whist. But we’ve digressed. Tell me, who’s the most beautiful of them all?” “Oh!” answered Sergey. “There’s this one: imagine a bolt of lightning, breaking free of black storm clouds and suddenly illuminating the earth; when the hundred-year oaks are cracking and suddenly falling; when the whiteness of curls, mixing with . . .” “In brief,” interrupted Lamere, “what do they call this Innezelia?” “Leocadia. Fyodor and I are mortally infatuated.” “Ah, so that’s how it is, you’re rivals. Be careful there’s no blood spilt. Have you heard, Essess, about playing objects? The director shouldn’t put anything onstage that will not at some point enter into the action. This balcony that we’re drinking tea on, or this Tula samovar, the glasses—all of this counts as the props of our play . . . What, you parasite, you want some bread? Here, have at it.” Lamere threw a piece to the dog. “If this tubby Fingal has appeared onstage, it means we have to play him too; otherwise there’s no reason for him to have appeared.” “Careful,” said Sergey. “Look out, or he might decide to play you with his slobbery muzzle.” “But the most interesting part,” continued Lamere, “is playing with the objects that aren’t there. We staged a play that was completely without props. The first lover skillfully fenced with an absent rapier; his hand tightly grasped its nonexistent handle. The imaginary blade plunged into the breast of his defeated enemy and, passing all the way through, showed on the other side. Unable to bear this terrible spectacle, I covered my face with a made-up black veil, then threw it off and to a writer under the tutelage of Leo Tolstoy. CHAPTER ELEVEN the brown fabric with white lilies from an old lady’s fancy holiday blouse. Other scraps were girlishly soft and pink. Satin gleamed alongside the calico; nocturnal velvet was pleasant to the touch. It seemed to Sergey, leaning down, that the quilt smelled most of all of cats and of something else, not unpleasant, but more historical: the stratification of generations, coffee, family happiness. Sergey traced a finger along the patches, traveling from one color to the next. When he hit the satin, he shuddered spasmodically: it had the same effect as running a fingernail along wallpaper. Scrape me with your saintly scraping on my soul and body—this prayer had been composed because the screen of the iconostasis made a grinding the rings rusted—that sound while closing: was Fyodor’s take on it. Now, standing over the quilt, Sergey understood Fyodor’s antireligious inclination. Of course, today would be the same thing again. The sunset would serve as a signal: the sun would lower behind the poplars; Lamere would eat buckwheat porridge with milk—a hygienic and moderate supper. Fyodor would come home in a good mood, anticipating the evening. The evening would be heralded less by the lowering twilight and fresh silence than by the faint languor following a full day’s work out in the open air. How pleasant to sit in a chair and swing one’s heels; to chat with one’s neighbor, to stir tea with a little spoon; and even more pleasant to stretch out afterward in the hay. “You’re really letting yourself go today—is it because tomorrow’s a big holiday?” Grandma will say to Fyodor when he asks for a fourth glass of tea. “Yes, Grandmama, damn your eyes, of course that’s why.” “Oh, don’t put your elbows on the tablecloth! You’ve gotten so spoiled here.” Fyodor will take his arms off the table, raise them menacingly heavenward and declaim, “Weep, o parent, and moan: your son is a scoundrel; your son is a socialist. ” “What’s that from?” Lamere will ask. 86 Beyond Tula “Oh, it’s just . . . And then there’s ‘Noble lads, this day is the illest-starred of all our lives: our Sovereign Emperor has met his end through a villainous bomb. ’ I will draw an astonishing analogy for you between our Lord and the Sovereign Emperor, who lies at rest in the elder bushes. ‘O Lord, forgive them, they know not what they do, ’ said the Lord. ‘A fine crook, stop the thief, ’ said the Sovereign Emperor. ‘O Lord, I deliver my spirit into your hands, ’ said the Lord. ‘Take me to the Winter Palace, ’ said the Sovereign Emperor. Grandma will listen, furiously gnawing at a crust of bread with teeth eighty years old, but still intact. “‘Noble lads’—that’d be a good name for cats,” Sergey will say. “Don’t bother them, Seryozha, they’re already sleeping, and we don’t want you to cripple another kitten with your love.” “I don’t understand how it’s possible to love cats: cunning and treacherous creatures. Even piglets are better, if you have to love something,” Lamere will intervene. “They actually have very beautiful eyes, pale and screened with white-blond eyelashes.” “By all means, I agree—piglets are pretty, especially under horseradish. But cats are better. The co-op operator and I share the same name. He already quoted something; now I have to,” Sergey will say and begin to recite a sonnet about cats, with feeling. “Nothing is sacred to you, Sergey Sergeyevich—it’s the night before a church holiday and you’re jabbering away in French.” Grandma will be outraged and, incensed at her grandson’s laughter, will be compelled to set down her saucer. “Everyone knows that the French nation is the most indecent: they just want nightclubs and beelzebubs—but as of now vespers still aren’t over, so it’s a sin.” “And it wasn’t a sin for you to treat us to half-baked apples today at dinner?” Fyodor will ask. “Wasn’t my sin that they didn’t bake all the way—the oven’s to blame.” “No, that’s not the point. You picked up those apples in the orchard on the path, so they’re stolen. And you’re going to get roasted for that in the next life for sure.” “Well, if I’m lucky they’ll only half-bake me, like I did those apples.” And Grandma will pull her saucer back toward herself again. After that it should come as no surprise that Fyodor’s Adored Management, riding past in his horse-drawn cart, will think, Heh-heh-heh, see, big-city tricks. And they set it all up so neatly: first Fyodor’s friend supposedly comes to visit—his friend, right—that’s no shocker, we know that one. CHAPTER ELEVEN 87 But then she comes, you see, from Moscow for a summer rest—tired from the opera, she says. Can you really get tired from opera? Eugene Onegin, now that’s a good opera. No, she must work in operettas. These society types, damn ’em all to hell—they’re probably all talking French among themselves. The Management will fix the bandage on its forehead: it had a boil and is being treated by the local lady doctor. Sergey will think of the Adored, He’s probably a fake expert and is just pretending with his bandage. Probably in the old days he just managed somebody’s estate. It’d make sense if he turned out to be one of those Poles. The quilt gave off such a dense odor that Sergey started trying to catch it with his fingers. Meanwhile, Isa Makarovna entered the room, with a parting phrase to those still sitting on the balcony. “Yes, so they really did go and lose that girl for two quarter-barrels of liquor. Ah, why are you all so polite? I’m not used to it.” She gasped when she noticed Sergey, who had lifted a corner of the quilt and was tragically observing the dark space beneath, absent of sheets; immense fleas frolicked there. Embarrassment occurred. Sergey thrust the quilt away, blushing, leapt away from the bed, and was now standing in the middle of the room, demonstratively whistling, like a man in an exceptionally good mood and sporting an exceptional Panama hat. The landlady, carrying a stack of ironed shirts, stood deep in thought. The lowest shirt was threatening to tumble out of the stack. Sergey recognized Fyodor’s shirt, the one he’d worn in Peterhof. “Let me help you.” Sergey grabbed the edge of the shirt. “It’s fine, our Lord had to carry a heavier load,” the landlady answered submissively and continued on into the kitchen. Through the door she could be seen beginning to fuss over the black troughs, tossing the linens into a basket. The kittens stuck their little muzzles into a saucer of water whitened with milk. Sergey wondered about the fate of the kitten he’d crippled. Would he leap about on March rooftops? Would he be squeezed aside by burly cat stallions? Would he have to amputate both legs above the knee and, in a little cart, holding wooden false limbs, would he ambulate along the sidewalk, gambling on the piety of the retrograde strata of the population and coquettishly exhibiting from shortened trouser legs the red, ham-like excision sites, already grown as lying on top of him and suffocating him. 110 Beyond Tula Rumors started to spread through the village that the old man had some kind of a tumor in his stomach that was sucking up everything he ate, so that he had to constantly buy enough provisions to feed a dozen men in ruddy health. The young men started crawling out of their shelter and hanging about on the threshing floor. They straightened out their deadened, twisted limbs, ran back and forth, filled their lungs with the clean night air. Intoxicated, they rambled, embracing, jostling one another and wallowing. Due to the long hiatus, they could no longer control their voices, and wild sounds tore out of them, harsh barks. They started eating a week’s worth of provisions in a single day. Water no longer satisfied them. One of them made his way to a tavern and brought back a pitcher of beer. The peasant thought, What terrible sin did I commit that I must suffer so much? The French would hang him for harboring. Just a spark, and the whole hay barn would disappear as if it never was. The father fought his son. The rain fell in thin streams. Both were weakened: the old man by worries, privations, and fever; the young man by his long internment in the cramped shelter. They beat each other rather feebly about the face and the head, throttled and dragged each other back and forth. The young man was soft and warm and smelled like a young animal; the hairs on his chin had grown wildly and hung fluffily about his flabby cheeks. The thick dark auburn hair on his head, matted with pieces of hay, protected him from his father’s blows; the latter’s angular skull was given over nearly defenseless to the authority of his son’s fists. Lying in a wet puddle, they gnawed on each other, feeling the esophagus cartilage beneath their thumbs. And that’s it. Sweet and cozy Germany one hundred years ago. Everything there is close at hand: these guys are wallowing in the ditch, while two feet away there lives young Pfeffel, suffering from eyesight problems. Out of compassion for him, the daughter of his landlord, Margaretha Cleophe, serves as his secretary. One day Pfeffel dictates to her, “You are the mistress of my heart. I bless that heavenly hour when you first began taking down my dictations. Can I dare to hope that you might one day feel something more for me than the feelings of a secretary?” The letter was finished. The girl asked quietly, “How shall I write the address, sir?” “Fräulein CHAPTER THIRTEEN 111 Margaretha Cleophe Divoux,” answered the young man just as quietly. They were married and, despite the blindness that struck the young husband on the first day after the wedding, they were entirely happy. Their family gradually became populous: twelve children brought them the liveliness they desired. “Look, the sky’s already gone all starry. Evening and silence. The hayloft will be fine on a night like this.” Sergey finished his story. “Don’t forget,” Lamere objected, “that we’re still invited to the priest’s wife’s. Essess, on top of everything else, you’re sentimental. This morning I decided that you have Baltic skin and hair, but now I see that even your soul is Baltic.” “Obviously, nature is just having a little fun,” Sergey objected. “Though I really wouldn’t complain if right now, instead of Mirandino and this visit to the priest’s wife’s, we suddenly saw the huts and cottages of Weimar: tileroofed and overgrown with ivy, their windows covered in delicate dense casements. We’d light a candle and you would sit down to play the spinet.” Lamere responded, “How is our little wing of the house any worse than Weimar? The unsteady balcony, the tilting roof, the windows covered up by piles of last year’s manure. The moon looks down upon it gently. And anyway, isn’t it true that you and I enjoy an ideal everyday routine here? Don’t you agree? “I can only answer as Fyodor once answered me in Peterhof: perhaps, perhaps.” “Listen, I need to warn you when it comes to Fyodor. Of course, he’s very kind, responsive, friendly. And, have you noticed that raised upper lip? Even though I’m his mother, I still think it’s beautiful. But you should know that he is capable of the most unexpected acts. This last winter he lost both of his coats. He’ll go into a cafeteria in Moscow, take off his coat and, when leaving, forget to put it back on—he’ll just be surprised that it’s so cold. Right now he’s all caught up in his work here. If only he really could become an ideal production worker! When he was about seventeen, he organized a debauch in our apartment when I was away. You can imagine: his comrades, some damsels—the most innocent children possible; and of course, wines and liqueurs. The little ones had decided to become grownups: they got terribly drunk and were lolling around on the floor, kissing—and not enjoying any of it in the slightest. I know him, after all. It was just an expe ious Soviet poet very popular in the 1920s. CHAPTER TWENTY 129 Sergey pronounced quite clearly, “Du und du.” “Dummy, dim-dim, dolt,” friendly voices yelled above him. The mining lamp illuminated homemade silk pumps, stamping in place, goatskin boots, slippers, callused bare feet. Leocadia slapped him across the nose with her scarf, the co-op operator wagged a finger at him. “Don’t shame us old students, get up. Why are you kissing this earth here—it’s not like it’s Leo Tolstoy’s grave. But your whole hand’s all bloody. Did you knock someone off or something?” “Knocked on a window,” answered Sergey. “A window, who do you think? No, I have nothing to do with any of this. Let him go on sleeping peacefully in the hayloft.” “You just took me away from my work,” cursed the mining boss. “I thought there was a fire somewhere.” “Thanks be to the Lord, and you can bite your tongue,” the kulak would say, and start thanking Sergey for finding the colt. “Now you can be a witness that they aren’t covering their bell-shafts and all our livestock is falling in there, to our detriment.” “You oughta make ’em compensate you, Syssoyich.” “Oh, I’ll make ’em compensate for sure. No less than twenty rubles. That was a real fine colt: soft, a light chestnut. And if Fyodor Fyodorovich starts saying it was the same one Queenie ate the leg off of, well, that’s a pack of lies: he broke that leg when he fell into the bell-shaft.” The kulak would reach a friendly fist out to Sergey and help him up from the ground. The alarm bell started ringing: the old bell tower would bend beneath the weight of the frantic drone. Dunya, the other Dunya, Fenya, and Domasha would take Sergey by the arms, and the whole cheerful, bouncing company would run off to where the fire was. The grain was burning, still unthreshed. People in the crowd were talking about arson for the sake of revenge, since the peasants were struggling against the kulaks. The owner of the grain stood fidgeting with a bucket of water; no one else was doing anything. The low-lying blaze cast a rosy blush on all the faces. The old ladies huddled closer to the flames, warming their cold bones for free. The boom of the alarm bell drowned out all the voices; only snippets of nearby conversations would make their way to Sergey. The priest, Vasily Germanovich, having made his staid arrival on the scene, would be disappointed: he had thought a house was burning and that brave souls were leaping into the flames, hoping to save icons and winter clothing, and that someone would definitely get burnt up or suffocated in 130 Beyond Tula the process. He would receive compensation for the funeral services, and get to eat at the wake, concealing his hiccups with sighs. At the last one in Oslonovka they’d had a great time burying an old man: they drank and drank, then started dancing, and then Vasily Germanovich had picked up a bucket full of water with his teeth. Leocadia, in a white dress tinged pink from the fire, stood next to the priest. “Father, when you have a soul as exhausted as mine, you so thirst for stronk new impressions.” “Yes, it’s terrible, just terrible,” the priest would answer. “It all comes from our sins.” “Was he really such a sinner? How interesting—do tell!” “The donkey of Siloam was no guiltier than any other, and the tower fell on her and crushed her beneath itself.” 121 Leocadia would stare straight into the burning sheaves: the ones at the top of the haycock were burning freely, and in the heart of the fire, the ears were gleaming as they had only recently out in the fields under the noontime sun. The lower sheaves were turning red, and the indecisive flame attempted to lick at them. Leocadia was inspired to begin a theological dispute with the priest. “So how is this other think a sin too?” “Depends on the circumstances: how, when and who.” “Yes, that makes sense. There’s a lot of variation there. Don’t you think, Father, that in ancient times I would obviously have been Nero?” 121 The priest demonstrates his dubious command of Scripture by conflating two different biblical legends: the donkey of Balaam, who resists her owner’s desire to act on his greed (Numbers 22:27–28) and the tower of Siloam, which fell and crushe ke the visage of an icon of the Assumption. 132 Beyond Tula “Well, Faiginyu, Seryozhka, things are coming to a head: I say to you truly that, whilst, forwith, indeed—tomorrow when we drink tea it will be with sugar.” “Don’t tell me they’re doling it out!” exclaimed Grandma. “All this time we’ve been living here and haven’t seen a speck.” “Since when did you start playing prophet, Fedya? Especially considering you got up all gloomy and jaundiced.” “I’m upset, Faiginyu, and for good reason. Plus Seryozhka’s leaving. The sweet tea will pass him by. Come on, stay for another day at least.” “No, Fyodor, there’s no way, you know I can’t stay. But if your prophecy comes true, then may the sugar sweeten for you the bitterness of parting.” “Who are you leaving us for, o Father of ours?” Lamere sang out, get122 up from the table. Fingal’s aggravated growling emanated from beneath the planks of the balcony, which were creaking beneath the dancers. “He’s displeased,” said Sergey. “He’s a local boy. He’d evidently be much happier with Ay-da, troika, fluffy snow! A pair is rushing . . .” 123 “In trio,” added Lamere. But now the moans coming from under the balcony had changed. Fyodor couldn’t wait, lay down on the ground, and crawled under the balcony. “Scandalous, scandalous!” Fyodor’s boots, still visible from the balcony, danced irrepressibly. Finally, brushing the dirt and chicken feathers from his elbows, Fyodor crawled back out, bright red in the face. “Who would have thought. Bravo, Fingal,” Fyodor whispered something in Lamere’s ear. The word “six” was audible. “Then give them some milk right away.” Sergey guessed the secret. “Ah, you foreigner! They don’t know how to drink from a saucer yet. Fingal will feed them himself. But we can certainly give him some milk.” The landlady, informed of the event, noted curtly that they ought to call Motenka as soon as possible. Sergey begged her to invite somebody, anybody, just not Motenka. The landlady indicated that the procedure was not a lengthy one, of course, but that she would like to give Motenka the pleasure, since he sometimes carried out business for her in Tula. Finally, Isa Makarovna herself crawled under the balcony. Through one of the cracks in the floor they could partly observe her battle with Fingal: the landlady’s heaving meaty spine, a sharp-clawed canine paw, growling and shrieks of “hush!” 122 The prologue from Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov. 123 A late nineteenth-century romance attributed to Mikhail Steinberg. CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO 133 Finally, hauling a full sack, the landlady made her way to the bucket that Sergey had recently scooped water from for Fyodor’s bath. Without taking anything out of the sack, she squashed it some, thrust it entirely into the bucket and took off for the well. Sergey recalled the words Fyodor had pronounced while bathing. “So,” he said. “Queenie’s smarter than Fingal and that’s why she chose the tumbledown cottage.” “Go on, Fedya, go take a walk with Sergey—he’s leaving tomorrow, after all. I’ll take care of poor Fingal. It’s a maternal thing.” Fyodor, wearing a Russian peasant shirt, walked through the fields, which today were utterly spacious. Yesterday’s golden strip had disappeared. They started smoking and singing, first operas—Lamere’s influence—but the singing didn’t go well. “To hell with cigarettes!” cried Fyodor. “Let’s just be quiet.” The gently sloping ravine looked spiky from the rye, which had been trimmed but not yet shaved. The grove where they’d met the girls two days ago stood quiet, not knowing what to do with itself on a Sunday. They sat down on a bumpy hummock. Fyodor began to explain boring. “They screw a boring spoon onto the end of one of the rod links, Seryozhka, and an eye onto the other end, and they put the handle into the loop. Everything is so simple for this mining boss: a little vodka and some girls, and his Sunday flies by in a jiffy. He’s the same age as you. Saucy pale blue eyes. He’s probably cooling off now. What do you think, is it good to be like him? Remember the girls in the grove that time?” “I remember them in the grove and on the village street and yesterday at the priest’s wife’s. The only thing I still don’t understand is why, when I first got here, they told me they have tons of Stratelates?” “Oh, that’s silly—it’s a song the mining guys made up. Forget about it.” Laughing out loud, Fyodor leapt down from the hummock. Wallowing about in the grass and kicking his legs up in the air, he yodeled, “Oh, Saturday, a cloudy day, can’t go work out in the fields, can’t go harrowing, can’t go sowing, can’t go strolling in the park. ” 124 He’s doing pretty well—I have to try too, thought Sergey. He flipped backward and tried to do some loop-de-loops, but he was no match for Fyodor. However, both decided that it wasn’t bad to be fifteen again. d behind her. Chastushka, 127 a folk rhyme. CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE “Come and drink some milk. And we’ve received some letters, Fedya: one’s from Moscow, the other’s local, no stamps—Domasha brought it over.” The sides of their glasses whitened. Fyodor fished out the milk scum with a finger and flung it into Ossian’s accommodating maw. The dog licked his lips in confusion: this communion seemed sweet, but so fleeting, as if it had never been. Fyodor inspected the envelopes. One of the letters was fat, the other thin. Maybe the answer’s in the letters, thought Sergey. He pressed Fyodor to open them. “Don’t be in such a rush, Seryozhka. We should have a rest after our stroll. Go get a blanket and some pillows. I’ll take Faiginyu. We can go into the orchard, under the apple trees.” They got settled on a sloping knoll. The pillow turned out to be grayer than the freshly limed apple tree trunk it was leaned against. At Sergey’s insistence, the fat envelope was opened first, though Fyodor noted, “So the post from Moscow must have already arrived. I wonder what that means for your namesake. All right, Sergey, read me what they write from Moscow.” “It’s probably from some maiden?” “Well, it does happen from time to time, what do you expect. Hiya, Fyodor my friend! I send you ginormous greetings and wish you great success in your work. I still haven’t settled into the academic soup pot after vacation, but the temperature has tripled and the pressure, I think, gone up by about a factor of five. They say it’s good for you. What can I say, given our diet: H O plus cabbage. Well, what will be, will be! If I can’t take the pres2 and start to get burned by the academic soup, it won’t be my fault, but that of my health. Right now I feel like a great ship must feel after a victory against the elemental whirlwinds. So, now I’ll describe my trip to Moscow 138 Beyond Tula from a certain station well known to you. I got in fine. I was in the train for 5 hours. As soon as I got into my train car, a string orchestra was already thundering away, warbling in a minor key. It was all our students. There were girl students from the pedagogical institute too; one of them was slicing at my eyes with her gazes, as if with a bright ray of sunlight, and I had to look away. I immediately became someone else. My face’s cheerful grimace became serious. Phrases came out of me without completing themselves, and in another moment I had already been introduced to her. This was the exquisite Nina, a southern girl, after which I dubbed her “Accidental Joy.” The ride was so much fun that the hours seemed but minutes. Accidental raised my spirits, and I was so enchanted that I laid out my entire repertoire to the strains of tender strings. But the enraged steel steed, paying no attention to anything, cut through the dry, burning wind; it hurried to deliver us to our destination. The gusty wind, making way for the proud trotter, sped noisily past the windows and greeted the passengers with its shriek. The springs, like wings floating in the air, strove to rock our cradle quietly and smoothly, in order to observe the harmony of life’s actors. The strings crooned the “Hills of Manchuria” waltz; their sob128 like hypnosis, pulled the ardent, responsive youth under their influence. But then our trotter whinnied, seeing the vigilant eyes of an oncoming train, and for an instant this meeting distracted everyone from the stringed magnet. Breathing heavily, the hardy steppe dweller ran along the windows of the cars and, like a steam hammer heavily banging its iron feet, heaved its burden along in melodious covered wagons. Finally, the last one dove under, its ungreased axle gnashing. And all was quiet again, the thundering orchestra released an unwanted sound, and for the second time we were under the sway of the sobbing strings. Oh, why do these sounds exist? . . . Why do they, like mustard gas, pull us under their sway? Why must the heart be tortured? Quit sobbing already, o cursed strings! What is this meeting for? Enough rubbing salt into this wound in my breast! But the strings refused to fall silent and their weeping but intensified the feelings of the weak creature. She began singing with me yet again. Her exquisite pearls were once again fixed on me; they were aflame and burned my heart with their elixir. “Fyodor,” she declared upon finishing. “Sing another one or read something out loud while the strings are still playing ‘Sadness,’ —it’s my favorite waltz, after all!” 129 128 Music by Ilya Shatrov, bandmaster for a regiment that fought in the 1904–5 RussoJapa Poem by the Symbolist poet Valery Briusov. CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT “Drink up your tea already, what are you daydreaming about? We’re almost there!” She didn’t even have time to finish speaking when the door opened and a bespectacled conductor bellowed: “We are now approaching the final stop; gather your belongings; you were nice enough passengers, but what can you do?” The strains of the strings seemed to take fright at the husky bass, stopped short, and sent their final sob echoing through the car. The individuals who had been under the sway of the strings did not start gathering their belongings immediately and with a certain peculiar skill strove to catch hold of this final singing echo! Oh, Fedka my chum, you understand me without words—you know the feelings of young people yourself. Dunya wrote me a telegraph and told me you’d started pursuing the priest’s wife; I wish you luck; of course, there’s no arguing over taste. How lucky you are that you’ve stayed in Mirandino; but don’t you go sniffing around my Dunya (not that Dunya, the other one), or else we’ll have to settle up later. I remain hopeful regarding your nobility your tenderly loving alumnus of the Moscow Polytechnical Institute. Fyodor balled up the pages and tossed them away. “See, now you too are leaving for your Peterhof, Seryozhka, and Faiginyu’s off to Moscow. You had better be careful, Faiginyu: next thing you know you’ll meet a little sailor, all neat and clean. Nowadays you’d never hear, ‘Hey there, whiskers, where d’ya think you’re going, these are decent folk here.’ Everybody’s clean-shaven nowadays. Only out here in the sticks people still—but the young ones are shaving, so look sharp, Faiginyu, take care.” “Look sharp yourself, Fyodor. I for one will remember these sticks fondly. Sometimes when you’re singing onstage, you suddenly remember something completely inappropriate. That is, of course you’re thinking, CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT 141 now I have to get to that ‘re,’ and then get up to ‘si,’ but at the same time for some reason something else pops up like, well, like these apples hanging above us, or this shimmering air. You can’t know it now, but then in the winter sometime it turns out that you committed it all to memory.” “Just like Fil d’Écosse remembers everything: the sunsets, the brook, the pine forest. Are you going to write me letters like that, Seryozhenka?” “I’ll say to you what you said to me back in Peterhof: perhaps. You know, Fyodor, writing letters doesn’t necessarily mean putting them in the mail. I love waiting for the reply to an unsent letter. The letter is completely ready to go; it even has a stamp (featuring a worker with an energetic face against an industrial background). I run my tongue along the triangular fold of the envelope, tasting the glue, and remember that it’s not hygienic. All kinds of illnesses commence: lupus, tongue cancer, aortic aneurysm. Finally, the letter is sealed and dropped into the box—on your desk. I wait for the reply, and the replies come in droves, every day. I am pelted with joyous, horrible, and passionate epistles. After all, I could have written my unsent letter to anyone. Finally, after about a month, sometimes a little earlier, when all the replies have been inspected and experienced, I remember my letter and send it. The reply—if there is one—is no longer of any import; I got more interesting ones. So I don’t always read the letters I receive.” “So that’s how it is,” said Fyodor. “I’ll have to bear that in mind. I sure wrote to you, out of foolishness, I suppose.” “And bear it out in practice, too,” added Lamere. “But Essess, can you really do that with your business correspondence as well? Now I can see why you never made a career for yourself and just stayed a girl typist forever. Careful now—you might end up an old maid. You and I are the same age, but I have a son and you don’t. But I can see from Fil d’Écosse’s letter that around here the romances run thick and fast—I had no idea. For some reason we’re the only ones things aren’t working out for.” “Things are working out beautifully,” Sergey objected fervently. “Let’s do the math: I’m Fil d’Écosse’s successor, there’s my affair with Leocadia— that’s one. Fyodor has his affair with the priest’s wife Sara—two. He has an itch for all things ecclesiastical. Grandma and the church elder (note the similarity in their names)—three. The very same Fyodor and one of the thermometers—four. That was before I got here. Finally, we have your affair with the co-op operator—that makes five.” Lamere was playing with a twig. At these words, she placed it on the blanket, its sharp end . 137 Folksong “On Saturday, a Cloudy Day.” CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE 149 “What magnificent technique,” whispered Lamere. “What a cantilena, what high notes.” “Yes, those are very high notes,” confirmed Sergey. “Which one of us should sing?” Lamere, Fyodor, and Sergey conferred, embarrassed. “Sergey can’t sing at all, and Fyodor just yells.” “It’ll have to be you.” They turned to Lamere. “So be it,” she agreed. “Although it’s much scarier to perform in front of Helen than at a concert. It can’t hurt to try, though; I’ll do the Kostroma song.” 138 Lamere sat down on a stump and began. “Something more cheerful!” An imperious order bellowed from the lean-to. “Even more cheerful!” The lean-to exclaimed shortly thereafter. Lamere had long since leapt up from the stump. Her elbows and shoulders moved in time with the song, her face was ablaze and the corners of her mouth twitching. Only now did Sergey fully understand what an amazing performer was hidden inside her. Glancing around, he noted that all of the gardeners really had joined hands and formed a human ring, golden at this hour. Fyodor was squat-dancing in the middle. Helen’s feet, visible through the crack in the lean-to, were tapping regularly in harmony with the goings-on. Then there was nothing left for Sergey to do but clap his hands, which he began doing assiduously. The shaken apples fell from their branches. Finally everyone got worn out. Helen invited Lamere into her lean-to. The gardeners meanwhile gathered up the fallen apples and divided them into piles by sort. When they set out on the return journey, Lamere took Fyodor and Sergey by the arms and led them. Everyone had stocked up on apples before leaving: russets and Rome beauties and arcades. The arcades turned out to be the sweetest of all. “So what did Helen tell you?” Sergey asked Lamere. “A lot, but my thoughts are all scattered right now. I remember her informing me that expertly flavored eels are her sustenance. Then she praised these Arcade apples. Then she said something else that I don’t feel I can repeat.” 138 Lamere sings a folk song connected with the pre-Christian Slavic deity of spring and summertime, Kostroma. Rites associated with Kostroma often involved participants dancing a ring dance. 150 Beyond Tula “No, Faiginyu, you have to say it,” insisted Fyodor, “or else we’ll have to resort to disciplinary methods.” “All right. Helen said that I am a very intelligent woman and an intelligent mother. That’s it. Well, and in conclusion she kissed me on the forehead, right here.” Lamere pointed to her forehead, partially covered by a yellow scarf from above and encircled by blond tresses. Sergey and Fyodor detected the aroma of the recent osculation. “Isn’t Helen beautiful?” asked Fyodor. “It was dark in the lean-to, and I couldn’t really see her, but I suppose she really is very pretty.” “I told you,” confirmed Sergey, and, turning to Fyodor, added, “See, Fedenka, this Caucasus you were planning to leave for isn’t nearly as wretched as Peterhof.” “Yes,” said Lamere. “I never liked resort areas: canvas drapes, tennis courts, bicycles . . . In that kind of environment, I don’t look anything like a housewife or a mother. Fyodor was very small then. An acquaintance of ours showed up uninvited in Podsolnechnaya, where we were staying at our dacha. He didn’t have our address, and he didn’t know my last name, but he could give a good physical description of me. He started asking around door-to-door, and everyone told him right away: ‘Oh, that young lady with the little boy, the one who doesn’t look like a mother at all.’ On the day this acquaintance found us, we ate the apricot torte he’d brought, which, to be honest, had gotten a little crushed along the way. But look: Georgie Gusynkin is guzzling apples again. Careful, Georgie—it’s going to be the same thing all over again.” “I’m not going up there,” implored Fyodor, looking up at the balcony. “God damn! Someone’s visiting again. This is what I call reviewing old material.” “Oh,” exclaimed Sergey. “If only we could turn everything back by three days. How wisely we would l e that is able to receive let him receive ” 152 Beyond Tula or when Papa died—it’s either from the champagne or the starvation. Little Lida Vorontsova—see, I’ve forgotten her too. Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah, I get my wish: four Kings,” the Spawn declared in a most indifferent tone. “All four?” exclaimed Sergey. “Now that’s what I call excessive monarchy.” Meanwhile, the Spawn was stealthily stroking the Queen of Hearts with great affection; she lay between two Jacks. Grandma fussed. “May God grant your wish. But how will we dine today, like nobility or like us? Here, take the cards.” “I’m a noblewoman,” answered the Spawn, “we were written into the Velvet Book.” 140 Grandma understood and put on a tablecloth sewn from two sheets. “You’ll have to forgive us, Spawn: we’re having wheat porridge for dinner today. All sorts of rumors are flying because of these folks. They say that Fyodor’s fantastically rich Muscovite so-called mother came to visit; that she sings shameless songs naked onstage and, of course, rakes in a thousand rubles a month. So naturally they wanted seven rubles for the chicken today.” A tureen with cabbage soup appeared at the same moment as the priest’s wife and a little lady with a cigarette. She actually hadn’t lit up yet, but her cocked elbow and the dandy-like arch of her fingers and lips meant that even without a cigarette she was a little lady with a cigarette. Sergey dragged some chairs out of Fyodor’s room. The balcony was full of twittering, movement, and kisses. The priest’s wife was explaining. “She won’t give birth for another two hours at least.” “We had a birth here this morning too,” said Lamere. The priest’s wife inspected everyone suspiciously—Lamere, the Spawn, Grandma, Sergey—and continued. “I’ve dropped in quite by accident; we were just wondering where we could have dinner, and Fyodor Fyodorovich’s boss always says the dinners here are pretty good. Usually I don’t go six miles away for a birth, but after yesterday’s party I decided to go for it. But where’s the life of the party?” “I’m right here,” Sergey answered. “I’m not talking about you, hush up. Even Leocadia’s not enough for you, you awful man. But where’s our Fyodor? I know, after all, I heard the whole story: makes you feel bad just looking at Leocadia; she’s beside 140 A genealogy of Russian noble families first published in the late seventeenth century. CHAPTER THIRTY 153 herself, tearing and raging, tearing up prospecting magazines and raging, raging. Oh, Fyodor Fyodorovich is such a child, he still doesn’t know how to hide his feelings!” The priest’s wife tore off chunks of bread and tossed them into her soup plate. Black crumbs floated like cockroaches amid the cabbage. The little lady with the cigarette was carefully spooning up the liquid, moving the solids away with her pinky. Lamere didn’t say a word. Grandma was staring into the tureen, calculating in her head whether there would be soup left for Fyodor. “But where is he? Where is my Fyodor Fyodorovich?” “He’s at work,” Lamere said drily. “And he won’t be back till late in the evening.” The priest’s wife stretched out a hand and started counting something on her fingers. “Today is Sunday,” she said triumphantly. “There’s no work today. It’s just us medical workers get worked to the death: these birthing mothers know no restraint. Yes, today is clearly Sunday: on weekdays Fyodor Fyodorovich’s boss comes to have dinner with you after work, and today he’s not here.” Grandma sighed. Lamere exchanged glances with Sergey. “Well,” he said, “it’s true, no one has work today, but Fyodor is a fanatic, he went out to work in the fields by himself.” “What’s his problem?” the priest’s wife exploded. “I guess that’s real passion: first he insults Leocadia because of me, then he goes off wandering the fields by himself, not eating or drinking. Romeo! He could use some bromide: one teaspoon per glass of water.” “Would you like some more porridge?” Sergey offered the little lady with the cigarette. “I never eat anything,” she answered, sucking in. “Me neither. That is, I sometimes make exceptions. For instance, this is the menu of my daily dinner in Peterhof; as you surely know, I live in the palace there.” “Maraschino too!” The priest’s wife brightened up. “So you left Peterhof for here? I would dump all of my patients in an instant if it meant I could have a dinner like that just once. My god, the roe cheeks! But who’s that I see coming down the path? So gloomy! Fyodor Fyodorovich, whatever is the matter?” The priest’s wife tried to jump up, but Sergey ina) is the female protagonist in Pushkin’s 160 Beyond Tula “Fedenka, what’s with you and monasteries today?” “Please don’t inhibit the child’s individuality. In ten or twenty years religion will have completely disappeared, and we won’t need any more propaganda. But novels always have an epilogue: ten years later—who got married to whom, who had what kind of kids.” “You’re obviously going to marry the priest’s wife, Fyodor, and you’ll have to dance foxtrots with her first thing every morning.” “No way, Seryozhka, no priest’s wives—phew, I shouldn’t even say it out loud—there won’t be any left then. But in twenty years I’ll have a great big belly. I’ll be a terribly solid engineer; I’ll come visit you in Peterhof and rent the finest room they have. Grandma will already be over a hundred. I’ll show her off in circuses for money, damn her eyes; and our mama here will still be a lady in the prime of life, and we’ll marry her off to . . .” “Hang on, Fedya,” Lamere cut in. “Let’s be serious. There always has to be some kind of sumptuous woman in the spotlight. Helen is out of the question, of course. So let it be Leocadia, I concur. But endow her with every possible perfection: young, beautiful, attractive, a brilliant public figure, committed to building a new world. In describing her appearance, stick with the 1903 Knowledge almanac. But make sure the protagonist 144 has some flaws: under Leocadia’s influence, he’ll rid himself of them.” “All right, I’ll try that out. What about the secondary characters?” “They’re always easy to find. Take any of the real-life examples: the co-op operator can tempt Leocadia with sugar, but she remains steadfast. Or she can take the sugar, but then distribute it equally among all the villagers. Domasha can be an ideal village schoolteacher and hand out handkerchiefs to all the little kids.” “And Fyodor is the ideal engineer?” “Why not? But bring in a couple of negative types: the local priest, the local kulak. Don’t forget that everything is happening in the immediate vicinity of Yasnaya Polyana. All of your characters should be reading 144 Lamere refers to a St. Petersburg publishing house, Knowledge (Znanie), founded just before the turn of the century and promoting an antimodernist, Marxist, and critical strain of literature. Maxim Gorky, subsequently the father of Soviet Socialist Realism, took over Znanie in 1900 and the materials published in the publisher’s annual almanacs held to the socially critical and morally didactic tradition of mid-nineteenth-century Russian literature. In her advice to Sergey, Lamere parrots the general requirements of Socialist Realism, which would become official (required) Soviet aesthetic policy just about a year after this novel was published. CHAPTER THIRTY 161 Tolstoy, but the negative ones should be reading his religious nonsense. The positive ones can read the literary works appended to Little Flame. ” 145 “Can I do you and Fyodor?” Fyodor leapt up and started prancing along the rickety boards of the balcony: “Atta boy, Seryozhka, damn your eyes—now he wants to ‘usage’ us too!” “I can see it now, Fedya—he does have a touch of the demonic. He ‘sucked us dry like a lemon,’ and now he’s leaving.” Lamere laughed. “Don’t worry,” Sergey assured them. “I’ll only use a couple of your features, dramatically altered; I’ll only depict that which never was, I swear. For instance, I’ll make Fyodor an ideal opera singer passing through Yasnaya Polyana on tour. I’ll give him a magnificent tenor, he’ll be a veritable angel crying out; and I’ll make you . . .” 146 “Just not Leocadia, she’s supposed to be a positive character, right?” Lamere exclaimed. “No, no, of course not! I’ll make you . . . who? Want to be the Beautiful Helen?” “Merci, that won’t be necessary.” Fyodor jumped on top of Sergey and grabbed him by the forelock. “Only mind you read your story to us first, so we can make significant changes. You promise?” “Fine.” Then Fyodor stroked Sergey’s hair and said, “And if you want to be as charming as always, Seryozhenka, it would be even better if you made the whole thing into a historical novel. You can leave in the mines, but make it all happen under Ivan the Terrible—after all, they were mining this area back then, too. It’ll be great and no one will get offended. Want an apple?” “The horses are ready,” the other Fyodor walked up. “What, there’s only two?” Sergey was incensed. “What about me?” “You don’t even know how to ride horseback.” “No, Fyodor, I absolutely have to be at this assembly; otherwise I won’t find out about anything. Also, Fyodor, so that I don’t forget: what will become of Helen after I leave?” Little Flame 145 (Ogonek) is a monthly illustrated journal founded in 1899 and issued throughout the Soviet and post-Soviet period. 146 Part of a Russian Orthodox prayer to be sung in t traits of “real,” often rural Russian life. CHAPTER FORTY 171 For shame, thought Sergey. I really can’t just go straight to sleep; I have to try to cast a final glance back at Mirandino. Sergey turned back a corner of the blanket. They were already driving through unknown fields. Not a trace remained anywhere of the fruit orchard or Fyodor’s wing of the house. A pinkish morning coolness was streaming forth, and the last stars were hurriedly departing from the sky. The coachman was dozing, drooped over the reins. Ah, I can still see the Mirandino belfry! Of course Fyodor is there now, at the top. He climbed up by the rotten staircase; all the steps are covered in pale blue pigeon droppings. Fyodor bends over to avoid hitting his head and thinks that it is long since time to abolish all churches. An enormous bell hangs above him, a rope tied to its clapper. Engraved images of saints: the robust iron cheeks of Saint George, the Archangel Michael’s copper forehead. Running along the bottom, written in old Slavic characters: This much copper and this much silver donated by the merchant Vakhrameyev. A children’s flock of smaller bells, less deep-voiced, hung higher up. Fyodor sneezed from the morning chill and shielded his eyes with a hand, finding the burnt-down village and making out the slow-crawling cart on the distant road, with its blue blanket beneath which the departing Sergey had just almost fallen asleep. Sergey began waving his handkerchief, but the belfry was rapidly disappearing below the earth. Evidently it was being let down into the bell pit “with wind,” and meanwhile thinking of something unrelated and insignificant: the price of chickens, the work assembly, Sergey, and pealing out with all its bells: The vegetable earth, silt, floor of red sand, sandstone, quartz, ore, ore, ore! Finally, the belfry fell silent, having disappeared entirely. Proof of the earth’s sphericity, thought Sergey and looked around. All around him there really were green distances beneath a spacious sky. Slow-moving herds grazed in the empty fields. The cart bounced along evenly. There was no risk that Sergey would be thrown off at full gallop; no one was whipping him, no one was roaring into the fresh air. He covered himself up with the flannel blanket. There really was a full moon beneath it, as round as Sergey’s face. The moon rose above the fresh-mown fields. At first pale as a white apple, after rising up to the pitch of heaven, it swelled with golden juice and hung for long night hours, like an overripe apple ready to drop on the heads of passersby. Then it would drop softly to the ground, cracking on one side and dousing everything around with its fragrant juice. 172 Beyond Tula Fyodor would tire from work and fall asleep at nine p.m. Lamere would also go to bed early for hygienic reasons. There would be a party on the village streets, accompanied by the sound of a harmonica and the booming jokes of the mining foremen. Sergey would start wandering alone some ways off. He would try to remember this cheerful nighttime light coming down from above; this air, so thick that one would like to lie down on it; this earth, warm beneath bare feet. “Pretty nice drive with such a cheerful passenger,” said the coachman, pulling the blanket off Sergey. “At first I couldn’t figure who was playing those songs under the blanket—almost as good as a samovar.” Sergey jumped down off the cart, stretching out his stiff legs. Right before him stood the white, freshly renovated pedestals, familiar from all the pictures, that indicated the entrance to Yasnaya Polyana. Across the road from them, to the left, the two-story Yasnaya Polyana school was just as youthfully white. Kids riding bareback barreled straight down the village street, then turned right. Entering the estate gates, Sergey learned a great deal: there was a bus stop here; milk could be acquired in the farmyard; and the Leo Tolstoy Museum was closed on this day of the week. An older woman wearing only a morning shirtwaist, but nevertheless of most aristocratic bearing, approached Sergey. This must be Bibikova, flickered in Sergey’s head. He bowed to Bibikova 151 with great ceremony, noting the triple ring of folds on her sagging neck. With tremendous, extremely well-bred, and discreet simplicity Bibikova uttered, “You want to see the grave, young man?” “I’ll say! But how do I find it?” “Just go straight, then turn left—you’ll see a sign on the tree there.” In the yellow deciduous forest Sergey indeed found the sign: To the grave. Skipping, Sergey made his way down the path until he was finally stopped by a little low fence surrounding the grave and a bench next to it. At this point Sergey began to feel the full responsibility of this minute: for better or worse, he was standing before the tomb of Leo Tolstoy. 151 The Bibikov family owned an estate nearby Yasnaya Polyana; Leo Tolstoy was particularly fond of Alexander Bibikov, with whom he went hunting. Egunov most likely had in mind Varvara Vasilievna Bibikova (1874–1971), a niece of Tolstoy’s neighbor and an employ awistischer Almanach, Sonderband 35 (1993). 178 Beyond Tula Platon [Plato]. Zakony [Laws]. Translated by Andrei Egunov. Moscow: Mysl´, 1999. Eliseiskie radosti Nikolev, Andrei. [Joys of Elysium]. Edited by Gleb Morev. Moscow: OGI, 2001. Egunov, Andrei. “Bespredmetnaia iunost´” Andreia Egunova: Tekst i kontekst [Andrey Egunov’s “Objectless Youth”: Text and context]. Edited by Massimo Maurizio. Moscow: Izdatel´stvo Kulaginoi; Intrada, 2008. Nikolev, Andrei. “Po tu storonu Tuly: Sovetskaia pastoral´”[Beyond Tula: A