Superfluous Virtuosity

Valerii Popov
Translated from Russian by

Jane H. Buckingham

©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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In addition to all the troubles, I bought yet a briefcase that stinks! When I first got it, the smell was normal. Then after two days in the heat — that’s it! — it already stank like a dead horse. I went to the store where I got it. They said, “No biggie. This happens. The skin was badly processed, spoils.” “Well, so?” I asked. “Don’t know," they said. “The best thing, we suppose, is to keep it in the cold." “A briefcase?” “A briefcase!” “Gotcha. But can’t refund money?” “No. We can’t.” “Well, all clear then. Thanks so much.” I arrived at the meeting in the office of my research adviser, immediately opened his fridge, put my briefcase in there. He asked (stunned by such cheek), “You have food in it?” “Why food!” I said. “Papers!” He looked at me in such a way for a long time, perplexed, then shook his head. “Well then,” he said. “Let’s start the meeting.” I came home after this, went into the kitchen. There, like Pinocchio, I munched on an onion. Pinocchio ate Cipollino...1 The main thing, since I entered grad school, for some reason money became rather tight! Wife came into the kitchen and asked, “What plans do you have for tomorrow?” “Shave,” I said, “get a hair cut, have my picture taken, and hang myself!” Oh, oh! She started to blink already! “But the laundry,” she said, “who’s taking it to the laundromat?” “No one!” Then, sighing, she went out, and all the time I was thinking about the incident at the meeting. Now for sure, my adviser will take me for being abnormal. He will expect me to fly into his office like a kiddie airplane, stretching out my arms wide and buzzing loudly! Wife already fell asleep, but all the time I sat in the kitchen. I examined the large Polish calendar with the portraits of celebrities born in the month: Bulgakov2... Ella Fitzgerald...3 Pinocchio. For some reason I am not there, even though I was also born in this month! Well, grad school, that is something else! It turned out much sadder than with my poetry. I suddenly wrote some verses, sent them to one magazine. They got published. Later I even participated in Poetry Day and performed in Gorky Park with five other poets like me. In the beginning, the benches were generally empty, then two old ladies with head scarves wandered over from the heat. The poets, dragging each other away from the microphone, started to shout their verses at the frightened old ladies. They sat
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Cipollino is the little onion character from Tale of Cipollino, a children's tale about political oppression by Gianni Rodari (1920-80), a famous Italian writer of children stories. 2 Mikhaíl Afanasevich Bulgakov (1891-1940), Soviet writer, author of the famour novel The Master and Margarita (1966-67). 3 “The First Lady of Song” Ella Fitzgerald (1917-96), famous US jazz singer. ©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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completely stupefied, then, having adjusted their head scarves, suddenly ran off. Till now I cannot recall that moment without being horrified. That is it! Enough! Time to quit! I will go all out and have my own way (and perhaps also someone else’s way). Around five in the morning I woke up my wife, “That’s it! Up and be off!” She was scared, “From home?!” “No. At home!” Then suddenly the doorbell rang, my friend Junior burst in, long time no see, we hugged each other happily. “Really you? You don’t say, how gross you’ve become!” “But you’re so gross!” “And you’re so ugly!” “But then I was good-looking.” We started to laugh. Junior’s father was always a fairly well-known conductor. He conducted everywhere, they lived well: thoroughbred dog, grand piano. Now indeed, of course, not so. They sold the silver. They traded pearls for kasha. The piano is broken. The dog died. The blues. True, Junior himself conducts now, but so far without any special success. We settled in the kitchen, I, quick like lightning, poured out my whole soul to him. Junior said, “You’re doing it all wrong! Poetry must be written to order, for an occasion, then both money and reputation, everything will come!” “And you think I’ll succeed: combining poetry writing and scientific activity?” “You wi-ill!” Junior said. “Come on,” I said, “I’ll write the verses and you’ll push them. And it’ll be counted as we write them together.” Junior thought for a second. “Let’s!” “Just that,” I said, “you deal with serious music and I with science. Seems to me, we must come up with pseudonyms for the verses.” We thought for a long time, intensely, and finally thought of: Zhilin and Kostylin.4 Junior said, “I’ll take a little nap, and you work! I’ll lie down along the window ledge so as not to disturb you.” Junior lay down on the ledge to nap; I tied a wet towel around my head and began to write. I sat for an hour and wrote two rhymes, but they were somewhat strange. The first one: Shook hands till snap with a bam And presented Proust to them. Why is that, interesting, I must I present Proust to someone? The second one: Happy eighth of March Greetings to Bonaparte!
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Zhilin and Kostylin are the main characters from Prisoner of the Caucasus (1872), a short story by Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) about 2 Russian officers being captured during the Caucasian War (1817-64). ©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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What does Bonaparte have to do with anything, search me, I did not understand! Ye-s. Evidently, brevity is the soul of wit, but not its inspiration! Junior woke up, climbed in through the window, already so cheerful, rested. He looked at my verses. “All right!” We did not get particularly ready, only combed our hair. We got out onto the street and off we went. The first establishment on our way was the State Concert Association. We dropped into the editor-in-chief's office, turned out to be a woman. Lada Gvidonovna. “You are poets?” she asked. “Poets!” She looked askance with suspicion at my smelly briefcase, did I want to plant a carcass on her here? “Well,” she said. “Let’s give it a try! Here’s an order from State Auto Inspection, Traffic Control, write a song for them... Can you?” “Of course!” I sat down at the little table by the sofa, picked up a pencil. Junior, loyal comrade, stood beside me, beating off strange sounds with his fists. After about twenty minutes, ready! I went to serve in Traffic Control, This, brothers, is very difficult: So much horsepower — And I alone made them cower! Offer your own friends a seat, To the theatre and museum you speed, But, Traffic Control be violated, Instantly rights will be confiscated! Traffic Control operates somewhere, Signals do not scream out there, No accidents will happen And always healthy everyone! Lada Gvidonovna read it. She said, “But you do understand that this is gibberish?” “We do!” “However,” she shrugged her shoulders, “if a composer writes some decent music, perhaps the song will work. A theme is necessary.” “What kind of composer?” “Well, an expert, one should think, will collaborate with you for the time being?” “Gotcha!” We went out onto the street. Junior said, “I know a composer! I conducted his symphony at the last competition... A complete failure! I think he’ll suit us.” We got to his place, some woman — either wife, mother, or maybe daughter? — said, “He’s in Pupyshevo now, they have a creative semina-ar there!” “Gotcha!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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Junior and I began to argue who was going. “You’re Zhilin,” I said. “You go!” “You mixed up everything!” he said. “You’re Zhilin!” Finally, we decided with matches, it turned out, of course, I was going! At first, I did not want to take my smelly briefcase, then somehow it became a wretched friend, at least let it breathe some fresh air, go for a walk! While I was going there, I was worried: Pupyshevo, nevertheless, an elegant place, a Creative Centre! However, fortunately, everything turned out to be considerably simpler: a little building standing on the edge of a bog, a cold fog was developing. And that was all. I dropped in, went along the dimly lit hallways... no one! Then suddenly I recognized the smells... The dining room. I entered, the waitress said to me rudely, “Well? How much longer will you drag yourselves in one by one? I’m leaving in ten minutes, who doesn’t have time, let him go hungry... What did you order?” What did I order? A difficult enough question altogether. “Cheesecake or baked carrot pudding?” Really I also did not even know what I preferred! “Can I have meat?” She looked at me. “Shish! Meat! At least one turned out to be a normal person!” She brought me meat. Hit the jackpot! The person in charged approached me with a notebook. “Serdybaev?” he said. “Serdybaev!” “Only just arrived?” “Yes.” “Well, how’s the weather in Turkmenistan?” “Wonderful.” “Whom will you live with?” Right, I thought, say what? I found my way to number six, exactly where the composer I needed was living. I entered, a still young enough fellow, sitting, boiling water in a mug with an immersed element. “What are you doing?” I said. “Supper’s just on! Quick! Let’s go!” I led him into the dining room and said, “Feed him, please, I beg you!” After supper, the composer said to me, “Perhaps, we’ll now go to the Creative Centre for Theatre not far from here?” “Sure!” “I have only one request...” “Yes.” “If you see any Japanese there, leave them alone!” “Japanese? Okay.” And while we walked in the dark, all the time I wanted to ask him, “And are there any?” But I did not ask. And it turned out to be all empty there! Only two — clearly not Japanese — were standing in the dining room, swaying to and fro, trying in turn to put a frozen cow’s foot inside the front of their clothing, the foot kept falling with a thud, and this was all. When we returned, the composer said, “You don’t mind if I open the window?” “Please!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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I froze the entire night. Well, never mind! Indeed this was not much: leave the Japanese alone and sleep with the window open. No big deal. This was even good for my perishable briefcase! I froze the whole night, and felt gratitude when at dawn the composer covered me with his own blanket. During breakfast, one of those residing there approached me and said pitifully, “They’ll probably listen to you. Please tell the super not to lock the billiard room.” Suddenly it seemed I had already become the most important one here! It is this way everywhere: only from afar it looks like a crazy competition, get a bit closer and nobody! After breakfast, the composer said to me, “Maybe we’ll go for a little walk?” “Sure!” “Only one request!” he grimaced... “Leave the Japanese alone!” I said. He looked at me with surprise. “How do you know that?” “But you yourself said so yesterday!” “And you remembered?!” Tears were even sparkling in his eyes! “Indeed!” I thought. “What kind of bastards are around him, incapable of remembering one such modest request?” I am indeed really the nicest person in his life? We chatted on the walk, I told him my business, and he his... It cleared up, by the way, what connection he had with the Japanese: during his studies in the conservatory he fell in love with one of the Japanese, since then he could not forget her. All clear! After the walk, he sat at the piano, playing something, then called me, and suddenly began to play an excellent melody! “Does it fit?” he suddenly broke off abruptly and asked. “What?” “Your text?” We hugged. I returned already in full triumph! I did everything splendidly! And the main thing, honestly! And the guy was pleased, and everyone was happy! Sometimes I wanted, certainly, to flirt with a pretty Japanese, but I was able to control myself, especially since the man asked! In the morning, I dropped in on Junior and we brought Lada Gvidonovna the song. Lada Gvidonovna played through it, singing. “Well,” she said. “Not bad for a start! Want coffee?” “Don’t know,” we said. “Consider: we only propose coffee to good authors.” “Then we want it.” We greedily drank two cups each. Lada Gvidonovna looked into some guide, “We’re paying you twenty roubles for your text.” “And for the subtext?” “You really have one?” “Certainly.” “Then twenty-five.” We were standing by the cashier and Emmanuel Pitontsev, leader of the famous ensemble The Romantics, approached us. “Fellows,” he said, “write me such a song with English words in it.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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“Why?” “Well, young people — long hair, jeans — love pop when there’s English text.” I got home, wrote our subsequently most famous song: Do confide in the nightingale– Let it say, “I love you!” In the morning I thought: this is it, enough! Let Junior go to Pupyshevo now! He does not write the text, does not make contact with the composer, but get half of the fee as Kostylin. I sent for him, “Go to Pupyshevo! I did everything already; can you, perhaps, be ready to take a trip? Settle close to the composer in number six and say right away that you like those who love to sleep with the window open, and you dislike those who don’t leave the Japanese alone. Memorized? Or have to write it down for you?” “Memo-rized!” Junior said in a deep voice. He left, and all the time I worried: he would mix everything up, would say the opposite! So he did! He appeared without any music. “I got mixed up!” he said. “Said everything the other way around! Ah, should have written it down, you were right.” “Well, what did he say?” “He said that there won’t be any kind of business.” “Well, gotcha. Go rest.” He left, wife approached. “Vovka Fuflovich phoned,” she said. “Invited us over.” “Indeed... Who else?” “The Priklonskiis.” “So... And none of the even more senseless people phoned?” “No.” “Gotcha. Phone Fuflovich, say that we’ve already arranged with the Priklonskiis. Then phone Priklonskii, say that Vovka Fuflovich has invited themselves over. Since they fought the year before last, they’ll refuse to be together.” “But who will come?” wife asked perplexedly. “No one!” I said. “Mutually cancelled out!” “Pity!” she sighed sadly. “I love it when guests come!” She went to sleep, but all the time I was thinking: what will be with our music now? I lay down to sleep for roughly close to half of the night, woke up at daybreak from a bizarre cold! I looked, the composer was sitting on the sofa. “Pardon me,” he said, “your door was unlocked. I also opened the window, you like that!” He and I went into the kitchen. “Excuse me,” the composer said. “I came, I couldn’t control myself. You’re the only one that understands me!” Now this is just great! “You write something complex,” the composer continues, “immediately everyone in one voice, ‘Formalistic tricks!’ Something new, immediately, ‘Alchemy!’ Something simple, ‘Cheap popularity!’ Only dullness for some reason frightens no one!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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“What does it matter,” I said to him. “Tea?” “Can we have something stronger?” “Sure!” I said. “I’ll just get rid of the wife somewhere.” I walked into the bedroom, woke up my wife, “Up and be off!” “At home?” she said, startled. “No. From home. Don’t you see that the composer has come, we’ll be working on a new song.” She got ready and left for work. Or perhaps, she also remained, in any case, she was considered not here. The composer and I had a chat about everything. We drank. Then suddenly a brilliant thought came into my head. “Maybe,” I said, “we’ll actually write a song?! After all, I told my wife as a cover that we’ll write a song. Perhaps we’ll actually write it?” “Let’s,” nodded the composer. “Just that you don’t have a piano.” “But here’s a balalaika. Will a balalaika do?” We sat down, and in half an hour wrote our most famous song: Do confide in the nightingale, let it say, “I love you!” “Wonderful!” I told the composer. “First we said we’d be working on a new song just to get the wife away, and then we actually wrote it. Killed two birds with one stone! Understand?” But he did not understand. Many performed this song later, but the ensemble The Romantics was the first. When I saw them at first, I was slightly frightened. What is it with The Romantics, I thought, they practically comb back the beard onto the head! But then it turned out, everything was okay! Pitontsev would walk out to the microphone, begin to shake his shimmering guitar, “Do con-fide in the nigh-tingale...” And the entire hall would pick it up as a choir, “Let it say, ‘I love you!’” Great joy! The Romantics turned out to be cool guys. The first time they amazed me in one recreation centre: for a minute, they went behind the velvet curtains at a window and instantly came out all in jackets of this velvet! Certainly, any haughty snob will say, “The Romantics? Humph! Who knows them? ” But everybody knows The Romantics! After each concert, fans literally drove up in cars: store managers and the like... On the whole, “traders of spices,” as I called them. And the guys would be driven to some out-of-town restaurant, where everything was already paid for long ahead of time, even the dishes to be broken, or to some private bathhouse! The fans from the Live-fish Centre turned out to be especially faithful to The Romantics: would take them to the centre after a concert and catch fish in the turbid water where they spawn! Bags of trout! Loads of whitefish! Just think of it, what a life The Romantics had! And all this almost came crashing down. One day I was racing along to a meeting with them and suddenly heard, “Hey!” I looked around, there stood my friend Alex. We worked together, then he took offence at something, moved to FIP — Factory of Inexact Products. Must say he looked rather poorly. Dressed so cheaply. But proud. “Well, how’s life?” he asked me so significantly. “Alright!” I said. “Life’s good. Plush home. Strong wife.”

©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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“But I understood,” he said, “that all this isn’t important! I think that another thing is important in life!” A dream. Well, I thought, will he name it? Preservation of the environment? A post in the East? Instead, he suddenly said this, “All around, so many bastards got divorced, can’t count them with the hands! Here, I think a slap with this will remind any bastard!” He took out from the front of his clothing a strange device, like a fly swatter: an old sole nailed to a small bar. “Here,” he said. To be honest, this scared me! “Now you put this away, Alex!” I said. “Better come with me, relax!” Along the way, Alex said to me, “Remember, you indeed had a dream: go to a hamlet for the deaf, teach the children there mathematics and physics!” “I did have this dream!” “Well, look at me in the eye!” “Tsk-tsk!” I said. “I gave it up!” We came to the concert, after the concert the Live-fish people took us hunting. Everything there was caught satisfactorily: ducks, pheasants. With black roe instead of shots fired. A normal turn just started then, suddenly I heard with horror, “Slap! Slap!” Alex gave two of the Live-fish people a slap each with his fly swatter. “Alex!” I shouted. “What are you doing?!” With great difficulty, with the help of jokes, jests, and quick talk, I got him off the hook. I recalled, when getting him home, that I indeed swore long ago to have nothing to do with him! Once he persuaded me to go with him on a camping trip. We took two single tents, an inflatable boat, and got onto a wild island on Ladoga. It was okay there during the day, but at night, life was impossible with the cold and the mosquitoes. Every night, Alex came out and asked me to pile sand around his tent so that there would not leave any cracks for mosquitoes. You would be exhausted like anything in the day, and still at night, you would suddenly be woken up by a voice, “Hey! Bury me!” I got slightly tired of this life. Once in the evening, I sat in the boat and went to the coast — there was some kind of tourist centre. I found no one there, all had gone on a hike, only saw a young cook on the bench near the kitchen. “Hello!” I said happily. “What are you doing? Working?” “Nea!” she answered. “I came off duty already!” “And you don’t go anywhere?” “Go where?” “Come to my island?” “Nea!” “You think I’ll bother you?” “Aha.” “But no. Not possible. You know how cold it’s there? Have to sleep in two quilted jackets!” A normal person, listening to our conversation, would think: he is persuading her in a strange way! But I knew, precisely only such reasoning would work. “And the people there,” she complained. “What will they say?”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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“But there’s no one there. I’m alone.” “Honestly?” “Swear to God, alone.” We sailed for a long time on the dark, suddenly raging water, already in complete darkness, up to the island. With extraordinary difficulty, putting two quilted jackets on her, I persuaded her to climb into the tent, and here Alex appeared with his usual night repertoire, “Hey! Bury me!” She jumped out of the tent in horror, saw Alex, and crying “Oh-oh-oh!” dashed away somewhere into the depth of the island. I searched the whole night, only in the morning found her on a mound in the middle of the bog. And I vowed to myself when we sailed back: never have anything more to do with Alex! And now, good Heavens, he appeared again, attaching himself to me. The wife for some reason treated him with warm sympathy. He only just arrived (and now he started to come frequently), they would be seated face to face in the kitchen and started to discuss passionately obvious nonsense! And this was even not everything that happened. One day, I came home late in the evening and saw some old man sitting in the kitchen. “Who’s this?” I quietly asked my wife. “Don’t know!” she shrugged her shoulders. “But who let him in?” “Me.” “Why?” “He came to see relatives but they’re not here. Well, I can’t turn an old man out?!” Always so, behaved with heighten haughtiness when she felt that she had done something stupid again. “The sh-ed here mel-ted,” the old man repeated. What shed, I never got it out of him. Well okay, we put him on our sofa bed, we ourselves lay in the kitchen on the cot. Wife lay in the darkness, sighed. Then said, “Today cranes were circling around over our church all day, crying. They probably lost their leader!” “Well, and what do you propose... Come to us, perhaps?!” Then she fell asleep, and I lay in the darkness for a long time, biting my hands so as not to scream! When will this end, her folly?! I then fell asleep nevertheless. I woke up, went to have a look at the old man, and nearly died. There was no old man, and so much more was not there! The most valuable was taken, but not my thesis, though it was lying in the most conspicuous spot! “Holy cow!” For some reason my wife said almost happily. “Well, happy now?” I said. “Who will you invite in next time? I think, indeed must drag a killer right in?” She was offended, turned away proudly. Tears flowed. The poor dear! And here for the first time the thought came to me: indeed this plague will ruin me! Must raise some money again now, the old man even removed the glazed tile in the bathroom! I decided to have a candid conversation with Junior: he does not write any verse, not doing anything, but, as agreed, counts as the co-author Kostylin and receives
©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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half of the fee for the songs. I went to him and found out about the sudden sensation: Junior, my witless friend, got first place in the competition of young conductors and received an invitation to our best symphonic orchestra! Holy cow! A dodo, but he made it! “Hey, you,” I say, “miracle of a prick job... Life’s good?” “Go-od!” “But now you would probably retire from...being Kostylin... my co-author?” “This concerns the songs. Certainly!” Junior said. He is a good guy all the same! He dropped out, and not downward, that would be morally difficult, but upward! We had a light breakfast, and then he invited me to rehearsal. Junior got up on the podium, sharply rapped with the baton... Who would ever have expected this! Then he started conducting. He would conduct, then look back at me, and point with the baton at the young tall female violinist! At intermission, I ask him, “Why did you point at the violinist all the time?” “So that you see,” Junior proudly said, “what kind of people I have! I hope you noticed what she’s doing?” “Of course,” I said. “An introduction?” “But why?” he was oddly astonished. “Have to.” “Well, okay.” He brought Gina over. A beautiful girl, but the main thing, one immediately felt, very smart! “What to do now?” I thought. “Restaurant is too expensive, cafe is too cheap. The philharmonic society, that’s stupid. And the wife will again complain that she’s lonely. And Junior says that we rarely meet...” And here a brilliant idea came to me: kill two birds with one stone, maybe even three! “Tomorrow,” I told Junior, “you and Gina will visit us!” Junior fearfully pulled me aside. “But how?” “The wife, perhaps? It’s okay! You’ll say that Gina is your fiancée. Got it? It’s often done among the billionaires, when he goes to the spa with a new girl, a special front man will go with them. Called a ‘beard’. Understand?” “Are you really a billionaire?” “Of course not. The point isn’t this! The main thing is the ‘beard’!” “Ah!” Junior suddenly started to laugh. “I got it!” Next day I gave the wife three roubles and said, “Prepare something fantastic, guests coming tonight.” “Guests, I love it!” she said. “But who?” “Junior,” I said, “and his girl.” In the evening, I went into the kitchen, looked: she prepared ears in aspic! She decided to impress such guests with ears! There was already no time to curse her, the doorbell, and Junior arrived with Gina. Junior had on some stranger’s suit, and on his face, false beard! With some people, you really have to work! I shoved him into the bathroom, whispered, “What’s this, huh?” Junior was surprised, “What?”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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“Why this idiotic beard?” “You yourself ordered so that your wife wouldn’t recognize me!” “Why is it necessary that she wouldn’t recognize you?” “No? Oh, sorry!” He began feverishly to pull off the beard. “Now really,” I said, “why do you do that?” Finally, we went into the living room, sat down the table, tried the ears. “Marvellous!” I thought. “We all sit together, keep warm. Everyone is satisfied, especially me! Just remarkable! I’m some virtuoso!” Then Junior and my wife went off for more drinks, and Gina and I remained together. I quickly muttered something to her, spun in a vortex of dance, then hugged and kissed her. I then began to look around the room: did any trace remain? Everything was like on the sly. I glanced at the mirror to straighten my messed-up hair and suddenly saw with horror: the reflection of me kissing Gina remained in the mirror! “Why is that?!” I broke out in a cold sweat. “What kind of unnecessary miracles of physics?!” I shook the mirror for a long time, the reflection remains! Only after about half-an-hour of shaking that it disappeared. I sat down on a chair, my legs were weak. I wiped off the sweat. And here the door began to creak, voices were heard, the couriers had returned. We sat down at the table, I looked, Junior again mixed everything up! He did not take his eyes off my wife, muttered something continuously into her ear, whereas Gina found herself in a complete state of neglect! Again I dragged him out into the kitchen, whispered, “Gina is your fiancée! Forgotten? Say something affectionate to her, hug her!” “Understood!” he said. He finally sat near Gina and they began to talk. In the end, he even got into the role a little too much, hugged her such that her poor bones cracked! Apparently, he forgot that he should only fake passion! And I understood. Evidently, she and I had to meet in private! We agreed on the next day. Next day I was getting ready for the meeting with Gina, was uneasy, looked into the mirror... Ye-s, I already looked roughly like the portrait of Dorian Gray! 5 Suddenly Alex appeared, as always, just in time! “Sorry,” I said, “Alex! I’m in a hurry! If you want, sit here with my wife!” They sat down face-to-face, and he began to recount heatedly the scandalous orders they had at the Factory of Inexact Products. Wife listened to him as if bewitched, shook her head wonderingly, sighed. She never listened to me this way, true, I never talked to her like this. Gina and I met. It was already quite cold. “What’s this you’re in?” she asked with amazement. “Whose?” “And this fur coat keeps its silence,” I said. “Noticed!” Gina smiled. So sad. Junior told me about her, that about a year ago she lived through some love affair, nearly died from it. We got to talking, she herself said, “Yes,” she said. “And, on
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The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), the only novel by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Irish writer and poet, is considered a classic gothic fiction with a Faustian theme. ©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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the whole, not bad, what it was. Now already nothing can frighten me. Hurt perhaps, but frighten, no. And how do you get on?” She had this habit: looking to the side all the time, and suddenly casts a look directly into the soul. I started to pour out to her, how awfully I live, how I write brilliant verses that do not get published... We walked along the empty streets, went out to the river. Crows, ruffled up, were sitting around an unfrozen patch of water. “Oh, look!” I said. “The crows are warm by the unfrozen patch! The air is already colder than the water. Extraordinary.” “Perhaps, we’ll go and warm ourselves a while?” she smiled. Here I started to talk so that she would not be sad, that everything would be wonderful! We dropped into some entrance to warm ourselves. It turned out to be hot enough there. Then, like walking on air, we went down into the basement, and did not get up from there until the morning. Later, dawn was already breaking, she dozed off. I sat beside her, watched how her face appeared from the darkness, muttered emotionally, “Don’t be afraid! Everything will be fine!” Then, she was sleeping still, I went up. Snow was falling, lying on lawns, on streetcars. Dark figures were walking to the stops. I walked in the darkness, gasping from the cold and joy, and when I walked back, unexpectedly I composed some verses. Dedicated to G.N. All will be! You feel, I’m here. A little trembling escapes the skin. Don’t sleep! Indeed in six minutes We will again want the same. A cold spell, not feelings, A cold snap of the weather. You do not sleep, I hang around. White railroad cars depart. All will be! You feel, I’m here. We will not fall out of love. These six minutes will pass. Will pass... will pass! Where will they go? I wrote on a sheet from a notebook, put it in front of Gina so that she would immediately see it as she woke up... When I again returned, with cream and croissants, Gina, already fresh, precise, was standing, reading the verses. Then she approached me, hugged me. Later, having put her in a taxi, I dragged myself home... Yes, however difficult, but frankly could not avoid the conversation!

©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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I opened the door, the wife was standing dishevelled in the foyer. Suddenly the doorbell rang and Alex entered with croissants and cream! “What’s the matter?!” I asked the sacred question. Alex proudly drew himself up. “We intend to get married!” Holy cow! I, thankfully, had said nothing yet, so the moral fault lies with them! Alex suddenly handed his fly swatter to me. “Hit me!” dropping his hand, he said. “I’m a bastard!” “What’s with you, Alex...” I muttered. Hardly holding my glee in control, I jumped out, slammed the door. Everything turned out as I secretly dreamed, moreover, I did not do it, someone else did! I am some virtuoso! I even dropped in at work. Everyone was just sitting in the room, and suddenly the dome shade fell off the ceiling light. I walked in, picked up the shade, put it on the table, and disappeared again under a rumble of admiration. Now, I thought, even get rid of the composer so that all the money for the songs would trickle down to me. Greed was already tormenting me, no strength! What, I cannot write music? Thank goodness, I finished two years in music school, quite enough. I went to the composer, said, “My dear! It seems that we have to part!” “Why?!” the composer was upset. “You see... I fell in love with a Japanese!” He tossed back his head this way, began to moan. Then said, “Well, okay! I love you, and I’ll forgive you! Come with her.” “No,” I said. “Not possible!” He hugged me. “Well, good-bye!” And I left. And Gina, by the way, also soon disappeared, she left with Junior, well, and with the orchestra, understandably, on a tour abroad to Rome, New York, Tokyo. Before departure, true, she was asking all the time, “Maybe I’ll not go, huh? Maybe think of something and stay?” “What’s with you?” I said to her bluntly. “If you miss this chance, you’ll not forgive yourself your entire life!” Seriously, honestly speaking, everything was over with us. It lasted for less than two months, but all in all, there were all the necessary stages. Simply from my previous life, similar to a cheap novel from a mediocre hand, with a lot of unnecessary complications and artificial difficulties, I arrived at the subplots, gradually improved myself to a life of virtuosity and brevity, like a Japanese tanka:6 Our passion had lost its quality — Rouble for the taxi, indeed a pity! That is all! Gina left, and I remained completely free.
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Tanka is the name of an ancient form of syllabic Japanese poetry, often composed as a kind of finale to every sort of occasion, especially romantic ones. It is short, lyrical poetry expressing many emotions including heartache, longing, and loss. ©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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Well, you grant it, Eulampius!7 I thought, what should I create now so that the sky and I would both be hot? And here a super idea came to me: make a song out of the verses I dedicated to Gina! I jumped up in full rapture by this time, to run, to share with Junior and the composer, but recalled right away, I am no longer with them, I dismissed these eaglets as unproductive! I took the balalaika down from the wall and wrote a song. I called it Morning. Of course, I was tortured by conscience a little that I made a song from verses dedicated to her. Especially for The Romantics! I had to swear at them soundly. Apparently, the general rule: “You will not throw out a word from a song” did not apply to them. They do not understand: not only a word, cannot discard even a letter! It is one thing “when I worked as driver at the post office,” quite another “when I worked a box at the post office!”8 I broke up with The Romantics, small fry. And this song of mine, Morning, was performed by a choir in the stadium at the festival of songs. Four thousand male voices: Everything wi-ll be! You fe-el, I’m here! We-ll... The underlying theme turned out wrong a bit. Well, it does not matter! But then, glory! Fans even appeared by now. Especially one. She wrote, I saw as early as in the fall, you were in this remarkable fur coat! What, perhaps I am poorly dressed now? I finally chucked out my smelly briefcase, or more accurately, left it on a bench with a note. I bought for myself an elegant attaché case. With my earnings, it seems I can allow myself this? And why, in fact, should I live poorly? Can say, Gogol with one foot.9 A car, true, would prove to be a huge amount of trouble: repairs, spare parts, building a garage! Once I was driving in deep meditation, suddenly saw this old friend Slava strolling pensively along. I got him into the car, questioned him. It turned out, with the divorce he was deprived of his beloved car. Only the garage remained, but a good garage. “Marvellous!” Suddenly a thought came to me sharp as a razor. “I’ll put my car in his garage, let him tinker with it, he loves it.” We drove the car into his garage, then we got up to his apartment. All the time he broke off to describe how and why he was divorced from his wife, but all the time I could not calm down, I was jumping with joy. Remarkable, I thought! Slava now torments himself with the car, Alex with my fool of a former wife... and the composer, who knows with whom! But I am absolutely free. What a virtuoso I am! I found a fellow to start writing the texts for me. Once he burst in beaming, inspired, “Please tell me, must I type the compulsory triplicate?” “Usually,” I said, “even one copy is a lot.”
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St. Eulampius was a 3rd century Christian martyr. In the original Russian text, the word for driver – iamshchik differs from the work for box – iashchik by one letter. 9 The complete saying goes: Gogol has one foot in the past, the other in the future, but in between is the harsh reality. ©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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Then I even appeared on TV. In the middle of this broadcast, for recording, I popped out to a store because of nerves. Suddenly I saw two pals in the wine section. “Oh!” They saw me, stunned. “And we’re watching you on TV!” “I can see that!” I put the final touches in Gina’s and my basement for her return. With my earnings, it seems, I can allow myself this? Velvet sofa. Stereo music system. A bar with accent lighting. Not bad! True, earlier the plumbers gathered in this basement, and it turned out to be quite difficult to explain to them why it was no longer worthwhile for them to come here. On the contrary, they began to get used to good music, fine wine. You come, alone or with another, with slick shinny hair combed back, a cigar in your teeth, and sit in my silk robe over a glass of sherry. To be honest, I was bored with Gina. But I also feared her arrival. I made a real mess of things, especially from her point of view. Certainly, it would seem terrible to her that I made a song for a choir out of the poem dedicated to her! And suddenly one day I read in the newspaper: our renowned orchestra had already returned from tour! But for some reason neither Gina nor Junior came to me. I phoned them and found no one. I rushed to the philharmonic society to their concert. Gina! Junior! Junior turned around before the concert and suddenly saw me in the hall, for some reason he was embarrassed. He waved the baton, began to conduct. He was conducting, would glance timidly at me and point with the baton at an elderly female violinist. I approached him at intermission. “Why did you point at the elderly violinist to me all the time?” Junior said apologetically, “If you want, I’ll introduce her?” “How to understand this?!” I looked at Gina. “You see...” Junior sighed. “You explained so well how to picture Gina as my fiancée that I was somehow drawn to her. We got married.” Holy cow! And it turned out I arranged this? Smart, smart! Can even say, too smart! I went to my basement, drank up the entire bar. At night, I woke up suddenly from some murmuring. I quickly sat up on the sofa, looked, water all around. The basement was flooded, the pipes broke! All night, I stood on the sofa, forced against the wall like Princess Tarakanova. 10 Got out somehow in the morning, phoned Lada Gvidonovna (now the only friend left!). She said, “There’s a seminar in Pupyshevo from tomorrow on, go there!” Just as well. Can even go to Pupyshevo, all the same something in my life was connected to it! Before departure, I could not bear it, was weary, and visited my old apartment, dropped in on the ex-wife and Alex... Most importantly, he told me that the problems of
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The famous oil on canvas Princess Tarakanova in the Petropavlovsk Fortress at the Time of the Flood (1864) painted by Konstantin Flavitsky (1830-66). ©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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everyday life did not interest him, but he took this apartment! It was already a normal family: the wife makes soup of linen, the husband patches up the last bit of money. Then Alex and I retired into the kitchen. “Bad!” he said. “Completely not enough funds.” I promised to bring him together with the Romantics. I stayed with them for three hours, was very uncomfortable, had to leave. I passed the night at the subway, slipped through among the last passengers, hid behind some fence, nowhere else for me to spend the night. In the morning, I went to Slava’s garage, at least drive to Pupyshevo in my own car! But this also did not turn out. The car was entirely dismantled, Slava was sitting in the garage among washers, screws. For a long time he looked at me, as if not recognizing me. “It’s you?” he said. “Who else?” “What, really raining?” He nodded at my raincoat. “What else, in your opinion?” “And it’s wine you have?” “No. Sulphuric acid! Don’t you see you’re asking all the time?” However, the car was never assembled. I had to go by train, and further by bus. I was in the bus for a long time... and somehow was lost in thought in it. If I were not engrossed in thought, probably nothing would have happened. I would have gone to Pupyshevo and everything would move along a smooth track. But suddenly I became thoughtful. I recalled my stinky little briefcase. How is the new owner, at least put it in the fridge? I came to: the bus was standing on the ring road, thirty kilometres beyond Pupyshevo, by the military sanatorium. The bus driver turned out to be a retired general. Another general approached him, from the sanatorium. They were talking quietly. Trees were making noise. It turns out retired generals want to work as bus drivers. I also did not know. If I did not pass by, would not find out. I went out, to stretch my legs. I started to cheer up a little, recalling my own virtuosity. I cleverly constructed everything: that is so, this is so... Only somehow, it appeared that I had nothing to do with it all! Can say, virtuosity turned out to be superfluous! Aha! Promptly, I suddenly understood everything that had happened! I quickly turned around and, groping for change, dashed to the bus.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2005 jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca

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