Nodar Djin

On Folly and Vanity

(17 Chapters From the Novel "The Story Of My Suicude")

        First of all, I didnt hang myself. I shot myself.
        Second, I didnt use a shotgun, I used a handgun.
        It was an ordinary handgun -- one of those that is given out to police officers. The officer himself had nothing to do with it. Although he was standing next to me, I couldnt even make out his face -- only his penis. The penis was quite ordinary as well -- one of those that is given out to the British: flabby, and reddish like a rotting carrot. His freckled fingers, however, were handling it so professionally that the stream of urine hit with a festive tinkle against the amusing target inside the urinal: a color drawing of a fly.
        When the fly choked, the officer took pity of it, and turned his head in the opposite direction -- towards the ceiling, which is why I couldnt make out his face. This is also why he never guessed my plan.
        Not yet finishing to urinate, I jerked the zipper up on my pants, snatched his gun out of the holster, rushed to the first empty booth, snapped the door, and shot myself. Again, I didnt shoot myself in the temple, as they said, but in the heart. Not because I valued it less than the brains, but because the brains splattered against the tile makes me nauseous.
        Third -- and most important -- I committed suicide knowingly, and not, as they put it, in order to imitate the writer Hemingway or the philosopher Schopenhauer. Hemingway did use a shotgun, whereas Schopenhauer was not a suicide to begin with -- he was simply a pessimist, in the ranks of which I never included myself.
        On the contrary, I lived my whole life in the anticipation of a winning lottery ticket, and I lived it so dramatically to boot, that had I really won, I would have only won money. I learned to do this by myself: reading of non-documentary novels had developed falsity in me, and when existence became meaningless and boring, I managed to subject it to the fancy of imagination. The books were all very different and my life, as a result, turned out to be multifaceted.
        If one is to believe my wife, this is exactly what drove me under the barrel in the first place. She complained that my life was too splintered, for I could never tolerate wholesomeness; that having experienced all the genres of existence, I, as she put it, was so horrified by its simplicity that I shot myself.
        She swore that she expected a different outcome, a happy one -- like in an autobiography of the Biblical Solomon, whom she considered a wiseman, because, once convinced of the vanity of existence, he returned to the pleasures of marriage. What troubled her in Solomon, however, was precisely the reason for his return to the delights of married life -- the rich assortment of spouses.
        In reality, though, I never did fear any wholesomeness at all.
        On the contrary: although I lived by turns and splinters -- exposing only one of my facets at a time -- I did so not due to my contempt for harmony, but due to the absence of a large income which would have allowed me to support in myself all of the people that I was composed of.
        Not wiser was the explanation of my suicide given by my brother, who was working for a government institution. He announced that my state of unemployment was the real cause: if people dont work, they start to think, and in the process, thoughts crawl into their heads -- sometimes even philosophical thoughts, that is those which remove the difference between important things and unimportant ones; as a result, people panic and, horrified in the face of existence, they resort to actions.
        Not true either! Indeed, if wisdom consists of the indifference towards the unimportant, I lived a foolish life. But it was precisely this attraction for the nonessential which, unlike the essential, has no end, it was precisely this that instilled in me the passion -- no, not for death, but vice versa -- for immortality.
        It was of immortality that I dreamt of most often, although just as often I did not know where to escape from boredom. However, I strove towards immortality not despite the boredom but as a result of it: for if one thinks about it, boredom is the surest sign of existence. People live precisely due to boredom: what else is there to do when youre bored if not to live? One gets hooked on life like on tobacco, and not a single, freest thought is capable of pushing a man under the barrel.
        To think and to exist -- are two disparate things, and that is why only life itself can lead a man astray from life...


        It all began with a soundless dream: the night stretched out to every angle, and having strayed from the world, an owl soared in the search of a refuge. Below, the smoothness of the sea glimmered under the moon like a just-polished memorial plaque. Then the sea transformed into a meadow smooth as well, but green like a billiard table.
        Bashful, white bulls stood randomly scattered across the meadow, their snouts hobbling in the grass.
        The bird flew on. Spotting a lonely pole with a birdhouse on top driven into the earth, she flew down, but the hole in the box turned out to be too narrow. The owl flapped heavily with her weakened wings, turned around and flew back towards the sea.
        The dawn was gathering in the sky but there was nowhere to perch.
        This dream of an owl came to me on the airplane before it took off from New York. Already in my seat before anyone else boarded, I turned my head towards the window.
        The dawn started breaking through behind it.
        At first, like in a lazily-developing snapshots, there appeared dim silhouettes of Boeings resting nearby. Later, outlines of more distant structures emerged. Then, just below my window an empty box of Marlboro stirred on the concrete field and suddenly paused. A minute later, it stirred once again: the wind budged it from its place and drove it to the other side of the concrete field.
        It was full daylight now and when out of darkness there slowly emerged everything that is capable of emerging in broad daylight, a thought slowly as well entered my mind: the world around us must be full of things which are not revealed to our vision even in bright light.

        The stewardess approached me and demanded that I remove my bag from the next seat. She was designed in such a way that any suspicion about the illusory quality of the world would seem to me nothing but stupid. Judging by the expression on her face, she was not simply satisfied with her life, but proud of it as well.
        She exuded a burning scent of musk, and according to a nametag hanging from her neck, was called Gabriela.
        Gabriela! I uttered and asked a meaningless question.
        Detecting some sense in it, she began dutifully responding, while I, drowning in a dense aroma of African musk, sensed a close breath of a holiday which I had been longing for quite some time; that peculiar state when an important feast is about to begin and you dont need anything that isnt there.
        Gabriela had nothing to do with it except that she was in the same flying machine which was returning me to my homeland.
        It was precisely this return that promised to be just as impetuously life-asserting as seemed my exodus many years ago, when I suddenly, once again discovered within myself the force that instilled me with the passion to exist.
        Then, many years ago, I was flying from Moscow to New York, where I was to spend the remainder of my life and where I was awaited by my mother and brothers who had left five years earlier amidst the growing turmoil of Russian exodus. Nothing that day could suppress the fit of a holiday carousing inside me: not the snowstorm on the way to the airport, nor the baffled glances of relatives, not even the presentiment that life in a strange land would haunt me with a frightening question about the meaning of life, although life in ones homeland didnt provide answers for that either.
        ...And now, I was flying in the opposite direction, which, just like then, seemed incredible. So much of inconceivable had occurred during this time, that if restraint of emotion brought happiness, I would have convinced myself, just like then, to stop getting astonished. But now, I already knew that the important thing about miracles is not that they should happen, but that one should never cease to be amazed by them.
        And that is why, listening to Gabriela, I suspected that the Almighty had created me a life-lover, for it didnt cease to surprise me that Russia had become a normal country, which - like the rest of the world - didnt give a damn about my existence or my attitude towards it. It didnt cease to surprise me that, despite my original belief, America had also turned out to be a regular country, where, just like in the rest of the world, a man is not forgiven for his belief in the primordial happiness.
        Then I thought that without this belief there is no joy from that neverending exodus. I viewed my just-begun return from America to what was the Soviet Georgia as one of the layers of that exodus. At 45, I still believed what I had learned as a child: exodus is the beginning of yesterdays holiday, which - since it never existed - lies in the future. And even if tomorrows holiday is just as illusory as yesterdays, a man is alive only as long as he keeps returning to the future.
        Morning was beginning behind the window of the plane. I covered my eyes with my palm and whispered the initial words of the morning prayer: Eloai neshama shenathata bi teora atha beatha! - Lord, the soul which you have returned to me is pure!
        Then, I was dragged into sleep and I dreamt of an owl.


        The presentiment of a holiday had touched me long ago. Till then, my life seemed dull to me, like life in the womb. I lived where I was born: in a big, but decrepit house, located in a moldy area of the dusty Georgian capital, Tbilisi in Petkhain.
        I was awakened before dawn. My grandfather, the sentimental rabbi Meir with a face that resembled images carved upon ancient medallions used to pull me out of bed. Reminding me each time that I had been lucky enough to be born a Jew, my grandfather dragged me to the synagogue in the morning, where he was awaited by other old men, who were eying color inserts cut out of the monthly Ogonyok, which were used by the headman to cover rain stains on the walls. Most often, the old men would crowd over the reproduction of Goyas Nude. Or over a portrait of the war hero general Zhukov clad in solemn white uniform atop a festive horse, enveloped in milky steam of military glory.
        Once inside the synagogue, where it smelled like armpits, I was to take an old, bent-out-of-shape prayer book and recite in a sing-song two texts which I had long before learned by heart. The first one said that our God Almighty is completely Alone! The second text thanked the Lonely God for giving out on a one-day-lease my own soul.
        Every morning it would come back to me on a condition that right after the synagogue I hurry home, grab my books and run off to school at the opposite end of the street. Now, with me, dressed in an ironed uniform of a colonel of justice, holding a leather folder that depicted Stalin's profile, was my father, the stately and handsome Yakov, much-respected city prosecutor, who wrote poems for special anniversaries in the history of our huge homeland and our multi-membered kin. On the way he would insist that God, and especially a Jewish one, does not exist, but he would do so waveringly, always thinking about something else and throwing glances at the young women going passing us and giving him smiles.
        I had suspected that there is no God myself, although I did realize that my father dissembled his feelings. Once a year, on Yom Kippur, at dawn, he locked himself in the attic, and my mother would send me to his office with the notice that Yakov Meirovich had unexpectedly fallen ill. He came out of the attic only after sunset, with a roving look of a man that had returned from a nether-land: inside a zinc tub on the upper shelf of the attic, next to his automatic pistol, I found a talleth that was sprinkled with mothballs and a prayer book for the Day of Atonement. It was that very pistol, with which, once, having learnt of his brother Besas death in a prison colony in the Urals, he, in a violent rage, started shooting in the middle of the night at the shaggy cockroaches sprawled out on the walls.
        Besa was doing time for concealing a scandalous secret at my fathers advice: his wife, a Bukharian Jew, had a relative in Turkey a lookalike of the head of the Soviet Secret police, Lavrenti Beria.
        My school days would begin with singing classes, during which, along with everyone else, I sang the cherished song about the indivisible and indestructible Union of the Soviet Republics, with two eagles in its high heavens: one eagle Lenin, and the other eagle Stalin. I sang in an unnaturally loud voice, purposefully trying to damage my vocal cords, since the pain rising in my throat, distracted my thoughts from the boundless, like melancholy, rear-end of my singing teacher. Wrapped in a delicate silk, that rear-end swayed rhythmically to the beat of the music suffocating inside me.
        The pain would settle down at night, but by morning visions would again enter my newly-returned soul: the sensual violet hips of the teacher and the angry god in the shape of a two-headed eagle. One head with the painstakingly narrow cut of Mongolian eyes, bald at the top, but with flocks of red hairs growing at the bottom; the other big-eared, with a face dug out by acne and a heavy moustache. Thats how my childhood went by, oppressed by a irresistible longing for another life perhaps unrealizable, yet inevitably approaching.

        And so, once, in February, before dawn, I was awakened by an unusual sound, the likes of which I had heard in the movie theaters, where they rolled films about the reckless acts of the Russian commander Vassily Chapaev and the Mexican daredevil Pancho Villa. This captivating sound did not resemble Rabbi Meirs hoarse coughing calling me to the morning prayer. Growing, it chained my heart in an anticipation of some sudden luck.
        My life, our ramshackle home that smelled of melted wax left by the sabbath candles, along with the entire dumbfounded world under the stars, was being invaded by rhythmic and resonant clicking of many horsehoofs. I was paralyzed. When I finally made it to the roof, where my whole half-naked family had already gathered, the most grandiose of scenes was revealed to my eyes. Prancing about, clicking their flashing hoofs, and shaking their manes enveloped in moonlight an endless column of proud horses was proceeding down the crooked Petkhain streets. Hot steam was bursting out of their nostrils making a hissing sound and freezing in the air. Their long legs were wrapped in white leather belts, and their saddles were mounted by the cavalry men in papakha-hats that resembled moustached princes.  From under their white cloaks there dangled crooked swords and shiny boots that reflected our Petkhain stars and were topped by blue trousers with wide red stripes. A heady smell thickened in the air a smell brought over from distant and amazing places.
        Terror gathered in my fathers eyes. The balconies hanging over the streets, the windows thrown open were blackened by immobile silhouettes of our horrified neighbors. And only I could hear through that measured clicking of hoofs, through a rare neigh of horses, the promise of the now very near salvation.
        By sunrise the garrison of the Chechen cavalrymen began carrying out its order: every Jewish and Turkish household was handed an official paper with an exact date for evacuation. One week was granted for preparations, in rare cases two. Jews and Turks crazed by fear, were taken to the railroad station at night where freight trains leaving for Kazakhstan waited for them.

        Our house stood in the middle of Petkhain, which, in the old days, was populated solely by the Jews. Although later, Georgians, Armenians, Tartars, Russians, Curds, Persians, Turks, Greeks, and even Poles and Germans came to live in this area; although next to the main synagogue stood a Christian Orthodox cathedral and a Shiite mosque, Petkhain was still considered Georgian Jerusalem, containing half-a-dozen Sephardic and Ashkenazi prayer houses, hundreds of Jewish vending shops, and even an ethnographic museum of Jewish culture. Petkhain, as tired as it was, was, nevertheless, the bustling heart of the city.
        With the arrival of the threateningly incomparable Chechen riders, to whom Stalin, not long before, had entrusted the resettlement of Crimean Tartars into the same Kazakhstan, Petkhain grew deaf and mute. Days there became as silent as nights. Life went on, but now it was soundless: people talked in whispers and it seemed that they were walking about in soundproof shoes.
        Following some unspoken agreement, the Petkhainers tried not to notice each other, and each one of them who happened to catch a glimpse of a truck heaping with the road bundles and the evicted, turned the other way. Everything was occurring in silence, evoking a sensation that the Almighty, although He did dare to create this world, had turned off all the sounds in it out of fear of the moustached Chechens.
        My father was fired from work. Wrapping himself in a woolen blanket, he would sit by the frozen window from morning till dusk and scribble something into a notebook which he hid at night. My grandmother Esther, who did not know how to whine or cry, was making travel sacs out of bed sheets, while my mother melted butter in the jars and mended warm clothes. From time to time, they thought outloud about the reasons for our luck which came down to the fact that unlike the rest of the Petkhain Jews, we were given five weeks for our preparations.  My grandmother attributed it to the all-around respect for my grandfather; my mother thought it was due to my fathers merits in the eyes of the authorities.
        I was the only one who felt good. Embarrassed to show my joy at the approaching holiday of exile, I roamed the narrow streets of Petkhain reveling in one and the same vision that awakened blurry excitement one senses at the onset of experiences never before known.
        Mounted on a huge racehorse, crowned with a papakha-hat and red stripes along the blue trousers, I saw myself galloping by the Petkhain balconies, bent from the weight of the goitrous and eternally pregnant housewives, embittered by the doomed stability of their existence and deeply suffering at the sight of visiting, trim prostitutes, who exuded confidence in their sure knowledge of main secrets of the male flesh. I am galloping past the vendors stinking of sheep cheese and rotten apples, past the lop-sided synagogue, past the school building, plastered inside out with the portraits of Russian commanders and belted, for safety, by sheets of rusted iron that resembled mourning strap. Right beyond the saddening gloom and doom of Petkhain, with no space in between, before me and my horse, there stretches the Kazakh steppe bathed in orange light with neatly parceled dunes and the red disc of the juicy sun at the horizon. Creating a wave of golden dust, my horse is tearing towards the warmth and the light and the horizon is shifting backwards to that unsteady line beyond which begins the sea. And at this moment, a sensation of discovering the yet-unknown secrets is emerging ad, strengthening inside me.
        However, that was not the strange part of it: these images and visions were not so much omens of my life as it would be tomorrow, but rather, recollection from a distance of the even more faraway future. It was in those days, roaming the streets of the hushed-down Petkhain, that I first discovered in myself the ability to remember that which has never yet happened; the ability to perceive myself as the future of my own recollections, as the future of my own past. It was then that I sensed the seed of a notion that time is energy which is impossible to either stop, or divide into the past, the future, and the present.

        The only one who would not make amends with the present turned out to be Rabbi Meir. Before sealing the doors of the synagogue, the Chechen riders, in exchange for a container of vodka, allowed my grandfather to take with him a thick scroll of Torah, which, according to a legend, had been brought to our town by the descendants of the Babylonian Jews 25 hundred years ago. Without wasting any time, my grandfather placed the scroll on the dinner table in our living room, unwrapped its red cover, pushed away its right reel, and sunk into the reading of the cracked parchment. With the eyes inflamed by tension, he was searching in the Torah for that tiny slip of the pen that must have brought about the otherwise unexplainable tragedy of mass exile that had befallen on the Jews of the Georgian Jerusalem.
        Suspecting, however, that God, although cunning, is never evil minded, Rabbi Meir was hoping that the invasion by the Chechens was not so much the fatal punishment for that tiny slip of the pen, but rather, a reminder of the salutary powers of its discovery.
        February came to its end, and so, in the beginning of March, at dawn, heavy snowflakes started pouring down from the sky. Most of them, for some reason, fell onto our house. Each of us by his own window, we sat in our beds and stared enigmatically upon our white balcony and the anxious sparrows flying about it.
        Rabbi Meir, who had not slept in three nights, was busy with the parchment that was now rolled down to the bone of the reel. It was still. Then, suddenly, the snow stopped. It became very bright and, after a minutes pause, thick raindrops were falling down from the sky. The very same instant, my grandfathers hollow scream came from the living room:
        Here it is!
        I held my breath and exchanged a glance with my father, who was carefully unwrapping the blanket around himself.
        Here it is!, my grandfather screamed again. Here: Spill the dew! The heavens will spill the dew!
        We tore into the living room and stumbled upon my grandfather trembling from excitement. His eyes were burning with the fire of a saint who can no longer contain his feelings. Pausing for breath, he drew my father towards the Torah:
        I found the mistake. There: And Israel will live alone, in peace. Jacobs eye will see the land of bread and wine, and the heavens will spill the dew. Its in this word dew.
        It became still again. Rain shuffled about outside. The old man approached the window-ledge, poured a glass of vodka from a decanter standing there, and whispered under his breath:
        Le Khaim!
        As he was raising the glass to his mouth, the entrance door screeched and the half-crazy shames, Yoska-the-Fatso, powdered with snow, tumbled into the room. My ear started buzzing, and I knew that I was about to hear some strange news now. Yoska looked around and shyly muttered four words into the space:
        I... mean... Stalin... died...
        The rain stopped and there were no sounds left at all. Finally, the doormat, smeared with melted snow, screeched under the Fatso, and my grandfather swallowed the vodka in one gulp...

        That was how my first exile into that nonexistent paradise was revoked, without the deafening nostalgia for which, I still havent learned to exist.
        The same night, against the trampling sound of the departing Chechen garrison, I dreamt of an owl. Isolated from the world, she was first flying above the blue waters, then above the green meadows with white bulls. Then, the owl could not squeeze into the lonely, tight birdhouse on the edge of the earth, and turned back towards the sea. Greedily peering into the horizon, she was hoping to seek out a different shore and on it at least one, undamaged tree upon which she could fly down and rest. But there was a humid haze all around and the earth would not begin.
        The next morning, impressed by Rabbi Meirs learnedness, I told him about the dream.
        An owl?, he said pensively. Heres what: every morning, God returns our soul to us all over again, and that is why every day is the first and last day of our lives. But we are all too busy to return to the beginning. Still, if you see that dream again, raise yourself up and break yourself against your knee. Whatever youre doing, close your eyes, forget everything youve seen before, and begin to live anew. Swear to me!
        I swore to him, and since then, in my longing for the never-ending holiday, I often endeavored to begin anew, but each time, the immediacy of existence compelled me to step back into my own life. The ability to start anew requires a know-how that I never possessed: the know to forget the already-seen. Soon, I began to realize that I was not meant to rid myself of the past, unless this past resurrects itself in the present with such physical irrefutability, that it would be impossible to tell apart whats happening now from what had already happened. I also realized that this was as rare as the repetition of the unexplained dream.


        Miracles occur in order to remind of the boundless nature of the possible: as soon as the dream about the owl ended, and I opened my eyes, I was exposed to a scene so incredible as incredible only reality could be.
        Along the narrow aisle of the compartment my own past was waddling by me. In front of me, at the entrance, hung a heavy, burgundy brocade, the kind that the Georgian Jews use in their synagogues to cover the niches in their walls where the scroll of Torah are kept. From behind the brocades drawn folds came the agitated hubbub of other passengers crammed together for boarding. In front of it, with her back to me, stood Gabriela. When she lifted her arms and clutched the brocade with her fingers, the hem of her short skirt shot up revealing naked thighs above the tight silken rings that interrupted the splash of her white fishnets...
        The naked female hips against the thick burgundy cloth instantly revived within me the forgotten sensation which made me shudder in terror as a child. On holidays, when our synagogue was so crowded that it could not fit an extra sigh, and the rabbi began to unfold the brocade to reveal the Torah, it became resonantly quiet. In those instances, I was seized by that chill that a little boy feels at the sight of a naked woman, and that sensation always frightened me by its sacrilege...
        With some teasing slowness, Gabriela pulled apart the folds of the curtain, and human beings from my past life began to filter into my compartment. Although I had already come across some of them in America, most of these people, according to my calculations, belonged to a forgotten space and to a time of already discarded calendars. Drowning beneath their travel-bags, they shuffled from side to side, and ducked towards the back of the plane.
        I stared at them from under my brow and saw that the past does not vanish, but simply wanders off into the present, and that it is possible to gather it once again and swirl it in front of ones eyes in a merry-go-around of days passed by. This excited me and strengthened the anticipation, that the day about to begin is the first and the last day of my life, since neither the past nor the future exist and everything occurs simultaneously. Or, perhaps, everything takes place in turn: the present and the future depart into the past, but since everything has bounds, this past gets finally overfilled and spills into the present and the future. And thus, we are and always will be that which we were.
        Gabriela interrupted me again. Lowering musk-scented bosom over me, she repeated the question, which, much to my surprise, I had no time to answer at her first try:
        Your name is Nodar, right?
        Who told you? I got frightened.
        And mine is Gabriela! and she plucked at the nametag. We know the names of everyone traveling in the First class.
        Oh, is that so? Good for you!, I sighed. And I thought that it was the FBI again. But who told you that I am I?
        Captain Bertinelli.
        Are there captains in the local intelligence?
        Im talking about the captain of the plane. Let me explain. A very famous movie star is going to be seating next to you. I mean, very famous! Naturally, she prefers to fly under an assumed name...
        Why? I interrupted. I mean, who?
        Youll see. Anyway, our security made inquiries about the passengers sitting next to her. She I mean, the star doesnt want any personal acquaintances, and Bertinelli told her that if she doesnt mind, shell be sitting in a decent environment: yourself, and professor Zhadov from Washington. Hes a political scientist, and youre on the contrary into philosophy, right?
        Yes, Ive heard of Zhadov.
        Shes very pleased.
        Zhadov is a he, I said.
        I mean the star.
        Pleased with what?
        Well, that youre into philosophy, and that Zhadov is from Washington. Apparently, she doesnt have any acquaintances among the Washington politicians. Just her ex-husband, but hes not from Washington.
        Who is not from Washington?
        The ex-husband. And shes also pleased that youre both from Russia. Although Bertinelli did tell her that personally you are from Russia, but from Georgia, and are almost a Georgian. She said: thats even better!
        Whats better that almost, or that Georgian?
        I think that from Russia, but from Georgia. Youve confused me. I came to you to ask for a simple favor.
        I can guess: Since, after all, youre from Russia, do not snore, do not breath heavily, do not stink, and do not spit at the walls in the presence of movie stars!
     Oh, no! Gabriela got frightened now. Theres this delicate old woman here... You see, the one with a bag? Shes got you wont believe it! live chickens in that bag! I am trying to explain to her, but she keeps saying: Pliz, pliz! Well, I dont speak any Russian, and the stewardess fixed her worried breast into the bra.
        Of course!, I got worried, and making my way out of the seat, threw a glance at her shivering hips. On one condition: let me teach you some Russian! When I return to the States...
        Are you serious? Lets do it in Moscow! But better yet philosophy: its hard to learn a language right away! and she laughed outloud.
        As a token of appreciation for her answer, I squeezed the muscle above her elbow:
        I apologize for my gibberish: its just that today is a good day! The first day of the rest of the life!
        My every day is like that! And on these flights, it seems, that its also the last! They even started dragging chickens with them to Russia! So, will you help me with them?
        I followed her, but at the sight of the woman, I grew still: it was Polya Smirnitskaya!


        In the winter of 79, having arrived in Vilnius, I got off the train, and hurried towards the only surviving synagogue not too far from the railway station. Although I wanted to make it to the evening prayers, I was not planning to pray: instead of a talleth and a yarmulke, I had a bottle of home-made vodka, and a shabby Practica camera in my backpack. Having quit my job and abandoned my family, for two years now, I was wheeling across and around the country, from town to town, spending nights wherever I could in abandoned freightcars at the rail stations, in synagogue outhouses, and on very rare occasions, in hotels or with acquaintances. I was living a mysterious and vagabond life, overpopulated by scums and saints, lip-servers and thinkers, debaucherers and scrooges, murderers and kind souls, the old men freezing in heat and the bitches raging in cold.
        What it was that I was searching for is still unclear to me: search is incompatible with the notion of meaning, and one really lives only when one lives in order to be alive. But since life is limited by time and space, I was constantly inventing a goal, the strive for which gives birth to the illusion of orderliness of existence. Each time, however, the approaching goal would reveal its true, silly essence and the joy over the acquired trophy would give place to devastation akin to one felt by a schoolboy, who after singing a song only because it was his homework, gets an A from his music teacher.

        At twenty-two, I was dying from a heart disease and survived it probably because of insolence developed in me by my parents love. Flabbergasted at my live-ability, the doctors, nevertheless, would not give me more than ten years. All those years, I had an unquenchable thirst for quick success with sages, women, friends, and authorities. On the expiration of the deadline, I, as it turned out, had everything I knew to desire. If it werent for my insolent battle with the disease trough completely ignoring it, if it werent for my destructive attraction to the incomprehensible, and, finally, if it werent for the perpetual drama of my origins, I would have considered myself Gods spoiled son.
        My devotion to my wife, the most complete of all women that I knew, enticed other women and made them into a defenseless prey for which I hunted as I realized an evergrowing need for reincarnation. I expressed my half-serious disdain for money, diplomas, privileges, and other symbols of well-being not through running away from them, but through an assertive pursuit of them, resembling a hunter who, having filled his sack with the prey, keeps shooting but doesnt bother to look where the victim falls.
        Hypocrisy became the main joy of my existence. By transforming myself into one thing or another, I not only overcame everything that burdened me, but I also confronted the world around me from an unexpected corner, thus guaranteeing my easy rule over it. Life acquired boundless broadness: nothing seemed unrealizable, and negligence towards existence made me independent of it.
        I learned to prolong my life by multiplying the quantity of the roles that I chose to perform, and consoled myself with the notion that the integrity of character usually hides behind itself lack of imagination and daring.
        Almost right after the expiration of the deadline set by my doctors, I ventured upon an impulsive act. Quickly composing a philosophical text , saying that life, for some reason, is subjected to the laws of progress, that is distancing itself from the past towards the future, I submitted it with an intent to earn the highest academic degree possible in Russia. The most conceited of my colleagues went for that much later in life, but at 33 I was in a hurry, and acquired the title making me the youngest Doctor of Sciences in the history of the country.
        The success, however, turned into a failure sooner than I expected. Devastation returned. The prescribed death was nowhere near and there was nothing more to acquire. Then came the illusion that this state is nothing but a zero-point between the already-nonexistant and the yet-nonexisting; the hope that although life had already been lived out, I still had in me enough strength to begin my life anew. This time, however, I wanted to live it without any pathetics as one regards a gift that had been announced in advance.
        I decided to go to America, for only there, it seemed to me, I could strip myself of myself and become a natural man, that is an immigrant, a wandering vagabond, at whom no one turns to look. Not a single thing I was leaving behind aroused a feeling of nostalgia in me; like it is said in the Talmud: a man is born with clutched fists as if to say, everything in this world is mine and I want it all to myself, but he leaves with palms outstretched look! I wish to take nothing with me.
        Before my departure, however, I had still to fulfill the promise I gave myself when my exile to Kazakhstan fell through. I promised myself that one day I will find out the name of that steppe where the Petkhainer were driven and would go there to look at them from behind the dunes. Neither then, nor later did I realize what it was precisely that I wished to see or understand there.
        Perhaps to join their new existence and convince myself that in a strange land one remains the same as at home, especially as home and strange land seemed to me silly notions made up by evil people who mark borders upon the earth. Or perhaps, I wanted to convince myself that exile and melancholy for the past revealed some unknown truths joyful and sad at the same time?
        It was possible also that melancholy for the past does not exist at all, just like the past itself; that nothing exists except for the present.
        And what if the exile of the Petkhainers is merely called an exile?
        Where is the borderline between exile and exodus?
        The exiled and the departing dont they both act upon someone elses will?
        And is exile really a disaster, while exodus a holiday?
        ...But it was not only the Petkhainers that oppressed my soul. During all those years after the Chechen invasion, I had been compiling a list of Jewish settlements throughout the whole Soviet land from Poland to China: hundreds of extinct or dying communities about which Id gathered information from stories, books, newspapers, and archives. A map of the country, faded by time, hung by my bedside next to my grandfathers pocket watch. The map was pricked with drawing pins stuck into it right above the names of those towns and settlements, where long ago, voluntarily or by force, the people of my tribe found themselves. Who are they? Are they just like myself and other Petkhainers? And what do they remember, what do they know?
        Twice a year, on Yom Kippur and the Holiday of Exodus, I recited a prayer that I made up myself. I called upon God to drive me away to the places where the descendants of the people who knew both the exodus and the exile had settled. On the very day when I asked the authorities for the permission for my own exodus to America, I left my house armed with a backpack, in which, besides vodka and a photocamera, I had a map from my bedside wall, my grandfathers pocket watch, and a blue notebook.
        Before I stepped over the threshold, I wrote into it my first feeling, felt by another man many centuries ago: If not I , who then? And if not now, when?
        That is how my two-year-long wandering across the country began, promising the yet-inexperienced fears that reveal one more worrisome truth: to be alive is a luxury, for we spend less time living than not living.

        A year later, I happened to be in Vilnius, and thats where I came across Polya Smirnitskaya in a synagogue on Komyunimo street, the only surviving symbol of the glory of the Lithuanian Jerusalem.
        The walls of the spacious hall, which in the old days were painted in bronze and blue were growing black and beginning to crack. Narrow windows were shuffled with carton boxes instead of glass. Next to the extravagant, but neglected chandelier, hung a rough, patched-up, electric wire with one dim lightbulb on its end. A decrepit rug, torn to threads, ran from the thick, carved entrance door towards the platform at the other end of the hall and stressed the nakedness of the jagged parquet layers. Even the air in the building smelled of tiresome. The only thing that wasnt wasted by years and poverty was placed on the platform: green marble columns and behind them lacquered bookcase with the scrolls of Torah. The star of David shone dimly on the bookcase doors and the letters shimmered in bronze: Mi kamkha Baelim Adonai! Who will compare with You, Oh Lord!
        Right next to the platform, there were benches with tall backs. Eight beardless men, shivering from the cold, sat on them, scattered like crows on a wire. Each one sat in a peculiar pose of a tired person, but one and the same thing came through: that unique state of solitude that arises not out of long existence, not out of being abandoned by people, not out of resignation of hope, not out of wasted passions, but out of proximity of another, draught-like solitude the solitude of the grave. Who knows, I thought, as I was making my way towards them along the rug, perhaps this is precisely why, old people seem to be the bearers of the only possible, otherworldly wisdom that penetrates them from the approaching space of non-being. It is not life that makes a man wise, it is the nearing of death...
        When the old Jews looked me up and down attentively, one of them, removing his spectacles, uttered:
        I am a Jew, I answered, but no one budged.
        From where? asked the same man.
        From Moscow.
        The third Rome, and they all started to laugh at him.
        Levin, here, can only count till three!
        Truth is, I am from Tbilisi, I corrected myself.
        The second Paris! Levin laughed. Listen, Kipnis, youre going to laugh again, but thats a fact. The French themselves say so.
        Its not the French that say this, you potz, but the Georgians whove never seen Paris, said Kipnis and turned his acne-ridden face towards me. Everything in this world comes in ones.
        And they say that Vilna is the second Jerusalem, I answered.
        You should ask Kipnis about that, Levin smirked. Hes the one going there, so, he should know.
        Vilna is not the second Jerusalem, Kipnis moved closer to Levin. And its not the third either. The first Jerusalem is the old Jerusalem, the second is todays Jerusalem, and the third is the one where they would let me go. In 120 years and 120 days.
        I smiled at him, but he didnt understand and got offended:
        The young think that the old are fools, but the old know that it is the young that are foolish.
        And who among them is right? I supported him.
        The dead. They suspect that both are fools.
        Thats right! I was glad. I was thinking the same thing myself!
        Its early for you to think these things, Kipnis reasoned. And you didnt come here to think...
        Is is hard to get a permission to leave around here? I changed the subject.
        His brother-in-law is zbarsky, the third old man, dry and yellow like parchment, moved closer to Kipnis.
        What is zbarsky? I asked.
        What is zbarsky?! he was surprised. Zbarsky is a who. Zbarsky is a big wig. He cleaned Lenin out.
        What do you mean cleaned Lenin out? I did not understand.
        Thank God, youre not asking what is Lenin! Too bad! Lenin is not what they show you in the mausoleum. They show a stuffed doll there, and he cringed his parchment face.
        Parchment is right, you know! said Kipnis.
        Parchment? I was surprised..
        His last name is Parchment, explained Kipnis. Havent you heard of such a last name?
        Sure, I have, I lied. So, why is it a doll?
        Whats your name? Thats not important. But heres whats important: if you were dead, you would be unfit for life; if one were to put you on your feet, youd fall; if someone tells you a word, you wouldnt hear. Therefore, they would have what? buried you into the earth as someone unfit for life. But if you were good for something, they would have cut you in half and stuff you with all kinds of potions, so that you should look like a man, you see? But, still: no matter how much they shave you and wash you, youre not going to be a cuty from Georgia, but a stuffed doll! And as far as your dear comrade Lenin is concerned, you know who performed such a huge bris on him? My damned brother-in-law Zbarsky: he cut the dear comrade in half and stuffed him with all kinds of nonsense.
        And what about you? Who isnt letting you out? Zbarsky?
        That potz has been long dead. Lithuanian authorities arent letting me go. They tell me: youre not allowed to leave yet. That would be disrespect to the dear comrade Lenin! You are from the Zbarsky family!
        What does yet mean? I smirked. And what could change later with you? If only, that youd become unfit for the exodus?
        The one that answered the question was not Kipnis, nor parchment, or Levin, but a fat old man sitting on the back bench. All this time, he had been moving his lips soundlessly, conversing with someone invisible. Getting up and sitting down next to the visible ones, he said to me:
        Listen, Im looking at you here, and I see that you ask a lot of questions, but you say nothing about yourself. First, you say youre from Moscow, then, from Georgia... Got any papers?
        The old men exchanged approving glances. I handed them my papers, while the tiniest of the old men with a wart on his nose, approached me and said in half-a-whisper:
        Dont be upset with Matkin. He is straightforward, but brainy. Last year, two live men used to come around here, even younger than you, and ask questions. Matkin didnt like that and he turned out to be right: they arrested The Heron. Thats what we call Aaron Gurevich. Since then, we dont even have a minyan. People leave, or die, and lie down in the cemetery; theres practically no room left there for us the whole place is covered with gravestones. But dont read them, the gravestones, I mean: everyone lies there a noble soul, a loving heart , as wise as a prophet ! You know, therere more lies written in the cemeteries than in the books!
        And what happened to that Heron? I asked in a whisper.
        Zionist propaganda.
        What was he saying?
        Nothing wise: hes a fool. But he said it in Hebrew.
        And how do you get along without a minyan?
        Theres eight of us and Smirnitsky with his wife. Theyll be here soon.
        But is that allowed? I mean, his wife is probably a woman, right?
        A woman, yes! he confirmed. Although thats not her fault. And what are we to do? But shes a kosher woman, therere no more like her: she sits, keeps quiet, and only says amen. Its true, it is written in the Talmud that women lie even when theyre silent, but it is also said in the Bible: every human being is a liar. And still, all of us, on the contrary, keep praying.
        The old men finished with my papers, and Matkin, addressing my interlocutor, said outloud:
        Dont make him pregnant, Moisei: hes not old yet! and returning my papers to me, he added. The man studies philosophy and he came here to rest a little, right?
        I nodded my head, that is I lied, for I came not to rest but to photograph. Although, according to my experience, the old men felt most at home in the synagogues, where they were surrounded by the illusion of being protected, a camera would bring horrors upon them. They feared that a photograph might betray their existence to the world, where the safest tactic is anonymity, and the imitation of the non-existent. That is why I got the hang of photographing them hiding the camera, tied to my chest, under the jacket. I hooked up a long wire to the camera that went into my pocket. If the noise around was strong enough to muffle out the clicking of the shutter, I moved the scarf on my chest and pushed on the gear in my pocket. It was easiest to click during a prayer, when a Jew, sneakily for himself alone having opened a window to the heavens and put out his head, sees no one but God.
        Upon the arrival of Smirnitsky and his wife and the beginning of the loud prayer, I started clicking the shutter, bursting towards the platform as if in a religious fervor. Then, returning to my place, I would turn towards the old men. From time to time, I shouted Amen! irrelevantly, but no one noticed that except Polya Smirnitskaya.
        Wrapped in a mans felt coat with huge buttons, she sat on a separate bench, and, at first, would not take her surprised glance off of me. Deciding, probably, that I must be one of the crazed Hasidim, she calmed down, bowed her head, and stared at the dirty, patched-up bag on her knees. When one of the old men screamed from excitement, that bag began to shudder as if it were alive, and Polya gently caressed its sides. Burning from curiosity, I waited for that moment during a prayer when a Jew takes one step backwards, as a sign of respect for God. I took seven steps backwards and saw chickens inside the bag. They were shaking, either from fear of the future, or to mimic the old men.
        I am Polya Smirnitskaya, the old woman said with a guilty smile. And these are chickens.
        Her eyes, just as huge, old, and dim as the buttons on her coat, seemed to belong to another face to that of a frightened bird. According to my calculations, there were no more than two frames left in the film, and I started to contemplate feverishly which way exactly should I bend, so that the lens on my chest should miss neither her glance, nor the chickens inside her bag, nor the door behind her, thrown open, through which timelessness and boredom penetrated into the synagogue from the deserted street. When I finally chose the position and was about to push on the gear, the old woman shook her head in an attempt to drive away a nagging fly from her upper lip.
        The fly would not give in, and the old woman felt even more guilty.
        Thats a fly, she said meekly. And do you have them in your city? I mean flies...
        In ours? I asked. More of them than chickens.
        The fly flew down to the chickens who shuddered and blinked just as embarrassedly as the old Jewess.
        And do you have more chickens than flies here? I continued.
        There are not many alive, Smirnitskaya answered. And only on the market. They do give Fima and I one chicken a week for each of us in a special store for veterans. But its still too expensive.
        Veterans of what?
        Of war. Fima has a medal! He was a political instructor. Amen!
        Amen! and she nodded towards the swaying old men. Shma Israel Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ehad!
        Of course, amen! I started and turning towards Fima, could not believe that this old man covered with white fluff, worn out hat and galoshes instead of boots had been a political instructor in the Red Army. He didnt even look like a Jew: with tiny palms and pink cheeks, Fima resembled a porcelain statuette of a flutist in an antique shop window.
        Fima is from a learned family, said Polya, seeing the fly off with her glance. His father was a rabbi, killed by the Germans, and Fima used to write poems in four languages before the war. And for the theater, also.
        Is he a communist?
        He was kicked out, and once again, she smiled apologetically. He joined the party while he was in the army, but they kicked him out recently. Not because of me. I always used to go to the synagogue and he would say: theyre going to kick me out! But no one touched him, until he himself started coming here. He doesnt believe in God, but where else could he go? He was called upon, warned. He doesnt take it too badly anymore; he cant, he has a heart condition.
        And how many children do you have?
        We never had any, and embarrassed, the old woman caressed the chickens. Now, thats my fault. But he didnt want them anyway.
        The prayer ended, and the old men started talking about something crowding together. It was completely dark and deserted beyond the door. I felt like drinking vodka but I had nowhere to go.
        Listen, the fat Matkin said to me. Come over here! Do you have anywhere to sleep tonight in Vilna? We would have let you stay here a year ago, but now, we cant.
        Is it forbidden?
        Last spring, Smirnitsky answered, we left a Jew here from Tashkent. Next morning he was gone along with one of the Torahs. They take them to Israel to sell them there.
        And do you have a lot of Torahs?
        We had seven synagogues even after the war in Vilna. Then, they closed everything down and we brought all the Torahs here.
        And what was before the war?
        And before the war... Ah, its not even worth telling! There were lots of us before the war: the Germans killed one hundred thousand of our people, no less.
        Listen, Matkin interrupted, if youve got nowhere to spend the night, go to Smirnitskys. Just pay them a five.
        I reached into jacket pocket, pulled out a roll of ten-ruble notes, and slid off one of them.
     Fima looked at his wife, and making sure that shes busy with the chickens, sneakily crumpled the note in his hand.

        The street leading from the synagogue to the Smirnitskys apartment was paved with cobble stones that glittered like fish scales. The night crawled from hatches and windows from everywhere. Looking around myself, I tried to memorize the weak-sighted houses which had gotten tired of existence, and which in the morning I would photograph in such a way that this spirit of universal laziness would show through.
        The Smirnitskys minced along in front of me and kept silent. From time to time, Fima stopped to gather his breath, while the old woman tucked in the sleeping chickens.
        Around the corner, by the store with a bare window, at the foot of the rain-wet fence, right next to a dirty puddle with an empty vodka bottle in it, a young, muscular man slept soundly. Next to him, squatting, and intently observing him was a young boy. From the other end of the fence, constantly clutching at it and loosing his balance, stumbled another drunken man. He kept stopping momentarily, looking around himself, and harping the same phrase over and over again: Thats right! Thats right!
        As always, at the sight of despair, I felt a sense of personal guilt. And where do I get that from, I thought: from my father from socialism, or from my grandfather from the Jewish God?
        When we got home and I pulled out a bottle of vodka and took a gulp, Smirnitsky said to the old woman:
        Polina, give the man some jam, so that the man should have a little something to eat.
        Polya brought the jam and made a bed for me on a shelf in an entrance hall, which contained a chair with a tall back, and a carton box. The old woman took the chickens out of the bag and gently put them inside the box. There were a half a dozen of identical creatures there already. A thought brushed my mind that the Smirnitskys must be buying the chickens at a low price and then sell them at the market.
        Theyre very well behaved, so you should sleep soundly, the old woman raised her settled voice and closed the door behind her.
        Even if they were not, I dont care. I sleep like a dead man.

        I turned out to be wrong. Having drunk almost the whole bottle, I still couldnt fall asleep. Thoughts about the approaching life in America crawled into my intoxicated head against the heavy breathing of old woman behind the door. I also thought that one day, in America, I would look out of my window and see the very same moon Im seeing now from the Smirnitskys apartment. Time will pass, the moon will remain the same and what will happen with me? Or with these people? With that boy observing the snoring man? What was he seeking out in the drunken man, what was he thinking of?
        Could it be that it was the first time that the boy saw a man that was stripped of reason, fell onto a humid ground, and although it wasnt comfortable to lie there, he was not complaining about anything: he was continuing to sleep and see pleasant dreams because a smile was showing through his face? So what does that boy want to learn from the man how to be happy?
        Or is it that the man happens to be his father, and he is meekly awaiting for him to wake up, because he loves him and pities him? Is he afraid that someone might harm him?
        Then I thought that no matter what the case is, it is foolish to think about it.
        Although, what does that mean foolish? Everything in this world is foolish, and everyone is a fool, and I myself too am, of course foolish, for, otherwise, I would not have noticed that scene by the puddle and would not keep recalling it afterwards. But whatever else I or someone else might have recalled or thought about that too would have been foolish. But since everything that man does is foolish, people should just pity each other more. Warmth and love strip all the sense of the fact that everyone is foolish...
        Pondering it all, but not trusting my thoughts, I suddenly heard a pathetic screech of the door, and the old man Smirnitskys tiny head enveloped by fluff pushed into it.
        Fima whirled it about and turning it towards the bright moon, squinted. Then, he headed sneakily towards my jacket hanging on the back of the chair, and sliding his hand into its pocket, pulled out a pack of ten ruble bills. He was anxious: first, he pulled off three notes, then, two more. Letting out a sigh, he stepped up to me to make sure that my eyes were shut but I was unable to do so from the shock.
        Fima stood there like that for a long time like something squeezed out of the earth.  Finally, he slowly sunk into the chair under him that let out a prolonged screech.
        It was quiet again. Then, the old man breathed heavily, and I recalled that he had a bad heart.
        Im lying here, you know, and thinking about that boy, I uttered.
        Fima took a breath and responded:
        Polya must not know about this, and he handed me the money.
        All right, I muttered. Shes not going to know.
        A minute later, the old man added:
        I wouldnt have taken anything for the night either, but we have nothing to eat. Everything goes to the chickens.
        What do you mean nothing to eat? What about the chickens?
        We dont eat the chickens. They are Polyas.
        They are Polyas?
        We buy them, and then take them to the country and let them go.
        What do you mean where? Let them go free.
        The old man stood up, moved to the window, and turning towards the moon started to speak in a somewhat different, not-his-own voice:
        My Polya, you see... How should I put it? Polyas not well... Ill tell you everything, but Ill make it brief, O.K.? She might wake up... When the Germans came to Vilna, they took Polyas whole family: her mother, sisters, aunt, and the grandmother. They took them to a camp and kept them in the same barrack... Its close here, right behind the city line. Their overseer was this woman, Vilma was her name, very pleasant and middle aged. And before the war, this Vilma, a Lithuanian, ran a live poultry store here. Thats how the store was called, you see, Vilmas chickens. And so, once a month, this Vilma, decked out in her best uniform Im talking about the camp now painted her eyebrows, put on a nice cologne, and early, before the sunrise, took a dozen Jewesses off the shelves and murmured gently to them: lets go, she said, little birdies, morning will be here soon, get dressed, cluck, cluck, cluck. And she urged them to the exit. Today is a holiday: Vilma is letting you go home, shes letting you go free, cluck, cluck, cluck... And then, they were gassed, a dozen from each barrack. They followed very meekly... Like the chickens are supposed to! Some of them even smiled. And the whole area, they say, smelled like chicken broth.
        Smirnytsky coughed and got frightened that the noise would wake up the old woman behind the door.
        I sure was at the front, he continued, but everyone says so: they say, it smelled as if they were boiling chickens. Polya was the only one that survived from the whole barrack... Otherwise, you know, I would have never knew her. That was in 44, towards the end of the war. Then, she was still healthy, but a year later she was arrested for murder. She stabbed that Vilma, who was still selling chicken, but now at the market... After the prison, Polya fell very ill: you cant notice it at first, but she isnt well... And her only salvation is her chickens. Our whole pension is spent on them: and thats why, you see, we have nothing to eat. Otherwise, I wouldnt even taken anything for the night... Honestly! But you... Dont tell Polya about those ten rubles for the night either, yeah?
        Yeah, I answered after a short pause. And what will you tell her: where did you get the ten rubles from?
     Sometimes, people that are emigrating throw some money our way. Once they gave us fifty rubles. Remember about the Tashkent Jew that stole the Torah? He was the one that gave the fifty.
        Having thought, for some reason that the Tashkent Jew didnt steal the Torah, but bought it from Fima, I lit a cigarette and said something else:
        Listen, Fima. Take the money. But in the morning I will photograph you. You two, and the chickens, yeah?
        In the morning, before saying good bye to them, I took a whole roll of photos. Clinging tightly to each other, with chickens in their armpits, they shuffled against the background of their front porch, and grinned sheepishly into the lens, blinking with every sound of the shutter. And since then, I never heard about them again.
        A couple of days later, however, while I was photographing the abandoned houses in a deserted Jewish quarter, a policed car rolled up next to me. There were two officers in it a young Lithuanian in a denim jacket, and a graying lieutenant in uniform. The young one checked my papers and demanded to know the precise purpose of the ongoing photographing activity directed to Lithuanian reality. I explained that I was working on an article about the old Vilnius.
        About the Jewish Vilnius? he asked testingly.
        Why? I shrugged. About Vilnius in general.
        Everythings in order, sorry, he said to me after some hesitation and turned towards his partner. If you see that fart, Fima, tell the kike: Fima, tell him, youre a fart and a babbler, Fima!


        And so, after these many years Polya Smirnitskaya in New York, on the same plane with me! Why? And where is Fima?
        I know this old woman, I finally announced to the stewardess.
        That really isnt important now, Gabriela smiled. People are crowding here! Can you tell her about the chickens?
        No, it is very important, I answered. And Im not saying anything to her about the chickens.
        What do you mean?!
        You dont want to hear me out, but I think that its her! No one else!
        Who her?
        I only know that one of the passengers is going there with a special assignment, and I think that its her! I whispered in Gabrielas ear. You have a very touching smell! Is it African musk?
        No, its from Moscow. Red Poppy. And what kind of an assignment?
        I threw a glance at the heavens and Gabriela got frightened:
        The operation, by the way, is called Anna Karenina.
        Gabriela looked at the chickens with respect:
        If youre not kidding, theres something hidden inside the chickens, right?
        Something is always hiding everywhere, I explained. You better think where to put them. How about the captains cabin?
        No, thank you! These kinds of things make me dizzy! Anna Karenina! Tell her to go through, and put the bag under the seat.
        Without looking in my direction, or waiting for the translation, Smirnitskaya nodded her head and moved forward, while Gabriela started to fuss with another passenger a young black man of gigantic size and such wide nostrils that when he took a breath, they resembled the massive wings of the early models of Ford automobiles, and when he breathed out a parking lot for them. Conscious of his size, the man tried hard not to breathe. This consumed all of his energy and didnt allow him to make himself clear. I concluded, therefore, that he must be an athlete.
        Gabriela, you need a translator again? I smirked.
        He doesnt have his boarding pass! she complained.
        I have it! the man muttered, without moving.
        Yes, but he says, that Miss Rosin in Russia has his pass!
        I didnt say that!
        Let me explain! said another black man who resembled a chocolate ice-cream bar on a stick: his narrow body was standing on one leg in a white trouser. Therere five of us, delegates with Miss Rosin, and she has all the boarding passes.
        So, you dont have a boarding pass either? Gabriela got frightened.
        Miss Rosin has the passes. The Russians arent letting her go through without standing in line. They let us go Ive got this leg! but shes not here. I mean, the leg - the other leg - is not here, but Miss Rosin is waiting her turn! Her turn to board here...
        So, Miss Rosin is here? Gabriela was happy.
        Sure! the giant muttered. But shes from Russia.
        Miss Rosin! Gabriela screamed into the crowd behind the velvet brocade. Let Miss Rosin go through!
        All the five delegates gathered at the entrance all of them black but with the exception of the first one, each of them had different physical defects, which of course washed away my previous guess about the athletic nature of their visit to Russia. Most probably, theyre politicians, I decided, because politics compensates for physical defects.
        As it fits politicians, they were patiently waiting for their leader. The ice-cream bar was standing closest to me and I asked him a silly question:
        Going to Moscow?
        The answer turned out to be sillier:
        Then youre on the wrong plane.
        Its the right plane! Were not going to Moscow!
        Then where? I became frightened for myself.
        Moscow is a stopover. Were going to Tbilisi.
        Tbilisi?! I couldnt believe it. Whats going on there?
        A seminar on national minorities.
        An international one?
        Very! and the ice-cream bar caressed his white prop. Lets talk later: heres Miss Rosin!
        I shifted my glance to the front, and only now slowly sunk into my seat: Miss Rosin who was handing the passes to Gabriela turned out to be none other than Alla Rozin from Petkhain who had disappeared without a trace. From under a hat with flamingo feathers, dangled the once famous throughout our town golden curls of the youngest daughter of the Tbilisi millionaire, Arkady Rozin. Although Ive only seen her twice before I couldnt forget neither Allas look nor, especially, her story.

        In April of 78, I flew from Moscow to Tbilisi for my younger brothers wedding, who had chosen for the continuation of his name a girl from the town of Gori the hometown of the second eagle, Stalin. Besides her pride that she was brought up within two blocks of the eagles nest, my sister-in-laws dowry included twelve sets of rare bedsheets, and eight boxes of just as rare German china.
        Upon my insistence, the wedding took place on the birthday of the first eagle Lenin. Once a year, on this day, the supervisors at the Moscow University didnt grudge the money for sending metropolitan philosophers to the provinces, so that they could initiate the national cadres into the keenness of the Leninist policy. I was to be a curator of a seminar scheduled at that time in Tbilisi and dedicated to the cultures of absolutely all Transcaucasian peoples.
        Refusing to attend the festive opening ceremony, I burst out into the market with my mother and stuffed my Zhiguli with a dozen Krasnodar turkeys which cost me a Moscow Marxists monthly salary and half of the wedding budget. However, I wouldnt have to spend a penny for the slaughter of the birds, because Robert, the only Kosher slaughterer in Tbilisi, owed his craft to my grandfather.
        Having caught the sight of me in the synagogue yard where his studio was located, Robert wiped his hands on his bloody apron, ran to meet us, and snatching the turkeys tied up by their legs, began babbling like a man who is indifferent towards words:
        Welcome back, my dear, I havent seen you for a while, and congratulations with the coming wedding, mazl tov, I heard the bride is a real beauty, and from a rich and decent family, I know her father, by the way, I even know all of his brothers in Gori, but he of course is the best one; and whats happening in Moscow? everything here is getting worse and worse! there are no more conscientious Jews around! have a seat! you can stand if you want, this is Georgia, we have freedom here! and thats the only thing we have; Ill be right with you! right after I finish with Rozin, do you know each other, by the way? this is our much respected Mr.Rozin and this, Mr. Rozin, is the prosecutor Yakovs son, remember?
        Ive heard many good things about you! I said, extending my hand to Rozin, who turned out to be an effeminate fatso with eyelashes of ash-pink color.
     This is my daughter... Rozin said, pushing towards me a creature, who, in her turn, looked exactly as I imagined the youngest of King Davids Moavitian odalisques to look. Her body was wrapped in a small yellow fabric, revealing the chocolate colored nudity of her legs and chest. Her face was thin, dark, and anciently wild. The white fuzz on her lip densed in the corners of her mouth, while her narrow eyes, gray with black dots, beamed with the deafened light of primal languor under her lowered lashes.
        With one hand, the girl kept playing with her golden curl, and with the other she was holding a black rooster who clung tightly to her chest. She was silent and this wordlessness evoked my doubts about her innate sinfulness.
        The sweet, irritating smell of blood lingered in the studio. It was sprinkled everywhere on the walls, on the window, on the door. Frightened by the flash of joy inside me, I squashed it with loudly pronounced words:
        You have a lovely daughter, Mr. Rozin!
        Shes the youngest. The eighth.
        You are a stubborn man, Mr. Rozin.
        I am a greedy man. I wanted a son.
        Why, with such a daughter, Mr. Rozin?!
        A Jew must not light more than seven candles, or have more than seven children. Its easy to blow out a wicked candle, but with children... You cant return them back... This is a wicked daughter!
        I looked in surprise, first at Robert, and then, at the young girl, whose gaze was directed inward.
        A very wicked daughter! Rozin repeated. All my daughters are married, but with her God has cursed me! She brings me shame! My mother is at her deathbed because of the girl and my wife has a heart condition! Everything was going fine, you know, and then, such a disaster! I thought that God doesnt punish without a warning but He kept silent...
        Rozin brushed away drops of sweat and sighed:
        Plus, there are no more wisemen like your Rabbi Meir: he always knew what to do when there was nothing left to be done. Thats what wisdom is, right?
        What happened to you? I addressed the young girl.
        She stepped up to Robert silently and handed him the rooster.
        She wont tell you anything, let your esteemed mother tell you, said Rozin.
        And while Robert, with a rooster in his hand, was whispering something with Rozin, my mother took me aside and told me that couple of months ago, there came to Tbilisi from Zaire, a very black man with big zits by the name of Samba Bamba, who, as people said, stank of a specific smell of African dung. Alla Rozin fell in love with him and offered him her virginity. You have to know the family, my mother said, in order to properly understand the horror of the situation: theyre the stronghold of all the rituals, a rare remnant of the House of Israel! When Rozin arrived in our town from Poland, he was already a rich man, but he tripled his wealth since. He bore children, built a synagogue, donated big sums of money to the poor and orphans, married off his daughters to the most learned grooms, bought a house for every one of them, and stuffed each one with riches as tightly as there are seed in a ripe pomegranate. His daughters are all healthy and beautiful, but neither of them could even compare to Alla. People came from all over Georgia, Moscow, even Poland, to propose to her. But she would not even grant a glance to any of them. She had many offers to be in the movies, but she refused that too. Arkady was crazy about her: hired the best tutors, even taught her French. Alla was growing up smart, played the violin, finished school with the highest honors, and went to the medical school. Then, her parents noticed that Alla started to grow pale, lose weight, and come home late. They suspected something wasnt right and set her sisters on her to discover her secret. She finally admitted to one of them that she fell in love with a young man who recently came to Georgia from Paris.
        It did not even enter anyones dreams that the Parisian might be a non-Jew. The only thing that they feared was that like most of the French, he might turn out to be an atheist. They instructed the sister to talk Alla into bringing the boy home to meet the family, in order to find out his attitude to God, because there was no reason to doubt anyones love for Alla.
        Im scared, she kept refusing. Whats there to be scared off?, the sisters said. Love is a holy matter, and the man, after all, is not from some Kurdish village, but from Paris! And as for his belief in God, thats something one gains from experience!
        So, one day, Alla gathered courage and brought him home.
        The first few moments, the Rozin family plunged into a deep shock, that, compared to the following experiences turned out to be a mere irritation. With the conclusion of the initial shock, the tragical nature of the situation acquired Biblical collisions.
        A Negro!
        Rozins house was impeccably clean before this: even Georgians never stepped over the threshold, and then, suddenly, this! Samba Bamba! Worse: he just lived in Paris, but was born in Africa and is a native of Zaire!
        Naturally, they kicked Samba out of their house, and before rushing towards the medicine chest, they threw open all the windows, to sway off the African spirit.
        Quietly gazing at her family, scattered randomly across expensive couches and armchairs, Alla, however, just shrugged her shoulders and uttered the unthinkable: I dont love any of you anymore and let everything else go to hell your money, and your damned God!
        Next morning, Arkady rushed to the local authorities to bribe them to evict Samba out of town. They refused, and blamed it on Moscow. Then, Rozins sons-in-law waited for him at night, beat him up black and blue, and threatened to cut him up like an African stray dog if he doesnt scram with all his belongings.
        Samba scrammed. The whole town was chattering away about Rozins shame, although Arkady and his wife thanked God that everything finally fell behind them. Alla went back to her studies, took music lessons again, while Arkady was trying to marry her off in Russia, because in Georgia, no one but gold-diggers would want her anymore.
        As for Alla, herself, she still would not hear of marriage. Neither was she interested in her invitations for dates that grew from admirers of easy, fleeting love.
        Arkady expressed his gratitude to God in generous donations to the synagogue.
        And then, grief struck again! Again, they sent some Negroes from that very same Zaire!
        Alla was like a wild dog let loose: went from one pair of black hands to the next. For the whole town to see, for the community to mock!
        Arkady arranged a secret meeting with the Negroes to bribe them not to surrender to Allas seduction. They responded by laughing at him: what a shame, they said, its the end of the 20th century, the century of cordless phones, flights to the moon and then, such a squirm!

        Thats when Robert came to the rescue.
        His mother was interested in sorcery and enticed her son onto it as well. In addition, while in prison, where he was serving time for molesting a child, Robert befriended an Assyrian by the name of Shakhbazov who wrote poems about black magic and taught him the art of ruling over other peoples souls.
        I remembered this Shakhbazov from my student years: he was a half-mad and a dull rhymester and he used to tell everyone that in a certain Assyrian manuscript, which he was translating into Russian, it is said that every soul, upon finding out that it is about to migrate into a human being, deeply grieves and prays to God not to send her into a flesh the place of tears, sorrow, and pain. But God, he would say, is inexorable: thats why He is the Almighty. Thus, Shakhbazov insisted, a man is born against his will, lives against his will, dies against his will, while his soul returns to the heavens and shivers in the anticipation of the Great Judgment. So, since the soul of any man is here against his will, it is easy to strike a deal with it.
        Like everything else that Shakhbazov said, I considered this a pure nonsense and a figment of his own imagination, but later, I read a similar legend in the Talmud. As for the Assyrian, he hung himself on the very evening of the day he was released from prison...
        According to my mother, Robert agreed to help Rozin for a great sum of money. Once a day, early in the morning, he was left alone with the girl in his apartment, and, as they said, whispered invocations, so that her soul would finally break its deal with Satan. And every single evening, in Arcadys presence, he slaughtered a black rooster brought over from Armenia. However, before sliding a knife over the roosters throat, Robert demanded that the young girl cling the rooster to her sinful flesh.
        Sh-sh-sh... I said to my mother and stepped into the corner where Robert and Alla were fussing above the gutter for blood.
        Where is Arkady? I asked the butcher, but soundlessly moving his meaty lips, he, apparently, neither saw, nor heard me. With his right hand, Robert was holding the shivering rooster, while his other hand was resting on the young girls neck.
        She was standing very close to him with her head bowed and looked at me from time to time from under her brow. It seemed to me that she sensed something to the other side of good and evil in the warmth of the palm on her neck and in my confusing glance. Her pupils grew turbid, but she was not embarrassed and didnt blink.
        Having finished the prayer, the butcher pulled his sleeves by his teeth and revealed the muscular arms overgrown with yellow moss. Then, jerking the rooster up in the air, he clung tightly to the young girl and started to swirl the bird around her head.
        Zot khalifati, zot tepurati... Heres your redemption, your salvation! he whispered, bowing his head over her. This rooster will be slaughtered and you will be purified and blessed for a long, happy, and peaceful life! Say amen!
        Amen! the girl uttered in half-a-whisper.
        After the third time, the butcher jerked the roosters head back, plucked out the fur on its throat, and pulling out a steel knife from his apron, sliced the birds throat. The rooster looked surprised popped its eyes and its glance became glassy.
        Robert put the bloodstained knife between his teeth and pushed on the wound with the thumb of his left hand. The cut on the throat widened and the tip of the gullet sprang out of it. In another instant, a forceful steam of blood poured out and the butcher hung the bird on the hook above the narrow gutter.
        The young girl kept staring at the rooster who was still breaking into convulsions. Neither was she trying to stray from the blood sprinkling in all directions. When the bird settled down, Alla, pale and bent, headed for the exit, to meet her father who was just returning to the courtyard.
        Did you pray? Rozin asked her.
        Not yet, Robert answered for her, and pulling the girl toward himself, clapped his palm around her neck in a cautious, but this time, wild manner. The butchers thumb fidgeted nervously at her nape and died down inside the golden fluff: Come on!
        The girl straightened out and started breathing heavily; the blue vein in her neck was shaking and there was a long pause.
        My Lord, Almighty! she uttered silently and hesitantly, glancing either at the spots of cooling blood on her chest, or at the thick veins on the butchers hairy hand. Im in your hands. Save me from evil, and bless me with your heavenly servants! Let archangel Michael cover me from the right, and archangel Gabriel from the left! Let Uriel be in front of me, and Raphael behind me, and let Your Holy Spirit reign over my head!
        Amen! Robert agreed.
        This isnt going to help either! Rozin said to me in parting.
        He was right.

        A couple of days later, during my brother s wedding, someone said that misfortune fell upon the Rozins: their youngest daughter Alla had vanished without a trace, and that Arkady lost his mind and was taken to a hospital...
        Three months later, visiting Tbilisi, I found out that Arkady was still in the hospital, and that his condition is so bad that no one dares to tell him about his wifes death. There was not a single word from Alla; some said that she was killed. Others insisted that she committed suicide drowned in the Kura river, like an unhappy lover from old novels. There were even whispers that Rozins themselves chased her out of the house, but dont want to admit it.
        A year later, not long before my departure to America, I was having supper in a dirty restaurant located in the Moscow hotel Yuzhnaya. An old acquaintance with a demanding name of Karl Voroshilov invited me there. He compensated for this name with physical blandness. All his life, Voroshilov taught Marxism to black students at the Lumumba University located next to the hotel, and his most daring dream consisted of acquiring any position in the Institute of Philosophy where he was finally hired to replace me.
        I expected Voroshilov to start inquiring about the colleagues, but right after the first drink, he declared that hes had a misfortune and expecting me to come to his aid: he would like to move to Georgia.
        And what about philosophy, I was surprised. Hell with that, he said and explained that it is easiest to emigrate from the south. Then he confessed that his name is Karl not in Marxs honor, but only because the Teacher... was Jewish.
        The misfortune, however, lay somewhere else: Karl fell in love with his student from Zaire, and this time, love turned out to be which was a first for him mutual. The love, he told me, was so deep, that he is unable to bear the separation, is about to abandon his aging parents and move to Africa. Via Israel.
        After a momentary confusion, I was about to tell him about Alla Rozin, and then before going back to his favor about Georgia ask him some question about love. I didnt do the latter because of the presentiment that I wasnt ready for the answer: in order to be understood, the answer must be reasonable, and reason has nothing to do either with the world, or with the stories that take place in it.
        You want to ask something? Voroshilov asked.
        Yes. What are we drinking to?
        Lets drink for friendship!
        Between us? I asked, and without waiting for the answer, gulped down the drink.
        I couldnt hear the response because I choked and started coughing. Then, I looked around, but my glance stumbled upon the neighboring table poked with black students from the Lumumba. A young black man was sitting behind the table diagonally from me, and swaying back and forth. He was slim and elastic like a tropical liana, but he wore spectacles that he kept pushing up his nose, because he was nervous in the company of the golden-curled companion slim and elastic as well, like a young birch tree.
        She was sitting with her profile to me, spoke loudly, and didnt see me. But even if she did see me, she might not have recognized me, for during our fleeting meeting in the butchers studio she was preoccupied not with me, but with a black rooster at her chest.
        Are you feeling better? asked Voroshilov.
        I said, what are we drinking to? I didnt turn towards him.
        I answered. And what are you looking at?
        At that black guy, see him? I think he can hardly breath. Because the blouse is much too tight on the chest.
        Hes not wearing a blouse. Shes the one with the blouse.
        Thats the blouse I mean.
        I dont get it, Voroshilov said, but a moment later he got it and started laughing. Not many people can breathe because of her, by the way.
        Do you know her? I asked.
        Everyone knows her around here, he nodded and raised his glass once again. Now, lets drink for our personal friendship!
        Why does everyone know her? I asked.
        Colette? Well, not everyone, just everyone at the Lumumba. She works with the Africans.
        Africans? Does she need money? I was surprised.
        Are you still not feeling well? Voroshilov supposed. Everyone needs money, and more often than not for financial purposes. But dont get too anxious she only goes for the blacks.
        Then, perhaps, it isnt the money she needs?
        Youre right: no one knows what the other needs, but if you were to say that she also needs money for that...
        Listen, Voroshilov, I interrupted him, stop being smart: let me tell you some wise words!
        Your own? he grew cautious. About what?
        No, dont be afraid, not my own. It is said, that one should never ask what love is, because the answer might frighten.
        Really? Voroshilov uttered after a pause and put his glass down. And why are you saying this? And about whom? About yourself, about her, or about whom? Can you explain?
        I had nothing to explain: I, myself, didnt understand these words. And then, I uttered ten more someone elses words to which I added an eleventh my own.
        Voroshilov, I said, people who understand only that which is understandable, understand little.
        Voroshilov did not understand me, but had a drink.


        ...Having thought of these words once again and glancing after Alla who was pushing the blacks towards the next cabin, I screamed out:
        Gabriela, do you have anything to drink here?
        I cant hear you: its too noisy! responded the stewardess.
        I climbed out of my seat again and went up closer:
        Im asking if you have brandy or vodka?
        Could you please wait a little?
        No, I confessed.
        Im busy now, and she let pass a lanky man of my age, with whom I collided face to face: his head was covered with a felt beret, lower a pince-nez, and still lower a bowtie. This face, less characteristic than the artificial attributes adorning it, observed mine, in its own turn, and uttered in a stale voice:
        I know what your name is and how to help you. Im Professor Zhadov!
        Oh! I moved aside. Welcome, Professor Zhadov! And let me introduce you to Gabriela!
        Gabriela blinded the guest with a seductive smile:
        So, you are Professor Zhadov! Its a pleasure! I saw you on television, you know! You were very right, by the way!
        Zhadov blushed from agitation and removed his pince-nez:
        Thank you very much, Gabriella! I hope Im pronouncing your name correctly? What a wonderful name, by the way: Gabriella!
        Very correctly, but I only have one l in it.
        I apologize: then one it is! And Im very flattered! And, Gabriela, what exactly did you like in my performance?
        Oh! I dont remember exactly anymore! I remember that it was very correct! and she looked him up from head to toe.
        I got angry and my heart started pounding everywhere in my body at the same time. Judging by the sparks in her eyes, that slid over Professor Zhadovs stately figure, the stewardess was ready to sacrifice her interest in philosophy for her impulsive passion for political sciences. I got angry at Zhadov as well: without his pince-nez, he looked younger. I did feel much kinder, though, as soon as he removed his beret: an expansive baldspot appeared under it, which I didnt know about because I never listened to political commentaries.
        I have listened to you on TV as well, I said to Zhadov and invited him to his seat. And how do you know me?
        I bought your book with your portrait on the back cover, he answered, letting me through next to the window. And I remembered you by your hairstyle the same as, pardon me, Marxs, and he invited Gabriela to laugh.
     I decided not to show him mercy, although he did buy my book:
        Your hairstyle is also memorable: like Lenins. And it is much harder to change. As for mine, I dont want to change it: as Shaw used to say, Marx made a man out of me
        Shaw was a liberal and a Marxist. You too? and again he looked at Gabriela.
        Marx was not always a Marxist, I recalled. Sometimes, he got drunk. Besides, once sober, he answered this question negatively: I, he said, am not a Marxist! Remember?
        Im talking about this because you included Marx into the list of Jewish sages, he explained with the same irony.
        And?! I got angry.
        Here, take a bottle, and Zhadov pulled out a giftbox out of his briefcase. But I dont understand: how can you drink in the morning?
        Alcohol makes even the guy in the next seat interesting! And even in the morning! and I pulled out a miniature bottle of whiskey from the box.
        Oh, I see! And how can I make you interesting?
        Ask me, for example, why I called Marx a sage.
        Im not going to, because, unfortunately, I remember that too; I didnt read the book, by the way, my wife did, and making sure that Gabriela was gone, he added: My wife is a full-time American, and a 100% American, as the very same Shaw once said, is a 99% fool! But I dont judge her too harshly: shes also a woman, after all!
        I dont know your wife, although one can judge about the wife according to her husband, but Gabriela is not a fool: she just plays her role! And as for Marx, Ill still say this I didnt write this in the book... So, there are only five truths about a man. The first one: the most important is the brain; the second: the important is lower the heart; the third: the important is lower still the stomach; the fourth: the important is what the Jews chop off; and the fifth truth is that everything is relative. And behind each of these truths there stands a Jewish sage, and one of them is Marx.
        I heard that its always the same thing with you the Jews! Dont you get bored?
        Its an eternal subject: like sex and taxes! And you, I heard, constantly change your subjects: first, its Brezhnev, then Andropov, then, pardon me, Chernenko, or Gorbachev and Yeltsin. And I also heard that you change your opinions about each of these subjects.
        Zhadov got offended:
        And I also heard that if a man doesnt change his opinions, he must take himself to a doctor: perhaps, he already died. And secondly, I only changed my opinion about perestroika. Allow me to explain - why.
        I allowed him, but I didnt listen.


        My grandmother Esther ordered me to turn away from that which surprises and could not be explained, since she considered strange to be an omen of deep spiritual confusion. Realizing that I was dooming myself precisely to this, I, nevertheless, could not shift my surprised glance away from Gena Krasner who just entered the compartment from behind the velvet brocade.
        Gena arrived in Queens at the same time as I did - but from Yalta, and settled down three blocks away from me. Unlike me, he had a skill - an obstetrician-gynecologist! - but, just like me, he had brought along his wife and daughter to America. Both him and I, and our daughters were the same age, while our wives were colleagues as well - experts on ancient philology. At the recommendation of a Jewish charitable organization, they became colleagues in the States also - maids in the same Manhattan hotel. They became friends. At dawn, they met in the subway and dragged themselves to work together: it was less dangerous that way. They came back late, exhausted and sad: Is that why we moved here?!
        They stopped complaining not earlier than I told them a joke about a Jew who would peek out at every station and sigh Oy, vey!, and at the last station, when they asked him why he was suffering all the way, he answered: But Im not in the right train!
        Neither Lyuba, Genas wife, nor mine, had any chances of switching to the right train, but they began to react differently to their misfortunes after this joke. Although Lyuba would still sigh, she would say different words at that: oy vey, I wish March would get here fast, that is the day of Genas test! Gena sat at home from morning to morning and gnawed at his English. He passed the other two tests that had to do with his profession easily, but he had a feeling that English was going to be a disaster - and he would fail. And without it - although he did work as an obstetrician all his life in Russia - they would not even let him perform abortions on hens, not to mention receive births.
        All through January Lyuba cursed February - because it distances the arrival of March. And my wife got angry at the Jewish philosophy because it possesses a long history and therefore, is not allowing me to finish my book about it faster. As soon as my husband finishes the book, she would say, everything will be good - just like in Georgia!
        Once, towards the end of February, Lyuba asked my wife to give her something to read of her husbands. She complained, theres nothing to read in Russian about wisdom-loving Jews. My wife answered that I was writing my book in English. What?! Lyuba screamed out, and the next morning, the Krasners, all three of them, came by with a bottle of French brandy. They came and fell into feet: save us, they wailed, and get us out of this mess, you are our only hope! God and you! No, in the reverse order: you and God!
        The plan for salvation was a criminal one, but romantic: just for one day in my life, for the day of the English test, I was to become Gena Krasner. All I needed to do for that was to substitute Genas photograph with mine on the examination ticket.
        If Krasners knew me better, they could have behaved with more pride, and - most importantly - do without the brandy: I would have gladly done it for free. And - for a series of reasons, out which two were the most principal ones: my unyielding attraction for transformation and my contempt of local physicians, who are frightened by the competition of the newly arriving immigrants, and who are united in their zeal to make it difficult for them to acquire licenses.
        Wishing to flatter me, Gena started philosophizing. Why, for instance, he assured me carefully, is it necessary to demand of obstetricians the knowledge of the English language at the level of scribes? They should ask something else: do you know where children come from in America - from the same place as in Yalta or not?
        Until his resettlement to America, Gena received births and performed abortions for 20 years and was educated enough to understand, in addition, that it is not necessary to engage in idiomatic English with children, as they are crawling into this world. Lets suppose, a Russian obstetrician made a mistake in his language: are the sons of bitches going to crawl back in?! And as for abortions, he sighed, - a minimal knowledge of the language is pretty sufficient while performing them or even the act which makes them necessary, right?
        Right, I said, and went to take the test instead of him. But then, as Gena, by the way, sensed it, a disaster stroked. I mean, I wrote everything correctly, signed Krasner and handed the writing with the examination ticket to the chairman of the commission, a stately Hindu in a tussore tunic. But this stately Hindu glanced at the ticket and exclaimed:
        So, you are Dr. Krasner! Finally! and he embraced me like a compatriot.
        It turned out that the Hindu - although not a compatriot - lives on the same floor with the Krasners and knows Lyuba and Irina very well, but he has never met me, that is Gena.
        I am constantly sitting at home, studying! I answered for Gena.
        Good for you! the stately Hindu commended me and glanced at the manuscript. You write well and speak bearably. Lyuba was complaining about your English in vain! They are right in my homeland when they say: Russians are modest people! And whats your specialty, if I may ask?
        I said that my specialty was psychiatry. The calculations were simple: the Hindus dont use any birth control methods and multiply readily, and therefore its dangerous to confess that I am an obstetrician: definitely, theres at least someone in his family who is at least a bit pregnant! As for the psyche, its a different matter with the Hindus: they safeguard themselves with Yoga.
        The miscalculation turned out to be tragic: the Hindu, standing on his tip-toes and attempting to seem even more stately than he was, announced to me that this evening he is going to visit with his son in law, who for the second month cannot make up his mind to strip his own wife, the Hindus daughter that is, of virginity, because she herself cannot make up her mind either. He promised twenty dollars and a national souvenir: an ancient Indian love guide.
        An hour later, during a feverish meeting in McDonalds between my family and the Krasners, it was agreed that Gena is not going back to his house and is spending a night in the apartment of Lyubas girlfriend who had left town to visit her fiancee in Canada, and who left her keys for Lyuba to feed the cat. And as for me, the psychiatrist Krasner, I move for a day or two, until the crisis expires, to Lyubas and Irinas.
        The Krasners felt uneasy, and they hinted that after my release theyll buy another bottle of brandy - this time, a better one. Lyuba promised not to interfere with my work and walk in noise-proof slippers in the apartment. She also promised to reschedule her off-day tomorrow and go to the hotel, while Irina gladly volunteered to visit her classmate.
        I know your classmate! Gena retorted, angry more at the fate than at the classmate. Stay home!
        In the evening, surrounded by an idyllic family situation, sitting over a cup of Georgian tea, which my wife had provided me with for the time of my incarceration, and nibbling sugar cookies Yalta style that Lyuba had baked, I prescribed optimism for the Hindu newlyweds. I made it clear that optimism is borne out of that simple fact that tomorrow circumstances can not get any worse than today, and added to this recipe a series of moralistic but gay stories on the theme of the wedding night, topping it off with the most exciting Arab fairy tale from the One Thousand and One Nights.
        Later on, everything happened as if in a drunken stupor, especially as, besides the tea, my wife, that is not Lyuba Krasner, not the temporary one, but the real, that is the eternal wife from the temporarily abandoned home, returned through my new daughter, through Irina Krasner, a bottle of French brandy. She wanted to stress that during the times of disaster, decent people among immigrants are called to help one another without looking back at presents. Especially, at cheap ones.
        Since the Hindus, however, drank only tea, Lyuba and I drank the whole bottle ourselves - while we played the role of loving spouses - and in the alcoholic trance of transformation, our night, as we had anticipated, turned out to be not only espousal, but a wedding one as well, that is, decorated by intricate Arabic lace and the brightest Indian colors.
        Lyuba sneaked off to work before I woke up. At dawn, I dreamt of a burning giraffe, who behaved himself more extravagantly than in Dalis mysterious painting: first of all, he was lying naked, without a cover on a king-size bed in the middle of freezing Queens, and although he was flaming with the same blindingly-orange fire of Hell, he, keeping his eyes shut, pretended that he is unable to wake up. Secondly, he would not allow himself to moan from pain or cringe from the vile smell of scorching flesh. In addition, he realized that he was burning because of a shrill hangover and the deathly shame for the committed sin...
        Having been waken up, but still embarrassed to open my eyes, I started to pick out in my head the best justifications for my action and after long hesitations, stopped at the most obvious one: I - am not I, but Gena Krasner, who is married to Lyuba, and thats why I turned out to be in her bed - on my very own, Genas, territory.
        The infallibility of this excuse provided me with the strength to get up and proceed to the bathroom.
        But it didnt come to a hot shower. As soon as I accidentally remembered the nightly scenes - especially the last one, my flesh flamed up in a hilly flame of annihilating shame: no one, ever, among my noble tribe of Georgian patriarchal Jewry has ever behaved that way with his own wife, with the parent of his very own descendants! Suffocating in the flames, I turned on the blue faucet greedily - and that very instant, a shrill scream pierced out of my chest: my scorching flesh suddenly started to hiss under the icy stream and twisted from the unbearable pain.
        Irina tore into the bathroom, jerked the curtain aside, observing me from head to toe, smiled, and asked in a sing-song:
        Are you here for lo-o-ong?
        Im taking a shower, I mumbled and embarrassed, attempted to cover my groin, for which reason I threw both knees up simultaneously and tumbled down into the empty bathtub.
        Sho-o-we-er? Irina stretched out, continuing to smile. Without water? There cant be any shower without water!
        She was right: there cant be a shower without water, and the water was not running and I was dry...
        I came to after a long while - not before returning to the manuscript on Jewish wisdom that was waiting for me. I had to edit a chapter about the Remarkable Nazarene. I reread it and stroked off someone elses words: If Christ wishes to die for our sins, should we really disappoint him by not committing them?
        Then I recalled Irinas arrogant glance that was pinching me in the bathroom. All day long she gave me the same glance, which, as it turned out later, predicted the unexpected, although then, it seemed to me, that having guessed what had transpired between myself and her mother, the young woman was trying to find the right words to express her indignation.

        Gena called. He asked to tell his wife that her friend has quarreled with her fiancee and is returning to her cat, and he, Gena, has no idea where to go now.
        My wife called as well. She asked me whether these hard conditions slowed the free flow of my creative thinking. I answered calmly, but the still-hissing giraffe reacted differently to the question: it started flaming again and shuddered sacrificially. Hanging up, I decided that I was returning home as soon as Lyuba comes back from work.
        Something else took place: before she came, the Hindus, excited and exhilarated, tore into the apartment with a carafe of wine and delicacies. The son-in-law took me aside and, suffocating from pride, described the final scene of his yesterdays battle with both the demon of sexual uncertainty and his wife.
        As I expected it, Lyuba returned later than usual, in the midst of the feast, although Irina and I were the only ones partying nervously. In addition - besides the apparent reasons - we were nervous also because the Hindus were in no hurry to leave, gnawed on cashews, chattered away in Hindu, and awaited the arrival of new patients whom they recruited among the neighbors.
        Indeed, an illegal immigrant from Mexico announced himself, and started to complain not about the immigration authorities but about his mixed feelings for the daughter of his American fiancee.
        Then a North Korean came who was suffering from nostalgia for South Korea.
        I prescribed them all the same optimism, qualifying it now as the presence of spirit.
        Because of the exciting shame for yesterday and just as exciting a fear for today, Lyuba kept pouring herself Spanish wine from a full-bellied carafe. There was nothing to talk about: any word would have sounded silly. Finally alone, without Irina who went to her room, and without the guests that went home, we, without agreeing upon it, tore to visit a soap opera family on television, and avoiding each others glances giggled louder than the fictitious audience, who represent an indestructible class of hopeless idiots. Then, after having pretended that we are remembering the each name in the list of credits for the rest of our lives, Lyuba and I, again without exchanging a word, turned towards each other and started playing cards, mixing up the rules of one game with those of another. We played for a long time, until it became as deserted in the carafe as in the street behind the window. Then, once again without a word, we went from the living room to the bedroom - and the same thing as the day before happened, with the essential correction that it followed cheap red wine, not French brandy.
        The next morning, Irina was waiting for me at the bathroom entrance. Declaring that her heart belongs to the movie-star Travolta, she unexpectedly offered me the rest. Without waiting for my answer, she added, that she cant sleep for two nights in a row now and threatened to make my and Lyubas secret known, if the same secret does not tie myself and her.
        Grinding my temples and suffocating from the similar feelings told to me by the Mexican, I, suppressing the fear and excitement inside me, promised, in a business-like manner that the secret will transpire starting tomorrow, on Monday, when Lyuba will go to the hotel. Not being able to hide my curiosity, I asked the young girl several irrelevant questions and found out that she did not despise me, but on the contrary, respected me. And due to an unexpected reason, at that: from what she understood, I had never limited my own daughters freedom, who was her age, and even let her fly to Spain to visit her girlfriend.
        My folks - are pigs and monsters! Irina confessed: a week ago, she met a great Salvadoran, who looked like Travolta, but she didnt have time to give herself to him, because sniffing out her intention, Gena and Lyuba flew into a rage and locked their daughter in the apartment.
        They have me under arrest! Irina was indignant. And I cant live without freedom: I am young, I want every day to be a Sunday, not just on Sundays; I want a life that is only good, and not good and bad at the same time!
        Once finally in the bathroom, I locked the door behind me and lowering myself onto the toilet bowl, asked myself a long-time question: why is it that the nature needed to perfect people, myself, for example, to such a degree that they, myself again, for example, grow nauseous from their own uncleanliness - both moral and bodily?! Why is it that the dirtiest of all the roads - is the road to oneself?!
        Nevertheless, after a couple of minutes, reveling in the generosity of a warm and caressing shower, I recalled with relief an also long-time truth that I had affirmed: just like the majority of people, I, on the whole, am a decent person, and the road leading to me does not break off, but passes through my flesh and consciousness and proceeds further towards other people like me - not better.
        Well, lets suppose, some new characters had arisen along that road - the Krasners from Yalta.  I didnt arise on their road, they did - upon mine. Why should I, lets say, feel self-conscious in front of Gena? Everything is - if one thinks about me - very decent: I passed English for him; without this he would have never have become himself, an obstetrician-gynecologist, Gena Krasner; in exchange he loaned me himself for several days.
        Or, lets take Lyuba Krasner, the wife. In essence, everything is fine with her as well: after all, who am I, Gena Krasner to her, - am I not her lawful husband? And should I really worry: oh no, I am no Krasner, all of this is a farce; you are - you, that is a man, who temporarily is pretending to be him, Dr. Krasner. But what does it all mean, after all - I, not I? First of all, what is I? Is it not the same conditionality as not I or he? And it is not eternal or absolute - that conditionality, I mean! And is not everything around a breakable projection of our changing moods and thoughts?
        Indeed, if one thinks about it, this world is full of things that we tell apart from each other by giving each a conditional definition. It is enough to forget this definitions or consciously disregard them, it is enough to shuffle the words inside our heads - and the world, everything around, changes instantly!
        Words and definitions rule over the universe! Why is it, for instance, that I could not be called - and therefore be - Gena Krasner, and accordingly, sleep with Lyuba? The stately Hindu in a tussore tunic was not surprised - was he? - when he found out that I - is Gena Krasner. The others werent surprised, were they? And who in this world would have not believed it from the very beginning if I was not I, but Dr. Krasner? Everyone would have believed it, even myself!
        Indeed, everything with me is not worse than with other decent people! I am no worse, lets say, than my own wife, Lyuba Krasner. And what about Irina? Perhaps, her heart does belong to Travolta, but isnt everything else for strangers at her age? And who am I to her, if not a stranger? Because her mother, Lyuba, she is no wife of mine, is she? After all, I am not Gena, not Dr. Krasner, not the obstetrician, am I? And besides, I was not the one threatening, - she was; and very seriously at that! It is also clear that Irina decided on that because of her love for freedom, or out of her striving for rebelliousness, and if there is a rebel - then, there are unbearable conditions. And, according to my reasoning, it is a sin not to support rebelliousness in a human being, because in the end, as a result of smoothing its edges, this feeling provides the decisive shifts in history!
        Then I turned the faucet off, sighed deeply, looked into the mirror hanging from the sweaty shower stand, and seeing that my conscience is no longer tearing me apart, grew fond of myself and said: Not bad at all! Then, wiping the mirror with my hand and shifting it to the side, I observed myself in profile, as a result of which, I sensed the state of heavenly lightmindedness and recalled a thought of unknown origin which I had grown to like long time ago: the wisdom of a snake enslaves us, while the lightmindedness of God frees us.
        I was whistling a tune on my way out of the bathroom:
                Turning and swirling is the blue balloon,
                Turning and swirling right under the moon,
                Turning and swirling - nowhere to fall,
                Cover your dreams with a red and black shawl...

        That whole day we, the Krasner family, spent together. Each of us felt easier. I called my wife and said that it would not be such a bad idea to get Lyubas recipe for the Yalta-style cookies. I suggested to her to bake an experimental batch of the cookies even before my comeback. Lyuba, however, snatched the telephone out of my hands and swore to my wife that the recipe, indeed, is so simple that no test is required.
        Lyubas conversation with Gena, however, did not go as well. He called before I called my wife and first complained about the cat, who keeps growling at him after the arrival of its owner from Canada. Then he confessed to his wife that her friend is also very angry. Not at him, though, but at her Canadian fiance, whom she intends to punish in the form of seducing Gena to her bed.
        Dont you dare! - Lyuba squealed. She is a dissident! And she had gonorrhea!
        Then, why the hell did you kick me out to this place?! - Gena blurted.
        Because, Lyuba exclaimed again, I am always the one who has to take care of everything! And because you dont know the language, while decent people have to sit here instead of you only to be nice to us!
        All right, enough! Gena cried. Why the fuck did we come here in the first place?!
        But you were the one who dragged it upon your own ass! Lyuba squealed again and asked my forgiveness for the vulgarity of her language. Wasnt it you who drilled my brain about happiness and freedom?!
        Thats enough! Gena was in a rage. Lets just think of a way to get out of this fucking mess!
        However, no one in our happy family of Krasners had any intentions of getting out of it.

        One more week passed. I did not leave the apartment: during the day I kept working on my book of Jewish wisdom and satisfied Irinas passion for freedom, and in the evening, received patients, after which I temporarily revived Lyubas hopes for happiness, drowning along with her - just as temporarily - in the heavy Eastern melodies of Genas record collection and in the magical images of Arabic fairytales soaked in the caressingly viscous massage oil, which Lyuba, at the risk of loosing her job, stole from her deluxe suits in the hotel.
        My wife from the previous life behaved peacefully, because it was from her that I first heard about the universal therapeutic possibilities of optimism and the presence of spirit.
        With Gena, it was bit more difficult. One evening, when we, the Krasners, were having dinner with the new patients and our Hindus, Gena, enraged by vodka and jealousy, tumbled into the room with Lyubas friend, whom he introduced to the guests as a dissident and his wife. He was behaving wildly but Lyuba assured everyone that I was going to cure him: its just his first visit.
        I took Gena to the kitchen and reminded him that it would be reasonable on his part to limit himself until he gets the papers that he passed the English exam. Limiting meant keeping away from me - that is his own house, otherwise, I said, you wont see any local license.
        To the guests surprise, Gena calmed down: returned to the table and started drinking vodka in silence, which Lyubas friend kept pouring into his glass as insistently as Lyuba kept pouring it into mine. In addition, against the background of everyones laughter, the dissident asked the women present, including Lyuba, about sexual inclinations and passions of the husbands present, including me, - and against the background of her own laughter, she told about Genas. When there was no more vodka in the bottle, Gena suddenly cursed in a foul manner addressing all the states of America and banged his fist against an empty plate. The plate shattered to pieces, and blood burst out of the fist. Handing him a napkin, I ordered Gena to leave the premises. He started sobbing and left, but that night no one could sleep in the Krasner family.
        The next morning I went to the publishing house and spent all day there. On my way home, I decided to discuss with Lyuba and Irina some ways of peacefully getting out of this fucking farce: its time for each of us, I wanted to say, to return to our really own life...
        In the entrance I was squashing my head in my palms, not letting my mind to wander away from the polished sentences of the farewell monologue. Although I realized that the process of getting out of this situation - of any situation at that - should be a humorous one, practiced by people with the aim of disinfecting unpleasant truths, I was, nevertheless, overwhelmed by incomprehensible sadness of parting with the lecherous existence, a parting of a careless he-dog with careless bitches, from whom he is torn away precisely when the passions of the flesh become a condition for knowing the unpredictable knowledge of men. The sadness was especially deeper, as I realized that, first of all, I would have to part with my own self: another step back into my life meant returning to the real world - insulting with its blandness.
        Getting out of the elevator and stepping up to the plate with the name Gennadi Krasner, I, therefore, still did not know - what exactly to say to a strange woman by the name of Lyuba and her daughter, Irina. Perhaps, Ill utter something just as sad as I seemed to be to myself. Perhaps, Ill tell them that there is more justice in the stupor of passion than in the rules of life. All of us, people, live according to those rules - do we not?- and, alas, we do not live well. We try every day - do we not? - and yet we hardly manage...
        Or, vice versa, Ill say something light to them, as light - lighter than the world - as I seemed to myself now. Ill say that there was love between us, because love, as the gay poet said - is not a sorrowful moan of violins, but a screech of bedsprings. Or Ill say something that will be unclear to me myself, and therefore will allow not only to explain what went on, but keep an interest towards it. For example: the only way to express the limits of the possible - is, you know, to exit it and enter the limits of the impossible.
        Or, may be, I thought, I shouldnt say anything at all, because any words, and not only these - are never your own, but someone elses. Theyre someone elses, no ones experiences and guesses. Or even, may be, I just wont say anything to them. Ill take my blue notebook and books, look at them with a glance you have when youre not thinking of anything and leave. Just as simply and quietly, as simply and quietly all three of us lied - without descending to lying, but merely supercharging in ourselves the most delicate of pleasures: openness to self-deception. But is this luxury of silence accessible to me? Is it accessible to anyone at least? Or, perhaps, it is just as inaccessible as it was inaccessible for everyone not to be born? I got entangled, and as always in cases like this, felt that if I dont stop thinking - it would get worse.
        Shaking my head and throwing all the words out of it, I sighed deeply and poked my finger into the doorbell. They wouldnt open the door. Fearing a spiritual panic, I fell upon the doorbell with my fist and concentrated all my attention upon a rusty rattle of the doorbell behind the door, with every passing moment pushing on that button harder and harder. After several minutes, the doorbell burned out - and it became quiet. I had nothing to listen to now, and in the midst of the panic which now overwhelmed me, it suddenly became clear to me that I was not to see Lyuba and Irina again.
        This thought left me helpless, and, in my blurred despair, I started breaking in the door with my shoulder...
        Finally, the semi-naked Hindu, who now seemed less stately, stepped out of his apartment. Pitying me and getting confused, either due to the absence of tussore tunic upon him or due to some other higher reason, he informed me carefully that my family along with the dishes and medicine books was kidnapped by yesterdays patient with the cut fist. The son-in-law called the police, but as usual, it came too late, cursed at all the immigrants in general and didnt compile a report.
        Since then, I havent seen any of the Krasners, but I missed them often.
        Lyuba no longer appeared in the hotel. Anyway, even if she had not quit her job, she could not have come across my wife there, since that very day I insisted upon her return to the state of an unemployed ancient philologist.
        Eight years later, I read an announcement in a Russian newspaper congratulating the obstetrician-gynecologist Gena Krasner with his new position as an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Baltimore Memorial hospital. The announcement also said that he is writing a book on a curious topic: universal therapeutic possibilities of transformation.
        ...When, turning around in my seat, I glance after him, an amusing thought dawn upon me that my plane, indeed, is transforming into Brants ship of fools, packed with familiar weirdoes taking off for the foolish land of Narragonia. Well, so much the better, I thought, there will be something to kill time with on the way: after take-off, Ill go to the back compartment of the plane, to the past that is, to see weirdoes just as myself - to grow sad and to laugh, and together with them get ready for that which is still ahead.


        Here, I found an appropriate name! A Ship of Fools! I suddenly heard the voice of my neighbor, Professor Zhadov.
        Fools? I returned to him.
        Of course: now they demand that men should have the right to marry other men!
        All those liberals... Havent you been listening to me?
        Of course, I have; I just didnt hear the last phrase: its as noisy as at the carnival in Rio!
        Not anymore.
        May be, youre right... Ive never been to Rio.
        I dont mean that, Zhadov explained. Although I have been to Rio. I mean that there is no more noise on the plane. The boarding is over.
        So, they are the ship of fools then? I would not give in.
        Jane Fonda! said Zhadov.
        Not what, but who! Look: Jane Fonda!
        I threw my glance towards the entrance and - right: Jane Fonda!
        I looked her over for the second time: everythings in place - Fonda it is! All the right curves, and most importantly - the famous nipples, so artfully chiseled, that their basic intention, probably, was to protect the proclaimed flesh from vulgar stares. And so - this is Fonda, and as Gabriela promised, all the seats in the compartment were taken except one - between myself and Zhadov.
        The crew was fussing around her and tried to smile as mysteriously as the star herself. Gabriela stopped breathing. Other stewardesses ran to look at the star from the back compartments of the plane. They all were similarly ugly - and I thought that I would not teach any of them Russian language. Or even philosophy. The only one person in the crew who allowed himself to breath, unevenly though, was a stocky Italian in white shirt and a cap with a black cockade laced with gold: captain Bertinelli.
        Jane Fonda! Zhadov exclaimed in a whisper one more time.
        Thats correct, I answered in a blaze voice. And she will sit next to you, Professor!
        Please, this way! Gabrielas servile voice was heard above us.
        Zhadov jumped up as if he were scolded with hot water, so that the star should not change her mind about sitting next to him, and covered his bald spot with his palm:
        I am professor Zhadov!
        Fonda answered in a stuffed-up voice:
        I know: you are Professor Zhadov.
        You know me?! Zhadov was horrified. But you and I naturally came across somewhere, but for the life of me, I cant recall where!
        You and I never came across anywhere, Fonda assured him, and squeezed towards her seat.
        Still not trusting neither his hearing nor his vision, Zhadov bent down and carefully placed himself next to her. Fonda turned to me:
        Glad to see you!
        Off to Moscow? I answered. I mean, for a long time?
        Just for a day, and then - to Georgia, to the Abkhazian mountains. Youre from Georgia, arent you?
        The only growth that in accordance with some silly caprice of biology has not yet vanished from Zhadovs head, his sideburns, stood on end, from which I concluded that Gabriela has not warned him about the stars having the full information regarding her neighbors on the plane. By the way, even if she had not been informed, it would not have surprised me that she recognized me, because we were acquainted.

        ...In December of 81, Life magazine had published an article about me along with my Jewish photographs. Right away, they called me from Los Angeles and invited me to read a lecture about Jewish Russia. I agreed, because then I still considered that the apparachiks from the local Jewry, who got paid a salary for saving their Russian brothers stood out only because of their ignorance: much of what they announced to the city and the world about those brothers was a lie.
        Later on, however, I became convinced that they were lying not out of ignorance, but out of calculations. At first I was enraged, but then the rage transformed into despondency, and later still came indifference - when it becomes too much trouble to even say hello... Before Fonda appeared, the redhaired Jerry Gutman settled into his seat not far from me, the chairman of a New York committee on the Soviet Jewry. The scoundrel is flying to the Soviet Union to get some new brethren, I thought. Jerry himself wanted to lie that hes glad to see me, but fidgeting near my seat for a time, he just scratched his red eyebrows and scrammed...
        And so, until some time - while the charitable committees on saving the Russian Jewry invited me to read lectures about my native tribe - I would agree. I could not wait to inform them of what they, it seemed to me, did not know: in the majority of cases, your Russian brethren dream not about transplantation to Brooklyn with all their organs, but about implanting into their own homeland a thoroughly new windpipe.
        Thats how I ended up in L.A., where the local philanthropist, Phil Blazer had introduced me to Fonda, who, as it turned out, could not wait to become fast and good friends with some Jewish activist. The star, however, confessed to me that she was thirsting for a friendship with a woman activist, and on the condition that the latter should still be not from Georgia, but from Russia. She also explained to those present that Georgia is not to be confused it with the state of Georgia and announced to them that I came from the parts where they eat yogurt and therefore live - against their wish - for 120 years minimum. I remarked that, first of all, something like that does not happen anywhere, and second of all, it happens not in Georgia itself, but in the mountains of Abkhazia.
        Phil Blazer photographed us in close proximity and published the shots in the newspaper which he sent me to New York, and which, along with cut-outs about myself, I was now taking to Georgia - to show my friends who besides me is worried that they will not escape a long life if, God forbid, they switch from wine to yogurt...
        And after so many years, Fonda enters my plane, sits down just next to me and declares that she is heading toward Abkhazian mountains!

        Of course, I am from Georgia! I answered the actress, and, as it usually happens in the presence of exciting women, added an even dumber truth. I have always been from there! And you have an amazing memory!
        Are you joking? she asked in a stuffed up voice.
        No, just speculating. Although I tell stories better; by the way, do you want me to finish for you that tale? The one I started telling you at Blazer?
        At whose? she squinted.
        I decided that Blazer had fallen out of favor with her:
        I mean our meeting in L.A.
        The star threw a cautious glance at me, and it seemed to me, that she was fearing for her memory.
        One moment! I exclaimed, got my bag, and pulled out the page with our photograph onto her lap.
        Zhadov pinched his pince-nez to his nose and bent towards the newspaper, shuddering upon the famous knees. Fonda looked around at him, and swallowing saliva, said to me in someone elses voice:
        Do me a favor: lets switch seats...
        Zhadov understood that the stars have a habit of punishing for boorishness:
        Miss Fonda, I beg your forgiveness!
        Oh, no, Professor! I just want to sit by the window.
        We exchanged our seats, Fonda gave the paper back to me, bent my head towards hers and whispered in my ear:
        I am not Fonda. Be quiet, please! I am not Fonda at all. I am Jessica Fleming. Nothing to do with Fonda!
        What does that mean?! I was horrified. And they said: the star will come! Were they lying then?! And, what do you mean, nothing to do with Fonda? Look at yourself! Are you mocking me, is that it?
        Oh God, no! I told them the way it is: I, I told them, am not her, but I. But they think, that, no, I am not I, but her.
        Youre not her? So who are you?
        Jessica Fleming. Oh-oh! You mean...
        Yes! Who are you - not the actress? You even have not your kind of hairdo! That is - you have her hairdo!
        Do you give your word that youll keep it to yourself?
        Im from Georgia! I told you! Have always been!
        As far as Georgians are concerned, I probably know them better!
        What who? Better than who - or you mean who I know?
        Whom do you know?
        Lots of them. Do you know who Ilo Mamistvalov is, for instance? Jessica asked.
        Yes! He has this discount store on Orchard Street.
        Thats right! said Jessica. Mamistvalov - in Georgian, incidentally, it means Fathers Eye, right? And what about Otar Papismedov?
        Otar? He works with him, right? With the Fathers Eye?
        You know everyone! Jessica was delighted. Well, they are the ones sending me there; they paid for everything first class, plus five thousand dollars!
        I dont understand! I did not understand. How do you know them?
        Theyre my clients!
        You mean, vice versa, you are their client, right?
        No, they are my clients! By the way, I dont know what Papismedov means in Georgian - and she caressed her hairdo.
        It means Grandfarhers Hope. But they both are bald! I could not believe her.
        What does that have to do with anything? she was surprised.
        Well, they dont need a hairdresser.
        I am not a hairdresser... Never have been...
        No? I thought I heard you say you were. I mean, it seemed that way.
        I did not say that.
        Thats right. My fault. So, youre not a hairdresser? I thought that because you touched your hair. And who are you?
        A prostitute. I always touch my hair. Always!
        Pardon me, who?
        A prostitute, a slut.
        I dont get it. A slut? Did I get it right?
        Yeah, you got it right...
        Yeah? From where?
        Well, originally - from Baltimore, but now, I live in New York. Or do you mean the name of the agency? Yeah?
        I was quiet.
        Our agency, by the way, has a funny name: Stars at your legs and between them. They dont just hire everyone there, but special cases, I mean, not special, but everyone that looks like someone and is ready to delight all kinds of clients fucked up in their heads, pardon me, I mean, all kinds of nuts. Well, not all kinds, but those that pay well.
        Yeah? I was dumbfounded. You say - well? Is it so?
        Yes, it is. Always well. They are not nuts... They just have money, but they know that Fonda is not going to even spit at them - and so, they call me. Thats how they get off. Its called a reflectory transformation!
        Im asking about Fathers Eye and about Hope... Grandfathers Hope, I mean... Why do they need to send you off to Abkhazia?
        They are from there originally! Dont you know?
        So? I still didnt get it.
        What do you mean so?! Arent you a Georgian?! You probably know Georgians not worse than I do! Can you imagine what it means for a Georgian: to send a major superstar so that she serves his former friends! Of course, you can imagine what that means for a Georgian! Otar says - thats what life is! Not more and not less! And Ilo said: more! He said, its much, much more than life, because life is a fucking nonsense, pardon me - a nothing! Especially, they are planning to go there soon themselves, in a month. They want everyone to fall into their feet: here, look, Ilo and Otar left here as kikes, but returned as kings! And who did they send before they came - a major superstar! That means, she respects them if she comes to Abkhazia to inform of Ilos and Otars arrival! And not just to inform, but, you know... what! I am not going to say anymore bad words! She really has to respect them to come to Abkhazia and ... You understand! And also they are planning to export yogurt!
        And so, youre going there as Fonda?
        Because nobody but her - thats what Otar says - nobody but Fonda can convince the Abkhazian dairy minister to sell them yogurt. Otar says - its a multi-million dollar deal - even the Japanese want to export it! But the minister, you see, loves Fonda very much! I mean, me! Whats that called by the way - dairy minister?
        I started laughing. Then I was indignant. Finally, I laughed again, and said confusedly:
        And do you really need that? Five thousand - is not so much money... to go alone... to Abkhazia!
        Thats not only it. First of all, my clients, you know, only lie to themselves that I am Fonda - and that makes them happy. But they always treat me as if I were not Fonda, but as if I were who I am, some Jessica from Baltimore. Second of all, you know, Ive never been anywhere: Baltimore and New York. Third, five thousand - is money for me. Fourth, I like Georgians, you see, really! Kill me if you want, but I like them! May be, Ill meet someone there... Some Georgian man; I have never been married, and no one ever loved me, and Georgians, apparently know how... Otar, for example! He knows how, but you know, hes married. Although, that doesnt matter, hes still very good! And Im almost forty, you know... So! And theres also fifth...
        I was quiet.
        Let me tell you whats the fifth! Fifth, if I had not agreed to go, you and I, for instance, would have never met, right? And you are, probably, an interesting person: you know Fonda! I would give a lot to meet her! And really! Why are you quiet suddenly?
        I am not quiet, I justified myself, I am thinking...
        Well, I love that - when people suddenly think, Jessica said. When people think they find out everything better.
        Think about what? I did not understand.
        Thats not important! People look differently when theyre thinking... Absolutely everyone! They look good! And you can think about anything, but its better to think about love; I think about love most often, and I think that people who love someone dont need anything else and dont miss anything. So, I tell Otar: enough about yogurt, think about love! But you can think about everything, right?
        I agreed, remarking to myself, that sweet air came from her mouth along with the words brushing against my ear.
        And you, for example, what are you thinking about now?
        I am not thinking, I said. I just thought that its all - like in a movie!
        But thats how it is, by the way, - in life nothing is like in life, but - like in a movie!
        You put that well! I said.
        Really? Jessica doubted, but then got excited again. For me, you know, its important if someone urges me onto a thought... Because, I myself never know what else to think about except love... But if someone helps me, you know... But really, isnt it just like in a movie? So, here I am, you and I got to know each other very much somehow: a man and a woman, right? And we have common acquaintances... What else? and she looked around. And this professor, right? He is also probably thinking, but hes nervous. Right? A plane, people meet, think, everyones heart is beating, and everyone is probably nervous, right? And everyone is waiting for something in life, right? And there are probably those who have love in their hearts, and, may be, they are not nervous... Or may be, they are still nervous? And then the headings come on and the plane goes up into the air! Right?
        Right! I did not understand.
        And the professor, he really is nervous, isnt he?
        I turned towards Zhadov. He sat there as if bewitched. My whispering with Fonda - Jessica, that is - had evoked in him an overexcitement of nerves, as a result of which, Zhadovs left half of the lip shuddered feverishly. At last, he took off his pince-nez, smiled at no one and said to me in a whisper for some reason, as if he were afraid that the star might leave the plane:
        I think were taking off, right?
        Right it was: we were taking off, and bending over to Jessica once again, I - instinctively - informed her of this in a whisper. Jessica, like myself, did not understand why I told her that in a whisper and whispered herself:
        Yes! And what are we going to do?
        Keep quiet and think that were taking off. But mainly - keep quiet!


        First, as usually during takeoffs, I became horrified that I was voluntarily participating in an anti-natural act - that of distancing myself from the earth, moving across the air and accelerating life. As always, I recalled that a plane is a wondrous thing, at which people have stopped to wonder, but as always, I reminded myself that simpler miracles in reality are much more wondrous.
        Knowing where thousand horse powers come from in a plane, no one yet understands where the one and only horse power comes from in a simple, non-flying horse. I was still more surprised by the flying horse in the Elijah-the-prophets chariot. Life, I explained to myself, is full of signs promising some revelation. These signs attract attention with unnaturalness - and I always considered the absolute physical resemblance of two people to be such a sign. I often tortured my head over this miracle, because sometimes it seems that if you make one more effort - it will be possible to crack the shell into which God hid the secret mystery.
        Looking at Jessica, and being in a shock over her complete resemblance to Fonda, I, like many times before, only guessed that it is not without reason that the nature plays such tricks - not only because it wants to instill in us that a man is not alone in this universe, and that everyone has, had, and will have his own double. It was something else that was surprising. Even if Jessica were in reality that very superstar, who years later after our random conversation about some remote Abkhazia sat next to me and declared that she is flying to the Abkhazian mountains - that would have shocked me less than the reality.
        Over dinner, at Blazer, I told Fonda about a stupid Georgian, Jean Gashia, whom the Moscow authorities, in their own stupidity, had arrested for anti-Russian propaganda, although, the very next morning, they did exchange him for equally as small London provacator, who had come to Abkhazia upon the urge of his capricious, Abkhazian wife, and who was arrested there on the tea plantation Great Writer Gulia during his anti-Georgian speech.
        Upon his arrival to New York, Gashia announced that he is a descendant of Mingrelian dukes and a fertile historian of antiquity. When someone dared to hint that his last name is not on Parisian list of Georgian blue-bloods, Gashia objected that the list was not a dependable one, since it is compiled by the Parisian Gurians, who hate Parisian Mingrelians. In addition, he added that if no one had come across his name among the historical publications, that also, has a simple explanation: he does not condescend to official press and as for his compositions - he keeps them in his head.
        In the beginning, I explained to Fonda, Americans showed some interest towards him, because his name was once mentioned in the seventeenth volume of a book of registered Soviet dissidents. The reason - stupid and simple - it was mentioned there was that Jean happened to be the only Georgian among so-called Soviet martyrs. Interest towards him vanished with an offending, that is American, speed, about which, being a historian of antiquity, Gashia hadnt the slightest idea, and therefore, he got offended. At some level, he himself was to blame: his patriotic announcements exhaled such an unexplainable hatred for the Russians, that it made the local educators fear about the possibility of the local audience suddenly surmising that patriotism is a form of hatred and the readiness to kill either out of the vilest of considerations, or - out of absence of any of them.
        Along with the interest for his person, Gashia was stripped of income, and he asked help from the New York Georgian Association, which mainly consisted of World War Two deserters. The most successful of them all was a former junior sergeant in the Red Army and a former Nazi infantry man Appolon Darateli, who, as a sign of respect for both of these achievements, was chosen to be the chairman for life. During the last three decades only the never-graduated psychiatrist Gontsadze had joined the Association. He was also the one that started the campaign to save Jean Gashia from financial and personal doom.
        They helped Jean to get a job as an elevator man in the Pierre hotel, but soon he was kicked out of there for drunkenness, especially as he was popping Russian vodka. Appolon Darateli got him a job in a more modest hotel, but they kicked him out of there as well. The Association started to worry and called a meeting, during which, they informed Jean that his uncontrollable drinking habits create a distorted image of a Georgian rebel. Jean rebelled and accused the Association of treason: all you do, he said to them, is just that you sit and fart among these scented and stupid Yankees, while your homeland is wailing under the Russian boot! Shouting off the top of his lungs he switched to curses addressed for the greedy imperialist Uncle Sam, who, having a secret agreement with the Kremlin, doesnt even move a finger to ease the lot of the Georgian people.
        Blackmail, Darateli started defending America, how do you know, he said, that local imperialists dont give a damn for Georgia? Because, Gashia answered, and pulled a flat Smirnoff out of his pocket, because I had sent thousand copies of invocations to financially help Georgia, but no one even budged!
        Gulping down the third of the Smirnoff, he added grimly: there, I was fighting for justice and freedom, and here, they spit into my eyes and refuse giving the money! At that, he popped another third of the Smirnoff.
        Silence reigned. In the corner of the room the wallclock, taken out of the Soviet Union, was ticking as if frightened. A greedy tear of a former rebel rolled down Jeans cheek. Then, he emptied the bottle, got up from the chair, mumbled that he is going to shoot himself, and slammed the door.
        Hell definitely shoot himself! assured the never-graduated psychiatrist Gontsadze. Its a typical syndrome of a former rebel: they always want to destroy, but when surrounded by freedom, they dont know what to destroy! Gontsadze thought and added. May be freedom is bad for them, who knows? Because, really, what is freedom? Its a desire to be free, but after getting this freedom, you see, they are lost... Because... and here he stumbled, because due to his unfinished education, he did not understand to the end why former rebels suddenly lose any taste for freedom when they become free.
        As for Appolon Darateli, he looked at his compatriots scarily and uttered in the similar sort of a confusion:
        Yes, he will shoot himself! Youll say: well, then fuck him, let him shoot himself, but Ill ask you - how many real Georgians are here? Just a tiny bunch! Because Georgians - are not Jews, and not even Armenians, but Georgians, and we dont survive in a foreign land. We must do something!
        And they did. The Association - all 44 old men, plus the never-graduated psychiatrist Gontsadze - consisted of people, neither of whom, by his own self, was capable of doing anything, but together, they would manage to agree, that it is impossible to do anything about this or that matter. This time, the old men outdid themselves and sent off Darateli with Gontsadze to the not-real, Jewish Georgians - to the synagogue on Yellowstone.
        The chairman of the Union of the not-real Georgians - more than fifteen hundred emigres, who had resettled to Queens from Petkhain and Israel in the late 70s - was a refugee, who due to his ineradicable suspicion of big groups of refugees, did not deserve that post. On the other hand, I did not deserve a heart condition either, and therefore, rocking in the chairmans armchair in the synagogue building, I did not feel any twinges of conscience.
        Closing the doors of my office located behind the closet with the scrolls of Torah, Darateli declared, that none of the members of his Association ever offended the Jews during serving Hitler. Then, he reminded me there are not too many Jews or Georgians on the universal scale, and therefore, we must take care of each other. Finally, he announced that the Association wishes to get $5,000 from the synagogue for an important patriotic action: the fighter of all-Georgian rights, Gashia, is in need of psychiatric help.
        And what does money have to do with it? - I was surprised.
        It was Gontsadze that answered: the money will have to be given out not to the fighter himself, but to a fragile lady, whose task it will be to drag him out of the state of sharp deprivation of self-importance. The fragile lady will return to him the sense of importance not only of his own person, but of his historic mission as well.
        Who is she, another never-graduated psychiatrist? - I asked.
        It turned out that the fragile lady was an ordinary whore, who differed from others by the fact that neither her physical appearance, nor her voice, at all differed from that of the actress Jane Fonda.
        Five thousand - thats a lot of money! Darateli generalized. But isnt a life of a patriot worth more?
        I had difficulty answering that question, but the members of the synagogue board of elders whom I had called to help me out, answered in such a way that I had to write a check for the sought sum.
        The next morning there was a telephone call in Gashias apartment, and a voice, familiar from movies, began by asking him to keep all that is going on in strictest confidence.
        Fonda?! Gashia exclaimed in a broken English.

        The voice called him three times a day, and he wrote it poems in a guttural vernacular and read them by heart into the receiver. The voice was enraptured by the imagery of the Georgian language and expressed its readiness to learn it. A week later, I told Fonda, they finally met - Gashia and the owner of the voice - and an hour later, observing her body with invincible nipples in the shower, Gashia demanded that she should get a divorce...
        Invincible nipples? Fonda smirked. Youve seen her also?
        Yes, but not naked. Nakedness hides the most important; as a child, I even believed that it is disgusting. Thats what my singing teacher kept telling me: if God, she used to say, liked nakedness, He would have created people naked.
        And why the singing teacher? she did not understand.
        She was the first one whom I asked to see naked as a child; but she had a huge rear end, and being ashamed of it, she ascribed her own idea to God.
        And how did this all end? Fonda asked in a suspicious tone.
        The teacher complained to my mother.
        I meant the wanton woman.
        The teacher, by the way, was also a wanton woman, but if you mean the American, she just scrammed. When Gashia demanded that she should get a divorce, she got frightened and scrammed.
        A silly fantasy! the actress sniffed scornfully and suggested that I should immediately write a film script.
         I decided to dramatize reality and responded that, unfortunately, I told her the truth. Why unfortunately, she was surprised. Because, I answered gladly, imagination is more necessary for a man than truth.
        Then I asked her to listen to me and announced that life, as it is, humiliates a human being, for it alienates him from everything human. In order to survive, we, against our will, regard a human being as a means, and thats why, our life is the alienation from the human. In other words, it is nothing but dying. Everything that we do to survive is calculated for a comfortable existence in the world of truth, which alienates us from ourselves. What brings us back, by letting us win over all thats lost, is imagination. Fantasy - is a compensation for sacrifices, which are required by the necessity to survive in the world of truth. It was recently proved, for example, that the right half of the brain, which gives birth to fantasy, is much more vital to us than the left one, which does not reinvent the world, but analyses it.
        Our psyche, I said to her, is in perpetual need of passionate fantasies which insult life! Having read about this discovery, I thought that if the scientists could only prove my other childish silliness, I would leave this world convinced of my own normalcy. And this silliness comes down to the fact that since the soul is more multi-faceted than the body, since one body per soul is too little - our having many bodies is absolutely conceivable. And why - why is it inconceivable that the body should not only know how to move through time and space with the ease and the speed of a thought, but also exist in different spaces and different situations at the same time? By knowing this, it is possible to experience arrival and immobility at the same time, exodus and slavery, leaving one woman for another and not-leaving her, arrival into the new and faithfulness for the old, imagination and truth. And this would have been good, for the point is not that we dont know where the truth is, but that it is everywhere.
        Yes, I nodded, thank you, I would like it very much to write that uninvented story down, in other words - transform it into an invention. And we agreed that the film will be a comedy of errors. Furthermore, I managed to insist that the double, as life had it, should be a prostitute - a profession, which like that of an actors - comes down to self-renunciation. Fonda, in her own turn, demanded to get rid of the dissident theme, since, unlike silliness, that theme is not yet acclimatized in American art.
        Jean is as good as dead! - I agreed, but she remarked, that the Russian motif, incidentally, render exotic savor, since a stupid audience looks for something new in art.
        I agreed: And what if the Association sends the prostitute not just to Russia, but to Georgia, and not just there, but - and this is new - to Abkhazia?
        And now, in a Boeing, on the way to the sky, staring at Jessica Fleming from Baltimore flying to Abkhazia, I, as many times before, was attempting to comprehend the incomprehensible: in the beginning, there was a thought, and life is just a mirage, which a head produces for its own comfort....

        I felt crowded. My body shuddered with repulsion for the seatbelt. Unfastening it, I stretched out in the seat and drew out my shoulders.
        To the left, in the window behind the prostitutes head, Manhattan skyscrapers, which usually frightened with their arrogance, were diminishing in sight and rocking. Now, they seemed vulnerable, like pieces of clay for children. Energy, capable of wounding reality, came pouring out of the sleeping cells in my body. There arose a sensation that reality is complaisant, like a woman thrilled with the anticipation of a love-attack.
        Then I was consumed by self-anger. I remembered a thought, which, alas, came to me rarely throughout all these years in America:  I should never subside myself to reality, I should thrust myself upon it! I thought that all this time I had been living a vile life, attempting to understand new people, to get accustomed to their holidays, squeeze my way in to their crazy rows, and in the end, as it is a custom with them, vanish delicately.
        Although, as it also rarely seemed to me, this was the reason I left home for America - to transform myself into a homeless dog amidst someone elses carnival - a thirst for creation of the world arose inside of me. I wanted the plane to make a U-turn, towards New York, so that I should continue my life from that moment when I arrived there from L.A. with an order to write down the silly tale. The only thing that kept me from asking Bertinelli to turn back consisted of the fact that yesterdays fairytale was sitting next to me - in the image of a New York prostitute.
        Then, I sensed that something was on my crotch underneath my palm. I turned around and saw Gabriela, bending towards me across Zhadov and holding on to the right half of my belt.
        Pardon me that I am jerking at you but otherwise, you dont hear! the stewardess smiled. I keep calling you, but you just stare into the window. I even feel uncomfortable before professor Zhadov, I am probably bothering him a lot, excuse me once more, Professor Zhadov, for probably bothering you a lot!
        Not at all, no bother at all! exclaimed Zhadov, who left no doubts that the stewardesss hip clinging to his knee, plus her neck covered with fluff did not inconvenience him in any way. On the contrary, Gabriela, you have such very wonderful perfume on! I remember that smell from Rio!
        That smell is not from Rio! I gnawed at Zhadov. Thats a Moscow perfume Red Poppy. Gabriela herself must be from Rio, because only there do they jerk people by their belts! And thats why Ive never been there! They only send people there by force, to Rio! And also, to Abkhazia!  and I turned towards the stewardess. What can I do for you, Gabriela?
        You unfastened your belt on purpose! she complained. And you heard me very wonderfully, you just made belief that you didnt.
        You cant say very wonderfully! I kept on being angry.
        And why not? Gabriela got offended. Professor just said: such very wonderful perfume!
        Professor made a stupid error! I declared.
        Gabriela raised her chest in a sigh and uttered:
        Fasten your seatbelt, please, the take-off is not over yet. You see: Fasten Seatbelts? Look!
        I looked at her chest and pulled the belt towards myself:
        I am not going to! Its too tight!
        What do you mean?! Gabriela was surprised and darted her glance towards Jessica. Everyone around you is sitting with their seatbelts fastened. Even everyone!
        Gabriela! I repeated. I dont need a seatbelt!
        Everyone needs it! It helps to hold in case...
        In what case?
        For example, during sharp breaks. It guarantees that a passenger will stay in his seat and, God forbid, wont fly out anywhere.
        I am not planning to fly out anywhere! I became enraged.
        It usually happens against your will, Zhadov interfered.
        Nothing else is going to happen against my will! I blurted out. Everything with me is going to be like a long time ago! Before the exodus!
        There he goes again! I heard from behind the most disgusting falsetto of the redheaded Gutman, the savior of the Russian Jewry. Fasten your stupid seatbelt to the seat!
        Jerry! I roared, without turning around. Why dont you fasten your stinking tongue before I rip it it out again!
        Jerry took advantage of the advice, but in exchange, I heard another voice - one that was thoroughly cared for. It belonged to the owner of the nearest seat at the right side of the compartment - a grey-haired man of stately, non-Semitic, physique.
        The face caressed by the sun and sporting a romantic scar was rendered additional polish by smoky eyeglasses rimmed by aged gold.
        Lower was a tie the color of Dutch chocolate.
        Under it - a silk shirt, resembling a cream-colored pastel of the Florida sunsets.
        Over the shirt - a camel-hair tweed jacket, carefully parted at the stomach.
        Under the jacket - the trousers the color of choice burgundy grapes.
        And under the trousers - lacquered boots made of crocodile skin, which reflected the red letters of the shining sign Fasten Seatbelts.
        Young man, the man uttered, but fixed his eyes at Jessica, allow me to share my experience. Do you see the scar on my face? Disgusting, right?
        Of course not! Jessica answered, since, practically, he was addressing her, and Gabriela supported her.
        I thank you! he smiled and cleared his throat. Some even say that its romantic!
        I think, youre the one whos right, I said.
        Well, anyway, young man, do you know how I got it?
        I do: you did not fasten your seatbelt, I helped him out.
        Precisely! I didnt have time: I bought this Ferrari, and Im rolling around in it in my own forest in Westchester county and Im thinking: whats the use of fastening the seatbelt for just a couple of minutes?! But as people say, we suppose, and God disposes; not God, of course, but fate, I dont believe in God, I mean, I dont believe in the primitive, mass image of God; God is something else, you know! And so, fate, alas, disposed differently, and fate, as people say, is a capricious woman! Yeas, all of a sudden, I had to push on the breaks: a tree tank! And there you have it, I went hitting my forehead into the windshield! And as people say, a real pal, was sitting next to me. You know him, Miss Fonda! he kept staring at Jessica. Mr. Paul Newman! Hell with me, I thought, who needs me in the world of pure art! I was afraid for Paul! He is, honestly, a genuine artist! And a kindest soul! Am I right, Ms. Fonda?
        Then he pulled out a pink business card from a malachite colored wallet and asked Gabriela to hand it to Jessica.
        So, what happened to Newman? they got worried in the back.
        Paul is a smart guy! he threw over his shoulder. Naturally, he buckled up: a habit! - and no scar... Life - is a complex thing, sometimes you have to push on the breaks sharply and - if youre not buckled up - fly out of the seat!
        When a plane is in the air, I reasoned, the only thing that can make it push on the breaks is an oncoming mountain. You and I, however, are going to be flying over the ocean, and its too far from the Abkhazian mountains. And in case of a collision with a mountain - God forbid, although I, too, believe in fate more than in God - you wont be able to escape scars!
        O, my God! wailed out an old woman sitting in front of me with the face caked with powder. What are they talking about?! Fasten him to the seat! If something happens - hell land on top of me, and, you see, I have a bad liver!
        Just fasten your seatbelt, for Gods sake! Gabriela prayed.
        No seatbelts! I cut off and turned to the window.
        Ill have to call Bertinelli! she said capriciously.
        Call, call the captain already! Jerrys voice returned, and the whole First class hooted in approval.
        Gabriela waved her strong hips decisively, turned around, and went towards the captains booth, leaving behind herself an aromatic cloud of Red Poppy to Zhadovs pleasure.
        You are, of course, angry at me, Jessica whispered. You know, because Im not Fonda, but a prostitute... What use am I here for you?
        Im angry with myself. And you are interesting to me. Because you dont want to be yourself.
        That, by the way, is impossible - to stop being yourself! Jessica said. Look! and raising her purse sneakily from her knees, she showed me the unfastened seatbelt. I dont like tightness either!
        I laughed.
        You see, I made you laugh. Do you want more? That hag to the right was talking about a windshield, remember? Heres a riddle for you: a Ferrari is tearing along with the speed of light, and a mosquito is flying in the opposite direction - right into the windshield! And theres a crash! Tell me - what flashes by in the mosquitos brain at the very last instant? Can you imagine?
        I can: The most important thing is that Newman should not be flying nearby!
        Wrong! The last thing that flashes by in the mosquito head is his ass! Think about it!
        I thought, burst out laughing, and told her:
        And do you know what just flashed by in my own head? That in addition to everything, I like you as well! and catching the glance of the Ferrari owner, I added: And not only I!
        Dont compare yourself with that old goat!
        Why, do you know him?
        Thats Melvin Stone from Melvin Stone and Melvin Stone. He knows me too, he just doesnt realize it.
        A client? I calculated.
        From a long time ago. Just when I was starting out, Jessica whispered and raised her glance at Bertinelli hanging over us. You want to say something to us, Captain?
        Nervous, the captain stepped on Zhadovs foot, but it was not him whom he asked for forgiveness.
        First of all, Id like to ask your forgiveness for this hustle, he said to Jessica. Believe me, things like this dont happen often to us. Perhaps, youd like to change your seat, Miss Fonda?
        Absolutely not!
        You see, Bertinelli addressed me, you have such a considerate neighbor, and you are refusing to buckle up! May be, she feels crowded too, but shes not making a fuss, although we all know that she knows how to! A rule, my dear, is a rule!
        I have my own rule! I answered. If you dont like it - turn around and let me get off in New York!
        Also absolutely not! Jessica demanded.
        No, Im not turning around, Bertinelli calmed her down and addressed me. But Ill have to write out a fine for you! Three hundred dollars!
        Thats a lot, I agreed.
        Im paying! Jessica exclaimed and put her hand on my shoulder. Please dont refuse!
        Jane, please let me do this instead! Melvin Stone interrupted. Please, dont refuse!
        Of course! Jessica nodded. I never refuse the real gentlemen - when they pay!
        Let him pay himself! Jerry squeaked. And let him buckle up!
        The First class - out of respect for the movie star - did not support him this time. There was an uneasy pause.
        Why is everyone quiet?! Jerry grew indignant.
        Zhadov spoke up:
        I cant be quiet any longer! This is beyond my powers! he exploded. After all, how long can I take this?!
        Get a hold of yourself, young man! Stones velvety voice objected to him. So, whats a big deal, a passenger does not want to fasten a stupid seatbelt! Besides, here they are of no use: there are no mountains, not even tree trunks in the air!
        What do seatbelts have to do with it?! Zhadov was enraged. Try getting hold of yourself when captains are standing on your foot!
        Oh, no! Is that your foot?! Bertinelli grew pale. And Im such a fool, Im standing here and thinking: whats that jerking beneath my leg? Thousand apologies, Professor! Hundred thousand!
        Still growing pale, the captain turned around and vanished.
        Zhadov turned towards Jessica an me and muttered:
        God damned Italian! Spaghetti man! And whats more, hes giving out fines! And all this - in a free country!
        Were not in a country, were in the air! Gutman corrected him.
        This air belongs to a free country! And hes giving out fines! Because a man does not want to be tied down! This is not Roman Empire for you! And this is not yet Russia!
        The First class hooted approvingly: as if to say, thats not yet Russia for him! All the forbidding signs went out in the background of a united hooting of the first-classers. Behind the window, miniature clouds parted complaisantly, and the disc of the sun rocked inside them. Suddenly, everything became spacious and light. I pulled out a Marlboro box, similar to that which was lying around not long ago on the concrete landing, and turned my head towards the window. Blue-white space lay to the left - habitual like bleached jeans.
        I closed my eyes, and noticed that the clouds I was observing resemble lonely, unconnected ancient figures from hazy legends: the tall salt pillars from the Biblical myth, the sad snowwomen from the winter talked of long ago; and from the movies - fluffy hats of the atomic mushrooms on thin little legs, which no longer frightened anyone but, vice versa, instilled the sensation of recognizability of existence. The space high above the earth froze still in the mysterious, but long-familiar symbols.


        ...When I woke up, behind the lower edge of the window a Boeing flashed by in the clouds and vanished from sight. It was flying in the opposite direction, to the States, and from a distance, it looked trivial, like an aluminum cigar-case. I found it hard to believe that the case was stuffed with grown people. I felt sorry for myself, not as I am now, - but as I was then, on my way to New York. I recalled sensations which at the time seemed solemn and significant. I did not realize that while still on the way, I looked like nothing but ridiculous. Worse than that: I looked like nothing at all. I was not even visible from inside the case.
        Time was aging rapidly. Three hours ago, in New York, it was only beginning to dawn but now, the day in the sky was preparing for the sunset. In the elapsed time, there elapsed more time than usually elapses in three hours. The sun had slipped behind the tail of the plane, and enveloped its wing, shuddering in the sapphire space behind the window, in copper.
        Poking my forehead into the cool window, I sensed a temptation to return into the blue world in front of me - a temptation, I became familiar with much longer before I had first found myself amidst the skies. The desire to plunge into this viscous blueness was familiar to me as well. Everything around was blue: blue mixed with the slow sky-blue, the sapphire condensation of the cooling spots and the turquoise complaisance of the liquid glass, the soundless fermentation of the color within itself, and the anxious surmise about the non-existence of everything except for the blueness flowing in from nowhere - from itself, into nowhere, into its own self, and shimmering in the creeping goldenness of the melted sun. A feeling, which in reality I had never experienced, was resurrected in my memory: I felt that the stillness of the color is beginning to gradually bind me as well, and somehow, I am resisting the sweet sensation that Id dissolve in it and cease contemplating this blueness.
        As usual, the stewardess interrupted. Professor Zhadov, inebriated by the chance to entertain a movie-star, and the star herself, Jessica Fleming, accordingly inebriated by the all-around love, were still sitting next to me. Bending over them, Gabriela pulled at me, and held out a pair of headphones in a plastic bag.
        And what am I supposed to do with this?
        Pull them over your ears, and insert them into a socket under your armrest, Gabriela sighed. You could do that in the opposite order as well: first, insert - and then, pull over... Were going to show a movie.
        And why would I need this? I asked. A movie should be watched, not heard.
        Its much more interesting to watch when youre hearing it.
        Because. Its impossible to understand the heroes without a sound.
        Then, how did they understand them in soundless films?
        Heroes acted in soundless films, but today they talk!
        Of course! rejoiced Zhadov. His head was jerked back and he was trying not to breath too deeply, so that when he exhaled, he should not cause any discomfort with his thorax to the similar thorax situated in the person of the stewardess bending over him. Then, they used to act, and now - you are very right, Gabriela - now, the word is it!
        But isnt a word already a deed? I said.
        Thats Tolstoy! Zhadov wasnt moving.
        The writer? Gabriela was shocked. Is he here too?
        It is a deed, agreed Zhadov, not daring to nod in the tight space. Tolstoy, pardon me, Gabriela, is not here, but he believed that a word is a deed.
        Then why is it necessary to hear? You watch a deed, you dont hear it, right? I declared.
        Right, but I still think that its better to be able to hear! the stewardess interceded.
        Absolutely right! Zhadov confirmed. Understanding requires hearing, and the women glanced at him with adoration.
        I categorically state that seeing is the only condition of understanding! I declared.
        While I was asleep, Zhadov, apparently, had managed to win the favors of the women. The latter bestowed upon him glances full of hope that because of them he would, indeed, declare a war against me. Their calculation turned out to be correct, for women know that sexual insecurity dooms men to perform noble acts.
        Quad gratis asseritur, gratis negatur! Zhadov solemnly pushed out of himself and gave his baldspot a nervous stroke. Whatever is asserted without any proof, is also negated without any proof!
        This phrase enraptured not only Gabriela and Jessica, but yet another woman - the tiny one with the bad liver, the very same one, who was sitting in the front of me, and, together with everyone else, demanded that I immediately fasten my seatbelt, so as not to fly out and squash her in case of a catastrophe.
        Quad gratis asseritur! How wonderful! the old woman exclaimed. Latin is so becoming to men!
        A red wart nested between the vanished eyebrows on her face. As for its lower part, her lips included, I could not discern it, due to a reason which granted me additional joy: it was blocked from my view by the tight silk sack squeezing the stewardess right breast.
        And youre talking nonsense! the woman turned towards me. And besides, - gratis, exactly! - without any proof!
        No, madam! I got offended. The wisdom of generations is at my side, you see! All the civilized tribes, madam, utter one and the same phrase when theyre attempting to say that they realized something. They say: I see! and I victoriously looked around. Seeing is understanding, ladies and gentlemen! I, myself, just said a moment ago: You see? What I really meant was: Do you understand?
        What I had just uttered instilled confidence in me, and I added:
        Quad erat demonstrandum, although, of course, manifestum non eget probatione! Translation: what needed to be proved, although the obvious needs no proof!
        Gabriela and Jessica reacted similarly: they straightened up and exchanged glances. As soon as the stewardess removed her body from under professor Zhadovs nose - he inhaled greedily.
        Miss Fonda! he turned towards Fleming. With all due respect that I have for you, and for you as well, Gabriela, both of you are wrong, if you believe that he convinced you, and he nodded in my direction. He says that seeing is understanding, and once again he avoided mentioning me by name. But, just think, how did he convince you?! With words! As you see, it is precisely hearing that is necessary for understanding. He is wrong!
        Of course, hes wrong! the Red Wart nodded in the opening between the two front seats. Believe me! I am a journalist! and a yellow smile cracked the old womans blue lips.
        Dont believe her!I became capricious. How could you believe a journalist?! Or, pardon my expression, politicians, for that matter! I am a philosopher, after all! I am the one you should believe, even if some doubts did flash through your minds! and I popped my eyes out. Faith does not exclude doubts! On the contrary: doubt - is the natural element of any faith!
        But this is demagoguery! Zhadov startled.
        Mind you, I have not insulted you, Professor! I muttered.
        I didn't even think of... Zhadov interceded.
        Well, its very clear that you havent thought! I interrupted him. And dont interrupt me! Politicians and journalists defiled this world because they sold out to the money-bags: people are no longer capable of thinking - only of believing! Believe this, believe that! New findings and new truths! Understanding, you see... Damn it! Again - you see! Truth doesn't change, gentlemen! Pardon me, I mean - girls! Truth remains the truth, always and everywhere! Much in the same way as morality! Lie - that yes! - changes, and it changes from one generation to the next! Much in the same way that limits and forms - no! not of morality! - of immorality change! But words hinder understanding, words are drugs! Even Kipling thought so, and Kipling, dear girls, I mean, not only girls, but everyone, Kipling, ladies and gentlemen, I mean - though he did take to scribbling - is a classicist!
        Noticing that even the old woman was now looking at me with adoration, Zhadov went for peace:
        Lets get over it! Even if am a politician, my policy is very simple: people should live in peace, and even in friendship, you know.
        The call for peace made me a bit nauseous, especially as si vis pacem para bellum: if you want peace, - and more so, if you dont want it - get ready for the war. And still, in accordance with the old Petkhain tradition, I suspended my sword right above the chest of the defeated gladiator in a pince-nez, and glanced at Jessica and Gabriela: your word, girls! On the other hand, no need for words, a simple gesture would do - thumb-up or thumb-down!
        The signal came from a forgotten source:
        My dear! Melvin Stone uttered, and stood up. Please, I beg you, no peace! You have things to say, dont you?
        Oh, yes, I do! I sighed with relief and raised my sword. Professor Zhadov, even if you were Plato, and you and I became friends, as it is your wish, all of a sudden, this is what I would say urbis and orbis, for the city and the world to hear, that is: Amicus Plato, I would say, sed magis amica veritas! Plato is my friend, but the truth, I would say, is much, much, much more dear to me! There!
        Zhadov burst out laughing and applauded. Women, not understanding a thing, joined him nevertheless, while Melvin Stone, choking from excitement, shouted out:
        Cogito ergo sum!

        Now, I could no longer contain myself either - I cracked up. Zhadov started stamping his feet and shook all over from laughter. Passengers form the back and front rows, who, obviously, did not wish to see their due part of merriment go to waste, crowded around Stone. They were smiling that intense smile which, usually, is a pretty good indicator that, at any minute now, they are ready to crash from laughter because of any old reason. Zhadov was laughing so infectiously that even Stone gave off a grin, although - he did not quite understand the reason for this unexpected merriment.
        Jane, did I say something wrong? he bent down before Jessica. Is something wrong?
        Everything is right! Zhadov cackled, wiping his moistened eyes with a fist. Cogito ergo sum!
        Of course, I am right! Stone rejoiced and started laughing as well, apparently believing that he didnt duly appreciate his own sharp wit. Cogito ergo sum! I think, therefore, I exist! Very well said, indeed! he praised himself, laughing braver and louder. And - at an appropriate time!
        Everyone was laughing now. Simply because everyone was laughing. And everyone was laughing since tribal and causeless laughter is the natural state of men who suddenly realize that the road to happiness lies not in hard work but in merriment.
        Gabriela laughed soundlessly, as if she were diving under water, but from time to time - so as not to suffocate - she had to toss her head out of the water and squeal mutely. This embarrassed her and she would cover her mouth with the plastic bag, containing headphones.
        Jessica laughed in a ringing but chaotic trill, as if she were skinny-dipping in the ice-cold waters. When she could no longer bear it, she would jerk back and also cover her mouth with the plastic bag.
        Among the passengers, next to a youth with a sour Muslim face, stood a portly, quite middle-aged lady. Her laughter was extremely amusing: not moving her dyed head, her body quivered and she threw her elbows upwards like a fat turkey who is trying to fly with cut-off wings. At the same time she goggled at the movie-star, disbelieving that it is actually possible to look attractive without rouge, thanks to which, her own face looked like a Polaroid shot of a birthday cake.
        She was wearing a tight green dress lined with big red buttons. One of them - one at the belly-button - popped open under the pressure and invited everyone to peek inside. Everyone around accepted the invitation, and her chaperone - a murky youth with a mobile nose - became noticeably worried and extending his hairy hand towards the green dress, servilely fastened the button back. The lady got flustered and threw an angry glance at the youth. Offended, he once again went for the button and returned it to its previous state - he unfastened it.
        The scene had the same effect upon the happily aroused crowd as if someone were to splash grain alcohol into a blazing fire. A loud squeal rose from the front rows of the plane, and the passengers began shrieking with laughter which threatened to set afire the back rows as well.
        Melvin Stone concluded that the public had discovered in his Latin yet another layer of wit, and he rejoiced like an infant. Still squatting, he dropped his head into the movie-stars lap and rattled into a Homeric cackle, shouting out the same thing with every rapid breath: Cogito ergo sum!
        Oh, Im going to die! Jessica exclaimed through her buoyant laughter and tousled his white hair.
        Me too! the stewardess squealed holding the plastic bag against her mouth.
        Zhadov was hysterically beating his fists against mine and his own knees, all the while roaring: Cogito! Cogito! Cogito!
        Inspired by the good will of the movie-star, Stone, finally, popped to his feet and started jumping up and down in one place, like someone possessed. The blue, knotted strings of veins had swollen up on his neck.
        He could die! I shouted into Zhadovs ear and pointed at Stones neck, fearing that one of the strings was going to pop any minute now.
        This made Zhadov and myself want to laugh even harder and we started smashing the backs of the seats in front of us with our elbows.
        Stone would not stop, he was giggling and jumping higher and higher.
        The crowd parted before him and, hooting, began clapping hands.
        He is not dying! Zhadov shouted in my ear.
        Not even thinking about it! I answered, still laughing. Pretty strong guy!
        The Red Wart, distorted with fear, returned to the gap between the front seats:
        Stop that idiot! she begged Zhadov For Christs sake, stop him! Hell kill us all! The floor will break open!
        This is a Boeing, the professor shouted in response, dont worry!
        That very same instant the Boeing took a shaking. Then, once more. This time - a much stronger one. Then, it became even worse - the plane fell into a deep hole, as if one of the strings from which it was suspended in the sky had suddenly popped.
        No! the wart demanded, but the second string popped as well.
        Passengers were thrown aside into different corners; it became very quiet suddenly, and the panels flashed out in red.
        Everyone return to your seats! Gabriela screamed out. Fasten your seat belts!
        In expectation of the nightmare, I fastened my seatbelt as well.
        Everyone dashed off to their seats and sat motionless and soundless.
        Carelessness and joy had unexpectedly turned into fear and silence.
        The deliberations on the imminent end turned out to be just as unexpected: what a pity, I thought, if the last remaining string would rip, and so many complex machines would shatter into splinters - human bodies, where in addition to the brain, every single muscle possessed its own memory and skill and is more sophisticated that any flying machine...
        The third string, however, was left intact. After the long moments of torturous silence, there was a strike of a gong, and the loudspeaker started in a familiar voice:
        Ladies and gentlemen, this is captain Bertinelli speaking! Pits and bumps are behind us! You may now relax! Youll be given headphones and well roll the film shortly. Starring the great Jane Fonda, who, as youre all well aware, is graining us with her presence! Dear Jane, let me, along with my colleagues chug down a big glass of the Russian vodka in your honor, ha, ha, ha! Just kidding!
        Everyone laughed because Bertinelli was kidding, and looked at Jessica. She seemed confused because she wasnt used to so much attention being paid to her. Recalling, however, that here she was not she, not Jessica but the great Fonda, she jerked her head up, smooched her palm and, smiling at the public as if it were a camera, blew a kiss in the direction of the pilots cabin. The kiss graciously took its wing from her palm and rushed off in its appointed direction, brushing the crowns of the mesmerized public. Zhadov applauded and the rest joined in.
        Stone was the only one who didnt: he was still breathing heavily and wiping the sweat of his now-pale forehead with the silk aqua-marine handkerchief.
        Thank you, professor! Jessica turned to Zhadov, and it seemed to me that after the recent moments of fear, the star did not yet have the chance to abandon herself and plunge back into her role. It also seemed that either she was in no hurry to return to that role, or she wanted to retain her own self at the same time as well.
        Miss Fonda! I shouted at Jessica over Zhadov How are you feeling?
        You should know better! she answered to the latters surprise.
        I would say that youre feeling somewhat different from Stone!
        By the way, I dont think hes feeling too well, Zhadov said.
        Thats not what I mean, Professor. Mr.Stone believes that he thinks and therefore he exists, while Miss Fonda wishes to express herself a bit differently: Cogito and  sum - both! I both think and exist, - thats what she means!
        Absolutely right! rejoiced Jessica.
        Once again, Zhadov was taken by surprise:
        And Mr. Stone is not feeling too well! he distracted himself.
        Give him time, he'll start feeling better! I promised. The shaking - thats what did it to him. First, he was shaking, then, the plane started shaking! I have a joke for him! I remembered it right when the second string popped.
        Who popped? Zhadov was confused.
        Mr. Stone, listen! A three-engine plane is flying to itself, and suddenly, it starts flying really slowly...
        Was it not a reactive one? Zhadov was surprised. Is that an old joke?
        Hold on, Professor! the old woman turned to him.
        Thank you! I said and continued. So, it starts flying really slowly. And the pilot announces: gentlemen, were flying at a slower speed because one of the engines gave out. Very soon, the plane starts going even slower. The pilot again announces: gentlemen, so and so, the second engine gave out...
        Why is he always saying gentlemen? complained the old woman with the wart. Why isnt he saying ladies and gentlemen? You mean to tell me that there is not one lady on that plane? If, of course, it was not a military jet...
        My fault! I conceded So, I guess, what hes actually saying is: ladies and gentlemen, were flying slower because theres only one engine left!
        How awful! the Wart sighed, satisfied.
        And, so, listen, ladies and gentlemen! One of the ladies with a wart turns to one of the gentlemen on the plane and complains: If the last engine gives out, were going to be stuck in the air all night long!
        Everyone, except the old woman and Stone, burst out laughing. Jessica was laughing with a particular merriment: she caught the humor, although she did ask what the wart had to do with it. Then she suddenly drooped and said to me:
        I really think, Stone is not feeling well...
        Are you serious? Then why in the world was he jumping up and down like a madman?!
        He had an operation on his heart: he has a huge scar right here.
        How do you know?
        I told you, I slept with him. Twice.
        First of all, it was once, and second, you didnt tell me that.
        Of course, I told you! I told you once. But I slept with him twice. And I told you that too!
        No, you didnt.
        Of course, I did!
        I mean the scar. You never told me about the scar...
        Jessica started laughing:
        You know what? I have this feeling that no one understands anyone in this world, and that everyone on this plane is a bit cracked.
        A ship of fools! I nodded. We already talked about that.
        We never talked about it!
        I remember that we did... And, perhaps, not... Perhaps, I talked about it with someone else... Or, just thought about it...


        Ladies and gentlemen! a metallic voice suddenly snapped in front of us. May I have a moment of attention!
        Ladies and gentlemen - the star and myself among them - threw their heads up and in front of the brocade and saw a sturdy guy with a red mane and a beard of a satyr. His face looked like it was sculptured from tinted wax, whereas his eyes were set so deeply inside the sockets that one could hardly see them under the beetling brows. His dress was unusual as well: a black frock-coat with no lapels, resembling a tolstovka and a Hasidic caftan at the same time. This, first of all, imparted upon the guy both an old-fashioned and an avant-guard appearance, and, secondly, made it impossible to figure out either his nationality, or his profession.
        The bearded man was holding a canary-colored megaphone to his lips  and was waiting for the moment of attention.
        Ladies and gentlemen! he repeated. I have no money, and Id like to ask you for some. Give me some money, if you can! I would have played the flute in exchange, had I had the flute, and had I known how to play it... I dont know how... Besides, I dont have the flute. But I could read you a poem... Shall I read?
        Silence reigned, accentuated by the careless humming of the engine. Everyone around me must have probably been thinking the same thing that I was - the obvious: this man seldom communicates with people - only when he needs the money - and that the rest of his time he whiles away in paradise. Incidentally, he spoke as an antique statue would speak: serenely. It was also clear that this world was not to his liking, and that if he were God, he would either never have created it, or having created it, would have never started clapping his hands in excitement like That One.
        If not for the megaphone in his right hand, he would have resembled a sleepy prophet, and then, hed, of course, lose all the chances of getting any dough. But since he did not exactly look like a pitiful victim either, no one had any intention of whipping out their wallets, because people dont trust beggars who are hoping not for pity but for justice.
        Well, go on and read! Jessica allowed after a pause.
        The man switched his megaphone into his left hand, most probably because he preferred to gesticulate only with his right one. Not one of his gestures, however, was justified or explained anything and towards the end of the poem no one knew what to do: celebrate existence or not.
        Once upon a time, apparently, when the day crawled carefully, like a snail over a sharpened razor, it seemed to him, that man is the only creation that lives against reason. Each of us spares life all of his time but the despair lies somewhere else: life flows in the opposite direction, and death should be at its beginning. If we live according to reason, then, we must first die, and only then be born. Having finished all his accounts with death, fresh out of the coffin, man must enter old age and live on social security until he becomes young enough to labor; as a result of his labor, along with a bonus from his colleagues, he earns himself youth: drunken years of love and realization. Things start getting better after youth: the careless childhood sets in, when everything in the world transforms into what it really is - a toy. Then, man grows smaller and smaller, turning, at last, into a fetus, and falls into the warmth and forgetfulness of his mothers womb, where the only thing to do is ask whether life is worth living, but where that question doesnt even figure in fetus thoughts, for during those nine months he is anticipating the very last and the most wonderful of transformations: a transformation into a mischievous smile upon his parents lips.
        Whats this? Jessica asked me. Is he mocking us?
        No, he is speculating on life while the snail is crawling over the razor. And he wants to get paid for it.
        Is he right?
        Life is the only thing about which one may say anything at all.
        I dont mean that: should he get paid for it?
        I dont have money! I snapped.
        Neither do I!said Jessica. I wonder what Fonda would have done?
        The same thing she did during the take-off, when they were fining me. She would have sponge the money out of her rich neighbor to her right.
        She turned towards her rich neighbor to her right and exclaimed:
        My God! Stone is dying!
        Indeed, Melvin Stone didnt look well: pale, he was gasping for breath, blinking his eyes and hick-upping.
        Listen to him! Jessica whispered to me in horror. Hear that? Thats death-rattle!
        Thats not him, I said, thats the man next to him: hes just snoring, thats all. But thats not the point: Stone is really bad, youre right.
        Melvin! Jessica called out to him.
        You should call Gabriela, I said. Push the button!
        Not only Gabriela but another stewardess from the other lounge came running as well. She was a lanky, thin blond with a ducks nose.
        Oh! My God! Thats Mr. Stone! Gabriela shot at her colleague and loosened the Dutch-chocolate colored tie on Melvins neck. Jumping up and down at his age!
        His pulse is very slow! the blonde whispered.
        Stop that cretin! Jessica jerked towards the poet who continued with his recitations.
        No way! Gabriela started. On the contrary, let him distract the passengers! We dont want panic!
        Listen, Gabriela, we should first think of Mr. Stone and then about panic! said Jessica.
        Ill call Bertinelli right away, Miss Fonda!
        He needs medicine, not Bertinelli! I said. Here, take this Nitrostat. Slip it under his tongue!
        Absolutely not! Gabriela exclaimed and put her palm over the scar on Melvins forehead. Mr. Stone!
        He did not hear. At least, he did not respond.
        We need a doctor! the blonde said. Ill announce it.
        Absolutely not! countered Gabriela. We dont want panic. Let me first have a talk with the captain.
        What does the captain have to do with it? I was outraged. What the guy needs is this Nitrostat! Hes having spasms! And if you need a doctor, youve got one right here! Announce: Gena Krasner!
        Which lounge is he in? the blonde asked.
        I dont know. I saw him at boarding. Hes a good doctor.
        Gynecologist, I said, but now, I think, hes a psychiatrist. Whats the difference! Hes a good doctor. From Yalta. Its a city.
        I know! the blond was overjoyed. There was a conference there!
        Conference? Jessica was confused.
        Yes, in 45: Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin! the blond beamed with delight. I graduated with a major in history!
        Thats very commendable, but what does Yalta have to do with all this? Jessica cried out. The man is dying here!
        It has a lot to do with this! explained Gabriela. Yalta... Where is it? In America?
        In Russia, the blonde replied. Right?
        Ukrainians insist its in the Ukraine... I said. But lets talk about it later. First, call Krasner!
        Im not authorized to! Nobody even knows where Yalta is... and we need an American doctor. If theres no one with an American license, only then...
        Pardon me, but have you gone nuts? I inquired in an angry voice. The man might be giving out here, and youre talking about licenses! Call Krasner! And as for the license, Krasner has it. He passed all the exams... Especially the English... And hes already working in Baltimore...
        In Baltimore? Jessica exclaimed. But thats my hometown! They have very good doctors there!
        The blond was surprised:
        In Baltimore? Werent you born in Hollywood, Miss Fonda?
        In Hollywood also, Jessica said confusedly.
        I hurried to the aid of Jessica and Stone, at the same time:
        Gabriela! Call Krasner!
        I will! the blonde started and ran away.
        Stone was still breathing heavily.
        Gabriela squatted in front of him and held his left palm between her hands.
        The man next to him continued sleeping and jerked backward, snoring loudly.
        Everyone around continued eying the poet who now, for some reason, seemed out of focus and spoke into the megaphone that sex is more necessary than faith in God, and that the orgasm, not the Cross, is the embodiment of mans hopes for salvation, amen, although most people of both sexes dont deserve it, and that is exactly why they die without realizing the meaning of existence.
        Krasner showed up. Without noticing me, he bent over Stone and looked into his eyes. He whispered something to the blonde, and she ran off.
        Doctor, Jessica whispered as well. Is it dangerous?
        Its the heart, probably, Krasner responded in a foreign voice. His face seemed renewed to me as well: it was a cream-fertilized face of a Jew from the American provinces, who lives with memories of somebody elses past and with expectations of future not of his own. Is he a friend of yours, Miss Fonda? The stewardess told me that he was jumping up and down, and then started feeling bad.
        Gena Krasner spoke English with no accent.
        Doctor, you are not a cardiologist, are you? Gabriela asked.
        I started out with gynecology, then - psychiatry, then- general medicine. And now - its funny - philosophy!
        Philosophy? Gabriela was horrified.
        Imagine that! Krasner smiled and forgot all about Stone. Such is my hobby! Im flying to Moscow to deliver a paper at a philosophical conference!
        In other words, youre pretty serious about it! concluded Jessica.
        I call it a hobby! Though, the topic is interesting: the problem of roles in society. You, as an actress...
        Do you want me to introduce you to a philosopher? Jessica interrupted him.
        Really? Who? Krasner livened up.
        I turned towards the window, and Jessica gave him my name.
        Where is he? and his voice trembled.
        I moved up closer to the window and decided not to respond in case Jessica called me.
        It was Gabriela who helped me:
        Oh, heres the captain!
        The captain brought along a blood-pressure measuring apparatus, and, according to Gena, Stones blood pressure turned out to be critical.
        Gena also said that the sick man needs rest.
        The captain suggested taking Stone upstairs, to the Ambassadors lounge, which, true, is messy, but still, he said, theres no one there, and the sick man could lie down on a couch.
        And how should we do that without causing any panic? Gabriela asked.
        Ill go myself. Stone answered suddenly.
        Melvin! Jessica exclaimed. Are you feeling better?
        Thats too soon to say, Krasner answered. Help me, Captain!
        They decided to support Stone, after all...

        Clouds were fidgeting behind the window - small, like clots of cream, gone sour. One of the clots stuck to the window and begged to be let in. After observing it closer, I deciphered in its contours a tiny Cupid with outstretched wings. The Cupid's face expressed tension, as if he were trying to listen to the megaphone in the red-bearded poets left hand. The latter was reading another one of his poems.
        The poem told about a recent meeting with a heavenly angel, who introduced him to her female cousins. It turns out, they are very decent creatures, devoid of sexual prejudices.
        Its unclear why God continues creating people, if He has already learned how to create heavenly angels!
        Man is so loathsome that he is obliged to be at least good-looking, but the majority of people are merely fertilizers for the cemetery earth.
        People do not deserve the truth - only poets and thinkers do.
        Nevertheless, everyone has the right to say whatever he wishes, just like everyone has the right to beat him up for that as well.
        The holiest right of an individual is the right to mock mankind.
        The Cupid recoiled from the window and whirled away to his sisters, to relate what he had just heard.
        Maniac! the Wart turned to me.
        You shouldnt listen to him, madam. Concentrate on yourself!
        But he is insulting! she retorted. And where did Fonda go? She was the one who allowed him to recite... Its always like this: first they allow them, then they run away... And where is Professor? Where did everyone go?
        Im here! said Zhadov, taking Jessicas seat. Really, where is everyone?
        I explained that Stone wasnt well. The old woman was happy and said:
        So, he had enough of jumping!
        And whats with this one, with the megaphone? Zhadov asked.
        He wants to return to the womb. Any old one would do, but hed prefer if the womb belonged to, as he puts it, an angel.
        Philosophy: copulo ergo sum!
        What does that mean? the old woman with the wart perked up.
        I fuck, therefore, I exist! I translated.
        Zhadov started to laugh and once the Wart felt queasy.
        Gabriela showed up and told me that Dr. Krasner gave his O.K. for Stone to take my Nitrostat. I replied that if the patient was feeling better, he should start by taking Validol in capsules: here take this to the doctor! Gabriela recoiled from the Validol-box and suggested that I take the medicine myself.
        My meeting with Krasner no longer embarrassed me, and I followed the stewardess to the mezzanine.
        Going up the stairs, I noted for myself that the fabric of Gabrielas skirt glistened at the seat from much rubbing, and suffered from tightness. Her cheeks turned out to be strong, round, and full - one of those upon which panties leave lasting marks. When one of the cheeks smoothed out and weakened, the other swelled up, and pulled the seam of the skirt towards itself.
        A familiar, but always strange sensation that the procession of time had been interrupted, was born in my stomach.
        Gabriela, I uttered, following her up the spiral stairs, and touched her hip. How long do we have left to fly?
        She turned around slowly - the way honey drips:
        Till Moscow? and she looked at her bronze wrist, covered with burned-out fur and squeezed by a tight watchband:
        Four hours or so till London, and a little less from there.
        O, I see. And are we going to study Russian in Moscow?
        We agreed on philosophy.
        Covered up to his chest with a light-blue plaid, Melvin Stone was now lying on a couch by the back wall of the neglected Ambassador's lounge.
        Jessica was caressing Stones forehead.
        Bertinelli stood erect by the head of the couch, and - with a gilded cockade on his cap - looked like a funeral candle.
        Krasner - also looking solemn - stood by Stones feet.
        It was quiet, like in the presence of death. There arose a strange sensation of acquaintance with the yet unrealized, vile feeling that this whole scene instilled in me.
        Gena, I said in such a tone of voice as if I were not just starting up a conversation with him, but continuing it. You think, its serious?
        Its the heart. I dont have to tell you.
        I just wish he wouldnt die! I said. That would be horrible, you understand - to die on the road.
        If he makes it, tell him not to jump around anymore.
        If he makes it? I was frightened.
        And if not, dont tell him. Hell know it himself!
        Whats with you?! Im talking in your own style! O.K., move aside. You shouldnt look. Here, move to the window. Behind the boxes.
        The space in front of the couch and around it was dammed with cardboard boxes. I decided to finish talking to Krasner and turned to the stewardess:
        Gabriela, whats in the boxes?
        Thats computers for our embassy.
        I handed Krasner the bottle of pills and he went over to Stone. Bertinelli threw a sour glance at me and left together with the stewardess.
        Finding myself alone, I got disconcerted and did not know what to do with myself. I did not want to go back downstairs, to my seat. I had a sensation, as if something happened, after which existence - in its here-and-now form - only irritates. In the beginning, the sensation was blurry, but now, looking quietly from some distance at the frightened Stone covered by the light-blue plaid, at the figures of Jessica and Krasner, bending over him, surrounded by hefty cardboard boxes and cold, shattering walls with torn wallpaper, among the scattered, crumpled plastic glasses and old magazines on the floor - now, it was clear, that I was being overwhelmed by that oppressive sensation of the discomfort of existence, which arises in a man when it seems to him that the ghost of death had arrived at an inappropriate time as well as space. Once again, the thought that I had already voiced to Krasner, ran through my mind: itd be horrible if Stone died, and if thered be a corpse aboard the plane. A corpse on the way is a bad thing, an omen of the impetuousness of evil.
        Memory started pushing outside the scenes that were very unlike each other, interwoven by a sensation of weighing alienation from life in the presence of its end. Usually, such scenes would swell up quickly, like soap bubbles at the end of a straw, and without parting from it, would just as quickly pop, until, finally, one of the bubbles would clasp my breath inside itself, and swinging aside lightly, fly upward, inviting me to follow its route.
        Awaiting these daunting recollections, I hurried over to the only uncluttered seat.
        I was trying to distract myself with the outside: looked in the window, but did not see anything there - only the thickening void. This is what nothing is, I said to myself, and giving in to the absence of enticement, ordered myself to follow that thought. They say, that God created this world from this very nothing... And what next? I made an attempt to think over this - what is next? However, the familiar state of repudiation of existence did not abandon me.
        And what is next, I guessed, is that God hasnt yet used up all that from which He created the world. It turns out, that high above the earth, behind the window, there is still so much of that nothing...
        Well, and whats next?
        There wasnt enough of me for anything else. I shook my head, fell back inside the seat and got lost amidst the soft bubbles that were engulfing me from all sides...


        As it was to be expected, the funeral of the beautiful Natella Eligulova - the most celebrated of the Petkhain women - came to my mind. The very first funeral in the New York Community of Jewish refugees from Georgia.
        This recollection evolved in an unusual way. As if I was seeing a familiar dream. Or else, as if a strange man was observing scenes from my own life which - due to that - looked unrecognizable to me, and yet felt my very own. When action in the scenes came to the end - all the colors faded away and all the sounds died down - I had a sensation that I was told a strange tale which exists since time immemorial, but only now it has detangled itself from the rest in the world and got its own name - The Tale of Death...
        The return from the past into reality had also filed me with a feeling which I did not understand.
        Although the white morning sun was still tearing through from below, from under the clouds brimmed with gold - another time was gathering slants ahead of me: the yet un-arrived time, the orange-pink moon. Its unsteady bubble reminded me of childhood, pierced with the secret of the predawn singing of the neighborhood roosters, who, as I found out much later, do always cry towards that side of the space where the air is fresher. The moon was very round and it loomed at the farthest edge of the piercingly blue haze, but there was unbelievably short distance left to reach it - two palms.
        Even stranger than the distance to the evening, was the desertedness of space on the other side of the glass. There was that peculiar sensation which I had experienced before emigration in the died-out Jewish neighborhoods, or which would arise in New York as well, if, on a Sunday, I had suddenly found myself in the secluded back-streets of the downtown business district - silent, and people-free, like after a poison gas attack in a horror movie.
        I always regarded this sensation as a distant approach to some sad, but deep wisdom, skillfully buried behind the impenetrable mask of the original melancholy. Penetration into this wisdom demanded ability which I did not possess - boundless patience.
        Earlier, I used to blame my lack of patience on my restlessness, and hoped that with time, it would decrease, and I, as a result, would have more time. Later, when restlessness had, indeed, decreased, I had less life left to me as well. Patience belongs to those many things, which a human being is incapable of until a certain age, due to that ridiculous reason that he is incapable of them even after that age.
        By that time, however, I did ascertain that out of all the questions, the silliest is the question on the meaning of things. Not because there is no meaning in anything. Not even because every deep answer on the meaning of things is countered not only by a stupid answer, but worse - by a deeper one. But because the answer makes no difference. Whether there is meaning in some thing or there is no meaning in anything - what does that change? Everything remains the same that it was before - having nothing in common with a human being, and alienated from him, just like this imperious world outside the plane window, the world that knows no difference between life and death...

        Even before I retrieved my forehead from the chilled window and returned into the human world, drifted above the clouds by an aluminum container, I became indifferent to the fate of Melvin Stone.
        Indeed, does anything change whether hes still alive or not? Nothing changes! Perhaps, - even for Stone himself as well, who knows?
        Of course, I did look in his direction, in the direction of a niche behind the wine-colored brocade, but I couldnt quite make out - was he still alive there or not. The brocade was drawn, and only Melvins lacquered boots shimmered in the narrow aperture. Most probably, he died, I thought and heard the foul odor of death as I sensed it on the day of Natella Eligulovas funeral: the sulfuric smell of the dug-out grave, revealing the roots of trees rotting in silt.
        After giving it some thought, I realized that this otherworldly smell must be coming from the paper boxes, scattered around the lounge and stuffed with all sorts of high-tech equipment for our embassy, as Gabriela had put it. I already forgot that then I was not thinking of the boxes - but of Stone. Like now, after the recollection of Natellas funeral, I was not thinking of Stone - but of Gabriela. I was thinking that she was fluffy-as-a-spongecake, Gabriela. And that she must feel a tremendous relief when she, first, takes off the tight bra and caresses herself, making the blood rush up to her tortured breasts.
        I ridiculed and hated myself for not knowing how to live artlessly. If Gabriela had turned up next to me now, I would no longer have discussed the boxes with her. I would have just straightforwardly asked her: isnt her flesh tired of waiting for her blood?
        But, alas, she wasnt here.
        No one was in the lounge - only Stone and myself, and, most probably, Stone was no longer here either - only his corpse.
        I felt ill at ease.
        Anxious, I got up and decided to go downstairs, to the people, for, neither my own company, nor the company of the deadman promised salvation from the evergrowing feeling of abandonment.
        Want to take a swig? I suddenly heard from behind my back.
        I turned around and saw Krasner. He was sitting, with his legs spread apart, upon a low, flat box, with an opened bottle of vodka in one hand and a bag of potato chips in the other.
        I do! I was filled with joy, since, all of a sudden, it seemed to me that it was precisely vodka that I was thirsting for.
        Krasner poured the Stolichnaya into the only glass.
        Can I drink it right out of the bottle? I asked.
        Krasner got embarrassed:
        Of course! But Im in good health; I even got brand new teeth.
        Thats not what I meant! I answered. Its better from a bottle - you can take as many swigs as you want! and I took two.
        Krasner took just as many from the glass. Then, he stuffed a handful of crispy chips into his new teeth:
        And what did we drink to? To the fact that were flying? and he handed a bag of chips to me.
        Looking into it, I refused, since there were only tiny splinters left, which, immediately looked like dandruff to me. Though Gena was growing bald, dandruff was densely sprinkled upon his black suspenders.
        You dont like them? I love them! and emptying the crispy bag into his mouth, Krasner clicked against its bottom, then, wiped his lips with his fist, and added. Heres what they need to push in Russia - chips!
        The dust from the chips got mixed up with dandruff, and settled upon the suspenders; Gena immediately shook it off to his knees. The dandruff stayed in place. After an uneasy pause, he whimpered:
        Were flying to a funeral, you know.
        I cast a glance towards Stones boots, but kept quiet. There was nothing to talk about and Gena realized this.
        Would you have imagined it? he went on anyway.
        Me? I answered. Of course, I wouldve imagined it, but - with fear. Now, its all right, though - it seems normal...
        And why with fear? Gena livened up and took another gulp. Its very interesting! Ill be honest with you: everyone is shouting their hurrah, cheering, throwing their hats into the air, but I feel sad.
        Shouting their hurrah, you say?! Whos shouting?
        Everyone! Downstairs and upstairs!
        I grew pensive. Although it was most difficult to imagine who exactly could rejoice about a funeral upstairs, I asked about Jessica:
        Even Jane Fonda?
        With her - I really cant quite tell for sure, Krasner admitted.
        And what about Zhadov? You know, hes sitting next to Fonda and me.
        Oh, yeah, I know! You mean, the frondeur! The long and bald one, right? That one is worse than anyone else; he fell into an ecstasy! He, by the way, is a petty thief and a swindler! He says: Im not bald - just tall; I grew taller than my hair, he says! But someone else had said that before him. And about Marx too...
        I continued not to understand:
        What does Marx have to do with this? And when did he say that?
        A month ago. On the Dave Letterman show, Gena answered. Letterman invited him to the show and started telling him about his trip to Russia. Theres nothing left to bury there, he said, except, perhaps, for Lenin. Havent you heard this? And your Zhadov started to cackle - as if it were really very funny! And on his own behalf, he added that we should bury like they do it in India - first, burn everything, and then, scatter it into the air. So that no one could come back to life!
        And why are you talking about this? I insisted.
        Because hes a scum. Letterman, O.K. - hes an American! But whats Zhadovs excuse, hes from Russia! Even the lowest scum knows that de mortis aut bene aut nihil!
        I dont get it, I said sincerely.
        Thats Latin! Gena explained.
        Thats not what I dont get, I answered. I dont get which deceased are you mourning?
        The very same one! I always trusted your feelings. Lets drink to that, why dont we! and he took a gulp from the bottle. And you, could you explain why it is that were feeling sorry, ha? I cant. I just feel that its not good, but why - that I dont know... And not only because its my homeland! Even if it had happened on the moon, it would have still been sad!

        I realized that we were thinking of two different deceased. Krasner was talking not about Melvin Stone, but about socialism, and his sadness appeared so comprehensible to me that I found it possible to explain it:
        Let me explain it to myself as well, I said. This sadness, Gena, comes because an illusion leaves. A strange and mysterious one: as if somewhere, there is something or somebody better than us. Each of us knows his own worth, and it doesnt impress us in the least. We also realize that if all the others are made the same way that we are, if theyre not better - then, its too bad, if only because they treat us in the same way that we treat them...
        I gulped down a mouthful right out of the bottle, and groping for my way, continued uttering words, which I wasnt sure of:
        And we treat each other worse than beasts, because they dont have a choice. Every one of us lives like a beast - under himself; but a beast cannot see itself at that. And we - we are crazy about ourselves! Each one of us is an egomaniac! Simple and vile! Who said this that there is nothing more horrible than to be completely understood?
        Jung? Gena interceded in a scared voice.
        And why is it so horrible, I ask you? After all, all we do is complain that we are misunderstood! But it is horrible, because to be understood to the end means to be unmasked. Lets take you, for example. You took off, right? Or myself, for that matter...
        From where? Gena was frightened.
        You know, from there, from Russia. You took off, right? And why is it that you took off? Freedom, antisemitism, justice... What else?
        Well, yeah, thats what they say.
        But thats not all of it! We took off because because each of us, the vile creatures that we are, thinks that the just and the free surroundings are those in which we are allowed to live under our own selves.
        And why the melancholy? Gena reminded.
        Ive already said. We hoped that others are better than us, that it is possible not to live under ones self - but otherwise! Its not socialism were burying, Gena, but a hope for man.
        Then, youre a socialist? he digressed as well.
        I dont know, I confessed. And not so much because the same words have different meanings, and that there are - alas and oh! - less languages in the universe than people... Seriously: every single person should speak his own, individual language... No one understands anyone anyway. A thought would come out more precise that way...
        And why dont you know - are you a socialist or not?
        Just because no one knows who he is. If socialism died because it is incapable of adjusting to people living under themselves, then I am a socialist. Its not Marx whos a scumbag, you see, its man whos swine. Marx is like all of us. He realized that he himself is like all of us - a swine, but he hoped that others are better. He was a stupid wiseman. He did not know man well enough. But without foolishness - there is no hope... Christ, by the way, was not clever either. All the thing that hed babble! How about this one: blessed are the meek, and blessed are the poor and all of that stuff! And Moses? Dont kill, dont lie, dont steal! Simpleton! And this: rest! Dont do anything that youre capable of doing! Enough - that youve been doing it for six days! And why, may I ask you, did socialism die? Because man - is swine. He never gets enough of anything; he doesnt have enough room for it all, but he still keeps stuffing himself! Gena, why dont you pour me some into the glass now! Do you have anymore chips?
        No chips, Gena uttered confusedly. If youre hungry, go downstairs: everyones having dinner there. Its the lamb ragu and the Venetian lasagna...
        I made my way out of the seat:
        Ill have the ragu.
        Gena rose as well, but trampled in place and said:
        You know, I wrote a book...
        I know. About people who stop being themselves and live someone elses lives, right?... Hows your family?
        He was waiting for it, and responded instantly:
        Its a big one, now: theres six of us. Irina got married and had a son. And my Lyuba didnt fall behind either. Also a son.
        Gena pulled out a wallet, stuffed with dozen, multi-colored credit cards, and whipped out a Polaroid shot. From the plastic paper, two human beings of a recent make - with large, frightened eyes - observed intently. Each of them could be no more than four years of age.
        Which one of these little Krasners is the grandson? I asked.
        The one at the left.
        Doesnt look like a Krasner... Must have taken after the father. Dark eyes and dark hair. Your daughter is fair with blue eyes.
        Look closer! Gena insisted.
        I looked closer. There could be no doubts whatsoever: the person was dark. I was about to return the plastic back to Gena, when I hesitated a bit: the other one, the one to the right, was also dark - with black hair and dark eyes. I thought for a while and asked without raising my glance:
        Gena, your hair, what color was...
        Red! To match the last name! Gena blurted out. You know, just like Lyubas and wavy like hers too. Chicks look O.K. with that color, but as for man... God forbid! Im even happy that I became bald... Come on, you remember, dont you?
        I asked him precisely because I did, indeed, remember: the Krasners looked nothing like their son, who continued drilling me with his dark pupils. The son, in his own turn, looked not like the Krasners, but like his neighbor to the left, his nephew. And whats more, it was not just the coloring that the two shared, nor the sharp and quick facial contours meticulously and unexpectedly knotted into a sly Eastern ornament of the chin, but also - the peculiar, and very familiar facial expression - one that is trying and naively confused at the same time.
        How come?! - I thought and immediately jerked up as if in fever. There was a sensation that someone pierced a cold nail into my back. Bending over, I turned towards the window abandoned by me, and started eying it carefully.
        What did you see there? Gena was curious and bent over as well.
        Dont look! I yelled, straightened up, and pushed him away, so he could not catch a glimpse of the horrifying picture set against the blue haze and gold brimmed clouds: the reflection of my own face, sketched in careless, bold streaks, crossed out at the top with a fat parenthesis of a black mane and curled at the bottom into a knot of the Petkhain arabesque.
        Turning away from the window, I realized in panic, however, that unlike myself, Gena doesnt need the glass to look at that face. He repeated:
        What is it that you saw out there in the clouds?
        A familiar face. But its not there anymore.
        While Gena contemplated on this retort, I was groping to find some sort of a refutation to my horrible realization - and I did find it: and not just any refutation, but the most indisputable one at that! I found it just as easily as I mercilessly suspected myself in having blood relations with the Krasners. Even, summed up together, these offsprings were less than eight years of age, which is exactly how much time had elapsed since Gena had suddenly and forever escaped from me to Baltimore, abducting his own wife and daughter. I sighed and again, amorously thought about the piping hot lamb ragu...

        Gena, though, was thinking about something different:
        Youre a mystic probably, right?
        A schizophrenic is more like it: I see all sorts of faces and what-not in the clouds! and I stepped towards the stairs next to the curtain, behind which lay Melvin Stone.
        Mystics and schizophrenics swim in the same waters, Gena declared suddenly, only the first swim, while the latter drown.
        Who said that? I was startled.
        You did! Gena laughed, then, bore out a pause, apparently, made some decision, exhaled the air saturated with vodka, and said. I saved your blue notebook. Remember? Thats when I was running away from New York. I grabbed some of your things too, by mistake... That notebook, by the way, is with me, in my briefcase...
        Oh, so, its with you?! I uttered and caught his glance, which was veneered by animosity. Its with you, ha?
        I reread it often... I have this feeling that I wrote it myself...
        So, its not lost then? And I thought that it was lost and I felt so sorry, because I put down some wild things into it.
        I know! Gena caught on. About how everyone is living someone elses lives, right? You know, thats quite normal, though. Just read my book, and you will see that that is normal...
        I was struck by another realization - an unpleasant one again. Gena guessed it:
        By the way, it might seem to you that I rewrote my book from your notebook.
        I expressed surprise with my face.
        It might! It might! he assured, and, suddenly, started talking loudly and rapidly, barely lagging behind his own intoxicated breathing: But thats not the way it is! People think alike. And feel alike too. And all of us are the same, all of us, there arent any who are better or worse than others! Thats an old truth, youll say? Well, so what? Truth doesnt rot with time! Who said that? Whats the difference! Whoever said it, he didnt say anything special that wasnt known to those who didnt say it!
        At that, Gena started speaking without pauses, without punctuation, even more rapidly and angrily:
        Because what is man a combination of perceptions and all people always perceive the same shit that is life and life is what people proclaim it to be so theres no difference between people just a very small one depending on how their tiny details of perception work man changes with time he becomes a different a totally different person but no one pays any attention to that everyone looks at the outer layer and thinks that its the same person while he is completely different one has to be a philosopher to understand that with time man becomes different everyone thinks himself a philosopher were all philosophers were all writers but were all shitty writers for example you have it written in your notebook I remember it by heart its a comparison as unstoppable or as inevitable as a wave or as growth of your beard I dont remember precisely but its just too obvious and also you write about the immigrant-wives and immigrant-husbands you write that those from seaside cities call their wives their little fishes and boats while those who were born in mountainous regions call them little goats and those from the big cities they say kitten and pet ha what a great thought who doesnt know that like youre some Hemingway or Dostoevsky you have all kinds of things in there but nothing that any old snotnose could not have thought of you also write about a man who lost all his hair but couldnt get rid of dandruff or who got disappointed with life and many time tried to commit suicide he stabbed himself tortured himself hung himself strangled himself and then suddenly got frightened that this way he could ruin his health and that everyone should worry about his own flesh and take care of it in any way possible because it is most comfortable to live in ones own flesh and that someone else wont let you live in his and so thats why if you were born an idiot then its better to stay an idiot because a mind is a very dangerous thing for fools to have and about a parrot whom they wanted to poison because he learned to speak not what they taught him and that everything is ridiculous in this world and that in Ethiopia for example people are dying from hunger but they send them ammunition and everyone is so lied-out that its no longer dangerous because no one is listening to anyone anymore but who doesnt know all this I for instance know it and I always knew it and everyone knows this and everyone is the same and thats why theres nothing that could stop life nothing absolutely no way to do it...
        There is! I screamed at last. There is a way!
        There is? Gena stumbled and rolled out his eyes.
        There is, I said now calmly. Its simple, the whole world should make a deal: no banging without a condom, and pour the semen on the sheet.
        Gena grew pensive and I became very sad for him.
        A lonely, lost cloud once again stuck to the window - and it became considerably darker in the salon. Genas bald head, covered with dandruff suddenly appeared like a cachectic cow udder with a shell-like skin. I didnt have enough time to brood over this unexpected image: a thin, but bright, ray of light, saturated with sun-dust broke through the cloud. Gena wrinkled his forehead at first, squinted his eyes, but then, opened them and stared at me with fog-covered eyes.
        I was wired, he muttered. Everythings swirling around. Especially the ceiling.
        You drank too much, Gena, I helped him out, even though its me who has this problem.
        But with you, its allright: you drink and drink, and nothing happens! he nodded with the cow udder.
        This is precisely what my problem is! I agreed and leaned him against the wall with shredded edges.
        He couldnt take his glance off of me - so helpless that I thought that incomprehensibility of existence is capable of driving a man to the point of utter loss of reason. Or - that estrangement from everything is the true earthly bliss.
        Everythings still swirling fast! he complained.
        You shouldve eaten some real food, not chips. And now, just dont move or fidget, or itll swirl faster. Try clutching at something in your head.
        Gena tried, but nothing came out of it.
        I cant, he moaned. I try to clutch at it but it escapes me...
        Look at my fist! I suggested, and holding him against the wall with my left hand, started moving - against the clock - the right fist with the Polaroid of Genas family in it. Look closely at the fist: Im unwinding you!
        Stop it! Gena entreated. Thats just the direction that it swirls in!
        I stopped. I just held it up and looked to the side. I was looking at the wall.
        The glue from under the ripped wall paper had dried to the wall in whimsical patterns. This wasnt art, however, but - reality. Wall paper - even if it had no colors or ornaments - probably gave a different look to the wall; a look that perhaps invites on to enjoyment, and enjoyment puts a barrier between man and questions on the meaning of what goes on inside and outside of him. Art is not a supplement to life, I thought, but its alternative: either you live, or you live in art. Then, I thought that art differs from life just as principally as love - from emptiness and sadness that follows it...
        Gena started moving, his glance became more focused, and raising his arms, he stretched them back and placed his palms against the wall, as if he were checking its solidity. A sour odor of sweat hit me from under his armpits. I moved away:
        Are you better?
        He could have not answered: he was better. And he didnt answer:
        Ill bring your notebook back to you. Its better if you wait for me here, Ill be right back. I dont want to see Zhadov, that professor of yours.
        He took off for the stairs.
        But just hurry up, O.K.? I shouted after him. And please, take your offsprings with you or else, theyll get wrinkled, and I handed him the Polaroid.
        All right! Krasner turned around and took it. Although, they could never get wrinkled - its plastic! Ive been carrying it around with me for four years and - look - as good as new!
        When descending the spiral stairs, Gena had almost disappeared from sight, and only his head was left in the salon, I finally opened my mouth:
        Wait! You say, it doesnt get wrinkled?
        Right! Its plastic! the head lingered.
        And youve been carrying it around for four years?
        So, how old are the boys?
        On the plastic or now? Now, seven and some...
        The nail that had pierced my back earlier, now cut through the body, got stuck in some splinter of glass, and began scratching in rage. Everything froze inside of me, and perhaps, that is why blood did not drip from the wound...
        Krasners head was observing me intently from below and the eyes in it, once again, seemed to be veneered by animosity. I moved my glance down, towards his lips. I kept quiet and waited for them to start moving and saying something special and important. They did not move - and the silence was torturing me. Finally, the lips cracked, and I heard:
        Ill go, then, and the head disappeared.
        I carefully lowered myself into seat, as though I was ashamed to defile it.
        I didnt feel like turning towards the sky.
        My glance got stuck upon the still boots of Stone.
        There arose a sensation that everything around and inside me is not only illusory, but that it categorically does not exist since long time ago.
        Almost instantly, it became clear that the disappearance of that which exists is achieved easily: the plane was suddenly shook up and it started rumbling like a pick-up with a broken muffler.
        Stones boots shuddered, slid from the armrest of the couch and hung in the air.
        I was overtaken by fear. Before, when I was siting downstairs and the Boeing shook up even more powerfully, a thought of death, essentially, did not frighten me: it seemed that those who surround me would not let me die. Now, being alone with the corpse, the end seemed inevitable.
        It shook up again, but it was something else that frightened me: the rumbling was steadily increasing. The box, upon which Krasner was sitting not too long ago, shuddered madly. According to my calculations, the plane should have broken apart from the vibration. The anticipation of an approaching catastrophe paralyzed me and would not let me save myself by escaping to the people. Any one of those downstairs would have been one of my own now - even Gena Krasner, the father and the grandfather of my sons.
        I thought of all of them with envy, for they were not about to die in solitude. And also - by some instinct - I thought that today is a very appropriate day to agree to die.


        Dear brothers and sisters! This is Bertinelli speaking! Pardon my familiarity, but at this difficult moment...
        At this point, captains anxiety tore its way out and he started coughing. While Bertinelli was clearing his throat without turning the microphone off, the passengers began hooting understandingly - everyone, except the old woman with the wart sitting in the First Class, who kept her silence because of capriciousness, and Stone, behind the brocade in the Ambassadors Lounge, who remained still due to a more serious reason.
        My dear brothers and sisters! repeated the captain. I remind you that life jackets are under your seats, that people everywhere live in fear of death, and that life is an illness that is transmitted through sexual intercourse and therefore ends in an unkind manner...
        The passengers hooted even louder.
        It is not out of question, my dear brothers and sisters, Bertinelli continued, that some of you will survive the crash. But since we are falling from a considerable height, and as the experience suggests, not more than one passenger will survive. As a rule, it is a man who does - and now, I have a favor to ask of him: dont offend the stewardess later on!
        All of the passengers, including the old woman with the wart, but excluding Melvin Stone, exchanged baffled glances.
        Let me explain to you by giving you an example, Bertinelli calmed everyone down. When one of the planes of the competing airline was about to crash, the captain ordered the stewardess to distract the passengers from what was going on, and she immediately began performing a striptease, warning in advance that with every unfastened button the plane will be losing some detail or other. When she finally stripped nude, my dear brothers and sisters, the plane tumbled into an ocean and - besides the captain and the stewardess - only one passenger survived, and instead of warming her in the icy water, he insulted her with an insolent suggestion...
        The passengers grew anxious.
        You, he says to her, - and pardon my expression - you are a total slut, and your jokes are slutty!
        With the exception of Stone and myself, the passengers were offended at the rudeness of the passenger from the competing airline. Unlike Stone, however, I started laughing.
        And thats not all, Bertinelli continued, because all three of them found themselves on an uninhabited island. A month later, the rude passenger suddenly started to get capricious, and muttering, that he is no longer able to bear all the perversion, shot the stewardess!
        The passengers started hooting disapprovingly.
        And thats not all either! declared Bertinelli. Another month goes by and the passenger hits the ceiling once again: Enough perversion! - and imagine - he buried the stewardess without consulting with the captain.
        The passengers were now disapproving of me as well, because I wouldnt stop laughing.
        And one more month went by! Bertinelli said. And the insolent passenger began wailing that he is not going to stand for any more perversion. And with these words, my dear brothers and sisters, he grabs a shovel and digs out the poor stewardess from the grave!
        I adjusted myself in the seat, gathered some air up to my very throat, and shook in laughter so violently, that looking from aside, it could have seemed that the plane was jerking up and down precisely due to that reason.

        When the air in my chest expired, I grew limp, jerked back, shut my eyes and - without any relevance, for the first time in my life - I recalled a scene that I saw as a child with a blind sheep, from whom people had stolen her just born infant, and she, at first, started to twirl in horror, and then, tore off from the place in search of the lost ram in a wrong direction, stumbling over the rocks, and getting caught in thorny bushes. Then, I opened my eyes and saw Gabriela above me:
        Oh! she shuddered as well.
        Were going to live long! I was glad. If two people pronounce the same word at the same time, they will live long! I explained, but the plane shook strongly once again, and I was forced to think that oh is less than a word.
        Gabriela was pushed away from the place, and stumbling against a carton box, she managed to fall with her rear end upon it, and - shouting Hold me! - threw her hand towards me. Clutching at it above the elbow, and feeling happiness, so inappropriate for the occasion, I held on to the whole body attached to the hand. Gabriela smiled gratefully. and then tried to free her elbow from my palms:
        What are you doing here alone? and she stood up, although I did not let go of her hand.
        I am sitting here, getting ready for the end! I confessed.
        Im serious: what are you doing here? You cant be here now! and again she jerked her elbow in my hands.
        I told you, I repeated as well, Im getting ready for the end. And I was laughing because I imagined myself in Bertinellis place, and my palms slipped to her wrist. I would have begun with the words: Dear brothers and sisters!
        Why? Gabriela was confused and looked at my hands around her wrist. What do you mean?
        At such moments... I uttered and also lowered my eyes at my wrist. I dont even know how to explain it. Well, at such moments only warmth saves people! and I got excited. Human warmth!
        Gabriela stopped twisting her hand:
        At which moments? and she corrected herself hurriedly. I mean, you say save?! From what?
        Final moments! I explained. Humor and warmth! That saves at all times, but I thought that we truly begin feeling life when its end appears...
        She did not have time to respond: the plane jerked down, and she was thrown aside. I jumped out of my seat, held on to her by her waist, and lowered her into my seat with a powerful motion. As for myself, I sat down on the box.
        What are you doing to me? Gabriela complained.
        What do you mean? I was the one surprised now. I sat you down. I think, its already beginning... and I lowered my palms onto her knees.
        What? she looked frighteningly at my hands.
        Enough! I answered irritated. Are you going to pretend even there, that nothing is happening?! Like in that joke that Bertinelli told - about the striptease...
        When? Gabriela was surprised.
        Just now! To distract people... Thats exactly what youll do: strip nude - and while were falling - youll pretend that everything is just wonderful! And if someone will tumble out of the window and fly down alone, without the collective, youll throw a blanket after him, so that he doesnt catch a cold... And if suddenly we meet there, youll keep pretending still, yes-yes!
        What are you talking about? Where there?
        There! I nodded towards the sky.
        Thats not where were going, Gabriela was getting anxious, were going down...
        Wonderful, now were no longer pretending! But from there, I pointed downward, were going up there! And I again nodded towards the heavens.
        In utter confusion, Gabriela kept silent, and shaking her legs, she threw my hands off them. Then, suddenly resembling a ghost, overwhelmed by the weight of fluffy forms, she jerked up, but unable to flutter out of the seat, made a sharp movement forward in order to place herself on her feet.
        I did not move away - and from the third, social, zonal space measured by the distance of 3.5 to 1.5 meters, Gabrielas body moved closer to mine onto the low markings of the second, personal, space (from 1.5 to 46 centimeters), while our faces turned out to be in the first, intimate, zone, which included a superintimate subzone with the radius of 15 centimeters.
        After a short instant of confusion we were drawn into that very subzone - and our heads, which  first touched against each other carefully, got entangled in the dense mutual breathing...
        Most probably, Gabriela was surprised by the same thing that I myself was - the inappropriate tenderness of the kiss, stripped of the bitter taste of fear before the peculiar excitement, that is accessible to strangers only. Placing my palms on her neck, I started to caress her cool lips unhurriedly, and listen to the wasted scent of the Red Poppy, which was seducing me into the foreign world of soft curves and plenitude.
        Falling to Gabriela, I was reveling in the safety of the female flesh which was growing into my organism and stripping it of attachment to its own self - a sweet sensation of being freed of cuffs, with which I was tied to myself. I ceased feeling myself as well: I no longer was separately, and therefore there was nothing any longer which was inside me just very recently - not a trace of thought, or fear of the next moments, nor the memory of the previous ones. I was not even possessing my own self any longer. I ceased sensing her, Gabriela, too; there was only a state of dissolving in something boundless and feminine...
        But then the kiss somehow wasted itself away and stopped being...
        And then there was a pause of total inaction.
        Gabriela and I opened our eyes and stared at each other.
        I discerned the same thing in her pupils that she must have discerned in mine - quiet surprise, untouched by neither feeling, nor thought.
        When there was nothing left of the surprise as well, I started to return into myself, but the feeling, that drew me to this woman not long ago, did not return; in that very place where it was inside of me, emptiness was expanding, because no feeling is capable of lingering without the desire to render it some thought...
        But the mood that was born immediately after brushing my lips against Gabrielas breath, kept on lasting - the indifference towards the catastrophe.
        Meanwhile, the plane did not only stop jerking up and down, but even the slight shuddering was no longer felt.
        Why arent we suddenly going down? I was amazed.
        Of course, we are! responded Gabriela, who only recently appeared as a ghost, oppressed by a female flesh, and now seemed like a simple, alienatingly beautiful doll, perhaps not dead, but never alive either. Were going to land soon.
        Before penetrating to the meaning of what I had just heard, I directed my attention to the fact that Gabriela was not at all embarrassed by what had occurred between our lips. Glancing at me with her usual, confident glance, she searched for the lipstick in her left breast-pocket, and waiting until I started blinking, turned to the window and uttered not in her own voice:
        We only have one life and Oreol insists that we should live it with lilac lips!
        I saw no difference between myself and her. Either now, or before, or both now and before, she was hiding behind masks, but all those masks were her own. When she finished painting her smeared lips, and turned to me, I finally asked:
        You said - were landing?
        Thats why I came up here: to take you back to your seat.
        So, were going to land?
        Weve been in the process of landing for a while now, - and were landing in half an hour, and I repeat, that you should go back and fasten your seatbelt! and Gabriela started to get herself out of the seat without my help.
        When she thrust forward, and her body returned to the second zone - we, exchanging a fleeting glance, pushed our heads back.
        Straightening out on her feet, she - standing close to my face - started to fix her skirt on the knees, which like before the take-off, shuddered inside fishnet stockings. The former lusty feeling did not come back to me: perhaps, having seen my own reflection in her, I stopped taking her as something foreign, and thus, seductive. And perhaps - although Gabriela and I did not even finish kissing - everything was much simpler, as it usually is between two strangers, who are hoping, each time, that pleasure will help them shake off the debilitating blandness of being.
        That is why we put in all our strength into getting pleasure with strangers, with the exception of that which cannot be - the knowledge of the stranger. The blandness of life is its only normal state - just as love of a human being is normal only through knowledge of him. But in an effort to escape the blandness, we seek the superhuman by means of pleasure with a stranger. Without the knowledge of him and without love for him. Therefore, without being human. And each time, this pleasure concludes in a destructive sadness, for, if one does not rise up to the human, it is impossible to surpass it.
        Pleasure does not end in an increase of former strength which again, will not be enough to overcome the sadness of being. And this worrisome guess - not like a thought, but like a sensation - arises every time. And sometimes, it comes and does not let go...
        Well! she demanded. Let me go!
        Just like that? I was dumbfounded. And thats all?
        No, thats not all! and she extended her right hand in which, all this time, she was holding a blue notebook. From Dr.Krasner: I didnt let him up here... He was the one who told me that youre here...
        I took the notebook, stood up as well and proceeded to the exit downstairs. By the ladder, barely passing the brocade behind which lay Stone, and which I passed quickly, I froze still: I imagined that someone was moaning, but recalling, that deadmen do not even know how to moan, I turned to Gabriela and let her go first.
        I want to make you laugh, I said when we descended couple of stairs. I was passing by Stone and remembered... I dont know why, but I remembered it appropriately for the occasion: were landing in England... Listen Gabriela: some drunk bozo got a room in a London hotel, and in the morning the front desk clerk is apologizing that he forgot to warn the bozo about the lightbulbs that dont work and about the dead French-woman in his bed. I didnt need the lightbulbs, the bozo said confusedly, and as for the dead French woman, thats too bad - I took her for a live English lady!
        Gabriela giggled, then suddenly changed her expression, and said, that she thinks that she understands why that joke came to my mind, and at the very bottom of the stairs she asked to me to step ahead of her. Making my way through, between the handrail and Gabrielas worrying breasts, I imagined that I, too, understood why the stewardess let me ahead of her:
        Yes, not everything is over yet... Remember - about philosophy?
        She covered the cut of her blouse with the back of her palm - and went back upstairs.

        I was in no hurry to get back to people, to my seat: sometimes people seem vile even without any reason.
        The toilet came to my rescue. Settling onto the toilet bowl, I opened the notebook, which, once again, became mine. My mood changed swiftly: with the exception of words but, and and, all the lines in the notebook turned out to be highlighted with pink, blue, and orange.
        I began with the blue. Since the majority of people are idiots - and that is an axiom - any common knowledge is a lie. And next to it, Genas note in small handwriting: Who said that? A question mark was put after yet another phrase highlit in blue: If a man does not lie, then he does not know how to better the truth. The same sign - a question mark - but nervously crossed over, stood before another phrase: If you have a chance to beat someone up really bad - do it!
        I switched from the blue phrases to the pink, the familiarity with which allowed me to conclude that Gena highlit everything that had to do with emigration in that color. He had put two exclamation points after the very first one chosen at random: Soviet refugee women smell strongly of sweat in some places of their bodies, and in other places - equally as strongly - of Georgio perfume. And the refugee men react to the decline of opportunities, natural outside ones homeland, with the unnatural increase of demands. An analogy: an approach of impotency is manifested by the readiness to screw only beautiful women. A question and exclamation mark stood over the line about the shark attack on recent Soviet emigre women on the Florida coasts, where they bathed without tampons.
        Then, I threw my glance to the notes, which Krasner painted in the disgusting yellow color, although, in my opinion, theyre quite realistic! Why, for example, there couldnt be a Petkhainer who stopped growing at the age of 10? Especially that, when he reached 20, he suddenly gained another 7 cm.! As a matter of fact (or imagination), he gained another 7 cm. when he reached 40. The Petkhainer, at last, calmed down, because he calculated that by the end of his life he would be of normal height. However, the Petkhainer did not realize that while his body was acquiring normal proportions, his face was turning into a resemblance to an abstract painting: all its features and details started withering away...
        Or, why is it impossible to believe in the existence of a Petkhainer who felt all of a sudden that he finally might get through to the true meaning of human existence? For this very reason, everyone around him is terrified with the very fact of his presence in the world, and yet no one dares to cut his throat because of the danger that the pre-death throes will only enlighten the Petkhainers brain...
        Or, why in the world, one cannot imagine that this Petkhainer is the one who stopped growing at the age of 40, even though he already was tall enough to be able to reach the ground with his feet? And why could not he emigrate to New York, fall in love with a Jane Fonda lookalike, a prostitute, - and pay for her trip to Georgia? And why the real star could not take a seat at the same plane? (Lets say, at the stop-over in London.) So, that all the passengers - including Fonda and the prostitute - feel such a confusion that they start behaving exactly like all people do in real life: both funny and idiotically... As if they boarded a Ship of Fools!

        Theres someone there who just keeps silent! Gabriela jerked at the door, and I instantaneously returned to the toilet from the notebook. May be, theres no one there, and the lock is just jammed?
        Lost, I flushed the toilet, and washing away everything I had just read in the notebook from my head, unlocked the door.
        Thats you? Gabriela was surprised. What kind of a habit is that, not to respond! Here I am knocking, and you are silent like... moss in the forest!
        Listen, Gabriela, I got angry, first of all, people dont sit here to exercise in responsiveness, and second, where is that from : like moss in the forest?
        Getting hold of herself, Gabriela was embarrassed and said:
        Im sorry, I am just a bit anxious, and that phrase is from your own notebook: I paged through it a little when I was delivering it to you from Krasner... And I wasnt knocking to send you back to your seat, no... I was frightened, and Miss Fonda... Well, she just wants to use... and Gabriela moved aside, opening the view on Jessica standing behind her.
        I am sorry, Jessica mumbled and covered her lips, smeared with lilac lipstick. I am the one to blame.
        Welcome, Miss Fonda! and stepping over the threshold, I squeezed in between Gabriela and Jessica, sensing the heavy softness of two busts with my back and stomach.
        Jessica darted into the bathroom, and I asked Gabriela:
        What is with you? You have this very strange look...
        She shifted her glance towards me and said:
        I dont even know how to say it... And its probably not worth it... In short, I am somehow disappointed...
        Thats a sign of youth! I encouraged her, Very few things disappoint me anymore...
        Gabriela waited out a pause and decided to say the truth:
        I want to say the truth.
        My heart sank, because any truth is frightening.
        I am just not going to mention any names - and dont ask me, O.K.?
        O.K., I promised. Whats the use of names, anyway?
        She hesitated again, but finally turned away and said:
        I did not believe my eyes! I swear to God, I didnt! Because if I did, what does that all mean? What?
        I dont know, I confessed. Nobody knows...
        What do you mean you dont know?! Thats the end of civilization!
        Really? I asked.
        Yes, a total crash! she agreed with herself. Aboard the plane! and she shook her head.
        Aboard the plane? I repeated. Right on our plane?
        She nodded and I attempted to guess - what did really happen aboard the plane that was more shocking than the already-occurred death.
        Could it be... I began and bend my head towards her gaze. Could it be that someone did it with someone... Im not asking - who!
        Gabriela jerked her head up and nodded sharply:
        Yes. But not anymore... But yes, they were screwing! And I saw it with my own eyes!
        A minute later, doublechecking my conclusions, I voiced them:
        On the other hand, Gabriela, perhaps thats no crash at all, you see? Perhaps, thats not the end but - well, how should I put it? - two people were screwing away to themselves aboard the plane. And may be, not to themselves, I dont know, I did not see... They were just screwing and thats it. They are not pilots, they dont have to watch the course, right?
        Gabriela started thinking as well. She was thinking for a while and it seemed to me that I should help her:
        Lets - if you want to - think together: when we - people that is - are not asleep, we have to live, right? And when you live, you have to do all kinds of things! And whats the difference where youre doing all kinds of things, if youre not asleep, and are living, right?
        I uttered this with a very serious expression, but first, Jessica behind the door, flushed the toilet noisily, and then, Gabriela jerked up and laughed outloud:
        Forget everything, for Gods sake! And go back to your seat!

        Making the way to my seat, I was feverishly trying to imagine - how, where, and who dared to screw aboard the plane. Sitting down, in utter confusion, I declared into space:
        Well, then I will not fasten my seatbelt again!
        Professor Zhadov kept quiet, and I turned my head to him, not because he didnt answer, but because, from time to time, it is necessary to turn ones head...
        It was not Zhadov sitting next to me in the seat, but another live person - Melvin Stone! Everything with him was just as it was earlier. Only his tie, the color of Dutch chocolate, was missing, and his camel-hair jacket was now resting on top of his crutch.
        Mister Stone? I checked.
        Very glad to see you! he smiled.
        No, I am the one whos glad to see you! I grew anxious. You are not there anymore? and I shoved my finger upward.
        No, Im already here!
        Zhadov - at the end of the row - thrust forward and smiled at me:
        You were gone for a while!
        I know, I agreed. I was absent...
        And were landing already, Zhadov wouldnt give in.
        I know that too, I nodded, thinking about Stone. How do you feel, Mr.Stone?
        He is in an enviable mood! Zhadov caught on.
        If Im not dying, Im always in an enviable mood! Stone laughed. I had several heart attacks, but in the interims Im always healthy and always in an enviable mood!
        Thats impossible! the old woman with the wart suddenly retorted. I have a liver and I always feel that. If there is a problem, then its there until you solve it! And there are some problems that are unsolvable!
        Thats also impossible! the savior of the Jewry, Jerry Gutman interrupted from behind. There are no unsolvable problems!
        His continuing existence enraged me:
        Absolute nonsense! Stupid people think that problems exist in order to be solved and that they are solvable. No one ever solves any problems whatsoever. Its just that sometimes, people live longer than problems and other times, they dont.
        Thats right! Stone rejoiced. There isnt even a commandment - to solve problems! And generally, there are no rules in anything, there are only suppositions and signs. I, for example, when I survive, I always suppose that its a good sign! Last time - when I survived - thats exactly what I thought, and a month later I made a lot of money! And once again I decided: its a good sign! And I turned out to be correct... I am very superstitious! and laughing, he added in a quiet voice for me, You, by the way, know what I mean...
        Of course! I answered. You survived again...
        Thats not what I mean! he shook his head. Although youre right - I did survive, and thats also for good luck...
        I nodded confusedly and blurted:
        You know, I also have a heart condition, and I was also lucky not too long ago...
        I saw it! Stone giggled and patted his elbow against my side.
        You did? I asked. What do you mean?
        Please, fasten your seatbelt! Gabriela started but proceeded on her way without stopping.
        Stone nodded towards her and whispered to me once again:
        You know, I saw it, I saw it! and this time he nodded up. I saw it there... You and her... Together... Well, very much together...
        No, I was dumbfounded. Its not what it looked like.
        Stone burst out laughing to Zhadovs amazement, and bending towards me, continued:
        You wont believe it, but we told her the same thing!
        Whom? I did not understand.
        To your Gabriela. We said thats not what it looks like! and once again, he burst out laughing making Zhadov utterly upset.
        Thats what you said? I was shocked. So, that was you?! I mean, you were the one who said that?!
        Both of us did! She and I. What else can you say?!
        She said that also? Who is this she?
        Who is this she? he teased me. Oh, arent you trying to be smart: you want me to tell you the name, you want to make sure - whether I know everything or not, right? Yes, I know! and looking back, he giggled once again, and Zhadov started to look himself up and down.
        Youve confused me, I admitted. So, who is she, really?
        No, Stone shook his head, I wont tell you the name; Ill just say that I know everything. And there she is, by the way! Hi!
        Hi! Jessica answered and sat down into the seat which, earlier, belonged to Stone. Hi! she repeated to me, and did not cover her lips with her palm this time, because they were neatly rouged with lipstick. Hi! she smiled at Zhadov as well.
        Hi, hi! Zhadov nodded diligently. How are you feeling, Miss Fonda? We havent seen you for such a long time, we missed you, although we just saw your movie. What an understanding of the character! And what sensitivity! And in real life you are even kinder: Mr. Stone was telling us here, while you were gone, that if it were not for you, he would not have made it. You are a superwoman! Yes, Mr. Stone is an extraordinary man, but you - with your position...
        Jessica, a bit embarrassed, responded to me instead of him:
        Once again, please, I am sorry!
        I did not understand, because now, I was trying to understand not her but Gabriela, hiding behind the brocade and peeping at Jessica. I attempted to picture her anxiety at the sight of Jessica and Stone hustling behind another brocade. It was not difficult to understand her: you throw aside the brocade, expecting to see a corpse, but the corpse is not only alive, but he is screwing a movie star and a human rights activist on a couch! The end of civilization!
        She is addressing you! Zhadov called me.
        Who? I came to.
        Miss Fonda. She is asking forgiveness for something, said Zhadov, turned to her, and on my behalf asked for her forgiveness in turn. He is sorry too, Jane: its too noisy... Were about to land and he cant hear you... Why, Im sorry, he is asking, are you sorry?
        Tell him: for the incident in the bathroom: hell understand...
        For the incident in the bathroom?! at this, Zhadov grew pale, and after a pause, he turned to me. She is sorry for the incident in the bathroom!
        I heard everything, Professor! I nodded. Thank you!
        And, by the way! Jessica went on addressing me. He knows everything already...
        I do? Zhadov pushed it out of himself. But I dont know anything!
        No, I am talking about Mr. Stone, she sad.
        Zhadov fell silent and Stone shoved his elbow into me again:
        Didnt I tell you: I already know everything! And, you know, I know that you also know everything! Well, you, apparently, knew it from the very start, while I found out in the very end...
        I stopped understanding also, and Stone understood that.
        And until she told me that, he explained, until she told me, I, of course, thought that she is not she, but that she is she!
        Yeah? I asked.
        Yeah! Although, to be honest, and he giggled, to be honest, I did sense something familiar: you know, Ive been with her twice already; and, naturally, I sensed something familiar, and then I thought, no wonder! All women are the same there! and he lifted his jacket from his crotch. And so are we! Everything in this world depends on this place right here! and laughing, he shoved his finger into his temple.
        Zhadov grew indignant, shook his head, and jerked it up to the ceiling.
        And then, she told me everything! She confessed, that she is not her, but - herself! Stone kept on. At first, I got upset: I was having such a feast! I mean, after all, she is a star and... A real fighter! Thats probably why I made it!
        Listen! I did not understand. Why are you telling me all this?
        She was the one who asked me, because you know her personally. I mean - her herself!
        Oh, I see... But you were saying that you were having such a feast and thats why you made it...
        Yes, a feast, a holiday. While I thought that she is not she, but - she.
        Describe it, then. The holiday, I mean.
        That is impossible to describe because its inside the head! Do you like poetry? and without waiting for the answer, Stone concluded. It was like poetry, you see? and he smiled because he liked the comparison.
        Yeah? I did not understand. I dont understand. Why - like poetry?
        Because its better than prose! and he was left satisfied.
        And what about now? After you found out that she is not she?
        Now, its not bad either, because I thought: here I am, Ive been with her before - and it was like prose. But I dreamed that one day, it would not be her but the real thing. And today, I thought that its real, you understand? And then suddenly, I understand that its the same thing! Do you see what Im saying? I even feel better now, because, now I understand that everything in this world - is the same thing! I probably sound stupid, right?
        I did not find what to respond and exclaimed:
        Oh, no! and settling deeper into my chair, let him know that the ship of fools is approaching the land, and it is time to stare into the window. What do you mean stupid? Stupid, smart - isnt that the same thing?
        He looked me in the eyes and uttered:
        Really? I feel a sincere respect for you!
        Me too, I answered and kept quiet, but then, corrected myself. I mean - I also feel respect for you!
        Really? Stone was happy. For what?
        I thought a while and found a sincere answer:
        Because you survived!


        The old woman with the liver in the front row already started to powder her wart for the Londoners. The light in the sky was growing weak, and the colors below - the green, yellow, and blue parcels of land - were acquiring interim hues, hinting that very soon they will merge into one hollow color.
        When the plane dove down several more times - light-colored spots of settlement appeared amidst the fields. Then, Melvin Stones jacket fell to his feet: the plane was slanting down, and it was going slowly, as if it were about to stop in the air and hang over the earth. Under the wing an orange hill was slowly turning around and slithering away, and when it disappeared, I discerned a lonely white automobile with the lights turned-on, upon a gray highway. The highway was sketched through the green fields from a white town with a castle from the Middle Ages in its middle, till another white town with the identical castle in the center.
        I remarked to myself that I am seeing a long road in between the two settlements of people and that I am also seeing a car on the road, and inside the car - I imagined - there sits an unshaven and tired man. This artless picture seemed somehow amazing to me for hazy reasons.
        Soon, one of them became clear: it was amazing, that from here, from above, I am seeing something which I could not have seen from below - I am seeing an automobile on the road and I am seeing where it came from and where it will end up... And at the same time, I dont see any sense in it. Neither in the fact that the man is driving from that town, nor that while he is driving, the day is aging and is transforming into the evening; nor that he will end up in this town, nor in the fact that I see it all from here - the past, and the future. And not even in the fact that no one on earth could see it, just like that unshaven driver can not see anymore where he drove from and where he will end up, just as he cannot see his own future. He is just driving and seeing only that which is possible to see when you are driving along a gray highway, frozen amidst the rye fields and pine forests, which I could also see from above, all of them at once.
        I was realizing the wonder of this simple truth, but I did not understand - what it all meant then.

        A scattered line, made up of multi-colored passengers, gathered around the passport control booth. Together, they looked like an unmade bed. Standing in it, I remarked to myself that this silly comparison came to my head not so much because of the passengers, but because of the head, exhausted by carelessness, alcohol, and lack of sleep. I thought with envy about elephants, which know how to sleep standing up. Then - with wishfulness - about a hot cup of Italian espresso.
        It came out better.
        No, I dont believe my eyes! I heard a shrill female voice behind me and equally as shrill clicking of heels.
        Turning around, I suddenly saw a pure and young Sabbath amidst the unwashed Sunday evenings and humid Mondays.
        The crowd consisted of people whom I always compared to an empty Sunday evening or any other bland weekday, and against its background, this young woman looked precisely like a clear Sabbath morning. I did not have time to make out the details - just as you dont have time to ascertain the temperature of water that they splashed on you to wake you up. I only noted that she must be into dancing and probably lives in a country where they drink espresso.
        No, I really cant believe my eyes! she exclaimed once more and pranced in place.
        Listen! one of the Mondays said to her rudely. Dont believe if you dont want to, just stop pushing and fidgeting: let them pass, who believe! and he complained to me. Whats with this people, nowadays!
        I laughed in response, while I said to Sabbath:
        I could shorten the line for you by one person.
        Really? she was glad. Arent you in a hurry?
        Im just stopping over. My plane is leaving only in five hours. And even if I dont make it, thats no big deal: Im going to Russia... If you get there a year earlier or later, thats not so important: nothing could change... I am from there originally...
        Youre form there? she was glad once more.
        But I live in the States.
        By the way, I have a book from Russia with me!
        Then, she mentioned her name, but I forgot it instantly. As for myself, I introduced myself to her under a different combination of sounds, because I was bored with myself - and in a new country, next to a new woman, I wanted to feel like someone else.
        Why did you laugh when that rude Jew snapped at me? she asked. He said nothing funny!
        Of course, not! I was worried. I just remembered an incident from childhood, you see: there is a line to say farewell to a deceased, who was a neighbor, and the line suddenly gets stuck because this woman starts beating herself in the chest and screaming that she does not believe her eyes! And since it went on for a while, those behind her, demanded that she move and let those who believe their eyes pass forward...
        No, but I really have never seen such a line here, Sabbath justified herself.
        I believe you, I lied and continued worrying. Incidentally, I believed my neighbor as well whos never seen the deceased neighbor in a coffin before! and I, suppressing a new fit of laughter, added. And the Jew who snapped was disgusting. Like all Jews: little humor and lots of vileness! No respect for the beautiful ladies! I despise them for this more than for anything else! I concluded, with the calculation, that flattery mixed with Antisemitism constitutes the surest international password.
        I must have calculated correctly, she got anxious:
        Thank you, but what else do you despise them for?
        For a lot of things! I got lost and in search of explanations, turned towards the rude man, who stood behind me amidst similar weekdays, and was complaining to them about something. They constantly complain to each other, because they - how should I put it? - have a strong complex of the future, and also because nothing unites people more than a complaint.
        Too much energy! Sabbath complained.
        And however paradoxical it might be, they also have a will for death, you know! Masochism! Although a complaint does unite, Jews dont want to be an ordinary people; out of all the feelings which unite, they make do with the pain at circumcisions and common complaints... Most often they complain that everyone wants them dead... And they themselves instill that danger into each other, so that there is something to complain about!
        Sensing pleasure from complaining and blackmailing, I added:
        By the way, that whole damn idea of Jews being the chosen people - that is nothing but the will for death, in other words, - idiocy! and laughing, I added in half-a-tone. But this rude slob has no rights to depend on his being a chosen one: he looks just like the surroundings, in which - look! - everyone is disgusting and looks not even like Jews, but worse - like Mondays... And besides, Jews have short legs.
        Yes, youre right, answered Sabbath, they are all Jews. We flew in together from Tel Aviv.
        Youve returned from Israel? I started.
        I live there, she nodded. I came to London just for a day: for a fitting. Tomorrow evening - Im going back! I only need to go to doctor Bachs!
        To Doctor Bachs! I said, thinking about something else.
        Edward Bach. Its a perfume store in London. All kinds of smells for different ailments... I always shop there...
        Are you a Jew? I dared, but immediately softened the question. Are you not an Italian, for instance?
        No, Im a Jew, she said just as serenely as if she had said that yes, she was an Italian. And from Russia, by the way: I left as a child, when I had short legs!
        Impossible! I was dumbfounded.
        And I even speak Russian, but I wish it was better, and she pulled out a book from her bag. See: Im reading this in Russian...
        I took the book form her and feeling myself a complete idiot for my antisemitic tirade, stared at the cover with the unseeing eyes:
        Yes-yes, I see!
        Im sorry, thats not it! she started. Thats Marquez, and its in English! Have you read it, by the way? About love in the times of cholera? Oh, here it is: Brodsky! They both feel the same to the touch - easy to mix them up; but this one, you see, has a portrait.
        I took Brodsky from her and familiarized myself with the portrait by feel, while I raised my eyes at her - and I did this consciously for the first time because up until then I was looking at her body, which - strange! - I thought I knew.
        Whats the matter? she stopped short.
        Have I seen you anywhere? I asked. Your face?
        If you live in the States, then youve seen it. Even the body...
        Noticing my confusion, she burst out laughing:
        Mostly in Macys, but in other stores as well. They make mannequins of me. From fiber glass: thats in vogue now, glass mannequins... I couldnt make into modeling, but I was good enough to be a mannequin. They make me here as well: thats what Im here for - for a new pose... Here, they make them better: tradition! Madame Toussaut, and in general... Its Europe!
        Yes, I agreed, continuing to be angry at myself for my tradition of unwillingly complicating a simple task - to be liked by a stranger. Speaking of tradition - the most invincible - Im talking about people - is idiocy!
        You mean the Jews again?
        No-no, myself, although I... am a Jew.
        I know: its only Jews who consider other Jews idiots!
        I said it so that you should like me. I didnt know that you are also...
        And thats why I liked you. I am like everyone, a masochist! and she nodded at the control booths. I even started liking the queue.
        Ten minutes - give or take! Are you in a hurry to get to the sculptor?
        Yes, its in Madame Toussaut's.
        If I had time, I confessed again, I would have asked to see it; I was always interested in doubles.
        Well, then, take a look at this ad! and she nodded at the huge board over the booths - Doublemint chewing gum!
        The board consisted of a photomontage made out of two identical, half-naked girls, in between two identically stupid, bronze males against the background of monotonously blue sea, in which every drop, one would suppose, repeats every other.
        And you agree with it? I asked.
        With what?
        With this board. That all in life is the same...
        And here, Sabbath suddenly uttered a phrase which I considered my own:
        My sculptor says it this way: life - is that about which you can say anything, and everything at all, and it all will be true...

        After these words, believing that our acquaintance had come to an end, she turned her back to me. I had only to return her books; however, before doing that, I tried to forget myself and opened up Brodsky. I opened at the bookmark:
                It isnt important what was around,
                or - what the wind blew about;
                that it was too crowded in a shepherds flat,
                and that it was the only shelter they had.
        Besides that stanza, the last one was outlined with a nail:
                The fire was ablaze, but the logs were not found.
                All were sleeping. The star stood out
                with more than just brightness, which now seemed queer -
                the know-how to take faraway for the near...
        Ive seen those lines before as well, but only now they acquired some sort of an anxious meaning. I could not manage to forget myself, and listening to myself, I discovered that this meaning is rendered to these words by the woman standing with her back to me, who stands out of the crowd like a young Sabbath - out of weekdays - with the more than just brightness which unsettled me. And it isnt important what was or is around, that everywhere, it is crowded in the world, and that nowhere in it, either I, or anyone else has any room. All this and the rest is not important, since, although the logs were not found, the fire was still blazing within me, and that lifegiving power was still alive inside of me - the ability to mix up the faraway with the near, a stranger with a neighbor.
        I closed the book, and raising my glance at Sabbath, observed her from head to toe, slowly. Although I had often looked at her, naked and transparent, at Macys windows, nothing in her was familiar to me.
        This was a foreign woman, who lives in the country that I refused to settle down in, because it is still possible to fall in love with it. A woman from another generation, who loves other men, just as alienated from me like her doubles in America and the rest of the people in the crowd. Who is in a hurry, anxious, and rubs her heels against the tile floor, because she cant wait for her turn, in other words, for the traceless unleashing of the simplest knot, which tangled us up together just for an instant. I did not even recognize her perfume from my past. But in this aroma - strange to me - just like in the whole of her faraway essence, I discerned something unmistakably near to me.
        The instantaneous explanation seemed false just as instantaneously. That was not lust: although I was standing right against her back, closer than to anyone else in the world, and although I could have imagined her naked more clearly than others - no separate part of that body emerged in my mind. And at the same time, I was sensing its such simple essentiality for my own body, which frightens with the impossibility of being apart from it, and awakens the ability for insatiation, just like you cant be satiated either with the upper or lower halves of yourself.
        I was swept over by the bitter offense against life for the fact that this woman was faraway and alienated from me. Not even an offense, but something more painful - a deep complaint, which, besides death, could be deafened only by its opposite - love. Yes, I repeated to myself almost outloud, love: thats what makes the faraway - near...
        And following this, a desire sprung inside of me to win over this foreign creature from the world, so that it becomes what it could become - a neighbor. To win it over from the world in an endless act of lovemaking, which does not recognize the end of a festive night and the coming of a weekday morning, and in which the gratification of flesh is both insatiable and accidental. And which, afterwards, when you expire all of the ability of your flesh for pleasure and when you no longer sense its separateness, concludes not in sadness for the mortality of everything that continues, but - with the appeasement with life and with the quiet holiday of presence in it of the one close to you. So unexplainably close, that yet another reason for the sadness we experience upon leaving this world becomes understandable.
        Then, without taking my unseeing glance off Sabbath, I suddenly recalled that only recently I had read about that very sadness - and I shuddered: it was in my hands, that very page, in that book about love in the times of cholera. I began feverishly paging through it, first, from the beginning, and then - from the end; falling off the rhythm, I jumped over many pages onto a page, which turned out to be bent over, and quickly, like running down the stairs, I ran my glance down the lines. And the lower I got, the more unsettled became the beating inside my chest: they must be here, these words, inside these lines...
        There he is falling from the ladder in the yard of his house, that doctor, and he begins to die. There she is as well, running out to the noise, his wife. There they are - outlined by a mark of a nail, just like in the other book about the ability to mix up a stranger with a neighbor.
        ...She saw him already with his eyes closed to this world, already not alive, but struggling with his last efforts against the final blow of death for just an instant, for just an instant which allowed him the appearance of his wife. And he recognized her despite the noise inside himself; he saw her above him through his slightly opened eyes, through the tears of bitter sadness that he was leaving her, through the eyes more pure, melancholy, and grateful than ever before. And gathering his last breath, he gave it to her with the words: Only God knows how much I loved you!
        Just like the very first time I read those words, I sensed suffocation and thought about my wife...
        The understanding of ones own fate with all its reverses not only does not safeguard us from it continuing, as it is destined to do, but it also does not lessen the suffering connected with it.

        Overcoming the shyness over her age, the customs officer in the control booth returned the glasses to her nose and started to look over my papers. As for myself, I was looking at Sabbath standing at the neighboring booth, and explaining something to the middle-aged customs clerk, who was also ashamed of his age.
        Along the corridor - they were let through the VIP lounge - Zhadov, Jessica, Stone, and Gutman were hurrying to the waiting room. All four were talking excitedly and outloud. People looked at Jessica.
        Oh, so you were flying with Miss Fonda? the customs clerk asked me, returning my ticket.
        Of course! I confirmed. And soon, well be off to Moscow!
        You wont be able to - soon, she objected. Moscow is not receiving, and this time, she returned the passport as well.
        Is it rain? I grinned.
        Putch, she answered.
        What is a putch? I could not believe it.
        An overthrow,  and she called for the next traveler.
        No, wait! I started. You cant do that: an overthrow - and thats it! Who overthrew who?
        Im not sure, she explained. Go to the waiting room. We have TV screens, radio, and even newspapers!
        And English women as well! I hurried to the waiting room.
        Sabbath was waiting for me at the entrance, but I was so excited that I wasnt surprised. Or perhaps, I wasnt surprised precisely because I already considered her to be my neighbor, and not a stranger.
        A very civilized lady, very! I declared loudly and taking her by the hand, led her away.
        What do you mean civilized? You did not say anything yourself and I thought - that was it! Was I supposed to be pushy or what?!
        I dont mean you! I answered. I am talking about the customs clerk! Very civilized... All English women are that way, even dolls! Have you seen English dolls? Anatomical monstrosities! They are still ashamed of the truth here! And they dont say anything to the end! Every woman has what? O.K, she might not have a bust, but everyone has a crack between the legs, right? Just take a look at English dolls: they have plastic between their legs!
        Sabbath freed her elbow out of my palm and looked at me with frightened eyes:
        Whats with you?! Dolls are a fantasy, not an anatomy guide!
        I felt like asking about her glass doubles, but - I held myself in check:
        I am just excited! I said. She told me there was an overthrow in Moscow!
        Yes. I even thought thats why youre going. Although when you were leaving the States, it had not probably started yet...
        Going because of the overthrow? I exclaimed. First of all, they dont allow anyone to the putch, and second... and here, I finally started to think.
        The pause turned out long, and it was not I who interrupted it:
        I know what youre thinking about. Youre thinking that now - while theres a putch in Russia - you have time to go with me.
        I shuddered because I was thinking precisely of that:
        Thats right! But, on the other hand, I also think, that an intelligent man would not do that. They say, that fate prepares a main woman for each man, and one must lose her...
        Sabbath gave her face a stern expression:
        First of all, give me back my books, thats why I was waiting for you. And second of all, you just said on the other hand. But there is also another side of the medal, a third one.
        Thats what they say about humor, I interceded. Third side of...
        I am being serious, she interrupted now. Heres the third side for you: we all want to be ourselves...
        Right, I interrupted once again, but we want to be ourselves only when we dont want to be someone else.
        Please, dont interrupt! she begged. We all want to be ourselves, but we can reach that only through renunciation of that which others have stuffed into us. And we, ourselves, the way that we are, - I read this somewhere or heard - we ourselves are composed of one instant, when once and for all we understand who and what we are... It sounds silly but I was not waiting for you because of these books.
        Having heard this, I was struck dumb, because I considered those words mine as well. I came to, sensing that someone had grabbed my hand.
        Ive been looking for you all over the place! Jessica screamed at me. Thats horrible, isnt it! and she started dragging me towards the TV, under which Zhadov, Stone, and Gutman crowded together, and to which Gena Krasner and Alla Rozin were hurrying along with her delegates, and still other passengers whom I did not know by name.
        Wait! I threw to Jessica. Its not so horrible... Big deal - an overthrow... May be its good...
        Good?! Jessica was amazed. Are you an enemy?!
        Calm down, Miss Fonda, I am a friend! Here, let me introduce you to... Shes a friend too! and I nodded at Sabbath, who still did not have time to settle down after the appearance of the star.
        I am sorry! Jessica threw to her. I will return him to you! and once again she dragged me to the television. Ill give him back to you in a minute!
        Oh, no, Miss Fonda, you shouldnt, please! Sabbath squeezed out. I mean - if you need him... Please! We hardly know each other... We were just talking while we were standing in... He let me pass in front of him... And I just took the books from him... and she threw at me a glance which simultaneously betrayed the insincerity of what she just said and the sincerity of what she did not say - a glance which immediately became unforgettable, just as that simple moment itself becomes unforgettable.
        Jessica - panicking - took me over to Zhadov, who was commenting on Yeltsins speech for the crowd that gathered around him:
        A fine speech! Hes a true leader!
        What did he say? I asked.
        Well, he said, as they say, no pasaran, that wont go!
        What wont go?
        The putch, he says, it wont go!
        And what else could have he said? I interceded. He could not have said that it will go!
        Yes, but he said it like a real leader!
        In other words, he probably said it three times? I grinned.
        What do you mean? Zhadov got offended for Yeltsin.
        Real leaders say everything three times, I laughed. First, they say that theyll say no pasaran, then, they say no pasaran, and in conclusion - they say that theyve just said no pasaran!
        But he really did say it three times! exclaimed Jessica. So maybe, it really wont go!
        It wont, Jane, it wont! Zhadov calmed her down. And I am personally going to the BBC now: I will ask for the microphone in the Russian service and say - no pasaran!
        Of course, it wont! Melvin Stone confirmed. Because it never will!
        Not a chance! Gutman cawed. International community and in general! Jews, after all!
        The black delegates were all together asking Alla Rozin for her personal opinion, which she didnt have. She nodded her head to me - apparently, she recognized me, and advised the delegates to address their questions to me. Flattered by her attention, I answered sincerely:
        One of the two: it will either go or it wont...
        The delegates laughed carelessly, as if they also did not give a damn, and I started to look for Sabbath with my eyes. She was nowhere around - and my heart sunk low.
        Listen! Gena Krasner stepped to me. Youre right: it will either go, or it wont, but heres what Im thinking about: maybe its better not to fly there in any case? After all, its dangerous!
        Youre also right, Gena! I answered and ran away. It is better. For me at least. And not because its dangerous...


        I decided to forget about Moscow both easily and quickly - while Gena was uttering his phrase. And just as easily and quickly I would have answered his question why? And because, Gena, I would have said, that, yes, thats right: no matter who you are, no matter how long you live, and no matter where you twirl, all of your life comes down to that one, short moment, when suddenly and forever you understand who you are. It seems to me, that after looking around and not seeing Sabbath anywhere - thats when I did understand what it was that I needed from my life. I am not talking to you about love: who? - nobody knows what that is, although they do say that it heals any pain and solves all the problems of existence. I am not talking about that, for one should not talk about what he doesnt know; and I dont know because just like you, just like everyone in this world, I have a lot of pain inside my soul, and just as much torment - inside my head.
        I am talking about something else: let it be with pain or torment, life could be lived out to the end only if it seems natural. While we are living - into our life there come in and then disappear lots of people, lots of guesses and experiences. And we forget them. You forget - when existence without that or whom you forget becomes natural. But sometimes - with some it happens often, with others rarely - something happens which you will never forget, and without which - and you know this beforehand - life will no longer be natural, without which its impossible, just like absence of a thought of oneself is impossible.
        And then, to each his own, Gena! To you - your book on transformation, that one person becomes another suddenly, just like you became a philosopher from an obstetrician, although, I, to be honest, dont quite see - how did you hold my thoughts from my notebook as yours. And even, excuse me, my life. Or that jerk, Zhadov: he, you see, cant live without declaring over the BBC that the putch wont go. To each his own - and without that disappeared woman, whom I named Sabbath, life, perhaps, would no longer seem natural to me, because, as it seems to me, I will never forget her. And if this, as you probably think, merely seems to me - where is the borderline between seems and is? Think about it and answer me, after all youre no longer an obstetrician but a thinker; and if this is really the case, if it doesnt merely seem to you, then, you will answer: no, there is no borderline between is and seems! To put it shortly, I have to find her and win her over from the world, in order to make her near, because there is no holiday more truthful or more joyful, than not simply mixing up the faraway with the near, but making it such!

        Apparently, I was not just thinking but muttering in half-a-tone, because the taxi driver was asking me if I was addressing him. No, Dr.Krasner. And each time, he assured me that hes heard of him: he works there, where Im going, at Madame Toussauts.
        It was, of course, raining in London, but it was not the English rain, which is usually an octave lower than in the rest of the world, and comes only to ruin your mood. It was a seeing rain, and everything around looked like a warning. Even the sky seemed so hard, that I could not believe that only recently I was moving through it...
        Sabbath was not at Madame Toussauts. But as the taxi driver insisted, there was Dr.Krasner there, the director of restoration, who looked not like Gena, but the Uganda cannibal, Idi Amin - only he was not black, but white. And incidentally, he was restoring precisely the very African he resembled, and on the shelf above his head, there was a bad copy of Stalins head covered with dust: the proportions of the face were correct, but his expression - was unexpected. The real Stalin, as I remembered him from the mausoleum, looked like a tired, Caucasian wiseman, who had covered his eyelids either because he wanted to reminisce about his childhood, or because he had seen so much, and was wise enough not to wish to see anymore. And here he was looking at me with such eyes as if he had recognized his countryman, and was thinking whether it was worth for him now to live out my life.
        Shaking off from his glance, I asked Dr.Krasner about Sabbath from the country of Israel. He answered at first that no one wants to live forever, but everyone wants to - all over again, and then announced that he doesnt know such a woman: they dont make glass mannequins here, but in one of the three other Madame Toussauts studios, located in various ends of London.
        In the third one, in Isling, which turned out to be closed because of the late hour, the watchman, who looked like a botany-scholar, declared that there were a lot of different women during the day, and the sculptor left happy because he had finished his fittings and did not go home, but to the airport, from where he was planning to fly to Australia. He also said that the resurrection of the flesh - is not a worthy cause, if a serious reconstruction of organism is not conducted at the same time...
        Then, just in case, I started searching for Sabbath in artists cafes and bars, although I was sure that I was not going to find her there, or anywhere else. From bar to bar - together with dizziness inside my head - there rose inside my soul the desperation of not-finding and the suffocating feeling of a symbolic significance of it.
        Close to two, I got an address of a restaurant which was apparently a hang-out place of London models.
        I found only one there - with the hair, the color of a blue forget-me-not and with a forget-me-not in her hand, colored in golden dye for the beginning blondes. In response to the question about the glass Israeli woman, she offered lots of words permeated with almond liquor, from which it became clear, that the old style in which her Russian sculptor works is more to her liking: the feet should be made of metal for strength, hands and legs from a heavy cloth, hips and waist from paper-machet, and the bust and the head from wax. Although its heavy, its still solid and sure like at Madame Toussauts. And as for the glass, she pointed to her necklace of glass balls, in each of which a real fire was burning, - the fact that became apparent after her companion, who turned out to be a Russian sculptor, turned out the light in the room.
        When the light came back on, the sculptor made me drink the almond liquor, declared that he wanted to get rich quickly, even if hed have to do some honest work, and advised me to look into the bar for the Middle Eastern guests of the Englands capital.
        Sabbath was not there. There were Arab men and women. The first wearing white, and the latter - black kufias. The men displayed portable phones of turquoise color, and from time to time they dialed some numbers, but they could never reach anyone.
        Despaired, I sat next to a middle aged couple from the Arab Emirates, and hoping for a scandal, offered them to drink a toast for decent and small countries. To my surprise, they both drank, although the wife diluted the vodka with orange juice after which she felt hot - and much to my dismay, she threw off her black chadra from her face. As a result, I was open to the view of her slanting nose with a dense bushels of hair coming out of the nostrils and totally plucked out eyebrows.
        The Arab, though, started ordering vodka himself, and demanded that I support the toast so that Allah should never agree to turn mens dreams into reality. Also, he complained form time to time of Allahs territorial distance from the Arab Emirates and the territorial closeness of a small, but alas, not decent Jewish state.
        Then, he said that he likes me, and although the truth is always said with some purpose in mind, he, nevertheless, was going to declare it to me with no purpose at all. And while his spouse, who had grown brave from vodka, was playing with an orange, - throwing it from one palm to another and making splashing sounds, - he informed me of six truths at random order.
        First, 80% of body heat evaporates through ones head. Second, it is best to hear out sad stories when you have nothing to be sad about. Third, peace and greed are incompatible. Fourth, any law is a mistrust of humanity. Fifth, running away from fear is only multiplying it. And sixth, a man is afraid of a womans beauty and therefore he always tries to humiliate a beautiful woman, but women are just as perverse as men.
        I interrupted him and asked for his spouses opinion, but the spouse, as it turned out, did not understand English, and the husband did not wish to translate the question to her, as a result of which, she, not suspecting that I was awaiting an answer, kept on playing with the orange. Essentially, though, I was busy drinking vodka, staring up at the ceiling which looked like an overturned cake, and getting drunk upon the clinging thought of Sabbath. And all that time while we were sitting in the bar, the Arabic music was playing there, filled with tenderness and sadness, but unexpectedly for me, it turned out to be military.
        We were the last to leave and come out to the street, right before dawn. A bird, crazed by the nightly leisure, was screaming in the park across the street, while the bushes of an unknown plant were sprinkled either with fireflies or little balls of red enamel. In the sky though, which was still stripped of transparency, there was not a single star - as if someone had hidden them from the eyes with a black Arabic shawl, or plucked them out like eyebrows.

        Saying goodbye to the spouses, I announced that I was going in the opposite direction, and turned to the nearest street. And thats when I saw Sabbath.
        From afar, it seemed that she was looking right at me, but as I got closer, her glance turned out to be transparent - clear, like water in an indoor pool. The pose was just as mute and directed nowhere - the only composition of hands, torso, and legs which strips the body of any expression. The underwear - also transparent - made by Kookai, and there was no opening between her legs.
        Returning my glance to her eyes, I suddenly realized the embarrassment I felt when I first looked into her live face. Her eyes, transparent then as well, reminded me of the moisture of the Israeli lake Kennereth. Apparently, there was the same sensation: serenity that buried inside itself the quiet mystery and silent music...
        Some time ago, I had spent a whole night by the waters of Kennereth, in a state of continuous surprise, that this immobile moisture buries inside itself the secrets of so many people, who did not want to live and drowned, and about the one and only amongst them, about the Nazarene rabbi, who walked along the water easily - like fools along life, but in the end, had chosen death, asking for a gulp of moisture while on the cross. And also, by the waters of Kennereth, I recalled a song about those waters...
        Only now, observing the glass eyes behind the glass window of Kookai, did I realize my recent embarrassment. There, it was the lake Kennereth, and here - its not the purity, but purification. Then I looked closer at the expression of her face, which revealed a slight grin, signifying the inability to love - a symbol of freedom from passions, a sign of foolishness, a sad human trait.
        It was the same not-London rain that interrupted me. One of the two, I concluded, distracted from the window: either everything in this world is composed of nothing... Either a true essence of anything is its absence, its being made from Nothingness, or the sculptor that had flown to Australia is suffering form total lack of talent...
        In any case, I thought, stepping along the deserted street and clinging close to the buildings, I am no longer going to look at her copies, since even this first glance at the glass Sabbath pushed me into the waters of forgetting about her. I sensed, that this water of forgetting, still as glass, is capable of filling up all the intermediary spaces in my memory - and then Sabbath will vanish forever, just like transparent glass vanishes if you look through it long enough...
        After some time, when it became light, I found myself in Covent Garden.
        Despite the rain and the early hour, some sober old man - right by the low arch in front of the Opera building - was fixing the rubber British premiere in the armchair under the tent, who, as I recalled, was going to ponder outloud and invite the passerbys into a gallery of inflatable heroes, located in the courtyard behind the arch.
        Last time it was not the British premiere but Reagan, lamenting over the whole square that the Soviet Union is the evil empire, but the inflatable heroes inside the gallery would help you overcome this frightening truth...
        I asked the sober old man - what the premiere was going to be announcing today. It turned out, that the topic was the same as Zhadovs, Stones, and Gutmans: the Moscow putch is not going to work!
        Leaving the arch, I stumbled upon another old man - a drunk one. He was hiding from the rain in a luxurious saddle of an Arabic mare under the merry-go-round shed. From time to time he fixed the knot of his tie under the unshaven Adam apple and took gulps of Italian wine from the bottle. He turned out to be Scottish, suffering because of an old love and anglofication of his native culture.
        I decided to get into a saddle as well, but I chose a Royal shire. Water was dripping from the yellow shed around the bored horses, while dizziness was twirling in my head slowly, like a tired merry-go-round.
        Remarking to myself that I was drunk, I thought that were I a sculptor in addition, I would have placed duplicates of famous personages when they were children upon the mares: little boy Socrates, for instance, young Stalin, little Jesus, Hitler as a youth, God Jehovah at a tender age... I would have placed them upon the horses and twirled the merry-go-round, slowly, at first, - like one does for children - and then faster, so that soon, they would merge into hazy flashes of colors.
        A voice that screamed out my name halted my dizziness. Under the next horse, raising his gray beard stood a man whom I knew - Sasha Tsukertort.
        Sasha Tsukertort! I exclaimed and hopped off the horse.
        Shaking my hand, he informed me right away that although he is still Sasha, he is, however, no longer a Tsukertort, but Voronin.
        Are you living someone elses life? I guessed.
        No, he shook his gray beard, unfortunately, still my own, although everyone deserves each other.
        Then, he told me that he works in the building across the street, at the BBCs Russian Service, and just in case, calls himself Voronin on the air. Then, just as I feared, he started to talk about the putch: here I am, he said, coming back from the night shift, and during that night shift I met Professor Zhadov from Washington, who, despite the late hour, was trying to prove that the putch is not going to work.
        The point is not the putch, and not even Zhadov, Tsukertort assured me, but that there is a struggle between two powers going on here: the first one holds, that it is possible to create a new human merchandise through the manipulation of social institutions, while the other thinks that despite some important defects, people function profitably only if they belong to themselves.
        I considered two things to be the important defects: the inability to live without getting old and the inability to think. Sasha was stripped of both. The dizziness in my head did not let me recall the date of our last meeting, although I did recall something else: he had as many wrinkles then as he did now - not a single one, and he thought only on intricate matters and only outloud. When I approached him closer in the hopes to discern at least one meek wrinkle through his own lenses, he started to speak louder, believing that along with my wrinkles I had also acquired deafness throughout the years.
        After his announcement about the putch, he said that he is ready to voice his opinion about yet another London scandal - the decision of the Royal Society Of Human Fertilization to give out the names of sperm-donors. Thats unallowable, since most of the donors, students, despite the lack of money for handbooks, are ashamed to visit sperm banks and masturbate into a bottle even incognito. The new decision is going to make matters worse, especially as, according to that new decision, the maximum amount paid should not exceed 15 pounds: even the most generous donor could not hope for more than ten donations, in order not to allow the monotony of human types.
        The female clients have the right to know a lot about the donor - their race, age, and history of illness, - everything except for the name and the address, Sasha was indignant! They can even know their gender!
        Coming to, I behaved similarly: first, I grew indignant at the miserly reimbursement for the donation, and then laughed, and added, that this could be compensated by introducing the donor to a pretty assistant.
        Sasha thought a little and brought the theme to its conclusion: giving out names is silly, because whats the difference whether its Johnson or Robinson? None in this case, I said, but if you were the donor - which last name would you have given - Voronin, or Tsukertort, just in case?
        Concluding from all this that I must be drunk, Sasha informed me that I was wrong, since dizziness is a state one should delight in with a sober head.
        I am not drunk! I got offended. I am ill.
        You start in the morning? he could not believe it. Whats this illness called?
        There is no Latin name for it, I reasoned and added.  There is no name for it in any language. There is just this very stupid and bad word to describe one of its side effects, and I laughed once again. Love!
        Sasha had no intentions of laughing: he pulled out a checkered handkerchief, the size of a chess board, and started drying his graying head of hair. Drying his beard as well, he rearmed his eyes with a new pair of glasses and said:
        Love is a dangerous thing... And what about your wife?
        I love her, of course, but... what can I tell you? Its just a bad rule, you see, that if you love one woman its not nice... A wife is wife, you see... I was embarrassed and defended myself with a pun, which, as I recalled, Sasha liked to compose from time to time. Bear in mind that even Noah, wasnt faithful to his wife, you know; for after all, a wifes - a wife, and she is not the end of life!
        Is she in London? Not she, but the other one?
        Yes, I was embarrassed once again.
        Do I know her? A stupid question, - we havent seen each other in 17 years!
        No, its not stupid, I answered. Youve seen her.
        Its still stupid: its not her, its us.
        You and me? I was scared.
        Well, in general: you, me, that Scotsman. He, by the way, is also suffering every morning! and he waved his hand to him. Hi, Sam! When are you shooting yourself, today?
        Maybe! Sam agreed cheerfully.
        By the way, he is an ex-general, Sasha returned to me. Hes got a fine collection of handguns... You know, I also, and for the very same reason, wanted to shoot myself, asked him for a gun, but he did not give it to me, and then I found salvation... And may be not...
        So, he didnt give it to you?! I was indignant.
        No, he didnt... Just listen to the salvation: it all has to do with you, yourself, you see? Because what kind of an illness is love, anyway? It strikes you so easily only because you torture your own body!
        I do? I could not believe it.
        All of us do. And we torture it with our consciousness: we no longer listen to our body and no longer know its language. When we are children, we think with our bodies, but later we forget its voice, and we remember it only when, inebriated by someone elses flesh, we tear off the mask of consciousness and...
        I dont understand, I interrupted him.
        Sasha sighed and changed his glasses for horizon vision for another pair - the one for closer observation.
        Dont interrupt me! What was I saying? And dont remind me - Ill remember myself! Yes! We tear that mask off ourselves, plunge at the woman and pour sperm instead of desperate tears. But thats not life; thats an agony, which is, Im sorry to say, - a false form of suicide; which leaves us strength enough for yet other tortures over our consciousness. We begin chasing after sexual victories, but the loss of ones own flesh, Im sorry to say, is in no way compensated with the possession of someone elses !
        You dont have to apologize every time, I suggested, especially as I dont understand in any case.
        What the fuck dont you understand?
        Well, I dont understand if you mean masturbation, and I also dont understand why it keeps one away from suicide?
        Although the rain was still pouring hard, Sasha pulled out his hand from under the shed, and checked the water for wetness. Then he returned that hand to his torso, and wiping it off with a wet handkerchief, looked deeply into the horizon and uttered with sadness in his voice:
        It follows that suicide is not only an annihilation of flesh by the consciousness, but vice versa as well - of consciousness by the flesh. A suicide takes a revenge against his fate for the fact that his flesh has died... You cant get anything through suicide!
        And saying goodbye with a nod of his head, more likely to himself than to me, Sasha Tsukertort swallowed the tears that had gathered at his throat, stepped away from the merry-go-round and went along the puddles into the rain, apparently not wishing, to hear from me that it is impossible to get anything from suicide except suicide, and if you do get that, then, you dont have to get anything else...

        Seeing him off with the glance until the farther edge of the horizon, I returned onto the horse and reminded myself that tomorrows legends are scattered in todays details. Any old trifle hides all that exists inside itself - from its own self to the most grandiose. And vice versa: ring of the whole existence might suddenly narrow down to the tiniest element.
        Incidentally, thats not vice versa, but the very same thing.
        Each thing - is the truth, because one can say any words about it - and vice versa: The air smells of Eastern dew. Words dont lie. Objects - do! Thats correct also, because its the same thing. Who said it? Ill sober up and remember.
        And perhaps, I started to sober up, by looking into the scattered details around me, which began to become visible in the morning light, as they would have become visible in a photo developer, as they would have become visible just at dawn to the other side of the ocean, at a New York port, under a window of a plane which had not taken off yet.
        The identical box of Marlboro had become visible now as well from under the deaf, gray color of the square. The only difference was that - there, the wind was beating it around the concrete lot, while here - the rain was trampling it in place.
        Just like a day from a lived-out life shows through in ones memory, so a vagabond showed through the day. He was lying in a fetal position on one of the steps, on a porch of a little yellow shop, to which my horses head was pointing. Now, the vagabond is moving and waking up: now everything begins to show through for him as well in this widening light.
        And then - just like one more day out of life - there showed through yet another vagabond - a very young one, with orange spiked hair. And still another vagabond - a step higher: also like yet another day from the past, it doesnt matter which, - a random day.
        Incidentally: Everything becomes interchangeable - like the days you live. Shuffle them around the sum doesnt change. Close you eyes. Trod the ways. Write an equal sign between all of your days. Where are these words from? Are they from the book that Sabbath had? Sabbath. Probably interchangeable as well...
        Ill recall you once. Then cross you out. Faith - is just an abundance of doubt. I remembered: this was all written by Yana, my daughter. But my daughter wrote this about the past...
        And isnt Sabbath the past now as well?
        Then the sign of the yellow shop came through: Perfume store of Dr. Edward Bach. Edward Bach? Why does it sound familiar? I remembered that too! Sabbath was planning to visit it: All kinds of smell for all kinds of ailments. I always shop there.
        Sam! I called the Scotsman. When does Dr.Bach open?
        Oh, youre sitting because of Bach? Sam, who looked like a man whos got less than 24 hours of life in him, was saddened. I thought that you want to shoot yourself also, but you, it turns out, you are trying to live forever... Go, go - Bachs already open.


        Dr.Edward Bach turned out in this case to be a faceless woman, who looked not only British, but like a pharmacist as well.
        I introduced myself to her as a photographer, and she said that yes, she knows a model from Israel, who, like any other person, could be compared to Sabbath by anyone who chooses to do so. She doesnt remember her name, and the last time shed seen her was a long time ago. Then, she poked her glance into me and declared that I myself look either like a foreigner, or like a sick person, - in other words, a man who is not capable to stop knowing what he knows. And she began to expound on 38 scents from Dr.Bachs collection, for various illnesses of the soul.
        The doctor had separated those states into seven categories: anxiety; doubtfulness; solitude; indifference; an extreme acquisence to thoughts; desperation; and participation in the wellbeing of the world.
        Then, the pharmacist started to hand me tiny bottles one after another, opening them up and announcing the names of the extract.
        Two drops per glass of water! she ordered. But I want you to smell it right away: its better than perfume!
        The bottles were pushed under my nose in alphabetical order: aspen - against sourceless anxiety; beech - against intolerance to people; cherry plum - against disorderly thoughts; chestnut bud - for those who commit same mistakes over and over; chicory - for those who dedicate themselves to loved ones; gentian - against despair; gorse - against pessimism and the sense of doom; heather - against loquaciousness and extreme interest for ones own existence; honeysuckle - against nostalgia; hornbeam - against Monday; larch - against inconfidence in oneself and the fear of failure; mustard - against sourceless sorrow; oak - for those who are strong, but tired of life...
        I am buying this!
        Oak? the pharmacist was happy.
        While I was smelling the tiny bottles, an hour or more had gone by. The rain stopped pouring, the old man disappeared from under the merry-go-round, and I did not think of Sabbath even once.
        On the street however, amidst the morning-like, densening crowd, she came to mind again - like a sharp pain, which seems even sharper after a brief absence. Afraid of the onslaught, I started to search for the glass copies of the Israeli in the window shops in order to stop or even perhaps, defile the thought of her, drenched in all the scents from Dr.Bach. Not one of the copies in the Kookai windows on Oxford street managed to do that and the pain was becoming more and more anxious.
        It is not Sabbath, I recalled, but my own flesh. I attempted to concentrate on that very flesh, imagining it from aside and observing the object first from afar, and then - closer, and closer, until, finally, I once again fit into my own borders, like the duplicates of human bodies fit into the borders of the photolense.
        Keeping in mind that the pain was increasing, I was trying to keep as farther from myself as possible. During some time, it even seemed to me that all the people on the street look the same: the crowds of identical doubles.
        On Regens Street I noticed myself from afar, crossing the street to meet my own self, that is, someone else, who looked exactly like me. Running up to them, I got upset: from close-up, neither one of them not only did not look like me, but did not even look like a foreigner, deprived of the ability to stop knowing what he knows.
        Then, I wandered into the theater district - and it became easier: although the plays were familiar, I was distracted by advertisements. I relayed two in memory: the first promised a moralistic tale about the dynamics of complex emotional relationship between the tender Italian, Romeo Montekki, and his rich Veronese girlfriend, Juliette Capuletti. Despite the text, Romeo did not look like a tender youth at all. Such an insultingly gigantic penis was crowding inside his tights, that the delicate Juliette lying at his feet looked not like a breathless victim of complex relationship, but like a virgin, who had lost her consciousness upon finding out that her passionate boyfriend was going to overtake her without local anesthesia.
        Another advertisement promised an anti-Hollywood, bloodless version of a widely known story about two brothers, Cain and Abel, who, judging from a photograph, however, looked like typical Californians from the Marlboro ad. According to the text, the anti-American mood of the play shows through not so much in the fact that the renown brothers are represented as Palestinians from the then-already-occupied Israeli territories, but in the following: in a final scene Cain does not kill Abel. Either he is afraid of resistance, or - he is just ashamed...
        Although laughter deafens the pain, and I therefore started to recall jokes, new ones did not come to mind - only those that Ive already heard. I did recall, however, - but not before I reached Piccadilly - a fact. When Stalin was dragged out of the mausoleum, where he was resting next to Lenin, the Georgians got offended and raised hell, which reached its climax within two blocks of my house, on Beria square.
        And so, Lenin and Stalin, suddenly rant up to the platform, that was set up there in a hurry. There were either actors, or their doubles. The people plunged into delirium, so common in Transcaucasia. The applause and the wailings of the crowd inspired the leaders, and at first, they embraced, and then, started to kiss, and Lenin was kissing Stalin more passionately. This amused me, for I considered Northerners more reserved than Transcaucasians.
        Noticing confusion in Stalins posture, which soon transformed into irritation, I, the only one on the whole square, allowed myself to let out a giggle. When - against Stalins wishes, but obeying the string desire of the people - Lenin hang on to his neck, and started kissing him like hero-lovers kiss other heroes of the same gender in homosexual pornomovies, I started to laugh outloud.

        I envy you! someone told me from behind. You are probably having the happiest day of your life!
        I turned around and saw Dr.Krasner from Madame Toussaut walking after me, but now, in the crowd, he looked not like the Uganda-born cannibal Amin, but an average Jew with inadequate metabolism.
        Oh, hi! I started. There are no happiest days: there are only happiest minutes. By the way, I was just thinking about one of your wax heroes.
        From Uganda?
        From Georgia. Thats where Im from.
        From Georgia? Krasner was happy. And I thought that you were from Israel... I respect Georgians, unlike! Even Stalin, although idiots call him a moustached upstart...
        No, I am not from Israel, I was just asking you about a woman from Israel...
        Yes-yes, she looks like Sabbath, right? And when you left - I was trying to figure out who it is that you remind me of? You look like someone, but I cant recall who. And now I recognized you instantly: you were walking past Dillon, and I was coming out of there...
        What is Dillon? I asked sensing the return of the pain under my heart.
        Its a bookstore, Krasner was surprised. The best in London! I had to come all the way here for this! and he raised a paperbag in his hand. I could not even find it in Oxford! Believe me, I could not! and he pulled out a blue book.
        Believing that he could not find it even in Oxford stores, I started to page through it out of politeness. I stumbled upon the very first line of the randomly opened page: ... and all live creature will start living the other way around - knowing perfectly well in advance what is going to happen with them, but having no idea about their past...
        I was dumbfounded.
        Are you not feeling well? Krasner touched me.
        No-no, I came to, noticing only that we are standing by the crossroad. I was just thinking of something...
        Lets go there! Krasner moved, and took me along with him to a bench. Lets even have a sit, if youre not in a hurry. I have a day off today, and youll be able to read this, allright? I can see youre burning with interest! Right? And I will try to remember who you remind me of! All right? By the way, its called a shoemaker without shoes: you, know, I am an expert on copies, but I cant seem to recall yours... Thats how it is, right? But I am trying to remember - dont think that Im not... You know, I dont like modern Jews, but very ancient ones - yes. And so one of those very ancient ones - his name was Bahya - said that if a man did not have the ability to forget, sorrow would never leave him... But, on the other hand, everything depends on what you forget. Sometimes you forget the wrong thing - just like I did right now: Im trying to remember and I cant - who it is that you look like, right?

        We were now sitting among the pigeons, equally as attached as Dr.Krasner, who was talking about - what it was exactly that he meant yesterday, when he stated that no one wants to live forever, but everyone dreams to live anew.
        No longer listening to him, I opened up the blue book where I had put my finger and returned to what I had already read: If every element of the universe was forced to move in the opposite direction, the course of things will cardinally alter. The splashes of a drop broken against the foot of the waterfall will not scatter and disappear, but, on the contrary, return into the waterfall and fall upward, not down. All living creatures will start living the other way around, knowing perfectly well in advance what is going to happen to them, but having no idea about their past. The microscopic world is capable of altering the arrow of time and turning the macroscopic one inside out.
        Impossible! I whispered to myself and thought, without taking my glance from the page, in order not to scare Dr.Krasner, who was talking about the same thing - but not with me anymore, but with a pigeon. So what follows from this? It follows, that the red-haired poet, who was reading a poem to us in the First Class compartment about the right way of life - is right: one should begin life from death, and it is entirely possible! Perhaps, thats what one must begin with, because all other attempts to begin anew only result in continuation of life! Krasner is right: not wishing to live eternally, everyone wants to begin one more time. But why? Because to return into life or to begin anew is to defile death, to strip it of its significance of the end, which plunges us into the Nothingness...
        Our readiness to begin life anew is a trick, which accustoms us to regard death as just another falsity, an ordinary illusion, and not like the real, main and final tragedy. Dreaming to begin everything all over again, we dream of death, which returns us to life. Death - and this is amazing - becomes a condition of continuing our existence. It starts to acquire some charm, and, like the image of the crucified, dying Christ, unconsciously evokes hope, and even joy, inside of us. Thats where the attraction for self-destruction comes from - in a man, in humanity, in the whole universe. Although no one even realizes this!
        Yes, only through death it is possible to win over death, and only death returns us to the past, to reliving it all over again! We want to live, because to live - is good, and we know this only because weve already spent some time in it and dont want this state to cease, we want it to go on. It is not the eternal life that we want, it is not the future which we have never experienced and which doesn't not speak to us in any way, or means anything to us - no! We want something else - the unending experience of that which we already know: the past. A continuous return into it, a continuous being in it.
        Present does not exist. Present is being today, now, in the past, the continuation of the past and return into it. Thats why one should also live from the future into the past, reveling in it not only all over again, but in a different way, for this time, the knowledge of the future - (the knowledge of that which we were bound to go through, but in reality is something which we already went through, which we already lived out, that is practically, the knowledge of the past) - this knowledge no longer oppresses us with a fear of the end. We do not depart into death, but into the beginning, - to that which had already been! This is victory over the tyranny of time. And altering of its arrow the other way around.
        And also - and this is important now: my sudden, and incredible obsession with Sabbath, this crazy hunt after her, is not the pull towards the unknown, but, vice versa - the unstoppable passion for the already-experienced, for life, for its continuation, which is only possible if one always begins everything all over again!
        But heres whats most important: it was precisely this hunt after her, this silly hope to find her that still kept me from finally believing in the salutary quality of death...

        The following happened quickly, - like the very last events of life.
        I returned the book to Krasner, and, getting up from the bench, we returned into the crowd. After twenty steps there happened to be a Kookai window on the way, and in it - the glass Sabbath. Krasner froze in place, and then, - in the same place - he attempted to jump up, which he could not manage due to an obvious reason. He did manage to do something else: gathering a double portion of air into his hefty body, and interrupting himself or jumping ahead of himself with words and phrases, he shouted in my ear that - yes! - he finally remembered: I look like the sculptor, the author of that mannequin, like two drops of water! Like at Madame Toussauts! Only the other one is not from Georgia, but, vice versa, from Israel!
        Why vice versa, I asked him, dumbfounded, although I had never asked anyone - including myself - who pronounced that word in an equally strange fashion, why vice versa. I never asked because there is no answer to this question.
        Krasner, however, had it: because, he said, everything in life is both one and the same, and, vice versa!
        Satisfied with this explanation, because it was acceptable to me, I handed him a bunch of coins and asked him to find the sculptor for me.
        While Krasner, barely fitting into the telephone boot was looking for the sculptor among their common friends, I, despite the now typical English rain, did not shift my glance away from Sabbath, who no longer seemed glassy, and unlifelike, because I thought, that realizing why it is that I need her, I had already found her, and my life will not only continue, but begin anew.
        Krasner, however, deafened me by telling me what I have already heard: that sculptor had flown to Australia yesterday!
        For a long time? I asked.
        And here, without climbing out of the booth, Krasner informed me of something both familiar and unexpected, just like only fear happens to be both familiar and unexpected.
        May be forever, he said, because the man has a family here, and he flew away with a model, whom he was in love with while still in Israel.
        Forever?! - I pushed it out of myself in a whisper.
        And maybe not, said Krasner, because the second common friend - although he is, vice versa, not an Israeli and not even a Jew - had told a different story: that this sculptor, who was known for his invincible interest for fresh female flesh, had asked the visiting shiksa not to return home but screw him for a week amidst the Australian prairies.
        Thats not true! I exclaimed. She is returning to Israel today!
        Coming to right away, I patted him on his fat belly and muttered:
        The very last favor: find out for me when the El Al is flying to Israel today.

        Inside a special partition for the El Al passengers, the first thing I noticed were the long-bearded Hasidim with the prayerbooks in their hands and smoothly-shaved policemen with equally black uniforms, but with guns. The policemen were walking around with dignity - like a festive promise to defend the passengers form any danger on the part of earthly terrorists, while Hasidim were rocking back and forth - also with dignity - like a guarantee that during the time spent above the clouds, the other terrorist, the Supreme one, will not dare to offend these passengers.
        Sabbath was not among them and the El Al flew away without her...
        Then, I moved to the tax-free bar, sat with my back to the public, facing a mirror, ordered a double shot of cognac, swallowed it in one gulp and started to observe how bristle was inevitably growing on my face.
        Despite the loud voices, loud music, and loud announcements of the arriving and departing flights, nothing distracted me from the mirror, which reflected the previous, habitual passage of time that brought me, and others, closer to the end. I looked at myself for a very long time - until, apparently, I tumbled into a brief, but familiar dream.
        I dreamt of an owl, flying high in the sky - first, above the green meadow, scattered with white bulls, like a billiard table which is scattered with balls, and then, above the blue sea, smooth, like a memorial plaque. The owl, finally, got tired, and when the sea again transformed into the meadow, it flew down to a perch with a nest. Not able to squeeze inside, it flapped its heavy wings with its last strength, and managed to return into the sky.
        Then, I thought that I was awakened by Rabbi Meirs voice: If you see this dream one more time, grab yourself, raise yourself up, break yourself against your knee and start to live anew.


        It was the red-haired poet who woke me up. The one who was asking for money on the First Class but did not get it. He budged me and shouted in my ear that the boarding will begin soon - Moscow is now open.
        What? I asked. Did the putch go through or not?
        I dont have a fucking clue! the poet exclaimed. The main thing is that its open!
        I told him that I have nothing to do in Moscow - Id better sit in the bar.
        Then, he suggested that I make some money out of it since my ticket is in the First Class. Something interesting happened with the putch, he said, and the airport is full of all kinds of people trying to get to Moscow as soon as possible, and among them - there is a rich American woman who offered four grant for a seat in the First Class.
        I nodded, handed him my ticket and promised him the fifty percent if he sells it instead of me.
        A quarter of an hour later, the poet brought me twenty five hundred dollars, explaining that he had managed to rush the American lady five grant, and blessed me for the rest of my life. Then, he bought me a shot of cognac and suggested that we have a drink together.
        To what? I asked.
        Ill tell you! he laughed, drank his shot, and pulling out a canary-colored megaphone, started to speak into it for the whole tax-free bar to hear.
        The megaphone said that this is a new poem, which still had not found its rhythm...
        Each head is stuffed with birth control pills, and that is why allergy to the future and great laziness are affirming themselves in the world. But thats not enough: the holiday will arrive when we will learn how not to remember the past as well, which poisons us with hopes and fears. Both the future and the past makes a man become something or someone: someone else, or himself, but better than he is; in other words - again someone else. And that is bad: one must strive to become no one, one must stop knowing what he knows and doing what he can. But this is just as impossible as it is impossible to start living anew. The only thing that remains, is to remember that no one is created for his own sake, and even humanity is not created for its sake. Everything exists for the sake of Eternal Existence!
        After a short pause, the poet returned the megaphone into his bag and started to laugh again. Then, he drank my shot as well, looked at his watch and said that its time to part. And once again, he blessed me for the money. One thought was inevitably growing inside my head, like the bristle on my face. Next to it, the rest seemed minute and meaningless.
        Pulling out the money from my pocket, I handed it him as well.
        The poet shook his head and said he wont have time to spend that much.
        Take it! I insisted.
        All right, he agreed, but then, Ill give one grant back to her. She became angry when I asked for an extra grant...
        Who? I could not figure it out, listening to the noise that accompanied the main thought.
        One more time! I demanded.
        Jane Fonda! The actress bought your ticket.
        I thought for a while but did not say anything.
        Then, I remembered suddenly and handed the poet my bag with Dr.Bachs little bottles:
        Take this too, may be youll have use for it.
        Whats in there?
        Drops against everything - from despair to optimism...
        I dont need it either.
        And why dont you need it?
        I am thinking of a stronger remedy! he smirked and took out a book from his bag - The Last Exit.
        The Last Exit?!
        Yes! and he read the title to the end. A Suicide Guide: 100 Best Ways.
        Impossible! I exclaimed, shocked at the fact that reality repeats thoughts in such a slavish manner. And which way is better?
        To each his own! he answered. I prefer suicide inside a womb, but nothing is written here about it...
        Did you finish it? I asked.
        Take it if you want! he handed the book to me and left.

        When the poet was almost out of the sight, it seemed that once again, I was seeing myself - but this time I was walking away from myself. With a bag across the shoulder, and inside it - a canary colored megaphone.
        Against the background of the thought growing inside my head, I started to leaf through the book, convinced, with each new page, that, indeed, it is less harmful to end one's life while inside a womb: everything else is a hassle.
        Out of the twelve final instructions for the suicides, the last one caught my attention: Carefully let your loved ones know of your intention.
        I tore towards a telephone booth and called home. There was no one home: neither my wife, nor my daughter or my mother. I answered to myself from America: Im not here. Leave a message!
        After the beep, silence started to record itself.
        It even seemed strange and funny that people leave messages for each other, but as soon as I hung up the phone and interrupted my own connection with myself, the growing of the main thought stopped: another one took its place - to take a piss.
        I hurried to the bathroom, unzipped my pants, stood over the unoccupied urinal and noticed a big painted fly drawn on its very bottom. Everyone around was targeting into the fly, but it seemed more dramatic to me to target one of the chrome-covered holes.
        Not having had the time to finish pissing, I noticed that this random thought to take a piss was starting to turn and give way to the previous, the main one, which now was not only making a noise and moving closer fast, but it could no longer fit inside my head, and started to push at its sides and suffocate it.
        Then I shifted my head to the right and saw a limp penis, red like a carrot, attached to a police officer.
        Then, I shifted my glance still further to the right and stopped it upon the unfastened holster with a gun...

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