Дитрих Липатс: другие произведения.

Running with Professor Fyodor

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      Представленный здесь роман был написан мной несколько лет назад в расчете на американского читателя. Написалось все это легко, где-то за три месяца. Книга была опубликована Writers Club Press в 2001. ISBN:0-595-18485-5. К моему удивлению, куда большим успехом она пользуется на русском Интернете. Соотечественники иногда пишут мне о моем профессоре, справшивают о прототипах. Конкретных прототипов не существует. Образы собирательны, потому и узнаются легко. Значит, мне что-то удалось. Буду рад вашим откликам.
      All rights reserved by Ditrikh Lipats
      Author holds the Electronic Publishing rights thereof. No part of this publication could be used or reproduced in any form without written permission of the author and Writers Club Press.
      * * *
      Vic-to-ri-a. A spasm of anguish ran through his body, the sky darkened in his eyes, when he recalled how he used to admire her name, how he loved her, despite everything. Oh, he had never known, he could never imagine that one day the opposite feeling to the woman that once was his beloved beautiful wife, would strike him that hard. It was his own fault. He, a representative of Russian Intelligentsia, a supporter of nonresistance to evil, a spineless worm, allowed the nightmare to grow to this unbearable point. He had to kill the man yesterday, he had to choke him, to crush the miserable villain with his own hands. No judge would ever accuse him, he knew it, the rascal was in his hands, he could have it done, he was ready to, but ...
      Fyodor Andreyevich took a deep breath and shook his head driving the thoughts away.
      He stood on the corner of Fifth and Washington in a small University town in Oklahoma, shivering under the wind. The wind wasn"t cold and the sun was shining softly through the haze, but it was late November, on the other side of the world, Moscow was white with snow, and he felt chilly by habit, like he always did in the beginning of winter.
      On his left, behind University Park, the tower of the Administration Hall reigned the horizon. Notre Dame in Paris, and Westminster Abbey came to his mind when he saw the tower for the first time two years ago. He never dreamed about teaching at Harvard, Yale, or some other famous alma maters. It was beyond his ambitions. He would be satisfied with a position of professor of Russian Language and Literature at the modest Midwestern University, the position which she, not him, had once obtained. Thanks to him of course.
      On his right he could see the downtown skyline. A remote Gothic church stood in the frame of trees that filled the blanks in the pale sky. The wind dragged dry leaves over the asphalt, and Fyodor Andreyevich listened to the noise - trying to imprint it into his memory, together with the tiny smell of the dying grass. Two years ago, captivated with the view, he asked to stop the car, got out, and took a few pictures with his camera. His daughter Natasha, his ex-wife, and the her husband, the perpetual looser, were nervously waiting for him in the car. They were in a hurry, the turn signal was on, the engine was idling. He wanted to take one more shot from a different point, but they made him quit. Victoria said that he would see many more places much better than this, and true, he did, but none of those places were of the same tranquil poetry.
      The photograph, though lacking something unexplainable, turned out well. A few weeks later holding it in his hands, his feet in soft slippers, he slowly paced along the walls in his Moscow apartment. The spaces between bookshelves and cabinets were occupied with other pictures which he didn"t want to sacrifice for the sake of the new one. There wasn"t enough space even for his books. The bookcases stood even across the room dividing it into two compartments: the study, where his old lamp with a green shade stood on the desk, and the bedroom. For the bedroom, presuming to sleep alone the rest of his life, he bought a narrow bed. Later it was replaced with a sofa, which with a click of an inner spring, could be unfolded into a big cozy bed for two.
      The right place for the photo eventually had been found. In the kitchen, in between two bookshelves fixed on the wall, right in front of the armchair where he used to sit tutoring high school students. The kitchen was rather large for a Moscow apartment, it served him like another room. In the middle of it stood an oval table big enough for five or six students to sit around, not disturbing each other. Every year, starting from September until the end of June, they would come here to study twice a week. In July, the boys and girls would take tough enrollment exams at the Moscow University or some other prestigious school. None of his students ever failed on the exams. It gave him the reputation of an excellent teacher. He never had a problem filling the chairs around the oval table.
      He spent a few months in America and planned to visit his daughter again next year, but the Communist putsch seemed to kill all his hopes. On that unfortunate day in August, 1991, all life rolled back to the grim times of Stalin"s rule. The radio played classical music like on the days of funerals for the General Secretaries who died one after another in the beginning of the last decade. There was nothing but ballet on the TV channels. Once in a while the dances were interrupted with official reports. Listening to the broadcast of the Voice of America full of horrifying news, Fyodor Andreyevich looked at the photograph of the Gothic church and thought that he would probably never see Natasha or Victoria again. He loved Natasha, and he, despite everything, still felt attached to Victoria. He was missing them, but he didn"t want to recall Valerii, her husband. He hated the pitiful man that had become an inseparable part of his life.
      Valerii had a scrawny face with a broad forehead, long bony nose, and a pointed chin covered with a thin reddish beard. He wore glasses that would magnify his eyes. Behind the glasses, his eyes seemed to be large and intelligent. With the glasses off Valerii looked pathetic, one could see that his eyes were small and dull. When Fyodor Andreyevich first met Valerii he avoided looking at his face when he had the glasses off for cleaning. Back then he admired the young man, he even brought Valerii home and introduced him to Victoria as a miraculous person, jokingly hinting to the "Miraculous Georgian" the definition which Lenin applied to Stalin after their first meeting. That was a bad omen. Though Valerii was too petty to remain in History (he nourished hopes of that kind), he succeeded ruining Fyodor Andreyevich"s life. After Victoria had left him for Valerii, Fyodor Andreyevich loved to steal a look at the man"s eyes while the thick glasses were thoroughly rubbed with a handkerchief.
      Why don"t I have the rascal killed? I have to, I just have to do it, for the sake of all of us. How good it would be to have him dead, how joyful and bright life would be! Fyodor Andreyevich thought, glanced once more at the distant Church and inhaled deeply. He crossed the street and walked to the University campus. No one knew him here. Victoria gave him a tour around the grounds just once. Since then, he dreamed at least once again to stroll along the asphalt passageways and through the halls alone. Yes, it could be him, not her, teaching in these walls. Unlike her, he would never quit the job. Though she had no choice. To secure her position she had to have a Ph.D.
      She had to earn it, so they moved to Illinois, where the program was available. She dreamed of going back some day, she loved the town, and the University offered free education to children of the staff, but it never happened.
      Fyodor Andreyevich earned his Ph.D. from the Moscow University in 1965, when he was just 29 years old. It was the peak of his life. His dissertation about Structural Principles of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy was recognized as the best of the year. It was published as a separate book and recommended to Philology Faculties all over the Soviet Union. He became a professor of the Moscow University. Yes, that was something to be proud of.
      Musing over the old times he approached the building in which Victoria taught. He visualized her standing at the entrance next to the doors of tinted glass. There was much of a women in his ex-wife. She was of large stature. For the five years or so, after their marriage, she remained a real beauty. Her perfect bosoms, looked charmingly above her flat stomach which was underlined by large gorgeous hips. Slightly rounded shoulders and full arms with smooth marble skin, hands with long slender fingers, the lines of her graceful neck and tender pink cheeks - all of that was added to her dark enigmatic eyes that looked proudly from under black curved brows which the Creator put as the last stroke of her beauty. Victoria was strikingly handsome. He never stopped noticing how men glanced at her. Those who didn"t know them could only guess what the woman had found in him, a man of less than average weight and height with silver on his temples. He seemed to be nonchalant to that. His knowledge and achievements overweighed any physical faults. She was proud of him, she was an excellent wife.
      Two years ago, seeing her next to the doors of tinted glass waiting for him, he noticed with a pain in his heart that not much remained of her beauty. She became stocky and formless. To look older was alright for a University professor, but no man could she charm any more.
      Fyodor Andreyevich walked up the steps into the building. The elevator brought him to the third floor, and he found himself in a hall with walls of glass on two sides. It was quiet around and Fyodor Andreyevich held in the coughing that, maybe because of the dry air, started in his throat. He came closer to the wall on the opposite side to see the view down below. The tops of the trees were moving silently under the wind, he saw a girl with a backpack hurrying through the park and the same hazy blue sky above the remote buildings. If he could he would build a house, somewhere in the mountains, with a glass wall like this. It was his dream to live on a slope of a hill, among the pine trees. He sighed realizing that the dream would never come true. He was almost sixty, he was through with his life.
      Not a sound was heard from behind the large double doors of the auditorium. Fyodor Andreyevich pulled the handle and walked in. In the dim light he could see descending rows of soft armchairs that arched around the podium down below. He sat on a chair in the upper row. Then he stood up and moved one row down closer to the center, then a bit back to the left.
      Yes, that was the same seat he sat in listening to her lecture back then. Her voice was loud and strong, she pronounced words clearly and with involuntary jealousy he saw that students understood her very well. His own English pronunciation wasn"t as good.
      She was talking about Maxim Gorky"s novels having no difficulties with finding the right words. He understood what she was saying well enough, but didn"t dare analyze the lecture. Years ago he often monitored her lectures sitting quietly in the corner of the room making notes. Then they would analyze it. Here it wasn"t even planned. The fluent English gave her superiority over him. In this country, she took the leadership even in teaching Russian Literature, here she talked to him in a patronizing tone and he was uneasy with that.
      Over the years Victoria became more like her mother. She never tried to be in control while living with him. It was Valerii who being incapable of making decisions, made her a leader. It was not only Victoria who Valerii had changed - the miserable man had corrupted Natasha, Fyodor Andreyevich"s only daughter, his hope and love.
      * * *
      Victoria was one of the students at the oval table, which by then stood in the middle of a spacious room of a multi-family apartment in downtown Moscow. The room was spacious because, except for handmade bookshelves, a bed in the corner, a desk under the green lamp, and the oval table with chairs of different origins around it in the middle of the room, there wasn"t any other furniture. His other pair of shoes could be found under the bed. He couldn"t keep them in the corridor because of the drunkard who lived next door. He would come to the kitchen of his communal apartment under the suspicious looks of the housewives only to boil his tea. Having no refrigerator, he kept his groceries in a net bag that hung on the nail outside his window.
      Victoria"s mother found this way of life terrible. She declared that it was shameful for a scholar to live like a displaced student. As a doctor she was highly surprised to find out that he was thirty-nine-years-old and not one women had sought him. Without embarrassment, she inquired about his private life. He answered awkwardly that a couple of his attempts of living with women had failed to develop into anything serious.
      "Good," she said, and walking to the phone added on the way, "I even thought that you might be a homosexual - looks like you aren"t."
      She called her husband and asked him to bring over their extra refrigerator. It was a terrible invasion into his life and he would have resisted, but there were two factors, that caused him to be obedient like a school boy. First, the man she called, her husband, was a well-known professor in the Chemistry Department of Moscow University - a quiet intelligent man with soft eyes and influential connections. The second factor was the sound of her heels over the floor. Her steps were firm and certain, they sounded as if they confirmed that this woman knew where to go, how to solve problems, what the key was to a rich, abundant and stable life. Martha Leibovna was just a few years older than he, but between her prosperity and his mode of life lay a vast chasm. Above all, was Victoria herself - a smart beautiful girl with large breasts which she rested on the oval table while writing down his words. Victoria had inherited large eyes from her Jewish mother and the soft way of talking and smooth gestures of her Russian father. Fyodor Andreyevich had never imagined the high school girls at the oval table as prospects for a possible marriage, they all were way too young, but the prejudice was instantaneously destroyed by Martha Leibovna who from the first day treated him like a family member.
      That was bliss. Martha Leibovna intruded into his bachelor"s life like a queen from a fairy tale. She gave him her daughter and her protection, and he forgave her for the meticulous questions about his origin, health, income, etc. One could find the interrogation quite humiliating, but he felt all right with that. At last, someone was really interested in him.
      The grip of the hand of his future father-in-law was hot and unexpectedly strong. It didn"t take them long to become good friends. Good friends they were despite everything until the death of Vasilii Petrovich.
      Victoria was deeply in love with her teacher. It was her frankness that brought Martha Leibovna to his dwelling. Victoria had always been open to her mother, open to details mothers aren"t supposed to know. Consequently, Fyodor Andreyevich also never had secrets from his mother-in-law who knew as much about him as his wife did. Though Martha Leibovna conducted the relationship that was rapidly developing between them, she was never annoying. Despite her decisiveness, even boldness, in promoting what she considered right, the woman had a keen sense of tact and never invaded their privacy. Deep in his soul Fyodor Andreyevich realized that it was not only Victoria, but Victoria and her mother with whom he tied himself. He admired his mother-in-law.
      They married after Victoria had finished her first year at the Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages. While they were spending their honey moon in Crimea, swimming in the Black Sea, sunbathing, enjoying each other on the high bed with melodic springs, Martha Leibovna took care of their new home. Using the Power of Attorney he had left for her, she traded his room in the multi family-apartment and some other living space that belonged to her family for a very nice three room apartment in the same court yard where she resided herself. To cover the gain in the square meters she smoothened the deal with a few thousand rubles, half of which she later reimbursed from his account. Martha Leibovna also took care of the furniture and his wardrobe. She took care of everything. He felt like he was living behind a stone wall.
      Fyodor Andreyevich startled in his seat when the door down below opened with a cracked sound.
      "Over there, please," he heard. "You may put it on the table."
      He saw a woman in a greenish dress and a pizza man with two big red bags entering the auditorium. They stopped at the table and started to unload the bags. Before the smell of pizza reached him, Fyodor Andreyevich stood up from his armchair and quietly left through the upper door.
      In the hall with the walls of glass he hesitated for a moment thinking was worth it to walk by her former office where books that in the past belonged to him once stood on the shelves and a photograph of his daughter hung on the wall. By now the office belonged to someone else, as it did before Victoria"s time.
      At the thought of the person who occupied the office before Victoria, he frowned and walked to the elevator. He had nothing against the teacher his ex-wife replaced, but he didn"t like the story.
      Though, he vaguely knew the story. There was a Russian girl. After she had graduated from Moscow University, she married an American and moved to this town. In the Seventies she was maybe the only Russian in the whole area. She was a native speaker with a teacher"s diploma, so they offered her a position at the local University where she taught Russian Language until Victoria arrived. Victoria"s education was much better. Her two diplomas stated that she could teach Russian Literature as well. There were some complications, the girl didn"t want to give up the position to the newcomer, she tried to press some buttons, but nothing could be done.
      What he disliked, was Victoria"s attitude to her predecessor. She spoke of her with hatred that started to appear in her voice when she left him for Valerii. If they were invited to a party, Victoria would always try to find out whether her rival would be there or not and if the latter was expected, Victoria would never go. During his first visit, Fyodor Andreyevich often drove around the town alone. Victoria insisted that if he should ever run into the woman, he should never show any knowledge of the story. That wasn"t necessary, where would he meet her?
      Nevertheless, he saw his ex-wife"s rival once in the city library. She was there with a group of students from the local community college where she taught the same subject. Tall and a very well built woman with a nice face and reddish hair lectured the students standing at a table filled with books in Russian Language. Hadn"t he heard the names of writers and the books" titles pronounced in clear Russian, he would never have realized who she was. After the class was over the teacher walked along the book aisles passing him by. Sitting at his desk he felt a whiff of the air around her and smelled her perfume. He looked at her slender rear and thought that Victoria probably just envied her beauty. America ruined all Victoria"s attempts to lose weight. That could be a reason for hatred, but he, all the same didn"t like it at all.
      He exited the building and walked to his car. That was enough. His dream to visit the University once again was fulfilled and now he was ready to leave the campus and the city as well. It was five minutes to three, he had enough time to drive along the streets of his first American town, but he felt tired of it. The visit to the University was more than enough. He passed the corner of Fifth and Washington and not even looking at the Gothic church in the frame of trees walked to his car.
      * * *
      In the next small town he stopped to buy some gas. He filled his tank up, walked into the store, and picked up some corn chips and a 2 liter Doctor Pepper. It all cost him around eighteen dollars. "I need some quarters, please." He said and the clerk gave him a handful of coins for change.
      Outside he stopped at the telephones, put the plastic bag on the pavement and dialed a long distance number.
      "Hello." Victoria answered at the first ring. Had Valerii pick up the phone he would just hung up.
      "It"s me." He said. "I"m all right."
      "Where are you?" She cried. "What"s going on?"
      "I"m heading for Dallas, everything is all right. Don"t worry."
      He expected her to continue asking, but she didn"t. He could hear her breathing. "Everything is all right," he repeated.
      "What"s going on in your head?" She asked at last and he felt that the anger that lingered in the depth of his chest had suddenly condensed into a hot ball of rage. Collecting himself, he said trying to keep calm, "I don"t want to talk about that. I don"t want to see you all, ever!"
      He crushed the receiver against the cradle.
      With his heart beating violently he heard a tiny ringing in his ears. He felt dizzy and squatted on the pavement.
      "Are you all right?" He heard. A young couple, a girl in a yellow top and blue jeans (red toenails pocking out of sandals) and a fellow dressed like a cowboy stood next to him. "I"m all right. Thanks, nothing to worry about." He mumbled, picked up his bag, and walked wobbling on the way to his car.
      He dropped on the seat, started the engine, and drove to the edge of the parking lot.
      Had she been scared, had she bombarded him with questions like she always did, he would start doubting what he saw yesterday, but that "What"s going on in your head?" a dull, alien expression, pierced him like cold steel. It did happen. He should have put an end to it years ago when it started. He didn"t and now everything was ruined. That was a mistake, that was an awful mistake to stick around Victoria for all those years, since she had left him. It couldn"t bring any good. He had to learn how to live without her.
      His blood knocked in his temples crushing them with each heartbeat. He lowered his seat back and leaned against it trying to calm down. Victoria"s father had once told him that all the emotions one experiences every day are caused by no more than sudden temporary changes in the chains of the amino acids of the human organism. Love, hatred, fascination, ignorance, even the sense of patriotism are no more than average chemical reactions, surges that rise and pass being obedient to the defensive reactions that buffer them seeking the initial balance.
      He could live without Victoria, but Natasha, his daughter needed his fatherly love, his intelligence, his presence. Fyodor Andreyevich recalled how years ago, picking her up from the kindergarten, he would sit Natasha on a bench to put her boots on, and the girl would cry out proudly: "This is my father, look this is my father!" Fyodor Andreyevich tried not to make contact with eyes of the other kids. That was a painful topic, there were enough children in the kindergarten whose fathers had left their families or never attempted to build one. Fyodor Andreyevich couldn"t stand looking at the runny noses and liquid eyes of the kids who would come closer to examine him. They all were making stories about their fathers, but Natasha was happy to have her real one.
      Until recently he had no one but his daughter to live for. About a year ago Svetlana, a girl of just nineteen years old came into his life. She was just a few years older than his daughter, and since yesterday, he hated himself for yielding to Svetlana"s desire to make a lover of him.
      He ran under the green light and turned left following the sign "Dallas."
      "Funny miserable man," he thought to himself, "why didn"t you die back then? You should have died. Then you wouldn"t have had to live through all those years of suffer, shame, and humiliations."
      He had a chance to die. He was dying fifteen years ago, and it seemed there was no way to avoid it. They were married for less than two years when the sucking pain in his stomach became permanent. Before that he could live with it. The pain was on and off and he tried to ignore it. He loved canoe trips and skiing and he dragged Victoria with him to the rivers and woods on vacations and weekends. In the wilderness he felt better, but she wasn"t crazy about the outdoor fun. Mosquitoes in summer and frost in winter were hostile to her. She was pretty squeamish, his beautiful wife. She loved to spend her days lying on the sofa, reading or watching TV, but he felt sick in Moscow. To deflect the pain he jogged in the park, even started to lift weights, but the pain was gradually taking over, and once, when they dined at Victoria"s parents, Martha Leibovna asked.
      "Do you feel all right?"
      His father and mother-in-law were the last people in the world with whom he would discuss his health. They blessed him with everything he could dream of and he, by no means, wanted to upset them.
      "I"m all right," he said feeling that he could hardly cheat a professional, "just didn"t sleep well," he finished awkwardly.
      "He works too hard." Victoria said giving him a hug. "Do you want more salad?" she asked and he nodded, though he wasn"t hungry at all.
      "He is not through yet with what he has on his plate." Martha Leibovna said and he winced his face at the thought that to be nice he would have to eat everything. His mother-in-law didn"t miss the wince. "I don"t like how you look," she said studying his face. "You have lost a lot of weight, you"re pale and your eyes are gleaming." she continued.
      He felt tears streaming down his cheeks.
      Since that moment he gave up to the illness.
      A few days later he was diagnosed with a tumor in his stomach. On the x-ray it looked like a large pale spot. Standing next to the window the doctor held the film above his head exposing it to the heavens as if inviting the gods to see the problem. The sky was gray that day and the gods, if there were any, were ignorant. By the doctor"s eyes Fyodor Andreyevich understood that he was doomed. Surprisingly, the apprehension brought a smile to his face. He thought about things he had accomplished in his forty two years and found his life quite fulfilled.
      Yet, he didn"t plan to die that early. He wanted to live, he wanted to see their child who would be born in July, but ... "Could you prescribe me something strong? A painkiller I mean." He asked, and the doctor answered,
      "I will."
      Martha Leibovna wasn"t surprised with the diagnosis. "That"s what I thought, it is cancer." She said and then asked plainly, "Do you have a will?"
      He didn"t. His savings, together with his life insurance, promised to provide for his family, but his mother-in-law didn"t want him to die. She made her husband call his brother who worked in the Moscow Communist Party Committee, and three days later Fyodor Andreyevich was placed in the Kremlin Hospital, in Kuntsevo, the place available only to high positioned party officials.
      At that time he felt exhausted with the pain that although blunted with the painkiller pills prescribed by the doctor, was still there within his stomach. Exposed to his illness Fyodor Andreyevich couldn"t resist it. He felt the pain constantly and all the other troubles of the world just ceased to exist for him.
      Those days he often thought about The Death of Ivan Ilyich a story by Leo Tolstoy. Once, during one of his lectures at the University, he spontaneously brought it up. Using the life of Ivan Ilyich as an archetype of the social life in the Nineteenth Century, he dedicated much time exploring the relationship of the dying man to his colleagues and his family. He drew the attention of his students to Ivan Ilyich"s desperate desire to build prosperity which a man of his rank should reach, but he completely omitted the terrible pains of the dying man, his contemplation on life and death, his questions to God. At the podium Fyodor Andreyevich even passed a joke saying, "Let"s leave the description of Ivan Ilyich"s illness to students of the Medical Department," and the audience laughed politely.
      The lecture was found brilliant, and a famous magazine ordered from him an article on the social problems of Ivan Ilyich, but his own illness had struck him down. Starting the same journey through circles of hell which the hero of Leo Tolstoy once went through, Fyodor Andreyevich could think only about the agony that waited him on the way. The sufferings of the deceasing man described so clearly by the great author disturbed his imagination and he was horrified by them.
      The box of painkiller pills that he brought with him to the Kremlin Hospital was carelessly discarded into the trash basket by his new doctor. Instead, a nurse appeared and he was asked to take his pants off. He didn"t even feel the prick on his skin, it was just a light slap, but almost immediately the pain was gone. Relaxing, he thought that had such a drug been administrated to Ivan Ilyich, the story of his death would have never been written by Tolstoy, and world literature would lack the masterpiece. He tried to think of this more, but found it insignificant and forgot it a moment later.
      He had been on drugs for a few days, sleeping most of the time. Once he was awakened by Martha Leibovna. She came to him with some man in a business suit that gave him a paper to sign. Fyodor Andreyevich obediently did what they asked and again retreated to the long and painless bliss of his sleep.
      A few days later a celebrity in medical science examined the patient and without beating around the bush declared that the case was almost hopeless. If they came to him three or four months earlier, perhaps, but at the present time the chances of Fyodor Andreyevich"s survival were very small. However, the doctor recommended radical surgery.
      Thanks to the skill of the famous man, unique medical equipment, and drugs that were available to patients of Kremlin Hospital, Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t die, however, during the five hour surgery, he was twice on the verge of death.
      If he could only imagine what he was returning to! The difference between the healthy robust young man which he was just a few months ago and the elderly invalid he became was immense. Before the illness, Victoria and he had never thought of the twenty years that lay between their ages. She was much smarter and a more serious woman than most of her age and he felt too young for his years, so they were perfectly matched to each other. His real life had just begun, his position at the Moscow University was secure and he considered beginning work on his Academician Degree - he had the strength and desire for it - but after the surgery he woke up not only without a portion of his stomach, but also without ambitions and the pride of a young scholar. He felt weak, tired and old. By then he realized that not only two decades, but a whole life, separated him from his wife.
      * * *
      "I should have died, I should have died back then." He murmured hitting the steering wheel with his fist. His car flew to the South among a few others, that, testing the limits of the Highway Patrol"s tolerance constantly yielded the leadership to one another.
      Fast driving soothed his gloomy mood and he thought that, after all, the second part of his life wasn"t as bad as it seemed to be. He smiled a bit recalling how they, it was a year after his surgery, spent a month at the Baltic Sea.
      Every day they would walk along the surf inhaling the fresh air that smelled with iodine. It was not only a medical procedure prescribed by doctors, but also a pleasure. The sand which, in Urmala, the neat resort town, is a bit thicker then dust, was tramped by waves so hard that even bicycle tires would leave only barely visible traces on it. Every day they strolled leisurely along the green sea observing the same phenomena: the shore on the way seemed to be crammed with people who played volleyball, sunbathed, talked to each other, ate and walked. Ahead the shore had always seemed to be thronged, but reaching farther they saw that the vacationers were spread on the beach with the same density. In their vision, layers of people formed a crowd on the shore. Now, observing the past, he saw all the miseries through which he passed clearly, but he had to admit, the reminiscences became unbearable only in the recent past, when the layers of the unhappy years grew up in quantity.
      * * *
      At the University he was substituted with another teacher, a bright exuberant fellow who lecturing in an unusual spontaneous style, quickly conquered students" hearts. The teacher wasn"t much of a scholar, he was more of an actor, though he had enough knowledge of the subject. He would surely give the podium back to its owner, but Fyodor Andreyevich needed more time for recovery. That was just an excuse, the real reason was the character of the substitute and his unprecedented popularity. Fyodor Andreyevich still was too weak to compete with the creative, energetic teacher. It was decided that he would take one more semester off.
      The decision was also based on financial aspects. Returning to lecturing at the University, Fyodor Andreyevich could count only on the same pay; his biding at home could bring much better income.
      For the last years Humanitarian Faculties had become extremely popular. Being a professor of the University, Fyodor Andreyevich was forced to quit the tutoring that used to bring him such good money in the past. The University administration frowned on the teachers who tutored students whose knowledge they had to test on the enrollment exams, so he had to forget about it. Now, being not a member of the University staff, Fyodor Andreyevich felt himself free of any obligations. Choosing the status of an invalid he also gained another exceptional opportunity. At the times, employment was mandatory for all citizens of the great Soviet Union, but no one could accuse an invalid for not being employed.
      Martha Leibovna took the new enterprise into her hands. A small apartment was rented in the same building, two floors upstairs. The oval table was positioned in the middle of the only room and an expensive armchair of soft leather was bought from the antique store. The armchair added much to the tutor, who, with his spectacles on (he could see well enough without them, but his mother-in-law insisted on the detail), looked like a retired academician. The walls were filled with bookshelves, a cute chalk board was ordered from the handy man that for years worked for the family, and a marble bust of Alexander Pushkin was placed next to Fyodor Andreyevich"s writing desk.
      Fyodor Andreyevich found the preparations quite ridiculous, but accepted them with pleasure. His long well hidden dream to have some place where he could work undisturbed came true.
      Martha Leibovna made a brief research on competitors and their prices. For the lessons of her proficient son-in-law she charged almost twice as much. That was outrageous, and Fyodor Andreyevich said that no student could afford such a pay. On that he was advised to mind his side of the business and to leave financial questions to those who understood them better. To his surprise, in a week, the seats around the oval table were filled with students of the kind he rarely taught before. They were mostly children of high rank party functionaries and celebrities, the people for whom money was not a problem. Fyodor Andreyevich once again appreciated the connections of Vasilii Petrovich, his quiet father in law.
      The students had high ambitions. Two of them targeted the Institute of the International Relations, one planned to become a movie star, there were two sons of a famous journalist (excellent positions with trips abroad were guaranteed to them), and, the last student, was a girl who dreamed becoming a writer. Of course, parents of the kids knew what strings to pull and what buttons to press to have their children enrolled into the prestigious institutions. Nevertheless, the kids had to earn the best grades at the exams and Fyodor Andreyevich was paid for that.
      The first year was crucial. After a few weeks of teaching he realized that his teaching materials had to be improved and systemized. An idea to write his own Russian Language Textbook came to his mind and he started working on it. The textbook had to be of an absolutely different conception, it had to make the studying much simpler. After thoughtful consideration he developed a new, structural, approach to the subject that suddenly embodied into a clear perfectly understandable system. Astounded with the simplicity of his method Fyodor Andreyevich chuckled and rubbed his hands in excitement, his eyes glittered with happiness. In his mind he visualized the new system in a shape of a transparent golden pyramid that, revolving silently, hovered in the blue yonder, exposing its internal structures of perfect forms. Nouns, adjectives, verbs, punctuation signs merging one another formed networks of logical chains, the ties of which were inevitable and essential. Wasting no time Fyodor Andreyevich worked hard putting his thoughts in writing every day. Never in his life, had he experienced such an elevation.
      The result was outstanding. All his students received the highest grades at the oral Russian Language exam and Composition. The two sons of the famous journalist failed the History of USSR exam and nothing could help them, but that wasn"t his problem.
      Now he could allow himself to relax. As a handicapped person he had the privilege to buy an automobile avoiding the waiting period. In the middle of the summer they bought a red, brand new Soviet replica of an Italian FIAT. The car didn"t have pedals. According to bureaucrats all handicapped people were lacking legs, so clutch and gas controls were installed on the steering wheel of the vehicle. An ugly break lever pocked up in between the seats.
      The same handyman, who had always been around, rebuilt the controls into their normal positions. The yellow triangle, the indication of an invalid driver, was taken off the rear window and two weeks later Fyodor Andreyevich and Victoria departed to the Baltic Sea.
      By that time Victoria had become a major student of the Foreign Language Institute. Next September with a group of very carefully selected candidates she had to fly to Great Britain to practice her English. Due to some political complications between the countries, the trip had never taken place.
      Nevertheless, in general, life still treated them very well. There wasn"t a new play in the best Moscow theaters they hadn"t seen at the first performance. Thanks to connections of Martha Leibovna the doors of the clubs of Literary Workers, Composers, Journalists and Architects were always open for them. Fyodor Andreyevich maintained acquaintances with writers and actors, not of the highest ranks, but, nevertheless quite famous people.
      He loved to recall how they were accepted at the Moscow House of Cinema, where the special show of the Godfather II was on the screen-space only for one day. Starting from the Beloruskaya Metro station people were hunting for an extra ticket. Walking along the street they were gradually submerging into the crowds of people who hoped at least with one eye, to see the forbidden fruit of the Western Cinematography. At the frontage of the House of Cinema the throng was so packed that they started to worry how the famous journalist, the father of the two unfortunate brothers, would see them, but the man spotted them in the crowd and waved to them with his hand. His face was familiar to everyone, people saw his TV reports almost every day. With one jest of his hand the throng broke apart and Fyodor Andreyevich and Victoria walked to him through the alive corridor followed by glances full of jealousy and respect. That was the kind of life he never dreamed of.
      Thanks to his mother-in-law he avoided most of the inconveniences of the Soviet life which others were doomed to meet daily. Victoria"s uncle provided his brother with a pass to the stores for chosen party officials. Vasilii Petrovich loved to shop. Once a week, on Tuesday, he would go to the special store and without standing in lines, or worrying about a shortage of groceries, he picked up the goodies that, on the next day, were delivered to them by a healthy pink-cheeked giant in blue jeans who drove a black Volga with a Government license plate. Vasilii Petrovich was not much of a gourmand. His food preferences lay mostly in different brands of cheese, so cheeses of all sorts and kinds could always be found in their refrigerator.
      An opportunity to place Natasha into a privileged kindergarten was rejected. All kindergartens of that kind were too far from home. It was decided that Natasha would spend her days in the local one.
      "That is much better," Fyodor Andreyevich said, "I don"t want her to grow up among the snobby spoiled brats."
      Victoria bashfully suggested that they might drop in and pick up Natasha by car, but even by car the special kindergartens couldn"t be reached at a reasonable time.
      The local kindergarten was just a few blocks away, and every morning Fyodor Andreyevich would walk there with his daughter holding her hand, talking to her on the way.
      Starting the next year, he tutored three groups of students. Martha Leibovna had slightly rearranged the room. A new writing desk replaced his small old one, a revolving leather arm chair was bought to match it. The back of the chair and the arms were adjusted for Victoria"s comfort. From then on, his precious wife had often been present at his lessons. Martha Leibovna wanted her daughter to acquire the knowledge of her husband in full. Next year Victoria had to receive her diploma of a professional translator and it was decided that she would start working on her degree in Philology. Private tutoring proved to be a gold mine and Martha Leibovna wanted her daughter to start her own classes.
      Fyodor Andreyevich liked the plan very much, he needed an assistant working on his project and no one would suite the role better than his beloved wife.
      To his surprise, he found Victoria a great help to his work. She was not only a good typist, but an excellent editor as well. She would catch his thoughts instantaneously and often while he was musing on the rest of the paragraph, her restless typewriter sounded like a machine gun putting his thoughts on paper in a clear and rhythmic style.
      Her exceptional memory was bringing up such good examples of grammar usage from Russian writers that in his soul he had to admit that without her the textbook would never be written.
      That winter was the best in his family life. Being busy with the work and students they lived in a harmony that rarely could be found among married couples.
      Than he made a mistake.
      * * *
       It happened at one of the family dinners that were given by Martha Leibovna every other Sunday at seven. The textbook had just been finished, but Fyodor Andreyevich and Victoria weren"t in a hurry to bring the manuscript under the critical eyes of authorities in Linguistics. Frankly, if Fyodor Andreyevich hadn"t been able to count on the support of Victoria"s powerful uncle, he wouldn"t have had any hope to see his work in print. The party functionary had only to make one call to the Academy of Sciences to clear the way.
      Only Vasilii Petrovich could approach his brother with such a request. However, the quiet scholar would never undertake anything like that without the approval of his wife.
      Victoria brought the topic into the conversation when stomachs were full and the dessert was served. That was the best time to discuss matters that might evoke irritation. In the past, Fyodor Andreyevich had already suggested publishing the textbook, but his mother-in-law showed no interest in the remark, so they decided to postpone serious talk to the time when the work would be completed. Now the time had come.
      Pouring the aromatic tea into her mother"s china cup Victoria said, trying to sound nonchalant.
      "You can congratulate us. The textbook is done."
      "Good." Her father said smiling and closed his eyes enjoying the quiet family moment.
      "Now you can start working on the Composition Manual, I reckon." Martha Leibovna proposed."
      "Of course, we will." Fyodor Andreyevich said fervently. "We have already worked out the preliminary plans. It will be a great work, absolutely new in conception, though, I doubt that it will ever be published. The approach is absolutely nontraditional. It doesn"t go along with Lenin"s demands on literature. The Russian Language Textbook we have just finished, yes, could be published without problems."
      "What do you mean published?" Martha Leibovna asked after she washed down what was in her mouth with tea.
      "A work like we created can"t be hidden in the desk drawer. It would be a crime..."
      "A crime? I thought you would use it."
      "Yes, that"s what I mean. The textbook might be used by everyone who is studying the language. It is much better than the famous textbook of professor Rosental."
      "Who is we?" Martha Leibovna stretched out her hand for another cookie. Vasilii Petrovich dozed, smiling in his armchair.
      "We is Victoria and I." Fyodor Andreyevich declared triumphantly. "Your daughter, Martha Leibovna, was so helpful that I can"t omit her name on the cover."
      "And I appreciate it very much." said his mother-in-law. "I only want to ask you one question." Here Martha Leibovna stopped and looked at him with the long stare of a doctor examining a patient. Fyodor Andreyevich felt awkward, but endured the scrutiny. "What is the customary fee for work of this kind?" she asked.
      "Not much." Fyodor Andreyevich chuckled with relaxation. He didn"t expect the question to be that simple. "Of course, it depends on the number of copies, but anyway, we deserve to be paid much more. In America, such a work could bring millions."
      "We are not in America. Give me the amount you expect to receive for your work here, in the Soviet Union."
      "About five, maybe seven thousand rubles, I presume." Fyodor Andreyevich looked at his father-in-law. Vasilii Petrovich nodded slightly confirming the guess. His eyes remained closed and his pleasant smile grew a bit wider.
      "Will the money make you happy?" Martha Leibovna continued.
      "It is not about the money, Mom," Victoria tried timidly and Martha Leibovna cut her remark off saying almost rudely, "You haven"t been asked - let him answer."
      "Actually, your daughter is right." Fyodor Andreyevich said. "The textbook will be very helpful to everyone who is preparing himself for University exams. It could even be used for regular teaching in schools if we will simplify a few things."
      "You didn"t answer my question." Martha Leibovna interrupted and he felt that she was losing her temper.
      "Well, yes," he murmured, wondering what made his mother-in-law that mad, "talking about money, five thousand rubles is acceptable. I"d be happy to have it." Saying that he felt like a rebel, but why on earth should he always say what his mother-in-law wanted to hear?
      Martha Leibovna put her china cup aside and stood up. Stepping firmly over the floor she walked out of the dining room, leaving them both in dismay. Vasilii Andreyevich woke up and staring at his wife"s empty chair blinked with his eyes. He was about to ask what was going on when Martha Leibovna returned. She put a pack of money in front of Fyodor Andreyevich and her daughter and sat at her place.
      "Here is four thousand rubles." she said. "The rest you"ll get in a couple of months. Sorry, I don"t have that much cash. This is not a present which you can deny. This is your fee for the textbook. I will even pay you more, but I want you to forget the idea publishing your work."
      Fyodor Andreyevich was stunned. He was insulted by the offer; he gasped in an attempt to say something, but Martha Leibovna lifted her hand terminating the effort. She started to speak herself.
      "For the last year, teaching three groups of students you my dear son-in-law made fourteen-thousand three-hundred thirty-five rubles. I already have a list of students who will start taking your classes in September. Your income will increase. It doesn"t need to be explained that by publishing the textbook, you"ll attract attention to your home tutoring. You may be compelled to pay an enormous income tax. Of course, if you insist, we may talk to Victoria"s uncle, but keep in mind that we can use his help only in exceptional situations. I know, I know," Martha Leibovna again lifted her hand seeing objection in Fyodor Andreyevich"s face, "you want publicity, you want to make a name for yourself and for my daughter. You want to prove to all the world that despite your disability, forgive me for putting it that bluntly, you still have worth. I can understand it, but confess, this is nothing but silly vanity. Think about the consequences my dear son-in-law. Hasn"t it crossed your mind that you are just giving your precious knowledge away for nothing? You said that with the help of your textbook everyone can prepare himself for the exam. Fine. Then what will students need a tutor for? Even if they use tutors, why would they come to you? Your method will be available for your competitors who charge much less. So, whose benefactor do you want to be, everyone"s, or your own family"s? Tell me."
      Fyodor Andreyevich, who had so much to say just a moment ago, suddenly became confused. The word "benefactor" knocked his indignation down. He never thought that the word would ever refer to him. He felt a prick in his conscience. It was she - Martha Leibovna - his real benefactor. Thanks to her he was happily married, thanks to her he survived the deadly illness, it was her connections and energy that made his tutoring so profitable and, consequently, enjoyable. She had never spoken to him in such a tone before and he realized that nothing good would come of his resistance. The sum of four thousand rubles was enormous even for this mighty woman, he could tell it by the look of Vasilii Petrovich, whose face became pale and frozen when his eyes focused on the pack of money that lay next to the plate of cookies. All that his mother-in-law said lingered deep in his mind and, presently, he regretted his boyish romanticism. He, surely, deserved a good spanking.
      Fyodor Andreyevich restrained himself and even forgot all the arguments that minutes ago were ready to jump off his tongue. He wanted to say something like, "Well, let"s talk about it some other time," but tears unexpectedly flooded his eyes. He reached for a napkin saying, "Excuse me, I"ll be back in a moment," and went to the bathroom.
      Now, years later, he could see with bitterness that his mother-in-law wasn"t right taking away their chance. To hell with the money - the money had brought him the respect of an underground tutor and fear against tax collectors. He dreamed of the respect people pay to a well-known scholar with financial stability - a man that has nothing to be afraid of.
      He missed his chance, just a year later, it became impossible for him to get back to the scientific world. New people had come to the faculty where his talent once shone so brightly. His name meant almost nothing to them. A few former colleagues regretted his early retirement.
      * * *
      He didn"t want to give up. A real scholar must have his works published and for the last two years not even a line of his writing appeared in print.
      One of his old colleagues, who now worked for the Heritage magazine, suggested that an article on certain works of Anton Chekhov could be considered for publishing. It sounded almost like an order and together with Victoria Fyodor Andreyevich wrote a big article on three short stories of Anton Chekhov. Working on the text he felt ten years younger. At last, he again could demonstrate not only his outstanding knowledge of Chekhov"s works, but also his own keen understanding of the complex situation in the society of the late Nineteenth Century.
      The article even drew some brave parallels between bureaucracy of the pre-Revolutionary Russia and the bureaucracy of the present. Fyodor Andreyevich, like a real professional, let the text lay in his drawer for a few weeks, then read the article again, made a few corrections, and found the text ready for a review.
      That day he didn"t have classes. Victoria was at the University and he decided to visit a few bookstores Downtown.
      He walked along the New Arbat, when a sudden rain made him duck into a spacious niche of a nearby building, right at the entrance of a big department store. The street was full of people and many of them rushed to the shelter. He could go into the store to buy film for his camera, but it was a pleasure to watch the first real storm of the year. Lightning flashed, thunderbolts boomed in the sky, the air smelled of wet dust, and water ran loudly down the drainpipes. People around were joyful, everyone was glad to see the storm which manifested the approach of summer. A company of young people greeted each thunderbolt with cheerful yells, a few girls laughed at something, and the rain was streaming down vigorously driving the stuffy air away. Cars, all wet, turned their lights on and the street glistened with blue and yellow reflections.
      A man, who just a few seconds ago exited from the store, stopped in front of him and took a book from his attaché case. Fyodor Andreyevich, by habit, stole a glance at the title. Folklore Traditions of the Ancient Slavs. That was not very common reading at all. He raised his eyes to the man"s face and despite the long curly hair that merged with a bushy beard, immediately recognized his old friend Piotr with whom he used to room in the dormitory years ago. They were real buddies their first University year.
      Piotr was from Ukraine. He loved to tell the story about his father, who inherited a small farm, the family lived on for almost a century. With the farm, the peasant had gotten a couple of mules and a cart. It was probably the first day in his life when he was free to do whatever he wished. His first desire was to go to the nearby town which a railroad had been laid recently. He could only imagine how a real railroad looked like. It didn"t take much time to get ready for the trip. He said that he was going to buy some salt, and before dawn, hit the road never to be back. The railroad with its smell of wooden bars and rails that were coming from Caucasus and running to Moscow, Petersburg, and even Paris, enchanted him. Black locomotives with their spinning and moving parts, clouds of steam and vigorous energy looked to him like bridled beasts, hardly like machines. All of that had fascinated him so much, that, on the same day, he had his cart and mules sold and got a job at the railway station.
      The farm was burned to the ground during the revolution. Piotr"s father was killed in the battle for Stalingrad during World War II. His practicality and wittiness of a peasant remained in Piotr, who survived the hungry post-war years in an orphanage. He had the quick mind and sharp eyes of a street boy. Once, when they both strolled along a side street, somewhere in Downtown Moscow, conversing about something, Piotr suddenly squatted and crawled under the bush they were passing. In a few seconds, he was back with a five ruble note in his hand, dirt on his knees, a spider web in his hair, and a wide smile on his face,. The banknote was wet from yesterday"s rain. It laid invincible under the bush. Hundreds of people passed by that way, but it was only Piotr who didn"t miss the money.
      That was his style.
      From a few ways to prosper in a country where prosperity was almost a crime, Piotr had chosen a career of a writer. He dreamed of living the way the famous Sholokhov did in Vioshinskaya. While travelling as a seasonal worker, Piotr visited the village and saw how Stalin lavished the obedient novelist. Though his own stories reflected certain yet underdeveloped talent and a good knowledge of life, he didn"t pass the creative writing contest at the Moscow Literature Institute. It neither surprised, nor disappointed him. He wasn"t an active member of the Young Communist League with good references, he didn"t have impressive acquaintances, or connections, his chances to be enrolled in the prestigious institute were very weak anyway.
      A month later he successfully passed the exams at the Philology Department of Moscow University and settled in the same room where Fyodor Andreyevich occupied a bed next to the window. Piotr looked at the window frame and said, "In winter you will freeze to death over there. Move here, closer to the door."
      It was late august, and the poplars outside rustled merrily under the wind. Their leaves hadn"t yet turned yellow, but what the new lad had said was true. The window frame wasn"t good enough to keep the cold out in winter.
      That"s how their friendship had started.
      Piotr hated the poverty the students lived in. The scholarship was so small that one could hardly survive on it. Having no relatives able to support him and hating the miserable money students would make loading the freight carts, Piotr was in a constant search for better income. Eventually, he found a profitable field in books" black market, where he soon was recognized as an expert in antique additions. To maintain the reputation Piotr spent numerous hours in the University library studying the subject that had already proved to be profitable for him.
      After the first year, with a scientific expedition, he went to the North of Russia to explore the archives of a monastery where some old manuscripts had been found. A month later, Fyodor Andreyevich received from him a heavy package. In the cardboard box he found a few old icons. The faces on them were black with time, almost indistinct. There was also a note. Piotr asked him to store the stuff in the baggage chamber at the Kiev railway station until the time he was back. There was nothing unusual in the request, and Fyodor Andreyevich did what his friend asked.
      In September, Piotr was arrested for reselling stolen State property. The icons which he had bought at the North happened to be listed among the most valuable items missing. They were spotted by some secret agent who worked undercover as a black market dealer. Soon, investigators found how the icons came to Moscow. Piotr spent a few days in jail. He was interrogated three times and then, to the great surprise of all who had known him was transferred to the Kaschenko Psychiatric Hospital.
      What he was diagnosed with remained uncertain. Certain was the fact that Piotr had avoided a court hearing and the three years of prison that threatened him. Nevertheless, he was expelled from the University. Apparently, he was also advised to leave Moscow, because in late November, he enlisted himself for Geological expedition and left for Siberia.
      Fyodor Andreyevich hadn"t heard anything about him for many years.
      Now, Piotr was standing two steps ahead of him, reading and glancing at the rain that continued to entertain the audience. Fist Fyodor Andreyevich"s move was to leave. He recalled the sleepless nights when he too expected to be arrested. It was him who collaborated with the thieves, storing the stolen icons in the baggage chamber. Though he knew nothing about the crime, at those times, that was enough to be expelled from the University.
      He could easily get lost in the crowd, but he stood watching Piotr, thinking how his friend has aged over the years. Piotr felt his glance and turned around.
      A moment later, shaking the wide and rigid hand of his friend, patting his shoulders, Fyodor Andreyevich felt the real joy of meeting the man again.
      Piotr lived in the South outskirts of Moscow, in an apartment he bought recently. To reach it they took Metro, and then a trolley bus.
      The subdivision Piotr lived in stood apart from the road. Looking at the new nine and twelve story buildings Fyodor Andreyevich said, " They are like a squadron of ships floating through the sea."
      "It looks pretty," his friend said, "when you see them from afar. Wait a bit, when we come closer, you"ll see how ugly they are. It is a feature of our life. The facades of things are good enough, but the internal quality is always bad. Whatever you buy, a new Soviet made radio, or a camera, it may look like the ones they make in the West, but it would never work as well. Bolsheviks are like monkeys, they can only imitate, they are unable to create anything new. Even their ideas of happiness. It is funny, they don"t even want to recognize that such experiments had already taken place in the human history many times. Communism had never lasted for more than a few decades. The idea is as old as this world."
      Fyodor Andreyevich never supported talk of that kind. He was quite satisfied with the Soviet Life. People who criticized it, were mostly irritated by some petty inconveniences. If you are not a fool, you"ll learn how to be happy with the Bolsheviks - that was his belief. He knew enough people who lived quite all right.
      He, however, didn"t interrupt Piotr, and didn"t change the subject. Listening to the voice of his friend he felt like he was a student again. Piotr talked to him in the same patronizing tone he did when they both were students, but Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t mind it. It occurred to him that for the last few years, he never felt like being taught and now he found it enjoyable. Though his friend spoke about questionable things, Fyodor Andreyevich wasn"t vexed with it. Even being a first year student Piotr would never talk about something he didn"t study before. "Sorry, I"m not ready to discuss it," he would answer returning to his reading. In that he was different from many others who pretended to be experts in everything.
      The white buildings, true, weren"t as nice as they looked from the distance. The ground passageway hit the asphalt road and from here it was clearly seen that the buildings were not white, but of a creamy color. Broken concrete blocks left by constructors lay in the weeds and children played among them. New grass hadn"t shown yet and the bare dirt around the buildings didn"t add beauty to the area.
      Nevertheless, all the apartments had already been occupied. Music was heard from an open window. Elderly women sat on benches next to doorways, talking, enjoying the beautiful spring evening. At the wooden table men played dominos, hitting the pieces against the linoleum top. In the middle of the spacious courtyard a company of lads and girls played volleyball standing in a circle. They laughed and yelled, and Fyodor Andreyevich thought that the young people probably never thought about what Piotr just said.
      They entered a doorway and took the elevator, still free from graffiti to reach the eight floor.
      Piotr"s dwelling could hardly be called home. At the lack of effort to make the place comfortable Fyodor Andreyevich realized that his friend lived here alone. The apartment was sold with cheap pale wallpaper that haven"t yet been changed for something nicer. Some coats and jackets hung on the rack in the corner, there was no special place for boots, so the boots were just scattered under the coats. On the other side of the hall stood a large old fashion book case with glassed doors. The expensive antique piece of furniture was made for a place much better than this. The space all around it was filled with hand made shelves resting on bricks. As well as the book case the shelves were full of books of different sizes and colors. To his surprise, among the books, Fyodor Andreyevich saw a familiar spine of the one he had written, but he didn"t say anything.
      "Do you read in English?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked seeing that many of the books had English titles. "I remember you took German at the University."
      "Don"t ask me to read in English for you. I"m not sure I can pronounce most of the words right, though, yes, I read in English. What can I do if they don"t translate works I need to read. Come over here."
      He opened the door inviting Fyodor Andreyevich into a living room which contained a sofa stretched along the wall, an expensive stereo set with large speakers in the corners, a cupboard, a large color TV, and a window with white clouds floated in the evening sky. There were a few oil paintings on the walls and three or four old icons among them. A stack of some other oil paintings and posters stood behind one of the speakers. Everything was in the same kind of disorder that filled Fyodor Andreyevich"s life before his marriage.
      Piotr excused himself to do something in the kitchen, and Fyodor Andreyevich using the moment went from one painting to another exploring them thoroughly until he stopped at the large icon decorated with sheet gold and grains of pearl. The woman"s face, maybe of the Mother of God, looked at him with a strange stare.
      "It is awesome." Fyodor Andreyevich said to Piotr, who returned to the room with a bottle of cognac, a couple of glasses and some snacks on a tray. "A real masterpiece. Must be very expensive?"
      "Not at all." Piotr answered casting a brief glance to the icon. "It is Twentieth Century. Icons like this were made in quantities, it is not a rarity. I have much better ones, not on the walls, of course. Let me show you."
      He put the tray on the table, opened the bottom doors of the cupboard, and took out one of the boxes. Inside, under a layer of cotton and rice-paper, there was a dark slightly arched board with an indistinct image on it. The halo around the face contained just traces of gold, but the other colors were still clean and fresh. Fyodor Andreyevich felt an unexplainable power radiating from the face that looked at him sternly. He took his eyes off.
      "Who is that?" he asked
      "This is the Savior." Piotr said in a low voice. "I"d like to believe that this is an original work of Theophanes the Greek, but maybe it is one of his pupils. This is a real Fourteenth Century piece, I found it in Siberia. It was brought there by Starovers, who fled to the wilderness long before the time of Peter the Great."
      Fyodor Andreyevich glanced at the icon again. The face on it looked pretty plain, it was drawn in two dimensions without depth, but the wide open eyes of Christ pierced him to the soul. That felt disturbing, Fyodor Andreyevich returned the icon to Piotr who carefully packed it up and put it back in its place.
      "It must brings you good money. I mean the icons." Fyodor Andreyevich said.
      "So far it takes more than pays back." Piotr answered pouring the cognac into glasses. "I collect the icons. Sometimes I trade them with other collectors, but I rarely sell anything. Okay," he paused serving Fyodor Andreyevich the drink. "Let"s celebrate our reunion. It is good to be together again."
      They drank and the cognac made Fyodor Andreyevich feel more comfortable in the place.
      "So you didn"t give up your love for the old books and icons?" he asked with a sly smile, hinting to the story that separated them for more than twenty years.
      "I didn"t." Piotr smiled back softly. "But now it is more of professional interest. I"m working on a dissertation about Russian Culture of the Thirteenth Century." He said and Fyodor Andreyevich felt a prick on his conscience. Since they met, they talked only about him, what he was doing for all those years. Though, it wasn"t his fault, he just kept answering his friend"s questions.
      "Tell me about yourself. You just vanished, I wasn"t even sure you were alive or not." Fyodor Andreyevich said sitting on the sofa.
      "It is quite a story. Those idiots made such records in my documents that I couldn"t even dream about getting a degree. Though, I was lucky. Just a couple of years after, my boss and I were crossing Yenisey River driving over the ice. It was spring, the ice would be gone soon, but my boss decided to get more supplies, mostly vodka, before the ice drift cut us off from the main land. On the way back we were drunk and didn"t notice a hole in the ice. We barely escaped from the car before it sank. While we were getting to the thick surface, I let my wallet with all the documents flow into the Arctic Ocean. Two months later, I received a new Passport and a Military Card clean of bad records."
      "What a story!" Fyodor Andreyevich exclaimed. "Drowning, you didn"t forget to get rid of the documents?"
      "I never stopped thinking how to get rid of them. That was my chance. The same year I passed exams to the History Faculty in Novosibirsk. Now I"m a post graduate student in Moscow University working on my Ph.D."
      "What do you do for a living? Do you have a job?"
      "Well, I do many things."
      To avoid asking how his friend made money to buy expensive books, icons, and oil paintings, Fyodor Andreyevich asked,
      "Why did they draw the sculls under the cross there?" He pointed to the icon with the crucified Christ."
      "That"s a good question." Piotr smiled. Those sculls are of Adam and Eve. Saint Augustin once stated: "As in Adam we all die, even so in Christ we shall all be alive." Actually, it was said even before him by Apostle Paul, but in the iconography this theme appeared after the time when the doctrine of original sin was invented by Saint Augustin."
      "I never studied the History of Religion. Do you need the stuff for your thesis?"
      "In some point, yes, but I do it mostly for myself."
      "You what, believe in God?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked in a horse voice as if forcing the words to come out.
      "Are you surprised?" Piotr laughed loudly exposing his yellow teeth. "Don"t you believe in God?" He looked in Fyodor Andreyevich"s eyes with mockery and laughed even more.
      "I don"t know what to believe." Fyodor Andreyevich shrugged his shoulders. "One of my students thinks that Jesus Christ was an alien from an outer world," he tried to joke, but the joke went off pretty clumsy. Piotr seemed not to notice it.
      "You are a scholar." Piotr said regaining his normal tone. "You study Literature which is always following ideas that appear in society. To me Literature is a kind of spiritual incarnation of what came to philosophers" minds. Writers just dramatize and develop the thoughts. To understand Homer or Virgil one has to understand their world, traditions, and morals implied by their gods. You will never understand Petrarca without visualizing the Hell he pictured for himself. Gogol and Dostoyevsky might be understood on an amateur level without knowledge of Orthodox Christianity, but to write articles on their works, a scholar must know what they had been taught by their parents and priests. They were believers, so should you to understand them well."
      "Don"t tell me they taught you that in the Novosibirsk University."
      "They didn"t. They taught me in the best Soviet traditions, trying to convince me that all the past was just a preparation stage for upcoming Communism."
      "So you became an Orthodox Christian?"
      "No. Though, I used to be."
      "Then to whom do you refer yourself?"
      "To neither church in particular. However, I"m more of a Protestant."
      "A-ha," Fyodor Andreyevich nodded trying to recall in what points Protestantism is different from the doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church. He had vague understanding of the things and hurried to change the subject."
      "The picture, over there, in the corner, what is it?" He pointed with his glass to an oil painting in blue and dark green, almost metallic colors. There was some bold man with Asian features on it. The man was old, his eyes were shrewd. He played some music on a bamboo pipe. Behind him there was a kind of dry lake with a remnant of water gleaming in the darkness. A few weird people were dancing next to the water. Above them, the Moon was shining all around with a pale steady light.
      "This is Confucius. Pretty strange, isn"t it. The painting is done by my friend Anton, a very young fellow, he is not yet twenty, but pretty smart. He is still under the influence of the artists he respects, like Vrubel, and Bosch, of course. I buy his works mostly for ideas. Let me show you something else."
      With a pleasant intoxication in his head, Fyodor Andreyevich followed Piotr to the pile of paintings in the corner. There, sipping his cognac, he looked at unusual pictures, listened to his friend"s voice, and felt like he parted with Piotr just yesterday.
      It was about eleven when they walked back to the trolley bus stop through the field of grass. The sky was clear and stars shone dimly. The huge nine and twelve story buildings, looked like ships, floating through the night. Guitar chords and singing were heard from somewhere. Obviously, the same company of lads and girls that earlier played volleyball had drifted to the field to finish the long day with flirting under the stars.
      "How good is the night." Fyodor Andreyevich said.
      "Yes," Piotr replied. "In spring, even the Soviet life looks better. But all of this is coming to an end, thank God."
      "What do you mean, the Apocalypses?" Fyodor Andreyevich chuckled.
      "Sort of, for Bolsheviks for sure."
      "Come on, what are you talking about? The Bolsheviks will remain in power forever." Fyodor Andreyevich said. "Looks like they are as strong as never before."
      "That is just a façade of a colossus on the legs of clay. All of it will collapse pretty soon. In seven, maybe in twelve years you won"t recognize the country."
      Fyodor Andreyevich looked along the road in hope to see the coming trolley bus, but saw nothing but the moving lights of a few cars.
      "What makes you think like that?" He asked with irritation. Suddenly he felt cold and eerie in the middle of the field.
      "Their invasion into Afghanistan, first of all."
      "But this is just a restricted contingent of troops, nothing major, just a presence to support the Government."
      "That"s how the Vietnam War had started. But there is a big difference between the United States and us. They could afford the war, our idiots can"t."
      "I don"t think so," Fyodor Andreyevich said authoritatively though he hardly ever thought about it. "They would never start it without considering all the pros and conts. They are not enemies to themselves."
      "They are, fortunately." Piotr said without any regret. "It is all very similar to the times when the Great Rome was coming to its end. They too lived merrily not even noticing that they were doomed."
      "What do you mean? What is the parallel?"
      "The power of Rome was in its Army. Barbarians became so common in the Roman life that, gradually, all the unpleasant jobs, including military service were given up to them. Even slaves were encouraged to join the army, which was absolutely impossible before. Of course it led to a break in discipline and corruption. There was no more power to guard the borders or to control remote regions."
      "What you are saying is impressive, but it can"t refer to our Army. I"m not a military man, but it must be in good shape if they sent it abroad."
      "My neighbor, next door, received a casket with his son in it from Afghanistan. I hadn"t known his son for long, just saw him a few times, but now I see his father every day. He comes around, just to visit. He is a retired officer himself. You have to talk to him about the Soviet Army."
      "Let"s hope it will soon be over." Fyodor Andreyevich said hoping that they would find something else to discuss.
      "No, it won"t." Piotr chuckled. "The war is a real Klondike for all the military personal. It is mostly soldiers who are killed in action. Think about their commanders who get promotions to higher ranks much faster than in the time of peace. Their pay in Afghanistan doubles and triples, which makes their families financially secure. Not only the officers, even cooks, who are serving the generals, are making good money from the war and receive military rewards. They all are interested in extending the war as long as possible."
      "Oh no!" Fyodor Andreyevich exclaimed as if in pain. "How can you be so cynical?" He wanted to say that the restricted contingent of Soviet troops are defending the interests of their country in Afghanistan, but he didn"t. He didn"t believe in that himself. "What you are saying is inhumane." He blurted out instead.
      "Inhumane?" Piotr too raised his voice. "When were the Bolsheviks human, tell me? Were they human shooting all the Romanovs their doctor and dog, or were they human dispatching the best Russian peasantry to die behind the Polar Circle, or when they were throwing armless people, not soldiers, so called volunteers, under tracks of German tanks? Which of the two sacrifices were more human, tell me, the twenty million which perished in the war, or the other twenty million who were shot, imprisoned, and exiled like enemies of the regime during Stalin time?"
      "I don"t know. It"s hard to argue with you. I"m not prepared." Fyodor Andreyevich sighed looking at the approaching trolley bus. He could tell Piotr good bye and depart, but something made him stay.
      They both watched in silence as the doors were shut. The trolley bus pulled off.
      "You sound like those Sovietologists on Western radios." Fyodor Andreyevich said. "I never take them seriously. I always feel that they, not being able to see it from the inside, just can"t be right. What you are talking about is totally different from what I see."
      "Ah, old chap, what you see in Moscow is not only the façade of a huge devastated country, it is a myth which you have chosen to believe in. The Sovietologists who tell you the truth, are not fools at all, they have much more information about our life than all our newspapers together could provide."
      "Listen," a sudden idea came to Fyodor Andreyevich"s mind. "If you think so differently, could you do me a favor?"
      "I"ll try." Piotr answered. "What do you want me to do?"
      "I wrote an article on a few stories of Chekhov, could you take a look at it. All of what you have said is so extraordinary. Maybe you"ll give me some advice. Would you?"
      "Sure I will. What a question."
      Another trolley bus appeared on the road. Fyodor Andreyevich and Piotr shook hands saying good bye to each other.
      Inside there were just a few passengers scattered along the seats. Fyodor Andreyevich flashed his transportation card and sat next to the window. The fields of grass soon were left behind, the trolley bus ran along some streets with apartment buildings. Fyodor Andreyevich looked at the windows of different colors and thought that the people living behind them don"t even think about the collapse of Bolsheviks and the invasion into Afghanistan. The view of the busy street comforted him. If the end of the Bolsheviks would ever come, it surely won"t happen tomorrow.
      A few stops after, the trolley bus made a turn into a big square. The red electrified letter M appeared and the passengers moved to the doors. The night, the lights, the sound of traffic were the same as they always were. Fyodor Andreyevich took a full breast of the fresh air and walked to the glass doors of the metro station.
      * * *
      Piotr had finished reading the article a week later. They met at Pushkinskaya and went along the Tverskoy Boulevard leaving the busy Gorky street behind. Soon they turned to the right and found a small Café quiet in the morning hour.
      "So, what"s wrong with my article? Why didn"t you want to speak about it over the phone?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked when they sat at the table in the corner.
      "Nothing"s wrong. The article is fine. It is excellent work," Piotr paused, sighed, and concluded, "for a first year student."
      "What do you mean?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked, though he knew perfectly what his friend was talking about.
      "You have to teach University students, Fyodor." Piotr said sipping his coffee. "You are killing your talent messing with the high school kids. Teaching them you are trying to make the subject digestible. You are responsible for what your kids will recite on the entrance exams and you teach them the things that are very well known. Your article on Chekhov"s works is written in the same way. The tutoring ruined the scholar in you."
      All that, Piotr said in one breath, as if it was something trivial.
      Fyodor Andreyevich showed no emotions. He sat silent, for a while, looking into the blackness of his coffee than asked,
      "What do you think I should do?"
      "You should drink your coffee, it"s getting cold," Piotr said and looked at him like he did years ago, when they both had a whole life ahead. "You must get back to the University teaching. Otherwise, you"ll die like a scholar. Your articles should be born at the podiums."
      "At the podiums," Fyodor Andreyevich repeated considering the words. A short pause followed. Than Piotr said,
      "Leningrad University declared a contest for the Professor of Literature position. With your experience and with the help of that relative of yours, you can pass. The school is less conservative than the Moscow University and the students are more demanding there. That"s what you need."
      "I... can"t." Fyodor Andreyevich said. "It is too late to start from the beginning."
      "You what, still don"t feel well?" Piotr asked.
      "Yes." He lied.
      He just couldn"t tell the truth to his friend. He couldn"t tell him that his mother-in-law had killed the bright happy scholar in him, that she had made of him a lucrative enterprise, that he didn"t belong to himself any more. He hated what she had done to him.
      * * *
      It was about seven o"clock when the suburbs on both sides of the freeway merged with the city of Dallas. The road grew wider and the traffic became denser. He saw the exit to the Holiday Inn but a huge silver semi truck suddenly passed at the right and he missed the exit. He took the next turn and found himself on some straight and broad road that ran through a field. Eventually he turned to the left where he, presumably, had to hit Downtown.
      After thirty minutes of wandering through the town, he ran into a Holiday Inn. It was another one, but he didn"t mind. He looked for that type of hotel; location meant nothing.
      He parked his rental Toyota not far from the entrance and concentrated on the words he had to have ready.
      "Hello. I need a room for one night." He said to the black girl behind the counter and thought that he had said it with a hard accent. The girl, however, understood him well.
      "Smoking or not smoking?" she said
      "What?" He asked and the girl, slowly and clearly like talking to a child, asked him.
      "Do you smoke?"
      "No," Fyodor Andreyevich said.
      "We have a room for a non smoker at a very low rate of fifty nine dollars."
      Fyodor Andreyevich had been taught by Victoria that in American hotels it never hurts to negotiate, but he felt stupid speaking with the girl, so he agreed.
      "All right, I"ll take it." He said.
      "Do you have an ID?" She asked looking at him as if he had just escaped from the Zoo.
      He gave her his Russian Passport.
      There was a framed print above the bed, on the wall painted in light green. On the other side, there was a TV with a cable box on the top of it. Fyodor Andreyevich walked to the window and pulled the white vertical cord. The synthetic drapes closed the view to the parking lot. As if being disturbed with the curtain"s move, the heater under the window woke up with a smooth quiet rustle. Fyodor Andreyevich felt a wave of warm air at his feet and took his shoes off.
      He was about to take a shower when the phone rang.
      "Hello?" Fyodor Andreyevich answered thinking that someone must have dialed a wrong number.
      "Mr. Kulick, this is Margaret at the front desk, have you found everything alright in your room?"
      "Yes. Thank you."
      "Mr. Kulick, we received a phone call. Some lady, her name is Victoria, I"m not sure I can pronounce her last name right, it starts with R, she is inquiring about you. Do you want to talk to her?"
      Victoria had found him somehow. He didn"t want to talk to his ex wife, but it didn"t occur to him that he could have that option. He wasn"t ready for the call at all, he was confused. As he often did, when someone was asking him something incomprehensible in English, he automatically answered "Yes."
      Something clicked in the receiver and he heard Victoria"s breath. It was his last chance to hang up but he didn"t.
      "Fyodor?" She tried the silence and, feeling that he was listening, said persuasively and softly. "Fyodor, what you have imagined for yourself is not true. You are hurting me, all of us. That"s awful."
      He made a move to hang up, but her weeping stopped him.
      "Please, say something." She begged.
      He hung up. He didn"t want to talk to her. Let them all go to hell. What connected him to that woman, what kept him around her new family? It was over, finished.
      He took a hot shower and swallowed his Russian tranquilizing pill washing it down with water from a plastic cup he found at the sink. He needed a good sleep.
      Listening to the muffled noise of traffic, Fyodor Andreyevich looked at the pale gleams of the lights on the ceiling. It was a pleasure to stretch out his body under the cool and crisp bed sheet. A thought that some day he would lay like that dead in a coffin drifted through his mind, but the pill started working and the vision died without allusions.
      In his dreams he saw the chandelier of pink glass and Ephraim, the handyman, that was fixing it on the ceiling in their Moscow apartment.
      The luster was made for a much larger room and the handyman was trusted to cut out a piece of the central column. After the surgery, the elegant lighting fixture of the Pompadour style became short and fat. Fyodor Andreyevich found it vulgar and cheap, but he didn"t tell anyone. Martha Leibovna and Victoria bought it in a prestigious antique store on Arbat street. They paid an enormous price for the trifle. Now they emotionally participated in the process and he had to be careful with his opinion.
      After pregnancy, Victoria (she had never been a petit girl) grew wider. Her plump breasts doubled in size, thighs no longer fit any of the jeans she loved to wear, her skin, pink and healthy, resembled the color of the chandelier that now reigned over the room. Like in the Gogol"s story, the chandelier seemed to be yelling "I"m Victoria too, look how gorgeous, how charming I am!"
      True, motherhood added much to his wife. She turned to a lusty self-confident beauty and he shrank and aged even more. Victoria adopted her mother"s firm way of walk, the same radiance of power and assuredness accompanied her wherever she went. All her demeanor was asking for a robust and mighty man, he felt ridiculous and pathetic next to the woman.
      Nothing had changed in her attitude towards him, she still was a tender wife, and an excellent assistant. They worked on the Composition Manual in the same harmony that they always had. In seclusion of their study, where Pushkin made of marble smiled at them ironically, Fyodor Andreyevich still felt happy, but it became a hard burden to go out together. Under the glances of other men, he felt like a mouse with a huge piece of cheese among hungry rats.
      She was aware of the attention. She felt her power, and a sharp pain pierced his jealous heart each time he saw her talking to a man. He knew that sooner or later he would lose her. He loved her to adoration, he was her slave, and the apprehension of that tormented him immensely.
      She didn"t elope, she didn"t fly away with some romantic lover, she didn"t even think about that. It was he who tempted her, who seduced her against his own will. He couldn"t live with the thought that one day he would be deceived. He knew that her betrayed was predestined to happen, he saw it like one sees the light of the dawn when the sun is still below the horizon. In his nightmares, he visualized her potential lover distinctly, to the very last detail. It was a man of an elaborate stature with thick curly hair and heavy but soft features. His shoulders were broad, the stomach slightly protruded above his pants, he laughed loudly. In Fyodor Andreyevich fantasies the man laughed at him. There was a crave of beast in the man"s eyes. In those exuberant guffaws, Fyodor Andreyevich heard the final verdict to his incapacity of being a true husband, a real man. The phantom pretended to be a witty playboy, but to Fyodor Andreyevich he was nothing but a buffoon, a simple-minded oaf. No, by no means should such a man possess his treasure.
      Eventually, the visions of the imaginary rival crept from his dreams to reality, Fyodor Andreyevich could swear that he saw the man on the streets, following them at a distance. Once, he even saw the spook at the crowded hall of the Moscow Journalists" Club, where Fyodor Andreyevich and Victoria were invited to some celebration. "Are you all right? You turned so pale." Victoria asked obscuring him from the others and looking into his face. "Yes, I"m fine." He murmured and decided that was enough. If it lasted longer, he"d go out of his mind. He had to do something to drive the ghost away.
      In anticipation of something disgusting that (he felt in his bones) was inevitably approaching, he lived through the spring and summer. Once in a while, he met with Piotr and his new friend Anton, the young painter. He introduced them to Victoria, but she could hardly find time to visit with them. That was just an excuse. Piotr and Anton remained nonchalant to her beauty, they constantly discussed the book on philosophy which they were writing together, and Victoria felt bored in their company. He had to find someone more suitable to her level. He had to find some decent man that would highly appreciate his friendship, that would become his shadow, his background, which would make Fyodor Andreyevich shine in a new light.
      He met such a man in the circle of young philosophers who ornately called themselves Sinclit of the Century. The lad looked no more than twenty. His nose was so long that when writing he had to cock his head down and to one side to see the paper. His hair was in disorder, not because it wasn"t brushed, it just grew like that on his bumpy head.
      Anton told Fyodor Andreyevich that Mikhail Epstein was invited to read his lovely essays in the circle that night. Anton, obviously, misunderstood something. The writer hadn"t even been scheduled for that night.
      Anton, whom Fyodor Andreyevich expected to meet there, didn"t show up. It was raining outside and Fyodor Andreyevich felt fatigued and annoyed. The philosophers entertained themselves with tasty homemade biscuits and tea from a big silver samovar. He decided to stay.
      Sitting in the corner, sipping his tea, and listening to a bald and stocky man who was delivering the synopsis of his work, Fyodor Andreyevich observed the strange fellow with the bumpy head, whose look would perfectly fit a picture of a ward in an asylum. Though most of the philosophers had rather weird looks, that guy seemed to be special. Listening to the speaker, the lad smirked, covering a paper in front of him with notes. He was dressed in an old sweater with a hole under the sleeve and cheap jeans, too light for the season. A thin neck protruded from the collar of his discolored shirt. The guy resembled the central figure from the famous painting by Repin, Zaporozhets are Writing a Letter to the Sultan. True, the fellow chuckled quietly under his nose, swayed with his head as if disagreeing with what he heard but, nevertheless, his pen flew non stop about the paper. At times the fellow grabbed his glass of tea and sipped on it noisily.
      Bored with the report, Fyodor Andreyevich amused himself, searching the audience for other characters from the famous painting. Soon he found a few who really looked like those savage Cossacks, but at that point the speaker finished. The strange fellow lifted his head from the notes and poked somewhere with his finger. Fyodor Andreyevich saw that he also had a small tape recorder on his desk.
      It was strange, but listening to the discussion that followed, Fyodor Andreyevich, continued to watch the lad. He expected him to talk, but the lad remained quiet. He didn"t turn his tape recorder on any more, just chuckled ironically making more notes. When all the questions had been answered and all the opinions expressed; when the group leader started to look through his papers, the long-nosed fellow suddenly stood up and walked to the front.
      "I want to say a few words." he said in a clear loud voice. "First of all, I have to say that the author inexcusably simplified the topic. The bibliography he applied to his work is very poor. I can offer for the author"s attention at least ten more very important articles and books which could help him to explore the subject much better."
      Fyodor Andreyevich suddenly felt curious. The lad, who first appeared to him as a moron, presently looked as an intelligent challenger. Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t even mind listening to what he was about to say.
      The audience, however, reacted differently. A few men stood up and went out to smoke, disturbing clapping started at the back, someone even whistled. The group leader rang a small bell and said to the speaker.
      "Sorry, but I have to interrupt your discourse due to violation of our rules you have allowed yourself at the last meeting. The discussion is closed." He turned to the audience and continued, "Let us work out the agenda for next month."
      "Let him talk!" somebody yelled from the back.
      "No," several voices responded. "Enough of this jerk. Out! Down with him!"
      Fyodor Andreyevich saw that most of the philosophers were about to seize the man by the collar and fling him away. A few others, on the contrary, demanded to let him talk. The commotion continued for a good minute until the lad lifted his hand and the noise expired.
      "I won"t talk to people who are not ready to understand what I"m trying to say. They are, obviously, not ready to acquire serious ideas. So," he paused letting the wave of indignant gasps and whispers pass. "So, I"m leaving." He made another pause, during which "Good Riddance" and some other insulting remarks were clearly heard "I"m planning to start another public circle where we will study the basics of the Scientific Methodology. Those who are interested are welcome to call me at the Jewish Theater where I"m available at nights. Here is the number."
      "Who is that young man?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked a girl at his right. She was one of those who wanted to get rid of the guy.
      "Valerii..." she said "I don"t remember his last name. A haughty schizophrenic. He is always trying to be smarter than others. He always says that to understand him, one has to have some special knowledge and other bullshit like that. He is just a snobbish jerk."
      "Last time, he ate all the cake!" Added one of those who looked like a savage Cossack. "Down with him!" He yelled.
      Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t stay any longer. He walked to his car and ran the banished philosopher down on the way. Valerii was walking briskly to the Metro station, his left hand swinging, his right one on the strap of his shoulder bag. He jumped aside when Fyodor Andreyevich abruptly pulled to the curb and opened the passenger door.
      "Get in, I"ll give you a ride," Fyodor Andreyevich said.
      The fellow"s nose poked into the door gap. He didn"t recognize the driver, but the warm car"s interior looked better than the cold rainy night. He got in and shut the door with unnecessary force.
      "You don"t have to do it that hard. This car is new, everything works all right."
      "Sorry, it"s just a habit. Cab doors are always hard to catch." The guy fastened his safety belt and fumbled under the seat searching for the lever. He moved the seat a bit to the rear and then adjusted the back. Fyodor Andreyevich watched his preparations for the ride with interest. When the passenger, at last, relaxed in his seat, he pulled out into the street.
      "As I understand you specialize in Scientific Methodology. Tell me about it." Fyodor Andreyevich said.
      The methodologist looked at him, as if he saw a fool. "You can"t ask me to explain things that take years of studying." He said.
      Fyodor Andreyevich chuckled. "I"ve heard somebody say that if a theory can"t be explained in a friendly way in five minutes, it is not a theory but gibberish." Seeing that his passenger"s face turned to stone with anger he quit teasing him and said. "I know what the Scientific Methodology is about, but I"m not in the mood to discuss it now. How about a cup of coffee at some nice place?" And, stealing a glance at the fellow"s undersized shabby coat, he confirmed his proposal with, "Be my guest."
      The young man, who still sat with a gloomy air of wounded dignity, just shrugged his shoulders.
      "Why did those people curse you that ruthlessly?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked turning to the Vernardskii Prospect.
      "Never mind them. They are just a bunch of amateurs who aren"t used to systematic work. They think that Philosophy is something they can chat leisurely about. Most of those people aren"t even able to concentrate on a subject for more than a couple of minutes."
      "Maybe it is because you deliver your ideas in a way no one can understand?"
      "It is impossible to simplify complex theories. One has to be prepared for them. You can"t make so called Popular Science of Philosophy." Distressed by the abuse of the Science of Sciences, the fellow turned his nose to the side window.
      "How old are you?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked.
      "Twenty five. Why?" The fellow looked back warily.
      "At your age, it is still all right to think categorically. Have you graduated from Moscow University?"
      "I"ve never studied there. Listen, quit this patronizing tone of yours. I"d rather walk then..." The fellow blurted out. Fyodor Andreyevich realized that, accidentally, he had touched a wounded spot.
      "I didn"t mean to hurt you. I"m just curious. Let me introduce myself."
      Fyodor Andreyevich, briefly, omitting many details, told about himself, just to pacify the obstinate Methodologist.
      They didn"t find a nice place to sit and talk. At the doors of a few cafés which they drove by, people shivered under the rain standing in lines. It was warm and quiet in the car. Conversing about Dostoyevsky novels, they didn"t really need any coffee. Nevertheless, they had to arrive somewhere and Fyodor Andreyevich invited the young man to his place. He wanted Victoria to hear what Valerii was saying about the methods of the famous writer, he even asked the young philosopher to hold up his criticism of the authoritative work of Bakhtin, the famous expert in Dostoyevsky"s poetics, until his wife could join in the conversation. He drove his car through the rainy night bringing the disaster closer and closer to his family. What a fool he was!
      Martha Leibovna and Victoria were in the kitchen preparing the table for evening tea when Fyodor Andreyevich opened the door with his key.
      "I"m not alone, I"ve brought you a guest." He declared. "Can you imagine, the young man is not leaving a rock unturned on Bakhtin"s works. Get aquatinted, Valerii is a young methodologist. My mother-in-law, Martha Leibovna, my wife, Victoria." Fyodor Andreyevich introduced all three to one another.
      He didn"t expect Martha Leibovna to visit Victoria that late. His mother-in-law might get wrong impression of the guest"s appearance, but to his surprise everything went smooth. They were invited to the table where Valerii again thoroughly examined his position on the stool he rested upon. He sat, holding the top of the soft taboret with two hands, thought for a moment, moved it a bit closer to the table and, satisfied, relaxed.
      Looking at the preparations Martha Leibovna wrinkled her forehead as though reflecting on something.
      "What is your last name?" She inquired.
      "Rukotin." The methodologist answered with a smile and Fyodor Andreyevich thought that, despite everything, his new friend may please his mother in law. He stretched his hand for a piece of cheese to make a sandwich, when Martha Leibovna surprised everyone with her next question that was more of a statement.
      "And you are from Taganrog, aren"t you?"
      "Y-yes." Valerii said with a puzzled expression on his face.
      "You Mom"s name is Valentina Grigorievna, isn"t it?"
      "Yes, it is. May I ask how do you know?" Valerii smiled awkwardly.
      "How small is the world!" Martha Leibovna exclaimed heartily. "Victoria, this is the boy you played with on the beach! We used to live in his mother"s house at the Azov Sea. You probably don"t remember it, you both were just 6 years old."
      "Why, I remember." Victoria said looking at Valerii. "You had a big wooden toy truck we would load with sand. I remember it very well, Mom."
      Everyone laughed with excitement. "It just can"t be!" Fyodor Andreyevich exclaimed. He wanted to add something, but Martha Leibovna continued.
      "That funny way you sat on the chair immediately reminded me of your precious Mama. You"ve always acted the way she did. Oh, you were a wonderful child, an adorable one, always next to her, never in trouble. I"m so glad to see you again. How is Valentina Grigorievna? Tell me about her."
      "Mom passed away two years ago." Valerii said with a deep sigh and Martha Leibovna resounded with an emotional "Oh, no!"
      "Yes," Valerii confirmed. "She was dreaming of retirement, but... She had a heart attack at work. When the ambulance arrived, she had already passed away."
      "Oh, what a pity! She always cared more of others than of herself. I remember, even years ago she didn"t feel well at times."
      "Yes, you are right. She didn"t think much of herself. It"s a misfortune."
      "Oh, you know, usually one never remembers people he stays with on vacation. But your Mom, she was wonderful. Oh, how she loved Akhmatova, how many verses of the poetess she knew by heart. It was delightful, to listen how she read the poetry. I"ve never met anyone who could do it that well. She did it with passion, as though she herself lived through all the terrible years. Why do people like your Mom have to live in the province? She deserved to be a teacher in the best Moscow school! This is a shame, real shame!" Martha Leibovna said, looking at the young man with eyes full of moisture.
      Valerii didn"t answer. He pulled a cramped handkerchief out of his pocket and blew his long nose into it loudly. Fyodor Andreyevich startled, but his mother-in-law didn"t mind it. Valerii took his glasses off, and with a corner of the handkerchief rubbed his eyes.
      "Excuse me," he said, "No one has ever told me such good words about my mother. Thank you. I"m touched, very touched."
      Fyodor Andreyevich decided that it was time to change the subject, he was about to resume the talk on Dostoyevsky"s poetics, but Martha Leibovna asked.
      "So, what are you doing in Moscow? Tell us everything, we are so eager to know."
      "I study the Scientific Methodology." Valerii said. He again was alright.
      "At the University?"
      "No, so far I do it on my own."
      "Oh, I understand. Those competitive examinations. It is impossible to be enrolled without connections. Your Mom should had let me know about your plans when you graduated from high school. We"ll talk about it later. Why are you interested in that subject. It sounds so boring to me. What can you do with it?"
      "Actually..." Valerii hesitated. "What I will say may sound strange to you, but I"ll tell you anyway. I want to be an adviser to our new president."
      Fyodor Andreyevich felt a slight chill as if some danger approached.
      "What president? Of some scientific society?" Martha Leibovna asked spreading butter over a piece of bread.
      "No. The new president of our country."
      "I want to become an adviser to the president of the republic, that in the future will replace the Soviet regime in Russia."
      Martha Leibovna"s eyes rounded. It looked like they were ready to jump out of her head. Her butter knife froze in the middle of the bread.
      "You know Valerii," she said coming to her senses, "I"m a member of the Communist Party and I have to oppose what you just said, but I knew your mother, and I used to know you as a child. What I"ve heard I can accept as a fantasy, not more than that. Though, I"m glad to know that you grew up into a man with ambitions. One has to have goals, but... Let"s talk about something else. You and Fyodor Andreyevich finish with your tea while we prepare the room where we may sit and talk. Let"s go, Victoria."
      And they left.
      "This is unbelievable." Valerii said. "I never expected to see these folks again. I remember the girl, but I don"t remember her mother at all. What did you say her name is?"
      "Martha Leibovna." Fyodor Andreyevich replied.
      "Martha Leibovna, Martha Leibovna." Valerii repeated thoughtfully. "I shall memorize it. Would you mind pouring some hot tea for me instead of this."
      Fyodor Andreyevich took the cup from Valerii and emptied it into the sink. "Martha Leibovna." He heard again.
      Valerii made a big sandwich with cheese for himself and chewed on it thoroughly. It seemed he completely forgot about Fyodor Andreyevich, who sipped his warm tasteless tea regretting that the discussion of Dostoyevsky"s novels was interrupted so unexpectedly.
      Meanwhile Martha Leibovna and Victoria put things in the living room in a relative order and invited the men to join them. The mother and her daughter were sitting on the coach; two cozy armchairs on the other side of a coffee table waited for Fyodor Andreyevich and his guest.
      Later, with bitterness, Fyodor Andreyevich recalled how Valerii had entered the room where everything was arranged under strict supervision of his mother-in-law. The ugly pink chandelier, ornate wallpapers that were good enough for odalisque"s boudoir, and the framed print of a Salvador Dali painting on the wall, were energetically praised by Valerii who did all he could to please the women.
      He even saw the vaguely visible ornament on the heavy window curtains, and said that only a person with a great sense of style could match it with the curves and curls of the pink luster that, he said, was just gorgeous.
      "Depth of taste in everything. Just depth of taste!" Valerii kept repeating looking around.
      "I"m glad that someone can at last, appreciate what we did to the room. You can"t imagine how ugly it looked before. I"m glad that Fyodor Andreyevich can hear what you are saying. He never notices things like that. He would be happy to live in a barrack, full of books, of course." And Martha Leibovna laughed looking warmly and apologetically at her son-in-law.
      "Your Mom"s taste also was excellent." She said addressing Valerii. "Oh, what a house your family had on the beach!" she said with adoration. "How many unforgettable evenings we had spent sitting on the veranda, watching the fading sky over the sea, playing cards, reading poetry, talking in the dusk. I was so upset when she wrote me that your father had sold the house after they divorced. Is it, I mean the house, still there?"
      "Yes, it is." Valerii answered in the same tone, taking at last, his seat. "Though I haven"t been there for many years."
      "I can understand that." Martha Leibovna exhaled with regret and Victoria nodded agreeing. She sat pressing herself against her Mom"s shoulder as she, probably, did on those nights, on the veranda of the house Fyodor Andreyevich could only imagine.
      Smiling politely he remained silent. The conversation was wandering about events in which he had never participated. He suddenly felt fatigue and longing for his study where a book with a bookmark between the pages was waiting on the desk. At any other occasion he would just excuse himself and leave, but Valerii was his guest. Though, looking at genuine admiration written on Valerii"s face, Fyodor Andreyevich no longer cared to hear what his guest would say about Dostoyevsky novels. He didn"t believe that a person with such a vulgar taste could judge merits, faults, or truth of a good book. Fyodor Andreyevich yawned secretly into his fist.
      "Was it your Mom, who advised you on the, how did you call it?" Martha Leibovna asked artlessly.
      "Scientific Methodology." Victoria said.
      "Yes. That"s what it was."
      "Not exactly. Mom wanted me to become a teacher, like herself."
      "That"s wonderful. Why didn"t you?"
      "Oh, that"s a long story. Let"s say it just didn"t work."
      "Why, tell us. We want to know."
      "Well, if you insist... To make it short, I didn"t pass the entrance exams to the Pedagogical Institute. A month after, I turned eighteen and had to be drafted to the Army. For both of us, my Mom and me, that was a disaster. She recalled some disease I was diagnosed with in the seventh grade and brought it up to the medical commission."
      "What disease?"
      "Schizophrenia." Valerii answered matter-of-factly.
      "I see." Martha Leibovna nodded her head. "I can understand your Mother. If I"d had a son, I"d also have done all possible to prevent him from the service. As one of our acquaintances said, the Soviet Army organizes disorganized cattle. Though, I shouldn"t say that."
      "Exactly!" Valerii exclaimed. "You got it! But I was unlucky. They sent me to a special hospital for examination and, two weeks after, I was released from the service with such an article in my military card that no college would accept me. I got a job and started to study on my own hoping that some day they would change the stupid regulation. I read books on Philosophy, History, Ethnography, and eventually I realized what I had to focus on, whom I"d become."
      "Who you want to become you have already told us." Martha Leibovna chortled.
      "Tell us better, in brief, what this Methodology is about?"
      Fyodor Andreyevich shrank internally recalling Valerii"s reaction to the very same question he himself had asked an hour ago. He didn"t want the night to end up with a scandal. Who knows what to expect from a person with a mental disorder. He deeply regretted that he brought the stranger home. The Schizophrenic however not even blinking his eyes, began explaining, in a popular friendly way, like some encyclopedia"s article would, about Scientific Methodology studies. In amazement Fyodor Andreyevich dropped his jaw down. The guy wasn"t an idiot at all.
      "I understand!" Martha Leibovna interrupted. "I think it is exactly what Victoria is still lacking in her teaching. Development and implementation of the right approach to students. I hope you wouldn"t mind dedicating Victoria some of your time, if, of course, Fyodor Andreyevich will find it helpful." And she looked at her son-in-law questioningly.
      What could he say? He just shrugged his shoulders.
      Valerii touched his knee and said with appreciation,
      "Thank you. I have dreamed about trying my theory on something real." He turned to Victoria and stated in a mentor"s tone. "We"ll start the day after tomorrow. I"m fully available until seven thirty. Would you like me to come here?"
      "Yes, here will be fine." Martha Leibovna answered for her daughter. "This way you won"t disturb Fyodor Andreyevich."
      "I"m glad, I"m immensely glad to meet you again." Valerii said addressing the women and keeping his eyes on Victoria for longer. Fyodor Andreyevich looked downwards and thought that if the guy was so fascinated with the stupid pink chandelier, he, definitely, likes his wife.
      There was no discussion on Dostoyevsky"s novels that night. There was more talking about the past and more ignorance of the elderly husband. Martha Leibovna was all excitement. She treated Valerii as if he was Victoria"s high school friend that came around after so many years. Fyodor Andreyevich thought that his mother-in-law had probably tired of him. Of course, she couldn"t speak with him on the terms she did with Valerii. They were almost of the same age. Their relations were too courteous. But Valerii, who, true, at times looked like a moron, was pleading for help and care with all his demeanor. To Martha Leibovna he was an ugly duckling, a homeless kitten that promised to become cute and fluffy after cleaning and drying. And above all, he was the only son of the old friend of hers.
      The conversation eventually touched a literary subject, but, again, it was poetry of Akhmatova. Martha Leibovna said that she especially loved to listen to Valerii"s Mom read certain verses, and Valerii asked her to recite it. Martha Leibovna was embarrassed, she never did it before, but the young man tried to convince her that everyone can read poetry, if, of course, he loves it with all his heart. When he spoke about it his face was full of delight, his eyes watered, and even Fyodor Andreyevich thought that what he said is probably true.
      Martha Leibovna took a breath, straightened in her chair, stiffened with all her body, and began to read loudly.
      One walks a straight line,
      Another walks in a circle,
      Slowly started, the poetry gained rhythmic power. Fyodor Andreyevich looked at his mother-in-law in surprise. Her voice was booming in the room, even the pink chandelier resonated with a light sound. She read the famous verses not bad at all. Feeling that she was doing it right, Martha Leibovna finished with passion,
      But I walk - dogged by misfortune,
      Not straight ahead and not aslant,
      But to nowhere and to never,
      Like a derailed train.
      Involuntarily all three looked at Valerii as if though trusting his expertise. He sat frozen, pale, Fyodor Andreyevich saw that his fingernails became bloodless from pressing on the armchair. At last the guest broke the silence, asserting,
      "Awesome! You did it exceptionally well. I"d even say better than my Mom ever did."
      "Oh no, you shouldn"t say that." Martha Leibovna uttered embarrassed. "Your Mom was an unsurpassed elocutionist."
      "Yes, she did it very well, I agree," Valerii jumped off his armchair and paced about the room. He stood in the middle and said, "My Mom did it softer, as if reminding us that the poetry was written by a woman, but you read it the way it was suppose to be done. One can"t treat Akhmatova as just a woman, first of all she was a great poet, and you expressed the very spirit of her poetry, thank you! Thank you so much!" Valerii again drew his crumpled handkerchief out of his pocket.
      "Excuse me." Fyodor Andreyevich said and went to the kitchen. He didn"t want to see how the flatterer blows his long nose. The loud sound caught him on the way.
      Soon enough the visitor had set himself to leave. In the hall he put his hat of an unknown fur and his shabby undersized coat on and promised to be on time to study with Victoria on Tuesday. Talking about that he again took the mentor"s tone which didn"t fit his appearance at all. Martha Leibovna said that she regretted that Valerii had to leave so early, but it was obvious that she was glad to see him departing.
      The mother and her daughter had much to discuss, so Fyodor Andreyevich was asked to give the young man a ride to the Metro Station.
      The rain has stopped, the chilly wind bounced off the walls of the apartment buildings filling the court-yard with the same turmoil Fyodor Andreyevich had in his soul. Valerii ran to the car and keeping his hand on the passenger door handle waited while Fyodor Andreyevich fished the keys out from his pocket. The keys fell on the asphalt and flew under the car. Fyodor Andreyevich knelt down and while reaching for them saw Valerii"s thin legs dancing impatiently on the other side of the car. At last, he opened the door, got inside, and released the passenger"s door lock. Valerii dropped himself on the seat.
      "Don"t slam the door!" Fyodor Andreyevich managed to say before the door crashed against the car. It closed with a gentle click and the ritual of adjusting the seat had again been repeated. Fyodor Andreyevich cranked the engine and drove to the street.
      "Excellent people, just excellent!" Valerii mumbled under his nose and then said to Fyodor Andreyevich. "Thank you very much for bringing me to your place. It was so important to me to see these people again."
      It sounded both sentimental and insulting. The Methodologist didn"t even try to conceal that he appreciated the acquaintance with Fyodor Andreyevich, only because the latter introduced him to the right place.
      "My pleasure," Fyodor Andreyevich murmured and sighed with relief seeing the green light at the intersection. In a couple of minutes, he pulled to the curb next to the entrance of the metro station and said observing the street,
      "Stopping is not allowed here, make it snappy please."
      "Thank you," Valerii said, "I know we all will become very good friends, I"m really glad I met you today."
      "Later, next time, we"ll talk about it." Fyodor Andreyevich said glancing around as if expecting trouble. That was no more than acting, he just pretended to be nervous, he couldn"t wait to have the man out of his car, he had enough of him.
      The passenger door slammed with tremendous force and with a shrill of tires Fyodor Andreyevich pulled off the curb.
      He didn"t drive straight home, instead he took the long way around to put his thoughts in order.
      The night, however, didn"t end with the soothing ride. It was after midnight when he went to bed. Victoria pulled him to her big hot body and whispered wistfully,
      "I shouldn"t tell you this, but he was the first man I ever kissed."
      "Who?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked.
      "Valerii." she answered. "When all the adults were sitting on the veranda watching the sea, talking, he used to come to my bed and we kissed and tickled each other. Thank God, back than, we didn"t know what to do next."
      "But it"s awful. You both were just six years old!"
      "What of it?" Victoria smiled in the darkness. "It felt good, I memorized it forever. Do you really want just to sleep now?"
      He didn"t. He suddenly felt a great desire, an unbearable lust for her body. They made love passionately, like at times before his illness, like the last time in their life.
      Actually, that was the last time. What happened afterwards, he couldn"t recall without pain.
      He tried to prevent it. He didn"t want Valerii to test his theories on his wife; neither did he want the Methodologist to stick around his family.
      The next morning, on Monday, he called the Moscow Jewish Theater and learned that Valerii, the night janitor, was expected at work no earlier than eight o"clock..
      All day long Fyodor Andreyevich tortured himself with questions about the decency of what he was about to do and, finally, came to the conclusion that nothing else could be done - he must forbid the man to visit his family. Despite what the schizophrenic-Methodologist would think about him, the unfortunate acquaintance must be terminated once and for all.
      At seven, Victoria had a seminar at the University and Fyodor Andreyevich did not tell her that he"d cancelled his evening class. To make Martha Leibovna think that everything was going on as usual, he left his car in its place and hurried to the trolley bus stop.
      It was windy, the chilly air smelled of snow, but Fyodor Andreyevich felt hot as if feverish. He jumped into the trolley bus and stayed at the rear platform instead of taking a seat. He was in a rush. He wanted to finish it up as soon as possible. In his mind he kept repeating the words he had prepared for Valerii. The words were: "I"m sorry, but I shall, sincerely, ask you to disregard our acquaintance and to forget your idea of studying with my wife." The statement sounded pretty awkward, especially "sincerely" and "disregard" but on the whole it was short, understandable and polite, if any politeness could be observed in the situation. Above all Fyodor Andreyevich felt that had he talked to Valerii in some other way, it would certainly lead to a compromise. He wouldn"t take compromises - he wanted the Methodologist out of his life, nothing less than that.
      At five minutes before eight, he decisively walked into the theater that occupied the first floor of an average building on Taganka Square. Fyodor Andreyevich expected to see a receptionist or someone else to inquire about Valerii, but in the dimly lighted hall there was not a soul. The place looked as if it were deserted. There was neither a wardrobe for the audience, nor the customary photographs of actors on the walls. He suddenly recalled that the Jewish Theater was the only theater in Moscow that had only a rehearsal stage. The actors performed mostly in provinces, rarely in Moscow. Involuntarily Fyodor Andreyevich recalled what Durant wrote about the unfortunate fate of the dispersed nation. Having the Law expressed in Torah, the Jewish people for centuries didn"t have a State, believing in God, they lost their Temple. Here in Moscow, having a stage, the Jewish actors were deprived of the audience. The thought was pretty elegant and Fyodor Andreyevich smiled focusing on it, when suddenly, a rude voice caught him in the middle of the hall.
      "Hey, what do you need here?" It came from a small room on the left that if it hadn"t had a window on the other side could easily be taken for a broom closet. Next to the window, a gray haired man was sitting at the table reading a newspaper. He had the stern face of a retired officer. He looked at Fyodor Andreyevich above the glasses expecting an answer.
      "May I see Valerii..." Fyodor Andreyevich hesitated, he forgot the last name.
      "I wish I could see him too," the man said angrily, "but he never comes on time, devil take him." He paused and continued with wrath, "My wife is sick. I have to buy her medicine before nine when the drug stores are closed."
      "But it is not yet eight. You"ll have enough time." Fyodor Andreyevich mumbled as though it was his fault that the shift didn"t show up yet.
      "Last time he was forty-five minutes late. Oh, how I"m tired of this! Who are you to him?" The man finished his complaining in a demanding manner.
      "Just... a friend." Fyodor Andreyevich said.
      "A friend." The man repeated with accusation and cocked his gray-haired head to the side, as if matching the visitor to Valerii. "I"ll tell you what." he said. "You"d better leave unless you want trouble. The Art Director will be here in five minutes to replace me, and when your friend (he pronounced the "friend" with bitterness) is here, they will have a serious talk. I hope the last one."
      "I"ll stay and wait." Fyodor Andreyevich said firmly. He suddenly felt insulted. By no means did he want the man to bind him to the category of people Valerii belonged to.
      "As you wish. Take a seat there, on the chairs." the man said sardonically, turning to his newspaper.
      They both sat silently for some time. The man at the table pretended to read, but it was obvious that in his thoughts he was at home with his sick wife. Fyodor Andreyevich just waited. He felt confident and calm. He had no doubts any more, the short talk proved that the pretentious Methodologist was no more than an unreliable good-for-nothing, and Fyodor Andreyevich couldn"t wait to see his execution.
      Suddenly, the door swung opened and another angry man walked in from the street. He was around forty-five years old with a square chin and dark eyes, slightly bold, dressed in blue jeans and a white sweater. Fyodor Andreyevich realized that it was the Art Director whom the gray haired man had mentioned. Stepping widely, the Art Director asked on the way, "Is he still not in?"
      "No." The sick wife"s husband answered, folding his newspaper, preparing to leave.
      "Okay Petrovich, you may go. I think we have to find someone else for the position."
      "Here is some friend of his waiting." Petrovich nodded at Fyodor Andreyevich. "Another one."
      "A friend? Another one?" the Art Director asked looking at Fyodor Andreyevich with an ironic smirk that promised nothing good. "Kindly allow me to ask, dear visitor," he started hissing as a snake, "what emergency has brought you here? As you can see your friend doesn"t keep appointments; he is conspicuous by his absence. At work he should take care of the premises, mop the floor, clean the toilets. We don"t want him to drink tea and eat another person"s cookies with his fellow-dissidents. We don"t want him to read and discuss Solzhenitsin"s books with his anti-Soviet..."
      At that moment, the door opened slightly and Valerii, holding a green folder swollen with papers sneaked in. In his shabby coat and short trousers, with a wet fur hat above his glasses he looked pathetic and sorry.
      The Art Director instantly forgot about Fyodor Andreyevich and looking at the night janitor, stated in a clear strong voice, "You are late again!"
      "Just ten minutes, I"m sorry." Valerii said and smiled to Fyodor Andreyevich, foolishly, like a moron.
      "Last time it was forty minutes, before that an hour. You must be at work ten minutes before your shift, I"ve told you this many times." The boss went on, "What is that? What is that in your hands?" he shouted stretching his hand for the green folder.
      . "Those are materials, to study." Valerii gave him the folder as if it contained nothing criminal. While the Art Director was occupied examining the materials, Valerii, sneaking along the wall, approached Fyodor Andreyevich, sat next to him, and whispered. "I"m sorry about that. He"ll be gone in a while and we"ll drink tea and talk."
      "Oh my God! This is my paper and... you used my copier!" The Art Director exclaimed with indignation. "How could you!" Suddenly he looked at Fyodor Andreyevich and said. "I"m sorry, but I want you to leave now, the matter is even more serious than I expected. If you want to visit with your friend, find some other place for the meetings. And never, I said never, come here again. We have enough troubles without you dissidents. Do you understand?"
      That was too much to endure. Fyodor Andreyevich stood up gasping for air, his hands were quivering. Never in his life had he been treated like that. He tried to collect himself, but the words came out of him shrilly.
      "I won"t allow you..." he started and cut it off embarrassed with the tone of his voice. Breathing deeply, he said, trying to calm down, "I"m not what you think. Neither am I a friend of his." Saying that he again started to lose his temper and before it grew in something worse, he blurted out, "I came here to ask this man to forget my wife and never come to my home again!"
      He shouldn"t have said that. What affair had these people in his family life?
      Both the retired officer and the Art Director looked at Fyodor Andreyevich in surprise. He even saw a sudden compassion in the eyes of the Art Director. That was unbearable, he didn"t want anyone to have pity on him.
      Valerii was still sitting on the chair with his glasses gleaming. Fyodor Andreyevich looked at him with contempt and walked away, feeling the eyes of all three on his back.
      Outside he sighed with relief. It was over. He did it, though he was driven away like a school boy. He felt a need to explain, somehow, to the Art Director what he meant asking Valerii to stay away from his wife. The boss imagined goodness-knows-what when he looked at him with such an expression in his eyes. The man had surely exaggerated what Fyodor Andreyevich said, but... it was silly to return.
      Despite everything, Fyodor Andreyevich was proud of himself. Never before had he faced circumstances when he had to stand for himself, or for his family. Fights used to happen in his boyhood, but not since then. He felt like a hero.
      That night he came back home with a renewed soul. Tiresome thoughts about his incapability of being a man, a true husband, had melted away. The anticipation of Victoria"s unfaithfulness retreated into the past.
      Instead of going to bed, he excused himself to his study. That night he started the chapter about Chekhov"s Cherry Orchard and, like years ago, filled with strength and energy he worked far beyond midnight.
      Victoria was sound asleep when he, at last, came to bed at four in the morning. She murmured something incomprehensible and pulled him to herself. In a few minutes he happily drifted away. She didn"t wake him up when leaving for classes in the morning. He slept until noon and woke up in excellent spirits. It was Tuesday, a busy day. First class he had at three, second at six-thirty. It was about ten when he got back home, opened the door with his key, and froze in the doorway.
      It wasn"t a hallucination. He clearly heard Valerii"s voice coming out of the living room. He felt a nasty emptiness in his chest and leaned against the wall. What was he to do? Grab the impudent fellow by his collar and fling him downstairs to count the steps? He could do it. He could easily have the Methodologist killed; he could smash his head with something heavy, or strangle him with his own hands, but the very thought that he would have to enter into some physical contact with the man made Fyodor Andreyevich sick.
      The laughter of Victoria and Martha Leibovna followed some of Valerii"s words. In an attempt to escape, to run away, out to the very edge of the Earth, Fyodor Andreyevich reached for the door handle but dropped the keys on the floor, and the laughter stopped.
      "Who is there?" Martha Leibovna asked. Before he could answer, Valerii"s voice popped up. "I"ll take a look. You, please, remain seated where you are."
      In a second, the Methodologist bravely jumped into the hall ready to confront an intruder. Fyodor Andreyevich, who was taking off his jacket, didn"t even look at him.
      "It"s nobody, just your husband." Valerii reported loudly.
      "It is just my husband." Valeria said, almost sang, appearing in the hall. She kissed her husband on his cheek and asked. "Are you hungry?"
      "Tired." Fyodor Andreyevich answered not returning the kiss. "I"ll eat, not now, later." He collected himself trying to conceal his irritation.
      "Then join us. We are having a very interesting talk."
      It was not Valerii who sat in the arm chair smiling at him, not Victoria in her best dress, not even the pink-and-blue chandelier that seemed to be even more pretentious, more shiny than usual - it was Martha Leibovna, who struck Fyodor Andreyevich with her look when he entered the room.
      She was sitting in the corner of the sofa, knitting. His mother-in-law, who always pretended to be an intelligent, extraordinary woman of an exceptional taste, who never showed up in public without careful preparations, who always looked at others from the heights of her social position, this determined woman was knitting in the corner of the sofa as a simple provincial grandma. A red stripe of a scarf, or whatever it was, lay on her knees, needles gently clattered in her hands, she even looked older.
      Fyodor Andreyevich murmured "Good evening." and took his eyes off her work. He felt as if he had accidentally walked into the room where his mother-in-law was changing her clothes. He sat on the armchair thinking that he and Martha Leibovna had never been close to each other, because she never allowed herself to relax like this in his presence. This trifle mounted on the main trouble and he felt even more distressed.
      "You were talking about the identification of a problem." Victoria said addressing Valerii and looked at Fyodor Andreyevich as if checking on his mood.
      "Yes, this is the first stage of the scientific method. And that is not easy at all, allow me to say." Valerii went on in the tone of an old fashioned teacher. "In your case, the main task is to make the subject of your teaching essential for students. A student has not only to discover new horizons in the field he explores, he has to participate in the creative process. He has to believe that eventually, he will be able to master the situation, to explain and analyze the behavior of characters, to understand the motives they are driven by."
      What rubbish! Fyodor Andreyevich thought listening to Valerii. What is the point of putting the obvious in so many words? He glanced at Victoria who looked back with a smile on her lips, as if inviting him to admire what was going on, then he met the eyes of Martha Leibovna. Her face turned a bit red as if she was embarrassed with her unawareness of what the guest was talking about, but only for a moment.
      "Ask your students to stop reading a fascinating book at the most interesting place. Ask them to imagine that from that page on the book there are only blank pages. Offer for them to write the end of the book by themselves."
      "This illness of yours." Fyodor Andreyevich interrupted suddenly. "The schizophrenia. How serious is it?"
      There was a pause of dead silence. Martha Leibovna turned pale, she looked at Fyodor Andreyevich in disbelief, then at Valerii, apologetically. Victoria sat looking downwards.
      "Thank you for asking that." Valerii said softly. "I understand that it is bothering all of you, and I don"t want anything... incognizant between us. The question could be asked only by a person who really cares for me. Never in my life would I believe that you were trying to make me look ridiculous in the eyes of people whose friendship I value above all and who I respect so much."
      "Of course he didn"t mean to laugh at you!" Martha Leibovna exclaimed. "Fyodor Andreyevich at times... is awkward in communication. Please, excuse him. He is more of a scholar than a diplomat."
      "I understand." Valerii said looking at Fyodor Andreyevich as if excusing the clumsy professor. "Actually, I can"t tell you much, I mean I"ve never imagined myself a Napoleon, or some other great man. I"d never seen anything unreal. I feel myself pretty normal, excluding brief moments when the sky looks brighter to me, the grass becomes lovely and green and birds are singing louder, it seems I can understand what they are saying. I feel like Ivan Karamazov who though didn"t believe in the order of the Universe, loved the sticky little leaves as they open in spring. At such blissful moments, I feel how I love the world, how I love people, just everyone. Those are moments of great comfort in my soul. Then I believe that everything is possible for me, that I can achieve heights I could never even imagine for myself, accomplish great goals. If you consider that abnormal, than true, I"m a sick man."
      "I often feel like that myself." Victoria said. "Those who believe in God call that by an old Russian word Blagodat". Heavenly grace."
      "I don"t believe in God." Valerii said plainly. "There is no place for God in a materialistic mind, and I"m a pure materialist. Though, I agree, there are many things in the world that Science is not yet able to explain."
      Fyodor Andreyevich sighed bitterly. All of this seemed to him so banal and sentimental that he himself was feeling mentally sick. Was it the same Valerii who impressed him talking about Dostoyevsky"s poetics a couple of days ago?
      He pricked his ears when Valerii exclaimed, "Yes, you are right, Martha Leibovna, everyone experiences something weird at least once in his lifetime. I remember I was about fourteen-years-old at the time, I heard a clear voice talking to me. I was in my room, working on my homework. It was very quiet, I could even hear the radio in the next door apartment. Suddenly I heard a sound as if someone had inhaled preparing to talk. I looked all over the room, there was no one around. Then I heard the voice saying, "You"ll be next to the Great People of the World." That was it. The voice wasn"t threatening, I would say it had some kind of fatherly tone but, nonetheless, it was so eerie that for a long moment I couldn"t even move. Though everything was the same, even the tiny sound of the radio, I was really scared. First I thought that some of my schoolmates were playing tricks with me, but the words pronounced were so unusual, and the voice, it wasn"t boyish at all."
      "And that made you think that you will become an adviser to the new Russian President some day." Fyodor Andreyevich concluded.
      "Not exactly." Valerii responded knitting his brows. "Please, don"t simplify. It made me think about my future, yes. Before that I was just a child, but that day was a turning point in my life. I never heard the voice again, and finally I decided that it was just a brief hallucination, a game of my brain, my own hidden thought."
      Valerii finished and everyone in the room became silent for a minute as if musing on what he said.
      "Isn"t it time to eat something?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked Valeria. "I"ll go put a kettle on."
      "That would be very nice of you. I thought about it myself," Martha Leibovna said with slight agitation. "Actually it is time for a light snack. We would all like to have it."
      Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t expect Valerii to follow him but the Methodologist, obviously, found it better to leave the women alone. Passing the front door Fyodor Andreyevich thought what a pleasure it would be to close it behind Valerii, but there was no way to get rid of the man without a nasty scandal and he wasn"t up to a scandal at all. Neither had he a desire to socialize with the unwanted guest.
      "I have to apologize for what happened yesterday." Valerii started when they entered the kitchen. "Those people were absolutely tactless. Please, don"t feel embarrassed for what you have said. Everyone can get confused under pressure..."
      "I"m not embarrassed at all. Neither was I yesterday." Fyodor Andreyevich interrupted not even looking Valerii. "I can repeat it now. Please leave, and never come here again." he said in a firm quiet tone.
      "Dear..." Valerii said and paused.
      "You see," Fyodor Andreyevich chuckled sardonically, "you don"t even remember my name. What am I to you?" He opened the faucet and the noise of running water drowned Valerii"s reply.
      "What"s wrong? Why did you change. What are you blaming me for?" Valerii asked.
      Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t answer. What could he say. Any of his words wouldn"t sound persuasive.
      "What did I do wrong?" Valerii insisted trying to look at Fyodor Andreyevich"s eyes. "I thought we were friends. I don"t see a reason..."
      "May I just dislike you? Without a reason." Fyodor Andreyevich said and cursed himself silently. All this was coming to never-ending bickering. It was obvious that the fellow would stay in his life forever.
      "I just wanted to be your friend." Valerii said.
      "Come on," Fyodor Andreyevich chortled. "You want to be a friend of my mother- in-law whose connections are so dear to you."
      "My dear friend." Valerii said in a reconciling tone. "I feel very much obliged to you for bringing me to the people who, you are right, are very dear to me. I didn"t give you any reason to hate me and I"m sure that later you"ll be ashamed of yourself. If you don"t want to talk to me, do as you please, but this time it wasn"t you, but Martha Leibovna and Victoria who invited me here. You have to admit that they have known me for much longer than they have known you. Here is what we will do. Let"s go and ask them whether they want me to leave or not? If they do, I won"t stay here, I"ll leave right away."
      He said it all in a quiet tone, as if talking to a capricious spoiled boy, and Fyodor Andreyevich felt helpless against the man who, certainly, had been driven away from different places many times and knew what to say.
      "So, what are you waiting for? Let"s go." Valerii insisted in a tone of a teacher who invites a troublemaker to the principal to judge a dispute.
      "I wonder why you aren"t at work at this time?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked tiredly.
      "They fired me yesterday. Thanks to you, by the way."
      "Thanks to me?" Fyodor Andreyevich exclaimed looking at Valerii in surprise.
      "Yes. There is only one thing they can"t tolerate in the theater - affairs. A guy who worked there before me had been fired for bringing girls at night. After what you said yesterday..."
      "That"s enough, I don"t want to listen." Fyodor Andreyevich turned his back to Valerii and called loudly. "Martha Leibovna, Victoria, could you please come. I need a hand."
      * * *
      The morning sun drenched the map of Dallas spread over the bed. Narrowing his eyes Fyodor Andreyevich tried to understand what part of town he stayed in for the night. He vaguely remembered the name of the street he drove along yesterday evening. It contained some "wood" of even "field," but nothing like that could be found on the map.
      He folded the map and put it into his bag with the shoulder strap. He felt fresh and hungry, ready for breakfast. When he walked into the bathroom to pack up his razor and toothbrush, the phone rang loudly. There was no need to pick it up, he had to be at the service desk in a few minutes, but the phone rang for the second then for the third time and Fyodor Andreyevich thought about Victoria.
      "Yes?" He picked it up.
      "Mr. Cou...Coolik? I hope I said it right, good morning. This is Jay from the service desk. We have a call waiting for you, some woman wants to talk to you, her name is..."
      "I know who it is. Tell her I left."
      "She says it is an emergency call, she sounds pretty bad. Are you sure you don"t want to talk to her?"
      "Okay, I will." Fyodor Andreyevich sighed thinking what else had Victoria invented to get him return."
      Immediately he heard her breathing, she wasn"t playing. He knew that hesitation in her speech, something bad had really happened.
      "Natasha?" He exhaled thinking about his daughter. "Something with Natasha?"
      "No, Natasha is all right. She left for school." Victoria"s voice trembled. "It is Valerii..."
      "To hell with Valerii! I Don"t want to hear about him!" He was ready to hang up but Victoria cried "Wait!"
      "Wait," she repeated, "We had a terrible talk last night, and now he is gone."
      "So what?"
      "Fyodor," tears broke out in her voice. "He stole my gun."
      "Let him kill himself, I don"t care." Fyodor Andreyevich said with relief and, gently, put the receiver back into the cradle.
      Wasting no more time he grabbed his bag and walked out to the fresh morning air. At the edge of the blue sky, above the trees that lined up along the street he saw the McDonald"s sign and, keeping an eye on it he walked to the hotel"s office, to return the plastic key-card.
      It took less then a minute. With a big red apple in his hand (he picked it up from the basket on the counter) Fyodor Andreyevich walked to his car, got inside, started the engine, and drove to the McDonald"s.
      Russian looser with a stolen gun, somewhere in the Midwestern planes. Isn"t it something? Fyodor Andreyevich thought. At last the long lasted suicidal fantasies of the Methodologist-Schizophrenic will come true. The blunt bullet has noting in common with a cup of Curare poison. The fame of Socrates will remain firm. The miserable Philosopher will leave nothing to posterity. Had it really happened, had the man had himself killed, Fyodor Andreyevich would be satisfied. Let justice be done. All the same, for what Valerii did to his life, to his family, all of those Medieval tortures wouldn"t be enough to punish him, so let him die from a bullet. Though, even this will not happen. He"ll outlive all of them, the mediocrity.
      * * *
      "How could you, how could you allow the schizophrenic to stick around your daughter?" Fyodor Andreyevich was yelling at Martha Leibovna.
      That happened just a couple of weeks after he brought Valerii home. The class was cancelled, he couldn"t teach, he couldn"t even control himself that night. The pink chandelier, or rather what was left of it, was swinging like a pendulum under the ceiling. Fyodor Andreyevich had smashed it with a vase of crystal cut glass. The pieces of pink shades mixed with sparkling crystals that lay scattered along the floor and he paced over them to and fro about the room. The chandelier paid for Victoria"s sin. The frightened wife fled to her parents" apartment and now Martha Leibovna tried to reason with her unfortunate son-in-law.
      Her hair was a mess, tears streamed down her cheeks, and she didn"t even try to hold them back. She cried over Victoria"s lapse, she was sorry for the pain her daughter had inflicted on her husband, she shared the grief of her son-in-law. Martha Leibovna was weak, sorry, and depressed. She was just a bit older than he, she needed help and compassion, but Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t care about her. His life was ruined, his dignity was hurt, he was cheated, his head was decorated with horns. Those horns, the very sound of the word, was unbearable. He just couldn"t stand being a deceived husband.
      "How could you? How could you let your daughter mess with this... he couldn"t find the right word. You had to watch your child, there, at the Azov sea, years ago, when all of this started. You were reading poetry!" he exclaimed scornfully. "Did you know, there, watching the fading sky above the sea, that, at the same time, your six-year-old daughter was kissing the boy of the house, in her bed. Did you know about that?"
      "What?" Martha Leibovna looked at him in surprise and Fyodor Andreyevich continued.
      "Victoria told me that while you adults were sitting on the terrace, she accepted Valerii in her bed. Did you know about that, careless mother?"
      "That is not true." Martha Leibovna said calming down and wiping her tears. "I don"t know what she told you, but our bedroom was right off the terrace. Victoria wanted the door to be open, she was afraid to sleep alone. I was checking on her, every once in a while, until she was deeply asleep. And Valerii. He slept on the other side of the house. I don"t know why she told you that."
      Fyodor Andreyevich stopped and turned to the window. In the lights of the courtyard the first snow was falling silently. It already stuck to the ground. The same coldness filled Fyodor Andreyevich"s soul. He remained silent for some time, then, still looking outside, said calmly.
      "I"m leaving. For the time being I"ll settle in the study, then I"ll rent something."
      It was over. There was nothing left of his marriage. Just cold emptiness inside his chest. He turned around and walked to the door.
      "It is all her barber." Martha Leibovna uttered quietly, as if for herself.
      "What?" Fyodor Andreyevich stopped on the way.
      "Her barber." Martha Leibovna repeated tiredly and sighed. She didn"t cry any more.
      "You mean Tatiana? What on earth is her affair in this?"
      "Victoria took Valerii to the barber shop for a haircut and Tatiana said that though he is very strange, he might be a good lover. She herself had one of his type; the man was incredible."
      "What? Incredible? It"s unbelievable! Martha Leibovna, are you out of your mind? What are you talking about? What you have said is smutty. Doesn"t your daughter have her own mind? Wisdom? Commitments?"
      "Commitments?" Martha Leibovna asked with a strange inquiring tone. "I didn"t want to bring it up, but if you don"t understand what"s going on... She is a healthy young woman. She is just twenty-four-years old. She needs a man, can"t you understand that? A man. And you are talking about her mind, her wisdom. Where could she get it? She married you not yet twenty-years-old and jumped right into your age, she"s never been through the experiences of other women. Do you expect her to be perfect after that? Never to make a mistake?"
      "How trivial, how nasty all of this is!"
      "She always tried to be your replica. You were her deity, her idol. She was the happiest girl the world ever saw. And then that illness of yours."
      "Oh, I beg you, please don"t say a word more." Fyodor Andreyevich pressed on his temples with both hands. "Really, it would have been better if I"d died back than."
      "You didn"t die." Martha Leibovna was, slowly, regaining her normal tone. "You are alive and you have everything you could dream about and even more. Please, understand me right. It is not a rebuke, I just want to say that all of us - Victoria, Vasilii Petrovich, and I love you. You are a part of the family, and family life can"t stay cloudless forever. Things happen and you have to learn how to live with them."
      "I agree, it could happen to any family" Fyodor Petrovich waved with his hand and sat on the chair. "But why from all the variety of men that have always been around, did she chose the lousiest one, almost an idiot? Couldn"t she find anyone better?" He exploded.
      "Because in many ways you and him are alike."
      "You both need a nurse, you"re both humanitarians, you speak about the same things, you could be brothers. You even resemble each other in appearance."
      "Oh no, I can"t stand it. What are you driving at? Maybe you want me to accept him into my family?"
      "I just want you to be reasonable. It happened, you can"t fix it. All you can do is learn how to live with it."
      "But I don"t want to live with a woman who took an impudent scoundrel into my bed following the advice of her profligate barber."
      "I know it is hard." Martha Leibovna said. "It"s up to you. I won"t blame you if you leave. I only want you to think about your daughter and about the work you do together. Are you sure you can write your books on your own?"
      "That"s funny! You don"t even consider banning this guy from my home! Why don"t we just terminate it? If she still loves me, as you have said, why wouldn"t she bring me her apology and we"ll forget about it?" he exclaimed.
      "If we refuse him, sooner or later, another man will take his place."
      "You mean my place."
      "No I mean his. Be honest with yourself. You can"t provide her with what she found in him. And take into consideration that in another lover she might find a much better man. Then he"ll ruin your family in the end by taking her away. I don"t want my granddaughter to lose her father."
      "So, you think I have to just accept it? To let the woman I love enjoy her sexual life with another man?"
      "You call him a moron, not a man."
      "To the moron?"
      "To her he is nothing but a sexual instrument."
      "Oh my God, how can you say such..." he couldn"t find the word. Suddenly he quivered with all his body and yelled, "No! My answer is no! I"ll never live in the bordello you have just pictured! Never!"
      He slammed the door and retired to his study, to the narrow stiff couch that smelled of dust. It wasn"t long enough to stretch out his body and he lay in the darkness on his back with his knees half bent. Eventually, his wrath changed to pity thinking of the life he had lost and tears rolled down his cheeks. He tried not to sob, he commanded himself to be a man, at least in that, but couldn"t control himself any more. Sobbing burst out of him and he cried loudly giving way to his sorrow, his grief.
      The following morning was dull. The sky was gray. Chains of footsteps sowed the white blanket of virgin snow in the yard down below. Crows croaked in the trees greeting the upcoming winter.
      There were some cookies in the kitchen, he served them to students, but he couldn"t even think of eating. He made a cup of coffee and took it to his writing table. The lamp light lit the papers and brought forward the marble bust of Pushkin on the shelf. Fyodor Andreyevich looked at the great poet with compassion. Defending his honor, the poet was shot dead in a duel. Was his wife"s incautious deportment worth the poetry the genius could bring to the world?
      "Should I kill the moron?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked the statuette, but Pushkin just kept smiling back with his pale marble smile, like he always did, ironically.
      It wasn"t her infidelity that made him suffer the most, it was her bad taste. Living with Victoria he tried to nurture an intelligent woman. He nourished her esthetic interests. They spent hours discussing books, they browsed through hundreds of exhibition halls, they saw tens of plays in Moscow theaters. Why, why on earth did she replace him with that self-opinionated provincial?
      Though, what could he expect from the woman who adored the stupid pink chandelier with all her heart? There was no pretentious chandelier any more. He broke it to pieces. He broke to pieces the love to the woman he had believed in. She had never been the woman he wanted to see in her. What he loved was just an illusion. In reality Victoria was nothing but a hollow sham. He was firm in his decision and proud of himself.
      Three days he lived alone, not leaving his study. The students didn"t come, he called in sick.
      A couple of times Martha Leibovna called, and he answered her in a clear almost joyful voice saying that everything was all right, that he wasn"t in need of food or her company. When she inquired would he like to speak to Victoria, he replied "no" and laughed merrily. He drank coffee ignoring the cookies, he worked on the chapter on Chekhov"s Cherry Orchard, and needed no one around.
      On the fourth morning, he woke up from a blunt ache. It idled in his stomach threatening to hit with a sharp pain if he allowed himself an abrupt move. The same kind of pain, tiresome and numb he had in the beginning of his illness. That was his cancer. But the tumor was removed, and nothing bad was found a couple of months ago when he visited his doctor. Could he develop a new cancer that fast? Could the grief catalyze its growth?
      Fyodor Andreyevich tried to get up, he even put his feet on the floor, but suddenly all the room flew somewhere to the left and he collapsed on the couch.
      It was Martha Leibovna who found him two hours later. He lay still, expressing no emotions, in a cold sweat. He didn"t talk to her, just murmured something about weakness. She called for the ambulance. While she moved around the room putting it in order, he followed her with his eyes and didn"t protest when she collected all his carefully arranged papers into one pile and shoved it into the drawer of his writing desk.
      Then the door bell rang loudly and a doctor with a nurse walked in. They had their white robes over their coats and they smelled of frost and snow. A stethoscope hung from the doctor"s neck and Fyodor Andreyevich shivered at the thought of how cold its flat shiny end must be to the bare skin.
      The doctor was an elderly man, his bushy gray brows were moving sensitively while he was listening to what Martha Leibovna was saying about the surgery her son-in-law had had two years ago.
      "Why is he on this couch?" the doctor asked. "Don"t you have a normal bed here?" His voice was deep and gruff.
      "No. Not in this apartment. It is a study, sometimes he stays overnight here."
      "I see, show me where I can wash my hands."
      The doctor"s hands were large and warm. He thoroughly touched and pressed all over Fyodor Andreyevich"s flat stomach and, at last, asked.
      "Have you eaten anything since yesterday?"
      "No." Fyodor Andreyevich replied.
      "And the day before yesterday?"
      "When did you last eat?"
      "I... don"t remember. Must have been a few days ago."
      The doctor gave Martha Leibovna a long inquisitive stare and she lowered her eyes.
      "Start by giving him warm chicken soup, not much, and he"ll get better. We can take him to the hospital, but if you can put him in a normal bed and take care of him, he may stay at home."
      "Doctor, what is it, I mean is he really sick?"
      "I don"t think so. The kind of diet he has had for the last few days is not recommended for what was left of his stomach after the surgery. Looks like some emotional shock kept him from eating, am I right?" The doctor addressed Fyodor Andreyevich, but the patient didn"t bother to answer. He ignored the doctor and his nurse, Martha Leibovna, Valerii and Victoria, the chapter he had finished last night, and even his future. At that moment he thought only about the illness which he was reminded of in such a rude way.
      "Is he your husband or brother?" The doctor asked in his discourteous tone and Martha Leibovna answered timidly,
      "He is my son-in-law."
      The doctor muttered his "goodbye," turned around and went to the door followed by his nurse. Martha Leibovna walked after them assuring the doctor that the best care would be taken of the patient.
      For some time Fyodor Andreyevich was left alone in his quiet study, weak, with no thoughts whatsoever. Then the door in the hall opened again, firm steps sounded over the linoleum, and Martha Leibovna walked into the room in her best appearance. Her hair was neatly brushed, she was in black shoes and a dark green suit, the tiny scent of her French perfume lingered in the air with the strong smell of the chicken soup, which she brought in a white ceramic bowl. That was his mother-in-law, had the doctor said that only a moon rock could heal him, she would get it in less than an hour.
      "You have scared me to death!" she was saying arranging a table next to his couch. A small diamond on her golden necklace bounced off her snow-white blouse, reflecting the twilight of the gray day with gentle blue and green sparkles. "You seemed to be all right when I spoke with you over the phone, it didn"t even occur to me that you were starving yourself to death."
      She wiped a silver spoon with a paper napkin and, at last, he felt how hungry he was. He pulled himself higher and took the bowl on his lap. The first sip warmed his stomach up, the second and the third killed the pain. He took a piece of bread and asked looking into his soup.
      "What is going on there?"
      No answer followed and he kept eating in silence.
      "Is he still around?" he asked again and put the empty bowl on the table.
      "I would give you more, but the doctor..." She started but he cut her off.
      "Thank you, that"s enough. Tell me what is going on?"
      "Victoria left." Martha Leibovna said.
      "What do you mean? When? Where?"
      "To Valerii"s place, two days ago. I haven"t seen her since then. She is just out of her mind." Martha Leibovna"s lips cramped suddenly, but she collected herself. She sighed deeply and said. "I wanted to talk to you, but it"s not a good time now, you don"t feel well."
      "I"m fine, talk to me, what did you want to say?"
      "Excuse me for asking this, but with the sexual problem of yours, maybe I can help?"
      "Hell! How can you help? What do you mean, damn it? Are you what, nuts too?"
      "No, no I didn"t mean anything bad. I just talked to a private doctor, sexopathologist, and he said it might be curable, I mean your impotence, that happens once in a while."
      "Oh stop it please. Maybe you will tell me how often it happens, on what days?" He laughed maliciously. "Damn it! Could at least something be kept private in the family?"
      "But Victoria has no one else but me to talk to."
      "Oh, my God! What is the point of talking about that?"
      "Please, don"t be so upset. The doctor said he can help. We can order some new medicine from abroad, it works miraculously well. I can tell you secretly, I want to order it for Vasilii Petrovich too. You are not the only one who..."
      "Stop it please!" Fyodor Andreyevich yelled. "I don"t want to know about your problems, and I don"t want you to try any medicine on me. What do you want me to do?" His look became threatening, "To take a pill and to jump into bed with her? After what has happened? In the very same bed this idiot forgot his dirty handkerchief? No!" He yelled and crashed his fist against his knee hurting it badly.
      "I wanted you to understand..." She started to weep. "We all need you."
      "What for?" Fyodor Andreyevich even laughed rubbing his knee. "Your philosophy is to get the best things possible. You"ve got the best position in society, the best carpets on the floor, the best chandelier, the magical pills that can make a beast out of an impotent, the devil takes you. When we met, I agree, I met your requirements but now, sorry, I"m not what I used to be. You have to discard me."
      "Don"t be so cruel. We all love you."
      "You, yes, you love me, like a mother, and Vasilii Petrovich does, I agree, but Victoria, my wife has substituted me with another man. She eloped with him. What do you want me to understand?"
      "I want you to understand why it happen."
      "Oh, no, please, you have already put it very plainly. I don"t want to listen. Enough of that! If you want to know, the problem is not in me, but in both of us. She is too much of a woman for such an old romantic esthete like I am. When I see her enormous breasts, when I hear her groans which she can"t hold in herself, I just can"t stand it. All is done in a minute, if you want to know. We just don"t match. That idiot, evidently, is totally ignorant to her beauty, her sensitivity, so let him do it to her. Let her be happy with him. I don"t care any more."
      "Sex is not the only reason she is fond of him."
      "Yes? What else could it be?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked with mockery.
      "His attitude. He keeps saying that she is the best woman in the world, that she is the smartest, the most knowledgeable, the most talented girl. He adores her."
      "And she believes this rubbish?"
      "Every woman needs to be treated like that, even if it is rubbish, as you have said. You"ve never given her a chance to supersede you in the smallest trifle; she has always been more of a daughter than a wife to you."
      "Tell it to yourself. It was you, not anyone else, an unsurpassed authority in the family! You kept her under constant supervision, you even married her away to a man who would maintain your role in her life." Fyodor Andreyevich made a move to stand up and again all the room flew somewhere to the left in his eyes. He leaned against the back of the couch and, struggling with dizziness, continued quietly after a pause. "It is not true that she was more of a daughter than a wife to me. Yes, it was I who worked on her education all these years and made of her what she is. All these stupid compliments which her lover is lavishing on her must really be for me. Yes, I was her teacher, but she became a real wife to me. I adored her no less than the schizophrenic. You said that he and I are alike in some points, but there is also an abyss between us. I don"t need any support in my life. I can exist on my own and he is a spineless worm who is seeking some "Great person of the World" to stick on."
      Martha Leibovna, saying nothing, sat still and gave him a chance to speak out all that lay as a heavy burden on his heart. He appreciated her silence.
      "She was a wife to me, and she is my wife," he said, "and I want her back."
      Why did he say that? If his abused soul could cry by itself, it would cry out in a startling shriek. His soul demanded to speak more of the pain from which he had suffered. His soul was full of terrible reproaches to Martha Leibovna who waited patiently until his wrath would pass. His soul even wanted him to hit her, to inflict on her physical pain, but his mind demanded him to be wise, to keep what once had made him so happy.
      Afterwards, analyzing why he said that, Fyodor Andreyevich confessed to himself that nothing but the sense of loss drew him back to the life from which he had a chance to escape. He was greedy to yield what he had created in Victoria to Valerii. He didn"t want the villain to get away with the woman he loved. The petty thief wasn"t deserving of what he had stolen.
      The word, however, had been pronounced. The initiative in his reconciliation with Victoria had been taken by Martha Leibovna. She had won again. Her expensive green suit, black shoes, snow-white blouse, and the diamond on her necklace brought the air of stability and wealth into his cold and gloomy study. The French perfume and chicken soup smelled better than the dust of his couch. Her tears and compassion were more enjoyable than the lonely nights. It was she, his mother-in-law, to whom he was returning.
      Keeping her hand under his elbow, Martha Leibovna led him home.
      A stern and simple light fixture replaced the broken pink chandelier. The new one, made of dark metal with enclosed shades of frosted glass, was his style. Expecting his return, Martha Leibovna hadn"t wasted time. The silly statuettes and other useless trinkets had vanished somewhere. Even the furniture pieces were rearranged. There were changes in the bedroom too. The small space didn"t allow much, but the bed and the chest of drawers had exchanged places. This way the bedroom looked even better. The apartment was purified to expel the very spirit of Victoria"s infidelity.
      A set of brand new sheets was spread over the bed, but Fyodor Andreyevich refused to lie under the blanket. He felt much better, though still weak. He ate one more bowl of soup, took a thick book from the shelf, and rested on the bed above the cover trying not to think about meeting with Victoria.
      Later he grimaced each time when he recalled how Martha Leibovna talked quietly and continuously on the phone in the other room, trying to convince Victoria to come home. He tried not to listen, he tried to read, but his thoughts were just dancing around his wife.
      The door opened slightly and he was informed that "she is on the way." Half an hour later he heard the elevator stop at their floor and, after a pause, her key turned in the door lock.
      A quiet but tense dialogue followed. He could barely distinguish Martha Leibovna"s convincing words "No, you have to do it yourself," and, almost hysteric, Victoria"s whisper, "No, please stay, or I"ll leave!" Then he heard her hesitating at his door, breathing. A minute had passed, then another one. The decisive tone he had prepared to use was melting away with each second. His wife felt uneasy and so did he. To wait any longer was unbearable. He stood up and stretched his hand to the door handle, but the door suddenly opened, and Victoria looked at him with her large liquid eyes. She was deadly pale and seemed to become smaller, even shorter, as she stood frozen in front of him still holding the door knob.
      Like a fool he found himself kissing her, crying with the woman! How banal, how trivial it all was.
      When the bliss of emotions passed, they talked and he learned that she felt sorry for his suffering, not for what she did.
      Victoria couldn"t promise that she would never meet her lover again. After two days of worthless talking, shedding off tears, rebukes, threats, and her stubbornness, they came to a nasty agreement.
      It was decided that every once in a while, maybe once a week, she would visit Valerii at his place, just for the sake of her health, her physiology. The words lust, crave, sexual desire, were omitted to present this necessity more like a medical treatment than a sin. It was also decided that Valerii would never come to their home, and Fyodor Andreyevich would never hear of him again.
      He did it for the sake of his family, for the sake of his daughter. He had forced himself to think that that was the only issue. He was even glad to find the solution and grabbed it like a drowning man grabbing a piece of straw floating next to him. He mockingly called Valerii "my extension." The corrupted union he named "Trio."
      "How I love you! How I love you for this," Victoria repeated passionately through her tears. "Please, forgive me, but I can"t live without that. I love only you, and I always will. It"ll pass, just give me some time."
      During the following days, Victoria was as gentle and quiet as never before. She didn"t leave him alone even for a minute, she never forgot to pat him on his shoulder when passing by, or to lean toward him in bed. They didn"t try anything intimate, and she didn"t even hint of it. He hated the very thought of it first, because he realized he couldn"t compete in the same function as her lover and second, because each time he touched Victoria, the words of Chekhov - who said that an unfaithful woman is similar to a cold beef loaf which someone had already held in his hands - would come to his mind.
      "Somebody else might take his place." He recalled Martha Leibovna"s words and tried to convince himself that had it really been some other man, one of the playboys that always buzzed like flies around Victoria, it would have been totally unbearable. The miserable Methodologist couldn"t be even compared to him on any other point. So, let Victoria have her sexual instrument, he"ll try to be tolerant, and then it"ll pass. It"ll pass. They"ll live through it.
      He jogged every day pulling the sled with Natasha behind him. The Ismailovo Park looked like a huge bed. Snow lay like big fluffy pillows on the benches. Lawns were covered with thick white snow blankets. The snow muffled sounds. The days were cloudy and windless.
      After jogging, the father and daughter rode the sled downhill, threw snowballs, helped some boys build a snow fortress. At home they would put Natasha"s coat, gloves and scarf, on the radiator to have it dry by the following morning and then, tired but happy, they would sit on the big sofa and read children"s stories.
      Victoria attended her University classes; his tutoring resumed. Once he wanted to review the article he had written at the time of his seclusion, but looking through the pages he recalled the nightmare of those days and put the manuscript back into the drawer for better times.
      Two weeks had passed without the slightest discomfort in his life. Every day Victoria was back home on time. They even went to the movies a couple of times. Her rendezvous with Valerii hadn"t even been mentioned. The Methodologist just vanished from their life, and Fyodor Andreyevich started to hope that Victoria was trying to forget Valerii.
      At the same time, the very fact of his wife"s lover"s absence awakened unhealthy curiosity in Fyodor Andreyevich. Some internal voice kept saying that it would be good to find out what was going on. He drove these thoughts away, convincing himself that he was not really interested to know anything about the man. However, the thoughts didn"t go away; they stood at the back of his mind, torturing him, growing and mounting one on another, until, finally, he gave up.
      One evening, when the students had gone, he called Anton (who had introduced him into the Sinclit of the Century) and, conversing with him about matters he didn"t really care about, learned that Valerii had to return to his home town to participate in the court hearing regarding some money his Mother had left for him. After her death one of his relatives - his father, or his uncle, it was unclear - bribed the notary and replaced the original will. That was a dark story.
      "On Saturday we will have a very interesting discussion. He will be there for sure." Anton said and remembered suddenly, "Oh my, it"s already Friday! He could have returned this morning. By the way, Valerii was bragging that he has a new girlfriend, an incredible woman. He said she was beautiful, very smart, and intelligent. I don"t believe that such a woman would mess with him, but it"s interesting anyway. Would you like to come over tomorrow?"
      "No, no, thank you," Fyodor Andreyevich said and finished the chat saying that he had to go.
      There was silence all around when he hung up.
      "He"s just an idiot." Fyodor Andreyevich murmured with unkind thoughts. At least four members of the Sinclit of the Century used to know Victoria as his wife, and the schizophrenic didn"t even care what people would think. Really, impudence was Valerii"s life style.
      Fyodor Andreyevich grimaced thinking how he hated the man. He recalled Valerii"s long bony nose, skinny fingers, pale skin, the skin of a corpse, and felt the bile rise in him. With his hands trembling, holding his breath, Fyodor Andreyevich turned around and leaned against the desk.
      "No!" He cried out so shrilly that he startled himself. "No!" he cried again and crushed his fist against the desk"s glass top cover. Rays of cracks sprayed off the blow, fogging Victoria"s photograph that he had placed under the glass just yesterday.
      He ran out of the study and in a few seconds was at their apartment door fumbling in his pockets, searching for the key. This was it, he had to forbid her seeing the man. Their heinous agreement had to be voided, cancelled, sent to hell. Now and forever. At last he found the key, opened the door, and cried, "Victoria!"
      There was no answer. She wasn"t in the bedroom, as he expected. She was nowhere. Two times he strode all over the apartment as a beast in a cage before he noticed a piece of paper on the kitchen table. A note.
      My Darling.
      I won"t be coming home tonight. Please understand. The supper is on the stove. I"ll see you tomorrow.
      I love you. Victoria.
      He read it once, twice, folded it in quarters and tore it into pieces. He picked up the phone, but recalled that he didn"t know where to call. After talking to Victoria for hours, convincing her to be prudent, threatening, and yelling at her, he realized he"d never asked where Valerii lived, or what his phone number was. He just didn"t want to know it and couldn"t imagine that she would ever do it for real. And now, alone in the apartment where even the walls seemed to pressing in on him, he, for the first time, realized that he voluntarily gave away the most precious treasure he had ever had. At this very moment his wife, a part of himself, was being used by another man, and what a man!
      Breathing deeply, he dialed Martha Leibovna"s number, but didn"t find her at home. Vasilii Petrovich, the happy man, always unaware of what was going on in the family, answered politely that the lady of the house was at the opera that night. Somebody had called her and offered a free ticket, so she left to watch Carmen at the Bolshoy Theater. Trying to maintain his normal tone, Fyodor Andreyevich answered his father-in-law"s polite questions about his health, and promised to come around to play chess sometime next week.
      Keeping his hand on the receiver that lay in its cradle, Fyodor Andreyevich thought that he could call Anton again to ask for the number, but no, he had already asked him enough questions.
      Fyodor Andreyevich again paced up and down about the rooms. In the bedroom he stopped at the chest of drawers with a large mirror above it and stared at himself. He saw thin fading hair with silver on the sides, deep mouth creases, dark eyes that sat deeply under bushy brows with traces of gray.
      "What do you need her back for, old man?" he murmured. "Let her go."
      * * *
      She hadn"t mercy on him back then. Why should he care about her lover now? He stole her gun. What nonsense!
      Fyodor Andreyevich left McDonald"s in the very best spirit.
      Thick clouds crept slowly in the cold blue sky. It was windy, the sun shone brightly promising a great day to come. Quickly he walked to his car parked under the big tree and hurried to get in from the chilly air. It was quiet and warm inside. The radio went on with a noisy commercial when he started the engine and he shut the radio off. Slowly he pulled from the parking lot and drove along the streets, to the East, looking for the sign 45 South. It was just after 9 a.m. In four hours, or so, he would be in Houston, an hour after, in Galveston at the Mexican Gulf, at the Atlantic Ocean.
      He would spend the rest of the day there, on the shore, looking at the horizon, walking at the edge of the surf, sitting at the table on the open terrace of the restaurant above the sea.
      About the restaurant, he heard years ago, in Moscow, at Victoria"s farewell party. Since then he often though about the place. He hadn"t had a chance to come there during his first visit. He wasn"t supposed to go there even now. If he hadn"t he rebelled and left on his own, he would never see the Galveston shore at all. Two years ago he told Victoria about his dream to watch the Ocean from the open veranda of the restaurant he had once heard about. To her it sounded childish; one more of his whims.
      She said "No."
      She couldn"t afford it.
      She had been in Galveston and found it pretty boring. She said that Corpus Christy is much more fun, but they couldn"t go there anyway. Maybe some other time, not this year. She wanted him to walk in the nearby park, read books, or to study in the local library.
      She didn"t expect him to come again and find out what was going on with Natasha. But he did. And he left, he ran off. Like on that night, when he found Victoria"s note on the kitchen table. Back then Natasha was just four years old, she needed him. Now she is fifteen and she wants him out, away from her shame. It is understandable. They need a break. They both need time to get themselves free of bad memories, at least to be able to pretend to be free of them. Natasha has a lot of time ahead, he hasn"t
      The quiet street, green with the trees, became broader, busier, he saw Houston Next Right on the directional sign and changed lanes. A minute later he was on Interstate 45, driving South, to the Mexican Gulf, to the Ocean he was so anxious to see.
      It was good that Valerii stole the gun. Hopefully, it all will come to the end soon. By now the schizophrenic-methodologist is wandering somewhere looking for an appropriate place to die. Where could it be? A wood opening with Russian birches and pine trees around, a junk yard, a room in a cheap hotel?
      A nice shiny palm sized toy. Victoria got her license to carry the gun in her purse a month after she became a citizen of the United States. A short barrel revolver of thirty eight caliber, thundering and pushing hard when in use, not a toy at all. Let the villain aim it right. What a pleasure it would be to breathe deeply and freely, realizing that all the suffering Valerii brought him was over. Will he leave a suicide note? Something ornate, addressed to Humanity, like he wrote when he tried to end his own life in the past, in Moscow.
      Oh no, Fyodor Andreyevich scowled. He didn"t want to think about the man. He had just one day, the last day. Tomorrow he would take a plane to New York City to visit with an old friend of his, then he"ll see, maybe he would return to Moscow.
      * * *
      Martha Leibovna tried to persuade him to return. It seemed she suffered even more than he did. She cried, she begged him, she couldn"t imagine what Victoria would do without him, but he didn"t budge. Had Victoria herself come to him in tears with remorse in her soul asking for his forgiveness, he would stay. She didn"t. Those days she was absorbed with reading Anna Karenina, and Fyodor Andreyevich saw that his formerly beloved wife had the same extreme dislike to him, which the heroine of Leo Tolstoy"s novel felt to her old husband. That was stupid. Valerii could not be compared to the noble Vronsky, nor did Fyodor Andreyevich have anything in common with the statesman Karenin. More than that, the idea of the immoral triangle would never be justified by Tolstoy.
      His presence among them was vital. Martha Leibovna wanted their tutoring to be as profitable as always, Victoria didn"t want to lose the status of a professor"s wife, and in that point she was quite different from Anna Karenina who was ready to come throughout all the humiliations for the sake of being with her lover.
      Even Valerii had his own interests.
      One night, when the students left and Fyodor Andreyevich opened his refrigerator in search of a cold sausage, the door bell rang. With a piece of sausage in his hand Fyodor Andreyevich came to the door, opened it and saw Valerii standing in the hall. For a moment they stood still facing one another, then Fyodor Andreyevich made a move to close the door, but Valerii pulled out from his pocked a handkerchief - probably the same handkerchief that Fyodor Andreyevich had once found in his bed.
      Valerii loudly blew his nose and Fyodor Andreyevich thought that, feeling uneasy, some other young man would nervously light a cigarette, a dog would probably start scratching behind the ear, but this wretched freak found his own refuge in blowing his nose. That was a sign of embarrassment and Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t slam the door.
      "What does she need?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked without greeting thinking that Victoria had probably sent Valerii over to pick up something.
      "Fyodor Andreyevich, I came to talk to you." Valerii said and coughed cleaning his throat.
      "What about?"
      "About the situation we all are in." Seeing a sign of displeasure on Fyodor Andreyevich"s face, Valerii rushed to add. "I came to bring you my apology and to propose some way of coexistence appropriate for all of us."
      Fyodor Andreyevich wanted to answer that the only appropriate solution he sees is Valerii"s disappearance, but it wasn"t a subject to discuss standing at the open door where the neighbors could hear.
      "Come in." he said tiredly and walked back to the kitchen to toss the piece of sausage back into the refrigerator.
      They sat at the opposite sides of the kitchen table, next to the window behind which the city lights shone in the darkness. Valerii took some time preparing himself for the talk. Fyodor Andreyevich patiently waited. About a minute had passed. Valerii sat still on the edge of the chair which he forgot or just ignored to examine as he usually did. One side of the collar of the Methodologist"s shirt poked out from under his sweater, another side remained underneath. Glasses gleamed on his nose.
      Is the moron really that good in what Victoria keeps him for? Fyodor Andreyevich thought and felt dizzy with disgust. Valerii leaned on one side to take out his handkerchief from the pants" pocket and Fyodor Andreyevich said with irritation.
      "Cut it out. You may blow your nose on the way home. You don"t want to sit here for long, I expect, do you?"
      "I, actually, came to talk to you about... Valerii uttered with stiffness in his voice and suspended the rest of the sentence. Fyodor Andreyevich wasn"t in the mood to help him. He waited.
      "I came here to ask just one question." Valerii made a pause as if gaining courage, and continued. "The future of all of us will depend on your answer."
      Hearing a solemn note in the introduction Fyodor Andreyevich interrupted,
      "Wait a minute, you said you wanted to bring me your apology. That"s what I let you in for."
      "Yes, but before that I want to explain myself, I want you to understand..."
      "No." Fyodor Andreyevich said firmly. "I will never understand. Anna Akhmatova once said: "To understand means to accept." I will never accept your presence in my family."
      "But why? You yourself called us a trio, you have told Victoria that I can be your extension in some point."
      Those his own words, pronounced by Valerii, suddenly seemed to be so ugly, so disgusting that Fyodor Andreyevich felt like his heart sank. He was about to hit Valerii in his face, but he collected himself and said.
      "Please leave and never come here again." He rose from his chair expecting Valerii to do the same.
      "But why?" Valerii exclaimed. His forehead became pale as paper. It seemed that he was about to have a fit. "If you love your wife, why don"t you want to make her happy? Why are you so selfish?" Valerii almost shrieked and Fyodor Andreyevich saw clearly that the moron firmly believed in the fairness of what he was saying. That was funny. They all thought that it was he, the incapable husband, who in his stubbornness of being cooperative was ruining his own family.
      "Oh, my God!" Fyodor Andreyevich laughed merrily.
      "Why are you laughing." Valerii cried, "How can you laugh when people around you suffer? Listen, I said listen to me! Are you what, crazy? Stop this stupid laughter I said." Valerii shouted and hit the table with his fist.
      But Fyodor Andreyevich couldn"t stop laughing. The laughter came into hysterics. The last thing in the world he wanted was Valerii to be a witness of his weakness. He rushed to the bathroom and locked himself inside. There, splashing cold water into his face he heard Valerii yelling to him through the door. The schizophrenic pressed his lips to the very gap at the door post and shouted at the top of his voice.
      "Listen, we will live all together in perfect harmony. I will do my part of the husband"s responsibilities and you will do yours, the academic one. Just think about it. It is reasonable even from the biological point of view. The function which you have lost will be restored with my help. We, you and I, are very different, of course, but remember what Schelling said about "identity of opposites," or remember Aristotle, who wrote that "the knowledge of opposites is one." For Victoria, we will be one, a unity. Hegel, the king of Philosophy said, that every situation in the world leads to it"s opposite in order to unite with it, to form a more complex new whole, a perfect synthesis."
      Fyodor Andreyevich, still letting the water run into the sink, was wiping his face with a towel. His position was ridiculous. To get the door opened he had to smash Valerii"s nose, otherwise he was doomed to listen to the idiot. He did not want to give the Methodologist a chance to say that the mean ex-husband hurt him, nor did he want to listen to all the rubbish. He would never plunge himself in the discussion of Philosophy which the Methodologist always would employ to justify his crazy conclusions.
      "Hegel also said that life is made not for happiness but for achievements!" Valerii continued to yell. "Together, as a unity, we can produce unbelievable results. I will help you to write your books, and you will provide me with students who need lessons on Russian History. It"ll be a solid organic union of people with common interests. I want to be your friend and assistant. Do you hear me? Do it for the sake of Victoria, if you still love her."
      Fyodor Andreyevich stopped the water and loudly clicked with latch on the door letting Valerii know that he was coming out. Not looking at the Schizophrenic, grabbing his coat and hat on the way, he walked out of the apartment. Thank God the car keys happened to be in the pocket. He needed a breath of fresh air, he needed a good ride. He wanted to escape from Victoria, Valerii, and from all the old life that was still dragging behind not letting him go.
      * * *
      Vasilii Petrovich, the happy man, was carefully guarded by Martha Leibovna. He had never found out what happened between his daughter and her husband. To him everything was going on as it always did. Every other Sunday they met for a family supper during which Victoria and Fyodor Andreyevich sat next to each other, pretending that nothing had changed. Sometimes Vasilii Petrovich called to invite his son-in-law for a chess game.
      Once, when playing chess, Vasilii Petrovich unbuttoned his shirt and rubbed his chest,
      "Would you please pour us some cognac? It is there in the cupboard. Something is pressing here... I think the cognac will do me good."
      It was Saturday morning. Martha Leibovna and Victoria were somewhere shopping. The balcony door was open, the chirping of sparrows and the rustle of young leaves on the trees could be heard outside. In time, the wind blew harder bringing the freshness of spring into the room.
      Fyodor Andreyevich was thinking over the next move. Still looking at the figures on the board, he stood up. The game was coming to an end. Vasilii Petrovich was about to win.
      Fyodor Andreyevich sighed, took the bottle and a glass from the cupboard, and poured some cognac for his father-in-law.
      "You forgot yourself. I want to drink with you," Vasilii Petrovich said with a strange smile, and Fyodor Andreyevich took another glass from the cupboard.
      Vasilii Petrovich moved the chess board aside and said,
      "I don"t want to scare you, but I think I"m dying. Let"s drink."
      He drank his cognac in one gulp. Fyodor Andreyevich just moistened his lips. He expected they would again start talking about health, as they often did, but Vasilii Petrovich lifted his hand and made a gesture with his open palm as if asking him to remain silent. With the same peculiar smile he said,
      "Tell Martha Leibovna that the receipt for the laundry is in my gray trousers, in the back pocket."
      It was evident that despite his smiles, he was struggling internally. A sudden paleness spread over his face and he said, "Farewell, my good friend. I..." Now his mouth opened to gasp for air, his body jerked, and he suddenly relaxed with his head cocked to the right.
      For a few more seconds Fyodor Andreyevich sat in a rapture. Did he die? Is this all? He thought in amazement. Is this it?
      With his own heart beating loudly he gulped his cognac, but it went down wrong, and, coughing violently, Fyodor Andreyevich rushed to the telephone. Choking, he dialed zero two, but was unable to speak.
      "Hello, Hello! Do you need an ambulance? What"s your address?" the woman"s voice kept asking on the other end, but Fyodor Andreyevich hung up. Vasilii Petrovich was dead. There was no need for a doctor.
      How could he die that fast? Fyodor Andreyevich thought looking at his father-in-law who was still sitting at the table, the empty glass in front of him, the same peculiar smile on his bloodless lips.
      I"ve been dying for years and still can"t make it. No pain, no suffering, just a gulp of cognac and the blissful smile.
      "This is unfair," he muttered, feeling weakness in his knees.
      He sat on the chair. There was no grief in his soul. He always thought that death was something terrible, horrifying. He tried not to think about how he himself would die. Never before had he seen anyone die. The death seemed to be so simple, so natural. Suddenly, he realized that some day, he himself would die like that with no pain, calm, and prepared. In awe, he looked at Vasilii Petrovich as if waiting politely for the man to wake up and tell him what he saw on the other side of life, but even without the testament Fyodor Andreyevich knew that everything was all right with the deceased happy man. He didn"t feel any fear. It occurred to him that there was some purpose for his presence in that room in that moment. What purpose, he couldn"t tell, but he knew for certain that he was predestined to be part of the experience; that it was a very important point in his life. He felt that something mysterious, lofty had descended onto them to take his father-in-law away and to leave some seed in his desperate soul.
      A few more moments had passed before he realized that the sound he heard was the same chirping of sparrows outside. He startled, looking around. The wind played with the light curtains. The air in the room was cold; it smelled with spring.
      Fyodor Andreyevich picked up the phone and dialed zero two.
      "A man just died here." he said and added, "Forever."
      * * *
      The death struck Victoria hard. Starting from the day of the funeral, she constantly felt the presence of her father next to her. She felt it so strong that she had left Valerii and moved in with Martha Leibovna. Martha Leibovna often visited Fyodor Andreyevich discussing with him what was going on with Victoria. They both were worrying about her. Victoria was abashed, she felt that her father became aware of Valerii and that he didn"t like what was going on at all. Victoria became depressed, she was loosing weight, at night she lay in her bed whispering something as if trying to speak with the dead. It was obvious that she was about to become mentally ill, but it was impossible to persuade her to see a doctor. Instead, she found a group of spiritists who helped her to get in touch with her father to ask his forgiveness.
      The spirit of Vasilii Petrovich proved himself as extremely responsive. The absolution of his daughter"s sin had been transferred by the moving saucer at the very first séance. The heavy burden had fallen from Victoria"s heart. She was ready to cry with joy, but the spiritists around hissed at her. The sourer continued to move around the circle pointing with the arrow on its side to different characters that first didn"t form any word. Then the meaning of the four letters came clear. It was the word "Yogis" read backwards.
      That was strange. Victoria couldn"t understand why her father drew her attention to people who stood on their heads and slept on nails. The saucer became dead, the spirit had left the room. The leader of the group provided no explanations. He declared that the communication with the outer world was closed for the day and asked everyone to leave.
      That was rude, Victoria didn"t like him, but she made friends with a woman who accompanied her on the way to the metro station.
      There was not enough time to talk, the woman was in a hurry, but she said that all of what Victoria was feeling, was not exceptional. Next day they met again and Iphigenia (the woman wanted everyone to call her that though her real name was different) gave her a book about the philosophy of Yoga, written by some Ramacharaka, a hundred years ago. The book was a Xerox copy of some pre-Revolutionary addition. It was full of archaic characters, the toner on some pages was almost unreadable, and Victoria spent much time with magnifying glass reading the text.
      The book was talking about reluctance of the spiritual body to leave the physical one, attempts of a soul to stick to what it loved on Earth, the ability of those who loved the soul to sense the presence next to them, and other things that were very welcomed by Victoria"s loopy mind.
      Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t like Victoria"s new acquaintances at all. To him they looked like a bunch of crooks. He knew nothing, and had no desire to learn anything about the religion Victoria had become adept in. In her explanations it sounded so weird and primitive that he just couldn"t stand listening to her. He told Piotr what was going on with Victoria. Piotr said that the groups studying the Oriental religions appeared in quantities in Moscow, that is pretty normal for a society on the verge of big changes which are about to happen, many people are feeling lost and are trying to find some moral platform to stand on. Different teachings are blooming as it was in the beginning of the century when the country was in the same type of a revolutionary situation.
      Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t want to hear about politics. He wanted his friend to tell him what he should do with Victoria.
      "Nothing." Piotr said. "Give her some time. Actually, Yoga is not total bullshit, as you think. I partially practice it myself. If you want to, you can bring your wife to my place. We"ll talk about it."
      That was a complete surprise for Fyodor Andreyevich, but, nevertheless, Piotr was an educated man, almost a Ph.D. in History. Victoria"s new friends were just riffraff, most of them had neither decent jobs, or education.
      When they met, Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t participate in the conversation. He sat in the corner turning the pages of a book with ancient icons, listening how his friend and Victoria were talking about karma, life after death, ability of mind to penetrate beyond the unknown, travels in spiritual body, some "Prana," and other uncertainties. Of course, all the talk ended up with politics.
      "After the upheaval that will crush the Bolsheviks, the country will enter a very painful transitional period that may continue for years." Exclaimed Piotr. "If you have a chance to immigrate, do it without delay!"
      "I will never leave Russia." Victoria said firmly. "I don"t see myself in any other country, torn out of the Russian culture."
      "Bullshit," Piotr blurted out. Unlike Fyodor Andreyevich he wasn"t impressed by her response at all. "You have excellent English, two diploma"s from one of the best Universities in the world. Your mother is Jewish, the door is open for you. Oh, my! I"ve dreaming of leaving this country for years, but I can"t. I"m not a Jew. I"m ready to buy a fake Birth Certificate that would make at least one of my parents a Jew for any amount money. If I were you, I"d have run from this country a long time ago. Run, before they kill you in a Jewish pogrom!"
      Fyodor Andreyevich wanted to stop him. What Piotr was saying was absolutely inappropriate for the state Victoria was in, but he just didn"t know what to say. Piotr was so convinced in what he was saying that any disagreeing would ignite him even more.
      Fyodor Andreyevich couldn"t say that it was Piotr, whose advice Victoria followed, but, Piotr certainly expressed what at times came to Victoria"s own mind.
      When, in the Seventies, Russian Jews started to seek refuge in Israel, neither Martha Leibovna, nor Victoria could even imagine leaving the Soviet Union. They were all right in the country, more than all right. Thanks to the brother of Vasilii Petrovich they had nothing to complain about.
      It seemed the changes that were about to come just waited for Vasilii Petrovich"s death. Soon after it, his brother, the man of power, was dismissed from his post.
      Than it became clear that the upcoming wild capitalism was far more dangerous than the Bolsheviks. Perestroyka flooded the streets with spontaneous flea markets mastered by people of a new aggressive type, well hidden before. The ancient city was rapidly deteriorating. Buildings became shabby, side streets and court yards dirty. Stray dogs, and rats browsed in garbage cans. Beggars appeared on streets, in underground passage ways, and even at metro stations. Store windows, so abundant just recently, looked like empty holes in the gloomy buildings. Prices went up every day, to buy food people had to stay in lines for hours. At crowded places one could see large photos of provocative girls posted by speculators who were selling frank pornography.
      New petty enterprises grew like mushrooms after the rain. The tutoring that for years secured their income became very popular. Competitors suddenly appeared on the market attracting the attention of mobsters that didn"t delay to charge the "protection" fee to the entrepreneurs. Sooner or later the racketeers had to knock on Fyodor Andreyevich"s and Victoria"s door.
      Many people by then started talking about leaving Russia, Jewish intelligentsia especially. Who could blame them? At times of troubles, Jews in Russia were always beaten as the first thing to do.
      Once, when Victoria had already left the country, Martha Leibovna invited him to watch the Berlin Wall Exposition which arrived in Moscow. It wasn"t in the circle of his interests, he vaguely realized what he could find for himself there, but he went, because his mother-in-law was asking. He found it shocking. He couldn"t take his eyes off the faces on the numerous photographs. Martha Leibovna was studying the escape devices people used to get on the other side of the wall. One of those was a net of leather straps that once contained a woman of heavy weight. The woman was successfully dispatched to the Free World through a window. Martha Leibovna took a notebook and a pencil from her purse and made a precise sketch of the device. He said some joke, but, without a smile, his mother-in-law answered that she wanted to have such a thing ready in case of a Jewish pogrom. She was scared, and he felt sad about it.
      Victoria loved Russia with all her heart. Maybe even more passionately than he did. She loved it for its rich culture, for its great literature. There was not a book in their huge library Victoria hadn"t read. She dreamed of becoming a University teacher. That goal she eventually had accomplished. However, there is a huge difference between teaching American students, who study Russian Literature mostly as just one more subject, and teaching Russians, who live by the literature, who read it in the language it was created, who understand its nuances by souls, to whom a novel of Tolstoy, or Chekhov"s story is their own heritage, their own life.
      The possibility of leaving the Soviet Union, became the major topic of conversation for Victoria and Martha Leibovna. The latter was glad that the spirit of her husband ceased to disturb her daughter and faded into oblivion. Victoria still was spending time in the company of her new friends studying Yoga, but her interest was more practical than of spiritual nature. She was gradually regaining her normal state, though she became quite different. Thanks to the oriental teaching Victoria became a self-assured woman who discovered new mysterious abilities hidden in her karma. What the "karma" meant was irrelevant. The studying of Yoga brought Victoria back to life. Martha Leibovna even thought that it helped her daughter in many ways. "I"m no longer afraid for her," she would say, "what"s really bothering me, is Valerii. What will Victoria do, if they take him."
      "They" were the KGB agents who meticulously monitored the meetings of the new political parties which, though permitted officially, were on the verge of abolition.
      It seemed, that Valerii became a member of a few parties at once. Almost every night he participated in street meetings. Once he was badly beaten in a fight that erupted between two parties in some "Hyde Park." Another time he was shown among the demonstrators on TV; the tone of the report was very negative. The last achievement of the Schizophrenic in the Russian political life was an interview which he gave to a correspondent of the Voice of America. That, true, was pretty challenging.
      Martha Leibovna often visited Fyodor Andreyevich to talk. After all that had happened, they became much closer to each other. They both realized that sooner or later Victoria, Natasha, and Valerii would immigrate, and they, two elderly people, would be left alone.
      Conversing with Fyodor Andreyevich, Martha Leibovna at times spoke about her daughter and Valerii as if they were people to whom he wasn"t related at all. The private details were annoying, he didn"t want to be aware of what Martha Leibovna kept delivering to him confidentially, but whom else could she tell? Also, it was good to know that Valerii had never taken his place. Recognizing Victoria"s authority and her practicality, her new husband didn"t even try to take the leading role, and, what made Fyodor Andreyevich snort with disgust, was often reproached for sloppiness in the performance of his nocturnal duties.
      So they had lived through the summer, autumn, and the beginning of the next winter. Each Saturday morning Fyodor Andreyevich would pick up Natasha to take her to some museum, children"s show, or just for a walk in the nearby park.
      Natasha was already eight years old, she was a bright child. He told her stories from books he wanted her to read, and she listened with interest, asking questions, laughing with him. Their favorite play was the Inspector General by Gogol. She had to study it in the six grade, but Fyodor Andreyevich found with surprise that Natasha was quite capable of understand the humor. She promised to become a very smart girl.
      Maybe the thoughts of immigration would remain no more than thoughts, but two unexpected events had changed the flow of life.
      The first event happened in mid January, Victoria was going back home from her meeting with the Yogis. A few people with whom she got off the bus had dropped behind. She went down the street alone, stepping over the snow that gleamed with the blue, green, and yellow crystals - reflections of street lights. The snow crunched under her feet. A company of four, three men and a girl, loitered on her way. They smoked and laughed loudly, their voices sounded clear in the frosty air. The night was beautiful and quiet. She passed the people by, turned to her apartment block, and, a minute later, walked into the dark empty doorway. When the door almost closed behind her, suddenly, out of nowhere, a shadow jerked and she felt cold on her head. Her expensive fir hat made of polar fox was gone. She hadn"t even seen the one who snatched it and vanished outside. Horrified, she stood in the doorway not even daring to cry for help. The instant violence was rude and brutal. She felt as if she"d been raped, her hair, as well as her very soul was a mess.
      At the Militia station they gave her an application to fill out, but, didn"t promise anything. They said that nowadays it happened all the time. They will, probably, catch the thief and she will be invited to identify her hat. After some thieves tried it on, she didn"t want her hat back. She didn"t know what she wanted, maybe just to sit and talk to the patrol man who had a soothing voice and good manners. She would sit with him like that for longer, but the telephone rang, the man started a long talk with his wife, and Victoria left.
      After that she didn"t feel safe in Moscow any more. Fyodor Andreyevich tried to convince her, that what happened that night was just an incident, an unpleasant occurrence, but all was in vain, she didn"t want to listen. From then on someone had to meet her at the bus stop. Often it was Valerii, when Valerii wasn"t at home, she would ask her former husband for the favor.
      The second misfortune happened to Valerii. Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t know the details of the story because Martha Leibovna herself didn"t understand quite well what had happened. The fact was that Valerii had somehow lost the trust of his comrades in a political party he belonged to. Which of the parties it was, also remained uncertain. Certain was the fact that the comrades had turned on Valerii.
      For four days, he remained at home which was pretty unusual. At the end of the fifth day Victoria found him standing on the sill of the open window, a suicide note in his pocket, ready to jump from the seventh floor.
      Later Martha Leibovna attempted to read the note to Fyodor Andreyevich, but the first two sentences were so ostentatious that he asked her to quit reading him that nonsense.
      * * *
      At that point of his reminiscences, Fyodor Andreyevich shook his head energetically. Why couldn"t he just enjoy the upcoming bright day?
      Dallas was left far behind, the road was straight and broad. He turned the cruise control on, and violating the speed limit just for one mile drove to the Ocean. At times semi trucks appeared behind him. For a while, they followed his Toyota as if expecting it to run faster, than changed lanes to pass him and to rush ahead. Happy Americans, busy bodies making big bucks. It was a real pity that he wasn"t born in this country. Though, who knows whom he would have become being born on the planes.
      The Kursk region where he was born, had a different look. It was similar to Kansas through which he drove yesterday. The same broad fields of wheat with woods and low hills on the horizon. Not the same roads though.
      The same sky...
      Into the same blue sky he peered years and years ago. He was a boy then. He lay on his back and saw the sky framed with long blades of grass. It was in May of 1945, the end of the War. The spring brought not only vegetation, a relief from hunger, but peace. On that day, when all the people of the village cried with joy, drank, and sang songs, something drew him into the midst of the blooming field, far from people. Something made him watch the sky that suddenly opened to him so blue and abysmal. Was it God calling him? He couldn"t say, but the moment remained with him forever.
      Later, reading The War and Peace by Tolstoy, he was shocked by the picture of the sky in which Prince Andrey Bolkonskii looked at when dying on the field of Borodino. That was the same sky he, Fyodor, watched in May of 1945. Under the same sky, Napoleon observing the field of a recent combat, approached Andrey Bolkonskii who once admired his enemy, the mighty man. Dying, the Prince saw how small Napoleon was. Under the lofty sky the conqueror seemed to be not larger than a bug.
      "Sit transit gloria mundi." Fyodor Andreyevich muttered passing a RV with a huge boat hooked behind. It was the second big motor boat he had seen in the last quarter of an hour. Approaching the coast, sailors see the seagulls which indicate that the land is not too far. Approaching the Ocean drivers can see the big white boats on the road.
      Fyodor Andreyevich frowned. The comparison was pretty dull.
      He glanced at the clock on the dash board. It read eight minutes after ten. About seven p.m. in Moscow. The next road sign invited you to take the exit to buy gas, food, and to use the telephone. Fyodor Andreyevich turned the right signal on and slowed down taking the ramp to the service road. Still driving too fast he missed the Phillips gas station, crossed some road, and pulled in to the Texaco convenient store.
      He found the phones on the wall of brick, in the shade. It took a minute to break a five dollar bill into quarters. Holding a few coins in hand and having the rest of them ready in his pocket he dialed the fourteen digit number.
      "Hello." A woman"s voice in Russian answered and Fyodor Andreyevich hesitated for a while. "Like a school boy, damn it."
      "Hello," the woman repeated, and before she hung up he said hastily.
      "Tamara, Good evening, it is me, Fyodor Andreyevich."
      "Oh, hi! How are you doing over there?"
      "Everything is all right with me. Is it still snowing in Moscow?"
      "Not any more, but it is cold and windy. I bet you are having fun there?"
      "Well, I actually am. I"m on my way to see the ocean. I"ll bring you a sea shell. Is Svetlana at home? May I talk to her?"
      "I"m sorry, she is not in yet. Could you call in an hour?"
      "Just tell her I"m fine here. Everything is fine. Maybe I"ll come back earlier than panned." Fyodor Andreyevich said depositing two more quarters.
      "Do you want me to let her know about that?"
      Fyodor Andreyevich felt a strange note in Svetlana"s step-mother voice.
      "No, not necessarily. I"ll tell her myself. Are you sure she"ll be at home in an hour."
      "I hope she will. She is at the movies."
      "Oh, I see, she has gotten a new friend." Fyodor Andreyevich supposed jokingly.
      "I don"t think I should tell, but looks like she does."
      "Then, please, don"t tell her that I called." Fyodor Andreyevich tried to maintain the same nonchalant tone. "Don"t disturb her, all right?"
      "As you wish. I won"t tell. You know... I"m sorry."
      "No no, don"t be sorry. Sooner or later it had to happen. I"m glad to know about that. Oh, I"m out of coins, I have to hang up."
      And he hung up.
      Was he really glad to hear about that?
      * * *
      Love. What kind of love can a man have at his age? Nevertheless, a few months after he got back home from his first trip to America, it struck him with unexpected vigor.
      Russia was changing rapidly. The new students who came to fill the places around his oval table weren"t different from the students he saw in America. It was hard to believe that they were born at a time when no one yet thought that the huge powerful country would ever collapse. The young people were adopting the new capitalistic way of life as though they were created for it.
      He himself felt renewed after his trip to the United States. It seemed that in America he saw the future of his own country. The students never stopped asking him questions about places he visited, about people he met. Talking to them, he, really, at times, felt like he was twenty years old. The youth was very similar to the generation of his time, the time of Khrustchev"s thaw. But then he also was ignorant to the past. The years of Stalin"s terror, so fresh in memories of older people, seemed to become something ancient. He was absorbed with the new life, new friends that he met in the literature circles and meetings where they read poetry impossible to be read before. It was a special time when people trusted to one another, when getting into a compartment of a long distance train, seeing each other for the first time, they felt like old friends. Back then they all believed in the bright future which they were ready to build for themselves.
      Now the future came. It was not exactly what he had foreseen when he was young, but, nevertheless, not bad at all. At least, for him.
      The new boys and girls around his oval table didn"t admire Hemingway"s stories, they didn"t understand what was special about the Man-Amphibian movie his generation valued so much. They were more practical, less romantic. They didn"t conceal the desire to become rich and in that, yes, they were different from his generation. They were targeting business schools and colleges, where the enrollment contest was as tuff as in Universities.
      His tutoring still was in high demand.
      Among the students that came twice a week to his class, that semester, was a girl of eighteen years old. Her name was Svetlana. She was of an unusual beauty. Though the features of her face were pretty large, like features of a boy, it didn"t make her less attractive. Her dark brown eyes were of perfect shape. In some way they reminded him of Victoria"s eyes, but no, they looked differently, they held different thoughts, different values. There was something unexplainable, mysterious in the girl"s eyes. Fyodor Andreyevich never felt calm when talking to Svetlana.
      It seemed Svetlana had been reincarnated from the times of Antiquity. Her head, the line of her neck and shoulders were of a perfect sculpture. Her walk was light and steady. Her style was skirts and blouses. She never wore jeans though they would fit her all right. She used to sit on her chair straight, slightly bending her neck. Next to the girl, Fyodor Andreyevich felt young and energetic. Like years and years ago.
      He looked at her like a grandfather would look at his beloved granddaughter. Her beauty never awoke in him any sexual excitements, but to be near her, to have Svetlana in his room gradually became a kind of necessity, and he was afraid to recognize it.
      She was proud, the girl, she was proud to be a woman. He was sure that had she been born in the Nineteenth Century in some noble Russian family, she would certainly become a prototype for another magnificent novel. Her questions were smart. She never laughed much to the jokes that had been passed by other students during breaks. She had an excellent memory and because of that, at times, Victoria would come to his mind, but no, he didn"t want even to compare them.
      Svetlana was about to become an excellent woman, and, with warm empathy, he thought how happy the man who she dedicated herself to would be. It surely wouldn"t be one of those whippersnappers, or punks with hair died in different colors, it won"t be an ordinary playboy, good-for-nothing, it would be a serious business man, one of those whom people scornfully named the New Russians. There was nothing bad in that type. Eventually the New Russians would build a real New Russia, a country very similar to the United States, and he wanted Svetlana to be next to such a man.
      Like that it went on, until the day when a slight contact with her divine body broke the barrier he built for himself.
      It happened a couple of months after the first lesson. At the end of a class, Svetlana got tired. She slanted her shoulders, the line of her beautiful spine arched a bit. She just relaxed for a brief moment and all her magnificence was gone. It happened before, not for long, and at those moments Fyodor Andreyevich tried not to look at the student, as though he would avoid looking at something he wasn"t suppose to see.
      But this time he saw that two boys on the other side of the table had noticed the change in her appearance too, and he felt obliged to help her somehow.
      "Let"s write down some definition." He said and when all the students lowered their heads, he gently, just with the very tips of his fingers, touched the middle of her spine.
      As if stricken with an electric shock she startled and immediately regained her beauty. Even her hair moved like a wave and glistened. For a second he thought that he abused her with the touch but she cast a glance onto him, the glance was full of gratitude as if he, true, secretly let her know about some disarray in her look.
      The glance, the smoothens of the silk of her white blouse, the warmth of her body which he barely touched, remained with him, settled in his mind, in his very soul.
      He was almost sixty years old, his wife had dumped him by reason that couldn"t even suggest anything intimate between him and some other woman. Svetlana was his student. She was young enough to be his granddaughter, but nevertheless, he could do nothing with himself.
      From that night on, he felt disturbed with the smell of her hair. The lines of her bra that extruded her blouse drove him to the thoughts totally inappropriate during classes. He would cast the thoughts away, he tried not to look at the student, he did his best to concentrate on the subject, but all was in vain. Svetlana drew his eyes like a magnet. She was a slender girl, young and proud, she had a bright future ahead - he lived his life through. Any relations between them were impossible. Depressed, he waited patiently when the infatuation would pass.
      "It is just disturbances in my amino acids, he told himself. It is nothing, but chemistry."
      Maybe that was true, but the amino acids were loath to come to order. With each new day he felt attached to Svetlana more and more. He was longing for her, he cursed himself and even laughed at himself exclaiming maliciously, "What are you doing, you crazy old goat? Your first wife was twenty years younger than you. Do you want to prove her something by being with a girl who is forty years younger than you?"
      He felt better after cursing himself like that. But then some trifle like her glance or gentle touch of her hand could force him to forget all the discernment and he again felt stupid, like a boy.
      Once she called to say that she wouldn"t show up for class. She was not feeling well, probably caught a cold or it was just an excuse. Never before had he heard her on the phone. Listening to her deep voice, he felt dizzy. Trying to sound official, he told her what they were going to cover that night and wished for her to get well for the next class.
      He even welcomed the break in her presence, but the class didn"t go well. That night, they started the Adverbial Participle, one of his favorite topics. Reading the broad definition stated by him so well, he didn"t feel as proud, as he used to be in the past. His voice didn"t sound as strong as usual. He felt the emptiness of the chair at his right. He wanted the class to be over, he hated to wait the long three hours before he would be alone again. Even the students, three boys and two girls, seemed to be dull and ignorant that night. Their faces looked childish and ugly. He tried to put the disappointment aside, to regain his usual vigor, but, when the students left, he felt totally tired, deflated, and old.
      Two days had passed. He wondered would she come for the next class, or was she still not feeling well. Outside the day was dying. It started to snow. For some unknown reason he expected her to call saying that she wouldn"t come any more, but no one called. It was time to start preparations for the class, at least to organize the materials, but it was hard to collect himself. The light in the room thickened to the dusk, he still sat at his desk, doing nothing, watching the snow that was falling nonchalantly outside.
      The door bell buzzed loudly. It was about forty minutes before the class, none of his students would come that early, and he didn"t want to see anyone else. He remained seated, but the buzz repeated, that time it sounded longer, and he walked to the door to find out who it was.
      It was she. Svetlana. She stood at his door with snowflakes in the fur of her collar, her cheeks crimson with cold. She was peeling her gloves off her hands.
      "Excuse me," she said, "I came earlier to talk to you. If you are busy I"ll leave. . ."
      He stretched his lips into a smile, shrugged his shoulders, and stepped aside letting her in.
      He helped her with her coat and watched how she brushed her brown hair. Seeing that she stepped to the mirror and opened her purse to take out some cosmetics, he hung her coat onto a peg and, not looking at her any more, said,
      "Let"s drink some tea. Come to the kitchen when you are ready."
      It was strange, but the unexpected visit didn"t evoke any feelings in his heart. He, truly, felt like a granddad serving tea for a granddaughter that swung by his place to fill up a break in her young life.
      He didn"t have much in stock, the same regular cookies and cheese that he got used to living with Victoria.
      What does she want to talk about, this girl, he thought. Career orientation?
      He heard how she took off her boots and put on the shoes she used to bring with her to class. Stepping lightly she walked into the kitchen and asked could she wash her hands first.
      Sure, she could.
      While Svetlana was washing her hands, Fyodor Andreyevich looked at her from behind. He thought tiredly that had the girl could have easily become a model for a fashion magazine. The skirt was streaming gracefully down from her waist. The legs tightened in the dark silk of pantyhose were exposed up to the knees. The legs were slender with gracious ankles above her shoes.
      Fyodor Andreyevich looked at the lines of the bra under her blouse and yawned. The girl, certainly, was not for him.
      "So, what"s your problem?" He asked when she, at last, sat at the opposite side of the kitchen table.
      She looked at him with her large eyes as if deciding whether what she came with was worth talking about. He suddenly felt bothered and embarrassed under that long steady gaze.
      "You said a few very smart things about writing poetry two weeks ago, so I decided," She started to talk and paused.
      Don"t I always say smart things, he thought, but didn"t say anything.
      "You write poetry." He helped her.
      "Do you want to say that everybody does at my age?" She asked.
      "The world would be much better if that was true. No, not everyone writes poetry. Even at your age."
      He put a slice of lemon into his cup and pressed it to the bottom with a teaspoon.
      "I know, you probably don"t have much time, but I know no one else whom I could trust. Would you be so kind as to read something I"ve brought. Not now, of course, whenever you find some time." She hurried to finish.
      He nodded indulgently thinking that to ask his opinion on poetry was as good as asking a carpenter what he thinks about the work of a violin maker. Fyodor Andreyevich never wrote poetry himself. He was professional, he knew how hard it is.
      She took a notebook from her purse, put it on the table, and looked at him with some fear.
      He understood what made her so uneasy. No, he didn"t want her to read it for him. He wanted her just to sit, to drink her tea, and to talk about something else. It was a pleasure to have her around.
      The class that night was remarkable. He continued to cover the Adverbial Participle giving the students no chance to relax. He even invented a few very good examples of using the important Part of Speech. He felt young and healthy. The three hours of the class passed like one. Then the students had left.
      She left with the others.
      He delayed reading the notebook. Poetry is always frank, especially poetry written by a young person. By poetry one can say, is the author smart, or stupid, has the author a talent, or he is nothing but mediocrity, poetry mercilessly reveals what is normally enclosed deep inside.
      He didn"t want Svetlana to be exposed. He was afraid to find out what was in the notebook, some silly trivial verses dedicated to a certain, or uncertain, young man. He didn"t want her to be in love, though what else could force the girl to express herself in poetic rhythms?
      He was jealous.
      He was curious.
      He almost wished to find, in the notebook, very average rhymes that would destroy the fascination he built around the girl.
      And was afraid to discover that the girl was devoid of talent.
      It was about eleven when he turned the lamp on and opened the notebook.
      It was full of verses written in a pretty strange style, so called "White Verse" where the lines though rhythmical didn"t form typical rhymes. While reading Fyodor Andreyevich recalled poetry of Romans who tried to built poetic lines watching for length of syllables, not for similar endings, of words. Than Sappho of Lesbos, the "Poetess of Greeks," came to his mind. Though, despite the similarity in vigor, it wasn"t Sappho as well. There was something of Joseph Brodsky at some places, but no, the girl had probably never read anything of the poet. Musing over the analogies, comparing the writing to what he knew and loved, trying to define it, to put some tag on the verses, he even forgot by whom it was written. There was nothing of love in the notebook. It was more of nature, to say it more certain, about brief moments of foggy mornings, or melting snow, mist before the dawn. There was a nice short piece about tears of a child that ended with laughter. Something similar to Japanese style but, no, the verses were much longer. Yes, he, at last, found what it was about. Svetlana was inspired by never-ending changes in the nature, human feelings, transformation of life into death that was giving birth to renewed life. Svetlana"s poetry was a constant search of some meaning of existence, it was a search of God of some sense.
      He put the notebook aside and yawned, thinking that it was time to go to bed.
      Morning was foggy and gray, like in the old Russian song he loved to listen to. Lazy to start the new day, he lay in bed thinking about Svetlana. She planned to become a stock broker, which was not a bad choice for her. The girl had an inquisitive mind, attention to details, and etceteras. She was serious in her preparations for the business school, she was spending a lot of time studying English. She could recite a few famous poems of Edgar Poe. Even though it was just an exercise required by her English teacher, she did it with real love for Poe"s poetry. Despite the features of a future business lady, Svetlana still was vulnerable, romantic, and a dangerously attractive girl. Fyodor Andreyevich often wondered how could she exist in a world that wasn"t kind to young girls?
      Svetlana"s father was an attorney. Most of the time, he traveled to different cities defending criminals. Fyodor Andreyevich saw him only once, when he brought Svetlana to the first class. A dark haired man with a tired face and smart eyes; her father looked older then his years.
      Svetlana"s mother died a long time ago. The attorney married another woman. Fyodor Andreyevich had never seen the step-mother. It looked like the attorney was a real professional, he rarely was at home, and money wasn"t a problem for the family.
      That was all Fyodor Andreyevich knew about them.
      The thoughts about Svetlana lingered at the back of his mind all the day long. It was one of those days when the night sleep doesn"t let you go. He had some work to do, but things literally dropped out from his hands.
      He opened Svetlana"s poetry, read a couple of lines at random. There was nothing special in the lines and, to avoid finding more places like that, he closed the notebook.
      His own daughter came to mind. Natasha was entering the same vulnerable age, when girls love passionately, when they are passing through stresses of disillusions, when they write poetry to let their feelings go. He thought who would advise Natasha on her writing and clenched his teeth groaning.
      As the day was dragging along. Fyodor Andreyevich scanned a book of articles by Leo Tolstoy looking for the place he wanted to quote to students, but he didn"t even remember in what article it was. He missed his old copy of the book that stood useless on the shelf in Victoria"s office on the other side of the world. The old copy was full of his marks and notes which he made when he was young and bright, but these pages, untouched by pencil, were like a virgin soil he had neither strength, nor desire to lift.
      He sat in the corner of his sofa with his legs covered by a checkered comforter, a pillow behind his back. The floor lamp shone with a warm yellow light, the wind was playing with snowflakes outside. It was quiet around. He thought about a cup of hot tea with lemon, but the thought was weak. Really, I"m getting old, he deemed being not able to resist the drowsiness.
      A telephone ring awakened him. It was the same dull daylight outside and he couldn"t understand if it was the next morning, or ... The second ring lifted him from the sofa. At the beginning of the third one he picked up the phone expecting to hear his daughter"s voice.
      It wasn"t Natasha. He realized it glancing at the clock on the wall. It was already midnight in Chicago. It was Svetlana calling. She said that riding metro she missed her transfer to another line and somehow got off at his station. Now she was standing in the telephone booth on the street talking to him. Fyodor Andreyevich visualized the cold black receiver that she pressed to her ear, the telephone booth with broken glass, the snow melting into water on its floor, and shivered.
      "Of course, you may come over. I"m about to have a tea." He said and she hung up.
      He looked at the clock blinking his eyes. It was ten minutes to three. Tuesday. She shouldn"t have come today at all. Another group of students was scheduled for six. She couldn"t expect him to read her poetry right away, and he didn"t want to let her know that he, actually, did it. What did she want of him, the crazy girl?
      He took away the blanket and the pillow from his sofa, picked up the book he was reading from the floor, and looked all over the room searching for something else to put away before she would ring at his door.
      He frowned. All of that was out of the groove. He had never bothered himself with preparations of that kind before five thirty.
      The tea kettle started to whistle in the kitchen and at the same time he heard her ring at the door. He let her in and rushed to take the kettle off. The nasty sound died. He heard her voice in the apartment lobby asking something, and felt that his irritation was gone.
      "What?" he replied and she repeated.
      "I love how it whistles. Where did you get it?"
      Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t want to tell her that the teapot he bought in a Name Brand Clothing store cost only five bucks instead of the forty it was worth. The teapot was lacking a little handle on the lid, but it still looked all right. It was shiny, unusual, and contemporary. Cool in one word.
      "The weather is terrible," she said appearing in the kitchen, "by now the snow is melting on the ground. It all will turn to ice later."
      While talking she washed her hands and dried them with the towel that lay next to the sink.
      "Well, something to write about." He mumbled under his nose giving himself away.
      He hoped that she wouldn"t pay attention, but by her silence he understood that she heard it. He didn"t look at her pretending that he was searching for something in the cabinet.
      The pause became awkward and he turned around to meet her glance. She stood one step from him, studying his face. Never before had they been so close to each other. Her cheeks were colored with light crimson spots and her hair smelled with snow.
      "I knew, somehow, that you had already read it." She said in a hoarse voice, and it sounded like "I knew, somehow, that you liked me." Young people would start kissing, after that, but he didn"t feel young.
      "I did." He said retreating to sit.
      She half sat at the edge of the table looking at him from above, expecting to listen to what he would say.
      From below he saw the hills of her breasts and took his eyes off.
      "Could you please sit, on the chair," he asked and she moved.
      He wasn"t prepared to say anything. He hadn"t yet stated any opinion for himself, but for some reason he couldn"t say that either. She looked at him like a child who can"t understand why she has to wait for something that could be given to her right away. Fyodor Andreyevich even chortled a bit.
      "What?" She said lifting her brows in surprise.
      "I read it only once. And I don"t want to read it any more, I"m sorry." He said and saw how sparkles of excitement vanished from her eyes. "Listen to me." He said sternly. "Always listen to the end. There is only one reason that can make me say that it is better for a person to do something else rather then to waste his time writing poetry. When poetry is weak in its spirit, when it is lacking power, when it is about things that don"t really deserve to be describe in verses. Maybe in prose, but not in verses. Do you understand what I"m saying?" He asked and seeing that she didn"t, he continued. "Poetry touches universal motifs. It must be transcendental. Okay, to say it simpler, it must be beyond anything common, even when describing something that is very well known to everyone. When a poet, I mean a real poet, creates something genius, he is acting not by himself, he becomes an instrument of something celestial, he is used by something mysterious to transfer those special vibrations between souls, vibrations of the Universe, that are like radio waves, are always around though they can"t be transmitted to our understanding without a special devise. I believe that great poets, like Byron, Pushkin, like your favorite Poe had really been predestined, chosen to write poetry long before they were born. They had been given the talents, to see the special relations between things, unseen to us, mortals."
      While talking Fyodor Andreyevich hadn"t notice how excited he became.
      "Poetry, it is not only contents, not only rhythm, not only words. It is a unity of all those parts, plus something else, unexplainable. One can have a quick tongue, an excellent technique, one could be smart and witty, but if his poetry is nothing but words, if it is empty, nothing can help him. A real poet might be recognized sometimes by one line. Sometimes, of a long poem you remember just a couple of lines, they remain with you forever, and come to mind once in a while, that is a real sample of Art. In your beloved Raven of Poe." He scowled his brows thinking and read in English:
      Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
      And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
      You see what I mean? For these two lines Poe deserves a monument. A poet could die after writing two lines like these. Think, what a picture he created in just one stroke! It is his soul that always balanced on the verge of real and surreal worlds. It speaks for itself. A big article could be written just about these two lines. We can analyze them in the class some day. I"m not talking about Poe right now. I"m trying to say what a poet must have. It is a gift from God, a talent. A talent you have." He concluded feeling drained. "Go ahead, work, who knows, maybe something will come out of you. But first think what is more important for you, writing poetry, or the business college. To write well, you must work like hell. Unlike Mozart, or Pushkin, who were born under lucky stars, you belong to many others who have to develop what they are given. And don"t ask me again to read your poems unless you are absolutely sure that you did it right. I"m not a judge, and not a teacher for you. No one can teach you better than the poets you love."
      For a long minute they sat silent. She was looking outside, into the snow, thinking over his words. He thought that, involuntarily, he gave away the strengths of the day to the girl. He wasn"t sure that he would regain it for the class. Though, he didn"t regret that she came.
      "Have you ever tried to write poetry yourself?" She asked and looked straight at him.
      Under her stare, Fyodor Andreyevich felt awkward and disturbed as if she just asked, "Are you sure you really loved the other woman more than me?"
      Thank God she didn"t ask anything like that. It was no more than his stupid fantasy and he scowled at himself.
      "I"m serious." She insisted. "Have you ever..."
      "I did not." He said firmly. "I never felt like a poet."
      "Than how do you know what a poet should feel?" She asked and Fyodor Andreyevich chuckled.
      "Excuse me, don"t pay attention, I just imagined myself writing poetry. No. To be a poet one has to be young, or in love, or, at least, abused with something. One has to have a disturbed soul, but everything is all right here." He tapped against his chest and added. "I"m just an old man, my emotions belong to the past."
      "I don"t know if you are in love, or not," she said with an anger still looking straight at him. "But your are not old at all. You just convinced yourself of that. It is a bad excuse. You are younger than many people of my father"s age."
      Fyodor Andreyevich was about to thank her, but suddenly his smile vanished from his lips and he felt heaviness on his heart. He stood up and took cups from the dry rack. Turning away from her he touched the tea kettle. It was already cold. He struck the match, and ignited the gas on the stove. He didn"t want Svetlana to see his eyes. She had nothing to do with the anger that suddenly took over him. He was angry with Victoria. He looked at the blue flame that was licking the tea kettle"s bottom and thought that for all the long years, that followed his recovery, she hadn"t even once told him what he secretly felt in his heart. Yes, in his soul, he still was young, and she, his wife, had to maintain, to grow, the feeling in him. Who knows, had Victoria believed in what Svetlana just said, maybe everything would go much better.
      No. They didn"t want him young. They wanted him to be a retired academician. This image they had chosen for him. In that they believed.
      He recalled how they met him in O"Hara International right after the Passport Control when he came to visit them for the first time. They picked up his suitcases, took him under his arms, and, looked into his eyes as if checking to see how exhausted he was by the long flight, then sat him on some bench. Victoria proposed bringing a wheelchair, but he said he was all right.
      Valerii brought his car to the entrance, and carefully they led him outside, under the gray low clouds that looked exactly like clouds in which his plane submerged from underneath when taking off from Moscow.
      Fyodor Andreyevich felt like he was arriving at a nursing home not to the country he was so eager to see.
      "How can you tell you are old?" Svetlana said. "You ride a bicycle and jog in summer, you will start skiing soon. Your body is a body of a young man, and your mind... I wish everyone could be half as quick in mind as you are. You are not old at all." (?)
      "Maybe," Fyodor Andreyevich replied with irritation. "But I"m not in the mood to write poetry anyway."
      The tea kettle started to whistle and Fyodor Andreyevich took it off. He opened a new pack of Georgian tea and said,
      "I have a friend. He is an artist, an oil painter. Very interesting man. I want you to get acquainted with him. What do you do on Saturday morning?"
      "Well, I didn"t plan anything special yet."
      "Awesome. Than we"ll go to his place about eleven. Now let"s have a tea."
      On Saturday, he picked her up on the way to Anton. The morning was sunny and chilly. The air was clean, the ground was frozen. The snow lay here and there, but not on the asphalt.
      "That"s for you." He said placing on her lap the English copy of The Gift by Nabokov. "This man used to understand poetry better than anyone else."
      "Thanks," Svetlana said, opened the book somewhere in the middle and started to read.
      He drove along the Lenin"s Prospect keeping his eyes on the wide road, at times glancing at Svetlana whose hair mixed with fur that trimmed her coat. He tried to see at what page she was on, but saw only her knees above the black leather of her high boots.
      They didn"t talk much on the way. She was reading, he too was quite all right being silent.
      Soon the huge buildings on both sides of the street stepped aside giving way to the open square with the statue of Gagarin on the high, erected into the sky, base of steel. He drove through the square and a few minutes later turned to the left. Soon he turned again into a subdivision of five story apartment blocks, so typical for Moscow, pulled to a small parking lot, and shut the engine down.
      "Here we are." He said hooking the steel club on the steering wheel.
      The Sun stood low in the sky. It was already winter Sun, not bright yellow. It cast long shadows on the leafless trees in the snow. While walking with her along the pavement Fyodor Andreyevich involuntarily straightened his back and shoulders to be a bit taller and found that funny.
      "Over there, the basement entrance, you see?" He said before she noticed the change in his appearance. "You have to knock on the door in a special way to get in. Three times one after another and one time with a slight delay."
      "Why?" She asked.
      "This is an Art Studio. He is a director. He is from Ryazan, so he lives here. Of course, he is not suppose to. You have to call up front to let him know that you are coming. If he would like you to come again, he"ll give you the number."
      Svetlana shrugged her shoulders as if saying that she did not care about coming here again.
      The steps that descended to the shabby door smelled of cats. Fyodor Andreyevich suddenly felt awkward. It was the first time that he took the girl out and now she had to follow him goodness-knows-where trying not to step on the spits, cigarette buts, and pigeon drops that covered the entrance to his friend"s studio. He knock on the door trying to comfort himself with the thought that in summer time the place stink much worse.
      Anton didn"t make them wait for long. The door opened and the master of the place, his hair not brushed, a pencil in his beard, pocked out his head from the darkness.
      "This is Svetlana, one of my students." Fyodor Andreyevich introduced her modestly. "She is a poetess, I would say a very promising one."
      "Good." Anton said in his low voice and retreated into the darkness letting them in.
      The Art studio consisted of several rooms with easels, tables, and chairs for pupils who used to come here twice a week to study basics of drawings, painting in oil and ceramics. The last media was taught by one more teacher, a very young woman of about twenty-years-old whom Fyodor Andreyevich had seen only once.
      He expected Anton to give Svetlana a tour around the rooms where all the walls were occupied with his paintings, but the artist got back to the canvas he had started to work on that morning.
      "Please excuse me." He said. "I have to finish the background before the paint on my pallet is dry."
      Fyodor Andreyevich wasn"t ready to be a guide for Svetlana. In the words of Tolstoy, it is so easy to say something silly when talking about Art, came to his mind and he stood saying nothing at the door of the room Svetlana had entered.
      "Who is that?" She looked at the large painting where a girl was sitting on a window-sill turning her back to the heavy purple clouds outside. The girl"s dark hair formed kind of a halo electrified with a recent lightning, her face was in a deep shadow, and maybe because of that, the girl"s eyes burned with a pale fire. Her gaze was straight and penetrating like the gaze of a saint on an icon, but the girl was surely more of a witch than a saint. Her hands lay by her sides. The palms of the hands were enormous. They were swollen and ugly as if the hands were created to do something mean.
      "This is a girl who was making sandwiches at the last birthday party." Fyodor Andreyevich answered with unease. "It is some kind of experiment." He said apologetically.
      "No, it is not." Anton opposed from his room. "That"s just how I saw her."
      "Is she pleased with the portrait?" Svetlana asked.
      "She doesn"t care." Anton answered.
      Fyodor Andreyevich smirked recalling the girl from the birthday party. She, really, was a bit strange. Her movements were slow, one had to ask her twice to get an answer that would follow with irritating delay. Sandwiches didn"t go well from under her hands and somebody else took care of them. All the night long the girl drank dry wine sitting in the corner, listening to the others, smiling weirdly.
      "All right. I"m done." Anton said appearing at the door.
      "So, what is it about? I mean the new painting you are working on." Fyodor Andreyevich asked.
      "Just... colors." Anton answered wiping his hands with a stained rug. "You are a poet, Fyodor said." He addressed Svetlana who was studying another painting. It was of a young lad, one of those who, having nothing else to do, loiters on the street after work. The eyes of the fellow were dull, he sat on a chair with a cigarette in his hand in a simply furnished room. A net bag full of empty green bottles stood at the left bottom corner.
      Svetlana neither confirmed, nor rejected her belonging to poets.
      "Is it too, about colors?" She asked still looking at the fellow on the picture.
      "All paintings are about colors. I mean good ones. If it is more of a story, than forms and colors, it is not a painting, but something else. This picture is pretty old. I was a student of an art school. I made it for some official contest of young artists, but it was rejected because of this cigarette and the bottles on the floor. They said it is a good portrait of a young man, but the cigarette and the bottles must be taken off. The idiots."
      "Why do you still keep it, if you made it just by order?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked knowing that Anton, lacking canvases, always paints over something he doesn"t like.
      "I don"t know. Jut got used to it. It"s not bad after all. I called it Homo Soveticus" Could you stay like that for a little bit longer?" He asked Svetlana stretching his hand for a drawing pad.
      She looked at him briefly and nodded.
      "Let"s talk a bit, while we are doing this. It is some kind of a game. Helps for the imagination. You"ll get what it is about." Anton said putting the first pencil strokes on the paper. "Let"s say you are living in a small town. It is a time of war. The army of your country gave the town away without a single shot as a worthless strategic point. Your city is occupied by foreign soldiers that look like normal people, not monsters, the propaganda wanted you to believe. They ride city buses, yielding seats to elderly women, shop in the stores, some of the soldiers even started to date local girls. Actually the life in the town regains to normal, only patrols on the streets and bulletins of the new power posted on the corners remind you that things had changed. Are you following me?
      "So far I do." Svetlana said standing in the same pose.
      "Excellent, a few weeks pass by pretty uneventful. Then, on one pretty morning, while going to school, you hear the sound of thunder. The sky is clear and blue, it takes a while for you to understand it was an explosion. You see how a few adult people that were walking along the streets are hiding in the doorways. Presently the street is empty. Somewhere the sirens start to howl. You hear the sound of motorcycles that the foreign soldiers use to patrol the street. Your school is already in view. You feel eerie and you start going faster. Suddenly one of the motorcycles darts into the street and rushes to you. The soldier is an officer, he has a familiar face, you saw him laughing among the other officers recently, he stops next to you, his face is pale, eyes cold and cruel. He grabs you, you are scared, you are trying to resist, you are yelling. Paying no attention he tosses you into the motorcycle side car and carries you away. You are screaming. You don"t even see where he is taking you."
      What is it all about, Fyodor Andreyevich thought with an unpleasant feeling looking at the drawing that was becoming more and more of Svetlana"s portrait.
      "You find yourself in a room with nine more young women that were also taken from the streets. All of you are hostages. Somebody put a bomb into the commandant"s car and the commandant was killed. They will keep you for three days expecting the guerillas to give themselves up. If they won"t, all ten of you will be hanged on the square."
      Fyodor Andreyevich shivered. He tried to find out what to say to terminate the awful game. He wanted to say some joke, something witty to destroy the nightmare, but nothing came to his mind. He couldn"t see Svetlana"s reaction, she still stood motionlessly, listening, studying the picture of the Homo Soveticus on the wall. She was very pretty, in reality and on the drawing as well. Fyodor Andreyevich already deeply regretted that he brought her to Anton, that unpredictable lunatic.
      "At last the day of the execution comes." Anton continued to talk. "You are standing on the bed of a truck with lowered boards under the gallows. The executioner puts a noose around your neck. Now, what do you see? What do you feel?"
      "Nothing." Svetlana said remaining motionless.
      "Nothing at all?"
      "At all. I don"t like the story, and can"t see myself in it."
      "Why, allow me to ask." Anton narrowed his eyes focusing them on the folds of her skirt.
      "I don"t believe that life in a town taken by foreign troops would ever return to normal. I would never feel safe there. You want me to see the foreign soldiers like nice fellows, I never would. This is my town, my country they alienated. I would never show up on the streets until they were driven away."
      "Okay. Let"s say you were hiding from them, but they took you as a hostage anyway. Can you imagine your execution? A noose on your neck?"
      "I probably could, but I don"t want to."
      "Yes, let"s better imagine something else." Fyodor Andreyevich said.
      "Like what?" Anton asked still working. It seemed he wasn"t disappointed at all.
      "I don"t know... a deserted island. A girl survived a ship wreck. She comes to herself the next morning and sees flowers, jungle and blue mountains far away."
      "Hey, you have already became the girl. Bravo, Fyodor! What else can you see there?" Anton laughed.
      Svetlana couldn"t stand still. She burst into laughter. "Please, don"t." She said and Fyodor Andreyevich realized that he had passed something silly.
      "That"s it. Thanks. You, Svetlana, are an excellent model. How about posing for a big painting?"
      "May I see it?" She approached them and Anton handed her the drawing. She studied it for a while and gave it back to him.
      "What, don"t you like it?" Anton asked.
      "I do. I just wanted..." She started and stopped indecisively.
      "What"s the problem?" Anton looked at her with surprise.
      "Could you promise that you will discard the painting, if I don"t like it?"
      "No, I can"t promise that."
      "Than my answer is no." Svetlana said and turned to the pictures on the other wall.
      "Okay, if you are ready to pose for me a few times, for a couple of hours each, standing as still as a statue, I can paint you in a classical manner."
      "Like that?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked nodding at the sandwich maker."
      "Not at all. I promise to be good."
      "I like this." Svetlana said looking at the drawing of a pine-tree on a cliff above the sea.
      "I do too." Fyodor Andreyevich said. He was glad to change the topic.
      "This is a pretty old drawing." Anton went to the corner where more canvases stood in a pile facing the wall. "Here I have it in colors." He pulled one of the paintings out and placed it on an empty easel."
      In colors, the trunk and branches of the pine-tree burned under the setting sun. The green on them was almost black. It seemed that the crown of the tree merged with the dark clouds on the background and became a part of them. The grass was of reddish gold. A vista, indistinct in its depth, lay beyond the cliff.
      "Yes, I like it very much." Fyodor Andreyevich said.
      "When do you want me to pose for you?" Svetlana asked turning to Anton. She looked straight into his face, as if studying it.
      "Tomorrow, at the same time will be the best." Anton"s voice cracked slightly. "The morning light is better in my room." The artist finished trying to sound normal.
      "Okay." Svetlana said simply. "Then I"ll come over here tomorrow at eleven."
      All the afternoon long Fyodor Andreyevich felt nervous. He was ashamed of himself. Why did he come up with that stupid deserted island? Couldn"t he invent anything better, less dull? He was in a special state of agitation known to everyone, when some awkward word or action, merely a trifle, already forgotten by others, is torturing you with impossibility to change what had already jumped off your tongue in the wrong way, at the wrong moment, at the wrong place.
      At six the students came, Svetlana was among them. She looked as if nothing had happened, she didn"t even give him her special direct glance, and he couldn"t understand, did the girl remember his clumsy attempt to spare her from the unpleasant inquiries or not. In his mind he begged her for one encouraging glance, but for all three hours she hardly ever lifted her eyes from her notes.
      At last the class was over. He dismissed the students. She murmured her usual good bye and left. He closed the door, walked to the kitchen, took two tranquilizing pills, put them on his tongue, and washed the medicine down with water which smelled of chlorine.
      In his dreams he saw the painting of the sandwich maker. It was animated. Lightning flashed in the dark sky behind the witch. He heard thunderbolts. The girl was peering at him with her crazy eyes and trembled with all her body. She tried, but couldn"t, tear her swollen hands off the window-sill to chock him, she hissed and spat her saliva in the rage.
      He woke up at eight in the morning. The lines of Brodsky "The head, like Saturn with the rings, is encircled with pain," came to his mind. That was how he felt.
      It wasn"t jealousy that made him feel uneasy. He didn"t mind that Svetlana would pose for Anton. After all, that was what he wanted to achieve. He wanted her to focus attention on someone else, not him, but that was exactly what made him feel really bad. He didn"t have any rights to control the girl"s feelings. How dare he. Yesterday he acted like an experienced matchmaker. The girl was his student, her father trusted him to teach her Russian Language and Literature, any other ideas had to be priorly discussed with her parents. But that didn"t even occur to him. He thought only about himself. About his own tranquility. Trying to get rid of the girl"s infatuation he accidentally did something really bad.
      He tried to forget about it, to concentrate on something routine, but the thoughts didn"t leave. He knew that Anton would never offend the girl, the artist really saw nothing but a model in Svetlana. However, who knew what could come to the minds of two young people? If the posing would develop into some kind of romance between them, no one but he, the old matchmaker, would be blamed.
      At eleven he found himself getting ready to leave. He couldn"t let the situation get out of his control. Let them think about him whatever they want. If he started it, he had to put it to an end.
      Half an hour later he parked his car at Anton"s court yard. Turning the key in the lock of the anti theft club he recalled that he didn"t call to notify Anton about his visit. The displaced painter could easily ignore his knocking on the door. Devil takes you, Fyodor Andreyevich cursed getting out of the car. He slammed the door and walked to the basement"s entrance watching for slick spots on the pavement.
      Trying not to step on the cigarette butts and pigeon drops (Anton didn"t even think to clean the steps) Fyodor Andreyevich descended to the door and knocked the code out. The knocking sounded pretty loud, almost demanding, a pesky dormitory"s mother would knock on a door like that.
      For a long moment nothing was heard in the studio. Feeling angry, Fyodor Andreyevich was about to knock even louder, but the lock clicked and the door opened. Anton, a pallet knife greased with paint in his hand, looked at him as if seeing him for the first time.
      "Come in." The artist said, his eyes still absent-minded, and walked down the long corridor, to his studio assuming that Fyodor Andreyevich would follow. While walking after Anton, Fyodor Andreyevich tried to work out something appropriate, a kind of funny greeting that would explain his unexpected visit, but nothing was coming into his head. That was a catastrophe, he should have had the words ready before he knocked on the door. He even opened his mouth to stop his friend, but the later had already entered the room and Fyodor Andreyevich had nothing else but to walk in after him.
      First he saw a large canvas with some ornate flowers on it fixed on the easel. Anton turned the picture upside down and the heavy pot, the flowers were rested in, was on the top. Above the flowers there was a drawing in a fresh white paint. The canvas was so big that the rest of the room was obscured by it. It was very quiet, even the weird music which Anton listened to while working was off. Trying to comprehend what he saw on the canvas Fyodor Andreyevich, for a long minute, remained still. First he thought that he was hallucinating. He winked his eyes, but the drawing didn"t change. The white lines still were forming a female figure, a beautiful nude girl standing in full height next to some antique column. The picture was captured as though from underneath and because of that the figure was slightly stretched, which made it look even more graceful.
      Fyodor Andreyevich"s heart fluttered in his chest as a bird in a cage. Suddenly all the room seemed to him unreal, like in a dream, he even saw himself standing at the door, a thin elderly man with fading hair. His knees trembled, and he stiffened his legs, not letting Anton see it.
      Anton didn"t look at him at all. He put down his pallet knife which he used to mix the paint and got back to the drawing. Looking somewhere behind the canvas, he took more of the white paint on his brush. Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t watch what the artist was about to do. Tightening his grip on his fur hat which he still was holding in his hands he made a step ahead and the part of the room behind the canvas came into his view.
      Yes, there was an antique column there. A hot heavy wave burst inside him, he made another step and saw Svetlana standing on a stool covered with something white.
      She stood absolutely still, like a statue in the park. Even her eyes, alive with glistering moisture were motionless. She looked somewhere upward, trough the ceiling, through the walls, into the sky, into the very Universe. Her hair was gathered behind her head and Fyodor Andreyevich was stunned by the beauty of her neck and shoulders. He forced himself to look at the plaster column which once was discarded from Anton"s Art School, but Svetlana"s beautiful breasts drew his eyes and he didn"t have the strength to resist. To avoid looking at the breasts and the flat stomach Fyodor Andreyevich wobbled to the rear of the room around the model and saw the gentle fuzz at the bottom of Svetlana"s spine, above her buttocks, right in front of his eyes. His vision suddenly fainted, he felt dizzy and weak. A brass oriental jug which was standing on the shelf next to him fell on the floor without any reason and the melodic sound brought Fyodor Andreyevich to himself.
      "Are you all right there?" Anton asked and Fyodor Andreyevich answered returning the damned jug on its place.
      "Yes, I"m all right, quite all right."
      He again looked at Svetlana but the model didn"t even move.
      Fyodor Andreyevich grabbed his fur hat from the floor and walked to Anton"s side. He stood behind the artist and looked at the model again. The girl"s body, certainly, was perfect. Fyodor Andreyevich looked at Svetlana openly, like he would at a beautifully painted nude in a museum, and feeling his attention, she, for a brief moment, looked back at him.
      It wasn"t a scornful smirk in her eyes, not the pride of a beauty, but warm compassion, understanding of his state, a promise to calm his destroyed feelings down, later, when she was done with her duty of being a model.
      Fyodor Andreyevich stood next to Anton for a bit longer then mumbled some apology and left.
      The painting was over in a week. Svetlana"s father paid Anton a thousand dollars for the canvas. Anton pained Svetlana a few times more. One of the paintings he presented to Fyodor Andreyevich. On that one the girl was holding a strange pet. She gently pressed it against her beautiful breasts. The pet was something surreal. It had the body of a rat and the head of a human. The features on its face were cramped like features of an old dwarf. Despite this, Fyodor Andreyevich could easily recognize himself.
      He wasn"t an expert in colors, but he was stricken by the literature in the painting. It was a true story of relations of the teacher and his beautiful student who became lovers soon after the first painting was complete.
      * * *
      Did he really love her? He couldn"t tell. He was afraid to admit that, yes, he did. Svetlana had already finished her first year of the business college, she became even more attractive, and self confident, but she still didn"t leave him. She would come to him like a free bird that got used to some place, that flies around to peck something sweet that is left for her, to sing in its beautiful voice for a while and to be gone. There were weeks when they"d met every day. Being busy with her exams she could disappear for a week or two. But with the end of exams she was always back, cheerful, robust, and passionate. He never tried to make her stay. At times she would spend a whole night with him. He could hardly sleep on those nights. He watched her young face, listened to her breath, and lay still trying not to bother her. The following mornings were awful. He felt drowsy and tired, but he did his best concealing how he felt. And she would come again.
      It was impossible to conceal his relations with Svetlana from Martha Leibovna.
      After Victoria had left the country, his mother-in-law visited him almost every day. Of course she realized who the girl was to him, but never wanted things to be explained. When Svetlana was in, Martha Leibovna did everything to treat him like her own son, not a friend. She even managed to look older not wanting to disturb his romance. He found it very delicate.
      Sometimes, feeling like he was in a blissful dream, he started asking her what she found in him. "I"m just an old man," he would say, "don"t waste your precious time, I"m not worth of it."
      "Stop it." She would answer. "Why can"t you just enjoy being with me?"
      He enjoyed being with her and they talked about something else. They talked for hours. She was an excellent listener. He told her about his past, about Victoria, Valerii, and Natasha. He tried to sound indifferent, but she felt what was going on in his heart and she pressed him to her magnificent body to sooth, to heal the wounds. It was her tenderness and compassion that made him feel like a man.
      She loved to listen to his thoughts on literature. He told her about the articles he considered to write, he actually composed them with her. Unlike Victoria, Svetlana didn"t try to formulate or develop his thoughts. To her he spoke freely, she always listened to the end, then would tell him what was good and what was wrong, and, always, she was damn right.
      When she really loved what he was saying, she would prepared a synopsis of the future work.
      He laughed saying that it was a summary of her own thoughts, that he couldn"t be that smart. She just smiled back.
      The crazy idea to start working on another book with her would occasionally come to his mind, but no. It was a bluff. He didn"t want to attach himself to the girl. Sooner or later she had to leave him. That was natural, essential, it had to happen.
      A week ago, leaving for America, he mumbled something about the great opportunity to look around, to find out how beautiful the world is. She became serious and said looking straight into his eyes. "Please, don"t start it again. You said I have a whole life ahead. So far, I want to be with you. Don"t worry about me."
      Yes, that was what he was saying, but the words hurt him badly. The day, when she would leave him was inevitably approaching. Oh God, why didn"t he die back then!
      If Svetlana is really fascinated with someone else, what would he do in Moscow? No one needed him there, he would be nothing but a disturbance.
      Fyodor Andreyevich sighed, thinking that other than Martha Leibovna no one needed him on earth. He suddenly felt how sad it would be to say good bye to his mother-in-law. She probably is going out off her mind with curiosity, but he still didn"t want to let her know what he saw in Victoria"s apartment. She expected him to be back with his report in fifteen minutes and instead he just ran off. He ran off from her as well as from the others.
      He tried to forget about it, to think about something else instead.
      * * *
      Victoria and Valerii left the great Soviet Fatherland, heading for Israel, planning to change the destination point on the way. On those first days after their departure Martha Leibovna stayed at home waiting for the news. Fyodor Andreyevich was informed that they passed the custom control-space on the border, and arrived in Vienna, where they informed officials that they wanted to apply for residence in the United States. A few days later they were transported to Italy where they had to wait for an Interview with representatives of the American Immigration Service.
      He talked to Victoria when she called from Rome. She said that they were lucky, people next door spoke excellent English. She said that they probably would have to spend a few months in Italy. The financial support was pretty small, but Natasha had already found out what to do. She was selling simple souvenirs (she crafted herself) on the streets. Fyodor Andreyevich couldn"t understand why his ex-wife was so exuberant talking about that, but Victoria assured him that Natasha conducted the sales under strong supervision. She sells the trifles to drivers while Victoria and Valerii are washing their cars. To Fyodor Andreyevich that all sounded awful, but Victoria"s voice was full of excitement. She said that the simple labor helped them a lot. " The weather in Italy is beautiful, but Rome is a pretty dirty place." She said before the line was disconnected.
      Of course, all the news was thoroughly discussed. One of the first things Victoria did was get in touch with some Israeli agency and soon Martha Leibovna received an invitation from some person they both could hardly pronounce the name of.
      "I doubt I can wash cars on the streets." Martha Leibovna said peering at the light blue envelope. Fyodor Andreyevich shrugged his shoulders. He doubted it too.
      The invitation lay untouched for a week. For Martha Leibovna it wasn"t easy at all to prepare herself for the long trip to a country she never thought about. Victoria"s interview was scheduled for November. Then, if everything went all right, they had to live in Italy until the time when some American Jewish community would agree to become their sponsor. That also could take up to a year.
      The invitation had an expiration date. Martha Leibovna had until the tenth of September to apply for an Israel visa.
      Everything was uncertain.
      The summer was cold that year. Even when the sun was shining the chilly northern wind would often bring goose bumps on Fyodor Andreyevich"s skin. He jogged and rode his bike in the park. Most of the days were rainy. In August heavy clouds rarely left the sky. Even the trees started to turn yellow before time.
      The never ending worrying about Victoria and Natasha, as well as constant thinking about her own trip, made Martha Leibovna sick. She developed severe Hypertonia and couldn"t leave home even for a short walk. Nevertheless, the preparations for the trip required her to visit the Israel Consulate.
      Once she called Fyodor Andreyevich in delirium. One of her acquaintances said that all the applicants had to fill out one more form, otherwise, something, Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t understand exactly what, would go wrong. She asked him to drop whatever he was doing and go to Ordinka Street to the Consulate to pick up the form which she had to fill out as soon as possible. His mother-in-law never sounded that agitated before, so he did what she asked. He had nothing important to drop that day anyway.
      That day it rained off and on. Martha Leibovna said that he would have a hard time finding a parking space, so he took his umbrella instead of the car. Since he was told that there might be a long line of applicants, he wore winter shoes with thick soles on his feet. He hated standing in lines - his diet consisted primarily of items that could quickly be picked up in the grocery store. He would rather starve than kill his precious time standing in lines. He didn"t want to go, especially to a place where somebody could spot him among potential emigrants. However, it was not often that his ex mother-in-law would ask him for a favor. He once again checked the envelope with the invitation from Israel in his inside pocket, opened his umbrella and rushed to the trolley bus stop.
      A pleasant surprise was the friendly atmosphere in which he found himself as soon as he joined the crowd of people at the Israeli Consulate. The crowd had formed a huge line in which it was quite impossible to say who was after or ahead of who. The rain stopped, there was no need for the umbrella. Fyodor Andreyevich folded it and opened the book which he brought with him. But it was impossible to read. People around him were anxious, everyone had heard something different about the new regulations to be enforced in a week, but nobody could tell for sure what changes to expect. As usual, Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t even try to understand what it was all about. It wasn"t his problem. He just listened to the people who were discussing the rumors. Everyone had something to say.
      "They asked me, are you a believer? I answered, yes. What"s the need to vex them? If they need more believers, I"ll become one, though I"ve never heard anything about the God they pray to." A little man with a provincial appearance was talking to others. He had already passed his interviews and had tickets to Israel for his whole family in his pocket. He came here only to kill time. He was living in some hotel expecting his household to join him before the departure and was glad to give advice to those who had to pass through the same ordeal.
      "Is it true that they grant you citizenship on the day of your arrival?" asked a fellow in a long raincoat, and somebody else shut him down saying, "What"s the use in asking that? Of course they do. It is well known. You"d better ask how many shekels they will provide and how you can live on that much before you find a job. That"ll be the right question."
      "My brother left six years ago." an elderly woman with a bag full of groceries said. "He and his wife could hardly survive on the support. And it was not at all easy to find a job. She is a doctor, but for the first three years she worked in a kitchen washing dishes in some school."
      "I know another story," another man started, but an elderly man in an expensive coat (every once in a while he had jerked his shoulders as if he was displeased with what he heard) said with a hard Jewish accent.
      "What are you all talking about? You are going to Israel, the Palestine, the land of your ancestors, your historic Motherland, Wall of Mourning." The man looked at the others proudly. He had a distinctly Jewish face which he was accustomed to hiding in the collar of his coat that he always kept upward. Fyodor Andreyevich noticed that the man had a few gold teeth.
      A silence followed, everyone around seemed to be considering his words. Fyodor Andreyevich sighed. It was sad that all the people were ready to leave for another country.
      Using the pause in conversation he resumed his reading. The wind rustled in the trees, the whisper of tires against the wet asphalt was heard from the street. It was good that the rain had stopped.
      "Bitches, swine." Fyodor Andreyevich suddenly heard next to him. The profanities were pronounced clearly and calmly. They lay on the silence as firm as a builder would lay bricks in the wall.
      Fyodor Andreyevich turned and met the evil eyes of a man who stood right behind him. The man was tall and muscular. The malicious smile on his lips promised nothing good. People around looked at him in astonishment. Some even stepped a bit away.
      "Worthless kikes." the man said quietly. "I"d drown you all in the Red Sea." That was heard even by the patrol men who stood at a distance. The crowd became completely silent for a moment.
      "There is no place in this country where Jewish people can avoid being abused and humiliated." the man in the expensive coat said scornfully. "If you hate us, what are you doing here?" he addressed the tall man. Why don"t you anti-Semites, allow us Jews to leave in peace?"
      "You are a dirty kike, not a Jew," the tall man said looking straight into the man"s eyes. It looked as if he were even glad that the patriotic repatriate responded to the challenge. "The Jews, real Jews, left this country twenty years ago, as soon as the gate was opened. But you, son of bitch, stayed here. You said you are going to the Historical Motherland, to the Wall of Mourning. That"s a lie. You started this song when it became clear that your fat life in this country was coming to an end. You didn"t emigrate twenty years ago because you knew that in Israel they"d make you work. That they won"t allow you to cheat others like you did here. That over there you would live in a kibbutz working hard, building the country under the bullets of Arabs, like the others. That"s why you are still here."
      "That"s outrageous! What do you know about me? How dare you?" the man in the expensive coat cried spitting saliva.
      "I dare." The tall man said in the same even voice, "because I know enough kikes like you. Are you circumcised, by the way?" he asked unexpectedly and continued, "I am. Do you want to see?" He made a move to unzip his trousers.
      "That"s impossible! I"ll call the Militia." The patriot looked around seeking support in people"s faces, but the people who were ready to confront the tall man a minute ago, were stunned by his last proposal.
      "Call them," the tall man said with hatred. "What are you waiting for? You see, they are looking at us, call them!" he repeated demandingly. "Let them check who is circumcised and who is not. Who is a filthy kike, and who is a real Jew here."
      "This is a provocation. I don"t want to talk to this man! He is..." the man in the expensive coat exclaimed.
      "Then shut up." The tall man said.
      About two minutes of awkward stillness passed. Then gradually the same talking about life in Israel, interviews, and other obstacles, resumed. People around were anxious to talk to each other. Like birds in the forest that were scared by a gun shot, they were returning to life.
      No one knew how long they had to wait. Someone told them that the new forms were already in print in the consulate and soon some official would appear to pass them around. People who stood behind pressed, and the throng became denser. The Militia men brought more red barriers to keep the crowd under control.
      Fyodor Andreyevich took his book away. He pulled the invitation out of his pocket. According to rumors the new form would be given only to those who had their invitation in hand.
      "Oh, my God!" said the tall man who now stood right next to Fyodor Andreyevich. "Where are you going uncle. What will you do among Jews with a nose like yours?"
      Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t want to answer at first, but there was such a sadness in the man"s words that, involuntarily, he asked,
      "What"s wrong with my nose?"
      "Nothing"s wrong, but there is nothing Jewish in it. You are Russian, why don"t you stay in Russia?"
      "If you love Russia that much, why don"t you stay here?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked.
      "I would be glad to," the man said. By now there was nothing left of the resentful troublemaker in him.
      "Then what makes you go?"
      "That"s a long story. Listen," he looked at Fyodor Andreyevich as if seeing a friend in him. "Take my advice, don"t go to Israel. If you can"t stand Russia, try something else."
      "Actually," Fyodor Andreyevich said, "I"m not going anywhere. I"m here to pick up the form for my friend, she is ill."
      "Good." The tall man said with satisfaction. "How old is your friend?"
      "Perfect age, they"ll take care of her, free of charge. Benjamin is my name." He suddenly introduced himself shoving his hand as wide as a shovel to Fyodor Andreyevich who pressed it and introduced himself too. "They do it free for those who are above sixty five." Benjamin said. "Others have to pay, and insurance is not available for those who have preexisting problems."
      "Is someone ill in your family?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked cautiously and the man answered,
      "My daughter is, she has glaucoma."
      "How old is she?"
      "Just four-years-old." The man took a wallet from his pocket and showed Fyodor Andreyevich a photograph of a small cute girl. Her left eye was totally obstructed by a pale film."
      "Oh, it"s awful!" Fyodor Andreyevich said.
      "It surely is. They can"t do this kind of surgery here."
      "So that"s why you are going to Israel?"
      "Israel!" Benjamin scowled as if feeling a pain. "The very sound of the word makes me mad."
      "But why? The country is unique, it deserves respect."
      "It surely does. There is nothing wrong with the country, but it is full of the Russian kikes, and I can"t keep myself from hating them." Benjamin angrily looked at the people standing around who, pretending that they were ignoring him were, nevertheless, listening to the conversation.
      "Why didn"t you try to emigrate to some other country?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked.
      "I did." Benjamin replied. "I tried South Africa, the United States, Argentina. I sent my resumes all over the world, but received no response. Recently, I learned that Australia is accepting immigrants. They said that on the first of April they will give away the application forms. I was in Moscow at that time, consulting about my daughter at Fyodorov"s Vision Center, so I went. There was a big crowd at the Australian Embassy, not much smaller than this one. No one knew anything for sure. For about an hour we all just stood waiting, then some woman walked out from the doors, climbed on the base of the fence and announced that they already had thousands of applications that no one had time to process and right now they wouldn"t accept any more requests, that... Ah, I just walked away."
      "You said you were in Moscow - where do you live?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked.
      "I live in Birobidjan, the Jewish Autonomy Region, abandoned by Jews." he said with scorn.
      Hearing these words the man in the expensive coat turned to glance at Benjamin once again and the later hissed into his face, "Don"t even look at me, you make me sick."
      To prevent another resurgence of the quarrel, Fyodor Andreyevich hurried to ask,
      "And you have no relatives, no friends in Israel?"
      "Why? I do. My father and two brothers have lived in Jerusalem for a long time."
      "Then there is no better place to go!" Fyodor Andreyevich exclaimed. "I"ll bet your father will be very glad to see you."
      "I don"t know," Benjamin said. "They all expect me to be a prodigal son, but I"m not a believer."
      "There is nothing wrong with that," a woman with bags full of groceries entered the conversation. "Almost none of us are believers."
      "That"s why I don"t think you have to go to Israel." Benjamin didn"t let her finish. "You are all going there to stuff yourselves with a better sausage. You think if you were born from Jewish mothers, you are Jews. If you don"t believe in the God of your fathers, if you don"t follow traditions that they preserved and exercised through the centuries, if you are not even interested in the history of your nation, you don"t have any right to call yourself Jews. You are dirty, greedy kikes, nothing else."
      "Is your father a strong Orthodox?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked, again preventing a new scandal. Though Benjamin had behaved badly, Fyodor Andreyevich sympathized with his philosophy.
      "My father was one of those who praised God for giving them the chance to build a Paradise for Jews in the Far East. He was just seventeen when they moved to Birobidjan in thirty five. Then he fought the war, brought home a full chest of rewards. Right after the war he was imprisoned for teaching religion. Yes, he is a strong Orthodox. I"m not. I always felt like a Russian, not a Jew."
      The expensive coat who stood in front of them jerking his shoulders, turned around and said in an ignoble tone,
      "If you feel like a Russian, stay in Russia. We don"t want you there. I"ll tell them," he nodded at the Consulate behind the fence, "about you. You don"t deserve the invitation of your father."
      "You son of a bitch, you won"t tell anything to anyone. You"ll keep quiet about me like you will about the gold and diamonds you plan to smuggle to Israel. They," Benjamin nodded to the Consulate building, "need me much more than you. It is not my father who invited me to the country, but Phillips Petroleum. Unlike you crook, I"m a professional, an engineer. I have six patents for inventions. I"m about to bring my talent to the country, and you are taking just your shit. And I swear, in Jerusalem I"ll find you and I"ll make you come to the Wall of Mourning every day. And if you won"t grow a bump on your forehead hitting the stones, I"ll put it there myself."
      The expensive coat just jerked with his shoulders again and hid his head deeper into the collar.
      "That"s how it is," somebody said, "here we are hated by Russians, there we will be hated by Jews."
      Some other remark followed but it was interrupted by a commotion that started at the head of the line.
      "One at a time, please, one at a time, we have plenty, don"t worry." Somebody was calling for order. Fyodor Andreyevich couldn"t see who it was, but the line came alive and slowly they all moved ahead. In about five minutes he saw a woman standing on the other side of the fence, with a pack of papers in her hands. She passed paper after paper through the bars to people.
      "Take it away." Benjamin said nodding at the invitation which Fyodor Andreyevich still had ready in his hand. "You see, no one is asking for it. Don"t push there, hey you!" Benjamin cried to someone behind.
      Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t see who was pushing, it seemed everyone was. At that moment the steady flow of the crowd drove him to the hands with the papers and, since he still held the invitation and the umbrella in his right hand, he stretched his left one through the bars. At this moment somebody pressed on him and his watch caught on the bar. The bracelet broke and the watch fell on the asphalt. He bent down to pick it up, but more pushing followed, he lost his balance and fell on his hand. When he regained his upright position he found himself far from the bars, among people with the papers in their hands. They all were driven farther and farther down the street.
      It was a catastrophe, all the day was hopelessly lost. What would he tell Martha Leibovna?
      "Move on, move on!" The militia officer shouted at him and he obediently strolled ahead. He didn"t even look when somebody pulled him by the sleeve.
      "Oh my! Why are you so pale?" It was Benjamin. "Keep your chin up, I grabbed one for you. Here you are." He gave him an application form. "Don"t yawn next time when Jews are around."
      "Thanks. Thank you very much." Fyodor Andreyevich said, looking up in Benjamin"s eyes. The eyes were blue; they were smiling back.
      "Let"s get out of this place. It stinks." Benjamin walked along the street scanning the application form on the way. Fyodor Andreyevich followed. He was full of gratitude towards the man and was looking for better words to express it.
      "Bureaucrats!" Benjamin said. "This is the same form, just in a different format."
      He stopped, opened the attaché case, and slid the paper inside.
      "It"s time for lunch." he said. "Do you know a good place to eat?"
      "There is a new cooperative café on the Sadovaya. Not too far from here."
      "Oh no, I don"t want to support those New Russians. Let"s try something for normal people. There was a good Pelmennaya café not too far from the Kiev Railway Station."
      "You mean the one on the prospect?"
      "Yes, is it still there?"
      The mentioning of the Russian type of ravioli made Fyodor Andreyevich realize how hungry he was. He visualized a hot steamy plate of pelmeny sprinkled with black pepper with vinegar poured over it.
      "Great idea." he said. "I think it is."
      They took the Metro and about a quarter of an hour later, walked into the café. It was about two o"clock, after lunch time, but most of the spaces around the high tables were occupied. It didn"t take long to wait in the line. They brought their trays to the table in the corner that was abandoned by a company of a few men just a minute ago.
      Benjamin moved the dirty dishes closer to the woman who had just arrived to put them into the cart which she rolled in between the tables.
      "Hey, Mother, bring us a clean glass, please." Benjamin said.
      "Will you leave the bottle for me?" the woman asked in a low voice.
      "Sure we will." Benjamin answered.
      The woman left her cart, went somewhere, and in a moment returned with a clean tea glass which she secretly handed to Benjamin. Like in a circus, a bottle of vodka magically appeared in Benjamin"s hands and, holding it under the table, he poured the liquor into the glass.
      "Let"s drink for our acquaintance." Benjamin said. "You first. Go ahead." He put the glass that was filled up to the brim in front of Fyodor Andreyevich.
      The last time Fyodor Andreyevich drank alcohol it was with his father-in-law. A full glass of vodka he hadn"t tried since the time when he was a student. He never drank in places where it was illegal, though he knew that that was pretty normal for people of the working class who couldn"t afford doing it in bars and restaurants. Benjamin, certainly, acted like one of those workers. Though it was normal for him, Fyodor Andreyevich felt very strange, but at the same time, he didn"t want to upset his new friend.
      "Go on, what are you waiting for?" Benjamin encouraged him.
      "May we drink it slowly?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked.
      "What"s the point? We"ll drink it down anyway. Do it, you see, the grandma is waiting."
      The woman with the cart, truly, hesitated at the next table, wiping its surface with a rug.
      Fyodor Andreyevich narrowed his eyes and, trying not to smell what he was drinking, finished the glass in a few large gulps.
      "Take a pickle. Yes, there you go." Benjamin instructed, seeing how Fyodor Andreyevich was biting on a wrinkled pickle trying to extinguish the fire in his mouth.
      Satisfied with his new friend"s behavior, Benjamin poured the same glass for himself and drank the vodka like water, not grimacing even a little.
      "That"s for you, mother, he said giving the bottle with some vodka still left in it to the woman with the cart that happened to be right next to him."
      "Thank you, sons," she said and disappeared behind the kitchen doors.
      "What does she need the empty bottle for?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked coming to himself.
      "You really don"t know?" Benjamin answered with his mouth full. "You can"t buy a bottle of vodka nowadays, if you don"t bring an empty one to trade."
      Fyodor Andreyevich chewed his pelmeny feeling warm waves spreading all over his body. He looked at Benjamin with love thinking what a pity it was that the man had to leave Russia. He and Benjamin could have become very good friends. Fyodor Andreyevich could even visit him in Birobidjan. He had never been to the Far East; it could have been a great journey. It occurred to him that he"d never had such a friend before. Piotr, yes, he was a good friend, but he was always cautious, always had something to hide. Benjamin was frank and open, he could say what he thought, and Fyodor Andreyevich liked it.
      Suddenly he felt like his soul had elevated and a desire to do something good came to him. He even wanted to read some poetry out loud. The first lines of Poe"s "Raven" started swirling in his mind, but he remembered only the first two or three verses. After all, it was ridiculous to read English poetry in Pelmennaya.
      That"s just the vodka playing with my head, he thought and commanded himself to return to his senses.
      "Good." Benjamin said. "I will miss it."
      "Maybe it is not too bad," Fyodor Andreyevich proposed. "Maybe you just experienced some kind of shock. I mean that hatred that you felt towards the people in the line. Actually, they are pretty normal. It is common for everyone to worry when leaving the country."
      He avoided saying Jews, but Benjamin just smirked at his courteousness.
      "You mean the kikes," he asked. "No, it is not a shock like you said. Someone said that he was squeezing a slave out of himself drop by drop."
      "That was Chekhov." Fyodor Andreyevich inserted.
      "Right, I was squeezing a kike out of myself drop by drop for years. To be a kike is worth much more than being a slave. Had my daughter not been sick, I would never leave Russia. I"m not a perfect Russian but, at least, I am not a Jew."
      "Okay, let"s talk about it. Tell me why you don"t like the Jews?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked. He suddenly felt that he could convince Benjamin that all people are good in general. He didn"t have a certain idea about the Jews; he never thought he would ever defend them, but he was eager to start. He felt that he could somehow be an advocate to the nonbelievers.
      "Cut it out, you won"t be able to understand it. You are not a Jew and I would never discuss it with a Russian. Don"t take it as an insult. It is just between me and them." Benjamin said. "Let"s talk about something else. You said your friend is leaving for Israel. She what - doesn"t have any relatives? Why did she ask you to go for the application?"
      "I am a relative." Fyodor Andreyevich said, dispatching another piece of pelmeny into his mouth.
      "Wait a minute, you said you are a friend of hers."
      "Actually, I"m both. She is my mother-in-law, ex-mother-in-law." he corrected himself.
      "You mean, you divorced your wife, her daughter?"
      Fyodor Andreyevich just nodded his head.
      "What the hell? Then why won"t her daughter take care of her? She"s what, already in Israel?"
      "No, in America. There is no way to take her straight there."
      "And your mother-in-law wants to go to Israel alone? At sixty-five-years old?"
      "Yes," Fyodor Andreyevich answered.
      "She is out of her mind. It will be much harder to make it to America from there. Listen, being here she has the chance that Americans will take her as a refugee. They will never give her that status if she is in Israel."
      For a moment Fyodor Andreyevich considered what Benjamin said.
      "She had already decided. At her age, you know..." Fyodor Andreyevich suddenly felt very sad. A tear unexpectedly rolled down his cheek and he brushed it off with his fist. "You know," he said, gaining more strength. "She was a field nurse in the war. She dragged wounded soldiers by herself from combat, under fire, risking her own life. Nine of them survived, they sent her cards and letters. Then she continued to study at Medical School and, after graduation, she started work as a pediatric surgeon in Moscow. In 1953, when Stalin wanted to exterminate Jews, they fired her. She was sent to some factory to fold cardboard boxes. Children needed a doctor and she, an experienced doctor, was folding boxes. Then Stalin died, they took her back at the hospital. Recently she told me that she tried to forget it, and she did, but now she often recalls the time. She is scared, she remembers people believed in what the newspapers were saying about Jews then. She thinks that it all could happen again. Some villain drew the Star of David with nasty yellow paint on her door a month ago. She can"t wait to go to Israel."
      "Hmm-m. Hell, what"s a country." Benjamin said - more a statement than a question. "Hey, brother, he addressed a man in a shabby cap at the nearby table. "Is there a beer house around here?"
      "A couple of blocks," the man said, "to the left. You"ll see it there."
      "Let"s go, Fyodor. This is a good time to put away a couple of beers."
      Something told Fyodor Andreyevich that drinking beer after the glass of vodka could be critical for him, but the thought was weak and he didn"t pay much attention to it. Presently, it seemed to him that everyone in the café was a little bit drunk. While he was walking to the entrance after Benjamin, people smiled at him, some guy told a joke about the way he walked, and those who heard it laughed. A pleasant lightness filled Fyodor Andreyevich"s body, he was following his friend to take a walk to the nearby beer house. He felt like a university student again.
      When they reached the doors somebody said, "Hey, he dropped his umbrella." Benjamin stopped to pick up the umbrella from the floor and, followed by laughter, they walked out to the broad avenue, to the fresh air under bright white clouds in the cold blue sky.
      "Are you all right? Sure you want some beer?" Benjamin asked looking into his face.
      "Yes, I"m all right. Better than ever." Fyodor Andreyevich said taking his umbrella from Benjamin.
      "Well, let"s go then."
      Beer houses were the last places in Moscow Fyodor Andreyevich would ever go on his own. He always avoided even walking by them. Like liquor stores, the places were surrounded with drunkards who looked at him as if it were he who made their life so unhappy. Once he saw a gang of lads with swollen faces and wild eyes run out of the entrance of a beer house. They chased another guy who wasn"t different from them in any way. They ran him down after a hundred yards, he fell on the pavement, and they started to beat him with their feet, paying no attention to the people around. No, he would never go to such a place by himself, but with Benjamin he would go to the edge of the Earth.
      "Here it is." Benjamin said when they reached the next corner.
      The beer house was a construction of wood, glass, and yellow plastic panels. It stood in the middle of a large courtyard next to an old tree that provided shade to the place. The working day was not yet over but, nevertheless, there were plenty of people inside. The place looked like the café they had left just a few minutes ago. It had the same high positioned tables, though it was much dirtier.
      "Want some smoked fish with your beer?" A small man of uncertain age asked, approaching them. His weathered face was covered with a net of wrinkles.
      "What kind do you have?" Benjamin asked.
      "Stavrida." The man answered, unwrapping a newspaper parcel soaked with oil that he held in his hands. "Just five rubles a piece. You won"t find it in stores."
      "Then where did you get it?"
      "My wife is a store clerk." The man smiled slyly.
      "I"ll pay for it." Fyodor Andreyevich rushed to say. He took out his wallet and found a ten ruble bill in it. "Two please."
      "Okay." Benjamin said. "You settle here at this table, and I"ll go hunt for beer mugs." He left Fyodor Andreyevich with the man, who took another folded newspaper from his pocket, put it on the table and placed two brown fat smelly fish on it.
      Fyodor Andreyevich hooked his umbrella handle on a metal bar under the table and looked for Benjamin. Soon he saw him browsing from one table to another, asking people if they might have a mug free soon. One mug was already in his hands. In a moment somebody stretched him a glass container from sauerkraut and Benjamin went to the vending machine where he splashed the mug and container with water and filled them up with beer.
      Caps of foam crowned the mugs. The beer was cold, Fyodor Andreyevich felt how thirsty he was. This will certainly kill me, he thought gulping the beer. His head was full of noise, everything in his view was unstable, he felt drunk.
      I don"t mind dying, he thought. If I"m predestined to die anyway, why don"t I die right here while I"m so happy?
      He put the mug on the table and smiled broadly.
      Benjamin was busy cutting the fish in pieces with his pocket knife. A company of some guys played a strange game not too far from them. They put a bottle of Port on the ground letting anyone hit it from five meters away with a ruble coin. They promised to give the bottle away to the one who could hit the target, and collected those coins which missed it to buy more beer. A couple of men tried, but couldn"t make it. Fyodor Andreyevich thought that the coin had to be thrown a bit differently, he even felt a call to try, but at that moment Benjamin moved the newspaper with fish toward him and asked,
      "Why did you divorce?"
      "She found another man." Fyodor Andreyevich said and realized that for the first time he called Valerii a man. "Not a man at all!" he cried in despair crashing the table with his fist. The mugs jumped all over the table but, fortunately, no beer was spilled.
      "Hey you, easy." somebody said and Benjamin briefly apologized for his friend.
      "So, you live alone?"
      "Yes," Fyodor Andreyevich answered, "Most of the time. Do you want me to tell you about it?" he asked, burning with the desire to tell Benjamin all about his unfortunate family life.
      "If you feel like it." Benjamin shrugged his shoulders. "Though, not here, later. Better eat the fish, it is good."
      The fish, true, was good. They pulled the skin off the pieces, spat tiny bones on the newspaper, drank more and more beer. Fyodor Andreyevich tried to tell at least something about Victoria, how smart she was, how she helped him in his work, but something vital, Fyodor Andreyevich couldn"t get what, was missing from the story. "I"ll tell you later, I"ll tell it to you once again, when I"m not as drunk," he repeated, sipping his beer.
      More and more people were arriving at the place. It became noisy. There was a lack of mugs, and the friends were constantly asked would they be done soon. "No, we"ll drink another one," Benjamin would answer, and they traveled to the vending machine again and again.
      Then something happened among the players with the bottle of Port. Fyodor Andreyevich heard the chime of a coin against the glass, loud arguments, and cursing. He saw how a long-haired fellow hit some other man with his fist. The latter flew right to their table and Fyodor Andreyevich tried to help him get up. But the man suddenly jumped from the floor and rushed to the one who hit him. Fyodor Andreyevich tried to hold the man, but at this moment someone else rudely grabbed him from behind. He felt the hood of his warm China jacket torn out. When he found it on the floor, a good half of the beer house was fighting. Somebody pushed a table and a big glass wall that provided a view to the trees outside broke into pieces.
      "It"s time to leave," Benjamin said, wiping his hands with newspaper. "Militia will start taking rights and wrongs in a minute. I"ll get your umbrella. Let"s go." He grabbed Fyodor Andreyevich"s hand and pulled him to the doors through which most of the beer drinkers were escaping.
      Outside they heard sirens. A patrol jeep appeared on the street. Everything faded in Fyodor Andreyevich"s eyes. He felt himself falling to the ground.
      He came to his senses in a dark room. Lying in bed, he blinked his eyes, trying to understand where he was. Some voices were heard. They sounded familiar, but Fyodor Andreyevich couldn"t recall to whom they belonged. His head was splitting with pain, his mouth was as dry as a desert.
      He made a supreme effort and got onto his feet. Wobbling on the way he walked to the strip of light under the door. He pulled the door handle to start his search for water in that unfamiliar place.
      The place became familiar when he saw Martha Leibovna and Benjamin sitting in front of one another, talking. A bottle of cognac and two glasses stood in between them. That was the same bottle from which he had poured the last drink for his father-in-law a few years ago.
      The scene was crazy. Fyodor Andreyevich thought that it was a dream.
      "Fyodor Andreyevich," his mother-in-law said, "would you please go put your pants on. I need to talk to you. Your friend Benjamin has kindly invited me to join his family on their way to Israel."
      * * *
      They never made it. A month later, Benjamin with his family had left for Israel without Martha Leibovna. Since Benjamin had no relatives in Moscow, Martha Leibovna asked him and his family to stay with her for a few weeks.
      As a doctor, Martha Leibovna confirmed that, yes, the surgery on his daughter"s eye had to be performed as soon as possible, otherwise, the child would lose her vision in the eye forever. The other eye of the girl was heavenly blue, she had fluffy blond hair, and she was lively and playful like most kids. Katherine, Benjamin"s wife, was a small quiet woman, a real Russian beauty with gracious shoulders and a long rich braid. Looking at Katherine, Martha Leibovna tried not to think of what was waiting for her in Israel.
      Benjamin would go somewhere during the days. At night, he and Martha Leibovna would sit in the kitchen talking for long hours. What were they talking about, Fyodor Andreyevich had never learned. Unlike before, Martha Leibovna didn"t tell him what had been discussed between her and her guest. His mother-in-law would just say alluding to Benjamin: "That is a man, a real man, I can tell. Lucky was his precious wife to marry him."
      While baby-sitting her daughter, Katherine never had her hands resting. The large apartment became clean and shiny like never before. She was a skillful tailor and Martha Leibovna asked her to take a look at a few expensive suites and dresses that, for the last year because of all the worry, became too wide. Katherine, took a few pins into her mouth and a measuring tape in her hands, and in a couple of days Martha Leibovna"s clothes were adjusted to her new size so well, that it seemed she just had brought them from the store.
      It wasn"t Benjamin who talked Martha Leibovna out of going to Israel. He was ready to take care of her not only on the way, but also in Jerusalem. He even called his brother in Israel to find another apartment in the same area as for his own family. The paperwork for Martha Leibovna was almost completed. She already started to think how, and to whom she would sell the things she couldn"t take with her, but at that time a very unexpected event interrupted the plans.
      It was a telephone call from the American Embassy. Martha Leibovna first thought that somebody was playing a bad joke on her. A woman with a slight foreign accent was inviting her to come for an interview regarding refugee status for which she applied almost a year ago.
      Herself Martha Leibovna had never sent such a plea. It was Victoria, who in her desperate attempts to leave Russia, tried all possible ways. Martha Leibovna was aware of the thousands of applications of that kind. They were collected in wooden sealed boxes that had been placed next to the American Embassy. It was hard to believe that the pathetic application would ever be considered.
      Talking to the woman, Martha Leibovna was furious. She was just about to tell the prankster to stop scamming her, that in couple of weeks she would leave for Israel, but the lady read her a contact number where she could call if by some reason she wouldn"t be able to show up on the appointed day. The first digits of the number were of the American Embassy.
      "Never tell them a word about Israel." Benjamin said firmly. "Forget about it."
      Martha Leibovna sat pale and drained on the sofa. Life was rolling new waves of worry onto her. She wanted Benjamin to call the contact number to double check about the day of the interview. He did, and, certainly, everything was like the lady said.
      She had to call Victoria to tell her about the news, but it was only four in the morning by Central Time. Martha Leibovna could not wait two more hours. After all, good news deserves to be delivered without delay.
      Victoria was awakened by the call. She said that she was not surprised, that it was she who bombarded the officials in Washington with her inquiries about the refugee status of her mother, that the officials, couldn"t ignore her letters, and now everything must be all right.
      That"s a lie, Fyodor Andreyevich realized when Martha Leibovna had exuberantly told him Victoria"s response. In America Victoria developed a habit which he didn"t like at all. Trying to keep all that was going on around her under control, she had Valerii and Natasha believe that all good things were coming their way thanks to her. Martha Leibovna was the third person to accept the myth, and by her reaction Fyodor Andreyevich could see that she didn"t mind yielding the leadership to her daughter.
      Himself he felt the change in his ex-wife the moment they met him at the O"Hara International. Valerii, who, when leaving Russia, nervously played a man of responsibility, now was all eyes and ears waiting for Victoria"s directives. Fyodor Andreyevich couldn"t understand, either the Methodologist became thinner, or Victoria herself grew larger in size. Valerii was dressed in things that, though being new, made him look weird. The sleeves of his jacket were short and he periodically pulled them down on his wrists. His jeans also had to be longer to make the owner more of a man. Under his jacket, Valerii wore one of those discolored shirts which he brought from Russia.
      Victoria, on the contrary, provided quite an impression, reminding Fyodor Andreyevich of Martha Leibovna in her best years. She walked with the same firm steps, her raincoat and purse were of a rich lady. The diamond ring, once presented by her father, sparkled on her hand. She spoke Russian in a clear loud voice just as she spoke for students in her Russian class, and that, though it was quite unnatural, worked for her domination.
      Valerii"s speech became corrupted, when talking, he was constantly mixing English and Russian words and that was annoying. It occurred to Fyodor Andreyevich that Victoria purposely maintained the childish air in her husband to look better then him, but he cast the thought off like something unpleasant.
      His astonishment increased when he saw the car Valerii pulled up to the doors. It was a sleek and shiny Lexus which only Mafia bosses used to ride in Moscow. Fyodor Andreyevich involuntarily inquired about the price, but Victoria just waved with her hand saying, "You better not ask."
      That all pricked his eyes, but it was not his ex-wife and her husband he flew for ten hours to see. For the past two and half years, Natasha had been growing. She still was the same skinny girl with angular movements, but he could foresee in her a tall slender beauty with silky hair and large liquid eyes like her Mom"s. He was eager to talk to her, but he left it for later. Presently, sitting in the back seat of the car which rapidly ran along some broad freeway, he pressed Natasha to himself and answered her questions about toys, souvenirs, and other trifles which he brought for her from home. He enjoyed being with her, listening to her voice, smelling her hair which was so dear to him.
      They arrived at some apartment complex and drove to a building lost among the others. Valerii was told to bring his suitcases to the second floor, and, at last, the door behind them was closed. He found himself in a place that he had to share with his ex-wife and her husband for the two months.
      Natasha rushed to show him her room with a large TV which she immediately turned on bringing some cartoons on the screen, but Victoria said that they would have plenty of time for that, and now, the adults needed to talk.
      Victoria led Fyodor Andreyevich into the third bedroom which served as her study. That room had become his dwelling and he liked it. The familiar books on shelves reminded him of his own home. A couple of kitsch paintings on the walls which Valerii brought from Moscow, had to be taken away, but he decided to ask that some other time. He thanked Victoria for taking time to care for him and prepared himself to listen to what she was about to say.
      For a while Victoria just sat in her leather chair, slightly rocking, looking at him as if she was thinking about what kind of cloths she needed to put on her ex-husband to introduce him to her society. That was the wrong impression. She didn"t want to introduce him to anyone at all. To his surprise, she said that his visit would be surrounded with secrecy. The Jewish Community which sponsored their arrival into the United States could hardly understand the purchase of the expensive car, no matter that it was bought with the funds Victoria received from the Sate to continue her education. The sponsors proved to be nosey enough controlling the life of the 3 families that arrived in America on the money they had provided. Their pesky supervision was tiresome. Victoria even had to open another checking account in a bank which didn"t provide any information to outsiders. The sponsors didn"t expect Victoria and Valerii, who still used their support, to invite guests from Russia.
      "Why?" Fyodor Andreyevich frowned. "I came here at my own expense."
      "That"s exactly what I don"t want them to know." Victoria said. "Please understand. They accepted us as refugees, as people in need. How will I explain to them that a relative of mine has enough money for the trip? They would ask why ten didn"t the relative help you? Why did you ask for our aid? That"s what they"ll ask. They will also ask for all the information on you, and I don"t want them to know that both, my present and my ex-husband, reside with me in the same apartment."
      "But what do you want me to do?" Fyodor Andreyevich exclaimed. "To live here incognito, as a Russian spy?"
      "Not at all. Don"t dramatize the situation, please. I keep everything under control. There are enough Russians in this town. I can always introduce you as one of Valerii"s friends."
      "That means that to support the legend I will have to show up with you only in his presence."
      "Well, my darling, you know that he is my husband. That"s essential."
      He didn"t want to argue with her. He asked Victoria to show him the town, and they all set off for a ride.
      In fact, it wasn"t that painful. Fyodor Andreyevich learned to be tolerant to the Methodologist, even conversed with him once in a while, never friendly though, always maintaining a distance.
      He could hardly understand Valerii who was taking couple of classes at the University, but spent most of his days at home or in the library reading periodic Russian magazines and daily newspapers which hit the mail with a two week delay. Valerii tried to discuss with Fyodor Andreyevich current issues in Russian politics or the Chechen War, but the guest wouldn"t even hear it. Recognizing a familiar name in a newspaper Valerii would exclaim that he had known the person very well, that in the past they were members of the same organizations, even good friends. A sentimental smile would appear on his face and his eyes would water, as if some very dear, unforgettable reminiscence had passed across his mind. He would lay the newspaper aside and pace about the room to and fro exclaiming, "Some day, some day I will return to Russia."
      Victoria and Valerii lived with a constant lack of money, which they considered pretty normal for the situation they were in. The Jewish Community promised to provide them with jobs. Eventually, a part time position for a Russian Language Teacher had been found for Victoria in the University. To keep it, she had to take evening classes to confirm her Master degree. The student loan provided by the State helped a lot, but they were still using the support of the sponsors. It was much harder to find a job for Valerii. In his resume he claimed himself as a specialist in Russian Politics and Contemporary Russian Culture, providing a long list of organizations he used to be a participant of. In the field Desirable Position, he wrote: "Consultant for a large company involved with international trade in countries of the former Soviet Union." Of course, such a position was not available at first demand. The sponsors timidly offered him a list of some other jobs, but Valerii proudly replied that as a professional, he couldn"t afford wasting his expertise.
      That dialogue was repeatedly replayed at home. Acting for himself and for the elders of the community, putting a small black hat of an Orthodox Jew on and taking it off, Valerii plunged Victoria and Natasha into hilarious laughter. He made faces and changed his voice to bring up the reaction of the elders who, true, believed in his outstanding experience.
      Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t even ask why the Methodologist hadn"t got some job at a restaurant, or at a gas station. Once and for all it was explained by Victoria that as soon as her husband would get a job, the sponsors would stop the support. The miserable five bucks per hour on which Valerii could count, wouldn"t help them much. More than that, the elders would consider the question closed and would stop searching for him a good job.
      Though the explanation wasn"t senseless, Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t like it at all. Anyway, it wasn"t his business.
      He spent much time with Natasha. Mornings he took his daughter to school, then he roamed the town in Valerii"s shabby Thunderbird killing time until three in the afternoon. About four they were back home to have a snack and to do something together.
      He had mixed feelings about the life of his daughter. He fell in love with the country and with the town she lived in. Distinguished, with some kind of a provincial air, it was populated with very friendly people. The town was clean, there were neither drunkards or punks on the street and neither were there kiosks selling pornography that had made him hate Moscow. The stores were full of goodies at affordable prices. The gasoline was so cheap that even students didn"t restrict their trips. On the other side of this abundant life he also found many factors that made him really sad.
      First at all, he absolutely disliked the public school program. In sixth grade, Natasha studied what Russian kids were supposed to study in the third grade. Subjects like Biology, Chemistry and Physics were combined into one science class where none of those were studied thoroughly. Math problems which Natasha used to bring for homework were just ridiculous. All of Natasha"s homework could be completed in thirty minutes, instead of the two or three hours customary for a Russian student. There were no special classes for Literature and History. Students weren"t provided with a list of books to read while on vacation.
      "Don"t they require you to memorize poetry?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked in disbelief.
      "Never." Natasha answered with a smile.
      "How about a foreign language class? Maybe it"ll start next year?"
      "I could take French, but I took the Art class instead."
      That was very disappointing. "This is impossible," he told Victoria, "we have to do something. They just don"t want to work. They make idiots of kids. Can"t we find some other school for Natasha? One with a more intensive program?"
      "Some private schools have more complex programs, but they are expensive. I can"t afford it." Victoria answered, grading works of her own students.
      "In Russia, Natasha could receive a much better education." Fyodor Andreyevich said.
      "Do you want her to go back to Russia?" Victoria asked, not taking her eyes off the papers.
      "No. But we have to figure out what to do. Think about it. She is in the sixth grade and she has never written a composition on a novel. Two years ago, I could speak with her about Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, now she doesn"t even understand what I am talking about. Yesterday I read to her Pushkin poetry and found that she can hardly remember what some of the words mean. Her Russian vocabulary is deteriorating."
      "Don"t worry about that. We speak Russian at home."
      "It is not enough. The conversational language you use is rather poor and I find that Valerii speaks his incorrect English when he talks to Natasha. That"s even more unbearable."
      "Listen, don"t make a problem out of that. After all, this country produces outstanding scholars, most of whom graduated from public schools."
      "An outstanding, or a gifted person doesn"t need to be forced to study. He has the lust for it in his bones. But if you would let an average person waste his or her time when young, you will get nothing but a narrow-minded consumer. Do you want Natasha to become one of those Wal-Mart customers?"
      Valerii appeared at the door with his Russian magazine in hand.
      "I totally agree with you, Fyodor Andreyevich, that the American public school system needs significant improvement, but I absolutely disagree with what you are saying about your daughter. I would rather define her as an above average girl. She has a keen mind and a very good sense of humor. Yes, she experiences some problems - she has difficulty making friends, but this only proves her high development as a person. In fact, her way of thinking is comparable to a girl at least three years older than she is."
      Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t like the interruption.
      "Valerii," he said, trying to sound very serious. "You and Victoria have to understand that Natasha is just a child. I have noticed that you don"t restrict yourself when discussing subjects which should not be discussed in Natasha"s presence. I found that you, Victoria, recommended that Natasha read Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher. That was a big mistake."
      "Why? The book is about the problems of adolescent girls. It is very useful reading." Victoria said with a smirk.
      "The book is written for adults, and Natasha is not yet a teenager. The attitude expressed by the author about the life of young girls is very suspicious, but Natasha might take it for the right one."
      "In what way is the attitude suspicious? The book is a national bestseller. What did you find wrong with it?"
      "First of all the attitude toward virginity. Nowhere in the book did I find virginity to be the most sacred possession of a young woman, a precious gift to be delivered to her one and only beloved spouse. The author, probably, had never read Tolstoy who said that virginity is the highest state of a woman. Instead, your Mary Pipher considers virginity as something disturbing, something which a girl has to get rid of as painlessly as possible. Instead of persuading girls to read classical literature on which generations of women have grown to become carriers of basic moral principles, she is ready to send them all to classes for self-defense training. The story about a girl who was attracted more to women than to men ends up with the author"s advice (please notice that she considers herself to be a therapist) to introduce the girl to a lesbian community. I swear, if such a therapist gave that advice to my daughter, I would strangle her with my own hands.
      "Sure you would!" Victoria laughed. She laughed even more when Valerii made an ugly face and demonstrated with his hands how a furious father would choke a therapist.
      "Young man," Fyodor Andreyevich said in a stern voice. "I"m very familiar with your tendency to laugh at people. I sincerely ask you to never make me a subject of your ridicule. For now, I need your apology."
      He probably had a bad look at this moment because Victoria stopped laughing and cast a brief angry glance at her husband.
      "Okay," Valerii said, "I really didn"t want to hurt you. I just found what you said a bit funny." He changed his tone and continued. "Believe me, dear Fyodor Andreyevich, what you say cannot be understood in contemporary America. Your opinion is a little bit out of date. I have noticed that you have a very negative attitude toward gays and lesbians, for example, but this is a free country. People here are tolerant toward each other; you will have to learn to be tolerant too."
      "Excuse me, I"m not in the mood to discuss the problems you have mentioned." Fyodor Andreyevich said, regaining his normal state. "I want to speak with you both about Natasha. It is understandable that in this country you found yourself among people of a different culture, with different values. I can see that you all feel much better being together at home. Your family ties, your attachment to each other, became much stronger than it was in Russia. Nevertheless, you two adults make a mistake in treating Natasha as an equal to yourselves. Accept her into your adult world, but you have to understand that she is still a child. A vulnerable child whose psychology, whose emotions, are still too weak to meet the problems you want her to comprehend. You have to set some limits, at least."
      "Allow me to say that Freud..." Valerii tried to answer, but Fyodor Andreyevich lifted his hand stopping him.
      "Please, don"t even mention the name of this lunatic in my presence, and," Fyodor Andreyevich paused to make his words sink deeper into Valerii"s mind, "don"t you even dare to apply his Psychoanalysis on Natasha. I want to ask you for one simple, but important, favor. Don"t ever try to convince Natasha that she is special in some areas. Please, treat her like a normal girl, which she really is."
      "But she is not devoid of talent." Victoria said, protesting.
      "Most people have talents, but it doesn"t mean that you have to discriminate against Natasha in favor of her cronies. She, certainly, feels good when you praise her abilities at home, but she will have to live in the outside world."
      "Fyodor is right." Victoria said returning to her work.
      Valerii was eager to say something else but the discussion was closed.
      For the rest of the day, Fyodor Andreyevich felt triumphant. At last he could show them that he would not tolerate the status of a poor relative, who was indulgently invited to visit the family in America. He had his opinion and he didn"t hesitate to let them know it. He also felt content with the fact that Victoria not only agreed with what he said about Natasha, but also made Valerii apologize for the impudent mischief the Methodologist allowed himself. Never before had Victoria defended him against Valerii. At last the time had come. The man had been shown his place.
      That last thought, however, played a devious trick. That very night Fyodor Andreyevich found himself in close company with Valerii locked in Victoria"s walk in closet. The place for them both had been found without hesitation when Natasha reported that some authority from the Jewish Community had pulled into their driveway. It was too late to escape and Victoria ordered them both to hide in the closet. She told them to be quiet, and locked the door with the latch on her side. Fyodor Andreyevich could understand the necessity to hide him in a case like that, but why Valerii was hidden from the visitor remained a mystery.
      In the closet they stood face to face, listening to the muffled voices. The air was stuffy; it smelled like the thrift store where Victoria often shopped for clothes. Valerii whispered a story about how the visitor, the devil take him, once made a great scandal of a Christmas tree he found in some other Russian-Jewish family, but Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t listen. He thought about Natasha who knew that they both, two adult men, were hiding in the closet. Natasha, too, had been involved in the vaudeville conspiracy, and that was awful.
      Nevertheless, in the whole, his trip was magnificent. In the United States he had often been thinking about the unfortunate fate of Russia. Once he even spoke about it with Victoria. He wanted her to imagine Russia which by some reason avoided Bolshevik"s Revolution, the Russia where some democratic Government took over the situation, the Russia of Stolipin"s dreams.
      "Stolipin? You mean the Czar"s Prime Minister, the one who was assassinated in the theater."
      "Yes, exactly. Piotr Stolipin dreamed of creating a Russian version of the United States." Fyodor Andreyevich said. "He even invited a delegation of American farmers to visit Russia to share their experience. Though, they never came."
      "It was the time of Jewish pogroms. Americans rejected the invitation. This way they supported Jews who were denied of their civil rights in Russia. Could you imagine what a country Russia could become if it would chose a little different way? How rich and beautiful it could be."
      "Well, maybe." Victoria shrugged her shoulders. "Why don"t you speak about it with Valerii. He"ll be very glad to."
      Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t want to talk to Valerii at all. Being afraid that Victoria would bring the conversation up in the evening, just to make them both busy, he stopped at the stadium and bought two tickets to the baseball game.
      That was another startling experience. He found the game pretty boring, but the audience gave him an incredible impression. The people at the stadium were like members of a large family that gathered for the reunion. It seemed they new each other very well. They joined in the singing of the Anthem before the game started and Fyodor Andreyevich saw an expression of real patriotism in their eyes. He couldn"t imagine Russians singing the Anthem of the Soviet Union with faces like that. In the old, pre revolutionary Russia, where the national anthem was "God Save the Tsar" it was possible, but never in the Soviet Union.
      When the game was over the fireworks started. The rockets erupted in the dark sky right above the field. The colorful noisy performance lasted for about quarter of an hour. When it came to the end, the people started to chant "We want more! We want more!"
      To Fyodor Andreyevich surprise more thunder bolts followed and more and more rockets lightened the sky, and he thought bitterly that, in his country, one can yell to hoarseness with his voice never to receive more than it was prescribed.
      * * *
      He even startled a bit recalling the eruptions of the fireworks in the black sky, people around shouting in excitement, the happy eyes of Natasha who was yelling exuberantly with the others greeting each new colorful bouquet of glittering and sparkling lights.
      He shook his head trying to get rid of the flickering on the edge of his vision, but it didn"t stop, it filled up the rear view mirror and turned to the demanding green and blue lights of a police cruiser which was following him.
      Fyodor Andreyevich checked the speedometer arm which was still pointing at one mile above the speed limit, and gently pressed on the break pedal.
      What the hell is it? He thought pulling to the curb.
      Remembering Victoria"s instruction he lowered the side window and keeping his hands on the steering wheel waited. Almost for a minute the officer remained seated in his car. To get rid of annoyance that gradually started to take over him, Fyodor Andreyevich took a few deep breaths. It helped.
      Another police car stopped behind the first one, then the doors of both opened simultaneously. Two officers in black glasses emerged and slowly walked to him keeping right hands somewhere at their backs.
      "Good morning, what can I do for you?" Fyodor Andreyevich said in the friendliest voice before any of them had uttered a word.
      "May I see your driver"s license and the insurance verification, please." Said the first one looking steadily in Fyodor Andreyevich eyes with his black opaque shades.
      "Sure. Here you are. The insurance is not in my name. This is a rental car. And my Drivers License. It is from Russia, though it is legal for use in the U.S."
      "I see." The officer murmured studying the document which was in Russian and French.
      "By you accent I could tell that you are not from Texas." The other officer chuckled.
      "Y-all, peoples, always try to make fun of my tongue." Fyodor Andreyevich said trying to sound like a Texan, and both the officers smiled, the second one almost laughed.
      "What"s up, did I do something wrong? I tried to be good."
      "Where are you heading?" The first one asked trying to maintain an official tone.
      "Actually, back to Russia." Fyodor Andreyevich answered. "I just wanted to see the Ocean first. I"ve never seen it before. May I?"
      "Do you think you are quite all right?" The first officer asked. He still was holding the Drivers License open in his hand.
      "I"m as all right as a Russian tourist in the middle of Texas could be." Fyodor Andreyevich assured him. "Why do you ask?"
      "Well, the State Highway Patrol received a call from some person. They were told that the driver of this car is in state of violent derangement."
      "Excuse me, could you please say it in some other words?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked.
      "In the state of high agitation, very nervous." The officer said staring at him intently.
      "I bet it was my ex-wife. Do I really look that bad?"
      "Not at all to me?" The first officer answered and the other one nodded confirming. "Here is your Drivers License. You may go to see the Ocean. Stop at the rest area as soon as you feel fatigued, and... welcome to Texas." The first officer returned him his papers.
      "Dosvidania." The other officer said his good bye in Russian and went to his car.
      "Dosvidania!" Fyodor Andreyevich cried back and asked the first one who also was on his way. "Excuse me what was the word you said, I mean about my state?"
      "Violent derangement." The officer said on the way. "Forget about it."
      For a while both police sedans followed him on the road, as if checking on his driving, than one after another they passed him on the left and speeded to the horizon.
      Fyodor Andreyevich took a deep breath. He reached for his bag that lay on the passenger seat, fumbled inside and pulled out the Dictionary. It took less than a minute to find the definition for "derangement." He tossed the dictionary back into the bag.
      Victoria"s English was way better than his. Though, maybe she named it some other way, he didn"t ask the policeman what exactly she had said.
      Suddenly he realized that Victoria"s trick didn"t work. He hadn"t been handcuffed and taken to an asylum for psychiatric treatment. That"s what she wanted them to do. He chuckled, then laughed, then hit the steering wheel with his fist, and yelled like a cowboy "Yoo-hoo!" The car jerked to another lane, but, fortunately, there was no one there. Fyodor Andreyevich calmed himself down and turned the cruise control on. It was just about eighty miles left to Houston.
      Why did she do that? Maybe being desperate searching for her present husband who escaped with the gun she decided to capture at least her ex one? What for? To lock him up before he escaped to Russia with the shocking secret in his soul? Or did she really want to talk to him that bad? What about? Let her get busy with Valerii. Looks like he is the one in the state of violent derangement. Thank God he left with the gun, not with Natasha.
      That was strange, but the thought of Valerii didn"t evoke any hatred. The guy will probably roam around the town for a while, then, by night, he will be back to Victoria all in tears full of remorse to continue his pitiful existence next to the woman which he adores and fears. How low a man can fall!
      Fyodor Andreyevich smiled bitterly recalling the last days before Victoria"s departure to emigration.
      * * *
      By then everything was uncertain. The visas were issued for Israel. The same country was written in the destination boxes of all the papers. The plan was to apply for the United States residence in Vienna, where the repatriates supposed to have the first stop after crossing the boarder. Would it work or not was totally unknown. No one could understand how the Americans in Rome (the city where those who were unwilling to go to Israel had to wait until their fate was decided) determined who of the immigrants deserve to settle in the United States. Lots of rumors contradicting one another browsed among the people with the same type of visas. According to Victoria, most of them nourished hopes to avoid the country of never ending ethnic conflicts.
      The last stunning news was a story about a young scholar with international recognition who was denied the permanent residence in America for an unknown reason. No explanation had been provided. A few days later, the scholar was deported from Italy to Israel. Another story was about an elderly pensioner who didn"t have any relatives or friends in the United States. Nevertheless, he was politely accepted and in a few weeks settled on the Brighten Beach in the famous Russian Jewish community.
      Victoria didn"t feel affiliation with her Jewish ancestors at all. Her goal, as well as Valerii"s, was to escape from Russia where life, like she said, was becoming more and more unbearable. Victoria was longing for a "normal comfortable life," Valerii mumbled something about a prophet that is never understood in his Fatherland. He still dreamed of becoming an important person next to some "Great of the World." Being not able to achieve the status in Russia, he targeted the United States.
      The relocation to the West wasn"t cheap at all. To Victoria"s and Martha Leibovna"s surprise, just one month before the departure, Valerii was informed that the Supreme Court of the USSR had finally declared him as a sole heir of the money his mother had left for him. The hearings that dragged for the last three years ended just in time. Valerii was extremely proud to be able to support his new family in preparations for the trip. "My family," "In my family," he would repeat in Fyodor Andreyevich"s presence as if trying to pay back for the scornful ignorance with which the ex-husband of Victoria had treated him for years.
      The money didn"t contribute to Valerii"s virtue. To Fyodor Andreyevich he was the same sentimental looser, though, he had to admit it, the only creature of masculine gender with which Natasha had to go abroad. Just because of that Fyodor Andreyevich, once in a while, conversed with the Methodologist. Valerii was eager to discuss the excuses for his leaving the country in which, like he would often say in the resent past, he believed with all his heart. But Fyodor Andreyevich preferred to speak mostly about practical matters. He worried that sooner of later Valerii would receive a Drivers License. He didn"t want the unpredictable schizophrenic to transport his daughter, and, very politely, he asked Valerii to leave it for Victoria who was a pretty cautious driver. Valerii didn"t like the mistrust. He said that he was a good soccer player, that it was natural for him to observe all around, that he rode his bike by ears, that he would be the safest driver, but, nevertheless, Fyodor Andreyevich was insisting on his promise never to give a ride to Natasha. The chat threatened to grow into a quarrel, when Victoria"s interruption put it to an end. Valerii was forced to give the promise and they never spoke about it again.
      Another Fyodor Andreyevich"s concern was Valerii constantly attempted to govern Natasha when she was busy with her homework, reading books, or did anything else in which the Methodologist could see a field for applying his efforts. Valerii eagerly waited for the time when the girl would be able to understand his theories in History, Psychology, and Drama. Fyodor Andreyevich wanted him to stay away of his daughter. He didn"t recognize any pedagogical talents in Valerii.
      That request, however, was irrevocably denied by Victoria. She said that her present husband doesn"t do any harm to Natasha, that she is monitoring everything that goes on between Valerii and her daughter, and that, on the contrary, she thinks that it is very useful for the girl to have the advanced tutoring. After all she was grateful that Valerii took at least that responsibility on himself.
      All those days, Martha Leibovna worried more than anyone else. Fyodor Andreyevich was surprised to find out how many of her friends left for Israel in the last two decades. Martha Leibovna was constantly telling the stories about emigrants. Fyodor Andreyevich unpleasantly impressed with what happened to the family which tried to take the collection of China pieces abroad. A private packer was invited. He appeared with quantities of foam stripes, rubber bands, and boxes of all sizes. The man worked for five or six days wrapping and packing the priceless articles, which with all possible precautions were delivered to custom"s. The custom officers were informed how much it cost to pack the precious things, but it didn"t impress them. All the boxes were opened, all the strings and foam stripes were taken off, and the women of the family, in tears, cursing the officers and Russia, had to pack it all again in the forty minutes which the officials, the merciless beasts, allowed. The officers threatened to throw all the stuff away if the women didn"t make it on time. Of course many of the China pieces were broken on the way.
      Those who were leaving for Israel tried to take with them as much as they could. Repatriates were allowed to fill with their belongings railway containers, one per family. The containers were big enough to transport even a car, but Victoria and Valerii had America in mind. Their luggage had to be as compact as possible and that worried Martha Leibovna immensely. She couldn"t imagine what Victoria with her family would do if the Americans in Rome refused them? With those few personal things which they planned to take it was impossible to live in Israel. Of all their numerous bed accessories they took just one pillow for Natasha. Victoria"s assurance that some divine forces were on her side and Valerii"s bravado (the Methodologist did his best to look like a serious man) couldn"t comfort the elderly woman who became even more older those days.
      Somebody told her a story about a family which arrived in Rome late in the night. They didn"t know the city so they had to spend the night sitting on their bags and suitcases in some park until the dawn when, at last, a policeman appeared and ushered them to the nearby hotel. The policeman was surprised that they hadn"t been robed.
      All of that had terrified Marta Leibovna immensely. She felt sick and abandoned. Instead of the comfort of an American apartment promised to her by Victoria, she foresaw a cold wet grave in a Russian cemetery. Since she didn"t want to upset Victoria, Fyodor Andreyevich became the only one she talk to about her fears and worries.
      Despite everything Fyodor Andreyevich liked Victoria"s mood. Counting mostly on herself she became an organized and energetic woman much different from the obedient phlegmatic girl Fyodor Andreyevich had once married. Even Victoria"s language had changed. It became more businesslike and demanding, especially when she talked on the phone. It seemed she had no problems with anything, so Fyodor Andreyevich tried not to worry about Natasha.
      Feeling the power and confidence radiating from Victoria a few other emigrants had chosen her as a leader. Two of them were a married couple from Saratov who moved to their aunt"s crowded apartment in Moscow to live through the last few days. Another person was a woman about forty years old. She recently buried her husband who suffered from alcoholism. Her life with the man was a never-ending nightmare. The husband used to beat her, he would grab her beautiful hair and drag her over the floor, she showed Victoria the knife scars on her body. Victoria found her karma severely damaged and promised to take care of it. They didn"t have much time for the karma because the woman had many earthly problems that had to be taken care of without delay. A few other emigrants also swirled around Victoria. She constantly talked on the telephone helping to solve different complications of her new friends. The friends would often come around to discuss the trip they all had feared and desired at the same time. It was obvious that they tried to charge themselves with the certainty and faith which Victoria (she had it in abundance) was glad to share with them. Valerii also tried to contribute at least something to the life of the small community. Many of the emigrants had relatives in Israel and in the United States. The relatives were anxious to know how everything was going in the last days. Valerii kindly offered to his new friends to make international calls without restrictions in time from his private telephone in the apartment he rented for his study. The expense he generously took on himself. As it became clear after his departure, the bills had never been paid.
      Those days Fyodor Andreyevich spent much time with Natasha. It was late fall, but due to the circumstances she was out of school. Natasha was excited with the anticipation for seeing Italy, where it was warm and sunny like summer. Victoria told her that they would certainly invite Daddy to America and the girl tried to imagine what they would do together and how the country and the unknown city would look.
      At last, the day of the big Farewell party had come. Actually that was the second one, this time not for relatives, but for friends.
      Fyodor Andreyevich was invited to come at six. He couldn"t stay at home that afternoon. He came to Victoria"s at four and she immediately found work for him to do.
      With Martha Leibovna he was assigned to make salads.
      "I don"t want to gossip, but pay attention to Victoria"s Yoga Instructor that is invited today." Martha Leibovna said peeling the skin off the boiled potatoes.
      "He is her lover." She whispered.
      "Oh my God!" Fyodor Andreyevich cramped his face in disgust. "Why should I know about that?"
      "I thought it would make you feel better."
      "Martha Leibovna, I don"t know how you would figure that, but you are wrong." He said and felt that his former mother-in-law was right. This obscene knowledge did make him feel better, and that was even more disgusting.
      "Take it easy. I also wanted you to be aware of one more man who is coming for the party, the movie producer."
      "Victor Korzhov? What about him. Is he her lover too?"
      "Used to be, but he married a year ago and since than they are just friends."
      He was going to ask how many more friends of that kind were coming for the party, but instead he asked.
      "What made you to talk about that? Can"t we discuss something else?"
      "Valerii made me really mad this morning. I feel I hate this man."
      "Why? What happened?"
      "I found out that he spent a large portion of his money buying oil paintings at the Art Fair."
      "But it is his money."
      "No. It is family money. Instead of converting the rubles into dollars he bought the kitsch pictures. Now he has to pay the tax to take all that stuff abroad and one more worthless bundle will be added to their luggage."
      "But maybe he will sell them in Italy."
      "In Italy!" Martha Leibovna snorted cutting the potatoes in cubes. "In Rome the Art of much better quality is sold on every street corner. He is just an idiot."
      "But maybe what he has bought is not that bad?"
      "You"ll appreciate it yourself. He wants to show them to Anton and your friend Piotr. I begged him not to, but he doesn"t want to listen."
      "So you had a quarrel." Fyodor Andreyevich concluded.
      "A fight would be better word. I told him everything I thought about him and his artistic taste. He imagined himself a great investor. The money he spent could be traded for eight hundred and fifty dollars."
      "But he wouldn"t be allowed to take that much cash out of the country anyway."
      "No one is allowed, but everyone takes as much cash as he can anyway. He had to consult with his wife at least."
      "What did she say?"
      "The same as you did. It is his money."
      "You see. Maybe you shouldn"t interfere. To me it looks like a family affair."
      "I am a part of the family too. And I want you to feel like that as well. That"s why I told you about Victoria"s lovers."
      Fyodor Andreyevich was stunned with the logic, but he didn"t say a word against it. After all, his mother-in-law was loosing the company of her daughter, maybe forever. She was painfully attached to Victoria. Everything could be forgiven to her on that day.
      "You mean every member of the family, except, of course, Natasha, is aware of her lovers? Even Valerii? Or he doesn"t now, and now I am a part of the conspiracy?"
      "He knows everything alright. He says he is like Chernishevsky, who didn"t care of what his notorious wife had been doing. Try this." She opened the cabinet, took a bottle, and poured him a quarter of a glass.
      "Right on time." He said and drank it all.
      Soon the guests started to arrive. First appeared Iphigenia, a young woman who from behind could be taken for a high school girl. She was the one who gave Victoria the book on Yoga Philosophy, Victoria represented her as an extra sense with eminent healing and diagnostic abilities.
      "Are you really able to say what"s wrong with my health?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked feeling elevated with the cognac.
      Iphigenia made a few strange passes with her left hand in front of his body and declared that he had a rock in his kidney which soon might become a problem. His heart, she said, also wasn"t perfect. Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t talk to her any more.
      The widow of the drunkard rang at the door and the extra sense immediately took her in Victoria"s bedroom to work on the destroyed karma, or whatever it was.
      Than the married couple from Saratov arrived. The husband, a slightly bald man, had a long banana shaped nose with large thick glasses on top of it. Fyodor Andreyevich found his look rather despondent. His wife was a blond beauty with a bust of a pin up girl and large hands of a metalworker. The husband, his name was Nikolay brought a few bottles of wine and Fyodor Andreyevich led him to Martha Leibovna, in the kitchen. One of the wines was Kindzmarauly.
      "That was Stalin"s favorite one!" Martha Leibovna exclaimed in surprise. "Where did you get it?"
      The man answered that he"d kept the bottle for a long time, and that, unfortunately, he couldn"t take it on the trip, so he brought it for the party. He was pleased to meet people who understood what was special with the wine and didn"t mind at all to open the bottle right away, as Martha Leibovna proposed.
      To Fyodor Andreyevich the wine seemed both a bit sweet and bitter at the same time. It surely had a peculiar taste. Stalin, probably drank it after cognac too, Fyodor Andreyevich thought. He was about to ask for more, but Martha Leibovna had already started a long talk with Nikolay who agreed to emigrate to Israel only for the sake of his precious wife who wasn"t Jewish at all. He had to quit a good job at some factory where he worked since he returned from military service, and he wasn"t sure that he would find such a job, friends, or collegians in the land of his ancestors. Martha Leibovna sighed and poured him her cognac saving the Stalin"s wine for the others. She poured just a bit more into Fyodor Andreyevich"s glass, and for herself. They drank for the better life in Jerusalem.
      After that, Victoria with the woman of broken karma appeared at the door and Fyodor Andreyevich, Nikolay, and Martha Leibovna were asked to find some other place to talk.
      "Wow, what a man!" Some woman pulled his sleeve. "Now I know why Victoria had been hiding you from me." The woman exclaimed unceremoniously and Fyodor Andreyevich not knowing what to say just smiled back courteously. The woman looked at him with lusty eyes and said that he shouldn"t forget good friends. She had her dark hair clipped on the top of her head, and a bright low cut dress. Fyodor Andreyevich smelt the strong odor of her perfume and recalled who it was. On any other occasion he would shun the woman, but now, feeling a pleasant lightness in his body, he let her hold his hand. Her hands were warm and soft. He kept smiling pretending that he still didn"t recognize her. It was Tatiana, the barber who once advised Victoria to try Valerii in bed.
      Somebody else called at the door and Tatiana the barber winked at him and said that they surely would find some time to sit and talk later on.
      He heard Valerii"s voice and rushed after Martha Leibovna into her room. On the way he heard the Methodologist inquiring about Anton and Piotr, who hadn"t yet come. As soon as he closed the door behind himself, the door was pulled back and Valerii"s head poked in. The head said Hello, saw Martha Leibovna, and asked for her permission to use the room for a kind of virtual vernissage of the Art works. After what Martha Leibovna said about the morning quarrel, Fyodor Andreyevich found the request strange, but his mother-in-law didn"t even show any surprise. The room was given up to the Methodologist.
      Martha Leibovna joined the women who worked in the kitchen to make everything ready for the table. For the next ten minutes the door bell buzzed a few times more. Most of the people Fyodor Andreyevich knew scarcely or saw for the first time. He shook hands with men, spoke politely with women, and, at last, decided to find Natasha. He looked for his daughter all over the apartment until he found her helping Valerii with his exhibition. "Not yet, sorry, not yet," Valerii implored through the gap in the door. "Please, be patient, you all will be invited." Fyodor Andreyevich tried to find a refuge in the living room where a long table had already been set for at least twenty guests, but the look of empty plates, neatly arranged utensils, and crystal glasses made him feel dull. He heard some voices on the staircase and walked over there.
      Three or four men were smoking between the floors next to the open window. One of them, the handsome, well bred man in a dark suit he recognized as Victor Korzhov, the movie producer, at whom, thanks to Martha Leibovna, he, involuntarily, looked at from a different point of view.
      "No, no, thank you, I don"t smoke." He refused to take the Marlboro cigarette offered to him by the man, and the later introduced Fyodor Andreyevich to the others.
      The elevator"s doors opened and Piotr, Anton, and some other man walked out of the cage.
      By the cheerful commotion that a few women made about the man, Fyodor Andreyevich realized that that was Victoria"s Yoga instructor. The Yogi was led somewhere inside, and, before Fyodor Andreyevich had a chance to greet Anton and Piotr, Valerii appeared at the staircase inviting everyone to see his private exhibition.
      "Are you what, hiding from me?" It was Tatiana the barber. The grip of her hot hand on his wrist was firm. She pulled him out of the small crowd that gathered in Martha Leibovna"s room, and positioned him in front of herself. Now, holding both his hands she stood straight leaning against the wall pointing her animated breasts at his chest. Her eyes glittered examining his face, her red lips a bit opened in an ironic smile, emitted a message not quite appropriate for the situation.
      "Why?" He said, "I wasn"t hiding at all."
      "Is it true what she said?"
      "Who said? About what?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked resisting his unwilling allurement to the woman.
      "Your ex-wife about you." He felt that her dark eyes were trying to penetrate his very groin.
      "Listen, Tatiana, I can imagine what Victoria has told you about me. I"m sorry, I don"t want to talk about it. You see, they are taking my daughter away from me."
      "Come on, you sound like you"re at her funeral. The daughter will grow up alright in the West. It is not the daughter that makes you feel shitty, but the bitch. Listen, there are other women in the world, and don"t tell me that you don"t need them. You just didn"t find the right one."
      Though Tatiana put it so rude, Fyodor Andreyevich felt that partly she was right. Even living with another man Victoria still didn"t let him go.
      "You have chosen a rather strange way to establish affinity." He said. "I"m sorry, your coarseness doesn"t awake any sympathy in me."
      "Affinity? What the hell? Why don"t we just try it without this shit of yours?"
      "Release my hands, please." He said in a changed tone and she did what he asked.
      He slipped back into the exhibition room. One glance at the paintings was enough to agree with his Mother-in-law. The crimson sunsets and meticulously painted flowers of the folk artists from the Art Fair surely was not worth the eight hundred fifty dollars. Valerii had already received permission from the authorities to take out of the country all the paintings except one. The unfortunate painting represented Michael Gorbachev hugging a sturdy untidy woman with a black eye dressed in a working robe and a kerchief. Both, the woman and the General Secretary of the Communist Party, were shown pretty drunk. They stood supporting each other, smiling idiotically. In front of her the woman held a hand made poster with the word Perestroyka on it.
      Valerii complained that he wasn"t able to convince the bureaucrats that the painting was a piece of folk Art, not a caricature as they defined it. His eyes shone with pride and indignation when he was talking about that.
      "If they are so concerned about reputation of Russian Art, I wonder why did gave permission for the other ones?" Piotr whispered to Fyodor Andreyevich. "Poor Anton."
      Anton"s situation, certainly, couldn"t be called enviable. It was his opinion Valerii was interested in. Presently Anton was talking about primitivism that sometimes makes the folk Art very valuable. It was obvious that he tried to avoid telling the truth.
      I better get drunk today, Fyodor Andreyevich thought.
      At the table, Victoria offered him the place between the Movie Producer and the Yoga instructor, but he moved by Martha Leibovna and Natasha.
      Valerii proposed a long toast for better life in the West. From that topic he switched to his exquisite wife whose courage..., but here he was interrupted by Victoria, who said that they will consider one subject at a time. The glasses melodically jingled meeting one another and in the silence, when everyone was busy with the salads, pickled mushrooms, ham, herring, sausages and other delicatessens, Fyodor Andreyevich felt that his task to get drunk could easily be achieved that night.
      There were different people around the table. To the left from Victoria there were two of her former schoolmates with a man who was a husband of one of them. The women looked pretty much confused, never before had they been at a party of the type. The yogi clustered on the other side of the table, they pretended to be cautious with the snack, but only for the first few minutes. After the second toast which Fyodor Andreyevich proposed for those who are staying in Russia, even the Yoga Instructor allowed himself a break in his diet. The signal was received and all the yogi turned out to be normal people. They ate and drank no less than the others. There were no problems with Piotr and Anton. It was obvious that they both were very hungry. Valerii, at last, got the chance to express publicly what he thought about his courageous wife, everybody drank for that, and the movie director asked for permission to add a few words. In the fine low voice of an experienced speaker he made a short speech about Victoria"s outstanding virtues, finishing it with a deep regret that they, some of the best people he ever knew, were leaving Russia to contribute their talents to some other country. His short speech was so touching that the eyes of many watered with tears.
      Victoria"s schoolmates who, until two days ago, knew nothing about Victoria"s decision to immigrate, were looking at her with fear as they would look at someone who was about to jump from an airplane without a parachute.
      "Vienna, you said, will be your first stop abroad. What will you do there, I mean where will you stay, who will provide food for your family." a pretty woman who worked as an accountant at some military plant, asked.
      "That is not a problem at all. There is a Jewish organization which is taking care of everything. They meet repatriates at the railway station and settle them in some dormitory. But, as I was told, we will have to look for a blue mini van on the square. It belongs to some fellow, his name is Albert, he is from Russia, who can place you in a private apartment which is much better. There are a few of those provided as a charity by local Germans. Albert charges just a large can of caviar and a bottle of Georgian cognac a day."
      "But how will you recognize him? I bet there will be too many cars on the square." The woman couldn"t understand how Victoria was so sure.
      "I think it won"t be a problem." Fyodor Andreyevich said in the tone of an expert. "Just sniff for a fellow who smells like caviar and cognac."
      Everyone laughed, but Fyodor Andreyevich just smirked to his own joke. All of that wasn"t funny at all. He worried for Natasha. It was the first time she was going to some place where his help would be unreachable.
      He paid court to Natasha and Martha Leibovna, pouring Pepsi Cola into the glass of his daughter and red Cabernet into his ex mother-in-law"s glass. Tatiana the barber sat right in front of him on the other side of the table, but he tried not to look at her. Fyodor Andreyevich heard how she asked him to pour the Kindzmarauly wine, she never tasted it before, and Piotr, taking the bottle clamored his amazement.
      The favorite Stalin"s wine was passed around the table and Piotr offered to drink not for its notorious devotee but for Russia without a tyrant so eagerly awaited by many. At this point Nikolay, who provided the wine, noticed that though Stalin is often accused in eliminating millions during his reign, one has to admit that there was an order in the country. The point was supported by Victor Korzhov, the movie producer, who said that Stalin is a figure that couldn"t be fairly judged at the present time. Let"s leave it for the future generations, he finished in his well trained voice. The husband of one of Victoria"s classmates nodded fervently and said "I agree!" Piotr didn"t want to transfer the responsibility to posterity, he was about to say something, but Valerii interrupted him with "Allow me to say... " What he wanted to say remained unknown, because Victoria terminated the talk with the proposal to take a short break to prepare the table for the hot meal.
      When leaving his place Fyodor Andreyevich felt that he had enough drinks for the night. From that moment on the party remained in his memory as scattered episodes.
      On the staircase, next to the open window that provided a refreshing stream of the cold air, the movie producer was proving that a tyranny is a natural consequence of any revolution, it is the only possible way to maintain the power. If it hadn"t been Stalin, some other terrible ruler would come. It was inevitable and essential. Valerii opposed him vigorously, he brought a folder with some Xerox copies of GULAG Archipelago and, while talking, looked for some certain places. Piotr reminded everyone of the famous words of Hegel who said that every nation deserves its leaders, and that brought an eruption of opinions. Everyone, even the husband of Victoria"s classmate who was just listening until that moment, wanted to say something.
      Fyodor Andreyevich"s head was going woozy from the cigarette smoke. He left. He found Martha Leibovna and Natasha in the company of yogi, they were talking about some invincible astral pillars and other strange things in which he had no opinion at all. He caught the peculiar glance of Martha Leibovna and found that he was looking at the Yoga Instructor who sat in the corner of a sofa half smiling, listening to the talking of his followers. The man"s deep set blue eyes looked with keen attention from under his prominent eyebrows. His high forehead merged with the baldness that crowned the top of his head. That provided him the look of a thinker. The square chin, thin lips, and straight nose of a Roman statue worked very well for the image that made Victoria believe that, in his previous life, the Yoga Instructor was witness of Julius Caesar association.
      The man spoke only once. Some of the women talking about Vivicananda called the Indian philosopher Bhagavarnat, of Brahavagnat, Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t get what the word was. The term obviously meant Reverent, or something like that. The Instructor"s brows moved to each other, his eyes darkened in an austere gaze, and in a menacing, persuading tone he said that the man didn"t deserve the divine title.
      "Why? What was wrong with Vivicananda?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked just being curious.
      "We can"t discuss the matter when drinking." Answered the Instructor regaining his recreational look. "I only wanted to warn my friends to avoid words that might be too powerful. One incautious word can easily effect their reincarnations."
      As it seemed to Fyodor Andreyevich the Instructor"s friends used plenty of incautious words. They spoke about travels to far away places and even other planets, when trancing in "asanas," astral pipes through which they could transfer influence to others, healing with hands, and disasters that were about to come. Victoria, who joined the company a minute ago, said that she knows for sure that on August the 8th of the next year (Fyodor Andreyevich involuntarily mused about her whereabouts on that time) a severe earthquake would strike Moscow. Other yogis confirmed the prophecy nodding with their heads in agreement. Fyodor Andreyevich looked at their leader, but the Instructor just shrugged his shoulders smiling comfortably.
      The Instructor, he apparently was an expert in nutrition as well, had been asked was it the right time to serve a hot meal. Without hesitation he answered that, sure it was.
      The largest oval tray from Martha Leibovna"s Japanese dining set was barely seen under the layers of meet and vegetables. A steam filled the room with a lordly smell. The blades of green onion, and fringes of parsley framed the magnificent dish. The rich odor of seasoning made Fyodor Andreyevich feel a wild crave for the dish. Exclamations, gasping, and sniffing were the compliments to the widow with beautiful black hair, creator of the meal, whose cooking skills hadn"t made her life with the alcoholic husband any happier.
      New bottles of wine and vodka were opened, and another toast was pronounced. The meat was just melting on Fyodor Andreyevich"s tongue, in the steamed vegetables he tasted the presence of pepper, vinegar, and something else, indefinable, that made him chew every piece of the meal thoroughly. At that moment he felt how happy a man could be having such a wife, and how miserable and boring was his own bachelor diet that consisted mostly of tea, cookies, and spaghetti with canned fish.
      Martha Leibovna proposed that Irina, that was the widow"s name, would surely find a job in some good American restaurant.
      "Wouldn"t she?" Martha Leibovna asked the movie producer.
      "Well, possibly." The later answered after taking a long sip of the red wine. "I found their food pretty different. It took me a while to accustom to the sweetness you can taste even in meat."
      "Have you been in the United States?" Piotr exclaimed. "Where? For how long?"
      "Just for forty five days, last year. It was kind of an exchange visit. Their students were on a trip down to Volga River, so I had a chance to see a few States with the students of the Cinematography Institute where I teach."
      "Tell us about it." Somebody asked.
      "About America you mean?" Victor smirked. "I don"t think it deserves all the buzz. It"s impressive, of course, in architecture, in highways, in comfort, and abundance of life, but it is too commercialized. The dollar is a measure to everything over there."
      "What"s wrong with it? Don"t you think that money is the best instrument to organize a society?" Piotr asked.
      "Theoretically, yes, but there must be limits to everything. Evaluating each other by income Americans deprive themselves of real values."
      "Like what?" Anton asked.
      The movie producer apparently sensed a challenge in the questions. He wasn"t in the mood for a dispute. Trying to sound peacefully and persuading he said.
      "Let"s take their attitude to artists, for instance. You have to be rich and famous to have people"s respect, to buy your works, to get contracts from producers and dealers. In Russia people expect from an artist an idea, a new philosophy, an answer to "What has to be done?" the eternal Russian question. In Russia, a painter or a poet must be more than just a poet, we expect him to be a prophet, and, in America, you can hardly find a publisher who would risk publishing a book full of new thought because he might receive no profit."
      "That"s understandable." Martha Leibovna said. "They all invest for profit."
      "Yes, and the most terrible is the fact that they are not only looking for the easiest ways to make profit, but they are also trying to make people believe that what they offer is the best. It is not so hard just to entertain, so it becomes the main task of the American movie industry. The last good work they ever created was "One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest" and nothing really good was made since then. More than that. I think that those who control Hollywood deliberately spoil tastes of the audience. It is much easier to make stupid comedies or action movies full of special effects than to create masterpieces where the internal world of a character is in focus. That"s why they fill the TV channels with never-ending cartoons that are designed to prepare an average consumer to the low quality movie production they want him to buy. My students were amazed seeing the Americans of their age watching cartoons. We spent a week in a summer camp in Texas, and my guys were trying to talk to the American teenagers about books and famous plays, but almost non of the high school students were familiar with works of Herman Hesse, Camus, just a few of them had heard something of Salinger."
      "Nevertheless, the American movies are very popular even in Moscow." Victoria said. The tastes of our audience aren"t much better.
      "True." The movie producer agreed, "But there is a big difference. We live in Europe, and in the same video salon or a movie theater we can watch movies from Greece, Turkey, India, France, Japan, from all over the world. Together with American actors we know Fernan Dell and Luis DeFenece, Jack Paul Belmondo, and many others, but they are almost totally unknown in America. Hollywood does not want them there. It is ridiculous. Instead of buying the genius French comedies they are buying scripts to make a stopgap of a famous movie. It"s just terrible what they made of Three Fugitives, or The Toy."
      "I"ve seen a good American movie with Depardue." Fyodor Andreyevich said serving Martha Leibovna with one more piece of the meat.
      "Because he became an American actor. At the same time almost no one in America knows Allen Delon or Claudia Cardinalle. Scarcely they remember who Marcello Masroyani is."
      "How about Felliny and Anthoniony?"
      "Well, these geniuses can"t be hidden. I would say they are widely known in narrow circles of movie professionals and among very specific audience."
      "That"s why I"m taking the recordings of my favorite French singers with me." Victoria said.
      "And you are absolutely right." Victor supported. "I tried to buy something new of Patricia Cass, but, in the music stores, no one even knew who she was. Joe Daussen and Salvadore Adamo are in total obscurity there."
      "So, I see that you were pretty much disappointed with your trip to America? It sounds like you didn"t find anything to admire in the country?" Piotr asked.
      "Why, a lot of places, they have very impressive collections of paintings in museums, excellent public libraries where you can find books on any topic. Very unexpectedly, I was impressed by their flea markets, where I saw the alive American culture."
      "But, I"m sorry, I didn"t understand." Nicolay"s wife, the startling blond with large hands, asked. "About the life, in general. I mean, how people live there. Did you like it?"
      "It is different. I would say the life is more hectic, more nervous in America. If you are seeking a country of severe competition, where people of high ambitions work sixty, eighty hours a week, the United States is for you. If you are longing for the tranquility we all have lost in Russia, find some other place to go. It depends on your goals."
      "What impressed you the most?" The Yoga Instructor asked. In the silence, when everyone was musing on the last words, his quiet voice sounded distinctly.
      "You"d be surprised, but it wasn"t anything most people come to America for. It was the Ocean, to be more certain, the Mexican Gulf, which I saw on the last day of the trip. We were in Houston, ready to leave the next day. Somebody proposed to spend a few hours in Galveston, on the shore. To make it short, that night I found myself sitting on the veranda of a restaurant with some funny name, Daddy Woo, or Woodoo Daddy, I don"t remember. It is at the very edge of the water. From the veranda you can see the coast and the ocean, pretty common view, but to me, you know, it was something... The wind, seagulls, the hazy horizon. I suddenly felt that all the world lays in front of me. That was the only time when I envied Americans who are free to go anywhere without restrictions. I knew that the weather in Moscow was bad, and the gentle breeze, it was so inviting... In that moment I understood what an emigrant carries in his soul, that yearning, that itch, that call of unknown places, unknown life. I"d like to see the place once again before I die. I hope I will. Yes, to see it once again and to die..."
      "Great, let"s drink for the unknown life, for the luck and success in the new land!" Valerii exclaimed. The toast was unanimously supported. Fyodor Andreyevich drank his crystal drum of vodka to the end. The keen realization that Natasha, his own daughter, will face the hard hectic American life on her own, just in a few years, struck his heart. He leaned to the girl and kissed her hair.
      "Daddy, you are getting drunk." Natasha laughed and he kissed her once again on the forehead.
      There was more talking at the table. Then, during the next intermission, the extra sense woman who had diagnosed Fyodor Andreyevich with the unpleasant diseases, danced a Gypsy Dance with a shawl, yogis and Victoria"s schoolmates sang folk Russian songs, men were smoking on the staircase.
      There was a long controversy about the fate of Russia between the Movie Producer and Piotr. The first one talked about predestination of Russia to be the greatest country in the world, and the last one tried to prove that there is nothing special in Russia, that all the economical and political disasters Russia experienced are no more than effects of causes, the consequences of what happened to the country in the beginning of the century.
      Then Fyodor Andreyevich found himself in the company of the Yoga Instructor. He didn"t remember all that they were talking about, but somehow they touched on Victoria and Valerii in the conversation. The Instructor said that Victoria is an outstanding woman, but she made a wrong decision to marry the goat. Fyodor Andreyevich found it rude and looked at the man with surprise, but the later explained that Valerii is a Goat according to the Japanese calendar, he was born on the year of Goat. "What"s wrong with being a Goat?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked, and the astrologist answered that often Goats set goals they are not able to achieve. "Lenin might serve as a good example, he also was a Goat." He concluded.
      Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t know in what year, according to the calendar, he was born. It could be the year of the Monkey, or something like that. He didn"t want the Yoga Instructor to make conclusions about his Horoscope, so he excused himself to talk to his daughter.
      He found her in Martha Leibovna"s room among the paintings destined to become a part (though not the best one) of the Western world. Natasha sat on a chair next to a coach on which her Grandma lay taking a short rest. At Natasha"s feet there was a cardboard box with her old toys, books, and projects rejected by Victoria. A few fancy fish covered with luminescent paint swam in the air attached by invincible lines to the bar which Natasha held in her hands. Martha Leibovna pulled her legs to herself giving Fyodor Andreyevich room to sit. There, separated from the others, they sat talking about the toys Natasha was looking through, recalling when and where each of those came from, bringing up memories of Vasilii Petrovich who loved Natasha so much, musing about times when they all will meet again, goodness knows where, goodness knows when.
      * * *
      Houston approached with a traffic jam. Driving behind a semi truck that obscured half of the sky with the rear doors glistening like a mirror, Fyodor Andreyevich could see only road work on the right, and the same jam of cars that were trying to make their way in the opposite direction on the left. Mile after mile he kept his foot on the brakes forcing the car to slow down. About half an hour later, the road suddenly widened and he found himself on a six lane expressway, driving seventy-miles-an-hour, sensing the presence of an enormous city into which he submerged himself deeper and deeper. The numbers and streets" names on the multiple road signs told him nothing; he didn"t bother to study the map of Houston. The road suddenly curved going uphill and the downtown skyline came into view. Stunned with the scenery, he almost missed the "Galveston" sign that had an arrow pointing to the lane at his left. The highway he presently drove on had suddenly broken into a few traffic ramps, the skyscrapers of downtown grew in size, took all the sky, and vanished from the view. The dense rapid traffic didn"t give him a chance to look around. Watching for the next road sign pointing to Galveston, worrying that he took a wrong turn, Fyodor Andreyevich gave the freeway his full attention. At last the sign appeared and the driver took a deep breath. Soon he saw the magnificent buildings of downtown again. Under the white clouds, mottled with sun, they stood stretched as if in a picture, in his rear view mirror.
      He lowered the back of his seat and relaxed. The freeway straightened, it stopped threatening with changes, the road signs steadily confirmed that he was heading to the Ocean. He saw the Holiday Inn and thought that it would probably cost him less to spend the following night, if he would have to, in the city than on the shore. The trip had eaten a big portion of his savings. He didn"t expect to spend the money like that, as he didn"t expect to take the trip. He saved what he could for Natasha. The will which he signed years ago in the hospital had been replaced with the new version soon after Victoria married Valerii. Now everything was messed up. "I have enough to cover your travel expenses, please, come without delay." Martha Leibovna wrote in her letter. He didn"t do what she wanted him to. Instead he was running away, leaving everything ruined, not caring about the people that, true, were part of his life. He didn"t even care about his daughter. The profligate Tatiana the barber was right. Natasha grew up alright in the West. His daughter didn"t need him any more. To her he became just a pest.
      You should have, you should died back then, funny man. He thought tiredly.
      * * *
      That happened a month ago. He came home from a morning bicycle ride in the park and found a note from the post office stuck in his door. It was about some important package which he had to pick up as soon as possible. Above the officially printed text the postman wrote in sloppy handwriting "Bring your Passport."
      The post office was on the other side of the subdivision, in about ten minutes walking through the chilly September morning. He put the bicycle in its place on the balcony, took a brief shower, dressed casually, and went to the post office wondering whom the important message, or package, whatever it was, could come from. His first thought was that it was nothing but a mistake. It was the time of Autumn Military Levy and such messages were usually sent to those who tried shun being drafted.
      Messages of that type became one more National Tragedy, no one wanted to give their sons to the Army, but Fyodor Andreyevich had nothing to worry about. He passed the dangerous age a long time ago.
      At the post office a young woman behind the window took his notice and the passport and went somewhere in the back. In less than a minute she returned and placed a blue and white envelope in front of him. "Please sign here." She said, but he didn"t hear. He looked at the "Federal Express" logo feeling like nervousness was replacing his ready to joke mood. "What?" he said and inscribed his signature on the paper slip offered to him with a pen.
      Outside, under the whisper of wind in the yellow leaves of birch trees, he looked at the return address. It was sent by Martha Leibovna which was rather strange. Since the time of her departure he received very few letters from her. They all came by regular mail. He knew that a few other letters she sent had never reached him, but that still wasn"t enough of a reason to pay thirty four dollars (the amount was printed on the sticker in the right corner) to communicate with him. After all it was much cheaper just to use the phone, as his Mother-in-law did once in a while.
      He pulled the end of the stripe on the back and opened the envelope. Inside there was a long letter, an official Invitation, and one more smaller envelope attached to the letter with scotch tape. Fyodor Andreyevich opened it and, for a second, was blinded by the sun reflecting on a piece of shiny plastic. That was a Master Card with his own name written in English on it. He put the card back into the small envelope, put the envelope in the inner pocket of his jacket, and rushed back home.
      * * *
      Dear Fyodor Andreyevich,
      I wasn"t sure that I would be able to explain my concern over the phone, so I decided to write you this letter. In the envelope you will find an Invitation from me which you will have to take to the American embassy to get your Visa. You will also find a credit card with your name on it. I opened a joint account in your and my name at my bank to provide you with the money you will need for the trip. I consider your visit as an urgent necessity. I have enough to cover your travel expenses, so, please, come without delay. Please sign the back of the card immediately. On September the 20th I"ll call you with the pin number for the card. At that time you will have to know the day of your departure. I"ll pay for your two way ticket here, you will just have to pick it up at the Aeroflot office, in Moscow. Now, when I"m through with the details, I"ll write what I want you to come here for.
      I"m really worried about the strange relations between Natasha and Valerii. Natasha is already a grown up girl, she is almost fifteen-years-old, and I think it is absolutely inappropriate for her to spend so much time in the company of her step-father. I spoke about that with Victoria, but she remained absolutely ignorant to my concern. She told me that Natasha feels lonely, that in Chicago she didn"t make friends, and that Valerii had enough time to entertain and to educate the girl. And enough of the time he has. The two classes at the University they could afford for him are both on Monday morning. All the rest of the week he stays at home reading and doing nothing. I tried to persuade him to get a job, but he answers that to work for five dollars per hour is stupid and insulting. Many Americans including his fellow students work for that pay but it doesn"t impress him. He keeps saying something about developing his method in psychology which he intents to describe in some article that will make him rich and famous. So far he hasn"t yet even started to compose it. Unfortunately, Victoria is on his side, she says that after taxes his pay check in a restaurant or a gas station will be just miserable. My attempts to make him busy to restrict the time he and Natasha spend together have totally failed. Valerii has planted in Natasha"s head a crazy idea. He convinced her that she can become a great actress. He said that he had developed some new method in drama that will help her to acquire the necessary skill. Now they study every day and by the glances and smiles they cast to one another I"m absolutely convinced that this drama training might end up with something really dramatic. They feel like very close friends to one another, not like a teenager girl and her step-father at all. In my presence they speak in English and I can"t monitor the conversations. Natasha"s Russian is becoming more and more incorrect. I"m trying to read to her in Russian, but she doesn"t seem to be interested. I found that, in these four years, her Russian vocabulary hasn"t developed at all.
      Recently, I found Natasha sitting on Valerii"s lap. Immediately I sent her away and started a serious talk with Valerii. I told him that I consider his closeness to my Granddaughter absolutely intolerable and asked him to stop seeing Natasha without me or Victoria being present. The villain, excuse me, I can"t find another word for the man, didn"t even bother to take an upright position while listening to me. It seemed that he hadn"t been listening at all. He remained collapsed on the sofa, his eyes nonchalant, not even looking at me. On the same night I had a serious talk with Victoria. It looked like she wasn"t surprised with what I told her. I could clearly see that the only thing she was upset with was the fact that Valerii and Natasha allowed me to find them in the intimate position.
      You know me, my dear son-in-law, no matter what, I always try to hold my temper, but that night I gave it a way. I demanded Victoria forbid Valerii to see Natasha, I told her everything I thought about the man, I said that if she will remain ignorant to what is going on, I will find the way to keep Natasha away from the man. It was a very uneasy talk but it worked. For a week Natasha didn"t see Valerii without me or Victoria being present.
      Than I learned that Victoria and Valerii are about to move. As you know, we used to live in the opposite apartments on the same floor. It was very convenient. Living with me Natasha is eligible to receive food stamps which is a great help. We used to dine together almost every day and I always felt comfortable knowing that Victoria lived next door. Victoria explained that to prevent the undesirable contacts between Natasha and Valerii it would be better if they move to another building. To me the decision was absolutely unexpected. I didn"t want to separate from Victoria, but she said that an apartment much better had become available and the management agreed not to change the terms of the lease for the rest of the year, if they would move in without delay. The apartment, true, is much larger, it is in a relatively new building, it has a larger balcony, its own laundry, and a new type microwave, the one with a turn table. It sounded like a good deal.
      As soon as they moved, Natasha regained her contacts with Valerii. I had a big talk with her, but it didn"t help. She became aggressive and rude, she didn"t want to listen to me any more. Now she is threatening to move with them for good if I won"t stop pressing her. When I try to explain to her what her time with Valerii could lead to, she plugs her ears with her fingers and starts to shout these terrible rap songs.
      I"m not able to control what is going on between her and Valerii any more. Their apartment is on the third floor and the building doesn"t have elevators. I don"t know how far their relations have developed, but I suspect that they have already passed all appropriate limits. I tried to comfort myself with the thought that Victoria would never allow any physical contact between Natasha and Valerii, but recently I perceived that even that is possible.
      I intercepted a letter that came to Victoria"s old address. It was from Michael, Victoria"s Yoga Instructor, who immigrated to Israel two years ago. The letter was from Canada. I would never allow myself to read another person"s correspondence, but the whereabouts of the man plunged me into the darkest suspicions. I had another, very serious talk with Victoria. Reluctantly she told me that Michael didn"t like the life in Israel and he did everything possible to escape from there. Eventually he found the way to an airplane which was leaving for Toronto, so he landed in Canada as an illegal immigrant. He claimed that in Israel he was discriminated as a Buddhist and asked for refugee status. Victoria never told me that all these years they had exchanged letters, and by the letter that I found I could tell that the letters were of passionate lovers. I understood the plot. Victoria is about to reunite with Michael. To neutralize Valerii"s discontent she closes her eyes to his relations with Natasha.
      I can"t tolerate this atrocity. I want you to come over here to have a kind of family council. I could report what"s going on to the police, or to organizations that are in charge of preventing child abuse, but, first, I don"t have proof of sexual relations between Natasha and Valerii and I don"t want my Granddaughter to be humiliated by the medical examination, and, second, I don"t want to go public with what could be solved inside the family.
      Presently, I don"t have much contact with Victoria. She pretends to be hurt with what I said. Natasha continues to visit Valerii in Victoria"s absence. All of this is outrageous and must be terminated as soon as possible. Please come before the situation leads to irrevocable circumstances.
      Victoria doesn"t know that I have summoned you as a reinforcement. Please, do not make her aware of your visit.
      If you need some cash, you can get it from the ATM machine with the help of the pin number I will provide.
      In the O"Hara Airport, using the credit card, rent a car and drive straight to my place. We"ll take them by surprise. You are the only person in the world Natasha would ever listen to.
      I totally understand that you didn"t plan the trip, that you are busy with your students, but nothing other than your presence can help. On the twentieth of the month I will call you about eight in the evening. Maybe I will have some update to the story.
      Your Mother-in-law.
      "You are a dirty..." Fyodor Andreyevich was about to blurt out a profanity addressed to Valerii, but he restrained himself. Breathing deeply, feeling like the wrath was taking over him, desiring to crush everything on the way he paced up and down the room. The most intolerable thing in the seduction of his daughter was the part played by Victoria. How could she allow that scoundrel to lay hands on Natasha, the most precious treasure they both have ever possessed? Did she really sacrifice her for the sake of reuniting with this Michael? And Martha Leibovna, why didn"t she ring the bells a long time ago? Why did she wait until all of it had gone so far? And how Victoria, being so concerned of the family reputation, justifies all the bordello. The Yogis taught her tranquility of mind, does she really think that the immoral settlement will balance... "Oh, my God! What are they trying to make of my daughter!" He sobbed feeling the tears streamed down his cheeks.
      He stopped suddenly in the middle of the room recalling his last talk with Victoria. "I know what to do to make her happy in this country," she said then about Natasha, and Fyodor Andreyevich, being in a relaxed mood, inquired what does she mean speaking of happiness? "A good loving husband with a decent job and stable income, big house, financial security, kids." Fyodor Andreyevich just yawned, thinking that the simple attributes of life Victoria just had listed doubtfully will ever be available for her. "And how can you help her with that?" He asked not expecting to hear anything new. "I can transfer her knowledge of certain things that will give her much privilege above others." By then he thought that Victoria was talking about some Yoga techniques, she was adept in. He didn"t suspect the conversation, but now he got what she meant. Did she really think that the American Dream could become reachable for Natasha if her moral barriers were illuminated, if instead of preserving her virginity, their daughter would learn some sexual tricks used by concubines and prostitutes? Was that the knowledge Victoria wanted Natasha to be armed with?
      Fyodor Andreyevich groaned at the thought of whom Victoria assigned as Natasha"s teacher. His legs weakened and he dropped on the edge of the armchair.
      "No. It can"t be. It just can"t be like that. This is a mistake, just a fantasy of an old woman. She went nuts in the new country, of the loneliness." He murmured frantically.
      Surprisingly, the suggestion calmed him down. The letter seemed to be crazy, it was hard to believe it. It was better not to believe in what he read at all.
      He stood up and grabbed the letter from the desk. Forcing himself to concentrate he tried to read between the lines. Martha Leibovna wasn"t convinced in what she suspected, she hadn"t any proof, she just disliked the friendship between Natasha and her step-father. She didn"t trust it. She didn"t believe in Valerii"s decency. That was all.
      To Natasha, Valerii had never been a grown up man, he had never substituted her real father, who was much older, who was a respected professor, to whom even Grandma addressed in plural. If father was an educator, a transmitter of serious knowledge, Valerii was no more than an entertainer, kind of an older brother, subject to different punishments when being in trouble. An older brother who by some reason slept in her mother"s bed.
      Oh, how nasty, how ugly all of it looked. Fyodor Andreyevich felt squeamish. No, he must go, he must check on what"s going on himself.
      * * *
      The road was running through the marshes. Looking at the buildings lifted above the ground Fyodor Andreyevich thought that it was not much fun to live next to the Ocean. Though, by the number of boats on the trailers parked next to the houses and apartment complexes he could tell that those who settled here were mostly fans of the sea. A high bridge, pretty strange construction for this plane land, came into view and a smile of understanding touched Fyodor Andreyevich"s lips. The bridge was designed to let the ships pass under it. First on the right, then on the left he saw wide openings of water glistening under the sun. There were cranes of some sort on the horizon, blue sky with the same white clouds scattered all over it, a few vessels and something else which he didn"t have enough time to look at. The road rushed downward, then it flew up onto another bridge with more scenery by its sides. His eyes caught a few pyramids of glass in the distance and, scarcely had he thought about what could it be, a road sign declared that here the expressway ends, and that from this point on all the vehicles have to observe the city speed limit.
      After the long cross country driving, it was strange to creep at 35 mile per hour. So far, rather than palm trees on the sides of the street, Fyodor Andreyevich saw nothing unusual. The same Texaco, Kentucky Fried Chickens, and May"s. Was it really worth the trip?
      On one corner he saw a modest sign "To the beach" but decided to drive ahead staying on the Main Street which he expected to become more busier, wider, and picturesque.
      He was right, eventually the street was divided by a square with a walkway under tall shady trees. Ample Victorian mansions were lined up. At the next intersection Fyodor Andreyevich crossed the tram rails and saw some monument on a high white pedestal. In a while the downtown area ended and, passing under the green light, he saw the ocean.
      A big cloud obscured the sun and the ocean became gray and austere as on a black and white picture. It was taken by white horses of rolling waves. The heavy clouds were gradually taking over the horizon.
      Somebody honked behind him and Fyodor Andreyevich accelerated. He saw a sign for the swimming area and, in a minute, was parking his car on the sand.
      This was his destination. What had he expected to find here? Where would he go next. Was there a sanctuary of oblivion anywhere in this world?
      Fyodor Andreyevich sighed and got out of the car.
      First the sand seemed cold to his bare feet. With his khaki pants rolled up, Fyodor Andreyevich went to the water. The wind was strong. The seagulls maneuvered in the air, attracted by the lonely figure. They flocked around, but seeing that the man was empty-handed, left him alone. Stepping over the sea weed thrown by waves onto the beach, he walked into the surf and stopped, watching the rough vastness of the sea.
      The water was cold. He felt the salt on his lips and recalled the days when he stood with his feet in the water of the Black See, and in the Baltic Sea. Did he come here for the same sensation?
      He grinned, picked up an empty shell he had just stepped on and crushed it in his hand. A wave broke up in front of him and sprayed him all over.
      His pants were soaked with water. He strolled along the surf picking up shells, scaring seagulls. He stepped on a dead jellyfish covered with sand, and almost slid on it. He found that the gray wooden building at the water edge was the Voodoo Daddy Restaurant.
      Back in his car, he changed out of his wet khaki pants into jeans, put on a new pair of socks and his tennis shoes. In a couple of minutes he parked his rental Toyota next to the restaurant entrance that was designed as an opening between an alligator"s jaws.
      It was quiet and cool inside. There was no one at the entrance. Fyodor Andreyevich looked at the smoke lifting off the burning cigarette in the ash tray on the counter, and walked upstairs. There he found himself in the restaurant hall with walls of glass. Most of the tables weren"t occupied. A bartender was busy rubbing the glasses with a paper towel. On the right Fyodor Andreyevich saw the door of a restroom with Dudes written on it. He memorized the spelling wondering what the word could mean and walked out to the terrace.
      He took a table next to a parapet. A waitress with a pony tail and Staff across her T-shirt gave him the menu card and left with a promise to be right back. He scarcely looked at the list of meals and prices and placed the menu in front of him.
      It was just after three in the afternoon. The magnificent sunset the movie producer once observed from here was still far ahead. The clouds in the sky grew larger, threatening to cancel the evening show for which Fyodor Andreyevich had driven here from the North. The shore line with the traffic on the Sea Wall Drive looked ordinary and dull.
      He asked the waitress what was the best meal at the place and ordered what she advised. He also asked her to bring him ice water and a bottle of dry wine.
      A seagull sat on the parapet not far from him, but didn"t find his look inviting. It left a white drop on the gray wood and flew away.
      He ate, drank, and watched the waves trying not to think, but the thoughts wandered around anyway. If somebody had asked him what had tired him the most in his life, he would answer that he got tired of thinking. Somewhere he had read that thinking is a sickness. A sickness of the mind. Perfect condition of the mind is absence of thoughts. Was it some of Victoria"s Yoga books she tried to impress him with? That was gibberish. The mind is given to think and there is no way to escape it. With the mind one understands good and evil. The mind makes God of a man, at least provides him with the feature of God. With the mind one understands his mortality and the understanding makes everything senseless, miserable.
      Fyodor Andreyevich recalled his recent talk with an Orthodox monk whom he met visiting the grave of Vasilii Petrovich. The man, dressed in a long black gown and a clobuk (a black soft cap), was passing by when Fyodor Andreyevich looked at him. The monk stopped and for a while they both stood silent at the tombstone with the name on it.
      "The man lived through terrible years." the monk said, looking at the dates engraved in stone. "Was he your friend or a relative?"
      "Father-in-law." Fyodor Andreyevich answered.
      "He must have been a good man. It is not often one comes to his father-in-law"s grave."
      "Good?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked. He had never thought about whether Vasilii Petrovich was good or bad. His father-in-law did nothing bad, that was for sure, but did he do anything really good?
      "De vivis nil nisi bonum," Fyodor Andreyevich muttered.
      "Of the living let us say nothing but good." translated the monk. "You came here to visit his grave and I see sadness in your eyes. You miss the man, so he was good. Let God comfort his soul."
      "What nonsense. What do you call God?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked as a challenge, but the monk didn"t answer right away as if expecting him to provide his own explanation. And Fyodor Andreyevich said: "I like what Jordano Bruno said: "All reality is one in substance, one in cause, one in origin; and God and this reality are one.""
      The monk thought for a brief moment and answered.
      "Bruno, no doubt, was a great thinker, and it is a pity that they burned him alive, but you know in that conception of his there was no place for the Savior. His heavens were empty."
      Fyodor Andreyevich didn"t answer. He stood listening to the rustle of wind in the trees thinking that his own heavens were not occupied.
      "Bruno, certainly, could be quite content with the Universe like that," the monk continued, "it was his belief, the only truth. He died for it. But he was a philosopher; he was able to observe the world from the heights of his mind. He was above his own époque, above politics, above the routine life by which most of us live. He was a genius, an exception. Most of us are not philosophers at all, we are ordinary people. We need God. We need comfort for our souls. We need religion. Talking about great philosophers, myself I prefer Decartes who considered all the world, and every living body in it, as machines. At the same time, he saw God, outside of the world, and a spiritual soul, within a man. You see, if in the Universe (which - no one argues that - exists according to its own laws) there is God, who is standing outside of this heavenly machine, then we are not abandoned, we are all children of the Almighty, who is able to break the laws of the Universe whenever he is willing to. With our soul we feel the presence of the Creator; we feel our immortality."
      "Did you really study Philosophy in the Orthodox Seminary?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked in surprise.
      "Within certain limits, yes, but I study it on my own. If the religion gives comfort to our souls, the philosophy provides comfort to our mind. After all, in the contemporary world philosophy and religion cease to contradict one another. They both study the same subject - the Absolute, God, whatever we name it. Even the Orthodox Church is not as Orthodox as it used to be, and the natural philosophy allows a place for metaphysics nowadays. We are all coming to some unity that, eventually, will change the world."
      "So, you expect believers to become philosophers and philosophers to believe in God?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked with a smirk.
      "Well, it would be an ideal world," the monk answered with a quiet laughter, "but, unfortunately, as I said, not all of us are philosophers, as not everyone is blessed with the faith. But, you know, as Kant put it once, the feeling of immortality is given to most of us. We carry it in our heart, which always takes over our mind. That very feeling of immortality is the blessing of faith. Those who are completely devoid of it are condemned to feel that life is the only time in which they exist. They are wretched people. The most terrible villains came from this flock, but the others, thank God, are obedient to the moral law which we carry within ourselves. That"s the beginning of the search for God, the beginning of faith, because each restless soul, sooner or later, will become obsessed with the question: "If I"m immortal, what is the nature, what is the mechanic of this immortality? What will happen to me after death, where will I exist?"
      What the monk said wasn"t senseless, especially in regards to people deprived of the feeling of immortality. Fyodor Andreyevich saw enough of those. Nevertheless, he wasn"t ready to become a believer.
      "So what will we do in the Kingdom of Heaven?" He asked with a grin.
      "That"s a good question." the monk answered, ignoring the scorn. "Somebody said that a right question is half of the knowledge. Christ said that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us. I know that religion is supposed to aim at what is then and there, not what is here and now but, you know, maybe we shouldn"t wait until death to find the Kingdom of Heaven."
      Fyodor Andreyevich looked at him in disbelief. What the man was saying sounded like heresy. But the monk didn"t feel embarrassed. His eyes were smiling. Still looking at Fyodor Andreyevich, he said,
      "You, I see, are not taking my words seriously. You are an educated man, a man of science. You believe only in things which have been proven by experience. You won"t change unless something extraordinary happens to you. People come to God when they are lost, when they desperately need something, which only the Almighty is able to provide. Only then do they start to believe in miracles, in suspension of natural law, the resurrection of Lazarus, for instance. They come to God for peace in their souls and God provides it. The Kingdom of Heavens is nearer to those who seek it."
      "And do you really think that it might work? I mean the request for suspension of natural laws?" Fyodor Andreyevich asked.
      "Miracles happen. Sometimes the most unbelievable things happen to the one who prays with all his heart. Try it. I"m sure that God will hear you. Ask him for your need." the monk said, touching Fyodor Andreyevich"s shoulder, and walked to the walls of the monastery without looking back.
      Fyodor Andreyevich followed him with his eyes until the monk disappeared behind the trees.
      If we carry the Kingdom of Heaven within ourselves, we surely carry the Hell right next to it, he thought then.
      More white horses appeared on the waves, the clouds came nearer, the ocean was of the color of lead. It became colder.
      Fyodor Andreyevich drank what was left in the glass, left the cheese cake untouched, placed two twenty dollar bills under the plate, and walked away from the terrace. At the doors he stopped and once again looked at the vastness of the ocean. Nothing had changed in it. Nothing would change in life after his death, and he felt tired of life.
      Oh God, he thought, if it is true, if you are really there, if you love all of us, let me die. Let me die if you love me, I have nothing to live for, I"m finished. Let me die!
      He pronounced it in his mind passionately and it occurred to him that he had addressed God for the first time in his life. For the first time he prayed, he prayed as a child, as a provincial grandma, and that felt good. A strange lightness filled up his body, he felt calm and content as if something told him that his request was delivered to the Creator in whom he had never believed.
      He smiled bitterly to what he had asked the Almighty to grant him and left the terrace.
      * * *
      In the restaurant hall the quiet music played, the bartender rubbed the glasses, somebody laughed at a distant table. Fyodor Andreyevich answered the bartender"s polite nod and walked to the stairs.
      The strange lightness didn"t leave. He felt as if something had to happen, here in that restaurant.
      Suddenly the door of Dudes opened and a man stepped out. After the bright light of the day Fyodor Andreyevich could hardly see in the semi-darkness, but something made him to look at the dude.
      It was... Valerii.
      Fyodor Andreyevich blinked his eyes, but the features of the man didn"t change, they became even clearer. Yes, it was Valerii.
      Valerii was pale. His cheek bones and forehead were as white as chalk. Fyodor Andreyevich noticed that his jeans were unzipped. He walked ahead but Valerii blocked the way. Still silent, bearing no expression on his face, he exposed the palms of his hands in front of Fyodor Andreyevich as if asking for attention.
      So they stood for a few seconds. Watching the hands that had touched the body of his daughter, Fyodor Andreyevich felt the dark and wild fury rising inside him. A vision of what happen when he came unexpected to Victoria"s apartment crossed his mind. Half naked Natasha running from him. Her yell "I hate you, I hate you!" sounded clearly in his head - the nightmare that will follow him to the grave. Scared look of Valerii who tried to hide himself from the furious father behind the bedroom door, the thick glasses on the floor - Fyodor Andreyevich crashed them with his heel. The recollection released some safety spring deep inside him. He, at last was willing to do, what he should have done years ago. Oh, what a luck was to meet the man again, what a joy would it be to stop his miserable life.
      "I knew that I"d find you here." Valerii almost whispered. "You have insulted me. You ruined me. I demand satisfaction. I have a gun. We will have a duel."
      Valerii spoke calmly with pauses between the words, but Fyodor Andreyevich saw that he was in a frenzy. "We will go to the shore, far from people, and you will shoot first, then I will."
      "Never." Fyodor Andreyevich whispered back. "A duel is to good for you. You are a pervert, a villain, who should die like a rat, like a cockroach." Fyodor Andreyevich suddenly felt like a lion before his deadly leap. His teeth bared, legs bent, all the body grouped, he aimed his eyes at Valerii"s neck, at the scrawny spot right above his collar.
      Valerii"s face turned even paler. Fear filled his blank eyes. He receded and with an effort said. "What are you up to? What"s... " At that moment he touched the Dudes door with his back, and Fyodor Andreyevich plunged himself at the Methodologist and clenched his hands around his throat.
      Oh, how easy it was, how vulnerable, how desirable was the neck, what a pleasure it was to crush the muscles and bones, what a joy was to see the rolled up eyes, the protruded tongue, what a symphony he heard in the last wheeze of the dude.
      In attempt to release the grip on his neck Valerii made a wrong move and they both fell onto the floor.
      Fyodor Andreyevich felt somebody pulling him off, but he held his clench - he was almost done, Valerii breathed no more, convulsions rolled through his body, a foam appeared at his mouth. Shrieks of women, and cursing of men around sounded as a part of the deadly music, they provided more fury, more strength, and he kept pressing, kept crushing the schizophrenic"s throat harder and harder.
      Then some tremendous force threw him away from Valerii and he realized that the loud sound that accompanied the push was a gun shot.
      He found himself lying on the carpet with no one around. Only the Methodologist was sitting on the floor leaning against the Dudes door. Valerii still was holding the shiny gun in his hand, not pointing it at anyone, just looking at it as if in surprise. Fyodor Andreyevich made a move to stand up, but everything faded in front of him. He heard another loud shot quite near, but it sounded like it came from another world - like something irrelevant, not worth of attention at all.
      The end.
      Dear Mom and Dad,
      I"m really sorry we can"t come home for Christmas this year. Robert"s regiment is relocating again, this time to Panama. All the vacations are postponed. I miss you all very much, but as a good American wife I have to be with my husband. Though he doesn"t insist on my staying with him, I know that I might be much help. Panama is closer than Germany. I hope we"ll visit you more often. My big hello to Grandma. I bought her a blue wool jacket for Christmas. It"ll come in the mail. Don"t tell Grandma, let her find it under the tree on Christmas morning. By the way, put the parcels marked Mom and Dad next to Grandma"s and don"t open them before time.
      Your daughter Natasha.
      "Are there any new messages?" Martha Leibovna asked. With knitting on her lap she sat in the deep armchair, next to the open balcony door. The gentle morning breeze played around the room filling it with the smell of sea. The sound of the surf down below was barely heard.
      "There is one. From Benjamin." Victoria answered, clicking on the message she received yesterday night.
      "Oh, what a man! What does he write?"
      "He is planning to come to visit us in January during his business trip to Detroit."
      "Really? Well, what they did to his daughter was just a miracle. When I saw her for the first time I was sure that nothing could be done for her eye. And now she is promising to become one of the most beautiful girls in the world. Fyodor will be happy to see him. We will all have to prepare ourselves for a sumptuous meal and drinking, of course."
      "Only this time we will order it from some Russian restaurant." Victoria said. "Thank God we can afford it now."
      "Yes, money makes things easier. Who could only think of such a success. Is he what, still swimming in this terrible cold water?" Martha Leibovna asked and Victoria walked out to the balcony.
      "No, he is jogging now," she answered looking at the man running along the surf far down below. The air was crystal clean and even from the ninth floor she could see her husband"s light rhythmic movements, sun spots on his brown shoulders, light baldness on the top of his head. It was hard to believe that the man was almost sixty-five years old.
      Even on this quiet morning, the ocean rolled its never-ending waves to the sandy beaches of Padre Island. Victoria could watch it for hours. Her long-time dream, to live a few weeks facing the ocean, at last, had come true. The hard labor of three years brought its fruits. A shiny copy of the new Russian Language text book accepted by universities lay on the desk next to her laptop. Tens of thousands of other copies were already in distributors" warehouses and universities book stores. The enormous advance fee allowed them to relax, to take the vacation, to enjoy Padre Island deserted at this time of the year.
      She looked at the man jogging off still farther, and returned to the room.
      "Well, who would only think." Martha Leibovna again started her favorite talk. "He should be grateful to you for the rest of his life."
      "What for this time?"
      "If you hadn"t let him read those lectures to your students, it all would have never happened."
      "It probably wouldn"t." Victoria agreed. "If I hadn"t learned everything I know on the subject from him, it all wouldn"t have happen as well."
      "Yes, but, nevertheless, it was your talent to negotiate and settle things that brought it to the deal. You found the right agent, without you it would never be done."
      "I just tried to keep everything under control."
      "And never stop doing it, my daughter. Fyodor is a scholar. You can"t imagine how unhappy he was when living alone. He is helpless without you. I had a husband like this. Believe me, everything he does has to be checked and rechecked. Always be a mother to him. He deserves it and he will appreciate it."
      "Mom, you"ve said that to me a hundred times."
      "And I"ll tell it a hundred times more. Is he still running?"
      Victoria again walked out to the balcony to take a look.
      "No, now he is doing his exercises. He"ll be back soon."
      "What are your plans for today? Will we all go to Corpus Christy?"
      "I don"t know. Let him decide." she answered from the balcony
      "Victoria," Martha Leibovna said with warning. "You have to decide what to do, not him."
      "I"m tired of it. May I just be a woman?"
      Martha Leibovna didn"t answer. It was not the first time that Victoria had shown the new attitude to her elderly husband. Was it his daily exercises in the fresh air which made him look still younger and handsomer, or those miraculous Viagra pills, or perhaps Victoria herself was coming to the last stage of Balzac"s age, but she certainly treated her husband differently.
      Trying not to make a noise, Martha Leibovna put her knitting aside and stood up from her armchair. She walked to another room and carefully, trying to stay in the shadow, approached the window. From here she could see Victoria"s face. A tiny smile wandered on her daughter"s lips. There was not the rigid expression which almost never left her eyes for the last years. With eyes like these, women watch their grown-up children, their lovers, their beloved husbands, people whom they love and who they live for.
      Silently, Martha Leibovna walked back to her armchair and resumed the same position Victoria left her in.
      The light breeze still lingered about the room. It seemed to become colder. Martha Leibovna though that it would be good to have a blanket thrown over her knees, but she didn"t dare to disturb her daughter. Victoria didn"t look downward any more. She stood straight with her hands on the parapet exposing herself to the breeze, watching the sky, the horizon, the ocean.
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  • Обновлено: 29/06/2004. 449k. Статистика.
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