Greasy bodies melt under the July sun. Near the parapet at the top of the path down to the beach a boy makes a futile pass: how to make a date in a hurry. And when there's no more hope, he stands on his hands on the parapet and walks fifty, one hundred, one hundred and fifty metres on them, not to attract everybody's attention, just hers, and she recognizes him, runs up from the beach and looks from below into his crimson face and bulging eyes. It all started so easily: to the music of Blood, Sweat and Tears, to the terrific improvisation the sea put on at night. Hippy butterflies, hippy meadow, hippy skies. Mini skirt champion of Crimea. Came to nothing. He jumped down from the parapet and left. And in the gap that yawned between us the leaves withered and every living thing perished. You run along the icy platform, skirts of your white fur coat flapping, face crumples, green beret on your head, throat smarting, from platform one to platform three, from three to seven, and I'm not there. I've taken refuge in my compartment, breathe in a stale smell of meatballs, brow furrowed.
Please forgive me. I didn't know you were coming. I packed my things and went to the station alone. Trains vanish: tracks double and triple; a disembodied voice grates on the ear; refrigerated vans with red chilled meat, jungles of sausages, child-like chicken carcasses with stringy necks and closed filmy blue eyelids go floating past, the train's guards swigging moonshine liquor, groping the cook and munching persimmons brought from Uzbekistan to sell at a three hundred percent profit; suburban carriages stuffed to the luggage racks with taciturn old folk in quilted jackets and body warmers, with hands beetroot red from frost and bricks and brown from pig iron and iron dust; passenger trains with student girls in tights, with thirty-year-old men, not old yet, travelling on the cheap and fretting because they've got somebody else's student pass in their pocket, with children wriggling on the knees of flanelette mothers, pink trousers peeping out from under their overalls and legs no higher than the knees, with demobilized soldiers ripping the collars off their parade tunics and knocking the tops off beer bottles on the window rails next the scruffy buffet car, with a shameless painted hussy of a buffet attendant overcharging on the boiled bacon, sausage, cheese, butter, “New” brand cheese spread, fried fish, tinned food, vodka, fake vermouth and cahors, dry Moldovan pinot, dry Bulgarian riesling, Zhigulovskoye and Riga beer, “Verkhovina” cigarettes from the Mukhachev and Lvov cigarette factories, matches, dried up baklava, “Hi there” biscuits, “Artek” waffles, scraps of bread, with a couple having intercourse on the couplings, almost open to the sky and to the sides, of the last and next to last carriages where, you'd have thought, you couldn't have stayed on your feet for more than minute with all the clanking, banging and the heartbeats drowning out the lot; superfast – whoosh and gone! - international expresses with the Dallas oilman Matthew Gardner, laughing loud and long, carrying away warm and heartfelt memories of the kindness and generosity of the Russians, with the nineteen-year-old West Berlin artist Martha Stein crying silently in the corner of an empty compartment, who had travelled to Moscow to be with her lover, spent a week with him in her room in the Hotel Rossiya under almost total surveillance by brazen KGB agents, poking their eyes, noses and ears into everything, who had not been allowed to marry him for a reason she could not fathom in either German or English – her lover not having a Moscow residence permit: mail vans with fragments of Special Deliveries on the corrugated sides, with curses, kisses, requests, instructions, exhortations, denunciations, projects, poems, greetings, announcements of births, deaths, the finding of children lost as long ago as the war, refusals, best wishes, embraces, hopes, despair inside. And amidst this clatter of wheels, rails, ice, intercom announcements, clanking of buffers, shafts, plates, tenders, friction couplings, sexual organs from one nest, the ring of coins, kisses, glasses, tears, special deliveries folded in two, the crunch of wafers, collars, laughter, snow, paper, icicles and corks, you are running, face crumpled and lips desiccated, you're looking for me, can't find me, go back down slippery resonant streets, your throat isn't smarting any more and the tears flow down your cheeks. I am standing facing the sea, looking at the deserted canvas beach and see: two boys among the gleaming bodies, one younger, one older, and their mum and dad with them. No, I can't.
A tango intrudes through the window. They hold dances for the holidaymakers in the guest house club. Nearly evening. I want to write you a letter. Towards evening somebody breathed warmth into the bay through a gilt straw. In the evenings a couple race from opposite sides to the shore – the sea and I. The day before departure, around midnight, I came down Kruglo-Universitetskaya, boarded a number 9 to your house, then crept into your entrance, scared either of the concierge or your family flew up to the second floor, memorized the number – brass numerals: one, zero, three – of your flat and raced back down. Because I knew I would have an irresistible urge to write to you. “Ah, those dark eyes!” Even the waves abase themselves before them. The people sharing my room have left and I can be alone with you. Impossible for life to be bad beside this shifting slop, these frothy friable dregs.
Why don't they feel anything? Why do they have such miserable lives? Their faces are like billiard balls. They strike their cheekbones with cues the whole day long. Days round as billiard balls roll across huge tables and drop into the pocket. I waited a long time for a cab, repeating to myself over and over: one hundred and three, one hundred and three. At dinner there was a man with a flat face at my table, from Kirov, once known as Vyatka. Herzen's place of exile. How happy I was when I found several admiring remarks about Herzen in Mandelshtam's prose; I read them to you over the phone right away. We were happy together, weren't we? The woman at the next table said: “If he doesn't look at me today either, I'll hang myself!” Realized later, meant me. There's always somebody coming or going here.
I alone remain. I suspect I'm only writing for the sake of the ending. Here it is. For God's sake, under no circumstances, never and nowhere ever go out onto strange balconies. I'm afraid. Tell every woman – after all, you're all connected to each other somehow – they shouldn't go out either. Under a moon, overlaid yesterday by a tight blueish film and clear today, cut with a fretsaw out of plywood, a vicious north wind rips towards Yalta and Feodosia. Khrr. Khrr. Khrr. Khrr. Projectionist, lights! Amongst the gleaming bodies two boys: one younger, one older. Their mum and dad with them. No. Yet a little more. I have plenty of time here and I'm growing a beard. I'm standing at the glass door of the loggia. I watch the taut wires perform a gymnastic cross with the pole and pluck at my stubble. There was a time when I walked along university corridors and the walls closed in behind me to preserve my tracks and the sound of my footsteps. How many kilograms of grey dust have I blown out of the head of my “Neva” electric razor since then? I imagine my return to Kiev. Elizaveta Rafaelovna opens the door wide and embraces me. “Gennady, what an interesting boy you are, you're just like a poet, I could eat you right now and spit out the beard.” She has a thin line of moustache, like a child's paint brush.
Verochka just laughs – she's all right; she only has to laugh and people love her. Borya looks away, strokes his bald patch, adjusts his glasses and scratches his beard with his index finger; Anna flits about me and twitters, then, folding her wings, settles on my chin. Misha notices nothing at all. And you? Anyway, you're not objective, whatever you may say. So: two boys and their parents on a July beach in the paradise that is Evpatoria. No. Too hot. Better to return to the steep alley covered in trodden snow, to inhale a chestful of bitterly cold air. I come here without a sledge on purpose. Sounds shimmer under the runners. Runners are wrong way round rails. Zinger has the longest sledge, with an up-turned front. I stand at the back on the ends of the runners so with my bare fingers – wet, stiff mittens in my pocket – I can search through the fur, padding abyss for her shoulders, back and shoulder blades, and when we fly, ringing, at whistle speed into the Snow Queen's eye, my fingers are swallowed in the hole between her neck and her shoulder blades, and I stagger up from the ground without even bothering to brush off the snow. Or not into the street but into the little wood, onto its gleaming hills, a skier racing down slantwise to the sound of a Romanian violin.
Before his fall, before a ridiculous wave of his sticks, he yells triumphantly, God knows why: “Communiqué!” There he is lying with his winter – in plaster – leg, thinking up poems, from time to time jotting one down. Zinger, she's in the same class as him, brings him cherry juice and a white marshmallow. He swings easily about the room on his crutches, so many, so strong, but three metres from the bed it strikes him that he is insufficiently manly and agile, so he leaps, simply catapults himself, crutches cast aside, onto the bed and doesn't even frown when the bone, which has almost knitted, snaps again with a dry sound, like a bread roll crushed in the hand to test your strength. In the second grade, when everybody was told to bring in a turd in a matchbox for analysis, the skier couldn't bring in his bloody box for three days because he was constipated. He used to get so constipated that once, after a week without a movement, his mum took him to the best paediatrician in town, Aronson, who was famous for his young wife and monstrously hairy hands, and he pulled on a thin rubber glove and inserted his index finger in the skier's back passage. When he pulled his finger out, Aronson exclaimed: “Amazing. Simply amazing! Your boy may be sapiens, but not homo.”
When the teacher asked why he hadn't brought in his sample, Genna coloured slightly before replying, “I couldn't do a pooh.” The class went wild, they were still laughing half way through the lesson. There were no taboo words in their family. When his mum found something funny, she'd say: “I'm all of a laugh.” His mum had no linguistic brakes. Only the other day my brother, who's thirty two now, said: “Give me some water; the thirst for revenge is killing me.” Zinger was in the class and since then Genna has had to relive his shame every minute of every year. He had soon forgiven his mum this “pooh”, but he couldn't forgive himself. And all the same: the paradise of Evpatoria. He suffered, was in agonies because of Misha. One day he asked me: “Do you really not want to create an authentic full-blooded character, an image, not your own, but of someone close to you or a complete stranger?” I'm ashamed to admit that I don't. It's not so as to resolve the tasks your average writer sets himself better or differently, but to set myself different tasks.
These are the rough notes I made for the description of the paradise of Evpatoria: the elder boy is fifteen, suntanned girls invite him to their dormitory to play cards, but not the younger one; it's like that with everything: yesterday the brothers were still inseparable, now they're far apart. The younger one suffers. He creeps up to the chain-link fence on the beach divided off for the special children's sanatorium: it's for handicapped children. Recently I happened to find a photograph taken in a sanatorium like that at the end of a shift; some of the children's deformities struck you immediately: distorted legs and spines, withered arms. I couldn't help myself and started playing a rather horrific and fascinating guessing game: who's got what deformity. This little fatty here can't walk, apparently, because of obesity and they brought him to have his picture taken in a wheelchair; he's in love with this girl with big eyes, but she has brittle bones – she only needs to bang an arm or a leg against something and the bone breaks; they envy her, though: she looks healthy.