BY AN AUTHOR APPEARING
For some time now, Petersburg has been shaded for me in a greenish color, glimmering and glinting, a ghastly color, phosphorescent. Snaky and snickering, a greenish flame quivers on buildings, on faces, and in souls. A flame will flicker--and it's not Pyotr Petrovich before you, but a slimy reptile. A flame will shoot up--and you yourself are worse than a reptile. And it isn't people walking down the streets: you glance under a hat--it's the head of a snake; you peer at an old lady--a squatting toad, bloating its stomach. And there are young people, each with a particular dream: an engineer just has to hear Hawaiian music, a student--to hang himself with a little more flare, a schoolboy--fathering a child, to show he's a real man. You find yourself in a store--a former general stands at the counter and wears a drilled smile; you go into a museum--the guide knows he's lying, and continues to lie. I don't like Petersburg. My dream is over.
PRODUCED BY AN AUTHOR WHO HAS APPEARED
IN THE MIDDLE OF A BOOK
Now, there is no Petersburg. There is Leningrad. But Leningrad doesn't concern us--the author's trade is coffins, not cradles. Show him a little coffin--he'll give it a knock and figure out what material it's made of, how long ago, by which master, and even recall the parents of the deceased. As you can see right now, the author's preparing a little coffin for the twenty-seven years of his life. He's terribly busy. But don't think he's preparing the coffin with some kind of purpose, it's simply his passion. He'll bring his little nose a bit closer--there's the whiff of a corpse; so, then, it needs a coffin. And he loves his deceased ones, and walks behind them even while they're alive, and shakes their little hands, and strikes up a conversation, and casually stocks up on boards, shops for nails, and gets hold of some lace when it befits.
In the city, every year, starry nights turned into white nights. In the city there lived a puzzling creature--Teptyolkin. Oftentimes he could have been seen going with a teapot into a public cafeteria for boiling water, surrounded by nymphs and satyrs. Beautiful groves gave off their fragrance for him in the most foul-smelling places, and he thought dainty statues inherited from the eighteenth century were radiant suns of Pentelican marble. Only sometimes did Teptyolkin raise his enormous, clear eyes--and then he saw himself in a desert.
It was a homeless, swirling desert, assuming different forms. The heavy sand rises, eats with a spiral into the unbearable sky and petrifies into columns. Waves of sand rise and congeal into walls. A pillar of dust will rise just bit and, with a flutter of wind at the top, a human being is prepared. Little grains combine and sprout into trees, twinkling with magical fruits.
For Teptyolkin, one of the most rarefied pillars of dust was Marya Petrovna Dalmatova. Clad in a swishing silk dress, she appeared to him as something immutable in mutability. And, whenever he came across her, it seemed to him she gathered the world into a shapely and harmonious unity.
But this happened only sometimes. Usually, Teptyolkin believed in the deep immutability of humanity: once it has sprung up, like a plant, it bears flowers, turning into fruit, and the fruit scattering in the form of seeds.
To Teptyolkin, everything seemed that kind of scattered fruit. He lived with the constant sensation of a decomposing membrane, of rotting seeds, among shoots already sprouting.
For him, there rose from the decaying membrane the most refined emanations, which assumed different forms.
At seven o'clock in the evening Teptyolkin came back to his room with the boiling water and delved into the most meaningless and most useless occupation. He was writing a treatise about some unknown poet, so he could read it to a circle of drowsing ladies and enraptured youths. A little table was put out. On the table were a light under a colored lampshade and a flower in a little pot. They would sit down in a semicircle, and now he'd lift his eyes in rapture toward the ceiling, now lower them to sheets of paper filled with writing. Teptyolkin had to lecture that evening. Mechanically glancing at his watch, he gathered up his sheets filled with writing and went out. He lived on Second Street of the Village Poor. Bits of grass sprouted between the stones, and children sang indecent songs. A street vendor with shining sunflower seeds trailed him for a long time and begged him to buy the rest. He glanced at her, but didn't notice her. On a corner he met Marya Petrovna Dalmatova and Natasha Golubyets. It seemed to him a nacreous light was emanating from them. Bowing, he kissed their hands.
No one knew how much Teptyolkin craved rebirth. "I want to marry," he often whispered, left alone with his landlady. At such hours he would lie on his knitted blue blanket, tall, thin, with graying, withered hair. The landlady, a woman of many loves, a creature vastly overspread, was sitting at his feet and tempting him in vain with the magnificence of her contours. She was a dubious aristocrat, who feigned a command of foreign languages, who retained, for mental grandeur, a silver sugar bowl and a gypsum bust of Wagner. With her hair cut short, like almost all the women of the city, she, like many, gave lectures on the history of culture. But, in her early youth, she was taken up with occultism and conjured up pink men, and, in a cloud of smoke, naked pink men would kiss her. Sometimes she told how she once found a mystical rose on her pillow and how the rose turned into evaporating slime.
Like many of her fellow citizens, she liked to tell about her former wealth, how a lacquered carriage upholstered in dark blue quilted satin used to wait for her at the entrance, how she came down the red cloth of the stairway, how the flow of pedestrians was interrupted while she got into the carriage.
"Boys were staring with their mouths open," she would say. "Men in fur coats with seal-skin collars were looking me over from head to toe. My husband, an old colonel, was asleep in the carriage. On the footboard stood a servant in a hat with a cockade, and off we flew to the Imperial Theatre."
At the word "imperial" something poetic would awake in Teptyolkin. It seemed he saw Averescu in a gold uniform riding to Mussolini, how they conferred about swallowing up the Yugoslavian state, about the formation of the Roman Empire once again taking wing. Mussolini enters Paris and conquers Gaul. Spain and Portugal voluntarily unite with Rome. An Academy convenes in Rome for coming up with a dialect that would serve as a common language for the newly founded empire, and there he is among the academics--Teptyolkin. But the landlady, sitting on the edge of the bed, kept on chattering until she remembered it was time to go to Political Education. She would slip her ample feet into her Tatar shoes and cruise off heaving toward the doorway. She was the kappelmeister's widow, Evdokya Ivanovna Sladkopevtseva.
Teptyolkin would lift up his graying, withered head and spitefully trail her with his eyes.
"No aristocratic upbringing whatsoever," he would think. "She sticks to me like a pimple and keeps me from working."
He would get up, fasten his yellow Chinese robe bought in a second-hand market, pour some cold black tea into a glass, stir it with a tin spoon, take down from the shelf a little volume of Parny and compare it with Pushkin.
The window would open and, in the shimmer of a silvery evening, Teptyolkin would think: a high, high tower. The city sleeps and he, Teptyolkin, keeps vigil. "The tower--that's culture," he reflected. "On the summit of culture--that's where I stand."
"Where is it you keep rushing off to, young ladies?" Teptyolkin asked with a smile. "Why don't you drop by at our meetings? Just tonight I'm doing a paper on a remarkable poet, and a week from Wednesday, I'm giving a lecture on American civilization. You know, miracles are happening in America now: sounds are trapped by ceilings, everybody chews aromatic rubber, and in mills and factories, before work, an organ prays for everybody. Do come, you really ought to come."
Teptyolkin respectfully bowed, kissed their outstretched little hands, and the young ladies, with a clatter of high heels, disappeared in a stairwell.
Whether Teptyolkin was strolling around a garden above the river, or playing vint at a card table, or reading a book, Philostratus was always at his side. The whole being of Philostratus was full of ineffable music. Beautiful, youthful eyes twinkled under the wings of his eyelashes. Long fingers covered with rings held a tablet and stylus. Philostratus often walked and, as it were, conversed with Teptyolkin.
"Look," Teptyolkin would think he was saying, "watch how the Phnix dies and is reborn."
And Teptyolkin would see this strange bird with feverish, female, oriental eyes standing in a bonfire and smiling.
The reader mustn't think Teptyolkin's author disrespects Teptyolkin and is making fun of him. On the contrary, perhaps, Teptyolkin himself made up his unbearable surname so as to banish his being into its reality, so that no one, making fun of Teptyolkin, could lay a hand on Philostratus. As is well known, there's such a thing as a bifurcation of consciousness and, perhaps, Teptyolkin was afflicted with such a bifurcation. And who will figure out who's dreamed up by whom--Philostratus by Teptyolkin or Teptyolkin by Philostratus?
Sometimes Teptyolkin was visited by a dream: he comes down from his lofty tower, a beautiful Venus stands in the middle of a pond, the tall sedge whispers, its flowers and the head of Venus turned gold by rising dawn. Sparrows twitter and hop along the paths. He sees--Marya Petrovna Dalmatovna sitting on a bench and reading Callimachus and lifting eyes full of love.
"We live," she says, "between horror and desolation."
On October25th Prospekt, the well bred young people, Kostya Rotikov and Misha Kotikov, leaning against a cast-iron railing, held out lighted matches for each other.
In the old days, at a later hour, young people no less well bred would have been whirling through a Hungarian dance and a mazurka, making music on their lips. As is well known, in the old days, the avenue would be completely deserted after three o'clock in the morning. The lanterns went out and the women swaying their behinds and the characters on the prowl would vanish into their respective establishments.
But now it's about nine o'clock. At least there's a clock on the former city assembly, and nowadays, in a third-rate movie theater, it reads ten minutes of nine. But the young people were standing, not across from the old city assembly, rather, on the bridge under a reared-up horse and naked soldier. So, at least, it seemed to them.
CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH
OF THE UNKNOWN POET
1916--On the very same avenue, the unknown poet spent his youth in a western manner. To him, everything in the city seemed western: buildings, temples, gardens, and even the poor girl Lida seemed to him an English Ann or a French Mignon.
Slender, with a little blonde pony tail and violet eyes, she would circulate, to the music then in style, among the little tables at a café and indecisively take a seat next to the regulars. Some treated her to coffee boiled with cream, others to chocolate with a head of foam and couple of cookies, still others--simply tea with lemon. People in tails with napkins under their arms, while passing by, would address her casually and, bowing, whisper into her ear something indecent.
In this café young people of the male sex would go off to the men's room, not for the usual reason they go to such places. There, after glancing around, they would take out, pour into their hands, inhale and, after a short time, fling up their heads, then, a shade paler, go back to the hall. Then the hall would change. For the unknown poet, it would practically turn into Lake Avernus, surrounded by steep, overgrown, thick forests, and here there somehow appeared to him the shade of Apollonius.
1907--Crowds of strollers moved without haste. In snow-white, blue, pink carriages, children were sitting, lying, standing. Lovestruck high school boys went arm-in-arm with lovestruck high school girls. Vendors offered hothouse violets smelling of cheap perfume and nodding daffodils. The bourgeois were coming back from a morning stroll to the Islands--in landaus nicely trimmed with deep blue or brown cloth, in charabancs, in carriages harnessed to a raven or gray pair of horses. Now and then you would catch a glimpse of a coach, make out old-womanly noses and chins inside. They would drive up, a porter would run out and respectfully open the door. The unknown poet often rode in such rigs. His mother, a wistful, pale woman, would be sitting, with the coachman's croup outlined on the bench. In his mother's lap would be flowers or a box of candy. The boy was seven years old. He loved the ballet, loved the bald heads of the men sitting in front and the overall tenseness and elegance. He liked to watch his mother powdering at a mirror before going to the theater, fastening a dress lined with sequins, opening the round folding mirror case and dabbing her kerchief with perfume. Wearing a white suit, with little white Eskimo boots, he waited for his mother to finish getting dressed, comb his curls and give him a kiss.
1913--The family was sitting at a round table lit by a frigid, red sun. In the next room a stove was burning, and you could hear the crackle of firewood. Outside the windows, a mountain of snow had been heaped up, and you could see the servants' children streak down from the top on sleds.
After breakfast the future unknown poet went off with the tutor to Kopylov's banking office. Kopylov published the magazine, Old Coin. In the office he had small oaken chests with little sliding shelves covered in deep blue velvet. Lying on the velvet were strateras of Alexander the Macedonian, four-drachma coins of the Ptolemies, the gold, silver denari of Roman emperors, coins of the Cimmerian Bosphorus. There were coins with images: of Cleopatra, Zenobia, Jesus, mythological beasts, heroes, temples, triumvirs, triremes, palms. There were coins of all possible hues, of all possible sizes, states--once illustrious, peoples--who once shook the world with conquests or with the arts or with heroic individuals or commercial talents, and now extinct. The tutor was sitting on a leather couch and reading the paper, the boy examining coins. Outside, it was getting dark. Shining on the counter was a light under a green lampshade. Here the future unknown poet was schooling himself in the transience of all existence, in the idea of death, in the transmigration of himself into other countries and nationalities. Here we have the head of Helios, upraised on its neck, with its mouth half open, as if singing, making him forget everything. It will probably accompany the unknown poet in his nocturnal wanderings. Here we have the Temple of Diana of Ephesus and the head of Vesta, here we have a hurtling Syrian chariot, and here we have the coins of barbarians, pathetic imitations, in which mythological figures become ornaments. And here we have the Middle Ages, straight-lined, fanatical, where suddenly, out of some detail, through another life, there's a burst of sunlight.
And the little shelves keep coming out, more and more recent.
The tutor has finished reading the paper. Outside the windows, the lanterns are on.
"Time to go," he says, "or we'll be late for dinner."
The purchased coins drop into separate little envelopes, the little envelopes into a big envelope.
Coming home, the boy would get hold of a magnifying glass, enormous as a round window, sit down on an oaken stool before a table, lay out the coins he had acquired and carry out his travels in time, until his father, in a Bukhara dressing gown, passed by the room on his way to the dining room and the maid ran up to say, "Time to eat. Dinner is served."
After dinner, his father would head for the study, surrounded by bookcases, to sleep for an hour or so on a plush sofa. Located in the bookcases were the magnificent books that could have been met with in any educated family: the supplement to Niva, the utterly dreadful novels of Kryzhanovskaya, insomnia-inducing Count Dracula, innumerable Nemirovich-Danchenko, foreign fiction writers in Russian. There were also scientific books: How to Get Rid of Sexual Impotence, What A Child Should Know, Three Hundred Years of the House of Romanov.
At nine o'clock in the evening, his father dressed up in good form, put on scent and went off to the club.
After his father's departure, the future unknown poet would appear in the study and sit on the couch. Spread on the carpet was a map. Strewn on the couch were Gibbon and all kinds of archaeology. In the adjacent drawing room, his mother was playing "A Girl's Prayer." His younger brother was in his room reading Nat Pinkerton. In the unknown poet's room, the tutor was putting on his boots, humming a musical number--he was going to have a bit of fun after a day's work. In the kitchen, the maid squealed with laughter as an orderly sat her on his lap.
1917--When they met, the unknown poet was 16 years old and Lida was 18. At the time, she showed up in the café only occasionally. Sometimes she said she was a high school girl, and she recalled a ride in a fancy carriage, a night as quiet as could be, buildings speeding by, glimpses of trees and the private room of a restaurant, officers, the clink of glasses and how she was crying on the couch, wiping away tears with the fringe of a black apron. Sometimes she told how she'd been in love with a student, a "White Lining," and how he'd passed her off to his comrades.
Sometimes she said a married man had dishonored her, an official, respected in the city, with a long, gray beard, who liked to stroll in the evening around the Summer Garden.
The unknown poet tore himself away from reading, from the arrangement of books along the shelves, from the examination of coins. It was after two o'clock in the morning. Past tightly drawn portieres, along a black stairway, he made his way down to a deserted courtyard, dazzlingly lit by an enormous hanging lantern. A startled janitor let him out from under the gateway and saw the youth take off down a wide street in a direction toward Nevsky. There was a fine, slanting rain. On the steps of an entrance, having spread out the satin cards he'd given her the night before, Lida was sitting, slumped against the doorway. She was dozing, her mouth half-open. The unknown poet sat beside her, took a look at her girlish face, at the melting snow around them, at the clock above his head. He took out something white, sparkling from his pocket, turned toward the wall. A peculiar sound, it seemed to him, sped down the streets, like a prolonged "oh" turning into an "ah." He saw--buildings tapering and piercing clouds with enormous shadows. He looked down--saw a lantern's enormous red numbers twinkling on the sidewalk. Two--like a snake, seven--like a palm.
His eyes are drawn to the outspread cards. The figures come to life and enter into an elusive correlation with him. He's connected to the cards, like an actor to the wings of a stage. He quickly wakes up Lida and, by strange irony, starts playing joker with her. The cards tremble in their hands, five at a time, till their eyes are blurred and, ruffled by the wind, they turn toward the wall. The rain turns into a fluttering, soft, melting snow. They're shielded by an overhang.
To him, the cards seem horror and emptiness. Soon the city will start to wake up.
"To the tea room, quick, to the tea room!" says Lida. "I'm frozen stiff from this damned night! Couldn't you have come earlier and taken me off to a hotel? I would have slept like a log! I've been out on the street three nights in a row! Don't you have any money? Maybe we'll find a vacant room."
"What do you mean, Lida! At five o'clock the hotels are all filled. They won't let us in anywhere!"
"Then let's go, hurry up, hurry up, to the tea room. I'm so depressed, I could die. My God, quick, quick let's go to the tea room!"
He took a look at her completely white face, at her dilated pupils. For how many internal years has he been sitting here? What does the lantern mean? What does the snow signify in and of itself? And what does he mean, having turned up on the avenue?
--Flowers of love, flowers of a drug...--
Lida unexpectedly began to sing, stepping back from the entrance. Some sort of rounder was passing by; he looked at them ironically. Through a curtain of stinging snow, the unknown poet and Lida set out. The cards lay forgotten at the entrance.
The night tea room was at full blast. In shawls, in calico dresses, prostitutes leered brazenly and provocatively. On the pale faces of thieves on the loose, the eyes twinkled and darted about the corners. On round tables there was tea of a color unbearable as the dawn. The unknown poet and Lida appeared at the doorway. The night made off.
In those days, October 25th Prospekt bore a different name. Hung with round, dazzling electric lanterns, at a time when its surrounding streets and side streets were glimmering with gas light, it stretched out, between apartment blocks, palaces, churches and government buildings. Through window panes and doorways you could have seen snow-white staircases with carpets of the most delicate shades, portieres of lustrous silk, little tables of every kind of material, armchairs and couches of every possible shape. Sometimes, in long halls, under ceilings with Cupids flying through the air, young people sat up all night long, gazing into space with eyes turned numb.
Sergei C. was sitting in his room, which had been divided in two by bookcases with French books. In the dining room, which had preserved traces of the eighteenth century, it was quiet. The family, right up to his grandmother, has already taken a sip of evening tea and gone to their rooms. At the time, his grandmother was probably taking off her head dress in front of the mirror or, maybe, oiling her hands for the night with some kind of paste, or freeing herself from a corset with the help of her maid. His mother was probably writing to her girlfriend in Paris or, maybe, re-reading her girlhood album, or letting out her hair in front of the dresser with a mirror, just as the housemaid was letting down the blind. Just then, his father was on his way to the yacht club on the Morskaya, to spend the night at a card table or, maybe, going into the Cuba Restaurant, to meet there with one of the midnight divas.
The clock in the dining room struck eleven. The bell rang, the unknown poet came in, and the friends headed off.
The moon and the stars came out over the city. Snow creaked, trolleys rumbled, lit-up white, filled with civilian volunteers. Movie theaters offered shows, individuals under gateways--pornographic books and pictures. Couples rode in trotting cabs. Taxis pulled out, readying to streak off.
On the sidewalks, women with painted faces were standing in bunches, walking, dancing a few steps.
The unknown poet was watching from afar.
"Remember the night before," he said, turning his face with its overhanging brow, with its atrophied lower part, to Sergei C., "when the Neva turned into the Tiber, along the gardens of Nero, we were roaming about the Esquiline Cemetery, surrounded by the murky eyes of Priapus? I saw the new Christians. What will become of them? I saw deacons, distributors of bread loaves, and I saw vague crowds, smashing idols. What do you think? What does it mean? What does it mean?"
The unknown poet was watching from afar.
There gradually emerged in the sky before him a horrible, boarded up, deserted city overgrown with grass. Amidst a crowd that suspected nothing, the friends walked down a street that was lit up, buzzing, chattering, humming, now shouting, now beckoning, now gleaming, now playing.
1918-1920--The unknown poet stands on a snow heap on Nevsky, now hidden by a snowstorm, now appearing once again. Behind him is emptiness. Everyone had left a long time ago. But he has no right to, he cannot forsake the city. Let them all run, let there be death, but he will stay here and preserve the lofty temple of Apollo. And he sees an airy temple of snow forming all around him and he's standing over a crevice.
The unknown poet and Sergei C. were tiptoeing on the carpets in the foyer. For some time they had been feeling an ache in the back of the head.
With their legs theatrically straddled, policemen stood at their posts, cracking sunflower seeds and squabbling with individuals who were dancing by the lanterns.
The dark night of late summer was being unfurled. No longer were the moon and a single star shining upon the city, but a moon and a thousand stars, bluish, reddish, yellowish.
Along these same wooden paving blocks and sidewalks Lida ran by, now bare-foot and turned plain-looking.
"Damn it," she thought. "This is the end. And where am I supposed to get enough for stockings and shoes? I can't even make enough for a snort of coke like this."
She threw herself on the tea room.
"Get lost," said a man with a napkin, pushing her in the chest. "You've shown up to hang out. Because of you, the establishment will be shut down."
The unknown poet and his friend appeared from under a gateway.
"Seryozha, let's go to the Summer Garden," he said. "Let's sit down a while on a bench."
"You!" Lida cried out. But, a moment later, she gave up. "Sorry, I disturbed you."
The patrol was approaching.
Lida rushed into the gateway of the nearest building.
The young people on Nevsky disappeared.
I'm sitting at the place of my friend, a famous artist. He's asleep three rooms from here. The room where I am is a rotunda perched over the street. It's three o'clock in the morning now. Shining below are electric lights attached to a trolley pole. From the windows, the roofs of buildings are invisible. They blend in with the sky and, beyond the buildings, I feel, there flows the Neva, the blue Neva.
The night is dark. It's now between two and three o'clock in the morning. The favorite hour of my heroes. The hour of the unknown poet's full bloom, of his powers and visions. I see once again: through a ferocious frost, over snowy potholes, under a horrifying wind that makes his face go numb, he looks for intoxication, not as enjoyment, but as a means of cognition, as a means to drive himself into that sacred madness (amabilis insania), in which is revealed a world accessible only to prophets (vates).
The windows are closed. The buildings are in ruins. The sacred madness recedes, farther and farther away from him. No more palms, plane trees, cypresses. No more porticoes, no fountains. No more great free spirit. No more conversations under the open, black or gold-colored sky. I see him among collapsing buildings, saying good-bye to his friends. There's one of them sitting on a stone, his eyes racing, like a madman. There's another, lying motionless on the ground. He feels like he's died. There's one more, clambering up a ruined stairway in a drafty building, to look at the city from on high for the last time. There stands the unknown poet, leaning against a column. A shattered capital with acanthus leaves comes up to his knees. He hears a cock crowing in the next building. He remembers cats, going away to die in derelict buildings just like these. One quietly appears, stretches out her neck, drags her hind legs. Behind her another, wet and shivering, can't hold on, falls from the stairway in a black tumble. A third, with eyes blanked out, searching all around in vain, tries to roll up into a ball and fails.
It must be three o'clock now. It's dark, completely dark. Below, a woman is playing the piano. I'm sure it's a woman. I think it seems to her a gentle friend is lying at her feet. I think she has let down her hair. I open Bartalomeo Taeggio's dialogue, "l'Humore," and read a debate in praise and contempt of wine. About the friendship that exists between wine and poetry. I go back to the first page, where it describes a day of the grape harvest in a most charming settlement, Robecco. Girls at the presses sing the jewel of the vine. On the roads are peasants, wagons, tubs with grapes or wine. Other peasants walk from the road with baskets, knapsacks, to liberate the bushes of their fruit. In the intoxicating air, crowds of galley boys move about, entering the love-filled hearts of peasant girls with song and guitar-playing.
I remember a page out of the romance by Longus--"it was now autumn in its prime, and the time of the harvests had come. Each one was in the fields..."
And in the window I caught a glimpse of the shade of Aphrodite.
I go up to the window. How quiet everything is! How yellow the glow cast below on a patch of street by the little lights fastened to crossbeams on the trolley poles! And how sadly a passerby, with shoulders raised, goes along the sidewalk! Where is he going? Maybe he knew my heroes. Maybe this is one of my heroes who, by chance, survived.
The sky has has begun to brighten. The roofs of buildings are visible, with chimneys and lightening rods. Hooves clatter. Behind me on the wall hangs a map preserved from the time of the European war. Twelve, thirteen years ago, probably, the whole family pinned it with Russian, French, Italian, English flags. They took pride in the army's successes, grieved for its reversals.
TEPTYOLKIN AND THE UNKNOWN POET
After the young ladies, with high heels clattering, had disappeared in a stairwell, Teptyolkin stood for a while, took a look at the spot where they'd just held out their hands and, with a stumble, quickly started walking. Evidently, he was deep in thought.
"What do you think..." Teptyolkin stopped, from absentmindedness.
The bookseller smiled:
"You're always kidding, instead of saying hello like a man. Sit down, let's have a talk."
But Teptyolkin started looking over the books, which were hung on a garden railing in front of the Maryinsky Hospital.
"If you had the money, you'd probably buy my whole library," the street vendor said and started showing books to Teptyolkin.
Indeed, the books were remarkable: a recent French translation of Marcus Aurelius bound in luxurious parchment, stamped in gold, almost as cheap as a best-seller; The Zodiac of Life--a pocket-sized book with deep blue edging, with beautiful ornamental design on the front page, carried him off to the late Renaissance.
"Don't you have The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius?" Teptyolkin asked. "I'd take it from you on credit."
Booksellers gladly gave Teptyolkin books on credit, since they could sit with him and talk for a while.
The Boethius didn't turn up.
"But how in the world do you combine this with the unknown poet's idea that Bolshevism is enormous, that a situation has been created like the first centuries of Christianity?"
And, all along the way, Teptyolkin was trying to break out of this dilemma.
"A new religion always appears on the periphery of the cultural world," he reflected. "Christianity appeared on the periphery of the Greco-Roman world in Judea, poor, dismal, narrow and spiritually stagnant. Islam, among nomads, and not in luxuriant Yemen, where fountains spurt, where aromatic fruits dangle and fill the air with a narcotic, where women, upon waking up, voluptuously stretch and lazily yawn. Ugh--what impure thoughts these are," Tepyolkin digressed, "exactly as if I'd been dreaming about women."
He began pondering.
"Even in a dream, sometimes, a woman's breast will appear and sigh at my side. Dark eyes, it seems, look into the soul. You'll embrace emptiness, freeze and wait for something." And Teptyolkin caught a glimpse of his room and the rose given to him the Wednesday before by Marya Petrovna Dalmatova. It wasn't a hundred-petaled Campanian rose, nor a twice-flowering Pestumian. "Living must be horrible for her, horrible" he thought about Marya Petrovna. "We cultured people, we'll explain and understand everything. Yes, yes, at first we'll explain, and then we'll understand--words think for us. If you start explaining to a person, you pay attention to your own words--and a lot will become clear to you yourself."
And he remembered the unknown poet. He likes the unknown poet tremendously! Without thinking, the unknown poet will write two lines, and it will come out brilliantly, oh, goddamn, how brilliantly. And in these words there will be ruin, and great passion, and a lament over a sun going down for ever. For the unknown poet, the words themselves do the thinking. Oh, how Teptyolkin could handle the verses of the unknown poet! With such great abundance of meaning were the unknown poet's metaphors revealed to him! It seemed to him the state was going to ruin, but a pure youth was singing about freedom of the spirit, secretly singing, as if ashamed, and everyone was listening to him and praising him for his incomprehensible metaphors, for the brilliance arising from the juxtaposition of words.
That same morning, the unknown poet thought he awoke in a house of ill-repute. Women dressed as hussars, Turks, Poles, are sitting on the floor and playing cards. Tossing his mane, a ballroom pianist strikes the keys. Dragoons walk about, jangling spurs. An Uhlan lieutenant sits on a couch and writes his sister a letter in verse.
"I--it's my father," the unknown poet thought and glanced at the picture hanging on the wall--while a big-chested woman in fluffed skirts covered with stars was lying on a couch, rolling her eyes. "I," said the unknown poet, stretching his arms, "it's my father in the nineties in some provincial town, because in Petersburg the houses of ill-repute are altogether different: lions, marble stairways, porters with galloons, footmen in satin trousers, a fifteen-piece orchestra, gorgeous ladies in ball dresses."
--Scree-cree-ra-ra-roo-roo, the orchestra played.
The unknown poet thought he--his enormous, imposing, grandfather, was sitting in a theater box. On the barrier lies a silk placard, bordered with fine lace. On the stage--Louis XIII says something to Richelieu. The theater is wooden, and around the theater are little houses and snow, lots of snow...
"Eniseisk," the unknown poet thought. "I--it's my grandfather, the town leader of Eniseisk."
In the twilight he sensed the approach of a troika. It's as if he's standing on a porch and hearing sleigh bells, then clops of horseshoes, then neighing, and then the voices of maids: "Is the hall ready, where are the footmen, why aren't there any lights?"
And he sees footmen ceremoniously coming out of the house. Ball music is heard. Ladies whirl about in trailing gowns--but outside the windows a snowy night, a snowy, unturbulent night. And he stands and looks out the window--below there's a alley of statues, and far off, in the city, a snowy blizzard is singing:
"What the hell was that for?" exclaimed the unknown poet, "she wasn't my wife, nor a mistress, and I don't know whether she had syphilis."
Beside himself, he got up from the snow-white bed and went to the Hermitage to have a look at the statues. In a lower room he feels as if he's bent over himself and singing:
The unknown poet awoke. It was May first.
"It's nice," he thought. "Four years since I broke off with the night, with a lit-up and lifeless city, with glimmering night crowds, with divinations."