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Part 9

Chapter XXX




  The philosopher lived as before on Karpovka, in a two-storied building, a former private residence resembling a gray chest with little holes, topped by a pediment and coat of arms with the crown knocked off. Besides him, there were Chinese living in the building who came from the province Shan-dun, who made paper fans that handicrafters put up on the wall around a mirror.

   Andrei Ivanovich clearly felt he shed no light at all on questions of philosophy and methodology before that audience in whose presence they had to be resolved, that this was more or less some kind of absurd game. What's the methodology of literature to his eternal companion, the pharmacist? Why read his treatises to perpetually bustling and practical people? But the philosopher nevertheless started getting ready for a lecture. Some theses had been outlined for a long time now, and they had to be developed.

   He was looking down at the evening city, at the moving crowds with their other movements--with a happy-go-lucky stride, with pipes in their mouths.

   The chime of bells could be heard from the side.

   "Here I contributed to specialized philosophical journals, of which there were almost enough. Here my work was printed, well-known in its time, here I defended it in the calling of a professor."

   The philosopher paced up and down a large room spread with expensive but faded wallpaper.

   He pictured the drawing room the way it looked before.

   He heard philosophical and literary-philosophical conversations.

   He saw himself riding a train. Sitting across from him was Pyotr Konstantinovich Rotikov. He remembered the first meeting with his wife on an estate near Moscow, where he was visiting one of his friends.

   Once again he felt he was going for a leisurely stroll amid high, green fields.

   She's walking by his side in a long dress, in a straw hat, under a bright umbrella and laughing happily.

   Laying aside the umbrella, she takes off running along the road and, coming back, tells him to catch her and, catching her, he holds her by the hands for a long time. She stands there, not saying a word.

   After this episode they felt close and dear to one another.

   The philosopher paced, stumbled over a chair, a rickety chair with a gilded back--a chair from his wife's bedroom.

   Someone was scratching at the door.

   A four year-old barefooted little thing came in and started pacing alongside the philosopher, singing and clapping her hands.

   "I'm a Russian, I'm a Russian."

   Behind the wall a guitar began to sigh.

   A one-eyed sweeper with a skewed mouth passed by the door.

   The philosopher stopped. The child stopped, too. He looked down. Next to him was a tiny little girl--the daughter of the Chinese neighbor and the sweeper.

   "Move along, sweetie," he said, "uncle needs to be alone."

   But the child sucked her finger and didn't go away. He led the little girl out and locked the door. He sat down in a leather armchair--an armchair from the study, unwrapped a little package lying on the table, sliced some cheese and made sandwiches.

   "I won't go," he thought, "I won't go. What the hell are my lectures to all them!"

   Crumbs were sprinkled over a napkin tucked into his collar, but an hour later he went out just the same. On the embankment he collided face to face with the pharmacist.

   "But after you!" the pharmacist gladly pronounced.


   The apartment building on Shpalernaya was lit up.

   The elevator was working.

   The building was constructed in the modern style. An infinite number of paunchy little balconies, arranged asymmetrically, were latched on, now here, now there.

   Rows of windows were lit up, each one of them marvelously unique. Tile images of women with their hair let down had been restored on a golden background.

   He pressed down on the metal handle of a door with panes of textured glass and lilies glowing from inside.

   Through the front door he went upstairs, into the spacious halls occupied by the family of the traveling engineer, N.

   The pharmacist followed behind him.


   After the lecture, a discussion would have to begin.

   "Be so kind, Andrei Ivanovich, as to pass the jam," said the engineer's young wife.

   A comedian from a neighboring theatre was eating a cookie with disdain.

   "Well, then, Valechka, did you have a good time?" the engineer asked after the philosopher's departure.



   The Chinese man, having saved up money or, perhaps, called away by events, left for his homeland.

   That same evening, the sweeper went off with another Chinese man.

   Two months later, she died from an unsuccessful abortion.

   The "Russian girl" nestled in a corner in the philosopher's room, in the position of a cat. Sometimes he bought her milk.

   He let her out in the courtyard himself and saw her running around a tree.

   This was not an act of kindness. He simply knew there was no place where she could disappear.

   He even managed to buy her a toy and watched her play around with it.

   Little by little, there appeared in the corner something in the way of a bed and, on the child, a cotton print dress and little shoes.



   This spring Ekaterina Ivanovna was extremely sad. When Zaevphratsky was alive, she didn't need a child. She herself felt like a little girl alongside this big globe-trotting man.

   More and more often at night she was gripped by a horror of destitution and the street. Sometimes at night she got up, went up to the window in just a shirt and, her eyes opened wide as windows, looked below. Across the way a nightclub blared and dazzled. Disgraceful scenes played out near the entrance.

   "There was Misha Kotikov," Ekaterina Ivanovna remembered sometimes in the evening, "but he disappeared, and I could talk with him about Alexander Petrovich." She would take out the portrait of Alexander Petrovich.

   "Misha Kotikov asked me to give him some sort of manuscript," she recalled. "But I don't have anything, Alexander Petrovich's friends took everything. Maybe there's an album here with landscapes."

   In the afternoon, an organ grinder started playing in the courtyard, with a green parrot that fluttered, shot up its crest, and drew out happiness like before. From the courtyard, imperceptibly, came a breeze, back from a dacha or abroad. It was a black spring, like autumn.

   "It would be nice to go to the ballet." She got up into a classical pose.

   She started to whirl.

   "Even though, of course, ballet is passé."

   "Mikhail Petrovich said he was passé a long time ago."

   She stopped, sat on the bed and started to cry.

   "Everything I love was passé a long time ago..."

   "No one understands me..."

   "Then again, didn't Alexander Petrovich understand me, so intelligent, so intelligent!"

   "Maybe all the time he was looking down at me a bit?"

   "After all, men always look down at me..."

   She lifted her face, wet from tears, and, like a fully-grown adult, pointed it into space.

   There was a knock at the door and she was handed a letter.

   "Dear Ekaterina Ivanovna, I managed to wriggle out a pension for you. Forgive me for not writing you anything before. It was very difficult and until the last month..."

   The letter was from a pre-revolutionary friend of Alexander Petrovich from Moscow.

   It was so unexpected that Ekaterina Ivanovna suddenly felt she'd grown old.

   She went up to the mirror.

   Wrinkles ran around her eyes and around her mouth. Her hair was thin. She wanted to be nice and young all over again.

   She put on a hat and a bright jacket, looked in the mirror one more time and reddened her pale and wilted lips.

   She went to Zaevphratsky's private residence.

   Ekaterina Ivanovna went up a marble stairway decorated with all manner of eastern oddities still not removed.

   The building was now a House of Instruction.

   It was a busy time of day, and girls in red kerchiefs were running up the stairway here and there and calling other girls and youths to a meeting. Young people in overcoats were walking around in all the rooms. They sat down on benches to listen to lectures.

   The drawing room where Zaevphratsky once conversed had been turned into a hall for meetings and decorated with placards.

  Opening the door to Zaevphratsky's bedroom, Ekaterina Ivanovna saw Teptyolkin. Hunched over a rostrum, he was diligently lecturing on a brief history of world literature.

   She sat down on the rear bench and started looking him over.

   "How flabby he is," she thought.

   A sparrow flew in through an open window-hatch, sat a while on the sill and started flying around the room. Male and female students got up from the benches and started chasing the sparrow. Teptyolkin stood at the rostrum and waited. With a plodding step, Ekaterina Ivanovna went up to him.

   "Ekaterina Ivanovna?!" Teptyolkin said with surprise. "Fancy meeting you!"

   "I didn't know you were lecturing here," Ekaterina Ivanovna said, as she started making eyes.

   "There's nothing extraordinary in that..."

   However, suddenly, Teptyolkin was engulfed by the young people and, once again, he felt as if he were going at night to the high tower. But, after this, he's just Teptyolkin-- a run-of-the-mill instructor, a lecturer before various clubs.

   The sparrow was chased out, and the lecture resumed.

   Ekaterina Ivanovna was coming back alone from the House of Instruction. The wind was tearing her short skirt. After sitting for a while in a little public garden under the spring snowflakes, she returned home.

   "Darling Mikhail Petrovich," she wrote to Misha Kotikov, "my dear friend, wouldn't you agree to drop by and talk for a while? I've found an album of Alexander Petrovich for you. We'll talk about his poetry. I hope you won't refuse."


Chapter XXXI




   The unknown poet's earlier verses now threw him into a rage. He thought they were helpless buffoonery. The music he heard when he was writing them had long since gone silent for him. He turned away from the public that loved him passionately and forgave his innumerable shortcomings.

   Bald, overcome by depression, he went back to the mother he once left behind for the sake of great art.

   She stroked his bald, bird-like head. Taking him by the chin, she counted the tiny wrinkles around the eyes, asked whether he still drank a lot, whether he still spent the same sleepless nights among his friends.

   The former unknown poet was pacing up and down the room. The wide, two-story building, which had been built in the 1820's by a French emigré, had been earmarked for demolition before the war. Living a life of ease there now, sitting in the courtyard, was a postman with a snub-nosed family. With its motley noses and hair, the family of a former chamberlain got by on sewing, with the assistance of a model. Laughing and skipping up the stairway was a woman who went out with sailors to the movies and the riverbanks. And chatting away was an old fellow--the former owner of the Bauer wine shop, now an employee at the "Concord" wine shop, where on Wednesdays and Sundays, old fellows, bookkeepers and former counts got together and played vint.

   The unknown poet didn't notice all this before, even though for a long time now he'd been renting a bright, elongated room at the home of this old card-player. This cooperative employee had a wife with slightly rouged cheeks and an older sister, an 80 year-old distinguée. The old man was at one time a Spanish consul.

   At one time, the apartment, which had belonged to the Spanish consul, Henrico Maria Bauer, was cozy. It was nice to be in the drawing room lit with gas lamps, in the ponderous oak dining room, decorated with papier-mâché birds on little plates, with prints in dark wooden frames, with stuffed birds on the walls, with a round oak table on a round leg and with eight auxiliary feet. The Spanish consul felt he was an official. In the drawing room was redwood furniture, in the study were couches and portraits of monarchs: of the German emperor, the Russian autocrat, the Spanish king. And there were electroplate images of Luther and the apostles. Lying on a little velvet table was an enormous folio in German--Gœthe's Faust, with illustrations in color. In a kitchen of uncommon cleanliness stood potbellied Gretchens, Johannchens, Amalchens, with all kinds of handles, with all kinds of necks. The Spanish consul didn't speak Spanish. In the evenings, he headed for the German club, the Schuster Club. There, in a special room, known as the German Room, he drank beer from a mug and all the others drank beer from mugs. On the walls there were no decorations whatsoever. There hung only an enormous portrait--in a heavy gold frame--of Wilhelm II in full size.

   The unknown poet looked in on the family of the old vint-player at his game on Wednesdays and Sundays. The poet felt he was now only Agathonov.

   A Hungarian count was playing with a dignified air. Sometimes he smoothed out his side-whiskers with a gentle movement. His bearing had some kind of elusive gentleness. A morning coat, made in the first year of the revolution, sat upon him magnificently. The count spoke French magnificently. Sitting next to him was his wife, looking like a marquise, in a tall, snow-white wig, all in black, and she, too, spoke French. Sitting farther away was a former frontier guard with a jaunty moustache, with an obvious military bearing, then a bookkeeper with fabulous earnings. Never was there any talk here about the present day. Conversation was always about the court, or the guard and the army, or the court celebrations at Peterhof on the arrival of the French president, or the wiles of smugglers.


   The balding young man was drinking tea with the old fellows. All the time, the conversation came back to the end of the XIX century and the beginning of the XX century. Lisping after he told an anecdote, an old man started dozing off, lulled by memories, and even began to snore. The 80 year-old distinguée looked at her watch.

   They all got up from the table.

   Quiet set in.

   Purged of grounds and granules, Johannchens, Wilhelmchens, Gretchens were gleaming in the kitchen. The dishes were on the shelves.

   In the morning the former unknown poet, leaning out the window, called after the Tatar who was walking around the courtyard and shouting with his face upturned.

   "Didn't I tell you, my friend," he said, when the prince showed up in the room with an empty sack under his arm, "I've got a lot of trash piled up here. You want a little vase, an ashtray, books? There's a handful of old coins."

   The Tatar sullenly walked around the disheveled room, where the bed hadn't been made for ages, where books were scattered on the floor, where coins of Vasily the Dark were lying on a little plate together with a worn-down piece of soap, and the window-panes were so murky they just barely let through a dusty ray of light.

   Going up to the bed, the Tatar, probed the blanket with an experienced hand. He went up to a little table and knocked, to check if it was worm-eaten.

   "No good," he said. "Got an overcoat? Got some trousers? An overcoat, trousers, I'll buy."

   "Why, what do you mean? I already sold you everything a long time ago!" The former unknown poet got angry.

   "Why don't you tell the truth? Something in the dresser?" said the Tatar. Going up, he flung open the doors.

   "What's the matter? Later on you'll buy new ones!"  He started looking over the trousers in the light.

   "All right, there's a carpet in the corner," agreed the proprietor of the room.

   "What about the bed?" asked the Tatar.


   In the evening, after pacing the room, the former poet headed for a most remarkable building.

   He went up a stairway. Stooping, he paid admission.

   Asphodelyev was sitting across from the bald, young, ruddy croupier and gambling away the advance received in the morning at the editorial office.

   "Ah, Agathonov," said Asphodelyev, stretching out his hand to him, "where have you been hiding yourself?"

   "I've been busy."

   "What in the world have you been up to?" Asphodelyev wondered.

   "We're not going to talk about that," The balding young man turned aside. "I came here to have a good time, not to talk about business."

   Asphodelyev looked at him. "He's nervous," he thought.

   "Life is beautiful," Asphodelyev began philosophizing. "You should enjoy all life's bounty. Look at these beautiful palms," and with a sweeping motion Asphodelyev pointed to the shriveled plants. "Listen. Music!"

   He went up with the former poet to glass doors. From the other side came a music hall song.

   "Look at the faces, gasping with excitement, how their eyes are lit up, how the players scrape the cloth with their nails."

   But all this the former poet did not see. He did see that the croupiers deducted from every round a ten percent cut of the table for the needs of the people's enlightenment and stashed every tip into their vest pocket, saying, "Merci," that all of them were bald, well-fed, dressed in the latest fashion, that embezzlers and bribe-takers were crowding around the tables and losing money for the needs of the people's enlightenment, that, having appropriated the money in one department, they would gladly give it back to another.

    There were no ladies with large earrings here, nor creatures swaying their hips. The game wasn't fused with voluptuousness. True, some players were excited. Just the same, in spite of everything, they were hoping to win.

   "You're a romantic," said the former poet, turning to Asphodelyev. "You big, naughty baby, don't you feel the enormous drabness of the world? I come here because I have nothing to do, because, after I failed to go crazy, I  feel it can all go to hell."

   "And you tried to go crazy? What a romantic you are!" Asphodelyev tore into the former poet.

   "Of course not," the young man backed off. "I said that off the cuff. You don't think I'm an idiot, do you?"

   "Knock it off," said Asphodelyev. "No one respects you and loves your writings as much as I do. A man needs a dream, you give him a dream--what more could you ask for?"

   "I never gave them any kind of dream," Agathonov replied.

   Having made their way to a restaurant at the club, they had been sitting for a few hours now. They had already drunk about a dozen beers and shots of foul cognac on the side, and now they were on to red wine. And a chorus of gypsies appeared on the stage and started singing their old songs, and a gypsy walked around with his guitar and accompanied, stomping his feet, and two gypsy women wearing red shoes stepped out from the crowd in their multi-colored dresses and started their shaking.

   "Nonsense, what nonsense," Agathonov muttered and went on into the gambling hall, took a seat that was left vacant.

   Two enchantresses rose behind him.

   Feeling that they they were leaning their elbows against his shoulders, Agathonov turned his head.

   "Don't bother me." He pushed them away. "I beg you!"

   Turning up their little noses, they backed off.

   Agathonov began to feel bad. "Before, I used to treat them in a totally different way."

   Two players raced toward a croupier who had gotten up, started excusing themselves and begged him for an advance. He walked away, refusing. They followed on his heels. Asphodelyev and Agathonov were leaving. The two enchantresses went after them. Then the enchantresses stopped.

   "Lovely," Asphodelyev was saying, "lovely..."

   "What do you say," Agathonov interrupted Asphodelyev. "Won't I be able to spend the night at your place?"


   Asphodelyev's study was lit up with a porcelain chandelier.

   Opposite the doorway, with a candelabra in the shape of a sphinx, stood an enormous desk from Alexander's time. Rising upon it to half the height of the room, like pyramids, were books that recently came out, small books and booklets, all neatly slit and stocked with paper bookmarks. On recently acquired redwood bookcases were Gœthe in German and Pushkin in the Brockhaus edition. Lying on tables were an illustrated Evgeny Onegin and Woe from Wit in the Holick and Willborg edition.

   "Excuse me," said Asphodelyev, "my wife's asleep."

   He put out a bottle of vodka and pickles.

   Deep into the night Agathonov recited his poetry.

   "How stupid this is," he interrupted himself, "I didn't hear anything."

   At three o'clock in the morning he got up: "What idiocy it is to consider wine a means of knowledge."

   He saw himself wandering: "What am I for the city and what is it for me?"

   "Morning!" He went up to the window. He sat on a couch and opened his mouth.

   Rays of a tepid sun lit up the noticeable bald spot and the first drive-ups. Agathonov was lying on the couch. One foot in a violet sock was sticking out from under the blanket.

   The rays came down and lit up the shoulders, then a shot glass flared up just a bit near an empty bottle.

   Agathonov woke up--they were tapping him on the shoulder.

   "Excuse me, my dear friend," said Asphodelyev, "they've brought a book-case with inlay."

   Behind Asphodelyev stood the bookcase. Two deliverymen were smoking Majorca. 

   Looking for a place to pass the night, Agathonov went in the evening to a family that wasn't very familiar to him.

   As always on such occasions, tea was prepared, different kinds of sandwiches, cookies, candies and jam. But, as almost always, there was an absence of wine.

   Agathonov, as almost always, was late and showed up when they were no longer waiting for him.

   At the tea table he started reading poetry.


                                 In multi-colored semi-twilight

                                            .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 

                                            All the time I feel a connection

                                            With a star, shining way up high,

                                            And, maybe, for the last time.


                                            But no, but no, the words lied,

                                            You see, she died long ago.

                                            But I, like a lover, pay no heed

                                            And wait for her to spring up before me.


                                            Step aside, my friend, let me glance,

                                            A moment longer, at the golden brow,

                                            At the finely frothed shoulders,

                                            At the lacey chin.


                                            Don't, don't let Psyche fly off,

                                            I feel her all the same...

                                            And I see, I see--she crawls out

                                           And offers a mop.


                                            And we fly over the former city,

                                            Over Swan Neva,

                                            Over a thinned-out Summer Garden,

                                            Over a factory with a big chimney.


   "Tell me," a girl turned toward him, "does your poetry have some kind of meaning or does it have none at all?"

   "None at all," answered Agathonov.

   "I suggest," observed a cooperative member, "that meaningless poetry is not worth writing."

   After tea, the young people and the young ladies sat down in a little corner and started telling each another anecdotes. A girl with hair discolored by hydrogen peroxide started first.

   "A certain stupid young man liked to ride horseback. We were living at a dacha then, in Lakhta. He lived in the city and rode at a training school and around the islands. One day, coming into the veranda, where we were drinking tea, instead of saying hello, he proudly announced, 'All the mares I've been riding have gotten pregnant.' We burst out laughing with delight and ran off to tell about his stupidity, but our father turned up: 'So," he said. 'What do you think, the colts are going to look like you?'"

   "One day the following incident took place in a bathhouse," a journalist began to relate, touching the foot of the women next to him. "A certain bather poured a tub of cold water over my neighbor. The latter ran up to him with his fists raised. 'Excuse me,' said the pourer, 'I thought you were Rabinovich.' The man who was poured upon started swearing. The pourer shrugged and said, 'That's some defender Rabinovich has.'"

   "During the imperialist war," Kovalyov raised his voice, lighting up a cigarette taken from the journalist, "a certain cornet, being on special assignments, felt like having a smoke. The officers were out in the fresh air, in the presence of an armies commander who had just arrived. The cornet stepped off to the side and lit up, hiding the cigarette in the sleeve of his overcoat. 'Cornet, who gave you permission to smoke! The devil only knows! Discipline's going down!' the armies commander started shouting. 'My fault, your excellency,' the cornet, unloading his hand onto his cap, babbled on and on, not knowing how to reply, 'I thought that in the fresh air...' 'You are forgetting, cornet,' the general started yelling, 'that where I am, there is no fresh air!'" Finishing the anecdote, satisfied with his wit, Kovalyov smiled.

   In the middle of the room, girls, ladies , and men were dashing around, playing cat-and-mouse.

   On the way from there, Agathonov bumped into Kostya Rotikov. They were so touched by the encounter they started to accompany each other. They noticed neither the nighttime cold, nor that the streets were empty. For the third time now, Kostya Rotikov led Agathonov up to the gateway of his building. For a third time now, Agathonov led Kostya Rotikov up to the gateway of Kostya Rotikov's building, and now Agathonov found himself in Kostya Rotikov's room.

   They sat down on an enormous couch. But auntie didn't bring them any tea on a tray, or slices of sifted-flour bread. Opening the door a bit between one and two in the morning,  Kostya Rotikov's father, a tiny little old man, didn't glance into the room, and didn't advise going to bed, reminding Konstantin Petrovich that he would have to teach English the next day to the old ladies. And Kostya Rotikov and the unknown poet didn't smile gladly in response and didn't go on with enjoying a metaphysical poet.

   But, bubbling over from the unexpected meeting, they got down to talking. Once again, it seemed to them the moon wasn't the moon, but a dirigible, and the room not a room, but a gondola, in which they sped over an endless expanse of world literature and over every field of art. Konstantin Petrovich, in forgetfulness, now stretched out his hand to the shelf to take down a poem about syphilis by Fracastoro, to compare it with a poem about syphilis by Barthelémy, a poet-propagandist of the mid-nineteenth century, in which it said of Napoleon that, strictly speaking, it wasn't his fault that Frenchmen were short in those days, and that syphilis had been assimilated by the nation and refashioned. But his hand hung in mid-air, because there appeared in the window the walking stick of an Irish poet who had came to Russia and the shoulder of a German student, Miller. And then their physiognomies were glued to the glass--one, furnished with a poetic English beard, the other-- clean-shaven, smiling, in a raised collar, a real nice little face. After this, hoisted onto her friends' shoulders, a womanly face in Pre-Raphaelite style peeped into the room.

  A few minutes later, a procession came out from under the gateway into the street.

   Walking in front was the creature with the lovely face. She was dressed in a little sheepskin coat--chamois up to the waist, fur from the waist up. Gleaming on the creature's little feet were amazingly tiny patent leather shoes, and twinkling on her cute little head was a nice little cap.

   Walking behind the creature was the Irish poet, in a full-length leather jacket.

   Behind him was Agathonov in a fall coat.

   Behind him was the German student in a summer coat.

   Rounding off the procession was Kostya Rotikov, in a raccoon coat. At an intersection, gathering around the creature in the sheepskin coat, the people who had come out began deliberating about the means of transportation.


   Das ist ganz einfach [It's altogether simple], remarked the German, "we'll go by car."

   He quickly ran into the intersection and started haggling.

   They took off for a bar.


   "I love you very much," said the Irish poet. "Everything's strange here. I'm going to stay. A poet can live here! You've got world questions here. You go wherever you like here--and nobody pays any attention. But, back home, it says in the papers everything here's in ruins, there's hunger, grass in the streets. To poetry!" he clinked glasses with Agathonov.

   "You've got Tolstoy, Gorky," seconded the German. Strictly speaking, there was no longer a conversation in one language, but in every language all at once: a Greek khai [and] suddenly flared up; then, instead of gymnasium, he palaistra; then, for some reason, urbs [city] rang out, then asty [city], then sounds of Italian were poured, then French, pronounced nasally. Singing near the doorway of the bar was a gray, withered beggar-woman.

   Sitting at the little table now before the bottles, a drunken Agathonov  remembered the day when, for the first time, he undertook the experiment, that is he couldn't precisely remember the day, but he thought it was a sunny, autumn day, after the dog days of summer, when his friend Andrei and he were standing on a stairway at high school, lit up by sunlight at an enormous window not far from the staff room, when teachers in uniform frock coats with shiny buttons were going on down, when the supervisors, Spitsyn and the baron, were standing in the corridors, when grade masters and teachers were chatting in the staff room, when the principal stood above them on the stairway, and at the very bottom, in the entrance hall, among the numerous coat racks, sat the porter, Andrei Nikolaevich.

   It was no use for the former poet to get drunk. And in intoxication he sensed his own insignificance. No great idea occurred to him whatsoever, no pale rose petals whatsoever arranged themselves into a wreath, no pedestal whatsoever appeared under his feet. No longer did he approach wine purely, with self-respect, with the awareness of doing a great thing, with the anticipation of revealing something so beautiful the world would be astounded, and, now, wine revealed to him his own creative impotence, his own loathsomeness deep inside. And it was brutal and frightful inside him, and brutal and frightful around him, and even though he hated wine, he was drawn to wine. 

   The former poet was returning on foot. He chose the narrowest, darkest streets. Once again he wanted to feel he was in 1917, 1920. Once again he was prepared to resort to whatever poisonous substance you like, so that a vision might appear before him. Growing inside him was a craving for intoxication. He couldn't stand it any more, got on a trolley and rode to Pushkin Street. But, after all these years, it had changed. No longer were packs of vagrants reeling along the pavement. No secret whistle rang out at his appearance. There was no Lida standing under a gateway smoking a cigarette. He remembered: it was here she took the walking stick and ring from him to wear for a while and brought them back two hours later. It was here she swore at her girlfriends, and he pleaded with her not to swear because only cart-drivers swore. In this green building he stood at the window, and she sat on a squalid bed and senselessly shook her head. She jumped up and wanted to throw herself out the window. There, in the intersection, he met her for the last time. She was being taken away to a concentration camp, but he stood there as if paralyzed. He knows the places under every gateway here, but now there isn't one familiar face.

   Late at night, violet eyes flashed from a stairwell.

   "Lida," Agathonov exclaimed, his face lighting up, and began running.

   There turned his way a completely different face.

   "Lida," he exclaimed in despair, "we're still terribly young!" And he ran after her, stumbling.

   And a certain figure suddenly stopped. The sound of a slap in the face rang out, repeated by the echo of locked gateways, then rapid steps were heard, also repeated by an echo. Left standing on the spot was a man with a walking stick decorated with amethyst. And in the sky there were stars --blue, yellow, red--but the apartment buildings didn't strive upwards and didn't fall, and snowflakes didn't fall, nor were there cards left lying, forgotten, at the doorway.

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