or "The Steps of the Commander"
Translated by Alexander Burry and Tatiana Tulchinsky
The legend of Venedikt Erofeev (1938-1990) as Venichka the alcoholic holy fool is inseparable from his magnum opus Moscow to the End of the Line. So great has the popularity of this 1969 poema been that many commentators view Erofeev as a one-work author. Mikhail Epstein, describing him as a self-mythologizer, remarks that killing off Venichka at the end of the work can be viewed as a kind of self-destruction. "[W]hile he actually survived for twenty years after this end," Epstein writes, "Erofeev never regained full creative consciousness. Instead there were only momentary flashes which signaled the death throes of an artistic talent" (426). Rare as these "flashes" may be, however, they merit considerably more attention than they have received. In particular, Erofeev's only completed dramatic work, his 1985 tragedy Walpurgis Night, or the Steps of the Commander, represents a highly ambitious effort. Erofeev himself indicates the large-scale quality of the play, which according to his widow Galina was intended to be part of a trilogy, by calling it a "tragedy in five acts."
In many ways, the subject matter of Walpurgis Night is even more horrifying than that of Moscow to the End of the Line. Its description of an alcoholic, half-Jewish poet, Lev Isakovich Gurevich, who is confined in a mental ward of a Soviet hospital, considerably enlarges the tragic dimensions of the poema. Erofeev moves the protagonist's struggle from the relatively private, interior world of Venichka's alcoholic hallucinations to the more public arena of a mental hospital that functions as a microcosm of Soviet culture and power structures. Ward 3 in Walpurgis Night, with its dictatorial doctors and his monstrous henchman Borenka "the Thug," recalls the Soviet practice of incarcerating dissidents in mental hospitals by fabricating diagnoses of illnesses. As the doctor explains to Gurevich, "Confidentially speaking, in the recent past we have begun to hospitalize even those who, at first glance, don't have a single visible syndrome of psychic disturbance." The violence of Borenka also reinforces this prison-like atmosphere; many such orderlies in mental hospitals had criminal records.
As Naum Leiderman and Mark Lipovetsky point out, the central conflict of the play is linguistic (70). Erofeev pits Gurevich, who improvises in iambic pentameter at every opportunity, against the hospital staff members, who attempt to suppress his verbal pyrotechnics and use force to punish him for his rebelliousness. Gurevich's poetic language is continually juxtaposed with the doctor's Soviet officialese and the endless profanities of Borenka and the nurse Tamarochka. The doctor's order that Gurevich stop speaking in "Shakespearean iambs" exemplifies a basic opposition of poet versus authority, recalling not only Soviet treatment of dissidents but also nineteenth-century Tsarist repression of poets such as Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov. Gurevich's ward mates are also eccentric poets, whose improvisations parody various Soviet discourses including newspaper jargon (Prokhorov), village prose (Vova), and absurd construction projects (Seryozha Kleinmikhel).
Like Moscow to the End of the Line, Walpurgis Night contains innumerable subtexts. Two of these - the Faust and Don Juan legends - are indicated in the title itself. The second part, "the steps of the commander," quotes the title of Alexander Blok's 1912 poem (from the cycle Retribution), although the play refers most directly to the first Russian incarnation of this legend, Pushkin's play The Stone Guest. Along with these references, the plot recalls Anton Chekhov's story "Ward No. 6," with its brutal orderly Nikita and its depiction of the hospital as a prison. Similarly, the basic plot of a non-conformist poet incarcerated in a mental ward brings to mind Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita. Erofeev also makes numerous smaller-scale intertextual allusions. His exhaustive medley of literary, philosophical, political and historical references joins together personages ranging from Agamemnon, Othello, and Descartes to Nikolai Nekrasov and Soviet figures such as Lazar Kaganovich and Iosif Kobzon. Dizzying as this array of subtexts may be, the play never loses sight of the tragic conflict revolving around the fate of the poet in the Soviet Union, as Gurevich struggles to assert his verbal play against the banal, hostile, violent order of the hospital staff.
On the surface, then, Erofeev's play would appear to posit a simple conflict between the dissident poet and a brutal Soviet society devoid of linguistic creativity. The situation, however, is more complex. After all, it is Gurevich who, in the name of a "higher truth," ends up causing the ultimate catastrophe in Ward 3. Significantly, his behavior in relation to the other inmates actually parallels the monological attitudes displayed toward him by the doctor. Just as the doctor seeks to restrict his language in the Act I interrogation, Gurevich similarly limits the verbal games of the inmates, approving only those improvisations that fit in with the worldview he attempts to impose on the ward. Comments like "Shhh! Drunken fools! You have completely misunderstood my inspired vision" in Act V, his frequent disgust at the ward mates, and his efforts to punish them by recommending beatings or withholding drinks suggest a desire to control his fellow spontaneous poetic improvisers. In the very act of rebelling against the doctor and Borenka, Gurevich merely recreates their tyrannical behavior in the service of a different ideology.
In this sense, the Don Juan subtext achieves particular resonance with Erofeev's paradoxical situation. The legendary Don Juan also rebels against a restrictive society that does not account for his unusual needs and appetites; this is especially true of The Stone Guest, where, as several critics have pointed out, Pushkin turns Don Juan into a restless poet who recreates himself artistically with each sexual encounter. Don Juan's opposition to higher authorities, though, involves new acts of tyranny, as he subjects all of his victims to his own personal order. By blurring the boundary between rebellion and conformity in this manner, Erofeev ultimately expresses doubt about the capacity of dissident poets to counter the reigning Soviet ideology effectively, due to their own complicity. Thus the play is a pessimistic rather than celebratory account of the poet and his role in society. As such, it is a universal rather than purely Russian tragedy, despite its obvious literary and political references to the Soviet Union of the early 1980s. Walpurgis Night may also reflect Erofeev's personal tragedy. Gurevich's wordless roars at the end of Act V - which contrast so starkly with his articulacy throughout the play - seem to hint at the author's own quite literal loss of his voice. Erofeev's throat cancer, which began around the time he wrote Walpurgis Night and eventually claimed his life, required him to use a special device attached to his throat in order to speak.
Erofeev's unique style poses tremendous challenges to the translator. In this play, a good part of the difficulty involves distinguishing Gurevich's generative poetic language from the doctor's Soviet style, the crude profanities of Borenka and Tamarochka, and the various styles of the Ward 3 inmates. Many English equivalents have to be provided for puns, wordplay, and distinctly Russian idioms. The very name "Borenka Mordovorot," which might read "Borenka the Face Twister" in literal translation, creates problems; ultimately we decided on "Borenka the Thug." Gurevich's frequent improvisations in iambic pentameter, fortunately, proved to be much easier to recreate in English iambs, as they are unrhymed in the original. At all times, we have endeavored to convey Erofeev's broad range of linguistic levels while retaining the play's conversational qualities. Walpurgis Night has been performed frequently in Russia, and we hope that this translation, to our knowledge the first in English, will enable the play to be performed for English speakers as well. Erofeev's Venichka legend has been the subject of continual critical attention since his death, and this process will undoubtedly continue for years to come. It is to be hoped, though, that this translation will direct further attention to Erofeev's astonishing gifts as a writer, craftsman, and poet, and make another part of his fascinating oeuvre known to a world-wide audience.
Erofeev, Venedikt, Ostav'te moiu dushu v pokoe: pochti vse. Moscow: Izd-vo Kh.G.S., 1995.
Epstein, Mikhail, "Charms of Entropy and New Sentimentality: The Myth of Venedikt
Erofeev." Trans. Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover. Russian Postmodernism: New Perspectives on Post-Soviet Culture. Ed. Slobodanka Vladiv-Glover. New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1999. 423-55.
Leiderman, Naum and Lipovetskii, Mark, Sovremennaia russkaia literatura, Vol. 3. Moscow: URSS, 2001. 68-70
Walpurgis Night, or "The Steps of the Commander"
A Tragedy in Five Acts
DOCTOR in the reception office of a psycho ward
Two consulting assistants. One wearing glasses, scrawny and pint-sized, and more of a
secretary than an assistant. The other, ZINAIDA NIKOLAEVNA, enormous and ruddy.
Senior doctor IGOR LVOVICH RANINSON
PROKHOROV, monitor of Ward 3 and dictator of Ward 2
ALEKHA, nicknamed the Dissident, Prokhorov's weapon bearer
VOVA, a melancholy little old man from the country
SERYOZHA KLEINMIKHEL, a meek schemer
STASIK, orator and gardener
PASHKA EREMIN, Komsomol Secretary of Ward 3
Rear admiral MIKHALYCH
Orderly BORENKA, nicknamed the Thug
KHOKHULYA, a sexual mystic and devil worshiper
Fat orderlies with stretchers, taking away corpses in the last act
The action takes place on April 30th, then during the night, ending at dawn of May Day.
(Also a prologue. The reception office. To the left of the audience is the jury. The senior DOCTOR of the reception office looks like the composer Georgy Sviridov, with
an almost square phiz and perfectly square eyeglasses. He is seated between two ladies in white hospital gowns: ZINAIDA NIKOLAEVNA occupies nearly half of the proscenium and VALENTINA, slightly slouched, is totally lost in space, wearing glasses, with papers in front of her. Behind them, the orderly BORENKA paces measuredly. He is also called "the Thug" - more about him later.)
(On the other side of the table is Lev Isaakovich GUREVICH, just delivered by the "louse cart" (the ambulance).)
DOCTOR: Your last name, patient?
DOCTOR: Gurevich, you say. And how can you confirm that you are really Gurevich, and
not… Do you have any documents on your person?
GUREVICH. No documents, I don't like them. René Descartes said that…
DOCTOR: (Adjusting his glasses.) Name and patronymic?
GUREVICH: Whose? Descartes's?
DOCTOR: No, no, patient, your name and patronymic!
GUREVICH: Lev Isaakovich.
DOCTOR: (Lifts his glasses and looks aside at the four-eyed VALENTINA.) Make a note of that.
VALENTINA: Excuse me, make a note of what?
DOCTOR: Everything! Make a note of everything!… Are your parents alive? And if you're not really a Gurevich, there's no point lying about it… Well, I repeat: are your parents alive?…
GUREVICH: Both are alive, and their names are…
DOCTOR: Yes, how interesting, tell us what their names are.
GUREVICH: Isaak Gurevich. And my mom is Rosalia Pavlovna…
DOCTOR: Is she also a Gurevich?
GUREVICH: Yes. But she is Russian.
DOCTOR: So, what state is your mother in?
GUREVICH: You are tactless, doctor. What do you mean, "what state is my mother in"? And what state is yours in, or are you an orphan?
DOCTOR: Notice, patient, I am completely calm. I ask the same of you… So, who do you love more, your mom or your dad? This is not at all inconsequential medically.
GUREVICH: I'd have to say my dad. When we swam across the Hellespont…
DOCTOR: (To VALENTINA.) Make a note of it. He loves his Jewish dad more than his Russian mom… And what in the world brought you to the Hellespont? After all, if my knowledge of geography doesn't fail me, this is not our territory, not yet…
GUREVICH: Maybe it isn't, maybe it is. All territory is ours. Or rather, it will be ours. They just won't let us hang out there, evidently out of peacekeeping considerations, to
make us settle for just one sixth of the inhabited earth.
DOCTOR: And… is it very wide, this Hellespont?
GUREVICH: A few Bosporuses wide.
DOCTOR: Oh, so you measure distance in Bosporuses? This is your lucky day, patient; your neighbor in the ward will be a man who measures time in nightstands and stools. You'll really hit it off with him. So why Bosporuses?
GUREVICH: Nothing could be simpler. Even you'll get it. When I leave the house in the
morning and go to the liquor store for some plonk, my trip takes precisely 670
steps - and according to the Brockhaus Encyclopedia, this is the exact width of the
DOCTOR: So far so good. And did you often take these kinds of trips?
GUREVICH: Hard to say. Some people do it more often… But I, unlike them, did it without
any showing off or recklessness. Only when I was sad…
DOCTOR: Well, never mind your sadness. And how did you finance… crossing this Bosporus
of yours every day? This is very important…
GUREVICH: I do any work I can find. Whatever it takes: massive sowing of buckwheat and millet… or the other way around… Right now I am employed by a hardware store,
as a Tatar stock boy.
ZINAIDA NIKOLAEVNA: And how much you make?
GUREVICH: I earn exactly as much as my Motherland sees fit. And if it were to seem too little to me, well, I might sulk, and the Motherland would catch up with me and ask:
"Lyova, is it too little for you? Maybe I should add a bit more?" - and I'd say:
"That's all right, Motherland, get lost, you yourself don't have dick."
DOCTOR: (Trying to humor him.) I see that you're not really a Tatar stock boy from a hardware store but an unfettered seafarer. Stand up. Put your feet together. Close your eyes. Stretch your arms forward.
GUREVICH: (Does what is prescribed.) May I sit now?
DOCTOR: Yes, you may. We're done.We already have almost everything we need. Just one
more detail: I won't ask you if you're married, but is there a woman who is dear
to your heart, a partner in life?
GUREVICH: Of course there is. Or more precisely, there was. When we swam across the
Hindu Kush… she shattered her beautiful head… on the reefs of British Samoa. At
this moment (GUREVICH is near tears.)… right at this moment, fate struck the baton from the hand of the maestro. I drowned, but swam out - are you glad that I swam out?
DOCTOR: From the Hindu Kush?
GUREVICH: From the Hindu Kush. Of course, swimming out of the Hindu Kush is child's play for someone who has already conquered the Dardanelles.
DOCTOR: Exactly! Such a patient is a rarity for us - I'm glad you didn't drown. But when you were swimming, did you by any chance take a bottle with you?
GUREVICH: And how! An armor-piercing one. Sour vinegar ammonia - sharks can't stand it.
As soon as a shark appears, you pour a bit of this sour vinegar ammonia on
yourself and your girlfriend, and that's it! The sharks fidget, then they lose their
empty heads completely, and, well… they lick your girlfriend's calves in parting…
But of course, jealousy would be ridiculous in such a situation… Now, when things
got to the point of Karakorum…
DOCTOR: And what day is it today? What year? What month?
GUREVICH: What does it matter?… All this is sort of trivial for Russia - days, millennia…
DOCTOR: I see. Tell me, patient: do you ever experience any hallucinations, illusions,
chimeras, imaginary voices…?
GUREVICH: I can't brighten your day with that - I never do. But…
DOCTOR: But what?
GUREVICH: I'm thinking about the chimeras… For example, why the hell did I travel the
whole world, cross the Kunlun, climb the heights of Kon-Tiki, only to find out one
thing: that in Archangelsk the best place to deposit empty wine bottles is on Rosa
DOCTOR: Any other peculiarities?
GUREVICH: Many. For one, I sometimes have a desire that the whole sky should be studded with Boütes constellations. That there should be no other constellations. And I -
under these Boütes - should be deprived of something, something essential, but not
the most cherished thing.
(The doctors and nurses get nervous. Behind their backs, BORENKA THE THUG paces serenely.)
GUREVICH: (Continues.) But the Boütes and Pleiades are nothing compared to this peculiarity: I discovered that when I raised my left leg, I couldn't raise my right one
simultaneously. This was a real downer. I shared my bewilderment with Prince Golitsyn…
(The DOCTOR winks at VALENTINA to get her to copy this down. She lazily inclines her
GUREVICH: … and there we were, drinking, drinking, drinking… to put our thoughts in
order… And I asked him in a whisper, so as not to bother anyone - although there was really nobody else to bother, we were alone, just the two of us - so, in order not to bother anyone, I asked him in a whisper: why does my watch run backwards? And he peered at me, at my watch, and then he said: "Looking at you one can't even tell, and we haven't drunk all that much either… and my watch also runs backwards, anyway."
DOCTOR: Drinking is bad for you, Lev Isaakych…
GUREVICH: As if I didn't know that. To tell me this now is like saying, for instance, to the Venetian Moor, at the very moment he is shaken by his deed, that constriction of the windpipe and trachea can result in paralysis of the respiratory center due to asphyxiation.
DOCTOR: All right, that's enough… Prince Golitsyn, you say… And did you ever happen to gulp down vodka with viscounts, counts, marquises?…
GUREVICH: Did I ever! Count Tolstoy, for instance, calls me…
GUREVICH: And why do you assume it's Lev? If it's a count - then it has to be Lev! But I'm also Lev, and I'm not a count at all. So, Lev's great-grandson calls me and says that he has two bottles of ginger vodka on his table, but nothing to snack on except two Chapaev jokes…
DOCTOR: And does this Count Tolstoy live far away?
GUREVICH: Not at all. Right near the "Novokuznetskaya" metro stop. If you haven't drunk ginger vodka for a long time…
DOCTOR: And what about Joseph DeMaistre? The viscount Bragelonne? Would you invite
them into the slums to knock back some of this… what do you call it…plonk?
GUREVICH: In a heartbeat. As long as there is a thick undergrowth of euonymus in these
slums… And some anemones wouldn't be bad either… but there are rumors going around, they've all emigrated by now…
DOCTOR: The anemones?
GUREVICH: If only it were just the anemones. But it's also the Bragelonnes, Josephs, and crocuses. Every one of them runs away. But why do they run away? And where do they go? I, for one, like it here very much. The only thing I don't like is the law against vagrancy. And… disrespect for the Word. But everything else…
DOCTOR: (His plenipotentiary voice rises to an emergency level.) Yes, but what if misfortune befalls our Motherland? After all, it's no secret to anyone that our foes live for
only one thing: to destabilize us, and then completely… Do you know what I mean? We're talking serious business here. (Turns to ZINAIDA NIKOLAEVNA.) How many nationalities, languages, and tribes do we have here in Russia?
ZINAIDA NIKOLAEVNA: How the hell should I know?…A half thousand, for sure.
DOCTOR: There, you see, a half thousand. And what do you think, patient, in the case of circumstances, face to face with our enemy, which tribe can be relied on most? You're an educated man, an old hand at euonymus and anemones, and you know that they run away from us for some reason… And so, when all hell breaks loose - which side will you be on, Lev Isaakovich?
GUREVICH: Actually, I'm against all war. War corrupts soldiers, destroys the ranks, and
dirties uniforms (the great Prince Konstantin Pavlovich). But that doesn't mean
anything. As soon as my Motherland is on the brink of catastrophe…
DOCTOR: (Aside to VALENTINA.) Copy this down too.
GUREVICH: As soon as my Motherland is on the brink of catastrophe, as soon as she says: "Lyova! Quit drinking, get up, and come back to the land of the living" - then…
(Animation in the audience. The clattering of heels to the right, and then the nurse NATALIE rapidly but without fuss sails into the reception office. Her eyes take up almost half of her smiley face. She has a dimple in her cheek. Her hair, pulled back on her head, is completely black, fastened with an exotic hairpin. All of this smacks of Slavic calm and gentleness, but also of Andalusia.)
DOCTOR: You're just in time, Natalya Alekseevna. (The usual exchange of greetings among the women, and all the rest. NATALIE sits next to ZINAIDA.)
NATALIE: New patient… Gurevich?! Long time no…
DOCTOR: We are in effect ending our conversation with the patient. Don't distract him,
Natalya Alekseevna, and no separate negotiations… All that's left is to clarify a few circumstances, and - off to the ward…
GUREVICH: (Animated by NATALIE's presence, continues.) We were talking about the Motherland and catastrophe. And so, I love Russia; she occupies a sixth part of my soul. And probably even a bit more right now… (Laughter in the audience.). Every normal citizen should be a brave warrior, just as every normal urine specimen should have a bright amber color. (Inspired, he quotes Kheraskov.)
Prepared to shield our cherished fatherland,
We're eager to engage the world in battle.
But here is the consideration that holds me back: I, a morally wretched boozer, am simply unworthy of fighting for this motherland.
DOCTOR: Doesn't have to be that way. We will make you better, and…
GUREVICH: So what if you make me better?… I'll never, ever figure out which tank goes
where anyway. Of course, I'm ready to throw myself under any tank, with or
without a bunch of grenades…
ZINAIDA NIKOLAEVNA: But what good will it do without grenades?
GUREVICH: An enemy flies up into the air even if you throw yourself with nothing at all.
Here is my advice to you: read more… Well, if not a single tank turns up nearby, then I'll definitely find an embrasure. No matter whose it is, I'll cover it with my chest right away, and I'll lie there, lie there until our crimson standard is raised over the Capitol.
DOCTOR: I think that's enough clowning around. You'll see very soon, we've got clowns coming out of our ears here. How do you assess your overall condition? Or do you seriously believe that your brain is undamaged?
GUREVICH: (As the badgering DOCTOR taps his fingers on the table like a movie actor playing a detective.) And do you believe yours is?
DOCTOR: (Peevishly) I asked you, patient, only to answer my questions. I will answer yours when you are fully recovered. So, what is your general condition, in your opinion?
GUREVICH: It's hard to say… Such a strange feeling… immersion-into-nothing… agitation- about-nothing… liking-for-nobody… And as if you were betrothed to someone… but to whom, when, and why - this is beyond all comprehension… As if you were occupied by someone, and rightfully so, in accordance with an agreement about a mutually beneficial, close friendship, but still occupied… and you feel sort of… not-disturbed-by-anything, but also not-crucified-on-anything … not-puked-from- anything. In short, you feel as if you were inside a paradise, but at the same time in a completely different place… well… as if you were in your stepmother's womb…
DOCTOR: You may think that you are expressing yourself unclearly, patient. You're mistaken. But all this buffoonery will be knocked out of you. I hope that you respect our medicine, despite all your tendencies toward cynicism and bragging, and will not cause an uproar in our wards.
GUREVICH: (Glancing momentarily at NATALIE, who is fixing her white hospital gown.)
My papa told me one day: "Listen, Lev,
You'll grow up - and become a bon vivant!"
I didn't. In my youth I gained a skill:
To be obedient to everyone,
As long as they deserved it. Oh yes, I,
Was happy as a rotten clam at birth.
But as for…
DOCTOR: (Interrupts him, frowning.) I thought I already asked you several times to stop clowning around. You're not on stage, but in a reception office… Can't you speak
in a human language, without all these… these…
ZINAIDA NIKOLAEVNA: (Prompting him.) Shakespearean iambs…
DOCTOR: Right, iambs, we have enough of a headache without that…
GUREVICH: All right, I won't do it anymore… You were talking about our medicine, do I
revere it? Revere is too boring a word, to tell the truth, and… flat-footed…
But I - but I'm in love with it for real
Without the least buffoonery or grimace.
Yes, I'm in love with all its ups and downs,
And I'm in love with all its healing spasms,
Infirmities of body and of soul,
Its primacy in Universe, in Reason
That never fades, so - screw it in the eyes,
And screw it in the tail, the mane, the mouth,
(In the course of this tirade, BORENKA THE THUG comes up to the speaker slowly, from behind, and waits for a signal to drag him off by the scruff of the neck.)
DOCTOR: OK, OK, that's enough, patient. Don't be a smart mouth in a nut house… Can you
tell me exactly when you were last brought here?
GUREVICH: Of course. Only, you see, I measure time a little differently. Needless to say, not by Fahrenheit, not by night tables, not by Reaumur. But still, a bit differently… It
is important to me, for example, what distance divided that day from the fall
equinox, or… let's say… summer solstice… or some other kind of crap. Take the
direction of the winds, for example. We, the majority, don't even know where the
northeast wind in fact blows: from the northeast or to the northeast, we don't give
a damn about anything… But the Mycenaean king Agamemnon - this guy put his
favorite, youngest little daughter Iphigenia under the sacrificial knife, only so that
the wind would be southwest, and not any other…
DOCTOR: (Noticing the patient's anxiety, gives a signal to the rest.) Yes… but you strayed from the question, you drifted northeast (Everyone laughs except for NATALIE.) So, when was the last time you were brought here?
GUREVICH: I don't remember… I don't remember exactly… Not even the winds… Here's the only thing I remember: on that day the Kuwaiti sheik Abdallah-as-Salem-as-Sabah founded a new government headed by the crown prince Sabah-as-Salem-as-Sabah… eighty-four days after the summer solstice… Oh, yes, to be even more precise, an event occurred on this day that has been etched in the memories of millions for the past five years: the same empty wine bottles that had been worth twelve or seventeen kopecks - depending on the volume - on that day they all jumped to twenty.
DOCTOR: (Suppressing the ladies' giggling with a glance.) So you don't think that anything more noteworthy has happened in Soviet history in the past five years?
GUREVICH: No, I don't think so… I don't recall… no, there wasn't anything.
DOCTOR: Well, then your memory has begun to betray you, and not only your memory.
Last time your diagnosis was severe alcoholic intoxication bordering on
polyneuritis… Now things will be more complicated. You'll have to stay here for
half a year or so…
GUREVICH: (Jumps up. Everyone else jumps up too.) Half a year or so?!
(BORENKA, with well-practiced hands, lowers GUREVICH back into the chair.)
DOCTOR: And why are you surprised, patient? You have a wonderfully visible syndrome. Confidentially speaking, in the recent past we have begun to hospitalize even those who, at first glance, don't have a single visible syndrome of psychic disturbance. But surely we shouldn't forget about those patients' capacity for involuntary or
carefully premeditated dissimulation. These people, as a rule, do not commit a
single antisocial or criminal act for their entire lives, and there isn't even the
smallest hint of nervous disorder. But they are dangerous precisely for this reason
and need to be subject to treatment. If only because of their inner disinclination
towards social adaptation…
GUREVICH: (Ecstatically.) Well, that's just great!
Yes, I'm in love with Lady Medicine
In love with all its victories and progress.
Its rapid progress spits right in the face
Of every faraway astonished land.
I love its self-sufficiency and rudeness
So screw it in the tail, and in the…
DOCTOR: (His princely voice turns into a kingly one.) I thought we already agreed about those… iambs, patient. I'm experienced enough, and I assure you: all of this will pass after the very first week of our treatment. And your sarcasm along with it. After a
couple of weeks, you will speak about normal things in a human language. You're
a bit of a poet?
GUREVICH: And will you treat me for that too?
DOCTOR: Now, now, you don't have to be like that… And who do you imitate? Who is your favorite?
GUREVICH: Martynov, of course…
ZINAIDA NIKOLAEVNA: Leonid Martynov?
GUREVICH: Not at all - Nikolai Martynov… and Georges D'Anthes.
NATALIE: (Making use of the general animation.) So, Lyova, now you're aping D'Anthes?
GUREVICH: Not at all - earlier I wrote in my own style, but it fizzled. A month ago, I was churning out a dozen poems a day - and as a rule, eleven of them were unforgettable, five or six epochal, and two or three immortal… But not anymore. Now I have decided to improvise after Nikolai Nekrasov. Want to hear one about the Socialist Competition?
DOCTOR: Well, why not? The Socialist Competition - after all, that is…
GUREVICH: I'll be very brief. Seven peasants get together and start quarreling over how many eggs you can squeeze out of a hen. The people from the district center and the
roosters, of course, don't suspect anything. All around them there is a mass of plant growth for silage, sows, banners - and there the peasants are arguing:
Roman: "One hundred seventy,"
Demyan: "One hundred eighty,"
"Five hundred," said Luka.
"Two thousand hundred seventy,"
The Gubin brothers said,
Ivan and Mitrodor.
The old Pakhom, he thought and thought
And uttered, looking down,
One hundred, one and thirty thousand, four hundred fourteen,
"A mullion," offered Prov.
Want me to go on?
DOCTOR: (Waving.) No, don't bother… Boris Anatolevich, Natalya Alekseevna, would you please conduct the patient to Ward 4. And immediately to the bathroom. (To GUREVICH.) You haven't yet reached the point of… hydrophobia, I hope?
GUREVICH: Not that I've noticed. If you don't count the pile of bloody associations I have
with bathrooms. You see, that Mycenaean king Agamemnon whom I mentioned to
you - well, he, upon returning from Pergamum, was hacked to death by a cutlass
in his bathroom. And the great revolutionary tribune Mar…
ZINAIDA NIKOLAEVNA: (Not listening to him, turning to the DOCTOR.) But why Ward 4, anyway? They're all stinking good-for-nothings… He'll rot away, develop suicidal thoughts. I think he'd be better off in Ward 3. Prokhorov, Eremin are there, they'll straighten him out…
DOCTOR: "Suicidal thoughts," you say… (To GUREVICH.) One last question for you. Have you ever, even deep down inside, gotten the idea to destroy yourself… or one of your fellow men?… Because Ward 4 isn't Ward 3, and we need to prick up our ears from time to time…
GUREVICH: I have to confess, I already sent one person that way. Then I was - I don't remember how old, not very old at all, but it happened about three days before the
new moon… anyway, at the time my least favorite person was my dear bald uncle,
a fan of Lazar Kaganovich, dirty jokes, and chicken soup. And my towheaded pal
Edik got me some poison; he said that the poison was a sure thing and slow acting.
I poured it all into my uncle's chicken soup - and what do you know? In exactly
twenty-six years he kicked the bucket in frightful torments…
DOCTOR: Hmm, y-yes… Never mind about your uncle… But did you ever have the desire
to lay a hand on yourself?
GUREVICH: Yes, just the day before yesterday, during the Flood…
DOCTOR: The Biblical Flood?
GUREVICH: Not at all. Everything began with the torrential rain at Orekhovo-Zuevo… We
had a spell of strange local catastrophes here in Russia in the recent past. Near
Kostroma, in broad daylight, nursing babies, bulldozers and everything else flew to
the skies. And no one was surprised by all this hocus-pocus. This is just about how
things stood in Orekhovo-Zuevo. It rained cats and dogs for seven days and nights,
without stopping and without mercy; the earthy earth disappeared, and so did the
DOCTOR: And who the hell carried you to Orekhovo-Zuevo?! The Tatar from the Moscow hardware store...?
It's very sad indeed to be a Tatar!
I had to earn a living in the boondocks:
As a conformist, as a non-conformist,
As a usurper, as a cannibal
And even as an agent from Japan
While at the institute of permafrost…
In short, when the elements were pounding in the city, I had a canoe, and in it were twelve dashing aborigine oarsmen. Besides us, nobody and nothing was above the surface of the waves… And then, I don't remember on which day of rowing and how many nights before the solstice, the water began to fall, and a spire of the City Komsomol Committee came out of the water… We anchored ourselves… But then, what a sight appeared before us: the devastation of hearts, howls from inside ruined buildings… I made up my mind to do away with myself, throw myself on the City Committee spire…
(The DOCTOR, clutching his head, signals for BORIS and NATALIE to hurry and take the patient to the ward.)
GUREVICH: One more thing, guys! And when my throat was already over the Committee
spire, and the Committee spire was under my throat, right then one of my oarsman buddies, trying to amuse me and distract me from the blackness of my soul, told me a riddle: "Two suckling pigs can run eight versts an hour. How many suckling pigs does it take to run one verst in an hour?" Right then I realized that I was losing my mind. And so - here I am. (Picks himself up from the chair, helped with exaggerated care by the THUG.) From that day forward everything in my head was all jumbled… Nacht und Nebel… it's all mixed up, puckling calves, sickling pugs, Mamai Hill, Malakhov Hill…
NATALIE: Are you dizzy, Lev? Let's go, easy now. (NATALIE takes him by the left arm, BORENKA by the right.) Everything will be fine now; you'll be put to bed.
GUREVICH: (Goes obediently.) But for some reason everything is all muddled and confused, puckling sigs, hills… Henry Ford and Ernest Rutherford… Rembrandt and Billy Brand.
DOCTOR: (Calling after them.) To Ward 3. An injection of glucose, piracetum.
GUREVICH: (Moving away with those accompanying him; his voice becomes more subdued.) Upton Sinclair and Sinclair Lewis, Sinclair Lewis and Lewis Carroll… Vera Maretskaya and Maya Plisetskaya… Jacques Offenbach and Ludwig Feuerbach… (Already barely
audible.)… Viktor Bokov and Vladimir Nabokov… Enrico Caruso and Robinson Crusoe…
(The act is preceded by five minutes of heavy, dismal music. At curtain's rise, the viewer sees Ward 3, with barred windows and an arched entrance to Ward 2. In order to prevent interward diffusion, exchange of information, and so on, the arched passageway is blocked by a folding bed, on which VITYA lies, stroking his huge stomach and licking his lips about something, with a timid, horrifying smile. The radiant STASIK bustles about the ward, running back and forth diagonally with his head slanted to the right. From time to time he declaims something, then freezes in an unexpected pose - for instant giving a pioneers' salute - and the declamation ceases, who knows for how long.)
(SERYOZHA KLEINMIKHEL, still very young, sits almost motionless on a bed, sometimes climbing down, continually touching his heart. He has eczema, his whole body is covered with hair, and his mouth is strangely twisted. On the adjacent bed, KOLYA and the meek, elderly VOVA hold each other's hands and are silent for the time being. KOLYA constantly drools and VOVA wipes him. PASHKA EREMIN, the secretary of the ward, still lies with the bed sheet covering his head, waiting for the tribunal. KHOKHULYA, a sexual mystic and devil-worshiper, lies on the bed to the right, with his eyes shut. But the main action, of course, takes place in the center: PROKHOROV, the indefatigable monitor of Ward 3, autocratic and pimply, and his weapon bearer ALEKHA, nicknamed the Dissident, are conducting (or rather, already concluding) a judicial trial of the affairs of the rear admiral MIKHALYCH.)
PROKHOROV: If you had simply been a snake, Mikhalych, that would be fine - if you're a snake, you're a snake. But you are actually a black mamba - yes, there is such a southern African snake - black mamba! Its bite is so poisonous that a man croaks 30 seconds before it! To the middle, shithead!
(ALEKHA, the fat weapon bearer, twists the rear admiral's hands behind his back with a towel. MIKHALYCH, brought to his knees, no longer holds any hope of mercy.)
PROKHOROV: How were you so lucky, you asshole, to rise to the unheard-of rank of rear admiral of the KGB? Or maybe you are really a boatswain of the KGB, and not a rear admiral?
ALEKHA: He's a warrant officer, a warrant officer, just look at his mug!..
PROKHOROV: There you have it, a warrant officer. Alekha and I have counted up all your
deeds here. Just one would have been enough… On September 1st of the past year,
did you sit at the wheel of a South Korean air liner? Here's the tally: Kherson and
Coventry are in ruins… The mere sophistication of this act is surprising: from all
his attacks only old men, women, and children suffered! And all the rest - all the
rest - it's as if this fucker never even flew over them! So, boatswain, all the gray
hairs of these old men, the tears of all the orphans, and the innards of all the
widows cry out to you! Alekha!
ALEKHA: Yes, here I am.
PROKHOROV: Tell me and all the Russian people: when was this killer caught red-handed selling our Kuril Islands at the Preobrazhensky market?
ALEKHA: The day before yesterday.
MIKHALYCH: That's a lie, the day before yesterday I was here, I didn't go anywhere outside
the ward, everyone's a witness, and dear little nurse Lucy fed me porridge with
PROKHOROV: That doesn't mean anything. After all, you lousy bastard, you were able to
carry out electronic espionage in the Arctic Ocean basin the day before, without
leaving the ward. The records of the preliminary investigation cannot lie. Judge for
yourself, whore spawn, imagine that you're not an admiral but page 170 of the
records of the preliminary investigation - could you lie?
PROKHOROV: And so, we in the club of experts: what? where? how much? How much are
the Kuril Islands now? Iturup - for a bottle of Andropov vodka, paid on an
installment plan? Kunashir - almost for nothing… But maybe these political
dealers just fucked you over in return for this?
(MIKHALYCH vainly tries to mumble something in his defense.)
PROKHOROV: What's more, this boatswain intended to sell the map of the Soviet liquor
stores to the CIA. And along the way - to dismember and farm out our blue-eyed
sister Belorussia to the Cameroonian dictator Misha Sokolov…
STASIK: (Sauntering by as usual.) Yes, they won't give you no medal for that. I recommend taking his pants from him and shooting him from a mortar…
PROKHOROV: Wait. I haven't even told you everything. Since this dog of a boatswain had nothing left to sell - he succeeded in drinking away the mind, honor, and conscience of our epoch in only a week - he had another plan: to sell our two remaining national pearls - our ballet and our subway - across the ocean. The whole deal was ready - only this double-dealer made a little mistake with one of his clients from Manhattan. When he went down into the subway with one of them, to add a bit to the price, the stupid Yankee businessman thought it was the ballet lying before him. And when he took him to the ballet… (General rumblings of
condemnation.) Grisha! Secretary! (The secretary PASHKA EREMIN answers only when he is called Grisha.) Get out of your bed sheets, don't be afraid, you're not the one being judged today. Speak your word, comrade!
PASHKA EREMIN: Very simply: why should our Nation treat this snake for free? He should be hanged to death upside down!
KOLYA: Yes, that's how the eastern despots dealt with the Agaryans: they shoved their heads back and poured molten lead down their throats… or cold vermouth.
STASIK: No, it's better to shoot him from an arbalest.
KOLYA: From an arquebus… at a distance of two and a half leagues.
STASIK: But where on earth would we get an arquebus?… A mortar we can weave together
from something. We can ask the nurse for some household soap and a few
ALEKHA: Ha, ha, why don't you ask her for some braids too… I think we should leave this monster to be eaten alive by Vitenka!
(Shouts of approval. Everyone turns to VITYA. But VITYA, still smiling and stroking his belly, shakes his rosy head no.)
PROKHOROV: Pray, Mikhalych! Pray for the last time, admiral!
MIKHALYCH: (Hanging his head very low, begins to mumble something quickly, something like the following.)
I'd gladly lose an arm and hand, for Moscow, dearest Motherland; Moscow is the
world's true center, the greatest city you could enter; Go to the Kremlin for just
a while, it'll fashion your mind in the proper style; Take Lenin's lessons, heed
them well, your mind and hands will be stronger than hell; The Soviet Union's the
very best, a shining example for the West; For us Moscow's a beautiful sight, but
for her foes, an awful fright…
PROKHOROV: Well, well, well…
MIKHALYCH: (Shaking, continues his out of place gibberish.) To be in Moscow is to know, beauty pure as whitest snow; Go with the Communists today, that is how you find your way; A Soviet patriot's always prepared, for heroic deeds - he's never scared;
A soldier with ideological preparation, is a lion at his battle station…
PROKHOROV: Enough, warrant officer! That's a marvelous prayer book… I don't think we'll need any arbalests, we can just dissolve him in some chemical solution so that by evening he'll be a mere protoplasm… Only - what do we need extra protoplasm
in our department for, we're choking on it as it is. Better to put him under the
tribunal! Kolya, wipe up your spit. What do you think, Kolya, is there a lot of
protoplasm in our department?
KOLYA: A lot… I can't even…
PROKHOROV: All right. The tribunal then. Of course he's pitiful now, this anti-party leader, this anti-statesman, this anti-national artist, veteran of three counterrevolutions, he's a helpless orphan, of course you can't last very long on this modest FBI pay… but
all his mumbling and prayers - it's a customary affectation of our eternal enemies.
It's an eternal affectation of our customary enemies. It's an affected eternity of our
animosity. (Inspired, PROKHOROV strolls back and forth.) These kinds of anti-Kremlin dreamers count on our leniency toward them. But we live in such harsh times that
it's wiser to use words like "leniency" more rarely. You fool around with death in
wartime, but you best not fool around with it in no peacetime. The tribunal. In the
name of the people, boatswain Mikhalych, nuclear weapon psycho in a Civil War
helmet and watchdog for the Pentagon, is sentenced to hanging for life. And to a
suspended sentence in all the fortresses of Russia at once! (Almost unanimous applause.)
But in the meantime, for lack of resources, tie him tightly in bed. Let him think over
his last words.
(ALEKHA and PASHKA shove the admiral into the bed and tie him up so tightly with the sheets and towels that he can't move a single joint or body part.)
LUCY: (Bursts into the ward, attracted by the huffing and puffing of the executioners and the ear-splitting roaring of the victim.) What's going on here, boys?… Leave him alone… With you, every day is a trial and punishment. Where's the extra bed here? (Opens the closet and takes out a set of clean linen, briskly tosses it onto the empty mattress.) The rounds are coming up. Now, qui-et!
ALEKHA: (Calmly takes the tiny LUCY by the shoulders, at the same time sticking out his belly and his furnacle-eyes, performs some languid, dancelike movements around her, and then, tapping himself on the belly and nodding his head as a preparation, sings his chef d'oeuvre.)
I'll dream and dream for many years,
Of our psychotic ward of wits.
I'll dream for many, many years,
Of your seductive, wild tits.
PROKHOROV: Alekha! The refrain!
Alekha strums on the guitar,
I must get married to the redhead!
All-le-kha strums on the guitar,
I must get married to the redhead!
Boom! boom! boom! boom! (On his stomach.)
Get married to the redhead!
Boom! boom! boom! boom!
She undid all her clasps,
Flung open all her clothes,
And the last breath of life
Almost left my nostrils.
The warrant officer peed his pants in jail,
The boatswain gnaws at the deck!
Ha, ha, ha!
PROKHOROV: The refrain, Alekha!
Alekha strums on the guitar,
But he won't get a thing!
Boom! boom! boom! boom!
Well, let him strum on the guitar -
He won't get any anyway!
But I… (Grins.) But I…
(Giving her usual snort, LUCY slips free to the door. And bumps into GUREVICH, entering the ward in the same yellow robe worn by the others, with wet hair. There are no signs of a beating on his face, but a sense of defeat is very evident, and everyone understands: BORENKA, the bathroom…)
LUCY: Ah, new patient… Your cot is the first to the left… Make your bed. I can help you,
if there's a problem…
GUREVICH: (Furiously.) I'll do it myself! Myself! Vamoose, woman!
(LUCY disappears. The singing stops for a while. GUREVICH crumples up his linen and throws it to the corner of the bed, then looks to his right: the ruddy VITYA looks at him hungrily, strokes his stomach more and more lovingly and, licking his lips, turns now and then to his pillow to hide a chuckle at something known to him alone. GUREVICH looks at him for half a minute, then begins to feel a bit sick and turns to his neighbor to the left: trapped from all sides, the rear admiral whispers something more and more insistently, with a worn out, despairing face. STASIK leans over him.)
STASIK: Today, all over the world the gravediggers of socialism are confessing and receiving communion… So why don't you join them, gramps?
PROKHOROV: (Approaching. ALEKHA the Dissident behind him, like Elisha following Elijah. To STASIK.)
Shut up, sonny! Let me have a talk with this man…
STASIK: No, no, he needs a minute of self-immersion… You don't know much about the
East… You immerse yourself in water… or maybe someone immerses you, but you
can feel how the times when you didn't exist drip into eternity, you are washed,
consequently you exist… When the Chinese emperor's concubine washes herself in
the Woven Orchids Pool - that's exactly what it was called then, the Woven
Orchids Pool - 12 essences and 17 aromas were added to it…
KOLYA: (Approaching from behind) … But whoever wraps himself in a yellow blanket after this, not knowing truth and self-limitations, doesn't deserve the yellow blanket. Can you explain this dharma to me?!
PROKHOROV: Go fuck yourself with your dharmas!… This man just got the shit beat out of
him in the bathroom! What does dharma have to do with it? Continue, Stas…
STASIK: OK. I leave the bathroom with orchids, passing the halls of the dharmas (Glances to the side at the bastard KOLYA.) - I pass from the Pool to the Hall of Incense, and from the Hall of Incense to the Hall of Psalms. Those who meet me along the way tell me: "Oh blessed one, do not go into the mango grove." But I go. Three girls talk to me,
one really moonlike, and the other all pastoral, in a crown of dandelions, of course,
and I don't even dare look at the third. I break all my bonds, grasp all the dharmas,
and resist all the pleasures. I step over the third, majestic lady, and leave the Hall
of Psalms for the mango grove. Eighty thousand Himalayan elephants follow me,
they tell me about the vanity of sadness…
PROKHOROV: You know what, Stas, why don't you go fuck off to your mango groves for
just a minute and let me talk to the Jew… What are you here for and what's your
PROKHOROV: That's what I thought - Gurevich… And it wouldn't happen to be… for this? (Flicks his neck to indicate drinking.)
GUREVICH: Well… that too…
PROKHOROV: That's what I thought. Jews have been known to have a drink now and then… especially behind the backs of Arabs. But that's not the point. As soon as a Jew appears, there's no more calm, and a tragic story begins. My late gramps told me:
their forest was packed with deer. What do you call them? Roe deer - too many
to shake a stick at. And the pond was chock full of white swans, and a
rhodo-den-dron bloomed on the shore. And then a doctor by the name of Gustav
came to the village… Well, maybe not exactly Gustav, but definitely a Yid. And
what came of this? It's not me telling you, it's my gramps. Until this Gustav
appeared, there were so many hares in the area, that you could literally trip over
them, you'd slip and fall… Well, for starters all the hares went, then the roe
deer - no, he didn't shoot them, they disappeared by themselves. (To ALEKHA.)
Get old Vova.
(VOVA approaches. He looks first at VITYA, then at the rear admiral, trembling, waiting for some kind of trick…)
PROKHOROV: Vova, you're from the country. Imagine you're on the shore of a pond…
you're sprouting… your name is Rhododendron. And on the other side of the
pond, a Yid is sitting, looking at you…?
VOVA: No, I can't… me sprouting…
PROKHOROV: Well, to hell with the goddamn rhododendron. Look, Vova, pretend you're
a white she-swan and you're sitting on the shore of a pond - and across from you
a Yid is sitting, gazing at you very…
VOVA: No, I can't be a white she-swan either, it's hard for me. I can… I can pretend I'm a
flock of white swans…
PROKHOROV: Great, Vova, you're a flock of white swans, on the shore of a pond, and
VOVA: Well, of course, I'd scatter in all directions, each of me in its own way, it's scary…
PROKHOROV: Alekha, get Vovochka out of here… Well, you see, Gurevich?
GUREVICH: (Smiles with difficulty.) Right. (Glances at VITYA anxiously, then notices his neighbor the admiral making useless efforts to free himself from his shackles.) And what's with this one?
PROKHOROV: Delirium tremens. He betrayed the Motherland in thought and intention. In
short, he doesn't drink or smoke. That would be fine, but once we were all standing
around in the bathroom, talking about alcohol, about its tremendous number of
calories. So this shit-eater blurts out: of all the stuff we gulp, alcohol, with all of its calories, has a really primitive chemical composition and very poor structural
information. He paid for his insolent erudition right then: I opened the window,
jammed him in there and hung him by an ankle - and it was the fourth floor,
too - and held him there until he renounced his heretic doctrines… Today, by the
will of God and the people, he is sentenced to the gallows… I don't really believe
that in the beginning was the Word - it must be at the end, even if it's only a
shabby one, so let this motherfucker lie there and think it over…
GUREVICH: Tell me, Prokhorov, are you the vested plenipotentiary… uh… only in this ward,
PROKHOROV: No, of course not! Everything on the other side of Vitya (Both look there, GUREVICH quickly averts his eyes.) - all of this is my mandated territory, but you're
in luck: tomorrow's trial will be interward, and a criminal trial, to top it off. Grisha!!! Get out from the covers! This is Pashka Eremin, the secretary, he's all right, as lousy as they come, but this is serious business - mutilation in the Kleinmikhel family!
SERYOZHA KLEINMIKHEL: (Overhearing his last name, gets up and crawls over to PROKHOROV.) Copy this down: my mom had only one leg left in place… all the others were twisted off, and the hands too, all of them were lying together on the buffet… And the
godmother went out for bagels…
GUREVICH: OK, fine… the godmother went out for bagels - what's the point of yelling?
STASIK: (Passing by as usual.) All of our godmothers scattered for bagels: yell all you want, no one will hear you…
SERYOZHA: No… what do bagels have to do with it?… Why don't you understand? First he ripped off her head, and then…
PROKHOROV: Tomorrow, let's leave it for tomorrow. Crawl away till tomorrow, Seryozha.
So, listen to me, Gurevich. As you can see, we have daily petty annoyances here.
Other than that - life is good. They'll give you injections for about two or three
weeks, then tablets, then a kick in the butt - and off you go. We even have a color
TV here. A couple of canaries. They're keeping quiet today because tomorrow is
May Day. Usually they sing all the time. Vitya decided not to touch them at all or
get a taste of them. And isn't that a vocalist's highest certification, Gurevich? And
look there, up above, at the very top, a parrot, brought from Hindustan, they
say… Maybe he really is from Hindustan, I'm sure he is, he's silent all the time. He's
just quiet. But at 6:30 sharp, you'll see, he begins, not nasally or metallically, but
somehow a hundert times more parrot-like: "Vladi-mir Sergeich!… Vladi-mir
Sergeich! Go to work - go to work - go to work - fuck you - fuck you - fuck
you - fuck you." And then - then he shuts up for a tiny bit, to rev himself up, and
again: "Vladi-mir Sergeich! Vladimir Sergeich! Go to work, go to work (more and
more quickly) go to work, go to work, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck
you…" And all this at exactly 6:30. You don't even need to check the chimes and
ruby stars of the Kremlin… And as to the chess and domino sets, there's nothing
left - Vitya gobbled them up, one piece after the other. Miraculously, the
double-six piece survived. Khokhulya hid it under his pillow and played the
double-six domino by himself and always won. But in about three days
something extraordinary happened: this double-six piece disappears from under his pillow. Khokhulya is in tears, he doesn't know what to do, Vitya is smiling. Everything ends with Khokhulya falling into yet another kind of prostration, going deaf and becoming a sexual mystic… And in the meantime Vitya takes up chess…
(GUREVICH looks closely: on a nightstand in the center of the ward is an empty chessboard with a white queen.)
STASIK: (Running up.) Gobbled them all up! But why does he feel sorry for the white queen? He's a real hero, this one: ate up the time out and the queen's gambit and the
PROKHOROV: Look, Vitya (Sits next to VITYA on the covers.) You ate all the board games. Tell me, did you eat them simply out of moral considerations? To keep people from gambling? I have with me a doctor from the big city. (Indicates GUREVICH.) Oh! And what a doctor he is! (Raises his index finger.) He's curious: why do you eat so much, anyway? Not enough for you in the warehouse?
VITYA: (Uncomfortable under the monitor's gaze, stops stroking his belly, shyly covers his mouth with his sleeve.) It's yummy…
PROKHOROV: But for some reason you took pity on the white queen, huh?
VITYA: I was sorry for it… It seemed so lonely…
PROKHOROV: I see… Tell me, Vitenka, do you dream only of gobbling too?
VITYA: No, no… of the princess…
PROKHOROV: What princess?… the dead one?
VITYA: Not at all, the living princess… she's really something, and with a light blue bow. Like Cinderella… and there's a prince walking around her… beating her on the head
with a crystal slipper…
PROKHOROV: And would you eat… this crystal slipper? (Shows him.) Chew, chew!
STASIK: You shouldn't call him Vitya. You should call him Chew-chew-vadze… Nina Chew- chew-vadze.
VITYA: I would eat the slipper… so that he wouldn't beat her.
GUREVICH: And if the princess turned up dead, that is, he beat her to death? Then would you eat the dead princess?
VITYA: (Smiling.) Yes…
GUREVICH: And if there were seven heroes with her - then what?
VITYA: Yes, with seven heroes too…
GUREVICH: How about 33 heroes?
VITYA: Yes… if the nurses didn't rush me… of course…
GUREVICH: Hmm… listen… how about 28 of Panfilov's heroes?
VITYA: (With the same careless, frightening smile.) Yes… (Gazes dreamily.)
GUREVICH: (Not giving up.) And… 26 Baku commissars - these too?
PROKHOROV: (Cutting the conversation short.) All right, enough: Tomorrow we'll give you Pashka the secretary too. What does it matter to you? You refused the admiral - I understand. Admirals crunch on your teeth, but real secretaries never crunch… Seryozha! Kleinmikhel! Come here… tell me… Did you notice even the slightest
traces of repentance on the face of the criminal?
SERYOZHA: No, I didn't see any… and my deceased mom winked at me that very day: watch Pashka, will he be ashamed at all, that he took advantage of me. No, he wasn't ashamed, he vodkad the guzzle all night after this, and tantrummed a throw, and wouldn't let me window up the open so that mom wouldn't stink up the room…
STASIK: (Passing by, as usual.) It's so nice to live in the epoch of general disintegration. There's only one problem. They shouldn't have deprived a person of his lymph veins. That he's deprived of bagels and pickles - this is all right. And that he's deprived of melons - that's nothing, you can live without melons. And we don't need
plebiscites either. But at least leave us our lymph veins…
(While STASIK pontificates, both doors to Ward 3 swing open, and the nurses BORENKA and TAMAROCHKA stand at the entrance. Neither of them looks at the patients so much as spit in their faces with their eyes. Both know that their mere appearance induces in every ward a momentary stupor and sorrow, of which there is plenty to begin with.)
PROKHOROV: Get up! Everyone get up! Rounds!
(Everyone gets up slowly, except for KHOKHULYA, old VOVA, and GUREVICH.)
BORYA THE THUG: (Under his hospital gown he is wearing an immaculate chocolate-covered suit, with a tie fastened around his thick neck above his tight-fitting shirt. He has rarely been seen with this look; today he is the nurse on duty for the eve of May Day. He mockingly walks up to STASIK, who is frozen in a pose "with his hand raised in a salute.") So, you asshole, you don't have enough of some kind of veins?
TAMARA: Don't fucking worry, boy, we'll fix all your veins for you right away.
(BORYA, playing around, gives STASIK a lightning-quick blow under the ribs; he falls on the floor in convulsions.)
TAMARA: (Pointing at VOVA.) And this little shit - why don't he get up, against the orders?
BORYA: Let's go ask him… Vovochka, something wrong?
VOVA: No… nothing wrong with my health… only I really want to go home… the lungwort
is blooming there… it's the end of April… as soon as you step from my door there,
you see a whole clearing of lungwort, from end to end, and already some little bees
BORYA: (Straightening his tie.) We-ell… I'm a city boy, I don't give a shit about your lungwort. What color are they, Vovochka?
VOVA: Well, how can I explain?… they're blue little things, azure… like the sky at the end
of April after a sunset…
(As TAMAROCHKA laughs, Borya pierces the tip of VOVA's nose with his fingernails and
makes a few circular motions. VOVA's nose turns the color of an April lungwort. VOVA starts to
BORYA: (Continuing the rounds.) How's life, Khokhulya? Igor Lvovich is coming over in about five minutes with his nice little instrument, means you'll be having a rough time… and you, Kolenka?
KOLYA: I have a complaint. I've already been in this ward quite a few years. Because they told me that I'm an Estonian, and my head hurts… But I haven't been an Estonian for a long time now, and my head stopped hurting long ago, but they still keep me here…
TAMAROCHKA: (In the meantime interested in the scene to the right: SERYOZHA KLEINMIKHEL, turning to the window, quietly prays.) Aha! You're at it again, you cunt! (Puffing up her pale, purple cheeks, goes over to him): How many times do I have to show you! First - the right shoulder, then the left. Here, look! (Grabs him by the scruff of the neck and, spitting in his face, first punches him in the forehead, then with a swing of her arm, in the right shoulder, then with the left, under the ribs.) You want it again? (Repeats it all over again, only harder and with greater pleasure.) You shitstain! If I see you crossing yourself again - I'll drown you in the slop-pail!
BORYA: Enough, Tomochka, don't dirty your hands. Come over here instead. (Flinging KOLYA aside, moves toward the admiral, VITYA and GUREVICH. He is followed by a retinue:
PROKHOROV, ALEKHA THE DISSIDENT, and TAMAROCHKA.)
PROKHOROV: Comrade Rear admiral, as you see, can't stand at attention before you. He was punished for his unruliness and corrupt spyfulness. Or better, for his spyful corruption and unruliness.
BORYA: I see, I see… (Looks out of the corner of his eye at GUREVICH, who is absorbed biting his fingernails, he moves on to VITYA. VITYA, with a ruddy smile, lies on his cot, spread out like a game of patience.)
TAMAROCHKA: Hi, Vitenka, hi dearie… (With a swing of her broad palm, smacks VITYA in the stomach. VITYA's smile disappears.) How's our digestion doing, Vityunchik?
VITYA: It hurts…
BORYA: (Laughs together with TAMAROCHKA.) And aren't the rest of our respected patients hurting? See how they're begging to go home in a chorus - and why, Vityusha?
Very simple: you hurt them, you deprived them of their intellectual amusements.
Look at everyone's suffering pusses. So, let's make a deal: today…
TAMAROCHKA: … today, when you go take a shit, make sure all the board games are in
place. Otherwise, we'll have to dissect you. And you know yourself, sweetheart,
that we don't dissect living people, only corpses…
(PROKHOROV follows ALEKHA THE DISSIDENT anxiously during this. But more about this later.)
BORYA: (Spreading his legs in the chocolate-covered pants apart and folding his arms, stands motionless over the sitting GUREVICH.) Get up.
TAMAROCHKA: And why ain't this Yid made his bed yet?
BORYA: (As quietly as before.) Get up. (GUREVICH doesn't move, sunk in thought. General silence.)
BORYA: (Lifting GUREVICH's chin with one finger.) GET UP!!
(GUREVICH gets up slowly and catching everyone off guard, lets out a short cry and thrusts his fist into BORENKA's jaw. A few seconds of quiet, not counting TAMAROCHKA's yelp.
BORENKA, not batting an eye, calmly grabs GUREVICH, lifts him into the air and with all his
strength throws him to the ground, calculating the motion so that GUREVICH hits his side against the edge of the iron bed. Then - two or three kicks in the area of the liver, just to show off.)
BORYA: (To TAMAROCHKA.) Order some sulfide for the patient. I'll give him the injection myself.
PROKHOROV: What can you do, Boris…these new patients… the lunacy of truth-telling, a feeling of incorrectly understood honor and other atavisms…
BORYA: And you'd better shut up. Ass.
(The white-smocked people leave.)
ALEKHA: Yes, I'm here.
PROKHOROV: Emergency help for the victims of the attack! Stasik, get up, nothing to worry about, they got the fuck out of here. Nothing extraordinary. All the best is still to
come. First, to Gurevich.
(PROKHOROV and ALEKHA, with some ineffectual help from KOLYA, drag GUREVICH, barely breathing, onto the bed, cover him with blankets, and sit around him.)
PROKHOROV: These Jews are nice people in every way. The only trouble is, they don't know how to live. They're going to do him in now, that's for sure. (In a whisper): Gu-re- vich…
GUREVICH: (Groans a little, speaks with difficulty.) It's OK… they won't do me in… I'm preparing… a gift for them… too…
PROKHOROV: (Ecstatic that GUREVICH is alive and kicking.) A May Day gift, that's great. Only first they're going to give you one, in about five minutes… What say I make you laugh a bit, Gurevich, as you await a little torture? My faithful confidant
Alekha will avenge you. Do you know how he became a dissident? I'll tell you. Of
course you know that every Russian village has a fool… Without a single fool, what
kind of Russian village would it be? It would be like some kind of Britain without
a single constitution. So, Alekha was counted in the ranks of these loonies in
Pavlovo-Posad. He'd clean up the railway station square or help load something,
but he had a fiery passion, and he still has it to this day… You see, our Alekha is
a real pro when it comes to physiognomy - one look into someone's mug, and he
already knows where and in what capacity this dog serves. The unmistakable
irritants for him were an ironed suit and a necktie. And what did he do? Nothing,
he approached his victim unnoticed, squeezed his nostril - from afar - and there,
the nice little thing already hung on the tie. This whole town called him the
Dissident; they were stunned by the lawlessness and novelty of his struggle against
the existing order of things and subordination… Two months ago, they dragged
him in here.
GUREVICH: Wonderful… I've spent a lot of time observing Russia… figuring out what she wants… and that's exactly who she needs… everything else… she can do without…
PROKHOROV: And the precision, Gurevich, the precision! They say the great Leonardo was
no slouch when it came to ballistics. But what is he compared to Alekha! Al-le-kha!
ALEKHA: I'm always here.
PROKHOROV: Well, great. Don't you think, Alekha, that your method of struggle with world evil is… well, a bit unappetizing?… We all know you can't do business wearing
white gloves… But why do you think that if the gloves aren't covered in blood,
they absolutely need to be covered in shit, snot, or vomit? You shouldn't read so
many of those commies… pasta eaters and such…
ALEKHA: I swear to God, I only read Marshall Vasilevsky… and they say that the marshall's mistaken too, that we shouldn't have gone from east to west, but from west to
PROKHOROV: (Trying to amuse GUREVICH at least a little bit more before his torture.)
Contemporary dissidence, in the person of Alekha, fails to realize that first of all
you need to tear out the roots, and then everything else will go along with those
crappy roots. We gotta rename our streets and squares. Well, judge for yourself,
they have the Bridge of Amorous Sighs, St. Genevieve Lane, Boulevard of Murky
Languor, and other such things - but we… well, name the streets of your
neighborhood - your soul chokes. For starters, you need to do this: Stolichnaya
Street should be in the middle, of course, with Jubilee Street, all in busts and
poplars, running parallel. Moscow Special Avenue should cross and outshine
everything. Other streets, stunned by her beauty, scatter to all sides: Pepper,
Ginger, Royal Guards, Don Steppe, Old Russian, Wormwood. Of course, they
are connected by side streets: Dessert, Dry, Semidry, Sweet, Semisweet. And what
bridges cross it all: White Strong, Pink Strong - what's the difference? And at their
feet - hotels "Benedictine," "Chartreuse" - stand tall along the embankment -
and cavaliers and dames stroll by, the cavaliers look at the dames and the clouds, and the dames look at the clouds and the cavaliers. And all of them will throw dust
in the eyes of the peoples of Europe. And meanwhile, the peoples of Europe, shaking off the dust…
(Again the doors of the ward are thrown open. The senior doctor of the hospital, IGOR LVOVICH RANINSON is there. Behind him is the nurse BORYA, with a syringe in his hand. The syringe doesn't surprise anybody - everyone looks at the strange suitcase in RANINSON's hands.)
BORYA: Over there. (Indicates KHOKHULYA to RANINSON. RANINSON is impenetrable. So is
KHOKHULYA. RANINSON, opening his box with electric wires, looks squeamishly at the patient. KHOKHULYA does not look at the doctor at all; his own thoughts are enough for him.)
BORYA: (Approaching GUREVICH's bed.) All right, my good man… Prokhorov, turn the patient over, bare his butt.
GUREVICH: I'll do it m-myself (Turns over onto his stomach with a groan; ALEKHA and PROKHOROV help him.)
BORYA: (Without any malicious joy, but not without a demonstration of his omnipotence, stands with the vertically upraised syringe, pressing it a bit. Then bends and sticks in the syringe.) Cover him up.
PROKHOROV: How about an extra blanket? His temperature will shoot past 104 degrees
during the night, I know…
BORYA: No blankets. Against the rules. And if it's too hot - let him walk, breathe… If he's even able to lift a finger… Gurevich! If you don't rot away this evening from
sulfide, I ask you to visit me for supper. Or rather, for a May Day picnic. Your
sweetheart, Natalya Alekseevna herself, will be serving… Well, what do you say?
GUREVICH: (With great difficulty.) I… will… be there…
BORYA: (Laughs, but doesn't notice that ALEKHA THE DISSIDENT is approaching him, with one finger pressing his nostril.) Today - we're happy to have guests. Especially me. We'll host you in our way, encrust you with precious stones…
GUREVICH: I… I said… I will… be there…
(ALEKHA effectively, really knowing what he's doing, discharges his right nostril. The ward is filled with a scream the likes of which no one in the ward has ever heard. This is because Doctor RANINSON accomplished his high-voltage duty with poor KHOKHULYA.)
BORYA: (Grabbing ALEKHA THE DISSIDENT by the throat.) And you, I'll deal with you later… You know what, Aleshenka - Igor Lvovich is here… As soon as he leaves, I'll teach you
how to blow your nose. (Wipes his tie with a handkerchief.)
RANINSON: (Passing through the ward with his diabolical doctor's bag, stares at the patients: on everyone's mug, except for PROKHOROV's and ALEKHA's, is a stamp of eternity - but not at all that Eternity, which we all await.) I congratulate all of you, comrade patients, with the upcoming holiday in celebration of international worker solidarity. Come with me, Boris Anatolevich, I need you. (They leave.)
PROKHOROV: (As soon as the white gowns leave, hangs on ALEKHA THE DISSIDENT's neck.) Alekha!
Oh, you are - a Hyperborean! Alcibiades! Emerald! You're Miurat, entering the
Arbat on a white horse! You are Farabundo Marti! No, the Russian people do not
lack heroes, and never will! Judge for yourself: no sooner does the count of Yasnaya Polyana drop dead - Comrade Kolinaki is here, in diapers… and he
already has fledgling wings! In 1921 Alexander Blok kicks the bucket - nothing you
can do about it, we're all mortal, even Blok - and then? In exactly a year and a half
the immortal Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya is born!
GUREVICH: (Propping himself up on his elbow approvingly.) Absolutely right, monitor.
ALEKHA: (Inspired.) I should have fired one at Igor Lvovich too…
PROKHOROV: Go easy, warrior! That would have been a bit much… We shouldn't
complicatize the plot of the drama… with petty, secondary intrigues… Am I right,
Gurevich? Humanity doesn't need any more whodunits, it's already sick from so
many clever plots…
GUREVICH: Sick is right… And also - why start plots with them? After all… they… in essence don't exist… we're nuts… so these phantasmagorias in white appear to us from
time to time… It's nauseating, of course, but what can we do? So, they appear…
and disappear… they pretend to be full-fledged lovers of life…
PROKHOROV: That's right, that's right, and Borya and Tamarochka laugh and neck, to
assure us that they are real.. and that they aren't our chimeras and delirium at all,
but flesh and blood…
GUREVICH: Come here, Prokhorov… about the chimeras… this thing here (Points to the injection.) Is it going to hurt for a long time?
PROKHOROV: Hurt? Ha-ha! "Hurt" isn't the word for it. It'll really start after about an hour and a half. And after three or four days, perhaps, you'll be able to move your little
legs. Don't worry, Gurevich, it will go away… I'll amuse you as best as I can: I'll
sing you children's songs by Comrade Rauchberger… or by Oscar Feltsman,
Frankel, Lev Knipper and Daniil Pokrass… in short, every song with lyrics by
Simeon Lazarevich Shulman, Inna Hoff and Solomon Fogelson…
GUREVICH: Prokhorov, I beg you…
PROKHOROV: No need to beg, Gurevich… Alekha and I will lug you to the color TV.
Evgeny Iosifovich Gavrilovich, Aleksei Yakovlevich Kapler, Heifitz and Romm,
Ermler, Stolper and Feinzimmer. Sulamif Moiseevna Tsybulnik. In a word, the pains
in your pelvis will calm down a bit. And if they don't, Volkenstein, Krieger,
Grebner, Kreps are at your service - Kreps is a great guy in every way, but why
did he begin to work as a coauthor with Hendelstein?
GUREVICH: Tell me, Prokhorov, is there any real relief from this "sulfide" injection? Besides Feinzimmer and Sulamif Moiseevna Tsybulnik?
PROKHOROV: Nothing could be simpler… A good old shot of vodka. Or pure alcohol -
even better… (Whispers something in GUREVICH's ear.)
GUREVICH: Are you sure?
PROKHOROV: In any case, Natalie will also be the nurse on duty. She has all the keys, Gurevich. She doesn't even entrust them to her beau ami, Borenka the Thug..
GUREVICH: (Stunned, tries to get up.) Oh, I see now… (Again goes numb from the unspeakable thought.) I have an idea.
PROKHOROV: I can guess what this idea is.
GUREVICH: Oh no, much more daring than you think… I'm going to blow them to hell
(Nurse LUCY's voice can be heard behind the door: "Time for injections, guys. Guys! To the examining room for injections!" Nobody in Ward 3 heeds her. Only GUREVICH takes some tentative steps.)
GUREVICH: (Whispering something to PROKHOROV again. Then.)
So I'll return, perhaps in fifteen minutes,
Crowned or crushed, it doesn't matter which.
PROKHOROV: Bravo! You're a poet, Gurevich!
And how! Well, wish me luck… I will be back,
Lying on a shield, and with a shiner
But… sooner with a shield and no black eye.
(Lyrical intermezzo. The treatment room. NATALIE, sitting in a fluffy armchair, is filling out some forms. In the neighboring injection room - separated from the treatment room by a kind of screen - patients are waiting silently for injections. Only TAMAROCHKA's voice can be heard from there. And it's saying something like this: "Hey, I've stuck a billion shots up your ass already! And you're still as dumb as a post! Next! Hurts, huh? The hell it does! Don't fuck with me, grandma! And you - stop bugging me about your aspirin! A regular royal prince! He needs an aspirin! Shut up and drop dead already - you won't need no aspirin for that. Who gives a fuck about you anyway? Next!")
(NATALIE is so used to this that she doesn't bat an eye, or even listen. She's all immersed in her endless report papers. A knock at the door.)
GUREVICH: (Wearily.) Natalie?
NATALIE: I knew for sure that you would come, Gurevich.
But wait - what's wrong?…
I'm beaten up a bit -
But Tasso's at Leonore's feet once more!..
And why does Tasso limp?
Why, don't you see?
Your idiot the thug did not forget…
When you showed up in the reception room,
I saw that very moment that he saw
That very moment that…
What idiot? What thug? And what's with Borka?
What nonsense were you told?
Such lies a fool picks up in just two hours…
Gurevich, dear… come here, my silly boy…
(And finally, the embrace. Looking cautiously at the door.)
How long since you've been here, you little goof?
You know quite well how time is gauged by me
And other ill folks of my ilk… (Gently.) Natalya…
Well, what, you scamp?… I barely recognize you.
Admit it, you've been drinking like a fish…
Of course not… well… sometimes… perhaps a little…
Then why the trembling, Lyova, in your hands?
Oh, dearest one, why can't you understand?
My hand is trembling - well, so let it tremble.
What's boozing got to do with it? The trembling
Can also come from homelessness of soul,
(Taps himself in the chest.)
From inspiration, malnutrition, anger,
From anguish of the heart, and deadly fears
From fateful passions, and a longed-for meeting
(NATALIE smiles faintly.)
And finally, from love for Mother Russia.
But no, not "finally"! What's most important -
Would be the presence of a goddess, with
A dimple, and a bosom, and…
NATALIE: (Closes his mouth with her little palm.) Stop babbling, you chatterbox. I'd better give you a bit of glucose. You've wasted away, you're worn out…
GUREVICH: From longing for you, Natalie.
NATALIE: Hah! Stop your nonsense. (Gets up, takes a ring of keys from the right pocket of her gown, opens the closet. Putters around with the ampules, test tubes, syringes for a long time. GUREVICH, biting his nails as usual, can't take his gaze away from the keys or from NATALIE's bewitching body movements.)
GUREVICH: I read somewhere: the eyes occupy nearly a third of a tiny sea amphipod's body. You are almost the same way… But for some reason your other two thirds are
making me three times as thirsty for you today. And that triumphant hairpin of
You're pure just like a crisp new dollar bill.
Like dew on petals of a - what's it called?
NATALIE: Be quiet already… (Comes over to him with a syringe.) Don't be afraid, Lev, I won't let it hurt, you won't even notice it.
(Begins the procedure, pours in the glucose slowly. They look at each other.)
The voice of TAMAROCHKA: (From the other side of the screen.) What are you howling for, like I'm killing you or something? The guy I just pricked right in front of you, he didn't give a fuck… Next! Wha-at? Change your pillowcase? Choke on the fucking dust, brother… You! Dirty dick! Didja see that pile of garbage by the canteen? Well, tomorrow we're gonna bury smartasses like you there and cart you away in a
NATALIE: What are you thinking about, Gurevich? Don't listen to her, look at me.
GUREVICH: That's what I'm doing. But I'm thinking about how humanity rushes downwards. From the dazzling princess Tamar to this Tamarochka. From Francisco Goya to his tribesman and namesake General Franco. From Gaius Julius Caesar to Cesar Cui,
and still farther down to Tsezar Solodar. From the humanist Korolenko to the
prosecutor Krylenko. Forget Korolenko's blind musician. The wolf plunged down
the Steppes from Immanuel Kant to a man who can't see… And from Vitus Bering
to Hermann Goering. And from the psalm singer David to David Tukhmanov. And
NATALIE: (Screwing on a new vial and continuing to pour something else.) And you, Lev, are you better
than the previous Levs? What do you think?
GUREVICH: Maybe not better, but different. Let me tell you a story: Here we were, well, after drinking a wee bit, standing around in the frost and waiting - God knows what we were waiting for, and that's not the point anyway. The thing is: all three of my
buddies were breathing out steam - no wonder, in such a frost! But I wasn't. And
they noticed this. They asked: "Why aren't you breathing out steam from
anywhere, in such a frost? Come on, breathe out now!" I breathed out - again,
not a bit of steam. All three of them said: "Something's not quite right here, we'd
better let the big boss know."
NATALIE: (Giggles:) And did they?
GUREVICH: And how! I was summoned right away to a hospital or dispensary of some sort. And they asked me only one question: "For what reason are you breathing out
steam?" I told them: "The thing is, I'm not." And they said: "That's not the point.
Answer the question: For what reason are you breathing out steam…?" If such a
question were posed to, say, René Descartes, he would have just collapsed into the
Russian snowbanks without saying a thing. But I - I did say something: "Take me
to the 126th police station. I have some information on Cornelius Sulla!! And they
NATALIE: You were babbling about "Sulla" - just like that? And they understood any of it?..
GUREVICH: Not a thing, but they took me to the 126th station. There I was asked: "Are you Gurevich?" "Yes," I say, "I'm Gurevich.
I'm here under a charge of supermanhood.
You're absolutely right, to a degree:
Yes, I'm a superman and everything
That's superman-like is akin to me.
Like Bonaparte, I cannot swim at all.
I never comb my hair, just like Beethoven.
I don't know languages, nor did Chapaev.
I'm really every bit as unproductive
As was Vespucci or Copernicus.
I've only written forty-fifty pages
In all my billion, zillion years of life.
Like Anthony, the famous saint of Padua,
For months I haven't washed my feet, or cut
My nails, like Holderlin, the German poet.
I haven't changed my shirt for weeks, no years
Just like Queen Isabella, fuck her mother,
The wife of Albrecht, king of Austria.
But she did this in keeping with a vow
To wait for the complete East Indian triumph.
I too refuse to change my clothes at all
And also by a vow: I won't pull on
A single lousy shirt until the day
The last betrayer of the Bolsheviks
Skedaddles to the West and clears the air!
And thus, I am akin to all great people.
But unlike Philip Number Two of Spain,
I cannot boast an itch of any sort.
Oh yes, it's true… (a sigh). I do indeed have lice,
With which Cornelius Sulla, Roman ruler
Was generously gifted. May I go now?…"
"You may," I was told, "of course you may. We'll take you home right now in our
car…" And they took me here.
NATALIE: And what about the spire of the City Komsomol Committee?
GUREVICH: Well… I was just pulling their leg… and trying to cheer you up over there, in the reception room.
NATALIE: Listen, Lev, do you want to have a little drink? Only - shhh!
O Natalie! I yearn for it completely!
As resurrection, not as recreation.
(While NATALIE pours something and dilutes it with tap water, the voice continues from behind the screen: "Don't pee your pants, pal, it's no big deal!… Be a man, you salty cunt!… Next!… You there, how many pairs of underwear you have on?! Your balls will rot and fall off!… Take them all off, pronto! And you - fuck off, don't get in the way… Next… That's OK, old man, you're getting better, you'll limp like a freak for a couple of weeks and - sure as shit! - the morgue's just 300 yards from here!… Next!…")
(NATALIE hands him the glass. GUREVICH slowly sips it, then gratefully presses his lips to her hand.)
Her psyche is so primitive and crude.
As Hercules of Ephesus pronounced.
NATALIE: Who are you talking about?
GUREVICH: About that Tamarochka, sister of mercy. Have you noticed how much all the
moral precepts have weakened in the Russian people? Even in the proverbs. Before,
when there was a pause in the conversation, a Russian muzhik would usually say:
"A quiet angel has flown by"… But now, in such cases: "A policeman has bit the
dust!" "He only locks the barn after the horse has escaped," that's how it used to
be. But now: "Only after a roast chicken pecks him on the ass…" Or how about this
one? - "All generations bow to love." Now it's simply "A dick doesn't care about
age." Ha-ha. Wait, here's another one, it used to be so touching: "For a lover, seven
versts is not an obstacle." But listen to how it is now: "For a crazed horndog, a
hundred kilometers ain't a long trip." (NATALIE laughs.) And here's a gem. An old
Russian saying: "Don't spit in the well - you might need the water." It's turned into
this: "Don't piss in the compote - the cook washes his feet there."
(NATALIE laughs so loudly that the screen is pushed apart and the sister of mercy TAMAROCHKA sticks her mug out through it.)
TAMAROCHKA: Ah-ha! Every day, Natalya Alekseevna's got a new boyfriend! And this
one - a real prize. A kike and a psycho - he's got it all.
NATALIE: (Restraining the furious GUREVICH, sharply to TAMAROCHKA.) After the shift ends, Tamara Makarovna, we'll have a little talk. Right now I have things to do…
(TAMAROCHKA disappears and everything starts up again as before: "Oh yeah! A sleeping pill he wants - you won't get a dead donkey's cock… Stop trembling! And not a peep out of you, fucker!" and so on.)
NATALIE: Lyova, sweetheart, you'd better calm down. (Kisses him several times.) This isn't even the worst of it yet, you'll see. But still, don't get mad. Patients in this hospital, because they're the majority, can't answer insult for insult. And certainly not, God forbid, blow for blow. You're not even allowed to cry here, you know? They'll stick you full of needles, choke you to death with neuroleptics, just for a whimper…
Have you cried even once, Lev?
GUREVICH: Ho-ho! There was a time when I earned my living with it.
NATALIE: You earned a living with tears? I don't understand.
GUREVICH: It's actually very simple. In my student years, for example… no, I can't, I'm doing iambs again.
Oh Natalie, imagine how I sobbed.
Without the slightest reason. By request.
They all knew I could do this any time.
They'd tell me, for example, "Sob, Gurevich!"
While we were having bacchic bouts and such:
"Now sob, Gurevich, throw a little tantrum."
Can you imagine, Natalie? Oh, can you?
At any time! By anyone's request!
And all the tears were real. And all were heartfelt.
Yet I, a noisy youth, did not suspect,
That there is human grief - titanic, kikish.
About the other tears - well, not a word…
NATALIE: And you know what else, Gurevich: you'd better stop talking in iambic pentameter too, especially with the doctors, they'll think you're mocking them. They'll start
treating you with sulfide, or some other junk… Come on… for my sake… stop
GUREVICH: My God, what am I doing here?! Now that's something I don't understand. And
the other patients too - what are they doing here?
They're all quite normal, all your people here,
Cephalopodic mollusks, simply children,
They're not insane, they're just a bit confused
Not one of them imagines to himself
That's he a light bulb of a hundred watts,
A sidewalk, or a thaw in early March,
Or a muezzin, or the leaning tower
Of Pisa or the Jackson-Fulbright bill
Amended to the Congress resolution.
The comet Shvassman-Bachman Number One.
What am I here for, healthy as a horse?
Now listen, Fulbright, you are still alive,
You're not sick yet - but what will happen then?
What don't you understand, Gurevich dear?
Bacillus, viruses - they take one look -
And frowning, turn their gaze away from you.
Almighty nature's full of wondrous beauty
As Comrade Berendey the Tsar would say.
But I could manage just fine without all of you. Except for you, of course, Natalie. Now judge for yourself: I'm my own luxurious hospital, my own injection of piracetum in the butt. My own cop, and the whistle in his teeth too. I'm both a fire, and the fire chief.
NATALIE: Gurevich, my dear, you've really gone downhill…
GUREVICH: What does that mean? All right, maybe I have. But considering how long I've
lived, and how long I've flown - I haven't really gone that far downhill! Our great
national river the Volga flows 3700 kilometers, only to go a mere 221 meters
downhill (Brockhaus). I take after her. It's just that I didn't pay enough attention, and accidentally incinerated a pile of this and that within me. But I didn't let myself go at all. Every body, even a heavenly body (He looks NATALIE over from head to toe
meaningfully.) - yes, even a heavenly body has its own whirlwinds (René Descartes). But I - how many whirlwinds have I destroyed in myself, how many pure, gentle impulses? How many maids of Orleans have I burned in myself, how many pale Desdemonas have I strangled?! And how many Mumus and Chapaevs have I drowned!
NATALIE: What an extraordinary troublemaker you are!
GUREVICH: Not extraordinary, I'm just - intense.
And on this day, right at this very moment
I'm falling all the way, not letting go.
This very night I'll tear it all to shreds,
The tragedy, where iambs are forbidden.
In short, I'll blow this house up to the skies!
All the more since - I completely forgot - it's the eve of May Day. Walpurgis Night, night of St. Wedekind's sister. And this night, beginning at the end of the eighth century, has always been marked by something frightening and miraculous. And involving Satan. I don't know if there will be a witches' sabbath tonight, but there will definitely be something!
NATALIE: Come on, Levushka, don't scare me - I have to be on duty all night.
GUREVICH: Paired up with your dear friend? The thug?
With Borenka the Thug, imagine that.
And with the purest brand of alcohol
And with some cakes I baked today myself -
And with the merry songs of Joseph Cobson.
That's how it is, my ex-dear, ex of mine!
GUREVICH: I don't remember exactly in what land, Natalie, ladies are beaten on the ass with a bouquet of light blue gillyflowers for such jokes… But I, if you'd like, would
rather sing your glory, in the style of Nikolai Nekrasov, of course.
NATALIE: Go ahead, sing, silly.
GUREVICH: After Nikolai Nekrasov!
Roman: she's got such nice big eyes!
Demyan: she's got such nice big tits!
Luka, he said, she'll do.
And what a butt, it's so well built,
The brothers Gubin said,
Ivan and Mitrodor.
The old Pakhom, he thought and thought
And uttered, looking down:
Forget about her butt, you guys,
A good heart - that's what counts.
And Prov, he said: "Yeah, right!"
GUREVICH: By the way, Natalie, do you know the funny and precise method Nekrasov used
to determine the degree of attractiveness of a Russian peasant woman? Here's how
he determined it: by the number of those who wouldn't mind pinching her. And
I would really love to pinch you right now…
NATALIE: Well, go ahead and pinch me then. But stop the filthy talk. And don't make noise,
GUREVICH: What's so filthy? When this "filthy" man wants to convince himself that he's no longer sleeping, but awake - he should pinch…
NATALIE: Of course he should. But he should pinch himself. Not a lady standing nearby.
GUREVICH: What's the difference? Oh, you're standing nearby… Natalie, you're torturing
me… when your waist sways, just like that - I can't, I just want to envelop you from
behind, so that you see stars everywhere in front of you…
NATALIE: Then go ahead and envelop me, you fool!
GUREVICH: (Does so. NATALIE's head is bent back. Endless kiss.) O Natalie! Let me catch my breath! I remember so very well - three years ago you were in just such a hot
dress… Why the hell did I leave for Kunlun?… I became a philosopher. I imagined that dark lust had finally stopped being my lifelong dominant… Now I know for
certain: there is no dark lust! No dark sin! Only the human fate can be dark!
NATALIE: How is it, Gurevich, that you drink so much but still know everything?
NATALIE: I'm listening, you idiot… Now what else do you want?
(Embraces her fervently and presses his lips to hers. In the meantime his hands - from passion, of course - convulsively wander around her thighs and loins. The audience can see the ring of keys on a yellow chain leave the pocket of NATALIE's white gown, into GUREVICH's hospital robe. The kiss still lingers.)
NATALIE: (A bit later.) I missed you so much, Gurevich… (Craftily.) And how's your Lucy?
GUREVICH: I dumped her, Natalie. And what was Lucy, after all? I told her: "Don't be born
with an evil tongue in your head!" And she said to me: "Get lost, you sorry
triumvir!" Why "triumvir" I still don't know. And then, yelling after me: "You'll
meet a lousy end, Gurevich! You'll drink yourself to death, like Kollontai in
Stockholm! You'll die in the slums, like Klim Voroshilov!"
NATALIE: (Laughs.) And which will you do first?
Who cares which I'll do first? Don't bring her up,
Oh Natalie! My God, the way she teased me.
I lay upon her, empty of all passion.
Just like a glimmer from the coolest sun
Lies on a field that's freshly mowed for autumn,
Just as a brow lies on a heavy thought -
Oh, damn! I mean a thought upon a brow…
Forget that Lucy… So, you say you missed me?
But then you talk about that little whore,
To legalize him, Borenka the Thug?
Oh not again, Lev! Aren't you ashamed?
I'm not, but I'm well read, as you just saw.
And so tonight, right on the eve of May Day
I will stop by… to swig two hundred grams…
Not empty-handed, no. Nor uninvited:
Your Borenka requested me, and I
Responded that I'd be there, nodded yes.
You know what you are in for, right?!
The bastard found someone to play Don Juan with.
The thug and you. Oh, no, I just can't stand it.
Well, wait and see, quite soon, at dawn, this Boar
Will hear the fateful steps of the Commander!
Gurevich, dear, you've really lost your mind…
Not yet, I haven't. But it's up to you:
Just like the sky, I'm growing dim and dimmer,
If you just ask… (Thinking.)… No, even if you ask -
I'll burst in flame, explode into the sky!
I haven't yet completely flipped my wig -
But in the fifth act - we shall see about that…
My dear Natalya…
What, you little dummy?
If you were wearing forty thousand dresses,
Or wore a little cross between your breasts
And nothing else - I still would…
NATALIE: (Shutting his mouth again with her palm. Tenderly.) Ah! You remember that too, you awful thing!
(Someone coughs behind the door.)
GUREVICH: Antillian pearl… The queen of two Sicilies… Do you really sleep on this mangy couch?
NATALIE: Where else, Lev? If I'm on night duty…
And how… how can you lie on that divan!
You, Natalie! Who should be laid on music!..
NATALIE: Now you're chirping again…
(More coughing behind the door.)
GUREVICH: "The majority of straight winged males are able to chirp, whereas the females are deprived of this ability." General etymology textbook. (They are drawn to each other again.)
PROKHOROV: (Appears at the door with a mop and pail.) Full treatment? Fo-o-o-l treatment? (Exchanges glances with GUREVICH. His glance says "Well?" Gurevich's says, "We're home free.")
Natalya Alekseevna, our new patient, despite everything, is growing stronger by
the hour. I was just passing by - the linoleum at the doors of our supply room is
dirty as hell. So the new patient… just to remind him where he is - let him slave
away there for half an hour or so. And I - will supervise…
GUREVICH: Well, all right. (Glancing at NATALIE for the last time, leaves with the mop and pail, strategically biting his lips.)
It's all the way it should be. That's my job.
Look after him, Natalya Alekseevna.
He's fucked up in the head. But it's OK.
(Ward 3 again, but very sparsely occupied. Some still haven't returned from supper; others - from injections. The secretary PASHKA EREMIN is still lying under the bed sheet, awaiting the tribunal. Old KHOKHULYA, after the electric shock, is lying motionless, and no one cares whether he's still alive or not. VITYA is sleeping; so is the rear admiral. In the middle of the ward, STASIK is frozen mutely, his hand outstretched in a Nazi salute. All is quiet. The only one talking is grampa VOVA, the tip of his nose crimson.)
VOVA: Ah, it's real nice now in the countryside! You wake up in the morning, first thing you do is take off your boots, the sun glances into your eyes, but you don't glance into
its eyes… you're ashamed… and you go out onto the porch. And the little-birdie
nightingales are singing their heads off: peep-peep, tweet-tweet, coo-coo, cock-a- doodle-doo, cluck-cluck. It's a heavenly paradise. So, you put on a jacket, take your passport with you, you're wearing your birthday suit, you go to the steppe and
shoot perch… you go shabby, barefoot, and with hair. You shouldn't go without
hair, it's easier to think with hair… And as you walk, you kiss all the dandelions
you come across. And the dandelions kiss you on your unbuttoned soldier's
uniform shirt, all old and faded, which you wore from Berlin to Texas…
(SERYOZHA KLEINMIKHEL and KOLYA, holding hands, quietly enter the ward. They rub their
butts where they were injected, sit around VOVA, and listen.)
VOVA: And so you walk… the winds blow across… Above it's pale blue - below, there are
May dew emeralds… And ahead of you, a tiny black spot that looks white… You
think: maybe it's just a hawthorn bush?… But no. Maybe an Armenian?… But no,
what would an Armenian be doing among the horsetail? Turns out, it's my little
grandson Sergunchik, he's still only four years old, the fuzz has just started to grow
on his back - and he can already tell everything apart: one blade of grass from
another, and he studies every little birdie by its insides…
KOLYA: And I can't tell anything apart. I spend all my time in the ward. Now I could tell a linden tree from a maple. But not a maple from a linden tree - never…
STASIK: (Again bustling around the ward from corner to corner.) Yes! Nothing on earth is more important! Saving the trees! An invader arrives - and where's our intimate defense? The intimate defense of a learned partisan! And what does it consist of? Here's what: the learned partisan sits around, and walks around, smokes a bit, and whistles a bit. And scares the hell out of fair Klara!
VOVA: And my neighbor Nikolai Semyonovich…
STASIK: (Interrupting.) God created Light, yes he did! And your neighbor Nikolai Semyonovich divided light from darkness. And darkness - no one can divide it from anything
else. Therefore we're given nothing original and intimate! No pearl barley, for
example, with cottage cheese, raisins, Hawaiian rum…
KOLYA: And with vermouth…
STASIK: No, without vermouth. What does vermouth have to do with it?! And how long will
I be interrupted? How long will they tread pagan paths? When will we stop slipping toward nuclear catastrophe? Why is God slow with revenge? And most important of all - when will these Poles stop mindfucking us?! Life is already so short without that…
VOVA: Why don't you plant a little flower, Stas, you'll feel better…
STASIK: Ha-ha! He found someone to give advice to! Why don't you go look at my greenhouse? Life is short - and when you look at my greenhouse, it'll be even shorter for you,
your life! Your grass and buttercups - the hell with them, they're everywhere. But
here's what I have - I raised this species myself and observed its vegetation. It's
called: "Fatso Bloated Parasite" with concave leaves. And how it blooms! Makes you
want to shoot your gun up in the air. It blooms so well - makes you want to shoot
at the first passerby!… And also, if you like, "Bitch Indelible" - that's because it
wears nothing but underwear once it starts blooming! "Witch Comely
Thoughtful" - its best double kinds: "Mama-I-Can't-Take-It-Anymore,"
"Sikhote-Alin Mountains" and "Ooh-la-la." "Jerkodil Yellow!" "Blubbercup
Biennial!" This one's for those who've kicked the bucket. "Whore Red-Bannered!"
"Chapaev Disheveled!" "Dickdelion Shortlived!" Everything you could ask for…
VOVA: And you had all this in your garden, brother?
STASIK: What do you mean, "had"? I still have it! What do you need for your trousers, Vova?
VOVA: I don't have any trousers…
STASIK: Well, you'll have them some day… And of course, you'll want to trim them on top
with something crimson. Come to my garden, and it's all yours. "Presumption
Finicky," aka "Zinochka Tasty Fingered," yes and how can Zinochka not be
fingered, if she's so tasty! "Fuckerbloom Smarty-pants!" "Socialist Property
Inspection Beloved" "Golfstream Chechen-Ingushian!" "Plenum Stupid!" - it was
called this for its smoky veils, accidentally and not at all intelligently. "Twice
Decorated Mother Superior Simpleminded," her best varieties are "Kapellmeister
Shtutsman," "Ear Nose Throat," "Rosemary Unfading" and "Kiss Me To Death."
"General Secretary Bulbnosed!" Its purple species have all kinds of names: "Love
Cannot Joke," "Roar of Victory, Resound," "Cruiser the Varangian" and "Tits
Askew." And if…
VOVA: And do you have any blue ones? If I go into the field, in the dew, on big holidays -
I always look: are there any blue ones…
STASIK: Do I have blue ones! Of course I have blue ones! Here: Snouts Inspired, Snouts Bloodied, Bibs Blue-haired "Guten Morgen!" "Zanzibar What-the-fuck" - pick a species: "Elk Island Station," "Yauza River," "Northerner," "Hoarfrost Silver," "How Do You Do," "Depart Forever, Shed Not A Tear"…
(STASIK, with the words "shed not a tear," again stiffens by the window of the ward, with his fist upraised in a "Rotfront" salute.)
VOVA: Y-yes… very nice flowers… you know, I remember some hard times… when all
flowers disappeared without a trace… both nice and bad ones… there were
nothing but escarpments and janissaries, trenches, helmets, hands, legs all over the
village - and over Moscow the Tsar-cannons and Tsar-bells roared alone… But the
army general Andrei Vlasov stood up, and then so did the All-Union radio
announcer Yuri Levitan - and together they drove legions of frenzied overseas
hordes from the capital. And the lungwort started to bloom again…
(Everyone gazes at the tip of VOVA's nose. Something starts running from KOLYA's mouth again; VOVA carefully wipes it. Nearly no one notices how the monitor PROKHOROV keeps sticking his head into the room, glancing at his watch - he's the only one in the ward who is permitted to wear a watch - then disappearing. The music during this is as disturbing as possible.)
KOLYA: It's also nice in the country in the fall… right, Vova?
VOVA: It's a bit worse in the fall, it drips from the ceiling… you sit on the bare floor, and above you - drip-drip, drip-drip - and the mice run all over the floor: wham-bam,
wham-bam, sometimes you feel sorry for one of them, you catch it and hide it
under your arm to get it all warm and toasty. And across from you - two portraits
are hanging. I love both of them, only I don't know which of them has sadder eyes:
Lermontov the Hussar or Comrade Pelshe… Lermontov is so young, doesn't
understand anything, he says to me: go to the city of Cherepovets, Vova, they'll
give you free boots there. And I say to him: what do I need boots for? Cherepovets
is so-o-o far away… so I'll receive boots in Cherepovets - but where else will I go
in the boots? No, I'm better off without boots… And Comrade Pelshe quietly tells
me, against the drumming of the rain - "Maybe we're the ones who have caused
your grief, Vova?" And I say: no, no one caused my grief. And then there's also
a calf beyond the screen - he curses and starts asking for something. But I haven't
fed him forever, and where in the world did he come from, this calf, I've never had
a cow. I should have asked my grandson Sergunchik - but he's gone with the wind.
And everyone's gone with the wind… I already put a bowl of buckwheat out on
the porch at night - for the porcupines. It's dusk. Here's the bowl rattling - means
the porcupines really did come with a warrant… The leaves are swirling in the air,
swirling and - then sitting on a bench… Some of them will fly off - and sit on a
bench again. And the little flowers are all arrested in the earth, for the winter…
And the winds keep blowing the clouds, blowing them - to the north, the
northeast, to the north, the northeast. I don't know which of them will return. And
more and more often you hear drip-drip-drip, over your head, and the wind is
stronger and stronger. The trees are starting to squeak and disappear, fall down
and perish, without a trial and investigation. And there are little birdies flying off like heads from shoulders…
KOLYA: How nice… but in the countryside - are there also thirty days in April or have they added on three or four extra?
VOVA: Not yet…
KOLYA: Well, that's too bad… They should have added a few more on… We should have everything a bit bigger than everyone else does… They play a five-string guitar, but we have our own, native, seven-string one… Baikal, the TV tower, the Caspian Sea… but this is unfair: all of us have thirty days in April. (Drools a little; VOVA wipes it.) To model ourselves after Europe, I think, means to fall hopelessly behind her… Of course we're not looking for one-sided advantages for ourselves, nor will we ever allow her to…
PROKHOROV: (Bursts into the ward with his face lit up.) ROUNDS! ROUNDS! (But this is strange: instead of the usual "Everyone get up!" - the monitor gives an order unlike any before): Lie on the floor, now! Everyone! Mugs down! One move of the eye either way - and I'll shoot from all the Lepage barrels! Stas, quit your Rotfront! (Approaches him, but STASIK's arm stays catatonically in the Rotfront gesture.) Well, all right, just turn to the wall, no pasaran, passionary! Venceremus!
GUREVIC: (Enters with a washing pail. A wet linen rag is thrown over the pail. He leaves the mop at the doorway. Going up to his nightstand, he removes the rag hurriedly, takes out a bottle almost as big as the pail, and sets it down, covering it with the rag. Exhales deeply.) Here it is. Looks like we're the victors!
ALEKHA: (From the threshold.) Everyone get up - shake yourselves off! The rounds are over!
PROKHOROV: Everyone get in bed. Pay attention, dummies: the rounds are getting shorter
and shorter. That means they'll soon disappear completely. Get up, get up - off to
bed now… Well, well… And what were you doing here? While the superhumans
of our ward were striving toward the impossible - what have you been doing, you
VOVA: Stasik was telling us about his flowers… He grows them himself…
PROKHOROV: Oh yeah, that's important! Flowers are within us. You'll agree with me, Gurevich, that flowers on the outside aren't worth one bit?
GUREVICH: I need a drink right now, Prokhorov, and then… As it is, there are many flowers inside us: cystitis in our kidneys, cirrhosis in the liver, influenza and rheumatism all over, myokarditis in the heart, withdrawal symptoms from head to toe… Solar prominence in the eyes…
PROKHOROV: Pour yourself sixty-five grams, Gurevich, and knock it back quick. Then we'll talk about flowers. Al-lekha!
ALEKHA: Here I am…
PROKHOROV: A glass of cold water, now. In Khokhulya's suitcase there are lemons, take
them all out…
ALEKHA: All of them...?!
PROKHOROV: ALL OF THEM, motherfucker!
(GUREVICH in effect begins Walpurgis Night. Pours a shot glass. Sniffs it, wrinkles up his face, gulps it down.)
PROKHOROV: (Waiting for his share.) I thought worse of you, Gurevich. And I thought worse of all of you: that you tortured us in gas chambers, you left us to rot on the scaffolds. As it turns out, nothing of the sort. And I thought: one needs to keep a distance
from you. A pogrom-wide distance… But you are an Alcibiades! No, I already used
that one - you're a Count Caliostro! You're Canova, sculpted by Casanova, or the
other way around, damn it! You're a Leo! Lev Isaakovich, but a Leo all the same.
Gnaeus Pompeii and Marshall Mannerheim! I can't find higher praise yet… but if
I had sixty-five grams…
ALEKHA: Should we check if it's burning?
GUREVICH: Why not… (Pours a little of his leftovers at the edge of the nightstand and lights a match in it. Silence, until the blue flame goes out.)
PROKHOROV: (Not even diluting his seventy grams, he holds KHOKHULYA's lemon ready. Knocks the shot back. Sniffs the lemon ardently. A pause of self-immersion.) So. The starless hours of humanity have ended! Tell me, Gurevich, what marble should you be cut from?
GUREVICH: What do you mean, "cut"?
PROKHOROV: No, that's not what I meant. This is what I mean: from now on, if any stupid psycho in Ward 3 or in any of our vassal wards ever has doubts about the divine inspiration of this people (Points his finger at GUREVICH.) he would immediately be promoted by me to rear admiral. With all the consequences arising from that…
They open everything to the world, we hardly manage to cover it up. I won't even talk
about the Old World… Everyone to a man, of course, knows what tribe
Christopher Columbus comes from. But few know that the first person in
Columbus's expedition, the first one to set foot in the New World, was the Jewish
Marrano Luis de Torres! (Getting worked up.) And Isaac Newton! And - Abraham
Lincoln!… And who first discovered Niagara Falls? - David Livingstone!…
GUREVICH: Take it easy, monitor, take it easy. Otherwise you'll stir up a commotion among these lost souls… Don't you see that Alcibiades is also dying for a drink? You've already started to enthrone yourself. But look at Alekha…
ALEKHA: I'm here. (While GUREVICH weaves his magic with spirits and water, he can't hold back. He makes a face. Strums on his stomach, as if he was accompanying himself on the guitar. Suddenly launches into an andante.)
I don't care a single bit.
I don't care, that I'm a shit,
That I drink only lousy wine
Lousy wine, and nothing but.
I'm glad I'm a degenerate,
I'm glad I drink my wine denatured,
I'm glad it's been so long since I
Have heard a factory whistle blow…
(Takes his drink in one gulp. Giant sigh. Dashingly tries to continue his special.)
Marry the redhead!
(Banging on his belly, of course.)
GUREVICH: Stop, Alekha. No songs for now. All around us the minor powers are dying for
a drink. And in the meantime, we superpowers are partaking of that which,
generally speaking, makes our souls autonomous, but can also doom these souls.
Should we invite these orphans to join the party?
PROKHOROV: Of course we should! Al-lekha!
ALEKHA: I'm here. (Mechanically holds out his empty glass.)
GUREVICH: You dummy. Do you understand what orphanhood means?
ALEKHA: Of course I understand. Seryozha Kleinmikhel - he watched with his own eyes
Pashka Eremin, the Secretary, ripping almost all of his mom's body parts off. And
he now scribbles and writes, scribbles and writes… Should I call him?
GUREVICH: Call him, call him… (Pours half a glass.)
PROKHOROV: Kleinmikhel! Get your ass over here.
GUREVICH: (To the approaching SERYOZHA.) So, what was your mom winking at you about before she died?
SERYOZHA: (With a tear, of course.) She knew everything. Moms always know everything. That they wouldn't let me do nothing and that the bosses wouldn't let me make a
movie of a film about my mom and Semyon Mikhailovich Budennyi, of how they
were kissing each other passionately before the decisive battle. And Pashka Eremin
had his dirty hand in this, that friggin' Jewish spy…
GUREVICH: Take it easy. Have a drink. (SERYOZHA drinks, then presses his hand to his heart, maybe as a sign of thanks, maybe seriously wishing to leave this world.)
SERYOZHA: I know a friggin' Jewish spy when I see one. The first sign is that he's called Pasha. And that his last name is Eremin. There's no need for any other proof. He doesn't let me sketch poems and plans for the whole future at night…
GUREVICH: What do you have in your hands, Budennyi?
SERYOZHA: This is what I'm hiding from that traitor Pavlik. It's everything that I'll build when I get out of here. But if I build anything, Pavlik, that creep, will burn it all. I'll read you the whole thing now, but please don't let Pavlik and his matches near it…
PROKHOROV: Give it to me, I'll read it, you pest. Because I have a baritone, and you don't… Here goes:… Project of Future Festivities. Number One: Hospital for Broken Astronauts. Number Two: House for the Love and Health of Sick Astronauts.
Number Three: House of Love for One's Mom More Than You Can and As Much.
Number Four: House, Where They Don't Hang Around till Midnight, But Live with
Their Family, Never and Absolutely. Number Five: House of Communism. There
you are taught not to run around with an axe, and not to drink away your children
and astronauts. Number Six: Cultural Stadium for Astronauts, To Throw Them at
GUREVICH: How long will this torture drag on? No more drinks for Seryozha…
PROKHOROV: Wait a minute… (Continues.) Number Seven: Book Factory for Cultured Pilots, with a Hypno-sedative Effect. Number Eight: House and Cultural Road for Athletic Tatars. Number Nine: Aerodome of Culture for Tatars and Astronauts. Tenth: Railroad Station for Trains. So that girls with short skirts stand on the step. And wave good-bye to the departing trains with the arriving ones.
PROKHOROV: (Continues.) Athletic Vigilant Institute. Athletic Vigilant Traffic Light for Tatars and Astronauts. Athletic Vigilant Ethereal School for all Aerodomes of the
Cosmosus. Number Fourteen and the Next to Last: Children's World Store on an Athletic River. Where minor spies are drowned, and major ones surface to give major and false evidence. Number Fifteen and last: Cosmic Exhibit of Happy Love and Hidden Joys of all Happy Astronauts of the Happy Cosmosus…
GUREVICH: Hmm… You were really badly brought up, Kleinmikhel… Maybe Secretary
Eremin was right after all, to dismember your mom?
SERYOZHA: No, he was very wrong. When she was whole, she was much more prettier… All you want to do is laugh, but there's nothing to laugh about… I also have another project, so that Russia would laugh less: A Pipeline from Frankfurt-on-the-Main, through Urengoi, Sahara, Uzhgorod - to Smolensk and Novopolotsk. A Pipeline
for the Delivery to Russia of Tear Gas. On mutually beneficial foundations…
GUREVICH: Bravo, Kleinmikhel!… Monitor, pour him a bit more.
(The monitor pours it. Strokes SERYOZHA's head, brings it to him.)
SERYOZHA: (Touched by the praise, knocks it back and exhales loudly.) And I also love the way Lyudmila Zykina sings. When she sings, I'm all torn apart, even these socks I just bought - they get all torn too. Even the shirt under my armpits gets torn. And my
nose runs, and tears, and all about the Motherland, about the flourishing of our vast fields…
GUREVICH: Wonderful, Serge, you can at least take comfort that your sworn enemy, the Secretary, won't get a drop. Unfortunately, he belongs to those who make up the nation's sheep. He's an asshole, with a heavy degree of lightheadedness, all full of emptiness. He has neither twilight nor dawn, nor is he even a high-quality lowlife. Actually, I'd rather give full amnesty to the political prisoners… That is, untie the
rear admiral, but first shoot him dead.
PROKHOROV: Yes, of course. All the more since he woke up long ago, that nuclear hostage
of the Pentagon. (Rubs his hands, pours shots for GUREVICH, himself, and ALEKHA.) Get up, naval commander. Unsinkable NATO aircraft carrier. I'll untie you
now - admit it, Nelson, isn't it better to live in the world of higher justice?
MIKHALYCH: (Gradually being freed from his shackles.) I want a drink…
PROKHOROV: By God, he's one of us, all right. But first get on your knees and say your last words. (MIKHALYCH shudders.) No, not that, just excuse yourself to the insulted, great nation, so that you'll be heard by your former good buddies from the North Atlantic Pact. Some sort of prayer will do…
MIKHALYCH: (Very quickly, glancing at PROKHOROV, who's already pouring him a shot.) Moscow, Moscow, what a town, a great place to knock one down; The ill may fast, the
sober pray, but it don't reach God's ear, no way; Tea and coffee taste too boring,
have some vodka in the morning; The first shot's a stake, the second a falcon, the
rest little birdies; Drinking gives you no relief, but not to drink - that's twice the
grief; Better to drink too much than too little; One look at a beer and you're ready
PROKHOROV: (Much more approving than in the second act.) Well, well, well…
MIKHALYCH: Without watering, even cabbage dries up; Too cold for snoozing? Time for boozing; Life is puzzling, time for guzzling; My ass is freezing, it's time -
GUREVICH: It's time, my friend, it's time… (The admiral drinks, and his eyes bulge from the strength of the drink and the change of his earthly lot.) According to our constitution, admiral, every citizen has the right to eye-popping, but not to the max… Vova!!
(VOVA comes over humbly, for some reason holding the hand of the pale KOLYA.)
GUREVICH: My children, Armenian cognac's on the table, say your prayers. (To PROKHOROV.) But why are they here, anyway, and not - out there?
PROKHOROV: Well, you heard for yourself… he's an Estonian… his head hurts… isn't that enough? And as for Vova - there's no reason at all… suspected of being unique…
GUREVICH: Don't grieve, Vova, tomorrow I'll lead you to freedom. Do you have a dream?
VOVA: Yes, yes, I do. I want to breed this little fish in my pond - it's called gambusia. So, this fish - gambusia - it eats all the mosquito larvae in its pond, and while it's at it all giardia lamblia too. Because as soon as a man gulps down just one lamblia with water, it has a baby lamblia all by itself, and then these two lamblia make another, and this one…
GUREVICH: And how many of these liamblia can your gambusia gulp down at once?
VOVA: It can wolf down seventy-five at once.
GUREVICH: Without choking?
VOVA: Without choking.
GUREVICH: Perfect. That's exactly how many grams we'll pour him. But add a little water too. And as for Borenka the Thug, he is going to pay this very night for placing that
"modus vivendus" on your nose…
VOVA: (Knocks it back in one shot - now turning green as grass, now shining like the sun.) And the best thing about a gambusia is, it doesn't leave a single mosquito in the air. No one will bite you, you can go boldly into the forest, my young listeners. And walk
around, until Edik calls you…
PROKHOROV: Who's this Edik?
VOVA: Nobody knows. But as soon as the evening star rises in the sky, you have to scatter
to your homes, because Edik gives a sign: time to scatter. Nothing you can do about
it… Sergunchik, my grandson, didn't heed - and look what happened: the winds
blew him who knows where… commissioned by the National TV and Radio Comp. …
GUREVICH: What an amazing country Russia is! Why on earth Edik? What does Edik have to
do with anything?… (Turns to KOLYA.) Kolya! Can you make anything out of this nonsense?
KOLYA: Of course I can. I already mastered that dharma long ago. (Stretches his hands out to the audience.) Our fathers ate sour grapes, but the children have only vermouth on their table, and nothing else. All covered with dessert vermouth, Onegin rushes to the youth. He looks at him and calls… in vain. The fledgling bard is gone, he's slain,
He found himself a timeless end. Some vodka coveted the swain, His gaze reflected
awful pain, Yet some vermouth of purest brand, Was placed into his outstretched hand.
GUREVICH: Terrific!… Pour the poet some muscatel-wine!
KOLYA: (Drinking his portion of muscatel-wine.) How did we get muscatel-wine in this ward?
PROKHOROV: Same old way. And how did we get meddling youths in this ward, full of
stupid inquiries? We got them, and that's that. And in so doing, we lost nothing
except honor. If any more questions come up, ask Vitya.
GUREVICH: Good idea. If anyone isn't clear about something - let him turn to our
unforgettable Grandmaster. What a great honor it is to be called unforgettable
while you're still alive! Vitya! Grandmaster Korchnoi! What's new, schizeroo?
(Everyone looks at VITYA. It's not completely clear whether he's awake or still sleeping, because his smile, keeping watch while he sleeps, usually becomes sardonic upon awakening. It's nothing like that now.)
GUREVICH: Well, it's easy to tell whether a man's sleeping or not. If he wants to join the gathering, it means he's awake. And if not, it means he's sleeping and will never ever awaken…
VITYA: I'm awake. As long as there's muscatel-wine in this world, I'll never sleep.
PROKHOROV: (Bringing some to VITYA.) Now you understand, Grandmaster, that we live not in the world of higher justice, but rather in a world of a justice that's a bit higher
than the highest?
VITYA: (Lifting his big, ruddy head.) And I'll never die?
GUREVICH: You have too high an opinion of yourself, Vitya… During this whole drama, no one, until you, has uttered a word about death, although everyone's been boozing. Man's happiness is in himself, in the satisfaction of natural human needs (Pierre Bezukhov). And if you die - well, so you die. Death is nothing more than an unpleasant moment, and not worth taking seriously (Augusto Sandino).
(VITYA drinks and gets up. Embracing everyone with his smile, and completely unashamed of his belly, he heads for some reason toward the exit.)
PROKHOROV: Finally! Universal joy and horror - Vitya - wants to make his way to the
potty… Stasik! Quit your Rotfronts! Come here…
GUREVICH: (Suddenly coming to his senses.) Oh, yes. Rotfronts and no pasarans won't work anymore. A clear sky covers all of Hispania (Francisco Franco). For this reason, drop your stupid hand - and come here. Your passionate Dolores is in the neighboring ward. Gulp down 120 to work up some courage, and we'll unite you, you numbskulls…
STASIK: So she still isn't dead?
GUREVICH: She croaked long ago. But as soon as she heard about you, about the upcoming rendezvous, she shook out the earth from her eye sockets and said: let him come to me, I love the young and decadent. But first - she said - first I have to freshen up, after all, I've lain for so long in the cold grave…
STASIK: I see… A woman is always a woman, even if she's a passionary. We have a lot to talk about: concentrated pressure on Islamabad, submarines in the Ukrainian Steppes!
And the rapist Uncle Vanya in the dill bushes, to boot. And the marionette Chon du Khvan, he always dreams of wiping Soviet Russia from the face of the earth. But could you really wipe out that which has such an abundance of earth, yet such a lack of face. Here's what the narrow eyes and mind of those Chon du Khvans lead to …
GUREVICH: Give him a drink right now! Make it proportional to the nonsense he's talking…
My God, Vitya!
VITYA: (A more charming smile hasn't been seen in all of Creation.) Here is the chess piece, I washed it with running water… (Puts it on the table in the middle of the ward - another white queen. Two white queens side by side are one too many. Many lose the last vestiges of their wretched reason.)
PROKHOROV: We'll figure out the chess pieces later… But where are the checkers?… The Russian checkers champion of the world - Victor Kuperman… (A smile off to the side, to GUREVICH; the question is addressed to VITYA.)… So, no checkers. Now our Russian comrade Kuperman is looking at the world with confusion. And now, young and healthy, he's turning over in his grave. Don't mix him up with Dolores Ibarruri… He's turning over in his grave even though he's young and healthy…
KOLYA: (Interrupts the monitor, which has never happened before.) And by the way, who is the author of the stomach-intestinal tract?
GUREVICH: Don't you understand who, even now? (Sits near VITYA.)
Now tell me, Vitya, what if you, you know…
All twenty-six, those Baku commissars…
The thought is monstrous!… what would you produce
To bring the crowd to see from all your depths?
Spinoza? Or an SS Squadron Leader?
Fulfilling of the Nation's Five-year plan?
(Clicking heels can be heard behind the door. It's NATALIE with her last rounds. And thank God, she's already slightly drunk on the occasion of May Day. Otherwise she would catch the smell of spirits in the ward.)
PROKHOROV: Quiet!… Everyone to his place! Covers over your heads!
(NATALIE comes in, wishes everyone a good night. Fixes the blankets where they're not straight. Sits at the head of GUREVICH's bed. Nobody hears (or maybe everyone hears) the whispers and sweet nothings.)
NATALIE: (In a half whisper.) Don't worry about anything, Lev, everything will be fine. (GUREVICH tries to say something. NATALIE lays a finger on his lips.) Shhhh… everyone's snoozing. Not a soul in the hall. Adieux. Good night, my little boozers. (NATALIE sails to the exit, softly shutting the door behind her. The tapping of heels moving away.)
(All the patients at once throw their covers aside, sit up in their beds and gaze spellbound at the two white queens in the middle of the ward.)
(The music between Acts IV and V lasts for five to seven minutes. It resembles nothing at all, or whatever you want: a mixture of Georgian Lezgin dances, cafe Variete dances of the beginning of the century, the silly entrance to Varlaam's party in Musorgsky's opera, can-cans and cake-walks, Russian folk dances and the most stirring motives from the Magyar operas of the epoch of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy's collapse. The curtain rises. Ward 3 again, a few hours later: everything looks so different that there's no need to talk about it.)
PROKHOROV: It's get-ting light! Al-lekha!
ALEKHA: Yes, here.
PROKHOROV: Strum something on your guitar, dissident! Strum the hearts of our
Boom, boom, boom, boom.
(The performance begins. Everyone takes part, even the secretary PASHKA EREMIN - it's
unclear how on earth he managed to wet his whistle - after all, he wasn't even given a drop.)
Boom, boom, boom, boom!
Boom, boom, boom, boom!
I'll put on a nice white dress
I'll put on a lighter coat.
I ain't afraid of no one:
The farm director's my dad.
The farm director hurries across
"Don't be sad, guys, I'm the boss.
"Don't be sad, come on, get wise.
Time for fertilizer, guys."
The kids at school are well-behaved.
They're washed, and sobered up, and shaved.
Ah, blank you motherblankers,
Give me a juicy chick!
He's already twenty,
And what a fool is he!
He's already thirty,
And what a fool is he!
He's already forty,
And what a fool is he!
ALEKHA: (Interrupts him.)
Our Kolya likes to fly,
That is very, very good.
Our Vova gobbles pie,
That is very, very good!
There's the Minnesota spy -
That is also very good.
(This is obviously aimed at MIKHALYCH, who at this time is trying, like the Saint-Saens Plisetskaya swan, to do some hocus-pocus with his hands.)
Oh this spy, he's such a riot,
Gulped two shots back in a row
Fell asleep, all nice and quiet,
On her breast as white as snow.
Boom, boom, boom, boom!
Our country lies in darkness
But a light burns in the Kremlin!
How I'd like a gentle touch
In the region of my crotch!
(VITYA starts belly-dancing, using a pillowcase as a kerchief.)
ALEKHA: (Dancing up to VITYA.)
Ai, ai! This is fun!
The goose is cooked. It's all done.
What's happened to you,
VITYA: (A little flirtatiously.)
Nothing happened, not a thing.
Not the slightest little thing.
Nothing happened, not at all
I'm just feeling kind of low
I just really want to go
Go to Pissa, Cuntmandu
In about a year or two!
Bangs and curls,
Bangs and curls,
Whores got hair that curls real well,
How come hair don't curl so well,
On the decent folk, pray tell?
VITYA: Heh, heh!
'Cause they haven't got the dough,
Curlers cost today, you know.
ALEKHA: (Correcting VITYA.)
'Cause the whores have lots of dough
For the curlers at the stores,
Decent folk ain't got it, though,
All they got is dough for whores.
GUREVICH: (In the meantime looking anxiously at the half-sleeping KHOKHULYA. It's obvious that KHOKHULYA, even though he's only drunk 115 grams, is on his last legs. GUREVICH
approaches him, tugs at him.) Khokhulya! Want to guzzle a bit more, revive your psyche
a bit? You hear me?… He doesn't hear… I'll spell it out for you, Khokhulya…
guzzle… G - Guarantee of Neutrality, George Marshall, Girlish dreams, Gorgeous
hips, Grace for the dead…G. Next: U… but how am I going to get "u" across to
him?… Why do we need this lousy "u" anyway? We have so many other interesting
letters: Q, X, Z … Wait, guys!! Khokhulya - isn't breathing..!
(Some gather around the dead man; others continue their carefree revelry.)
PROKHOROV: That's where the electric treatment gets you! Brilliant proof of how unsound
our medicine is.
(STASIK stands next to the corpse, thrusting out his jaw in the pose of the Mausoleum Guard.)
GUREVICH: It's nothing. Nothing unexpected. We need to rely fully on fate and believe
firmly that the worst still lies ahead.
PROKHOROV: (Adding.) René Descartes. Let no one despair! Today we're celebrating the Walpurgis festival of strength, beauty and charm! Let normal people celebrate May Day, that is, not normal people, but our own service sector! Ha-ha! Everyone dance! A ladies' choice dance! Alekha!
Boom, boom, boom, boom!
Boom, boom, boom, boom!
I love everything that's here,
I love everyone that's here:
Murder stories with a twist,
Thick and lofty British mist,
And Hawaiian guitars,
And Havanan huge cigars,
Zion's wise and brilliant minions,
Really ugly Siamese twins…
(On a motif of Pyotr Tchaikovsky)
Don't go pinching,
Don't go looking,
Don't go feeling,
Our girlish calves…
VITYA: (Imitating Kalman, dancing with his belly.)
What for, what for, Oh God, Oh God?
What for, what for, Oh God, Oh God?
What for, what for, Oh God, Oh God?
What for, what for, Oh God, Oh God?
KOLYA: (Imitating a Soviet childrens' song.)
I don't have a drop of vodka,
I don't even have vermouth…
PROKHOROV: (Picking it up.)
Only beer and only soda!
Only soda, only beer!
No one here is ever drunk!
Pour, you crazies, pour some cheer
This intoxicating plonk
Right into the glasses here!
(Goes up to the bottle with spirits, pours some, knocks it back. The others want to do the same. But GUREVICH stops them.)
GUREVICH: Wait a bit. Come here, Kleinmikhel. I have some good news for you: your mom isn't dead! She's alive. Pashka didn't kill her! (Pours him some.)
SERYOZHA: (Clutches his glass to his chest.) Hooray! My mom is alive!
PASHKA: Hooray! I didn't kill her! (Instantly snatches SERYOZHA's glass from his hand and knocks it back in one gulp.)
You're clever, Pasha, as I see too well.
But no applause for you, no way, my friend.
They'll smash your mug in here, and that's for sure -
And "in a private and civilian manner."
PROKHOROV: René Descartes?… (To PASHA):
In short, my dear young friend -
Go fuck yourself amidst the morning dew!
(PASHA gets a slap from the monitor and hiccupping, joins the dancers.)
GUREVICH: Monitor, just look at all this dancing - the comedic and the emetic. It means that nothing - nothing was in vain, all the revolutions, religious strife, rises and falls of dynasties, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, Bartholomew's Eves and Volochaevo's Days - all of this, in the final analysis, only happened so that Secretary Eremin could lose himself dancing the kazachok… No, something's wrong with that … Come here, Seryozha, let me pour you a bit more…
(SERYOZHA crosses himself and drinks.)
GUREVICH: So, how are your merry Cosmosus astronauts doing?
SERYOZHA: (Inspired by five gulps - dances to the others' beat.)
Astronauts and bold Tatars,
Astronauts and bold Tatars -
They really look like shit today.
They'll all have to run away
With their jangling guitars.
GUREVICH: You don't say! … and Vova? Where's Vova? What's with him?
(VOVA sits in bed motionless, with the back of his head against the windowsill. For some reason his mouth is wide open.)
GUREVICH: Come look, Prokhorov, what's wrong with him?
PROKHOROV: He's breathing! Vovochka's breathing! (Sings Grieg to him). "Go to the forest, my beloved, where the violets await us. Go to the forest, the green forest, where the violets await us."
(VOVA doesn't make a sound. His mouth remains wide open. He's already given up the ghost.)
GUREVICH: Just think about it … (Nods to where the nurses' May Day pow-wow is going on.) They're celebrating completely differently. And that's all right… We're lost, and not yet found. They spin gossip, and we spin gold. We create, they procreate. They're businessmen, and we're supermen. They are worldly, and we are otherworldly. They only yap, and we yearn. They perspire …
PROKHOROV: And we aspire, of course. Isn't that the truth! They have a dog's life, but we
have a saint's life. Look how we sing! But all they've got are some lousy pop singers
like Rotaru and Cobson… I'd like to drown that wonderful Sofya Rotaru - only I
don't know where - in shit or in a hole in the ice. And I'd sell that wonderful Joseph
Cobson to Egypt for a shot of vodka … Ha-ha! Piece of cake! (The others stand aside
licking their lips longingly.)
PROKHOROV: Anyway, it's time to unroot everything that is most deeply rooted in Russia!
I already renamed the streets and drowned the pop singers. Now it's time to…
GUREVICH: Oh yes. Now it's time to remodel these cages. Just listen how bland these names sound: Jubilee Vodka, Warrior's Vodka, Stolichnaya … When I see this, I want to puke. Vodka should be pure as tears, and all of its subspecies should have tearful names too. Like this: Maiden Bitter Tears Vodka - 5 rubles, 20 kopecks. Boys Don't Cry Vodka - 7 rubles. Homeless Cloudy Tear Vodka - 4, 20. Widow Disconsolate's Tears Vodka - also not expensive: 4, 40. Wretched Orphan's Tears Vodka - 6 rubles. Crocodile Tears Imported Vodka - 10 rubles. And so on… Only, before demolishing Russia, in front of astonished humanity, you need to enlighten her…
PROKHOROV: Exactly. Enlighten her. Our neglect of all branches of knowledge… it's
frightening. For example, I've asked many people: how many grains are there in a
cut glass? After all, every Soviet glass has an identical quantity of grains. And just
imagine - no one knew. Out of the 145 surveyed just one answered correctly, and
only by chance. Shouldn't we begin an era of Enlightenment in Russia, before it's too late?
GUREVICH: We've already begun it. For now, within the limits of Ward 3. And then, you
never know … Well, what were the Russian people like before our time? Full of
languid demonism, dejected ravings. Recklessness, woven from yawns. Nobody had
any Honor, not the slightest bit of Grace, no Excellency at all. And let's not even
talk about Highness, let alone Majesty. When I, as a free man, looked at our
Russians, I was sometimes so filled with sorrow that it was hard for me to squeeze
onto a bus…
PROKHOROV: (With feeling.) Me too. I think that we're a little unfinished, a little premature. But we are enchanted. I feel it in myself, especially tonight…
GUREVICH: That's all right. We'll carry ourselves to term, disenchant and complete ourselves. And if anyone feels half-strangled and half-stabbed, then that's also easily fixed.
(During this time ALEKHA, VITYA, KOLYA, SERYOZHA, and MIKHALYCH are slowly coming
closer to the two thinkers, looking at them with varying degrees of worship.)
ALEKHA: Everyone's here.
PROKHOROV: And a good thing it's everyone.
GUREVICH: It sure is. In the stinking West, all everyone does is stand in line for free soup. The Vatican gives them this soup, or maybe someone else - I don't know - but in the meantime they look to Russia and think… I don't know what in the world they
think about either… but whatever it is, we should always be on the alert, ready for
a great deed! And you - are you preparing yourselves for a great deed?
VITYA: Are we ever!
GUREVICH: Well, that's terrific. (Serves everyone a drink, continuing to speak.) Basically, I feel sorry
for them. We too crowd in line - not for some sorry Vatican soup, but for an
object of the highest category! You need to understand this!… And besides …
they're estranged: each has his own tremor, his own rumbling in the stomach. But we
have one tremor and one rumbling!
PROKHOROV: What are you yelling "Hooray" for, you fool?
ALEKHA: Because they're estranged. And we'll strangle them like kittens!
PROKHOROV: What do you think, Gurevich, will we strangle them?
GUREVICH: Why should we strangle them now? No need to hurry! There's no one more
peaceful than us anywhere in the world. But if they continue to doubt this, then in
the very near future they will pay for their unbelief in our peaceful nature. These
monsters don't care about anything but themselves. Take this Mozart lullaby:
"Sleep, my darling, fall asleep… Someone sighed beyond the wall - what do we
care, my child? Shut your eyes already." And so on. These Nazis don't give a damn
about others' troubles, they have no sympathy for anyone else's sighs. "Sleep, my
darling"… No, we're not like that. Others' troubles are our troubles. We care
about everyone's sighs, and we have no time to sleep. We've already become so
tireless and plenipotentiary that we can deprive everyone not only of their sighs,
their heavy sighs beyond the wall - but of their last breath. How could we ever
close our eyes?
PROKHOROV: I think we should strangle them anyway. But I don't know who to begin with. Probably the Nazis.
GUREVICH: Have mercy, Prokhorov! What Nazis? We don't even need to move our left foot
for the Nazis to stop breathing. In essence, they've already stopped!
VITYA: I'd like to punish the Dutchmen, for their flying…
MIKHALYCH: And then the Jews, for being eternal…
PROKHOROV: Shhh!.. I suggest, Gurevich, that we deprive the admiral of his next drink. And
at the same time demote him to cabin boy. For his rudeness …
GUREVICH: Let's do just that.
ALEKHA: And as for me, I'm interested in the British Isles…
GUREVICH: We don't have to walk on eggshells with Britain. Herodotus didn't even believe
in its existence. And why should we be better or worse than Herodotus? We should
convince everyone once and for all that it doesn't exist - and for this we only need
to apply the smallest effort…
PROKHOROV: And let the Yankees tremble a bit in the meantime. Let them have squalid, sleepless nights… no need to be tender with them….
KOLYA: But wait… if I'm ordered to strangle Scandinavians… why should I strangle them? They have such blond hair, really really blond, and they are really really sinless
GUREVICH: You're wrong, Kolya. We need to crack down on them, for starters, because they regard their lousy Vikings and Konigs as forefathers of our great princes. And
then - for Quisling and simply for being seafarers…
PROKHOROV: (Taking him up.) … And for hanging around on both of our indigenous Russian poles. They're nothing but bastards, not seafarers… To the gallows! That's what I think…
MIKHALYCH: Farewell, my dear comrade sailors! And pass my sailor's cap to Nastenka. That's it. (He collapses at the side of the bed as if shot through the heart and snores his last.)
GUREVICH: What's with him? Is he joking?… or is he…?
PROKHOROV: The cabin boy just got a bit seasick from our storms. It's all right … We'll
settle things with the pasta-eaters, for example, without him. A more senseless tribe
God has never created. They only want to make out all the time, and they can't do
anything else. Just take those two … Sacco and Vanzetti. Let them make out with
each other if they want to. Sacco was beautiful, body and soul. Vanzetti didn't have
a trace of soul, but what a shapely figure. Both in back and in front! Figures are all
very nice, but why did they throw our party comrade Giordano Bruno into the
spruce fire, like a piece of coal? If I were Italian, I wouldn't be able to look a Russian in the face after that!…
ALEKHA: Hey, you're getting me excited with all this … beautiful Vanzetti with her figure!
I wish I could have a Polish girl instead!
PROKHOROV: There won't be any Polish girls!!
VITYA: But why do away with them? Because of Taras Bulba?
GUREVICH: Screw your Bulba! … Because they outdid us both in geographical proximity to Europe and …
PROKHOROV: And in historical hatred of Yids…
ALEKHA: (Imitating his boss.) I have a suggestion: demote Prokhorov to my orderly, for rudeness, and deprive him of his next shot…
GUREVICH: No, that's going too far! Give that wise guy a little beating instead …
(PROKHOROV goes up to ALEKHA and hits him lightly.)
GUREVICH: My God! They're mixing everything up again!… Well, OK. Tell me instead, you who are prepared for a great deed: who among you likes the Frenchies?
EVERYONE: All of us!
GUREVICH: (Sarcastically.) All of you?
EVERYONE: (Realizing.) None of us!
GUREVICH: That's better. They've got too much going against them: Bagration's right side, Alexander Pushkin's stomach, Kutuzov's left eye…
KOLYA: (Drunkenly.) But that was the Turks!… Kutuzov's eye…
PROKHOROV: What do Turks have to do with it? Why Turks, anyway?! Our Bulgarian
Comrade Antonov already shot all the Turks long ago, on St. Peter's Square, in
Rome. And I personally saw a wonderful painting: it was Kutuzov, riding a horse,
I don't remember where, but with both eyes…
GUREVICH: That's just the point. A Russian can't be one-eyed. They, they can allow themselves this luxury, all these admirals, these Nelson Rockefellers. But we - we can't. The alarming situation in the universe forces us to keep both eyes peeled. That's right.
KOLYA: But… Lisbon… our very beautiful Lisbon!…
PROKHOROV: What's all this about Lisbon? What is Lisbon, anyway? Flood it with water
from all sides and don't let anyone escape! Just like that. Or set it on fire from all
sides and don't let anyone escape!
GUREVICH: The very word "Lisbon" makes me sick. My bile spills over whenever I hear
anyone say "Lisbon." And is it a good thing for a man's bile to spill over? No,
it isn't…So, Lisbon shouldn't exist! (Applause.) Do you need Lisbon, Kolya?
GUREVICH: What about you, Vitya?
VITYA: Not a bit.
GUREVICH: There you have it: things exist on this earth that no one needs - they flourish,
smell sweet, and exist. Just when a man doesn't have what's most vital. So, Lisbon
will be no more … But in this situation, may I rely on my strategic allies?
EVERYONE: (Haphazardly.) Yes, you may, Gurevich! How about one more shot!
GUREVICH: Now you're talking! (They all have a shot.)
SERYOZHA: Good afternoon, or maybe night, I cannot tell which one is right; I want to pass along to you, good wishes from my heart so true. Greetings, my dead mom,
greetings from your son Fedya. (Laughs suddenly, unexpectedly - after all, no one has ever seen him even smile. Laughing and twisting like a top, he falls to the floor, writhing in strange paroxysms.)
(Everyone is speechless for a while. Music.)
GUREVICH: (Frowning.) Well, all right … His mom turned out to be alive - and he dies from this.. History has seen cases of death from sudden joyous news. Michel Montaigne.
STASIK: (Dropping his pose of Mausoleum Guard and again darting from corner to corner of the ward.) Those born under the sign of Socialist Quality can't remember their predestined path. But we, the rabble of humanity - can't forget it! Relax, people, stretch out. And please, don't kill each other - it distresses me. God is wiser than man! Hold onto Christ's chasuble! (Again freezes, this time with his knees bent in a pose of prayer.)
GUREVICH: (Continues, inspired.) And if there's no Lisbon, then it's all over; the rest of the continents will collapse by themselves… Beginning with East Asia. That ruinous, sinister, slovenly throng doesn't have the right to exist! Listen to this eastern
inscription on a gravestone - and in the time of the Gospels, too - "A universal
favorite, he was full of charm. Not sparing a soul, he destroyed everyone without
a trace." (Laughter in the audience.) Well, what can we do with such a people? There's nothing we can do! They'll die off by themselves. They're always having
demographic explosions, furuncles, Hiroshimas, napalm, Nagasakis, and no food to
boot. They'll quietly perish by themselves, to cleanse the earth and heavens! And
arboviral encephalitis, the fighting of Marxist dictators and Manchurian fever will
finish off the rest. The time of Retribution is at hand! Let's have a drink, dear
brothers, so that this time comes sooner!
ALEKHA: I, for one, drink to Manchurian fever! (Drinks a shot, grunts and tries to resume his show.)
Boom, boom, boom, boom.
Boom, boom, boom, boom.
All is lost, the world is gone!
We'll get up with nothing on.
We'll get up, the world's no more.
Truth is gone,
All the sacred things are gone.
Reagan is in Syria!
CHORUS: (Already having drank and grunted)
Nothing left, the world is gone -
And Reagan's in Vologda!
This is our V-Day!
How our V-Day stinks of rot!
We're so happy, lips taped up!
We're so joyous, with our eyes forever shut!
This is our V-Day!
GUREVICH: Shush! Drunken fools! You don't understand anything of my inspired vision! You've mixed everything up…
PROKHOROV: No, we understand everything very well, Gurevich. Only, you forgot that
there's also the United Nations and Perez de Cuellar… And when the continents
begin to fall…
GUREVICH: Ha ha! Perez de Cuellar, of course, will clutch his Peruvian head. Have you ever
seen people with Peruvian heads? Well, he has one, and I bet he'll clutch it. So let him. Anyway, no one will save the plague-stricken world for us! And all of you, feasting - don't forget about the plague! Feasting is good, but there are more important things than feasting (General Haig). And always believe in the eternal Russian triumph, because they - have the power of the cross, and nothing more. We have everything else!
(There is a sound, at first unclear. As if someone bolted the door shut. Everyone spins around. It turns out to be VOVA; his mouth, half open during every act, closes forever. Almost at the same time, SECRETARY EREMIN's snoring under the white bed sheets is cut short. Behind the stage they are playing " Eternal Linden.")
KOLYA: (Staggering, goes up to VOVA and puts his ear to his heart.) Vova! Uncle Vova! Where are you going? Don't go. Come on, it's so nice in the forest now! And the aroma is so aromatic… (Cries like a child.)… the gambusia are splashing in the pond... the lungwort is blooming…
(VOVA doesn't answer.)
PROKHOROV: Well, why not really let the man go to the country?… After all, he kept asking
for it, asked for it every day - and every time he was refused. There you have a man who has withered from longing for the forest expanse …
GUREVICH: Eternal rest to his soul …
(The four remaining men drink to his eternal rest to the strains of "Eternal Linden.")
PROKHOROV: (Stares closely at GUREVICH.) And how will all this end, anyway? This whole series of victories over the plague-ridden world?
GUREVICH: Oh! At first, of course, the Russian people will feel happy and triumphant. As if Satan was watching over them. But then…they'll catch all the ailments of the defeated, they'll decay, and no longer be giants, they'll scatter like dust on the face of the earth. Or rather, they'll be carried off by monsoons blowing from Jaffa - they'll be carried farther and farther to the north, in the direction of lifeless space… farther to the north, where the days are still more cloudy, shorter, and where, consequently, one dies with still more grace and ease (Francesco Petrarch). And while the Russians fall into their appointed abyss - the people of Jehovah…
PROKHOROV: Finally! The people of Jehovah! Alekha and I are already occupying pro-Israel positions. That is, the only reasonable ones. But first we have to drive the Israelis
themselves out of these positions!
GUREVICH: How about that! … Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, of course, will doom us to petroleum starvation…
PROKHOROV: But they won't exist by this time: there won't be any Bahrain, or Kuwait…
GUREVICH: So what if they won't exist. You don't understand the Arabs. Even when they
themselves are no longer there - their stubborn fanaticism and stupidity will remain. So, they'll doom us to petroleum deprivation. But we don't give a damn. Why do we need this petroleum, anyway? Do you need it, Vitya?
VITYA: I need it like a hole in the head.
GUREVICH: Even Vitya doesn't need it. We'll replace it with something, this damn petroleum. Vermouth, for example, right Kolya?
(KOLYA continues to cry, more and more quietly, and doesn't answer. "Eternal Linden" is still playing.)
GUREVICH: Thus, I will lead you along the path of thunder and dreams! And the six-pointed
star of David will be our guide and the bearer of our fate! … They say that the star of his dissolute son Solomon was already five-pointed. That's not good enough for us, Solomon Davidych, with your eight hundred concubines and…
PROKHOROV: That's how fucking low you can go: a five-pointed star!
GUREVICH: (Getting even more worked up.) Hail to Eretz Israel, up to the very Euphrates!
PROKHOROV: Why limit it? From the Nile to the Euphrates!
Why curb it? From the Nile up to the great
Euphrates - well and good, but rather small scale,
And from the great Euphrates to the East…
And right down to the Nile!…
ALEKHA: From the Sinai Peninsula - up to the Kolsk Peninsula.
GUREVICH: And if anyone gives us a look - if anyone is still around to give us a look - it will be the way it was in the Talmud: Ben-Zama glanced - and lost his reason. Ben-Azai glanced - and died. And let Providence reduce them to ashes! Let the Lord sweep them away with His Divine Broom!… Thus, let's drink to the unity of hearts that obey the highest fate!
PROKHOROV: To the unity of hearts connecting Russia and Israel!
GUREVICH: To the health of Romain Rolland!… Wait, how did I get the idea of drinking to
that bald-headed devil… Oh yes, now I remember. "And if there were in all of
Israel even one just man, I say to you, you would not have the right to judge all
of Israel." Rolland, in a letter to Verhaeren. And the capital of the world will be -
what do you think? Jerusalem? Nothing of the sort! Cana of Galilee - that's what
the capital will be! Ha-ha!
ALEKHA: (In a bass.) And you w-will be the capital of the w-w-wor… (Not finishing, he sinks back onto the bed.)
GUREVICH: Our outstretched wings will cover all of your domain, Emmanuel! Don't deprive yourself of sunrise feelings! Timofei Dokshitzer, number one trumpeter of the
Soviet Union - where is your trumpet?! All hands to the deck! Now let's drink
another glass! To the solar perplexity of circumstances!…
ALEKHA: (With a hoarse, faint voice.) Hooray…
(VITYA, after a drink, also sinks onto the bed, next to ALEKHA. He begins to vomit uncontrollably, throwing up even his chess pieces and dominoes. Shaken by his vomiting, he makes a few convulsive motions with his feet, then falls on the bed without breathing. GUREVICH and PROKHOROV look mysteriously at each other. The light in the ward starts to dim, for some reason.)
STASIK: (Gets up from his knees. Runs across the ward for the last time.) What's with you, people? Who's first and who's last in line for the Toktogul Hydroelectric Station? Why on earth are the Golden beaches of Ansheron deserted? Who did I plant flowers for? Why?… Why didn't UNESCO observe the two thousand year anniversary of the
death of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra in 1970?! (Again freezes, this time with his head bent and his hands crossed on his chest a la Bonaparte on the eve of his last Waterloo. He stays like that until the invasion, coming up in a few minutes, of the medical personnel.)
ALEKHA: (Breathing heavily.) Here … I … am…
PROKHOROV: (Tugging at him.) Alekha!
ALEKHA: Yes… I'm here… goodbye, mom… your daughter Liubka… is going … to her grave… (Falls over and wheezes.)… my ashes… throw them over the Ganges… (His wheezing stops short.)
PROKHOROV: What the hell … Listen, Gurevich, I'm having trouble seeing … Are you
OK?… (Starts to look at him suspiciously.)
GUREVICH: Yes, I can see fine. Only, the ward's growing darker. And it's getting harder to breathe… You know, I realized right away that we were gulping down something bad…
PROKHOROV: I realized it too - almost immediately … But if you realized it right away, why didn't you say something? Why did you make us drink?
GUREVICH: Who made you drink? It just seemed to me…
PROKHOROV: It seemed to you what?… And when half of the ward dropped dead, did it still seem to you?… (Spitefully.) You had a scheme. A scheme. You can't live … without
a scheme …
GUREVICH: Yes, I had a scheme: to unite the loners. To pacify the wicked … to give them a
little joy… to bring dawn into the twilight of these souls, sentenced here to the end
of their days… I didn't have any other scheme …
PROKHOROV: You're lying, you snake in the grass …you're lying… I know what you had
in mind… everyone to their graves, everyone, by their roots… I saw right through you from the beginning… René Descartes… S-son of a bitch… (Tries to get up from the bed and, with his hands already spread apart, starts toward GUREVICH, who sits calmly. But he doesn't have the strength, something knocks him back onto the bed.) Lousy s-son of a bitch…
GUREVICH: Watch your language, monitor… What good is talking about it now? It's too late.
I already understood that it's too late after Vova's death. All that remained was to
finish it out. I did notice it right away. But I was only sure when it was too late…
PROKHOROV: Just tell me - have we already gone past the fatal dosage?…
GUREVICH: I think so. Quite a while ago.
(They exchange glances, filled with profound meaning. It continues to grow darker.)
PROKHOROV: It's all fucking over … Well then… There's a little more splashing at the
bottom… Listen, sorry I cursed you; I was mad. You're not guilty of anything…
Pour the rest, Gurevich - half and half. You ready?
GUREVICH: (Completely calm.) Yes. Only, it's unnatural to die here. Between the steep shores - fine. Between the high wheat sheaves - any time … But here!… (They clink
their mugs, breathing harder than before.) And then - I have something very important to do first … a visit I promised… (PROKHOROV grabs his throat and his heart, leaning closer and closer to his pillow.)
GUREVICH: (Mechanically continues to mumble.) They're celebrating May Day … They're gulping down champagne with sterlet… Their life is paradise, ours is sacrifice…
They go to festivals, we go to funerals… But we are far-ranging people… Today we
will arise… That monstrosity… Can he really be with her? So many hours already,
with her? And look at me: Cana of Galilee… "Gurevich, dear, everything will be
fine…," that's what she said. Now we'll see just how fine everything will be… Right
now… (Jumps up and again tumbles onto the chair.)
(From behind the stage - as if the walls are singing - the depressing song of Nadezhda Obukhova can be heard: "Oh my night, my dark dark night…," etc.)
GUREVICH: You called me to supper, Thug, and I'm coming to breakfast… Wondrous lass! Natalie! While I sit here and break down, stage by stage, they, all this time… God
have mercy on me … all this time… (Drops his head to the nightstand and clutches his
VOICE FROM ABOVE: (A commanding voice that's not imperative so much as adenoidal.) Vladimir Sergeich! Vladimir Sergeich! To work, to work, to work, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.
GUREVICH: (Raises his head and stares at the bird with immeasurable bewilderment.) God Almighty! What the hell is this? I can hardly see anything… Give me a Bible and a staff, and a little guide… For alms I'll go along the earth and preach. Now I know what to
preach, and how to preach it …
VOICE FROM ABOVE: Vla-di-mir Sergeich! Vladimir Sergeich! To work, to work, to work (Faster.) fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you…
GUREVICH: (Laboriously gets up from the chair, clutching the nightstand with all his might, trying not to fall.)
While I can still see a little bit - I'll find my way to you, I'll come to breakfast…
Bastard… (Loses his grip on the nightstand. Rocks back and forth, takes a step, then another.) It's all right, I'll make it. (A third step, and a fourth. Trips over the corpse of the rear admiral in the dark - falls down. Slowly gets up, grabbing the back of someone's bed.) I'll make it. Groping, groping, one step at a time. By hook or by crook I'll make it to that throat… Come on, Natalie, things can't remain the way they are. (It's almost completely dark. A fifth step. A sixth. A seventh.) My God, don't let me go completely blind… First, the fulfillment of vengeance. (Falls again, cuts his head against the edge of the next bed. Two minutes of helpless shaking and loud sobbing.) I'll get there. I'll crawl my way there… (Unbelievably, he again rises to his full height. Gropes with his hands in the space in front of him, takes five more steps - and he's at the doorjamb): Now… I'll take a little rest - and along the corridor, by the wall, by the wall…
(PROKHOROV, up till now lying calmly, raises his head and lets out an unearthly scream. It rouses all the patients and all the nurses, sleeping or awake, in the far off orderly's room and doctors' office. The half-sleeping, half-drunk on-duty personnel, with RANINSON at the head, march through the lighted corridor, approaching Ward 3 with a gait like Fortinbras. The first thing they see is GUREVICH, barely alive, already completely blind, with a purple, bloodstained face. With a kick, BORENKA THE THUG flings him away from the entrance to the ward. Everyone bursts in.)
RANINSON: (Shouting over the uproar.) Get to the phone!! Call headquarters and the morgue!!
ON-DUTY NURSES: (All at the same time.) "Look, that one died standing up! With his hands crossed!… And he still hasn't fallen, he's leaning against the wall." "The whole supply of methyl's cleaned out!" "No, I think this one's still breathing…" "Who
screamed like that?" And so on.
A BUNCH OF ATTENDANTS: (Fat, with stretchers.) I can't remember a batch like this. (The corpses are carried out in turn. The end of the finale of Sibelius's second symphony.)
BORENKA: Natasha, where are your keys?!
NATALIE: (Deside herself, not even crying.) I don't know… I don't know anything…
A NURSE: But Kolya, why did they take Kolya away? He looked like he was still breathing a
RANINSON: (Sarcastically.) Doesn't matter! To the morgue! The autopsy will show if we're dealing with clinical death or clinical feeblemindedness!
BORENKA: (Raising GUREVICH's wounded head with his foot.) And what about this one?
RANINSON: Watch him. I've got to make some calls. There'll be a buzz about this …
BORENKA: (Drags GUREVICH to the middle of the ward with his feet. The blind man and the audience can hardly see anything. BORENKA sees everything.). So, how are we getting along, maggot? Miss the crematorium? You and your stinking tribe! (A series of blows with a heavy boot to the side and the head.) Need more crematoriums? You poisoned everyone, you
shitty kike. Everyone!
GUREVICH: (Hoarsely.) I didn't … know … (Another blow.)… I'm blind… I can't see anything… (A blow.)
NATALIE: (From the half-darkness.) What's going to happen now? What's going to happen now? Oh my God! (In between sniffling. Cries like a little girl.)
BORENKA: (With each of his rejoinders the Sibelius recedes, and a music intrudes that, if we could put it in olfactory language, smells of rotten suckling pig, wet dog, and scorched fur.) You're blind, huh? Fucking asshole … You were living like it was Paradise: anyone hit you in the mug, you could see who it was. And now, you can't see shit! (Gives him another one, then another to the head.)
NATALIE: (Hysterically.) Borka! Sto-op! Stop! Come on, this is crazy! Sto-op! (Goes into a fit of sobbing.)
BORENKA: (With ever growing rage.) They should build gas chambers for you, you tribeful of dogs! (A series of blows to the kidneys, the roaring of the blind man and heavy breathing of the orderly.) Rotten faggot. Fucking beast! Piece of shit!
(The curtain is already closed, and the audience could go away. But there - behind the curtain - everything continues, and without mercy. GUREVICH's roar becomes more and more deathly. From there, from the ward, through the curtain, a sack filled with bed sheets flies out to the audience; a nightstand follows, and falls to pieces. Then - the cage with the parrot, which has already croaked from all this.)
Early Spring 1985
The only thing left is the music; nothing is possible without this. Besides the authorial indications already strewn throughout the text, Russian folk songs (not at all loud) could be used, such as "The Overgrown Path," "Along Murom Road," or better, orchestral variations on these themes - (in Act III). The Russian folk song "The Sunrise has a Ruddy Face" (in the first half of Act IV). The first movement of Mahler's Third Symphony, completely muted, in Act I. One of the most deathly and dismal of Bruckner's Andantes in Act V. And so on.
© V. Erofeev
© A. Burry
© T. Tulchinsky