Wednesday, July 14, 2004

“And you, Venya? Moscow—Petushki, to the end of the line as usual?”


“Yes, as usual. And it’s for good this time: Moscow—Petushki …”

“And you think you’ll worm your way out of it this time, Scheherazade? Right?”

Here I must make a small digression and, while Semenych is drinking the dosage that he’s collected in fines, explain to you quickly why “Scheherazade” and what he meant by “worm your way out of it.”

Three years have passed since I first bumped into Semenych. Then, he had only just started to work as an inspector. He came up to me and said, “Moscow—Petushki? One hundred twenty-five.” And, when I didn’t understand what was what, he explained it to me. And, when I said that I didn’t have a drop with me, his answer to that was: “Do I have to kick your ass around for you, if you haven’t got any? I answered him that it wouldn’t be necessary and muttered something from the area of Roman law. He became terribly interested and asked me to tell him in detail about everything ancient and Roman. I started to talk and soon got to the scandalous tale of Lucretia and Tarquinius, but, at this point, he had to jump off at Orekhovo-Zuevo. So he didn’t get a chance to find out what finally happened to Lucretia: did that good-for-nothing Tarquinius attain his end or not …

Now Semenych was an extraordinary ladies’ man and a utopian; the history of the world interested him only for its intimate moments. So when he looked in again a week later near Friazevo, Semenych didn’t say to me, “Moscow—Putshki? One hundred twenty-five.” No, he flung himself on me for the continuation: “Well, did he fuck his Lucretia or not?

And I told him what happened next. I went from Roman to Christian history and came to the story of Hypatia.

“And so, at the instigation of the Patriarch Cyril, the monks of Alexandria, seized by fanaticism, tore the clothing from the beautiful Hypatia and …” But, here, our train came to a dead stop in Orekhovo-Zuevo, and Semenych had to leap onto the platform, hopelessly intrigued.

And in this way three years passed, every week. On the Moscow—Petushki line I was the only unticketed passenger who had never bought Semenych a single gram of vodka, and, nevertheless, remained unabused and among the living. But every story has an end—even the story of the world.

The next Friday, I got up to Indira Gandhi, Moshe Dayan, and Dubček. There was no place left to go.

And so Semenych drank the fines he had levied, grunted and looked at me like a boa constrictor.

“Moscow—Petushki? One hundred twenty-five.”

“Semenych,” I responded, almost begging, “Semenych, haven’t you drunk quite a lot already?”

“A decent amount,” he answered, not without self-satisfaction. He was really foggy.

“Then that means you’ve got an imagination? That means that you’re ready to race into the future? That means you can come with me out of the dark world of the past into the golden age which ‘verily, verily, shall be’!”

“I can, Venya, I can. Today, I can do anything.”

“From the Third Reich, the Fifth Republic, from Slaughterhouse Five, the Seventeenth Congress—can you leap with me into the promised land of the Fifth Kingdom, the seventh heaven and the Second Coming?”

“I can,” Semenych roared. “Speak, Scheherazade, speak!”

“Then, listen. The day will come, that day of days. On that day when most weary Simon shall say finally, ‘Now, absolve thy servant, Lord,’ and the archangel Gabriel shall say, ‘Hail, Mary, blessed art thou amongst women,’ and Doctor Faust shall pronounce: ‘The moment is now, linger and stop a bit!’ And all whose names are written in the book of life shall sing out: ‘Exalt Isaiah,’ and Diogenes will extinguish his lantern. There shall be good and beauty and everything will be fine and all will be good and other than good and beauty will be nothing and all shall merge into a kiss.”

“Merge into a kiss,” Semenych was fidgeting impatiently now.

“Yes! And the torturer and the victim shall merge into a kiss, and spite, design, and calculation shall disappear from the heart, and the woman—”

“The woman!!” Semenych started to quiver. “What? What about the woman?”

“And the woman of the East shall throw off her veil, the oppressed woman of the East shall throw off her veil once and for all, and the lamb shall lie down.”

“Lie down?” Here he started to twitch all over.

“Yes. And the lamb shall lie down with the wolf and not one tear shall be shed and every cavalier shall choose a lady, whoever pleases him, and …”

“Ooooh,” Semenych groaned. “Will she? Will it be soon?” And, suddenly, he started to wave his hands like a gypsy dancer and then to fumble busily about with his clothing, stripping off his uniform down to his most intimate parts.

Although drunk, I gazed at him in amazement, while the sober citizens around him just leapt from their seats. And in dozens of eyes was written a huge “Aha!” The people had interpreted the matter quite differently from they ought to have interpreted it.

I should tell you that homosexuality in our country has been overcome once and for all but not entirely. Or, entirely but not completely. Or else, entirely and completely, but not once and for all. What do people think about now? Nothing but homosexuality. That and the Middle East. Israel, the Golan Heights, Moshe Dayan. So, if they chase Moshe Dayan off the Golan Heights and the Arabs make peace with the Jews? What will remain in people’s heads? Nothing but homosexuality pure and simple.

Let’s say they’re watching television: General de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou meet at a diplomatic function. Naturally they both smile and shake each other’s hand. And then the audience goes: “Aha.” They say, “Go on, General de Gaulle!” Or: “Aha, go on, Georges Pompidou!”

Just like they were looking at us now. Everyone had “Aha” written in his round eyes.

“Semenych! Semenych!” I grabbed him under the arms and started to drag him toward the vestibule. “People are looking at us. Come to your senses … Let’s go!”

He was terribly heavy. He had gotten all soft and unsteady. I barely got him to the end of the car and propped up against the automatic doors.

“Venya, tell me … the woman of the East … If she takes off the veil … will she have anything else on? Does she have anything under the veil?”

I had no time to answer. The train stopped as if transfixed at the station in Orekhovo-Zuevo, and the doors opened automatically.


Senior Inspector Semenych, intrigued for the one thousand and first time, half-alive and unbuttoned, was propelled out onto the platform, bumping his head on the railing. He then collapsed under the feet of the people getting off the train, and all the fines he had collected spewed out of his gullet and flowed away over the platform.
Venedikt Erofeev, Moscow to the End of the Line