am I going, why am I here?" the man said. Then a more pressing
matter occurred to him. Who am I? he asked himself.
knew he had a past. He could see scenes from it in his mind. A
particularly vivid scene flashed before him, and he smiled. What
had her name been? Maria? No, something starting with an L.
wondered what his name was. Vasili? Valeri? Vadim? None of them
sounded quite right. A word was nudging insistently at his brain.
He let it come, and found himself saying, "Sometimes it seems
to me I am a Dutch rooster or the king of Pskov. But sometimes,"
and then everything went blank, leaving him with the sense that
the knowledge had disappeared off the tip of his tongue.
he would just have to wait for it. Meanwhile, he needed to find
out where he was. He looked around. He was sitting on a bench
in a grassy park-like area running down the middle of a busy street.
Everything looked familiar and yet not familiar. People were lying
on the grass or walking up and down the pathway.
he shouted at a respectable-looking elderly man. "Is this
passerby started and stared at him. "Young man, this is Tverskoi
Boulevard," he said severely, adding under his breath, "crazy
narcomanes." He made to go, then stopped. "Your face
is somehow familiar to me," he said. "Perhaps I am acquainted
with your father? What is your name and patronymic?"
of answering, the man asked what the date was.
heart and I have never made it to May," the man said hollowly.
"But only lived through a hundred Aprils."
passerby stared at him again. "I see you have studied, at
least," he said eventually. "How old are you?"
was born in July 1894. Or '93in any case, no earlier."
The words seemed to leap into his mouth of their own volition.
man, you are raving. We are now in the 21st century."
shrieked the man. "My unpaid union dues! The District Office!
The Central Committee! My God!" He jumped up from the bench.
man..." began the passerby, but the man interrupted him,
crying out, "Why am I suffering? Citizens!" He pushed
the older man aside and began to run down the pathway.
need help! You are suffering from psychosis!" the older man
shouted after him, but he ignored him, concentrating solely on
flight proved to be short, however, for after only a few tens
of meters he was stopped by a sharp pain in the left side of his
chest. He sat on another handy bench and looked down his shirt.
There was an ugly scar over his heart.
he moaned. "Mama! Your son is wonderfully sick! Mama! His
heart is on fire." He clutched at his chest until the pain
An elderly woman whose face was almost entirely hidden by a shawl
was standing in front of him. "What's the matter, sonny?"
kind of outrage is this!" the man asked plaintively. "What
am I, sleeping? I felt myself: I'm just the same as I was, my
face is the same one I'm used to..."
is not the moment to be quoting poetry," said the old woman
sternly. "You look terrible."
you seen the most terrible thing?" demanded the man, suddenly
becoming angry. "My face, when I'm absolutely calm?"
you're not calm now," the old woman told him. She squinted
at him. "But your face does seem familiar to me. Maybe I've
met your grandmother?"
of answering her, the man bolted out of the bench. She shouted
at him and attempted to chase after him, but even with his wounded
heart he was able to outpace her.
a few minutes, the man felt calmer. So, he had ended up in the
future: wasn't that what he had always predicted for himself?
Wasn't it? He was certain it was. He had always believed in inhabiting
the future, even in his own time. And he knew he was in Moscow,
steps made an enjoyable rhythm. He began to mutter, "ta-ra-ra/ra-ra/
ra, ra, ra, ra/ra-ra/." This vague humming sound pleased
him greatly. "I like to roll my Rs on the smooth surface
of the asphalt," he said to himself.
me." A very thin young woman with sores on her arms and large
staring eyes came up to him. "Could you spare some change?"
man felt his pockets, and came up empty. He shook his head regretfully.
bother with him, Lilochka; can't you see he's a thrice-damned
miserly Yid?" said her companion, a young man in a striped
sailor shirt, dirty trousers, and old army boots. It was clear
that toothpaste and deodorant were low on his list of priorities.
man reeled. He had been about to lecture his accosters on the
evils of petty nationalism and the need to build a shining internationalist
communist future, and also tell them he was not a Jew, but a Georgian-born
Russian, but the girl's name had suddenly set off such echoes
in his head that he could think of nothing else.
he shouted. The two addicts jumped.
me," said the man, "there is not a single joyful sound,
except the sound of your beloved name."
are you?" demanded the male addict. "Do I know you?"
His eyes tracked over the man's face. "You do seem familiar."
the man was wholly focused on the girl. "Except your love,
there is no sun for me," said. The girl backed away from
you torture a poet, he will trade his beloved for money and fame,"
the man shouted as she turned and ran. Her companion took one
last look at the man before fleeing as well.
man decided not to chase after them, but instead continued up
Tverskoi Boulevard. The sound of traffic grew louder as he approached
its intersection with Tverskaya Street. He felt there would be
something important there, although he couldn't remember what.
he came to the intersection, he was temporarily blinded and deafened
by the commotion, and had to clutch at a railing for moment. He
looked around. What was that bright yellow-and-red building to
his left? He sounded out the sign. McDonalds. It was very popular.
Was it some kind of nightclub or cabaret? It sounded like an English
name. Oh well. He had no money anyway. He wanted to cross the
street to visit the statue in the square opposite.
few minutes' observation showed that people were going under the
street, following signs for an underpass. He let go of the railing
and let himself be carried along with the crowd.
man jumped. The beggar was sitting against the wall of the underpass,
holding a piece of cardboard with the words "Help Please
Afghan Veteran" hand-lettered on it. His right leg ended
just above the knee.
I know you, brother?" asked the beggar. But the man was shaking
his head, backing away, his heart pounding too hard for him to
speak. He rushed out the underpass and up into the light. His
hands were shaking. "A war-amputated soldier, unneeded, nobody's,"
he murmured. He felt as if those words should accompany some incredible
burst of insight, but there was only more blankness.
the time he made it over to the statue he was feeling a bit better,
although his heart kept giving him little warning stabs.
Sergeyevich, allow me to introduce myself," he said once
he had caught his breath. He stopped, embarrassed that he still
couldn't remember his name. The statue looked back at him thoughtfully.
really gotten used to having you here on Tverskoi Boulevard,"
the man continued, although he had the funny feeling the statue
was not quite where it was supposed to be. His chest twinged.
should come to an agreement while I'm alive," he said. "Soon
I will die and fall silent. After death we'll have to stand quite
close: you on P, and me on M."
Volodya," said someone in his ear. He jumped.
remember," the newcomer continued. He was a middle-aged man
of definite Semitic appearance. His face had a luminescent quality.
A businessman talking ostentatiously on his cell phone walked
right through him without breaking stride.
are you?" the man demanded.
don't remember, then. I'm Peter."
newcomer rolled his eyes. "Do I look seven feet tall to you?
Saint Peter, silly." He put his arm over Volodya's shoulders.
It was quite a stretch for him. "I see you haven't grown
any shorter," he remarked. "Come on, let's walk."
He started leading Volodya away from the statue.
little trip down memory lane, Volodya: specifically, Tverskaya
Street. There's something at the end of it you might find interesting."
came up on the other side of Volodya. "Not so fast,"
he said. "His ultimate destination still hasn't been decided."
new person had a strange, smokey smell to him. Volodya inhaled
deeply and broke out in a coughing fit.
unknown man grinned. "What, lost your taste for 'the flesh
of the devil'?" he asked mockingly.
him alone, Lucifer," Peter warned. "You know that was
it?" Lucifer pouted. "You guys never should have gotten
him. He was clearly marked for me. I'm really quite offended:
he labeled God as his 'rival,' his 'unconquerable enemy.' Only
I'm allowed to name Him so. I want him."
is not for you to decide," replied Peter. "And he has
powerful friends up there."
me," said yet another man. This newcomer had unusually dark,
curly hair for a Russian. He looked the statue over critically.
"I don't look so bad there," he said. "But I liked
it better in its old spot. And it's a shame about the church.
Really, Volodya," he chided, "I know you meant well,
but some of the company you kept... There was no need to tear
down the Monastery of Christ's Passion just to move my statue
a few yards."
wasn't his fault; it was after his time," Peter said. He
saw the questioning look on Volodya's face and continued, "It
fourth newcomer had appeared, a dark stocky man with an impressive
mustache. "Bastard Muscovites," he muttered. "I
go to all that trouble to tear down churches, and what do they
do? They build them up again. Did you know," he demanded,
clearly aggrieved, "they filled in the swimming pool by the
river and rebuilt the Church of Christ Our Savior! Rebuilt it!"
up, Vissarich," Peter ordered. "Let's go." They
left Pushkin Square, although not without a final critical examination
of the statue by its original, and proceeded up Tverskaya Street.
Passers-by went around Volodya but right through the others in
a disconcerting manner.
know, Volodya, your problem was that you were always too impatient,
too prescient," Peter said, not unkindly. "You predict
the Revolutionin magnificent style, I might addbut
for 1916, not 1917. And then this whole business with your death
and resurrectionyou wrote about it years and years before
it happened. And so accurately, it's practically uncannyApril,
dying for love, a bullet in the heart... Don't you remember?"
he asked, seeing how Volodya clutched at his chest.
he said after a moment. "'Forgive methis is not the
way (I don't recommend it to others), but I have no other options.'
That doesn't ring a bell?"
shook his head, although his heart clenched painfully.
I suppose it's not hard to predict your death when it's at your
own hand," said Peter.
see!" Lucifer interjected. "A suicide! How can you accept
a suicide into the Kingdom of Heaven?"
we accept all sorts, as long as they believe," said Peter
easily. "Hello, Anna," he added as an aquiline woman
wearing a mantilla joined them.
ascribe belief in an evangelical-style life after death to me,"
said Volodya hotly.
rolled his eyes. "I'm not ascribing it to you; you did it
yourself," he said. "Golgothas, crucifixions... Didn't
you once express an interest in being the thirteenth apostle?"
and muscles are truer than prayers," Volodya answered.
yes, when you're alive," Peter replied patiently. "But
there, you see, we have a problem."
always were a hothead, my dear," Anna added. "We knew
you would be trouble when you joined usafter all, as Peter
said, you predicted it yourselfand so no one was surprised
when you disappeared. And attempting to resurrect yourself without
any helpwell, it didn't work out too well, did it? You still
don't remember anything, do you?"
shook his head.
you can't converse in a normal manner, eitherall you do
is quote yourself. And eventually you'll run out of things you've
already said, and then what will you do? Come back; we need you
up there. After all, you said only you and I were writing real
poetry, or something like that."
Sergeyevich opened his mouth to interject an offended remark,
but Volodya forestalled him, bursting out, "You winged scoundrels!
I'll open you up from here to Alaska!"
clucked his tongue reprovingly. "Leave off your dreams of
bootknives and bloody retribution," he said firmly. "Trust
me: they look much better on paper than on flesh and blood."
don't see why you won't just hand him over to me," said Lucifer,
who had been following along at the other angels' shoulders.
the place for you is with us," agreed Lucifer's companion.
"After all, that's where I ended up, and we Georgians must
stick together, eh, brother?"
particularly thick cluster of pedestrians passed through the angels,
giving Volodya a moment to collect his thoughts. "What about
Vladimir Ilich?" he asked. "Where did he end up?"
and Lucifer exchanged glances. "Well, you see..." Peter
said slowly. "I told you we would take all kinds, as long
as they believed. Well, you believed, and he believed," he
indicated Lucifer's companion, "but Vladimir Ilich, he didn't
believe, not even a drop. So I suppose he ended up in your communist
paradise, wherever that may be. Oh, don't be downcast," he
added, seeing Volodya's face fall, "you said yourself you've
had it up to here with propaganda."
a poet in the afterlife isn't so bad," said Aleksandr Sergeyevich
encouragingly. "You can look down on your statues and all
the people reading your books, and say to yourself, 'I have raised
myself a monument not built by hands...'"
I have to hear Exegi Monumentum one more time..."
Peter said, giving him a warning look.
come back, Volodya," Anna repeated.
am all about heart," Volodya replied doubtfully, "and
where do the bodiless have hearts?"
see!" interjected Lucifer's companion. "You don't want
to go with them! They're all drunkards there, harlots." He
glared at Anna.
use my words back at me," she snapped. "You can't slander
me now that I'm dead, you son of a bitch."
Peter held up his hand. "I'm warning you, Josef: one more
word out of you and I'll purge you seventy-seven times over."
just saying, he belongs to us," grumbled Josef.
escaped you in the end," said Anna triumphantly. "One
bulletbakh!and he was free."
held onto his memory, though," gloated Josef. "Forced
memorization has made generations of schoolchildren hate his poetry
with a passion. And I appropriated his name, even if the rest
of him got away."
now it is time for him to get it back," Peter said. "Then
he can decide where to go."
were coming up to Triumfalnaya Square, at the intersection of
Tverskaya Street and Bolshaya Sadovaya. "Look right,"
Peter ordered. "Where the big 'M' is."
metro stations should be called Stalinskaya," complained
Josef. "After all, I built them."
would be confusing," said Lucifer, giving his protégé
a harsh look. "And weren't you just boasting that you'd appropriated
walked up to the station entrance, with Lucifer and Stalin squabbling
in the rear.
up," said Peter.
obediently looked up. Brass letters spelled out "Mayakovsky
Station" at the top of the entranceway.
sometimes," he said unhesitatingly, "I like best the
sound of my own name, Vladimir Mayakovsky."
knew you'd remember!" Peter exclaimed. "And how about
the rest of it?"
put his face in his hands, causing passers-by to look at him in
concern and then hurry past. "Oh God," he moaned. "Esteemed
comrade descendants! Digging through today's petrified shit, studying
the darkness of our days, you might also ask about me." He
looked at Peter. "I have to leave," he declared.
not with them," said Josef. "Why, they're nothing but
a bunch of... of wreckers. Saboteurs! Enemies of communism!"
hate them," Lucifer reminded him. "You've said so again
shook his head like a bull ridding himself of flies. "The
incident is closed, I'm quits with life, and now all I want is
for space to take me to its lap again."
man," said Peter. "So you'll come with us?"
in peace," said Peter, taking him by the arm,
* * *
were several reports of a mysterious incident at the entrance
to Mayakovsky Station that day. More than a dozen people claimed
to have seen a tall man with a strangely familiar cast to his
features begin shouting, and then suddenly disappear into the
crowd. One witness, an elderly schoolteacher, had attempted to
follow the man, wishing to question him about his peculiar resemblance
to her favorite poet and his apparent word-perfect knowledge of
his poetry. But her eyes were not what they had been back before
the Great Patriotic War, and she, too, lost him in the crowd.
Disappointed, she slowly made her way home (her hips were also
not what they had been in 1940). Once there, she went to her bookshelf,
pulled down her "Collected Works," and let it fall open.
The first words she saw were:
Where is my resting place ready?"
The author would like to thank V.V. Mayakovsky, A.S. Pushkin,
and Anna Akhmatova for writing the major part of the dialogue.