An Allusion of Art
by Elena Clark
forum: An Allusion of Art
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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An Allusion of Art


           "Where am I going, why am I here?" the man said. Then a more pressing matter occurred to him. Who am I? he asked himself.

           He 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.

           He 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.

           Well, 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.

           "Passerby!" he shouted at a respectable-looking elderly man. "Is this Zhukovsky Street?"

           The 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?"

           Instead of answering, the man asked what the date was.

           "May 24th."

           "My heart and I have never made it to May," the man said hollowly. "But only lived through a hundred Aprils."

           The passerby stared at him again. "I see you have studied, at least," he said eventually. "How old are you?"

           "I was born in July 1894. Or '93—in any case, no earlier." The words seemed to leap into his mouth of their own volition.

           "Young man, you are raving. We are now in the 21st century."

           "What!" shrieked the man. "My unpaid union dues! The District Office! The Central Committee! My God!" He jumped up from the bench.

           "Young 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.

           "You need help! You are suffering from psychosis!" the older man shouted after him, but he ignored him, concentrating solely on running.

           His 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.

           "Oh..." he moaned. "Mama! Your son is wonderfully sick! Mama! His heart is on fire." He clutched at his chest until the pain faded.

           "Sonny?" An elderly woman whose face was almost entirely hidden by a shawl was standing in front of him. "What's the matter, sonny?"

           "What 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..."

           "This is not the moment to be quoting poetry," said the old woman sternly. "You look terrible."

           "Have you seen the most terrible thing?" demanded the man, suddenly becoming angry. "My face, when I'm absolutely calm?"

           "Well, 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?"

           Instead 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.

           After 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, at least.

           His 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.

           "Excuse me." A very thin young woman with sores on her arms and large staring eyes came up to him. "Could you spare some change?"

           The man felt his pockets, and came up empty. He shook his head regretfully.

           "Don't 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.

           The 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.

           "Lilichka!" he shouted. The two addicts jumped.

           "For me," said the man, "there is not a single joyful sound, except the sound of your beloved name."

           "Who are you?" demanded the male addict. "Do I know you?" His eyes tracked over the man's face. "You do seem familiar."

           But the man was wholly focused on the girl. "Except your love, there is no sun for me," said. The girl backed away from him.

           "If 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.

           The 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.

           When 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.

           A 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.

           "Spare change?"

           The 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.

           "Don't 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.

           By the time he made it over to the statue he was feeling a bit better, although his heart kept giving him little warning stabs.

           "Aleksandr 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.

           "I've 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.

           "We 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."

           "Hello, Volodya," said someone in his ear. He jumped.

           "You 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.

           "Who are you?" the man demanded.

           "You don't remember, then. I'm Peter."

           "Peter... The Great?"

           The 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.

           "Where are we...?"

           "A little trip down memory lane, Volodya: specifically, Tverskaya Street. There's something at the end of it you might find interesting."

           Someone came up on the other side of Volodya. "Not so fast," he said. "His ultimate destination still hasn't been decided."

           This new person had a strange, smokey smell to him. Volodya inhaled deeply and broke out in a coughing fit.

           The unknown man grinned. "What, lost your taste for 'the flesh of the devil'?" he asked mockingly.

           "Leave him alone, Lucifer," Peter warned. "You know that was just hyperbole."

           "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."

           "That is not for you to decide," replied Peter. "And he has powerful friends up there."

           "Like who?"

           "Like 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."

           "That wasn't his fault; it was after his time," Peter said. He saw the questioning look on Volodya's face and continued, "It was him."

           A 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!"

           "Shut 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.

           "You know, Volodya, your problem was that you were always too impatient, too prescient," Peter said, not unkindly. "You predict the Revolution—in magnificent style, I might add—but for 1916, not 1917. And then this whole business with your death and resurrection—you wrote about it years and years before it happened. And so accurately, it's practically uncanny—April, dying for love, a bullet in the heart... Don't you remember?" he asked, seeing how Volodya clutched at his chest.

           "No?" he said after a moment. "'Forgive me—this is not the way (I don't recommend it to others), but I have no other options.' That doesn't ring a bell?"

           Volodya shook his head, although his heart clenched painfully.

           "Well, I suppose it's not hard to predict your death when it's at your own hand," said Peter.

           "You see!" Lucifer interjected. "A suicide! How can you accept a suicide into the Kingdom of Heaven?"

           "Oh, 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.

           "Don't ascribe belief in an evangelical-style life after death to me," said Volodya hotly.

           Peter 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?"

           "Sinews and muscles are truer than prayers," Volodya answered.

           "Well, yes, when you're alive," Peter replied patiently. "But there, you see, we have a problem."

           "You always were a hothead, my dear," Anna added. "We knew you would be trouble when you joined us—after all, as Peter said, you predicted it yourself—and so no one was surprised when you disappeared. And attempting to resurrect yourself without any help—well, it didn't work out too well, did it? You still don't remember anything, do you?"

           Volodya shook his head.

           "And you can't converse in a normal manner, either—all 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."

           Aleksandr 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!"

           Peter 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."

           "I 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.

           "Yes, 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?"

           A 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?"

           Peter 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."

           "Being 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...'"

           "If I have to hear Exegi Monumentum one more time..." Peter said, giving him a warning look.

           "Do come back, Volodya," Anna repeated.

           "I am all about heart," Volodya replied doubtfully, "and where do the bodiless have hearts?"

           "You see!" interjected Lucifer's companion. "You don't want to go with them! They're all drunkards there, harlots." He glared at Anna.

           "Don't use my words back at me," she snapped. "You can't slander me now that I'm dead, you son of a bitch."


           "Enough!" 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."

           "I'm just saying, he belongs to us," grumbled Josef.

           "He escaped you in the end," said Anna triumphantly. "One bullet—bakh!—and he was free."

           "I 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."

           "And now it is time for him to get it back," Peter said. "Then he can decide where to go."

           They were coming up to Triumfalnaya Square, at the intersection of Tverskaya Street and Bolshaya Sadovaya. "Look right," Peter ordered. "Where the big 'M' is."

           "All metro stations should be called Stalinskaya," complained Josef. "After all, I built them."

           "That would be confusing," said Lucifer, giving his protégé a harsh look. "And weren't you just boasting that you'd appropriated his name?"

           They walked up to the station entrance, with Lucifer and Stalin squabbling in the rear.

           "Look up," said Peter.

           Volodya obediently looked up. Brass letters spelled out "Mayakovsky Station" at the top of the entranceway.

           "But sometimes," he said unhesitatingly, "I like best the sound of my own name, Vladimir Mayakovsky."

           "I knew you'd remember!" Peter exclaimed. "And how about the rest of it?"

           Mayakovsky 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.

           "But not with them," said Josef. "Why, they're nothing but a bunch of... of wreckers. Saboteurs! Enemies of communism!"

           "You hate them," Lucifer reminded him. "You've said so again and again."

           Mayakovsky 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."

           "Good man," said Peter. "So you'll come with us?"

           Mayakovsky nodded.

           "Rest in peace," said Peter, taking him by the arm,

* * *

           There 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:

                                                                        "And where
                                                                         is there
                                                                         a place for
                                                                         someone like me?
                                                                         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.




copyright 2006 Elena Clark.

Elena Clark:

I am currently a PhD student at UNC-Chapel Hill, where I am learning to use very long words and generally become incomprehensible. Most recently, my stories have been published at Bards & Sages and Ultraverse.

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