dedicated to Elina
…The gelid wind from the gulf chilled the rimy city, pinched by cold, made its way through slightly closed shutters and window frames, clapped front doors, and swung lanterns over the road. Because of an abundance of moisture in the air, considerable frost became absolutely intolerable. There were no gushes of wind, it was an instant, not weakening, powerful, and stable rush, as if somewhere someone opened grimly a faucet. At that late hour, rare passers-by had their faces burnt, and their hands frozen even in warm gloves and mittens. Sergeyev looked through the window. Someone in a fur cap with its lowered tabs over the ears and with the lifted collar of his coat, ambling hastily along a slippery road in sloughs, was running across the street to the opposite house… Sergeyev still had about two hours left, and decided to leave earlier. "…well, that's it about tomorrow's weather. Mind you that in forty seven minutes, those in our city, who won't be sleeping yet, will be able to observe the eclipse's culmination phase, when the moon will be closed for sixty eight percent. It won't last long, and we hope that the cloudiness will let us see such a rather rare natural phenomenon. Meanwhile, we continue our musical…", – Sergeyev switched the radio off and left his room.
…Coming to that city, Sergeyev quite often dropped in at one and the same caf? – it was not far from the hotel, he liked the way they cooked, and an importunate noise was not a characteristic feature of theirs. He noticed her at once. Then, she brought his order. For some reason, Sergeyev was sure that those several usual words of hers were not a habitual phrase, which she spoke to all visitors, and furthermore – that smile. Her smile was of that rare sincerity and openness, which Sergeyev had probably never seen, but knew for sure that there should be such one in the world. And only once, long time ago – having woken up in the spring morning – he felt something similar, while the last hints on the just interrupted dream's events were flying away, in which there was something – and he knew it for sure – irrevocably good… The fact that he started talking to her, was quite natural and understood for him, who was not usually inclined to make easy acquaintances, and for her. Her work was over at one in the morning. They agreed that Sergeyev would come for her. She looked at him with her dark, a bit slanted eyes, and it was clear that she did not need to ask Sergeyev of anything, that she herself knew all and was sure that Sergeyev knew all about both of them: that for him, she was She, and he was He for her.
…The entrance to the caf? was from the patio, closed from all sides, in the middle of large multi-storey buildings, where one could get only through the grand entrance of one of those buildings. The only way back was the same. That grand entrance's beat-up footworn stairs ran up to different floors and studies of certain establishments. And though most people there were accurate, and there were rigid rugs and footwear brushes everywhere, the cleaner of that grand entrance always had things to do there: no matter how hard she cleaned chaussure, there was still snow left on ribbed soles, or melt-water from either the underground heat or salt, scattered by janitors, and therefore the caf?'s each visitor, leaving it and passing through the snowed patio, and then through the grand entrance, – back to the noisy crowded street, left his wet traces both in the entrance and on the porch with neighboring stone plates. One could get into the grand entrance through a deep half-alcove, covered from above and from one of the sides, and therefore the porch and the nearest approaches, protected from any fall-out, were always dry and free from snow and water, but wet traces were seen at once there.
…The grand entrance door slammed behind Sergeyev. Before him, passers-by were running about again, and upper parts of buildings on the opposite side of the wide street were still agley lit up by the low winter sun. He smoked and started to walk to and fro at some distance from the porch, which he had just left. In some fleeting minutes, going to throw a stub out, he returned to the porch and saw how… the recent prints of his wet soles were thawing out before his very eyes under the malicious gelid wind… Sergeyev suddenly felt bad, and there was something up to no good in those already completely dry stone plates and in the hastiness, with which his traces were being destroyed. There were no traces – just as if nothing had happened, as if there was no Sergeyev at all.
…The lantern was shaking in the wind; together with it, shadows of naked branches' dense interlacings were shaking as well, and consequently, when Sergeyev was walking along those trees, it seemed that an unstable ground and the whole world with it, were shaking under his legs. The wind was howling in wires, blowing snowdrift, and obstinately tearing the coat's skirts. Sergeyev was passing one carrefour, then another. He was absolutely alone on the dark draughty streets. He reached the channel. There, Sergeyev usually walked straight, and then – through the bridge – reached that wide street, which led to the familiar caf?. He continued his habitual walk, but suddenly, through an unexpected gleam, the moon appeared among clouds. If not for the semicircular shadow, which covered it, it would be almost full now. Still, without that, its unexpectedly bright light spilled on all around: on the deserted streets, and on snowdrifts along them, and on the car tracks, which ran here directly from under Sergeyev's legs, bending to the right. Sergeyev intended to be in the caf? before the agreed time – late at night, bad weather, what if they would suddenly close earlier if there would be no visitors. But rails' crankle was shining so appealingly under the moon, and spaces of streets with dark windows of silent houses, unknown to her, were brightening so alluringly, so that Sergeyev decided to walk that new way, moreover, it looked definitely shorter (and why had he not always walked it before?) because it obviously cut off a corner of a considerable size. He turned and went through the shining rails. Unfamiliar houses were hulking up on both sides, and hardly could one see a lonely window shining in them, while only entries' doors were clapping in the wind and creaking on weakened springs. The further Sergeyev walked, the wider the space was, the more and more lanes went away from his road, the more crossroads offered their new variants of the path. Again and again, Sergeyev was choosing new paths, seemed the shortest to him. And it was rather strange that the more the moon's disk was closed, then the brighter it shone. Somewhere far-away, the car tracks were left behind long time ago; new and new streets, turning one into another, ran their unending caravan, while Sergeyev could not reach that wide and straight line, which would carry him to the familiar caf?. Something bad tost in his breast, and he wanted to turn back, while he vaguely remembered the road, but only the moon began shining brighter, even though it was almost absolutely covered by the shadow, and spaces, inviting into far-off opens, yawned wider, and there was already no way back…
…The shadow began leaving the moon, and it seemed that it should shine brighter, but not – its yellow disk was growing duller, and after it got completely free, it was hardly seen in the black sky. There came suddenly nebules and clouds, and they hid the moon at all. Its light vanished, and out of the blue, Sergeyev recognized the streets he had been roamed, and then he reached that wide and straight one he needed. Five minutes prior to the time, he approached the treasured porch, but the grand entrance's door was closed. Sergeyev looked underfoot, and there – on the immovable plates and steps – he saw thawing traces of those three, who had just left the already closed entrance. Sergeyev rushed to the road, but there was nobody anywhere in both directions, – only wind and iciness, and rare cars were sliding by on frozen plangent asphalt. A seller from a calescent flower tent, shining with fires, deafened the receiver and confirmed that: yes, there was no visitors at the caf?, it was cold, and they closed earlier, that they have the right, and a waggonette arrived to take them home, as usual… Sergeyev rested his eyes at a bunch of gentle tea roses in a wide and high flowerpot, but did not see them. "… as we hoped, the rather cloudless sky has allowed us to observe the culmination of the lunar eclipse above our city and the Region. According to the latest messages of meteorologists on duty, it is already over now, and the moon is clean, but we can't see it now 'cause of a sudden continuous cloudiness, still, it doesn't matter any more. Well, for those, who aren't sleeping and still with us at this late hour, we continue our musical program…" The receiver was not of a high quality and snored on deep basses. Sergeyev left on frost.
Minsk, February 2001
Russian-English translation: Andrej Bursau