SERGEYEV'S TEMPTATION

dedicated to T.S.

…When she appeared, there were almost no vacant seats in the hall. Sergeyev could see only two not taken chairs of a very inconvenient location, and one more chair was near him, to the right, quite disadvantageous too as it was pretty close to the slide-projector. She looked around the auditorium, found and called to her amie, at the same time having bent towards her so that Sergeyev was run through by a stab of her smell and warmth. Her friend speaking in signs rather than by words was explaining away uneasily that the seat beside her had already been taken before and given to somebody, though there was no need in excuses as the lecture was to have been started twelve minutes ago yet. Sergeyev was about to propose the seat next to him to her, turned around and looked at her, but she outran him with her question. "Of course, please",– he answered and finally noticed how she resembled perfectly Tatiana – not only by all her face's and eyes' features, but also by the same not too short haircut and the same her hair's chestnut colour. She sat and only then loosed her dark-green coat's belt, undid it and having freed from the sleeves, tossed it back to the club chair. Then she took a thick writing-book folded in half and a pen out of her black handbag.

…Sergeyev happened to be at the lecture accidentally. His acquaintance whom he would see every time he was in Leningrad, decided not to postpone her visit to a dress-maker. Sergeyev always appeared out of blue without giving notice about his arrivals in advance. "You wanna me look well just not to feel ashamed 'cause of me beside, don't you?" – she said coquettishly,– "it won't take much time: about two hours and at eight or half past eight I'm again with you". Not exactly, but still knowing Sergeyev's some points of interest she suggested him frequenting the lecture on German expressionism which due to a lucky coincidence was to begin at five. The name of the lecturer was known to Sergeyev. He was famous for his knowledge, non-triviality of assertions and exceptional racontage. She accompanied Sergeyev to the needed museum's building, and having taken his hand, manoeuvring through thronging round – mostly – she-students who were waiting for the organized entering the hall, she got his through the militia guard station where everybody had known her well for a long time. She left him already at half-lights of the auditorium empty yet, having nuzzled close to and given him a resounding kiss on the cheek, not forgetting to efface her lipstick from his cheek. She had enough money, but – Sergeyev thought – she did not use purposefully more enduring lipstick just to have the possibility and pleasure to officiate at this important ritual. That acquaintance was not something meaningful for Sergeyev. Once during two-three months being on business in that city, he spent with gusto and relish the rest of his service time with her, not exerting himself much with the thoughts with whom she spent her days without him and whether she had that "somebody" at all. To outward seeming, that suited her down to the ground. She would never write or call to him. Sergeyev did not remember whether he had given her his address and telephone number. With all its mutual punky easiness of their relationship, somewhere deep inside he did know for sure what bulky part of his life that relationship was. Though for already three years past the word "love" had never been pronounced by them…

…Not allowing on a professional level anybody's uncontrolled presence behind himself Sergeyev took his seat in the last row, one place to the slide-projector. The entrance to the hall was at the backside – through the door in the most remote corner in the same wall towards which Sergeyev was sitting by his back. Then it was enough a slight half-face to observe all coming in. While he himself even if he could be noticed in the dim light, would be seen not in the first turn at least.

…Sergeyev noted at once her remarkable likeness to Tatiana who had married and gone abroad five years before. If you like, he had not been in love with her at the time, but then regarded her departure as a loss. For his thirty and a bit years old not once Sergeyev had already met people who were extremely familiar to people he had known somewhere somewhen. "Clones", as a rule, were parted by years and hundreds of kilometers, and often by countries. The unmerciful congeniality would spread out not only all over the minutest details of the appearance and voice, but also the character's features, behaviour, tastes and fancies, manners and even m?tiers. Sergeyev had neither explanation for that nor could he explain other strange events which would happen to him in that city: regularly every his business trip he did see necessarily once (and only once) – and he was not sure in it – one and the same girl or all the time her "clones" in the Leningrad metro. She (or her next "clone") would always come in the wagon Sergeyev was in too and every time would always leave it a station earlier than he. Always with a book which she was reading not giving attention to all around her. All by itself there did appear a name which he started using to bename her (or them) to himself – Liza. It seemed to him that was the most suiting name for a girl from that city. Or even more – the most matching to her. He had never tried to attract her attention to himself or much less to start a conversation. With her a little bit gaunt figure the face of hers (or theirs) was most likely not pretty, with her prominent cheekbones her cheeks were cavernous, but all together – together with the wan complexion, total absence of shamefacedness, out-of-body experience and revealing credulity – all those together contributed to Sergeyev's caco?thes. Any action and go-aheadism of his would have destroyed inevitably that unequalled feeling, and therefore Sergeyev would not do anything. It would continue in the same way. Later he began to incline himself to think (at the same time willing not to accept that idea) that there was not "she, all the same she", but a number of all the time new and new persons for some reason shown to him. Sent to him. As if he was expected vainly to do something, that was why the situation repeated again and again. 

…Considering himself an actively non-religious man then (or frugally antireligious) Sergeyev was not already inclined to the mystical mood as well. He had had his fling. It had been somewhen before when roaming alone in desolate fields and bare coppices in the early spring or in the late autumn he could ask the sky receiving answers from gushes of wind, from dry grasses' murmuring, from an arduous clang of the first transparent ice on the forest's frozen lake, or from a lone traveller hardly appeared beside a far-off hill. As often as not, those answers would come, as it seemed, from casual phrases of collocutors, from other people's undertakings and proposals. Then Sergeyev was very touchy with regard to such signs, and those his emotionalism and tune to such demonstration did accentuate until something would happen. Sergeyev had not felt that moment before, neither could he "remote" it then. But over the course of time it became clear that he had lost something important. Or he had been deprived of it. Sergeyev did not conceive or did not want to admit what for or why. The sky was silent in respond. Gushes of wind and grass' murmuring were then just gushes of wind and grass' murmuring, sparkling of stars and movements of the moon – just sparkling of stars and movements of the moon, the darkness of the night – just the darkness of the night. Therefore Sergeyev did not comprehend that what was happening to him then in Leningrad metro.

…His neighbour to the right with her eyes down was diligently taking notes of a lecture. The lecturer was really au fait on the subject and was holding the audience. Then Sergeyev understood why that youngish, in a blameless dark costume with a dainty tie professor ablazing with his calvity, was the admiration of all the she-students. Freshness and candour of his estimations on the subject caused Sergeyev's candid interest. The more especially as recently Sergeyev got keen especially on Germany, particularly on its both pre-war periods, and even more – on the last one. Due to his job he had access to some close archives, while his superiors did not thwart researches initiated by him deeming it fair that such interest would only advance his work. That remote time was so close to Sergeyev so that frequently he would homologate himself with other personae whose life sinuosities were found out by him from papers. Due to either the affined occupation or other circumstances Sergeyev drew together with one of them – the red tab, Luftwaffe officer – more than with others.

…"Tatiana" who had been sitting straight before it and holding her writing-book – a little bending to it – on her closely knitted together knees uncovered before by her skirt short for it, then sat cross-legged having half-turned and leaned her elbow on her chair's right armpad thus having freed the other armpad which she had shared with Sergeyev and where sometimes their hands had rubbed what, he thought, she had not paid any attention to. She did put her writing-book to her left haunch which all length and roundness were then open to Sergeyev's look. Her black business suit's denture of the jacket was enough to let Sergeyev notice her brassiere's hemline shone with its whiteness. A moment later the light failed. The lantern slides were began to be shown.

…Sergeyev the pedant dealt with interest with all kinds of planning, making reports and developing schemes, and therefore when he got to know that in his time the German red tap had been involved proximately in the final stage of preparing German invasion, Sergeyev's interest to that figure grew greatly. As a professional Sergeyev knew that the war invasion was a long ground-swell process of preparing which was invisible to people uninitiated (who formed the bigger part of the population of the country which actually had already been in war at that moment) and which was only shown to them in its culmination – at the very beginning of war operations after effective offensive arms had already been developed and produced in a great amount, after a hidden partial levy-en-masse of manpower enough for the first tug had already been done, after all that mass of troops and techniques had secretly been let through the country's transportation system and concentrated like a javelin fist near the enemy's borders, after the industry had been reconstructed and it worked for that war already started in fact, after the public sentiments had already been corrected comme il faut and coordinated to form the absolute auspicious social opinion, after the glossy divisiveness had already been found and provoked, and after there was only one thing left to do – to announce the fact already happened months and months ago: the country was entering the war. But the professional's knowledge was still knowledge but not feelings, and only through Stoltz' snippetty contemporary records of events Sergeyev managed to realize how it had been for him to meet people in Berlin streets, to be among them who had no suspicions of what had been going on, to be with-it and involved into the process ? huis clos. Anyway, the professional is the professional, and Sergeyev was not inclined to dramatize the situation, as the possibility of this or that degree of reticence of that war's hidden phase's passing is always the question of particularities of the society's building and the political system for the population of the country which is getting ready to (in fact, entering) a war. Sergeyev was very glad after in proof of his thoughts he had read an article with the long and cumbersome title: "Comparative Analysis Of Political Systems' Types And Possibility Of Socially Hidden Passing Of War Aggression Preparation's Latent Phase In Them". A big deal of countries of Europe, Asia and Latin America of our century was the matter of the research.

…The slides did not impress Sergeyev. As a matter of fact, the pictorial phrases were interesting to him insofar as the professor's unordinary exegeses were based on it. "Tatiana" was still very attentive from time to time making notes in her writing-book. She seemed to be absorbed completely by the process. When the light would be switched on Sergeyev ogled surreptitiously her (he did it in the darkness also). Her constitution was just the same as Tatiana's, leastways at the moment of their latest meeting – not too fat, but still if you would look at her laterally or abaft, you could notice her brassiere not revealing in relievo through the jacket, but indenting and forming a light alluring wave along its edges on her body. With the course of time – the further the more frequently – "Tatiana" started clock-watching. It was quite one of Tatiana's characteristic features: in the middle of a party or a supper to start leaving referring to some press of work having not informed anybody, of course, about it in advance. At first Sergeyev was sorry he would not have listened the lecture to the end, but he was allured much more by the opportunity to spend that last evening with "Tatiana". He would have invented something for his acquaintance, and she at first having got offended then would have forgive him for sure quickly and heartily. It even seemed Sergeyev that "Tatiana", maybe unconsciously, was feeling his mood. Otherwise, what should that as if occasional touch by her elbow when suddenly she decided to fix her skirt a little bit gone awry, other some movements which had no explanations intelligible and conceivable to Sergeyev neither common-sensical, in his submission, reason. And, as it seemed to him, her breathing had become somewhat uneven. Also it seemed to him that the fact that she had not said a word for that two and a half hours, that she had not really turned to him – there was something strange behind all those. The light failed again, and Sergeyev felt athrobly that it somehow drew them together even more. He did even visualize her all accepting body through the black gritting jacket under his fingers. His head was throbbing by a heat wave…

…Flying between the points A and B in the point a little bit earlier of the middle of the air-route the moment of a decision-making comes. All seems routine-like and not so dramatic and pressed in time as if a decision to the ascent during the take-off roll on the air-strip, but here in the point of possible turning back, it is necessary to decide whether to continue the flight or to go back. Then there will be fuel enough only to fly through to the place of assignation, but not to the emergency backtracking to the point A. This hidden dramatic character astonishes much more than it in its apparent and too explicit forms. Preparing a war attack, during the changeover of the country's industrial system and the all its forces' concentration because of the one aim, there comes too a moment when if the decision to continue has been taken, there is only one d?nouement left – to bring the process to its logic end which has already become inevitable. The apparent not striking effect of such moments which nevertheless do cause the impendence, spellbound and attracted Sergeyev as the abyss or rails shining like a razor under a rushing train do pull in and tempt.

…Sergeyev got even afraid that his heart's beating had transferred through the wood of chairs connected with each other and could already be felt in the whole row. He was sure "Tatiana" were feeling them. Having not turned into his side, she started leaving. The slide-projector's faint locking light delineated her profile. Sergeyev was dreaming how he would go out following her out, get up to her at the stairs or near the exit – he had not made his mind yet where it would be better, and was going to act in accordance with his boldness. And he did have it. Pothering somehow Sergeyev had a sneaking feeling that it would be as easy and facile with "Tatiana" to him as it had always been with Tatiana.

…The writing-book and the pen had already gone to her handbag, something had been checked in its contents, there came the coat's turn… the coat thrown to the chair's back on which – only then did Sergeyev realize it – "Tatiana" had been sitting all that time. (Of course, he had seen it with his own eyes from the very beginning, but that image had not been allowed to his consciousness during all that time.) She did put her coat on without standing up, and still sitting she started fastening the belt. When in the twilight she was making her way to the exit having sat dressed before that as if waiting for something, Sergeyev imagined her coat full of creases and how she in that all smashed coat would be walking beside him…

…The lecture was finished naturally by the sincere applause of the spirited audience. Sergeyev was among the last people who left the hall. He had 17 minutes left to walk to the appointed place and to meet his acquaintance pleased with the fitting who was already hurrying to him. The air was fresh, walking was a pleasure. It was quite good.

…The next day the train was taking Sergeyev further and further – to the Kremlin red stars, the bells chiming over the Saviour Tower, the Moscow streets newly-washed by the early morning and the mist over the Moskva-river. Doing a fair-curve the train slackened speed, and in the twilight it was seen how in the far-off field across the forest a certain light was shimmering…

Igor Savchenko

Minsk, November-December, 1999

Russian-English translation: Andrey Bursau, Minsk