It was necessary to shut the window: rain was striking the
sill and splashing the parquet and armchairs. With a fresh,
slippery sound, enormous silver specters sped through the
garden, through the foliage, along the orange sand. The
drainpipe rattled and choked. You were playing Bach. The piano
had raised its lacquered wing, under the wing lay a lyre, and
little hammers were rippling across the strings. The brocade
rug, crumpling into coarse folds, had slid partway off the
piano's tail, dropping an opened opus onto the floor. Every now
and then, through the frenzy of the fugue, your ring would
clink on the keys as, incessantly, magnificently, the June
shower slashed the windowpanes. And you, without interrupting
your playing, and slightly tilting your head, were exclaiming,
in time to the beat, "The rain, the rain. . . I am go-ing to
drown it out. . . ."
But you could not.
Abandoning the albums that lay on the table like velvet
coffins, I watched you and listened to the fugue, the rain. A
feeling of freshness welled in me like the fragrance of wet
carnations that trickled down everywhere, from the shelves, from
the piano's wing, from the oblong diamonds of the chandelier.
I had a feeling of enraptured equilibrium as I sensed the
musical relationship between the silvery specters of rain and
your inclined shoulders, which would give a shudder when you
pressed your fingers into the rippling luster. And when I
withdrew deep into myself the whole world seemed like
that--homogeneous, congruent, bound by the laws of harmony. I
myself, you, the carnations, at that instant all became
vertical chords on musical staves. I realized that everything
in the world was an interplay of identical particles comprising
different kinds of consonance: the trees, the water, you. . .
All was unified, equivalent, divine. You got up. Rain was still
mowing down the sunlight. The puddles looked like holes in the
dark sand, apertures onto some other heavens that were gliding
past underground. On a bench, glistening like Danish china, lay
your forgotten racquet; the strings had turned brown from the
rain, and the frame had twisted into a figure eight.
When we entered the lane, I felt a bit giddy from the
motley of shadows and the aroma of mushroom rot.
I recall you within a chance patch of sunlight. You had
sharp elbows and pale, dusty-looking eyes. When you spoke, you
would carve the air with the riblike edge of your little hand
and the glint of a bracelet on your thin wrist. Your hair would
melt as it merged with the sunlit air that quivered around it.
You smoked copiously and nervously. You exhaled through both
nostrils, obliquely flicking off the ash. Your dove-gray manor
was five versts from ours. Its interior was reverberant,
sumptuous, and cool. A photograph of it had appeared in a
glossy metropolitan magazine. Almost every morning, I would
leap onto the leather wedge of my bicycle and rustle along the
path, through the woods, then along the highway and through the
village, then along another path toward you. You counted on
your husband's not coming in September. And we feared nothing,
you and I--not your servants' gossip, not my family's
suspicions. Each of us, in a different way, trusted fate.
Your love was a bit muted, as was your voice. One might
say you loved askance, and you never spoke about love. You were
one of those habitually untalkative women, to whose silence one
immediately grows accustomed. But now and then something in you
burst forth. Then your giant Bechstein would thunder, or else,
gazing mistily straight ahead, you would tell me hilarious
anecdotes you had heard from your husband or from his
regimental comrades. I remember your hands-- elongated, pale
hands with bluish veins.
On that happy day when the rain was lashing and you played
so unexpectedly well came the resolution of the nebulous
something that had imperceptibly arisen between us after our
first weeks of love. I realized that you had no power over me,
that it was not you alone who were my lover but the entire
earth. It was as if my soul had extended countless sensitive
feelers, and I lived within everything, perceiving
simultaneously Niagara Falls thundering far beyond the ocean
and the long golden drops rustling and pattering in the lane. I
glanced at a birch tree's shiny bark and suddenly felt that, in
place of arms, I possessed inclined branches covered with
little wet leaves and, instead of legs, a thousand slender
roots, twining into the earth, imbibing it. I wanted to
transfuse myself thus into all of nature, to experience what it
was like to be an old boletus mushroom with its spongy yellow
underside, or a dragonfly, or the solar sphere. I felt so happy
that I suddenly burst out laughing, and kissed you on the
clavicle and nape. I would even have recited a poem to you, but
you detested poetry.
You smiled a thin smile and said, "It's nice after the
rain." Then you thought for a minute and added, "You know, I
just remembered-- I've been invited to tea today at. . . what's
his name. . . Pal Palych's. He's a real bore. But, you know, I
Pal Palych was an old acquaintance of mine. We would be
fishing together and, all of a sudden, in a creaky little
tenor, he would break into "The Evening Bells." I was very fond
of him. A fiery drop fell from a leaf right onto my lips. I
offered to accompany you.
You gave a shivery shrug. "We'll be bored to death there.
This is awful." You glanced at your wrist and sighed. "Time to
go. I must change my shoes."
In your misty bedroom, the sunlight, having penetrated the
lowered Venetian blinds, formed two golden ladders on the
floor. You said something in your muted voice. Outside the
window, the trees breathed and dripped with a contented rustle.
And I, smiling at that rustle, lightly and unavidly embraced
It happened like this. On one bank of the river was your
park, your meadows, and on the other stood the village. The
highway was deeply rutted in places. The mud was a lush violet,
and the grooves contained bubbly, café-au-lait water. The
oblique shadows of black log isbas extended with particular
We walked in the shade along a well-trodden path, past a
grocery, past an inn with an emerald sign, past sun-filled
courtyards emanating the aromas of manure and of fresh hay.
The schoolhouse was new, constructed of stone, with maples
planted around it. On its threshold a peasant woman's
white calves gleamed as she wrung out a rag into a bucket.
You inquired, "Is Pal Palych in?" The woman, with her
freckles and braids, squinted against the sun. "He is, he is."
The pail tinkled as she pushed it with her heel. "Come in,
ma'am. They'll be in the workshop."
We creaked along a dark hallway, then through a spacious
I glanced in passing at an azure map, and thought, That's
how all of Russia is--sunlight and hollows. . . . In a corner
sparkled a crushed piece of chalk.
Farther on, in the small workshop, there was a pleasant
smell of carpenter's glue and pine sawdust. Coatless, puffy,
and sweaty, his left leg extended. Pal Palych was planing away
appetizingly at a groaning white board. His moist, bald pate
rocked to and fro in a dusty ray of sunlight. On the floor
under the workbench, the shavings curled like flimsy locks.
I said loudly, "Pal Palych, you have guests!"
He gave a
start, immediately got flustered, bestowed a polite smack on
the hand you raised with such a listless, familiar gesture, and
for an instant poured his damp fingers into my hand and gave it
a shake. His face looked as if it had been fashioned of buttery
modeling clay, with its limp mustache and unexpected furrows.
"Sorry--I'm not dressed, you see," he said with a guilty
smile. He grabbed a pair of shirt cuffs that had been standing
like cylinders side by side on the windowsill, and pulled them
"What are you working on?" you asked with a glint of your
bracelet. Pal Palych was struggling into his jacket with
sweeping motions. "Nothing, just puttering," he sputtered,
stumbling slightly on the labial consonants. "It's a kind of
little shelf. Haven't finished yet. I still have to sand and
lacquer it. But take a look at this--I call it the Fly. . . ."
With a spinning rub of his joined palms, he launched a
miniature wooden helicopter, which soared with a buzzing sound,
bumped on the ceiling, and dropped.
The shadow of a polite smile flitted across your face.
"Oh, silly me," Pal Palych started again. "You were expected
upstairs, my friends. . . . This door squeaks. Sorry. Allow me
to go first. I'm afraid my place is a mess. . . ."
"I think he forgot he invited me," you said in English as
we began climbing the creaky staircase.
I was watching your back, the silk checks of your blouse.
From somewhere downstairs, probably the courtyard, came a
resonant peasant-woman voice, "Gerosim! Hey, Gerosim!" And
suddenly it was supremely clear to me that, for centuries, the
world had been blooming, withering, spinning, changing solely
in order that now, at this instant, it might combine and fuse
into a vertical chord the voice that had resounded downstairs,
the motion of your silken shoulder blades, and the scent of
Pal Palych's room was sunny and somewhat cramped. A
crimson rug with a yellow lion embroidered in its center was
nailed to the wall above the bed. On another wall hung a framed
chapter from Anna Karenin, set in such a way that the
interplay of dark and light type together with the clever
placement of the lines formed Tolstoy's face.
Rubbing his hands together, our host seated you. As he did
so, he knocked an album off the table with the flap of his
jacket. He retrieved it. Tea, yogurt, and some insipid biscuits
appeared. From a dresser drawer, Pal Palych produced a flowery
tin of Landrin hard candy. When he stooped, a fold of pimply
skin bulged behind his collar. The down of a spiderweb on the
windowsill contained a yellow, dead bumblebee. "Where is
Sarajevo?" you asked suddenly, rustling a newspaper page that
you had listlessly picked up from a chair. Pal Palych, busy
pouring tea, replied, "In Serbia."
And, with a trembling hand, he carefully gave you the
steaming glass in its silver stand.
"There you are. May I offer you some biscuits? . . . And
what are they throwing bombs for?" he addressed me with a jerk
of his shoulders.
I was examining, for the hundredth time, a massive glass
paper-weight. The glass contained pinkish azure and St. Isaac's
Cathedral specked with golden sandy grains. You laughed and
read aloud, "Yesterday, a merchant of the Second Guild named
Yeroshin was arrested at the Quisisana Restaurant. It turned
out that Yeroshin, under the pretext of. . ." You laughed
again. "No, the rest is indecent."
Pal Palych grew flustered, flushed a brownish shade of
red, and dropped his spoon. Maple leaves glistened immediately
beneath the windows. A wagon rattled past. From somewhere came
the plaintive, tender cry "Ice--cream! . . ."
He began talking about school, about drunkenness, about
the trout that had appeared in the river. I started
scrutinizing him, and had the feeling I was really seeing him
for the first time, even though we were old acquaintances. An
image of him from our first encounter must have remained
impressed on my brain and never changed, like something
accepted and grown habitual. When thinking in passing about Pal
Palych, I had the impression for some reason that he had not
only a dark-blond mustache but even a matching little beard. An
imaginary beard is a characteristic of many Russian faces. Now,
having given him a special look, so to speak, with an internal
eye, I saw that in reality his chin was rounded, hairless, and
had a slight cleft. He had a fleshy nose, and I noticed, on his
left eyelid, a pimplelike mole I would have dearly loved to cut
off--but cutting would have meant killing. That little grain
contained him, totally and exclusively. When I realized all
this, and examined all of him, I made the slightest of motions,
as if nudging my soul to start it sliding downhill, and glided
inside Pal Palych, made myself comfortable inside him, and felt
from within, as it were, that growth on his wrinkly eyelid, the
starched winglets of his collar, and the fly crawling across
his bald spot. I examined all of him with limpid, mobile eyes.
The yellow lion over the bed now seemed an old acquaintance, as
if it had been on my wall since childhood. The colored
postcard, enclosed in its convex glass, became extraordinary,
graceful, joyous. It was not you sitting in front of me, in the
low wicker armchair to which my back had grown accustomed, but
the benefactress of the school, a taciturn lady I hardly knew.
And right away, with the same lightness of movement, I glided
into you too, perceived the ribbon of a garter above your knee
and, a little higher, the tickle of batiste, and thought, in
your stead, that it was boring, it was hot, one wanted to
smoke. At that instant you produced a gold case ftom your purse
and inserted a cigarette into your holder. And I was within
everything--you, the cigarette, the holder. Pal Palych
scrabbling awkwardly with his match, the glass paperweight, the
dead bumblebee on the windowsill.
Many years have sailed by, and I do not know where he is
now. timid, puffy Pal Palych. Sometimes, though, when he is the
last thing I am thinking about, I see him in a dream,
transposed into the setting of my current existence. He enters
a room with his fussy, smiling gait, faded panama in hand; he
bows as he walks; he mops his bald spot and ruddy neck with an
enormous handkerchief. And when I dream of him you invariably
traverse my dream, looking lazy and wearing a low-belted silk
I was not loquacious on that wonderfully happy day. I
gulped the slippery flakes of curds and strained to hear every
sound. When Pal Palych fell silent, I could hear his stomach
muttering--a delicate squeak, followed by a tiny gurgle.
Whereupon he would demonstratively clear his throat and
hurriedly start talking about something. Stumbling, at a loss
for the right word, he would frown and drum his fingertips on
the table. You reclined in the low armchair, impassive and
silent. Turning your head sidewise and lifting your angular
elbow, you would glance at me from under your lashes as you
adjusted the hairpins in back. You thought I felt awkward in
front of Pal Palych because you and I had arrived together, and
he might have an inkling about our relationship. And I was
amused that you were thinking this, and amused by the dim,
melancholy way Pal Palych blushed when you deliberately
mentioned your husband and his work.
In front of the school, the sun's hot ochre had splashed
beneath the maples. From the threshold, Pal Palych bowed,
thanking us for dropping by, then he bowed again from the
doorway, and a thermometer sparkled, glassy-white, on the
When we had left the village, crossed the bridge, and were
climbing the path toward your house, I took you under the
elbow, and you flashed that special sidelong smile that told me
you were happy. Suddenly I had the desire to tell you about Pal
Palych's little wrinkles, about the spangled St. Isaac's, but,
as soon as I began, I had a feeling the wrong words were coming
out, bizarre words, and when you tenderly said, "Decadent," I
changed the subject. I knew what you needed: simple feelings,
simple words. Your silence was effortless and windless, like
the silence of clouds or plants. All silence is the recognition
of a mystery. There was much about you that seemed mysterious.
A workman in a puffed blouse was resonantly and firmly
sharpening his scythe. Butterflies floated above the unmowed
scabious flowers. Toward us along the path came a young girl
with a pale-green kerchief on her shoulders and daisies in her
dark hair. I had already seen her three times or so, and her
thin, tanned neck had stuck in my memory. As she passed, she
gave you an attentive touch of her barely slanted eyes. Then,
hopping carefully across the ditch, she disappeared behind the
alders. A silvery tremor traversed the matte-textured bushes.
You said, "I bet she was having herself a nice walk in my park.
How I detest these vacationers. . . ." A fox terrier, a plump
old bitch, was trotting along the path after her owner. You
adored dogs. The little animal crawled up to us on its belly,
wriggling, its ears laid back. It rolled over under your
proffered hand, showing its pink underbelly, covered with gray
maplike spots. "Why, you sweetheart," you said with your
special, petting-ruffling voice.
The fox terrier, having rolled around for a while, gave a
dainty little squeal and trotted on, scuttling across the
When we were already approaching the low park gate, you
decided you wanted to smoke, but, after rummaging in your
handbag, you softly clucked, "How silly of me. I left the
holder at his place." You touched my shoulder. "Dearest, run
and fetch it. Otherwise I cannot smoke." I laughed as I kissed
your fluttery eyelashes and your narrow smile.
You cried out after me, "Just hurry!" I set off at a run,
not because there was any great rush, but because everything
around me was running--the iridescence of the bushes, the
shadows of the clouds on the damp grass, the purplish flowers
scurrying for their lives into a gully before the mower's
Some ten minutes later, panting hotly, I was climbing the
steps to the schoolhouse. I banged on the brown door with my
fist. A mattress spring squeaked inside. I turned the handle,
but the door was locked. "Who's there?" came Pal Palych's
I shouted, "Come on, let me in!" The mattress clinked
again, and there was a slapping of unshod feet. "What do you
lock yourself in for, Pal Palych?" I noticed right away that
his eyes were red.
"Come in, come in. . . . Glad to see you. You see, I was
asleep. Come on in."
"We forgot a cigarette holder here," I said, trying not to
look at him.
We finally found the green-enameled tube under the
armchair. I stuck it in my pocket. Pal Palych was trumpeting
into his handkerchief.
"She's a wonderful person," he said inopportunely, sitting
down heavily on the bed. He sighed and looked askance. "There's
something about a Russian woman, a certain--" He got all
wrinkled up and rubbed his brow. "A certain"--he emitted a
gentle grunt--"spirit of self-sacrifice. There is nothing more
sublime in the world. That extraordinarily subtle,
extraordinarily sublime spirit of self-sacrifice." He joined
his hands behind his head and broke into a lyrical smile.
"Extraordinarily. . ." He fell silent, then asked,
already with a different tone, one that he often used to make
me laugh, "And what else do you have to tell me, my friend?" I
felt like giving him a hug, saying something full of warmth,
something he needed. "You ought to go for a walk, Pal Palych.
Why mope in a stuffy room?"
He gave a dismissive wave. "I've seen all there is to see.
You do nothing b-but get all hot out there. . . ." He wiped
his puffy eyes and his mustache with a downward motion of his
hand. "Maybe tonight I'll go do some fishing." The pimplelike
mole on his wrinkled eyelid twitched.
One ought to have asked him, "Dear Pal Palych, why were
you lying down just now with your face buried in the pillow? Is
it just hay fever, or some major grief? Have you ever loved a
woman? And why cry on a day like this, with this nice sunshine
and the puddles outside? . .."
"Well, I have to run. Pal Palych," I said, glancing at
the abandoned glasses, the typographically re-created Tolstoy,
and the boots with earlike loops under the table.
Two flies settled on the red floor. One climbed on top of
the other. They buzzed and flew apart.
"No hard feelings," Pal Palych said with a slow
exhalation. He shook his head. "I'll grin and bear it--go,
don't let me keep you."
I was running again along the path, next to the alder
bushes. I felt that I had bathed in another's grief, that I was
radiant with his tears. The feeling was a happy one, which I
have since experienced only rarely: at the sight of a bowed
tree, a pierced glove, a horse"s eye. It was happy because it
had a harmonious flow. It was happy as any movement or radiance
is happy. I had once been splintered into a million beings and
objects. Today I am one; tomorrow I shall splinter again. And
thus everything in the world decants and modulates. That day I
was on the crest of a wave. I knew that all my surroundings
were notes of one and the same harmony, knew--secretly--the
source and the inevitable resolution of the sounds assembled
for an instant, and the new chord that would be engendered by
each of the dispersing notes. My soul's musical ear knew and
You met me on the paved section of the garden, by the
veranda steps, and your first words were, "My husband called
from town while I was gone. He's coming on the ten o'clock.
Something must have happened. Maybe he's being transferred."
A wagtail, like a blue-gray wind, quickstepped across the
sand. A pause, two or three steps, another pause, more steps.
The wagtail, the cigarette holder in my hand, your words, the
spots of sunlight on your dress. . . It could not have been
"I know what you're thinking," you said, knitting your
eyebrows. "You're thinking someone will tell him and so forth.
But it makes no difference. . . . You know what I've. . ."
I looked you straight in the face. I looked with all my
soul, directly. I collided with you. Your eyes were limpid, as
if a pellicle of silken paper had fluttered off them--the kind
that sheathes illustrations in precious books. And, for the
first time, your voice was limpid too. "You know what I've
decided? Listen. I cannot live without you. That's exactly what
I'll tell him. He'll give me a divorce right away. And then,
say in the fall, we could. . ."
I interrupted you with my silence. A spot of sunlight slid
from your skirt onto the sand as you moved slightly away.
What could I say to you? Could I invoke freedom,
captivity, say I did not love you enough? No, that was all
An instant passed. During that instant, much happened in
the world: somewhere a giant steamship went to the bottom, a
war was declared, a genius was born. The instant was gone.
"Here's your cigarette holder," I said. "It was under the
armchair. And you know, when I went in. Pal Palych must have
been. . ."
You said, "Good. Now you may leave." You turned and ran
quickly up the steps. You took hold of the glass door's handle,
and could not open it right away. It must have been torture for
I stood in the garden for a while amid the sweetish damp.
Then, hands thrust deep into my pockets, I walked along the
dappled sand around the house. At the front porch, I found my
bicycle. Leaning on the low horns of the handle bar, I rolled
off along the park lane. Toads lay here and there. I
inadvertently ran over one. Pop under the tire. At the
end of the lane there was a bench. I leaned the bicycle against
a tree trunk and sat down on the invitingly white plank. I
thought about how, in the next couple of days, I would get a
letter from you, how you would beckon and I would not return.
Your house glided into a marvelous, melancholy distance with
its winged piano, the dusty volumes of The Art Review,
the silhouettes in their circular frames. It was delicious
losing you. You went off, jerking angularly at the glass door.
But a different you departed otherwise, opening your pale eyes
under my joyous kisses.
I sat thus until evening. Midges, as if jerked by
invisible threads, darted up and down. Suddenly, somewhere
nearby, I became aware of a bright dapple--it was your dress,
and you were--
Had not the final vibrations died away? Therefore, I felt
uneasy that you were here again, somewhere off to the side,
beyond my field of vision, that you were walking, approaching.
With an effort, I turned my face. It was not you but that girl
with the greenish scarf-- remember, the one we ran into? And
that fox terrier of hers with its comical belly? . . .
She walked past, through gaps in the foliage, and crossed
the little bridge leading to a small kiosk with stained-glass
windows. The girl is bored, she is strolling through your park;
I shall probably make her acquaintance by and by.
I rose slowly, slowly rode out of the motionless park onto
the main road, straight into an enormous sunset, and, on the
far side of a curve, overtook a carriage. It was your coachman,
Semyon, driving at a walk toward the station. When he saw me,
he slowly removed his cap, smoothed the glossy strands on the
back of his head, then replaced it. A checkered lap rug lay
folded on the seat. An intriguing reflection flashed in the eye
of the black gelding. And when, with motionless pedals, I flew
downhill toward the river, I saw from the bridge the panama and
rounded shoulders of Pal Palych, who was sitting below on a
projection of the bathing booth, with a fishing rod in his
I braked, and stopped with my hand on the railing.
hey. Pal Palych! How're they biting?" He looked upward, and
gave me a nice, homey kind of wave.
A bat darted above the rose-colored mirror surface. The
reflection of the foliage looked like black lace. Pal Palych,
from afar, was shouting something, beckoning with his hand. A
second Pal Palych quivered in the black ripples. Laughing
aloud, I pushed away from the handrail.
I passed the isbas in
one soundless sweep along the firmly packed path. Mooing sounds
floated past through the lusterless air; some skittles flew up
with a clatter. Then, farther along, on the highway, in the
vastness of the sunset, amid the faintly vaporous fields, there