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Edward Limonov

Memoir of a Russian Punk

Translated from the Russian by Judson Rosengrant (1983)
Edward Limonov | MEMOIR OF A RUSSIAN PUNK | 1983
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Edward Limonov | MEMOIR OF A RUSSIAN PUNK | 1983
Eddie-baby's fifteen. He's standing with a disdainful expression on his face,
leaning back against the wall of a building containing a drugstore - leaning and waiting.
Today is the Seventh of November, and filing past Eddie in the cool noonday is the
dressed-up citizenry, or goat herd, as he calls them. Most of the goat herd are on their
way back from the parade. The review of the Kharkov garrison on Dzerzhinsky Square
has ended, and the citizens' parade has already begun. The unified masses of the
proletarian vanguard have long since marched through in columns, bisecting the
German-prisoner-laid pavement of the largest square in Europe and the second largest in
the world. "Only Tiananmen Square in Beijing is bigger than our own Dzerzhinsky
Square" - Eddie-baby knows that first commandment of Kharkov patriotism well.
The citizens walking past Eddie-baby now are the lazy, poorly organized,
insufficiently committed representatives of small enterprises, of shops, stalls, and repair
stands - something on the order of a bourgeoisie. Only now have they dragged
themselves out of their houses in their holiday finery, after putting away a couple of
preliminary shots of vodka and a bite of holiday food, which, as Eddie-baby knows, is
usually potato salad, some sausage, and the statutory herring. The head of the family
has squeezed himself into a heavy coat, a black or navy blue suit, a tie, and brand-new
shoes that inflict unspeakable pain at every step. The children, dressed like their parents
in large, clumsy suits, are gobbling down the inevitable ice cream and dragging several
balloons in tow. From time to time, the balloons burst with a startling bang that sounds
like a pistol shot. The spouse's dress and coat no doubt reek of still potent naphthalene
- these people take care of their things. Eddie-baby frowns.
Eddie-baby is different from them. Which is why he's standing here in torn,
wrinkled Polish velveteen pants and a yellow jacket with a hood - standing around like
some Hamlet of the Saltov district and spitting with an independent air. Eddie-baby is
thinking they can all go fuck themselves. And he's also mulling over the depressing
question of how he can get some money.
He needs 250 rubles. And he has to have it by tomorrow night. If he doesn't get
it. Eddie-baby would rather not think about that. Eddie-baby promised to take Svetka to
Sashka Plotnikov's. That's the very best crowd in the district. It's a big honor to get in
there. Eddie-baby has been granted that honor for a second time. But this time his
parents really got mad at him; Captain Zilberman's last visit made a deep impression on
them, and they wouldn't give Eddie any money.
Eddie-baby grins contemptuously as he recalls his arrest. Zilberman came by with
two militia officers at six o'clock in the morning, woke him up (he was asleep on the
balcony in a sleeping bag, a gift from the Shepelsky family), and after sticking a yellow
piece of paper in his face said, "Citizen Savenko, you're under arrest!"
Zilberman is crazy, and he likes to make an impression. Evidently he thinks he's
Inspector Maigret: it's no accident he's always smoking a pipe and wearing an idiotic
leather coat that reaches down to his heels. Eddie-baby snorts as he remembers the
comically diminutive figure of Captain Zilberman. He's not Inspector Maigret; he's Charlie
Captain Zilberman, the head of the juvenile affairs section of the Fifteenth Militia
Precinct, is a mistake. First of all, he's a Jew. A Jewish militia officer sounds like a joke.
The only thing more ridiculous would be a Jewish yard worker.
That time Zilberman had to let Eddie-baby go the same evening. The captain
didn't have any evidence that it was in fact Eddie who had burgled the dry goods store
on Stalin Avenue.
Zilberman won't leave Eddie-baby alone: he's teaching him a lesson. He often
drops by Eddie's house in the evening to check up on him. There's no goddamn way he'll
find Eddie-baby at home now. After a couple of those visits, Eddie started avoiding
Zilberman on purpose - going out to dances, for example. Once Zilberman tracked
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Eddie-baby down at a dance at the Bombay, but Seva the projectionist let Eddie out
through the service entrance. The official name of that large room next door to Grocery
Store No.11 is The Stalin District Club of the Food Industry Workers of the City of
Kharkov, but all the kids call it the Bombay. They're all Eddie's friends there, and if he
wants, he can go to the Bombay without a kopeck in his pocket and twenty minutes later
come out completely smashed. The kids respect him and buy him drinks. True, Eddie
doesn't like to humiliate himself, and so he doesn't freeload very often, only when he's in
a really rotten mood.
"Fucking life!" Eddie-baby thinks. "Where am I going to get some money? If I had
known my parents weren't going to give me any, I could have made other plans. Two
hundred fifty rubles isn't much, but if you haven't got it, then you haven't." He had 100
rubles yesterday, but he squandered it without a thought, relying on his parents. He paid
Waclaw 30 rubles for a haircut, and who knows what happened to the rest. He treated
Tolik Karpov and Kadik, that's what. He'll have to get drunk with Waclaw too, since
Waclaw never lets Eddie-baby tip him, even though he's the best barber in a city with a
population of over a million people. Waclaw works in the barbershop at Vehicle
Maintenance Lot No.3; if he wanted to, he could get a job at the Kremlin, but he's not
interested. Eddie-baby touches the part in his clipped hair. "You should get your hair cut
once a week," the Pole had told him. "It should be no longer than a match." Haircuts
aren't Eddie's problem, however. It's the goddamn money that's the problem.
Eddie-baby isn't just hanging around the drugstore, wasting away the holiday
morning; he's waiting for his friend Kadik. Kadik lives nearby, and from the drugstore
Eddie-baby can see the gray corner of his building, No.7 Saltov Road. Kadik's building is
one of the oldest in the Saltov district. It used to be a dormitory, but families live there
Kadik, also known as Kolka and Nikolai Kovalev, is a postal worker's son. He
doesn't have a father. Or at least Eddie-baby's mother, Raisa Fyodorovna, has never
heard anything about Kadik's father, and nobody else has either, although everybody
knows the postal worker, Auntie Klava, who delivers the mail on "our," the odd-
numbered, side of Saltov Road - a small woman evidently frightened of something. Evil
tongues claim that Kadik beats his mother. "The big lug's fifteen years old," the evil
tongues say, "and what an overfed bull he is! He's glad he doesn't have a father so he
can abuse his mother." Eddie knows that Kadik doesn't beat his mother, but it is true
they swear at each other a lot.
Eddie-baby likes Kadik, although he makes fun of him a little. "Kadik" is a weird
synthetic name Kolka invented for himself from the American word "Cadillac." "Kadillak"
sounds a bit pretentious, of course, but Kadik's been hanging around with "bandmen" -
jazz musicians - ever since he was a little kid, so in his case it's forgivable.
It was also Kadik's idea to call him - Edka, that is - "Eddie-baby" in the
American style. Kadik even speaks a little American, or a little English, since according to
him there isn't that much difference between the two languages. "Eddie-baby" stuck to
Edka, and now a lot of people call him that. Although until he met Kadik, he got along
quite well without a nickname.
In the case of Edka Savenko, of course, "Eddie-baby" is closer to the truth than
"Kadillak" is to "Kolka," since Eddie-baby's real name is Eduard. There are two Eduards in
Saltovka, one of whom works as an apprentice lathe operator at the Piston Factory and
makes one-shot zip guns, which he sells to the kids. Eddie-baby bought one of the guns
from him a year ago, but it doesn't work now - something's wrong with the bolt - and
Edka promised to fix it. That Edka has a Russian last name - Dodonov.
It was Eddie-baby's father who named him Eduard. When his mother called his
father at his unit from the maternity ward and asked what name she ought to give their
son ("You have a son, Veniamin Ivanovich!"), his father, who was twenty-five at the
time, was sitting in his office reading the poems of Eduard Bagritsky, and he told her to
write down "Eduard." Eddie-baby's father liked Bagritsky's poems very much. And so it
happened that Eddie-baby was named after the Jewish poet.
Not long ago - last spring, in fact - Eddie-baby for the first time read some of
Bagritsky's poems collected in a little book with a dark blue cover, and he liked them
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very much too, just as his father had fifteen years before. He particularly liked the poem
called "The Smugglers," which begins,
Following the fish and the stars,
Three Greeks hauling contraband
To his amazement he found some indecent lines in the middle of the poem:
Piles of easy money fell from the stars:
Cognac, silk stockings, and condoms
Eddie-baby showed Kadik the lines - the ones about condoms. Kadik liked them
too, although he doesn't care that much about poetry. He likes jazz and rock 'n' roll. He's
learning how to play the saxophone.
Eddie-baby himself didn't like poetry for a long time. Whenever it happened at the
library that Victoria Samoilovna, wrapped in a shawl and coughing because of her weak
lungs, suggested some poetry to him, he would refuse with an ironical smirk. Kid stuff!
Victoria Samoilovna has known Eddie-baby ever since he was nine. He may be the
"oldest" reader in the library. True, Eddie-baby goes to the library less and less often
now. He doesn't have time for libraries. Eddie-baby has become a man, and he has his
own concerns. The last time he saw Victoria Samoilovna was in July. It's already
November, and the books are long overdue. Two volumes of Valery Bryusov and some
verse by Polonsky. Eddie-baby doesn't want to return them; he wants to keep them for
himself. He'll say he lost them. But Eddie-baby feels bad about deceiving Victoria
Samoilovna and keeps putting off his visit to her. "Tomorrow. next week," he tells
himself, and every day it gets harder and harder to go to the neighborhood library. He
hasn't gone to the school library for a long time either. In the first place, he can't stand
Lora Yakovlevna - she has a disgusting urine smell - and in the second place, there
isn't anything there for him to read; he hates schoolbooks.
Eddie-baby was lucky with poetry. The first poems he read in his life (Victoria
Samoilovna having managed at last to stick a book into his hands) were The Youthful
Verses of le!ander "lok, with a picture of a lilac branch on the cover. Eddie-baby
discovered Blok's poems in May, in Vitka Fomenko's garden just when the lilacs were in
bloom. Eddie-baby had gone with the whole class to Vitka's mother's funeral. The funeral
was delayed, first by a May shower, and then by the old women. Vitka's grandmother
had insisted that a priest come to perform the funeral rites for her daughter, and in the
meantime Eddie, breathless with awe and astonishment, sat reading on a woodpile in a
corner of the garden, where he was hiding out from his schoolmates:
#$ dream that $ am once again a boy and a lo%er,
nd there is a ra%ine, and in the ra%ine a thorny dogrose
The old house &eers into my heart,
nd turns &ink from edge to edge,
nd your tiny window
That %oice, it is yours,
nd $ shall gi%e my life and my sorrow to its incom&rehensible sound,#
Eddie read as the mournful singing of the old women came from Vitka Fomenko's
old house.
#nd though in a dream &ressing to my li&s
Your once gentle hand,#
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- the words made Eddie want to die, to die of love for Svetka, whom he had just
met at the May Day celebrations.
A lot got its start with Vitka Fomenko. Including the career of Eddie the criminal.
Vitka's actually a coward - you can tell that just by looking at him. He's round, fat, and
short. But Vitka has his own home, an old wooden frame house located by the Turbine
Factory. On the other side of Vitka's house - not the side facing the street but the one in
back - are cornfields, a ravine, then more fields, and then the outskirts of a real village.
The Saltov district used to be a village too, but ten years ago they started putting
up two- and three-story buildings with two or four entrances, until they gradually built up
the district. Eddie-baby will never forget how in 1951 the soldiers brought them -
brought his father and mother and him - to Saltovka. Their building was still locked up,
and Sergeant Makhitarian took a thick iron rod, hammered it flat on a rock, and then
used it to break open the lock so they could move in. Two months later, Major
Pechkurov, the man they were to share their apartment with, joined them, and six
months after that he was dead. He had checked out.
Eddie-baby's father is a first lieutenant who will soon be up for captain. "He'll
never make captain, never," Eddie-baby thinks, "because he's as timid as a woman."
Eddie's mother says his father will be a captain, but Eddie-baby knows his father doesn't
look after his own affairs. His mother says the same thing, but she doesn't always
remember everything she says. Eddie-baby's father should never have joined the army;
he should have been a musician, as everyone says. He's very talented. He plays the
guitar, the piano, and many other instruments, and he even writes music, but for some
reason he's a first lieutenant.
Vitka Fomenko's father is a foreman at the Turbine Factory. He earns less than
Eddie-baby's father does, but his family is much better off and much happier. And they
have a house. Eddie-baby lives with his father and mother in a single room, although it's
a large one and has a balcony.
Vitka Fomenko came to their class from another school less than a year ago. Even
though it was immediately clear that he was a coward, it was also clear that he was a
cheerful one, and when Vitka invited Eddie over for New Year's along with several other
boys and girls from their class, Eddie went. At Vitka Fomenko's he also met Vovka the
Boxer, a handsome boy from the Tyurenka district. It was with Vovka that Eddie-baby
burgled a store for the first time in his life.
Tyurenka occupies an important place in the lives of Eddie-baby and the other
kids from Saltovka. Tyurenka starts on the other side of the cemeteries. If you go past
the overgrown but still used Russian cemetery, and through the no longer used Jewish
one with its gravestones and obelisks, following the path worn there by the residents of
Saltovka on their way to Tyurenka Pond with its medicinal waters that have flowed from
an old iron pipe since time immemorial (people from Saltovka go to the pond in droves to
swim in the summer), then on the other side of the Jewish cemetery you'll come to
The kids from Tyurenka are all children of kurkuli, as they're called in Saltovka -
children of Ukrainian peasants, in other words. They live in old private houses, and their
parents are traders and craftsmen. The parents of the kids from Tyurenka usually get
work in the factories in the late fall and then are laid off as soon as the snow melts. The
residents of Tyurenka make a lot more money in the summer selling their cherries and
apples and strawberries in the Kharkov farmers' markets than they do in the winter at
the factories. Some of them have small potato fields or raise tomatoes and cucumbers on
their own plots. Tyurenka is also called Tyur's Dacha. They say that a long time ago,
before the revolution, there was an estate belonging to somebody named Tyur located
near the pond. Or at least that's what Vitka Nemchenko's grandmother says.
Of the kids in their class from Tyurenka, there is, besides Vitka Nemchenko, also
Sashka Tishchenko. Vitka Proutorov and Vika Kozyrev, the doctor's daughter, live near
the entrance to the Jewish cemetery. That's not in Tyurenka yet; it's still the very end of
Voroshilov Avenue. Vitka Proutorov and Vika go to a completely different trolley stop.
Since some of the Tyurenka kids go to school in Saltovka, the relations between
Tyurenka and Saltovka are almost always good. Sometimes there are skirmishes,
especially with the Tyurenka Gypsies - there's a whole crowd of them there - but
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basically the kids from Tyurenka and Saltovka are allies. A certain superiority felt by the
kids from Saltovka, who are primarily the children of factory and office workers, to the
children of the rural kurkuli is made up for by the fact that the kids from Tyurenka have a
source of mineral water on their territory, a pond, and a part of the only river you can
swim in in that city of over a million people - or, to be more precise, one of its banks,
since the other side is occupied by Zhuravlyovka.
The Zhuravlyovka punks are the enemies of both the kids from Saltovka, whose
territory doesn't border on theirs, and those from Tyurenka, whose territory does and
with whom they're always fighting. The big battles take place in the summer. The two
armies usually meet on the two-square-kilometer artificial island in the middle of the
river. On the island are beaches and a large, ridiculous, supposedly modern restaurant
made of concrete, although it in fact looks more like a World War II German coastal
bunker than a place of recreation for the citizens of Kharkov.
Last summer, in August, Eddie-baby took part in one of those battles. His arm
was cut, and he broke a finger from carelessness. One of the kids from Zhuravlyovka
later died in the hospital. Zilberman told him that four hundred people took part in that
battle. Eddie pretended to be an innocent minor who hadn't taken part in anything.
Kadik, who for some reason is always trying to push Eddie-baby's other friends
out of his life, told Eddie-baby not to go to the gang war. Kadik can no more stand his
"own kind" - the kids from Saltovka - than he can the kids from Tyurenka or
Zhuravlyovka. He hangs out in the "center," on Sumsky Street where his friends live -
jazz musicians and fancy dudes, all of them much older than Kadik is. "Eddie, what do
you want with all those jerks?" Kadik says. It's his customary tune. "What do you want
with all those jerks, Eddie?" That tune is the reason why Kadik is the only one of Eddie's
friends his mother likes - it's her tune too.
Eddie-baby considers Kadik a "rotten intellectual." Eddie heard that expression for
the first time from the militia officer, Major Shepotko. Shepotko recently moved into their
apartment when Vovka Pechkurov, the last son of the prematurely deceased Major
Pechkurov, moved away to Ivano-Frankovsk after graduating from the Kharkov
Polytechnic Institute. Shepotko stubbornly calls Eddie-baby's mother "Larisa" Fyodorovna
instead of "Raisa" Fyodorovna, although he, that enormous potbelly in navy blue riding
breeches, is just the head of a militia drunk tank, and not even one in their district. So
that Eddie-baby now shares an apartment with trash.
Kadik's a rotten intellectual. Eddie even thinks he's afraid of the punks, but he
finds him interesting anyway. When Kadik's postal worker mother isn't at home, Eddie-
baby goes over to his nine-square-meter room to listen to music. Kadik has a Mag record
player. Very few kids in Saltovka have Mags. Sashka Plotnikov, whose house Eddie-baby
promised to take Svetka to tomorrow, also has one. Kadik knows all about musicians like
the black Duke Ellington, or Glenn Miller, or Elvis Presley "himself." Kadik made a
laughingstock of Eddie-baby once when he found out that he had no idea who Elvis was
or that Elvis had just been drafted (or had just gotten out of the American army, Eddie-
baby can't remember which).
If Eddie-baby considered Kadik a coward, he wouldn't have anything to do with
him. But Kadik is different; he obviously isn't a coward. Eddie-baby saw the way he
punched Mishka Shevchenko in the mouth after Mishka started making fun of him. The
kids were all sitting on the green benches under the lindens on Saltov Road. Usually it's
the older kids who congregate under the lindens - Red Sanya, who is Eddie-baby's
friend and protector, Slavka the Gypsy, Bokarev, Tolik the Worrier, Fima Meshkov, Vitka
Cross-Eyes, although he's in the army now, and the weight lifters Cat and Lyova, who
have just come back from prison, where they were sent for beating up a militia officer.
Those kids are all over twenty; they're not minors.
Aha, here comes Kadik. Wearing a yellow hooded jacket just like Eddie-baby's and
hopping and making faces, Kadik runs out from behind the gray corner of the building
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and waves. The yellow jackets are something they dreamed up themselves. Kadik's
neighbor, Auntie Motya, did the sewing for them. Kadik has a hundred neighbors, if not
more, since he doesn't live in an apartment but in a room off a hallway. A room left over
from a dormitory. The kids took the pattern for their yellow jackets from an Austrian
alpine parka Kadik brought back from an international youth festival. Kadik went to the
festival along with some older kids who belonged to the Blue Horse. That was a year ago,
and Kadik has been hanging out with bandmen ever since he was twelve. Everybody in
Saltovka knows that Kadik is the guy who was in the BLUE HORSE and who went to a
"Sorry, old pal," Kadik says. "My dumb old lady lost the platter I was supposed to
take back to Eugene today. I went through everything and I still couldn't find it. That
platter's valuable. What a bitch she is! What an old whore!"
Unlike all the other kids in Saltovka, Kadik and Eddie don't swear that much. After
every "normal" word, the other kids say "cocksucker" or "whore" or "cunt," or they use
less common personal curse words. Eddie-baby, however, only swears occasionally. He
himself has no idea why it turned out that way.
Until he was eleven years old Eddie-baby was an unbelievably exemplary boy.
Every year he got letters of commendation, and for several years running he was
chairman of the Young Pioneer council. Eddie-baby remembers himself as he was then,
with a red neckerchief and the little forelock of an idiot, standing with his right hand
raised in a Pioneer salute in front of the chairman of the troop council or the senior Young
Pioneer leader and reporting, "Comrade Senior Pioneer Leader!" followed by a porridge of
words he can't remember anymore. Raisa Fyodorovna recalls that time as if it were a lost
In his time off from school Eddie-baby read everything he could get his hands on.
And he didn't just read; he copied out whatever information interested him in special
little notebooks that were carefully classified by theme. At that time Eddie-baby was
friends only with Grishka Gurevich; they sometimes played cards together (Grishka
cheated and always won) or explored the surrounding fields and ravines. Grishka looked
a lot like a frog, but he was an exceptionally intelligent boy and was just as curious about
things as Eddie-baby was.
You could say that Eddie-baby dreamed his way through the first four years of
school before his fateful eleventh year. He read, wrote down what he read, and dreamed.
He wrote down a lot. From the several volumes of Dr. Livingstone's account of his travels
through Africa, for example, Eddie copied out in his small hand eight (!) forty-eight-page
notebooks. An impressive callus appeared on the middle finger of his right hand, and the
finger itself became twisted, so that although the callus gradually diminished in size, the
finger remains crooked and callused even now. At night on his couch, Eddie-baby would
dream he was observing a solar eclipse in Africa while around him in a grass hut lay
nickel-plated seafaring instruments - a sextant, an astrolabe, and other things that he
had used to determine his location, both longitude and latitude - and a drum pounded,
and naked aborigines in grass skirts circled a fence with severed human heads stuck on
the palings, their eyes calmly winking.
Most likely Eddie-baby was in those days a practical romantic. Having only just
learned to read, he quickly devoured a vast quantity of the usual books - like the ones
about the children of Captain Grant or about fifteen-year-old captains who get involved
with treasure islands - in the process going through the whole contents of his parents'
bookshelf, a rather large one that included several odd volumes of Maupassant and
Stendhal, although the latter left him pretty indifferent at the time.
As a practical romantic, Eddie-baby was obviously not satisfied with the
unsystematic delights of Jules Verne, Stevenson, and the other authors, and he decided
to proceed further, to prepare himself firmly and solidly for the life of a romantic traveler.
And so for the next several years, twisting his backbone and writhing studiously at his
parents' round table that stood in the center of the room (they later bought him a small
desk of his own when they saw how studious he was), or kneeling in front of a stool on
which he had placed his book and notebook, he copied out the Latin terms for different
plants and animals, patiently studied methods for obtaining water in the Sahara, or listed
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the names of cactuses you could eat if you ever found yourself without food in the
Sonoran desert.
His passion for systemization extended so far that Eddie-baby even established a
special catalog for himself in which he divided up the plants and animals by family and
genus on separate sheets of paper and added meticulously transcribed information about
each variety. Included for each plant were its dimensions, what kind of leaves it had, the
size of its fruit, its method of cultivation, what parts of it could be used as food, where
Eddie-baby might expect to encounter it on his subsequent wanderings, and a picture of
it. In a normal country Eddie Baby would have spent most of his time in front of a copy
machine. In the city of Kharkov, he used tracing paper to transfer the drawings of the
plants and animals, and then pasted the drawings onto the appropriate pages. Strict
order prevailed in the world of the future traveler and explorer. It is an interesting fact,
however, that Eddie-baby gave pride of place to the exotic plants and animals, and that
among the exotic kinds he clearly preferred the species and genera of the tropical
regions. Maybe because the cold part of the year in Kharkov lasts much longer than the
warm one does?
It is not difficult to guess that in the realm of seafaring, Eddies preference as a
true romantic was for sailing ships. If there had been anyone to talk to (Grishka
Gurevich's parents soon took him away to another apartment), he could have talked for
hours about Bermuda and Roman sailing rigs, about rigging in standing and running
configurations, about the different kinds of anchors, about tacking and knots, and about
how to make a turn to the south-southwest if the winds are unfavorable.
The librarian Victoria Samoilovna at first did not believe that Eddie-baby had read
all those books with complicated titles like The Fauna of Patagonia or The nnals of the
'ussian Geogra&hic (ociety, or the works of Darwin on the Galapagos Islands, or books
about the endless world travels of biologists and zoologists - all those Zagoskins and
Zenkeviches unknown to everybody except Eddie-baby. Yet once she started talking to
the pale lad who had just brushed the snow from his felt boots with his cap, she suddenly
realized that this still green creature knew everything, and if that wasn't enough, that
this creature, who as a general matter had no great liking for the library reading room,
had from time to time even been compelled during his investigations to seek the help of
the Great (o%iet )ncyclo&edia, and as a result had spent hours nearsightedly digging
(the creature was embarrassed about wearing glasses) in its immense volumes in order
to supplement his knowledge.
This small creature was the only one of its kind in the whole district, and although
Russian children did traditionally read a good deal in those years and there was always a
line at the library, Eddie-baby soon acquired the exceptional privilege of going behind the
checkout desk where Victoria Samoilovna was ensconced in order to root around in the
books as much as he liked, even all day long. Eddie-baby was very happy to root there,
and soon afterward, with the tacit consent of those who shared his apartment, he added
a geological catalog to the other extensive catalogs that he kept in the nonfunctioning
bathroom (or effectively nonfunctioning, since it didn't have any hot water). Research
was research!
The fanatical pedantry of their child in the accumulation of knowledge must have
seemed quite strange to those outside his world - to his parents, Veniamin Ivanovich
and Raisa Fyodorovna - since Eddie-baby never boasted to anybody about his
knowledge and never revealed it at school, which hardly made any sense.
But when, to augment the schists, sandstones, limestones, and basalts of the
world, Eddie-baby suddenly made an abrupt turn and began to study and classify the
French and English kings, the Roman emperors, and even the emperors of the utterly
worthless Austro-Hungarian Empire, his parents became seriously alarmed.
"Edinka, why don't you go outside and play?" Mama Raya would say to him. "Why
stay locked up inside all the time? Look how pale you are. Genna is always outside; that's
why he has rosy cheeks and a healthy appearance. Go on outside and ski or something."
(Eddie-baby's first-lieutenant father had just bought his son some skis, which the latter
Eddie-baby couldn't stand Genna from the apartment unit next door, a boy who
was always being held up to him as a model, since he knew that Genna was in fact a
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complete idiot. Even if Eddie-baby held himself aloof at school until he was eleven, he
was still respected (although it wasn't at all clear why - maybe precisely because he did
hold himself aloof), and respected to the point of being elected chairman of the Pioneer
council by unanimous vote three years running, although that wasn't something Eddie-
baby was particularly interested in. After sitting through the great torment of six hours of
classes every day, Eddie-baby would run off to the library at the other end of the trolley
line, going there directly after school, and then home to his notebooks and catalogs.
Genna, however, was respected by no one; the kids made fun of him and frequently beat
him up. Eddie-baby was beaten up only once, and that one time was inscribed in his
psyche forever and even formed his character. But about that later. For now, Eddie-baby
and Kadik have set off to the grocery store.
Kadik and Eddie-baby have met in order to get drunk. A holiday is a holiday,
however much you may shun the goat herd, and Kadik will be busy tonight, since he's
going to the center to see Eugene, his hero and the object of his adoration and
emulation. Eugene plays the saxophone at the communication workers' recreation center.
Kadik is "doing" the October Revolution holiday with Eugene and his bandmen. A week
ago Kadik suggested somewhat tentatively to Eddie-baby that they spend the holiday
together at Eugene's on Sumsky Street, but in the first place, the invitation was rather
vague, as Kadik himself said, he isn't the "boss" - the adult bandmen are merely taking
him along with them - and the proud Eddie-baby has no interest in being just another
minor. And in the second place, even though Eddie-baby knows Eugene - he's really
Zhenya Zaborov - he doesn't like him very much. Maybe he's as amazing a saxophone
player as Kadik thinks he is, but neither Eddie nor Red Sanya, whose opinion matters to
Eddie (Sanya's seven years older than he is and a sort of big brother to him, and Eddie
trusts his judgment) - neither Eddie nor Sanya likes Eugene.
But there's another reason why Eddie doesn't want to spend the October holiday
with Eugene, one that he doesn't tell Kadik. It's because of Svetka. Eddie is a bit afraid of
taking Svetka into the company of grown-up guys. Svetka's beautiful, and all the kids
envy Eddie because he and Svetka are "going together," as they say in the district. It is
really Svetka who is taking Eddie-baby to Sashka Plotnikov's - a boy who doesn't go to
their school, Secondary School No.8, but to a different one. Eddie-baby knows all the
boys and girls who will be there. They're all a little affected, especially Garik, who goes
by the nickname "Morphine Addict," and his Ritka, but Eddie-baby at least knows what to
expect of them. Eddie-baby started going with Svetka during the May Day celebrations,
and he has already gotten into several fights because of her. Svetka's a flirt. Eddie-baby
doesn't like anybody to get his Svetka drunk, but she always manages to do it by herself,
and one of the grown-up guys might try to fuck her. Even if she is a little shit, Eddie-
baby still loves Svetka, and he's heard about that kind of thing happening before.
Kadik's a very kindhearted guy. He knows Eddie-baby doesn't have any money, so
he treats him. Usually they chip in on a bottle, the same way all the other kids do. But
since Eddie treated Kadik and Tolik Karpov only yesterday, it's Kadik's turn to treat him
As usual on holidays, there's a particularly big crowd next to Grocery Store No.7.
Always present, of course, are the "moochers," people who hang around the store on
workdays from opening till closing time in hopes of getting drunk at somebody else's
expense - people who "play for the grocery store all-stars," as they say in the district,
and are well known to the salesgirls. On holidays, however, the sidewalk in front of the
grocery store seethes with all kinds of human slosh - the usual customers having now
been joined by fancily dressed workers who have managed to sneak away from the
parade, many of them wearing ties and brown or green velour hats, and some with white
scarves draped around their necks in local Kharkov fashion. You can tell at once that the
workers aren't used to either hats or ties - their hats don't sit right and their ties cut
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into their necks - and as soon as they're flushed with drink, one by one they take off
their ties and stick them in their coat pockets.
Scurrying here and there among the different groups are the workers' children,
also very dressed up and with the obligatory balloons in tow. No self-respecting Saltovka
child could get through the holiday without at least three balloons. The wives try to
separate their already pretty loaded family heads from their comrades, and little
arguments ensue as a result, but in general the atmosphere is a festive one, and the
workers laugh in a friendly way if a wife goes too far in trying to pull her spouse away
from his circle of neighbors or comrades from work. "My sleeve! My sleeve! Watch out,
you'll tear it off!" they laugh.
Only a few of the workers have been drinking vodka here in front of the grocery
store since morning. Since they have a whole day and night of drinking ahead of them,
the others are saving themselves, and if they do drink, then they buy a bottle not for
three, say, but for five. For the most part, however, they drink a local Ukrainian wine
whose slang name is biomitsin - from bele mitsne, the Ukrainian for "fortified white
wine." The workers' slang for vodka is "mug twister," obviously because a grimace can't
help appearing on the face of anybody who might swallow that liquid.
Holding out their glasses, the moochers walk among the groups of animated,
festive workers, and a few of them, the more enterprising ones, even have something
like snacks with them - a huge pickle or some processed cheese wrapped in foil. In
exchange for their snacks, these "businessmen," as Kadik jokingly calls them, obtain the
right to the empty bottles. This exchange makes sense, since the empties can be turned
in immediately for cash. An empty half-liter bottle is worth 1 ruble and 20 kopecks
(remember, this is before the 1960 currency revaluation), and a large 0.8-liter vodka
bottle, 1 ruble and 80 kopecks, while a half-liter bottle of biomitsin (full, obviously) costs
10 rubles and 20 kopecks. It follows that the moochers are never sober.
There is an unimaginable hubbub in front of Grocery Store No.7.
"The proletariat is on a spree," Kadik observes ironically as he squeezes through
the doorway of the store. Eddie-baby follows him inside.
The two salesgirls don't have time today to give personal service to the wine-
craving Saltovka population. Clusters of bottles hurtle across the counter, since nobody
wants to wait in line and the workers are trying to stock up on as many bottles as they
"The dudes have arrived!" shouts an already drunk customer, a cocky little twerp
wearing a white cap pulled down to his ears.
Kadik and Eddie naturally look a bit strange in their bright yellow jackets,
something like tropical birds in this crowd of big black or dark brown coats with padded
shoulders and choice short gray winter jackets with quilted linings and fur - or rather,
artificial fur - collars in the proletarian fashion. Kadik calls the short jackets "half-
farters," but the proletarians themselves call them "Muscovites." Just a year ago the
proletarians wore their half-farters with jackboots. Now that fashion has almost
completely disappeared, and only a few of those in line are still wearing boots.
The dudes may in fact be dudes, but they're Saltovka's own. They're well known
to the grocery store all-stars and to the salesgirl Marusya and the other salesgirl, Auntie
Shura. Seeing Kadik in line, Auntie Shura calls out to him without taking her eyes off the
money and the bottles.
"How's your mother, Kolka? I hear she's not feeling well?"
"Oh no, Auntie Shura. She has a little cold, but she still goes to work," Kadik shyly
answers her.
The fact is, only Eddie-baby knows that Kadik is ashamed of his postal worker
mother. Kadik has never seen his father, and the only time he even mentioned him was
to tell Eddie-baby that he was a famous scientist, although Eddie-baby hardly believed
that. Would a famous scientist be interested in Kadik's insignificant and wrinkled little
postal worker of a mother? Even if you took into account the fact that fifteen years ago
she would have been much younger and more attractive? Actually, Eddie-baby doesn't
care what kind of mother Kadik has. It's Kadik he likes.
Kadik takes two bottles of biomitsin, and they force their way back outside,
shaking dozens of hands as they go. The faces of two of Eddie-baby's schoolmates flash
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by, Vitka Golovashov and Lyonka Korovin, who have just taken their places at the end of
the line. Although Vitka and Lyonka aren't dudes, they are interesting kids who go
everywhere together. It was Vitka who took Eddie-baby to the wrestling club for the first
time. Vitka has been doing freestyle wrestling for a year now, whereas Eddie-baby has
only just started. Vitka and Lyonka are up-to-date guys, unlike the majority of the Saltov
kids, who are mostly either punks or proletarians. Parents like Eddie-baby's or Vitka's
(whose father is a construction boss), or like Vika Kozyrev's (whose mother and father
are both doctors), are a rarity in Saltovka or Tyurenka or Ivanovka. Most of the people
who live here are workers. There are at least three big factories in the area: the Hammer
and Sickle, the Turbine, and the Piston. It's a half-hour trolley ride from Saltovka to the
largest factory in Kharkov, the Tractor Factory, where more than a hundred thousand
workers are employed, most of whom live around the factory itself in the Tractor district.
After pushing their way out of the store, Kadik and Eddie-baby find an unoccupied
area a little off to the side from the rest of the crowd. The unoccupied area is located
between one of the walls of the three-story apartment building whose ground floor is
completely taken up by Grocery Store No.7, and a small wooden stall where you can
usually buy candy, sugar, cookies, and gingersnaps. Because of the holiday, the little
wooden structure is covered with huge padlocks; the stall is closed.
Kadik opens one of the bottles - which presents no problem, since biomitsin
bottles don't have corks but metal caps like those on vodka bottles, which are easy to
tear off - and offers it to Eddie-baby. Both of them, both Eddie-baby and Kadik, prefer
to drink from the bottle, and both are very good at it. Eddie-baby can throw back his
head, open his mouth, and with hardly a swallow pour the whole bottle down his throat
as if into a barrel.
The one thing Eddie-baby can't do is drink vodka through his nose. Kadik,
however, is able to drink a whole 150-gram glass of vodka that way. True, he doesn't do
it every day. It burns his nose. But he does it for girls or when there's money at stake.
Even the moochers - the grocery store all-stars - who have seen a few things in their
day, respect Kadik for this ability and forgive him his yellow jacket and his narrow pants
and his hair slicked down with brilliantine.
On the other hand, Kadik can't drink as much vodka as Eddie-baby can. Eddie-
baby sometimes uses his extraordinary talent by drinking vodka on bets at the Horse
Market. He doesn't do it very often anymore, since almost all the butchers and rich
Azerbaijanis know him there by now, but he used to drink on bets once a week.
Red Sanya was working as a butcher at the Horse Market then. Usually he had
money, but one evening they badly wanted to get drunk and he was broke. That's when
they thought up the idea of taking bets. They went to the cafe-bar, to the snack bar
where the Azerbaijanis who sell fruit at the Horse Market usually gather, and there, after
buying himself and Eddie-baby a mug of beer each, Red Sanya began carefully sticking it
to a group of Azerbaijanis at a neighboring table, telling them that they didn't know how
to drink.
Little by little Sanya managed to provoke the Azerbaijanis to the point where
when he offered to bet them to see who could drink the most, their leader, a local
Azerbaijani named Shamil, who lives next door to the Horse Market, said,
"All right, let's drink, then. Although you, Red, are such a big fellow that it
wouldn't be very fair to drink against you, even though we Azerbaijanis drink more for
our size than you Russians do."
Sanya really is about one meter eighty centimeters tall, and although he's only
twenty-two, he's broad and strong and weighs a hundred kilograms. As a matter of fact,
Sanya isn't Russian at all; he's German. His mother's name is Elsa. Nobody has ever
seen his father, but as a friend of Sanya's, Eddie-baby knows that his father's name is
Walther, just like the pistol. And he's German too. Sanya's sister, Svetka, has a different
father, who's Russian. Sanya's mother works as a ticket collector at the Stakhanovite
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Club. Sanya is called "Red" Sanya because his skin's all pink - he was born that way. His
face is pink too. Sanya looks like Goering, which Eddie-baby likes - he saw a picture of
Goering once in a book on the Nuremberg trials, and he saw him again in a color film
about the Great Patriotic War. Goering's pink too, like Sanya. Or was.
"Don't give me that crap, Shamil," Sanya answered him. "Not just me, but even
my little brother here" - and he pointed to Eddie-baby - "can outdrink any one of you.
Right, Ed?" he asked Eddie-baby, calling him "Ed" so it would sound more impressive.
They had in fact agreed earlier how they would act. Sanya himself couldn't drink as much
as the seemingly innocent Eddie-baby could.
"You mean him?" Shamil asked with a smirk, and looked Eddie up and down.
"Why, he's only got two days left even without vodka!"
The Azerbaijanis, or "blackasses," as Sanya calls them behind their backs, roared
with laughter.
"This guy can drink a whole liter," Sanya said. And he said it very coolly.
"Don't bullshit me, Red," Shamil said, beginning to lose his temper. "A whole liter
of vodka would kill him."
Eddie-baby was thinking to himself how insolent these blackasses really are.
Insolent, cocky little pricks. Although they do have a lot of money. They bring their fruit
to Kharkov and sell it for three times as much. Vitka Cross-Eyes, when he was on leave
not long ago from Moscow, where he's stationed now (he was lucky), once blabbed
during a binge about how, just when he was about to be drafted (and he didn't really
have anything to lose, since he would have to go anyway, whether into the army or to
prison, where he would get seven years instead of three in the army and then have his
sentence reduced by half in view of its being a first offense), he and two other guys
robbed some Azerbaijanis who were sitting next to them on the train to Baku. They
grabbed their suitcase full of cash. Cross-Eyes laughed and said that it wasn't really a
very risky thing to do, since the Azerbaijanis wouldn't go to the militia anyway. The
tangerines they were selling as produce from a collective farm were in fact from their
own private plots, and anyway private Soviet citizens aren't allowed to have the kind of
cash they were carrying with them. The main problem was that the bastards are always
armed whenever they're carrying money. They could kill you.
Eddie-baby's exterior remained very calm; he was training himself. He was
thinking, "Fucking Azerbaijanis!" but out loud he said, "Four two-hundred-fifty-gram
glasses in the space of an hour at fifteen-minute intervals."
The Azerbaijanis grew quiet. None of them could drink that much vodka. As Eddie-
baby was well aware. It is a very rare person who can. He himself was taught to drink by
Uncle Zhora from their building, although from another entrance - Vanka's father. Uncle
Zhora was a POW in Germany and went to France with the German who was in charge of
At first they made Uncle Zhora work in a mine in the Ruhr - in the Ruhr coal
basin, which is like our own Donbass - and he stayed there for a while. To Uncle Zhora's
way of thinking, the Germans weren't so bad; it was the Russians who were the worst,
their own foremen and overseers - since the Germans themselves didn't really like to go
down into the mine, being of the opinion that there were enough foreign workers for
that. Uncle Zhora was noticed by a German engineer named Stefan, who realized that
Uncle Zhora drank but never got drunk. And the German came up with an idea. He
started taking Uncle Zhora out of the mine, at first for just a couple of days at a time,
and driving him around the city. Eddie-baby doesn't remember which German city the
mine was closest to, but in the evenings Uncle Zhora would drink vodka in its taverns
and astound the German public. Stefan set the stage for that astonishment very
dramatically - with a preparatory drumroll and a line of large, faceted Russian glasses
arranged on the table next to Uncle Zhora. Uncle Zhora would be dressed as if in Russian
national costume, in clothing that Stefan had bought for him at a theater, although the
costume was in fact Hungarian.
After a while, inasmuch as Uncle Zhora's public drinking of vodka had become
very popular, Stefan left the mine and took Uncle Zhora with him as though he were
putting him into his personal service. In fact, however, the two of them were very quietly
mining cash for themselves, and in the end they even got as far as Paris.
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"In Paris," Uncle Zhora said with satisfaction, remembering his glorious past, "I
performed at the famous Folies Bergres. There were posters all over the city: Tonight
The Russian Bear Drinks Vodka!'"
Uncle Zhora said it's impossible to learn how to drink. You have to be born with a
cast-iron throat and stomach. "Even a good tippler must know when and how much he
can drink," he said. "There were periods when I refused to perform because I sensed that
my stomach was unable to handle as much vodka as it usually could. However much
Stefan swore at me, accusing me of ruining an excellent engagement and telling me that
we were losing money, I would never give in. And that's why I'm still alive today," Uncle
Zhora observed sententiously.
Eddie-baby suspects that Uncle Zhora was embroidering just a little. For example,
could he really have "performed" at the Folies Bergres? And did he ever really go to
Paris at all?
Whatever the case, Eddie-baby had recently discovered that he too was born with
a cast-iron stomach. And then Red Sanya discovered it as well. A certain part of Uncle
Zhora's advice, however, has proved useful to Eddie-baby in his life. "Before a big
drinking bout take a glass of vegetable oil to lubricate your stomach if you don't want to
get drunk," Uncle Zhora had taught him. "And after the performance, even if you aren't
drunk, set yourself the rule of going to the toilet, placing two fingers in your mouth, and
vomiting, and don't be shy about it. True, do it so that nobody sees or hears you -
protect the honor of the ring. And don't eat any snacks, except maybe to chew on a
pickled tomato or cucumber or to sip a little pickle juice, but that's all. Snacks don't go
with drinking bouts. The snack will make you even drunker."
Armed with this knowledge and his own cast-iron stomach, the pale Eddie-baby,
weighing fifty-seven kilograms and standing one meter seventy-four centimeters tall, sat
across from the horde of sun-darkened blackasses. They buzzed among themselves in
Azerbaijani. Eddie-baby knew that Azerbaijanis are the same thing as Turks. Eddie-baby
is part Tatar himself. His mother's a Tatar - you only have to look at her cheekbones -
and what's more, she's from Kazan. Eddie-baby's father jestingly calls her his "Mongol
Tatar yoke." When they're serious, however, his Ukrainian father and Russian Tatar
mother consider themselves Russians. Which is in fact what they are. What else could
they be? In their social class, even real Ukrainians are embarrassed to speak Ukrainian;
it's regarded as backward. All the kids call themselves Russians. Even the Jews Yashka
Slavutsky, Sashka Lyakovich, and Lyudka Rochmann.
Eddie-baby was sitting across from the blackasses and waiting to see what they
would decide.
"I'll bet five hundred rubles he can do it," said Red Sanya, downing his beer.
Eddie-baby knew that at best Sanya had two rubles in change in his pocket. But
the Horse Market was his territory, and even if he were to lose the bet, he could still
wriggle out of it somehow. There was no question of losing, though, since Eddie-baby
had drunk an entire liter before.
"All right!" Shamil said at last, no longer speaking his barbarian tongue. "The
Azerbaijani people are not fond of vodka. We drink wine and chacha. But I will bet five
hundred rubles and will give them to him if this boy here actually drinks the four glasses
and survives."
"What a bastard!" Eddie thought. "He's decided to humiliate me. Well, fuck them!"
Five hundred rubles is half a month's labor for the workers of Saltovka. Here, however, it
would take only an evening to earn that much. Sanya would have to have a cut, of
course, but without Sanya the Azerbaijanis would never have bothered to talk to Eddie.
Everybody knew Sanya, and they would give Sanya the money. If Eddie-baby had been
alone, there's no goddamn way they would have given it to him.
Red haggled a little more with the Azerbaijanis to get them to pay for the liter of
vodka and half a kilo of pickled tomatoes. Officially it was against the rules to drink
vodka in the cafe, but that hardly mattered. The vodka and tomatoes appeared a couple
of minutes later. And a 250-gram glass. One.
Remembering Uncle Zhora's instructions, Eddie-baby asked for three more
glasses. To make it more dramatic. Opening the two half-liter bottles, Red Sanya poured
them out to the last drop into the four faceted vessels arranged in a line. A crowd started
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to gather around the little table. Red Sanya took off his gold watch and placed it on the
table. "Shall we begin?" he asked uneasily, looking inquiringly at Eddie-baby. This was
the first time money was at stake, and he was nervous about it. Eddie-baby nodded and
reached out his hand for the first glass.
Of course they won the bet. Eddie-baby was drunk, but not to the point of
unconsciousness. He therefore remembers the drunken market moochers coming up to
kiss him and saying he had done a great job and had stood up for Russian honor the way
he should have and had shown the blackasses just what a Russian is. Later on some fat
uncle with a briefcase who identified himself as the Satanist writer Mamleev from Moscow
shook Eddie's hand for a long time, thanking him for proving "that even our children
know how to fly," a phrase that made no sense whatever to Eddie-baby.
Wishing to cheer up the defeated Azerbaijanis, Eddie-baby informed them that his
mother was a Tatar, as a result of which the Azerbaijanis politely warmed up and just as
politely asked Eddie to visit them in Azerbaijan, where they would find him a good wife.
Sanya for his part kept slapping Eddie on the back and delightedly repeated,
"You're all right, Ed, goddamn it! Even if you don't have an ass, you're still a great kid!"
The business about Eddie-baby's ass is one of Sanya's favorite jokes. All the older
kids who gather under the lindens on Saltov Road next to the trolley stop have asses, but
the skinny Eddie-baby doesn't. Sanya's joke is crude and already a little old, but it's
meant in a friendly way. The fact is that the Saltovka kids "work out" pretty intensely, a
fad that got started God knows how a few years back along with a wave of enthusiasm
for sports in general. Some say it came from Polish magazines containing photographs of
bodybuilders. Usually the kids work out with dumbbells and expanders, although the
most zealous among them use weights. The majority of the Saltovka kids on "our" side of
the Zhuravlyovka beach strut around in the summer like Ajaxes and Achilleses or like
Greek athletes, trying to catch the interested glances of the city's beauties - the girls
from the center. As a general matter, Saltovka, mighty and free Saltovka, even though it
holds the city's weak and dissipated center in contempt and regards itself as separate
from it, in essence bows down before the city and never takes its eyes off it. The
Saltovka kids work out continually, for a certain number of hours each day, bringing their
weights and other gymnastic gear out of the tiny little rooms where they live crowded
together with their parents, bringing everything out into the unconfined air and even into
the snow, and all of it to but one purpose - to show off their hard, muscular bodies to
the girls from the center. And to the weak, round-shouldered youths and students from
the center. Mighty Saltovka!
Eddie-baby tried working out too. But he still doesn't have any ass. His body is
elastic and strong and well proportioned, but Eddie-baby's muscles haven't increased in
size. Cat and Lyova have told Eddie not to give up, that the same thing happened to Cat
until he stopped growing, and that Eddie will perhaps grow some more too. After he's
fully grown, he can start to work on his muscles. "It's even dangerous to lift weights at
your age, Ed."
Vitka Kosyrev, nicknamed "Cat," is a nice guy, and even intellectual, although he
works as a gauger in a metal shop. Cat lives with his mother in a clean little room in
Building No.5. Everybody in Saltovka talks about everybody else in terms of house
numbers: "The bald guy from Building No.3," "Genka from Building No.11," and so on.
Building No.5 is located right next to the trolley stop. It's only twenty-five paces from
Building No.5 to the benches under the lindens.
Cat's sister married a Hungarian and now lives in Hungary. She sends packages to
Kharkov and brings back beautiful Hungarian clothing for Cat and his mother whenever
she comes to visit on vacation. Cat is no dude, but he wears brightly colored Hungarian
pants and Hungarian jackets and sweaters. He gives half his things to his friend Lyova,
but on Lyova the same clothes look very different. Unlike Cat's, Lyova's body is that of a
weight lifter, heavy and shapeless, whereas Cat is tall and broad-shouldered. Lyova is
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like a very strong sack. The Hungarian pants fit Lyova even worse than Russian ones do.
Cat and Lyova are great friends, and together they beat up a militia officer and threw
away his pistol. For which they got three years each. They would have gotten more, but
the militia officer was drunk. Cat and Lyova are heroes.
After Eddie-baby and Kadik have drunk the first bottle of biomitsin, smoked a
couple of cigarettes, and started in on the second bottle, Kadik suddenly blurts out,
"Hey, Eddie-baby, I completely forgot. Tomorrow at the Victory there's going to
be a poetry contest. Why don't you recite your poems?"
"Where at the Victory?" asks Eddie-baby. He doesn't understand.
"Well, at the Victory, in the movie theater. It's part of the October celebrations.
You can sign up for it and recite your poems on the stage. After that a jury will award
prizes," says the self-possessed Kadik, lighting up another Yava cigarette. "The poems
have to be your own, and you can recite whatever you want. Of course, it's better if you
show them the poems beforehand. You're allowed to do two or three."
"How do you know all this?" Eddie-baby asks suspiciously.
"I saw it in the paper," Kadik says, "in Socialist Kharkov. It was lying on my old
lady's table. Go ahead and do it, Eddie-baby. Show the goat herd how to write poetry. If
you want, I'll go with you."
"But there'll be thousands of people there," Eddie-baby says doubtfully.
"Well, that's good. You've never recited before such a huge crowd. They have
powerful equipment there, good amplifiers and mikes," Kadik says with a certain envy for
their amplifiers and their mikes. "You can hear everything. Why don't you go? The girls
will see you. You'll be famous. How about it, Eddie?"
Kadik has faith in Eddie-baby. Even though he doesn't care that much about
poetry, he believes that Eddie-baby is talented. Kadik wants Eddie-baby to be famous
and is always coming to him with different projects. Once he even dragged him down to
the local youth newspaper, New *omsomol Guard, although nothing came of it and they
didn't publish Eddie's poems. The paper's offices are on Sumsky, or on "Sums," as Kadik
calls his favorite street for short. He doesn't always use his slang with Eddie-baby, since
Eddie doesn't understand half of it and makes fun of him. He uses his slang with his
dudes from the center. In their lingo, the phrase "I'm walking down Sumsky Street"
comes out as "I'm cruising down Sums," and "to eat" is "to feed."
"What do you say, old buddy, shall we go?" Kadik says pleadingly, but then he
suddenly stops and looks over Eddie's shoulder with annoyance.
"What are the respected old buddies doing here at such an early hour?" a familiar
voice says behind Eddie-baby's back. Without turning around, Eddie-baby knows at once
whose it is. Slavka Zablodsky, nicknamed the "Gypsy," has managed to come down to
the grocery store in person. It's no easy matter to get rid of Slavka. He has a way of
hanging around, although you wouldn't actually call him a moocher. An unsavory
Unsavory and interesting. It's too bad Kadik doesn't like Slavka, although he
ought to, since for a very short time Slavka was also a member of the Blue Horse. There
was a time when the name of the Kharkov Blue Horse resounded throughout the country.
That was two years ago after the article in *omsomol Truth, when the Kharkov dudes
became notorious. They wrote in the paper that the guys and girls of the Blue Horse
dressed garishly, didn't work, listened to Western music, and had orgies. Eddie-baby
asked Kadik about the orgies once. The latter carelessly answered that yes, "the old
buddies did swill together, listen to jazz, and hump their ladies," but that there was no
way the goat herd could understand pleasures of that kind, since the only thing the goat
herd cared about was how to live life as boringly as possible and keep everybody else
from having any fun.
"The respected old buddies are of course swilling on the national holiday,"
continues Slavka, emerging from behind Eddie-baby's back. Eddie-baby doesn't turn
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around to look at Slavka; he's cultivating a manly character. In the present instance he's
imitating a fictional hero from one of the several cowboy films Khrushchev brought back
from America and allowed to be shown to the public. Eddie-baby wants to be self-
"The respected old buddies Kadik and Edik have joined with the nation's masses
and are amicably swilling biomitsin on the anniversary of the Great October Revolution,"
Slavka says, and extending his hand for the bottle, he declares, "The last surviving
member of the antisocial organization the Blue Horse wants to get drunk with the
nation's masses too."
"You've swilled enough already," Kadik mutters, although he hands him the bottle.
Slavka greedily sucks on it. Despite the cold and the light snow that has already begun to
fall, Slavka is dressed in an almost summer-weight white raincoat and worn-out shoes of
indeterminate color that merge imperceptibly with the wide cuffs of his black pants.
Noticing Eddie-baby's glance, Slavka finally tears himself away from the bottle,
takes a breath, and says, "What are you looking at? Haven't you ever seen an aristocrat
down on his luck before? I just got back from Tallinn yesterday. Somebody stole my
Eddie-baby is sure that Slavka is lying about somebody having stolen his suitcase.
Slavka himself might casually steal somebody else's suitcase, and had actually done so
once; he took a suitcase from his friend, the trumpet player Koka. They were on their
way back from Tallinn, in fact. All the dudes go there from time to time. It's the thing to
And it is in fact because of that business that Kadik doesn't like Slavka the Gypsy
- his hands aren't clean. But the main reason for Kadik's hostility is that Koka is one of
Eugene's friends, and Kadik always takes Eugene's side. Stealing isn't considered such a
bad thing among the Saltovka kids, but to steal from one of your own is low. If Slavka
had stolen not from the dudes but from the punks - from the kids that Eddie-baby
hangs around with (Kadik is almost the only dude among his friends) - they would have
"done some writing" on his face with a razor. "To do some writing" means "to cut up."
You can cut somebody up with a knife without killing him by gripping the knife so that
the tip of the blade sticks out no more than the width of a couple of fingers. You can also
do some writing on somebody with a razor - a safety razor, obviously. To do some
writing on somebody also means to teach him a lesson, to give him something to
remember - a scar - so that he'll think about it next time. Eddie-baby has been going
around with a straight razor in the pocket of his jacket ever since he was eleven.
Everybody in Saltovka and Tyurenka carries something, usually a knife, although Borka
Vetrov often has a TT pistol on him, and Kostya Bondarenko, besides carrying a hunting
knife in a sheath sewn into the lining of his coat, is armed with a heavy little weight on a
Eddie-baby looks Slavka up and down and thinks he has a shabby look about him.
Perhaps he wasn't in Tallinn, but he's definitely been hanging around somewhere,
because he hasn't been seen in the district since spring. Slavka has a long nose, black
hair, black eyes, and very rare olive skin, which is why he's called the Gypsy. He's the
older brother in his family. His younger brother, the spectacled Yurka, is considered an
intellectual in the district, since he wears glasses and studies hard at the technical
secondary school. The kids make fun of Yurka, but they don't treat him badly; they can
understand him. He works during the day at the Piston Factory and runs off to his
technical school in the evening. Slavka, however, is a parasite, and by the standards of
Saltovka he's already old - twenty-four - although he's not the only one who doesn't
work. A lot of the kids don't - Kadik doesn't, for example - but Slavka's a beggar.
Slavka never has any money, and he always goes out with the intention of finding an
opportunity to swill at somebody else's expense. Sometimes, he goes off somewhere for
a while, as he did last summer, but then he turns up again. "He really does look more
like a weasel than anything else," Eddie-baby thinks, glancing at him out of the corner of
his eye while Kadik and Slavka trade hostile remarks. "A pretty disgusting personality,"
Eddie-baby thinks with revulsion, noticing a thin film of dried saliva in the corner of
Slavka's mouth, "and we've been drinking out of the same bottle with him." All the same,
Eddie-baby has a weakness for Slavka, since he enjoys listening to his stories.
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"No, man," Slavka is saying to Kadik, "your Eugene couldn't make it as a decent
saxophone player. Maybe he's good enough for Kharkov, but there are other cities, old
buddy. In the Baltic republics - and I'm not even talking about Mother Moscow - they'd
kick him off the stage."
"Old buddy, you don't know what you're talking about, old buddy!" Kadik says
indignantly. "I was at the festival with Eugene! Eugene played with the Americans. Bill
Novak himself invited Eugene to play with the orchestra. Eugene is a first-class
saxophone player, old buddy, a world-class saxophone player!"
"Stop it, stop overpraising your friends, Kadillak," Slavka squeaks. "The only
reason you do it is to make yourself seem bigger in your own eyes. Don't talk that stuff
to me, old buddy Kadik, I've studied existentialism, I've read the works of Sartre. You're
all so superficial, old buddies.," he says, catching Eddie-baby's eye to enlist his support.
Eddie-baby doesn't want to get involved in their argument - let them work it out
by themselves. He doesn't know whether Eugene's a good saxophone player or not.
Eddie-baby's father discovered a long time ago that Eddie-baby has no ear for music and
no voice either. Eddie-baby thus has no problem with the fact that when it comes to
music he's an ignoramus, and that all the musical ability in his family went to his father.
As his mother says, there just wasn't anything left over for him.
As Slavka and Kadik argue, the crowd around the grocery store changes its form:
certain groups break up, people leave, and their ranks are replenished by other workers
returning from the parade. Eddie-baby knows that it will be like this till very late in the
evening, when the store finally closes. It's as if there were a club here, and even at
seven o'clock, the time when the Soviet people and the people of Saltovka along with
them will officially sit down to supper to celebrate the forty-first anniversary of the Great
October Socialist Revolution, these men and kids will still be standing here and arguing
till they're hoarse, and yelling, and embracing each other, and drinking their biomitsin or
their port. They've gotten used to it, and there's no longer anything to be done about it.
And not only that, but later on, sometime after ten o'clock, the men who have already
left will find some pretext to tear themselves away from their supper tables and their
families and come back here.
There is a real club right around the corner next door, the one in the Stakhanovite
Movie Theater with its plush curtains, its marble foyer, its large hall, and its red plush
chairs and easy chairs, but the men and kids don't go there. In the first place, they don't
sell biomitsin and vodka there, and you can't get cucumbers or processed cheese, and
old lady Lusha and the moochers don't go around with their glasses there, and there's no
fresh air and windy snowstorm flying in your face as there is now, and no light rain and
sunshine as there is in the summer. In the second place, even if they did suddenly start
selling biomitsin and vodka at the club, the men and kids still wouldn't go there. They're
intimidated by the club and its impressive portraits of old men in ties, and its cherry red
plush, and its tidy smoking room. Furthermore, you get drunk a lot quicker in its stuffy,
centrally heated premises. Eddie-baby knows the club director's son, Yurka Panchenko,
and sometimes he uses that acquaintance to get invited to dances at the club, but only
rarely. The kids don't like the Stakhanovite Club either; they prefer the much cozier little
Bombay, and for more serious entertainment they take the trolley to the already
mentioned Victory.
The huge building that houses the Victory Club and Movie Theater is a product of
the first period of Soviet constructivist thought - a concrete cube that towers in the
center of the square where tens of thousands of people gather not only on holidays but
on Saturdays as well. Despite its constructivist style, the Victory looks something like an
exaggerated version of the Greek Parthenon. In the community center located in the
Victory there are hundreds of rooms, and behind the building extends a broad park
whose left side is occupied by a huge summertime dancing area big enough for a
thousand dancers. The Saltovka and Tyurenka kids go to the Victory for serious
entertainment and for great battles that take place there several times a year, usually in
the summer.
The territory of the Victory community center belongs to Plekhanovka.
Plekhanovka is a city all by itself. A vast number of kids live in the neighborhood of
Plekhanov Street, which is very long - probably as many kids as live in Saltovka and
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Tyurenka combined. Usually the kids from Plekhanovka maintain their neutrality and
allow the kids from Saltovka and Tyurenka, on the one hand, and from Zhuravlyovka, on
the other, to come "to Victory," as all the kids say. Sometimes, however, the kids from
Plekhanovka cunningly join forces with one enemy faction or the other, and then true
guerrilla warfare breaks out, with ambushes, attacks, and knife stabs in the back. From
time to time somebody even gets killed.
Kadik has to go. Although Eddie-baby thinks it's still too early for him to leave,
that Slavka the Gypsy is getting on his nerves.
"So long, Eddie-baby," Kadik says. "Be sure to go to Victory tomorrow and recite,
all right? If you want, I'll drop by for you around six?"
"Why don't you," Eddie agrees. "I'm not sure I'll read my poems for the goat herd,
but at least we can get drunk. And my mother will shut up after she talks to you. She
likes you."
Kadik leaves, striking his metal-tipped shoes hard on the asphalt. He has the
same kind of shoes that Eddie-baby has, or rather, the same kind of huge, almost
horseshoelike strips are screwed into his soles. It's their own invention. The strips are
made out of an especially hard steel. Poor Edka Dodonov broke several tungsten carbide
drill bits putting three holes in each strip for screws. But it was worth it. Kadik and Eddie-
baby get to flaunt their metal strips, and thanks to them are able to recognize each other
in the dark, since if you lightly drag your heels on the asphalt as you walk, you can
produce an arc of reddish yellow sparks in your wake. You look, and if you see sparks on
the other side of dark Saltov Road, then it means that Kadik's coming and nobody else.
Slavka the Gypsy and Eddie-baby smoke for a while, looking around. Noticing that
Kolka Varzhainov has joined Vitka Golovashov and Lyonka Korovin, Eddie-baby goes over
to them, since he needs to say a few words to Kolka. The Gypsy trails after him. Eddie-
baby, of course, could tell the Gypsy to fuck off, but it's hard for him to do that. Even
though the Gypsy is as much of a pest as any moocher, he's an old guy and there's not
too goddamn much you can do with him.
The kids all greet each other, and Kolka Varzhainov takes off his glove.
"Have a swig, Ed," Lyonka says to him. Lyonka was the smallest in their class until
last summer, when he suddenly turned into a giant. Since he's still not used to his height
and doesn't know what to do with his body, he stoops a little. Lyonka holds out a bottle
of biomitsin to Eddie. Eddie-baby takes a swig and senses nearby the intense energy of
the Gypsy, who is ready to take the bottle the very instant Eddie removes it from his lips.
So be it, there's enough. Another time they would have calmly told him to fuck
off, but today's a holiday, everybody has money, and everybody's generous.
"Oh, that's good!" says the Gypsy, half emptying the bottle. "Thank you, old
buddies, for humoring an old man down on his luck. Next time the bottle's on me."
Everybody knows that Slavka will never have any money, so how could there be a
next time?
Eddie-baby takes Kolka Varzhainov off to the side.
"Did you get it?" he asks quietly.
"Not until Monday, Ed," Kolka says guiltily. "Everybody's celebrating," he adds by
way of justification.
In appearance Kolka is a typical representative of the goat herd - a worker
youth, a lathe operator. On his head he wears a silly white cap of the sort that the
majority of normal people no longer wear, and his inevitable gray Muscovite jacket is
belted with the same kind of silly belt. On his feet are bright ocher, almost orange shoes.
Kolka has a certain passion for footware of that color. Eddie-baby remembers the no less
orange handmade artificial-rubber half-galoshes, half-boots that Kolka had on when he
turned up for the first time in the second-year B class at Secondary School No.8 several
years ago. Kolka finished his seven years and then, like a lot of other kids, left school to
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work as a lathe operator at the factory. He's no Sashka Plotnikov; he doesn't need the
"It's unlikely, however, that Kolka will stay at his factory," Eddie-baby thinks.
Behind his innocuous exterior, freckled little Russian mug, and small nose is hidden a
clever and far from stupid "businessman," as Kadik calls such people - an altogether
different Kolka, in other words. He deals in many things, including something very rare,
very rare even here among the Saltovka punks. You can buy a pistol from him. Eddie-
baby and Kostya already bought a TT from him for their work, and now Eddie-baby needs
another one. Kolka probably gets them from soldiers who simply steal the weapons from
the officers in their units.
Kolka Varzhainov has a lot of respect for Eddie. It began in the second-year B
class. Somebody told him that Eddie-baby's father was a general, although then as now
Eddie-baby's father was merely a first lieutenant. The aura of generalship eventually
detached itself from Veniamin Ivanovich and from Eddie-baby, but the respect of the son
of a village seasonal worker for the son of a "general" remained.
"Look here," Eddie-baby says to Kolka, "Kostya asked you to hurry. We're going
to need the cannon very soon."
"I'll have it on Monday for sure. Tell Cat not to worry."
Kostya Bondarenko, or Cat (a different Cat, not Cat the weight lifter), is Eddie-
baby's best friend. He and Kadik are rivals. Or rather, Kostya was Eddie-baby's friend for
a long time, and then Kadik turned up. Kostya and Eddie-baby are in the same gang.
Kadik guesses that they have a gang, but he doesn't know for sure. Kostya is the leader,
the "hetman," and he decides who will do what and he picks the jobs. Grishka and
Lyonka Tarasyuk are in their gang too, and from time to time Kostya brings in other kids,
but they aren't permanent, and after helping to burgle a store, they generally disappear.
Once Garik the Morphine Addict even participated in a burglary with them. The main
members of the gang, however, are Kostya and Eddie-baby and Grishka.
Almost all the kids in the Saltov district are punks. Only a few of them are dudes
like Kadik, or "intelligentsia" like Sashka Plotnikov who dream of going to the university
and becoming engineers or doctors. Since his own father is an army officer, Eddie-baby
really ought to belong to the latter, really ought to associate with the "intelligentsia" and
Sashka Plotnikov or Alyosha Volin (Eddie-baby was in love with Alyosha's sister last
spring before he met Svetka), but for some reason he doesn't care for them and prefers
the company of punks.
The punks are in the majority in the district. Building No.3, for example, which is
less a building than a whole block constructed in the form of a huge rectangle around a
courtyard the size of a soccer field with sheds erected on it - Building No.3 is populated
entirely by punks.
Only one girl from their class who lives in that building, Larka Gavrilov, doesn't
belong to the punks; her father's an accountant, and her mother's a Jew. But all the
other kids do. Vitka Sitenko and Vitka Karpenko and Vovka Klimchuk and the Vixen and
Fatso are all punks. All the kids are, in fact. And not only them, but the older brothers of
the kids in Building No.3 are punks too, and many are now serving or have already
served prison terms. The fathers of the kids from Building No.3 (the ones who have
fathers, that is) have also been in prison. But now that they have grown-up children, the
majority of the fathers have finally "broken" with the world of crime and are employed in
factories doing heavy labor of every kind - in foundries or as steel workers and fettlers
or on assembly lines. The work is hard but it pays well, and the fathers all need a lot of
money, since they all have a lot of children.
Eddie-baby likes the punks. But he also understands that sooner or later he'll have
to part with them. Its fine to be punk as long as you're a kid, but to be a proletarian with
unsavory connections as an adult is not something that Eddie-baby really wants. Like
Kostya, he wants to be a famous criminal.
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Eddie-baby and Kostya's friendship began with a terrible argument between their
parents. Kostya had transferred to their school from another one. That was in the third
year, and their classroom teacher then was a beautiful Armenian named Valentina
Pavlovna Nazarian. At first Eddie-baby didn't pay any attention to Kostya, until once,
when he was in a hurry to get to the library and then home to his beloved books (he had
been delayed; Valentina Pavlovna had kept him, as president of the Pioneer council, after
school along with the other council members in order to explain the details of a factory
outing that was planned for the following Sunday), he discovered that his coat was
missing from the coatrack.
Eddie-baby was even then nearsighted; who knows, maybe he was born that way.
What is known is that when Eddie's mother was carrying him in her belly during her
pregnancy, she came down with malaria and the doctors gave her quinine. Obviously, as
his mother now believes, they gave her too much, since her baby was born nearsighted.
At the time in question, however, Eddie-baby was the only one who knew he was
nearsighted, and he was afraid to tell anybody else about it - it was awkward. "A
traveler and brave seafarer has no business wearing glasses," Eddie-baby thought.
Be that as it may, even the nearsighted Eddie realized that the coat hanging on
the rack wasn't his, although it too was dark in color and looked like his. Eddie's coat was
new; his parents had just bought it for him. The coat on the rack, however, was old and
badly frayed at the cuffs, the elbows, and the collar.
Nobody worked in the cloakroom in Secondary School No.8. Everybody hung his
own coat on the coatrack on the way into class, and then picked it up again on the way
out. Eddie-baby timidly tried to clarify the fate of his coat with the school's custodial
personnel, but neither Uncle Vasya, the hall porter, nor his wife, known as Vasilievna,
could tell him what had happened to it. And so Eddie-baby, not wishing to be a bother,
put on the strange coat, went to his beloved library, checked out several geography
books, and then went home.
At home his mother started yelling at him, which was unfair, and so Eddie got up
from the kitchen stool without finishing the borsch he had been eating, even though it
was his favorite, and went out onto the balcony in protest. The balcony was traditionally
his territory. So he went out, wrapped himself in a blanket, and immersed himself in his
His father came home from work in the evening, took off his boots, and their
single room at once began to reek of leather and foot rags, whereupon Eddie-baby's
mother carried the boots and foot rags out onto the balcony.
"Go into the kitchen. Your father wants to speak to you," she said.
His father started yelling at him. And then they both started yelling at him. His
father was sitting on the stool between the two kitchen chairs, between their own chair
and the one belonging to their neighbors, the Pechkurov children - sitting on the same
stool Eddie had been sitting on, and eating borsch just as Eddie had been doing.
"What were you looking at, you fool?" Veniamin Ivanovich said, turning away from
his borsch. "Did you actually not realize that it was somebody else's old coat, and not
even beaver?"
"And not even navy blue, but black?" said Raisa Fyodorovna, throwing up her
hands. "We've got to buy him glasses at once."
"But Dad," Eddie-baby said, "it was the only coat on the rack. All the other
students had already left a long time ago. Valentina Pavlovna kept the Pioneer council
after school. There wasn't any other coat."
"He's right," his father said. "Go with him to school tomorrow, Raya, and find out
what happened. It's clear the coat wasn't stolen; if it had been, they wouldn't have left
this trash behind," his father said, nodding toward the strange coat hanging on the
kitchen doorknob.
"As if it were infected," Eddie thought.
Raisa Fyodorovna went to school with Eddie-baby, and during the lesson Eddie-
baby sat in class, and then, together with Valentina Pavlovna, they found Eddie-baby's
coat, the new navy blue beaver one. Only on the inside of it somebody had sewn a piece
of white cloth with the inscription "Kostya Bondarenko, 3-B" printed in indelible ink.
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A battle ensued. Kostya's parents came, and his father turned out to be in the
army too, and not only in the army but two ranks higher than Eddie-baby's father - a
major, in fact, and moreover the commandant of the military registration and enlistment
center in their district. Their parents quarreled, and Raisa Fyodorovna got very upset,
since she doesn't know how to argue with strangers. Veniamin Ivanovich was away,
having left that morning on one of his long business trips to Siberia - although it's true
that he doesn't know how to argue with strangers either - and therefore Eddie's poor
mother had to deal with Kostya's two insolent parents all by herself. If it hadn't been for
Valentina Pavlovna, who was fond both of the quiet and diligent Eddie-baby with his
notebooks and of his mother, Raisa Fyodorovna, it's not at all clear how the whole affair
would have ended. But Valentina Pavlovna confirmed that, yes, she had seen Eddie
wearing the coat, and that before that he had had another coat, an old one, and that
there could be no doubt that the new coat belonged to him. And that Citizen Major
Bondarenko and his wife were, unfortunately, mistaken.
They tore off the white piece of cloth and gave the coat back to Eddie. It was so
embarrassing for Eddie-baby to be present during all the shouting (he and Kostya had
been brought along for corroboration) that he would gladly have given away his new
beaver coat, if only not to witness the mutual recriminations coming shrilly from both
sides. He would have kept Kostya's coat, worn as it was at the elbows, if only to be
spared the disgrace. The affair took place in the biology office, through which the other
teachers and the older students kept passing in one direction or another, each time
stopping to listen. Kostya apparently wasn't enjoying the affair either; he gloomily
peered from under his brow and winced every time his mother said the words "my boy."
Their parents became lasting enemies. But the boys, oddly enough, did not. They
didn't immediately become friends, but the humiliation they had both been subjected to
somehow brought them closer together. A couple of weeks later, during recess, Kostya
came over to Eddie and said he was sorry. It had evidently taken him two weeks to think
it over.
The very next day Kostya gave Eddie his slingshot. Although it was quite useless
to him, Eddie-baby turned the beautiful and carefully made object in his hands, and after
thanking Kostya, stuck it in his pocket. Eddie-baby wasn't a hunter; he was an explorer.
The next summer Kostya didn't go to Pioneer camp but remained in the district,
where he took Grishka Gurevich's place on Eddie-baby's long walks through the
surrounding fields and ravines. He even significantly enlarged Eddie-baby's knowledge of
the geography of the territory. Kostya lived at the opposite end of the district and so had
an excellent acquaintance with the nearby sand pits, and once, after a whole day of
wandering in the vicinity of the pig farm and the waving fields of wheat, he and Eddie-
baby even got as far as the artificial lake.
The next year, however, Kostya wasn't in their class. For some reason known only
to them, his parents again transferred him to another school on a different trolley line,
one five stops away from the line that Secondary School No.8 towers over. Eddie-baby
and Kostya didn't see each other for several years, meeting again only after they were
both fourteen and had both changed a lot.
Eddie-baby and an already pretty sloshed Slavka the Gypsy are sitting in the little
garden next to the Stakhanovite Club, smoking and talking and drinking a 0.8-liter "fire
extinguisher" of the usual biomitsin, one left behind by Red Sanya, who was drinking
with them but had to run off to see his woman, the hairdresser Dora.
"Hey, Eddie-baby," Slavka says, "you're a good guy, Eddie-baby. So tell me, what
are you doing here?"
"Living," Eddie-baby answers. "The same as you, Slavka," he adds with a smirk.
"You're a fool, Eddie old buddy!" Slavka exclaims indignantly. "A fool!"
"Why am I supposed to be a fool?" Eddie-baby asks, unperturbed. If anybody else
- somebody his own age, say - had called him a fool, he would have cut him with the
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bottle he's holding in his hand, but Slavka's an old guy and a hopeless case. The kids say
he's even attracted to his own brother Yurka and that's why Yurka, a harmless technoid
in glasses, recently beat up the drunken Slavka. He punched him. And the Gypsy does in
fact have a dried-out little scab on his left cheek.
"What the fuck are you doing here in Saltovka with the punks? You're done for if
you stay here!" the Gypsy continues in a distressed tone. "Listen to me, they'll send you
off to prison, and they'll do it soon too. You're finished if you don't get out of here. And if
you get sent away once, then with your character you'll get sent away again. You're
reckless, like me -"
"What are you doing here yourself, Gypsy?" Eddie interrupts as he passes the
The Gypsy guzzles the wine, finally frees himself from the bottle, and says while
quietly hiccupping,
"What are you looking at me for, Eddie old buddy? I'm already an old man. I'm a
hopeless case, if you want to know. Everything's over for me, everything's behind me.
I'm an alcoholic; all I have left is my dick. I sleep until three o'clock, and I have no desire
to get up, because I'm afraid of going out; it's so cold here. Yurka and my mother go to
the factory, and I get up with them and pretend that I'm planning to go out and look for
a job, but when they leave after giving me a couple of rubles for the trolley, I go back to
bed. I hate work. I hate iron and the people who bang it around. My hearing is delicate.
I'm different; I'm not the same as these proletarian slaves. Look at my hands."
Eddie-baby is silent and doesn't look at the Gypsy's hands. He knows what kind of
hands Slavka has, since the latter has already shown them to him many times.
The Gypsy goes on: "Fucking winter! Where we live, Eddie-baby - you
understand that it's the worst goddamn climate, the most fucked-up, shitty climate in the
world. And why is that? Do you know why, Eddie old buddy?"
"Why?" Eddie asks.
"Because our Slav ancestors were fucking cowards, that's why. Did you know that
in English 'Slav' and 'slave' are the same word, Eddie?"
"Really?" Eddie says, sincerely astonished. "It's true, it's true," the Gypsy insists.
"Our ancestors had the souls of slaves, so instead of bravely conquering warm lands for
themselves around the Mediterranean where lemons grow - did you realize, Eddie, that
lemons grow there?" Slavka drawls, and suddenly switching to a sarcastic whisper, he
continues - "they refused to fight and fled like cowards to this fucking snow, and now
you and I are sitting on this fucking green Soviet bench, and it's snowing and it's cold,
and all I have is this fucking raincoat. And it's Yurka's," he adds with a drunken chuckle.
"Do you call that living?"
"Yes," Eddie agrees, "it's better in the tropics. Somewhere in Rio or Buenos Aires.
Ciudad de nuestra se+ora de "uenos ires," he says thoughtfully. "Do you know what
that means, Slavka?"
"I do, old buddy," the Gypsy says. 'City of our lady of favorable winds.' The locals
call it 'B'aires' for short."
Slavka knows everything. It's never boring with him, and you can learn a lot. He's
witty too - when he isn't too drunk. Which is why Eddie is sitting here with him on the
bench. Slavka reads constantly, even in English. Sticking out of his pocket right now is
some foreign newspaper. Slavka studied at the university for two years before he was
"Get the fuck out of here, Eddie-baby, before it's too late. And don't hang around
with the punks. They're going in just one direction - to prison. You're completely
different from them," Slavka whines again, and grabbing Eddie-baby by the collar of his
jacket, he forcefully pulls him close. "Look at me!" he demands drunkenly.
"Cut it out, Gypsy." Eddie-baby pushes him away in irritation.
"No, look me in the eyes!" the Gypsy insists. Eddie-baby looks him in the eyes.
Slavka smiles drunkenly. "In your eyes shines intelligence and a natural nobility!"
he proclaims. "And it doesn't shine in all your Kadiks and Karpovs and Cats! And it never
will!" Slavka yells.
"You're drunk as a pig," Eddie-baby says seriously. "You're starting to get boring."
"Maybe so," Slavka calmly agrees. "Maybe I am drunk."
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"Oh," he says with a sudden sigh, "if only summer would come! I'll go to
Vladivostok. I'm tired of it here with you people. Have you ever been to Vladivostok,
Eddie old buddy?" he asks.
Eddie hasn't been to Vladivostok. He shakes his head no. His lips are occupied;
he's sucking on the fire extinguisher.
"It's really nice in Vladivostok," Slavka says with pleasure. "The Pacific fishermen
have piles of money. And so do the whalers," Slavka happily recalls. "Vladivostok is the
home of the whaling fleet. When they come back to port after six months at sea, their
pockets are crammed with money! Can you imagine, Eddie - their &ockets! And it's no
trouble at all getting between them and their money," Slavka adds slyly. "The sailor
who's been starving for human contact at sea for six months really needs good
conversation. That's the second thing, after sex. Come to Vladivostok with me, Eddie, all
right? The two of us will make a good team. I'll pass myself off as a seaman, and you'll
be my little brother."
"All right, let's go," Eddie-baby agrees, placing the empty fire extinguisher next to
the bench. Eddie-baby is tidy.
"Imagine us sitting in a bar, Eddie - there's one on the hill there where the
whalers go, and down below is the Golden Horn harbor, and moving over it are the lights
of transoceanic liners. Can you imagine the picture, Eddie old man?" And interrupting
Eddie, who is just on the point of replying, the Gypsy adds, "Did you know that the
harbor in Vladivostok is named after the Golden Horn harbor in Istanbul, hm?"
Yes, Eddie-baby had heard about that. "Yes," he says, "how come?"
"Because, Eddie old buddy, it's shaped just like the harbor in Istanbul," Slavka
says in the quietly didactic tones of a teacher. "In Istanbul, in Constantinople.," he
bursts out singing all of a sudden, beating his palms on the bench to keep time. The
Gypsy is sitting with his legs spread wide and is slapping his palms on the bench between
his thighs. And then his gaze falls on one of those skinny thighs in its trouser leg, and he
grabs it between his hands.
"Look how skinny I've gotten," he says, turning to Eddie. "In your fucking
Kharkov, in your fucking Saltovka."
"It's yours too, isn't it, Slavka?" Eddie-baby observes. "And there's no goddamn
way you've gotten skinny, since as far as I remember, you were always pretty scrawny.
It's just the way you're built."
"I was born in Moscow, Eddie old buddy," Slavka says. "Remember that, in
Moscow, and not in your lousy city. My father was a Polish aristocrat, the
,asnowielmo-ny &an Zablodski," he says pompously. "True, my mother let me down;
she's a Russian whore. Even her name is cheap: Ekaterina, Katerina. Katya.," Slavka
says, emphasizing each stressed syllable. "Yurka takes after her, takes after her
completely, whereas I take after my father."
Eddie-baby laughs, and Slavka sighs again and then leans across Eddie-baby, who
is sitting on the edge of the bench, and reaches for the bottle. As soon as he realizes that
it's empty, he hurls it across the path at the latticed iron fence opposite them. The bottle
breaks with an unpleasant crunch.
"What the fuck did you do that for?" Eddie-baby asks. "The trashes will come
running now. They're all over the place; it's a holiday." "Trashes" in Saltov slang means
"militia officers." A single militia officer is a "trash," and several of them are "trashes."
"Don't tell me how to live," Slavka retorts. "You're still too young to start teaching
me. Live as long as I have, then you can teach me. Fuck the trashes and fuck you," he
announces capriciously. He is obviously drunk.
"What an asshole you are!" Eddie-baby says. "You're an old guy and still an
asshole." And Eddie-baby gets up from the bench and walks away.
Slavka doesn't want to be left alone, so he plods along after him.
"Wait up, Eddie old buddy," he mutters somewhere in the rear. "Wait up, where
are you going?"
Eddie-baby quickens his pace and soon leaves Slavka behind.
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The park is empty and already lightly powdered with snow. The snow has begun
to fall hard, and so Eddie-baby pulls his hood over his head shorn by Waclaw. It's a
convenient thing, the yellow jacket, and the reason is because it's copied from an
Austrian alpine parka. Kadik still wears the original even now. True, he takes special care
of it since it's getting old. Kadik brought the coat back from a festival. Naturally, they
couldn't find anything in the Kharkov stores like the material used to make alpine parkas,
and so they had to buy yellow upholstery fabric - the kind used on chairs and sofas. The
fabric gets a little wet in the rain, but it doesn't matter, since they chose a thick lining.
Kadik even suggested putting polyethylene strips in the hood and under the shoulders so
that their heads and arms wouldn't get wet, but Eddie didn't want to: the polyethylene
would have made a rustling noise. Eddie-baby doesn't like rustling noises.
"Good day, M'sieur Savenko." Eddie-baby would recognize that voice among
thousands of others. It belongs to Asya. Asya Vishnevsky. She's standing at the entrance
to the park, and with her is Tomka Gurgelevich. Tomka is holding a bag of groceries in
her arms.
"Good day, Mad'moiselle Asya," Eddie-baby says ceremoniously as he extends his
hand to her. But after shaking the cold hand of this robust girl in glasses, he smiles and
kisses her less formally on the cheek. He and Asya are friends.
"Good day, Mad'moiselle Tamara," he says to Tomka, and shakes her mittened
hand. Tomka has put her bag down in the snow. "Are you awake yet, Toma?" Eddie-baby
asks sarcastically.
He's teasing her. Everybody knows that more than anything else, she likes to
sleep. She's a pretty girl, taller than Eddie and a little large for her age (she's sixteen,
and her auburn hair is always pulled back in the kind of bun a grown woman would
wear), and Eddie-baby likes her very much and wants to ruffle her, to provoke her out of
her usual half-somnolent, melancholy placidity. There are a lot of different rumors about
her in the district. According to some, she's screwing a guy who calls himself the "Jerk"
and is a well-known cardplayer and swindler from the center. Other versions have it that
she sleeps until three in the afternoon, doesn't go out anywhere, and continually reads
books, all of which makes her parents very unhappy. Tomka's father is a construction
foreman like Vitka Golovashov's father, and they have an apartment to themselves, so
it's impossible to find out anything reliable about Tomka's life, given the absence of
neighbors. Eddie-baby and Tolik Karpov once caught Tomka's little brother and
attempted to drag some information out of him. Tolik even started twisting the stubborn
third-year pupil's arm, trying to find out whether Tomka was screwing the Jerk, and the
little kid squealed and yelled and called Tolik a fascist, a bastard, and a whore, but he
wouldn't betray his sister. They had to let him go. Eddie-baby didn't approve of the way
Tolik treated the crew-cut tadpole, but he wanted to shake the auburn-haired Tomka out
of her self-possession.
And so that same night, he, Karpov, Kadik, and Karpov's dog set out for the
Russian cemetery, brought back a fresh wreath taken from a fresh grave, put the wreath
on Tomka's door, rang the doorbell, and ran away.
Another time, when they were coming back drunk from somewhere (Tolik lives
next door to Tomka's building, and Eddie-baby is only a few buildings away), they
decided to play another dirty trick on her to take revenge for her haughtiness. Tolik
caught her cat in the entrance to her building, bashed its head against the wall, and tied
its carcass to Tomka's doorknob. Blood revenge. They knew very well how much Tomka
loved her cat.
The point of this was that a few days before the murder of her cat, Eddie-baby
had accidentally met Tomka on the trolley when she was on her way to school (she goes
to another school, the same one that Tolik goes to), and after mustering his courage, he
had asked her to go out with him the next day for a walk in the Jewish cemetery. Tomka,
smiling and indolently sighing, had told him that although the next day was Sunday, she
would be busy. She would be sleeping, and she preferred a good sleep to a walk in the
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"Of course," Eddie-baby had answered, "you need to get some rest. You're all
tired out. You don't get enough sleep with the Jerk. He doesn't let you."
"You're a jerk yourself!" Tomka had said angrily, starting to make her way to the
trolley exit.
Lazily squinting and gazing over the top of his head, Tomka now says to Eddie-
"You and Karpov are the ones who need sleep. Have you managed to kill all the
cats in the district? Barbarians!"
"It affected her after all," Eddie-baby thinks. "It got to her."
"Where are our girls going?" Eddie-baby asks.
"Our girls are going home," Asya says. "We came out for a walk and went to the
store on the way. Tomka's mother asked her to buy some groceries."
"I'm going home too," Eddie-baby says. "Shall we go together?"
Eddie-baby hesitates for a second. He doesn't know whether to take Tomka's bag
from her or not. At that moment, Slavka the Gypsy comes reeling up to them. He has
finally managed to make his way out of the park.
"O-o-oh!" the Gypsy howls delightedly. "Eddie-baby has already lined up some
honeys and is going home with them now to get laid. Today all of Saltovka and Tyurenka
and all of Kharkov and the whole vast country of triumphant socialism will be noisily
getting laid after turning out the lights. Many, many buckets of proletarian sperm, and
the sperm of office workers, and of the Soviet intelligentsia, and of soldiers, sailors,
sergeants, and petty officers, and of officers and generals as well, will be poured into the
precious vessels located between the thighs of female Soviet citizens. Eddie-baby, what
do you need two vessels for? Give me one!"
Eddie-baby, dumbstruck by Slavka's incredible insolence, has barely managed to
answer him before Slavka walks over to Tomka with her shopping bag, lifts her up off the
ground, and says to her with a drunken leer, "Seora! Open your bag for me, please, and
I'll spit into it!" And then he spits. The greasy yellow spittle drips from Tomka's jars and
bottles into the bag.
"That symbolizes my orgasm," Slavka smirks.
Slavka is unable to say anything more, because Eddie-baby has grabbed him by
the arm and flipped him over onto his back with a jerk, just as his wrestling coach,
Arseny, taught him to do. In an instant Slavka is rolling in the freezing mud, hard as ice
cream, and blood is flowing from his mouth onto the delicate white snow.
"Let's go!" Eddie-baby commands, and taking Tomka's bag, he crosses the trolley
tracks. The girls stride mutely after him.
"What did you do that for?" Asya says, breaking their silence at last. "He's really
Asya is a humanitarian; her family was repatriated from France only three years
"I'm harmless too," Eddie-baby says bitterly. He's starting to feel sorry himself for
punishing the goddamn fool. "The asshole!" Eddie-baby swears. "Riffraff! Scum!"
"They say he sleeps with his mother," Tamara calmly observes. "I heard that's
why his little brother beat him up."
Having turned off Saltov Road, they are now walking down a cross street. The
builders of Saltovka obviously didn't have much imagination, since the street on which
Eddie and Tomka live is called First Cross Street, and there's also a Second, a Third, and
a Fourth. The basement cafeteria on First Cross Street is open, as it turns out, and from
it comes the sound of music and the clatter of beer mugs. Eddie-baby tosses an
indifferent glance in the direction of the cafeteria, and then suddenly thinks, "What if.?"
Tamara's house is nearby. She stops. They have arrived.
"What are you doing for the October holidays?" Eddie-baby asks Tomka.
"Why do you ask," Tomka smiles, "do you want to invite me out? Has Svetka
dropped you already?"
"Why should she drop me?" Eddie-baby asks irritably. "That's silly, Tamara."
"Well, excuse me, then," Tomka says. "That means she hasn't dropped you."
Tomka's mother's head emerges from one of the building's second-story windows.
"Tomochka, child! We're waiting for you!" she yells. "Hello, kids!"
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Asya waves to Tomka's mother. Eddie-baby doesn't.
"I've got to go," Tamara says, and extends her mittened hand to Eddie-baby.
"Thank you, brave sir, for defending my honor. I wish you a pleasant holiday! Bye,
Lizok," she says to Asya. "I'll drop by tomorrow."
"How affected!" Eddie-baby blurts out, gazing after Tomka.
"She's a good girl and she thinks very highly of you," Asya observes, "but you're
still a boy, as far as she's concerned - don't you realize that?"
"She's only a year older than I am," Eddie-baby persists.
"A woman is always older than a man," the intelligent Asya calmly replies.
"Tamara likes students. The fellow she's seeing now is twenty-three."
"Asya says 'seeing' instead of 'going with,'" Eddie-baby thinks, "so why did they
settle their family in Saltovka; they don't belong here." But out loud he says, "Then she
ought to be 'seeing' Slavka the Gypsy - he's twenty-four."
"Why not?" Asya grins. "He's not so bad. There's something in his eyes,
something." Asya thinks for a moment. "Something vulgar, something that women like.
Yearning for a woman."
"Ha-ha," Eddie-baby snorts. "That long-nosed alcoholic who can't keep his hands
to himself?. So then, there's nothing in me that women like?" he continues half-
questioningly, looking sideways at Asya. "The art teacher Elena Sergeevna, by the way,
used my face as an example of the best-looking man's face in the class."
Asya laughs.
"Man's face.," she repeats, "man's face."
Eddie-baby is offended. "What are you laughing at?" he says, scowling. He and
Asya are great friends; he wouldn't tell anybody else what the art teacher said, so why is
she laughing?
"I'm sorry, Eddie," Asya says, no longer laughing, but serious now. "You will be a
splendid man, I'm sure, but you're still a boy. You'll be a man," she says. "Just be
patient. It will happen in about ten years. Or maybe fifteen," she says uncertainly.
"When I'm thirty!" Eddie-baby exclaims in horror. "But I'll already be an old man
by then!"
"But you look twelve now," Asya laughs.
Seeing Asya home, Eddie-baby has passed his own building. Now they're standing
next to her entrance. "Do you want to come up?" Asya asks.
"But your rodichi are probably all at home," Eddie-baby vacillates. Eddie-baby's
language is almost completely free of Ukrainianisms, thanks to his pure-Russian-
speaking mother and father, but sometimes words like rodichi slip out.
"You know how they are. Just come directly to my room; nobody will bother us
"All right," Eddie-baby agrees, and they go into the entrance.
The Vishnevsky family has a whole three-room apartment to itself. Asya's older
brother, Arseny, is a Communist, and they say that he was persecuted in France, so the
whole family returned to the Soviet Union because of him. If they hadn't been
repatriated, they wouldn't have gotten a three-room apartment, despite the fact that
their family is large: father, mother, two older sisters, Marina and Olga, Arseny, Asya,
and Asya's little brother, Vanka, who's also known as Jean.
Asya didn't always have her own room, but both her sisters got married and
moved to the center with their husbands, so now Asya has her own room with a window
that looks out onto the cobblestone road and the high stone wall of the vehicle
maintenance lot, the same one where Waclaw works as a barber. Every time Eddie-baby
visits Asya and looks out her window, he thinks of Waclaw. The road in front of Asya's
window turns into an impassable sea of mud in the fall, as do almost all the roads in
Saltovka. But the road is frozen now, and people are briskly walking along it on their way
to Tyurenka or back.
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"Would you care for some wine?" Asya asks, returning from the interior of the
apartment, where she has been talking to one of her parents in French. The Vishnevskys
speak French at home. Eddie-baby has been studying French at school since the second
year, but of course he can't make out what they're talking about, especially at that
"I would," Eddie-baby answers. But not because he really wants any. The wine at
Asya's is always grape wine, unfortified and dry, and it doesn't affect Eddie-baby the way
biomitsin does, for example. Eddie-baby knows the wine in Asya's home is always of very
good quality, since her father was a wine taster in France, but Eddie-baby doesn't like
good wine. What Eddie-baby likes are the goblets that Asya serves the wine in, and the
olives she serves it with, and the napkins. He's never admitted to Asya that he doesn't
particularly like the wine itself, that he prefers biomitsin.
Eddie-baby likes being at Asya's. He likes the great number of books in their
home. And not merely that the books (mainly in French, but also in Russian and English)
cover all the walls of the main room, but that they also cover an entire wall of Asya's
room. Asya has her own books, as do all the members of her family. There are even
books arranged on a small shelf over Asya's bed so she can reach them easily. No one
else in the Saltov district has such a quantity of books, unless it's Borka Churilov, and if
he does, then it's just boring sets of collected works in gloomy bindings, like the ones
Sashka Plotnikov's parents have. Asya has unusual books; half of them were published
abroad, even the ones in Russian. Asya lends her books to Eddie-baby - she's not a
stingy person. Eddie-baby has several of her books at home right now: Remarque's novel
Three Comrades and several issues of the journal Contem&orary nnals containing a
novel called The Gift by the very strange writer V.Sirin.
Eddie-baby likes the way the Vishnevskys live. He even likes their wooden
daybeds, which they made themselves. The majority of Saltovka residents use iron
bedsteads with iron mattress supports. In the summertime, you can see them pouring
boiling water over their bedsteads or dousing them with kerosene after dragging them
outside. A lot of the apartments have bedbugs, which are extremely hard to get rid of.
There are no bedbugs in Eddie-baby's room, since his mother is just as neat as Red
Sanya's mother. She's like a German, in fact.
Asya's bed is covered with a flowered comforter and an animal skin. A fox skin.
Eddie-baby is sitting on the skin.
Eddie-baby also likes the light fixtures in the Vishnevsky household. Everywhere
there are small table lamps with shades made out of old maps, all arranged very
comfortably. In other Saltovka homes, the lighting comes from above, from fixtures
hanging from the ceiling, or from naked light bulbs, or from bulbs covered with orange or
red textile shades with long silk tassels, which make the Saltovka rooms look either like
communal toilets or like seraglios of the kind that Eddie-baby once saw illustrated in an
old geography book on Turkey.
The Vishnevskys' apartment is uncluttered too. There aren't any monstrous
sideboards or superfluous chiffoniers taking up somebody's living space - just necessary
Asya brings him wine and olives on a tray(!). The wine is Hungarian and is called
Bull's Blood. "Pardon us, m'sieur, for having to serve you Hungarian wine instead of
French," she says apologetically. "The indigenes unfortunately failed to deliver French
wine to the neighborhood grocery this time." After putting the tray down on a little table
next to Eddie-baby, Asya curtseys humorously the way young ladies do in films about
prerevolutionary life, and then she sits down next to him.
When Asya says "indigenes," Eddie-baby can't help replying, "In de jeans!" Or if
he doesn't actually say it out loud, he at least repeats the almost perfect pun to himself.
Asya also uses the word "locals" a lot. She doesn't care for the local indigenes, and when
she tells Eddie about Paris, her eyes on occasion shine with something very like tears.
When Eddie-baby first made Asya's acquaintance, he was in the sixth year, and
she still spoke Russian with an accent, having recently moved to Kharkov from France.
Eddie-baby met Asya under highly romantic circumstances. In a theater.
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The students at Secondary School No.8 in the city of Kharkov are hardly ever left
in peace. Even during vacations the school tries to organize and rally them, to give them
direction and teach them how to behave. It's no easy thing to teach the Saltovka kids,
including the girls. A lot of the kids start smoking almost from their very first year in
school - Tolka Zakharov, for example. They start drinking at a very early age too.
Usually two-thirds of the Saltovka kids drop out of school in the sixth or seventh year,
and some of them don't go to work at the factory but hang out on the streets. But of
course the more difficult the material, the more zealous the educators.
And so it happened that during one of the New Year's vacations they took them to
the opera. If the thirteen-year-old Eddie-baby had had something else to do that day, he
wouldn't have gone. But there wasn't anything interesting in the offing, and so he got
ready for the opera, ironing his pencil-thin dark blue pants made from a pair of his
father's uniform trousers, although with the lighter blue MVD piping removed. Those
pants kept their crease extremely well and were, moreover, the narrowest ones in
school: sixteen centimeters wide. Eddie-baby was proud of them. Raisa Fyodorovna had
no idea they were only sixteen centimeters; she thought they were twenty-four. Being an
intelligent boy who had no wish to irritate his parents unnecessarily, Eddie-baby had
altered the pants himself in three or four stages - gradually, in other words, so his
parents would get used to the new width each time. It ought to be said to Eddies credit
that although he had no skill with either needle or thread, he managed the task
brilliantly. Raisa Fyodorovna discovered that the pants were just sixteen centimeters
wide only later on, in February 1956, when she was told by Rachel, their classroom
teacher, an old Jewish woman who had replaced the Armenian Valentina Pavlovna
Nazarian in the fifth year.
It wasn't then that Eddie-baby called Rachel Israilovna Katz an old kike in the
presence of the whole class; that came later. At the time in question, she and Eddie-baby
still had quite decent relations. Eddie-baby had of course long since been deposed as
chairman of the Pioneer council, but he was still the editor and principal artist of the
classroom wall newspaper and was still more or less highly esteemed in the school
scheme of things, even if by then, after his sensational attempt to run away from home
in March 1954, which the whole school knew about, he was regarded as someone who
was going nowhere and whose prospects were obviously dim.
In any case, Eddie-baby allowed himself to be dragged across the entire city on
two different trolley lines and then to be marched in a column along with the rest of the
students to Rymarsky Street, where the Kharkov opera and ballet theater is located.
Over one of his father's white military shirts and a bow tie given to him on his birthday
by Vitka Golovashov and a dark blue jacket a little darker than the famous pants (so that
together they created the impression of a suit), Eddie-baby wore his new beige Czech
topcoat in cloaklike fashion. His parents had purchased the coat for him on their own,
never suspecting how their son would look in it. Eddie-baby was even then something of
a dandy, and the trip on the two trolleys in the company of his variously but for the most
part boorishly or childishly dressed fellow pupils annoyed him. He felt ashamed of many
of them.
Having sat through the first act with great difficulty, and knowing that even
though three more acts remained (they were doing (lee&ing "eauty, which Secondary
School No.8 had already seen twice) it would be impossible to leave, since their
oppressors had ordered that none of the pupils be given his coat from the cloakroom
until the performance was over, Eddie-baby was in a rage. He stood irritably smoking
with a group of other kids in the toilet, and they all swore and spat independently, and
Eddie swore too in a paroxysm of helpless anger at the cretinism of the school
authorities. It was then that Vovka Chumakov suggested that they get something to
drink. Vovka was a second-year student also known as the "Plague," who at the time was
Eddie-baby's best friend (it was in fact with Vovka that Eddie had tried to run away to
Brazil in March of 1954).
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"We can get something to drink if we split the cost, but how will you get to the
store?" Eddie-baby asked the Plague. "The bitches won't let anybody leave. And Lyova
the gym teacher and the senior Pioneer leader are standing by the doors."
"Easy," grinned the Plague. "I'll climb out. You see how big the transom window
is. Only I don't have any money."
Nobody had expected him to. The Plague was the poorest kid in their class. His
mother took in washing, his father had been killed at the front, and there were even
times when he didn't have any lunch with him. But the Plague was respected in the
school for his courage and also for his good looks - he had wavy chestnut hair and big
green eyes. And he was a tall boy. At the time Eddie-baby had almost reached his
present one meter seventy-four centimeters, but Vovka the Plague was even taller.
The kids started rummaging in their jacket and coat pockets, pulling out coins and
crumpled ruble notes. The Plague collected them all in his pocket, grinned, and climbed
out the window.
"Don't cut out on us," Vitka Golovashov said to him.
"Are you out of your goddamn mind?" the Plague answered, turning around with
one leg already through the transom window. "My coat's still here."
They all started laughing. From one of the stalls, which until then had been closed,
a bearded old man emerged and glanced fearfully at the unfamiliar young tribe while he
straightened his suit. The tribe started whistling and stamping its feet, and Vitka Sitenko
even stuck out two fingers, as if threatening to put out the old man's eyes.
The old man was gone in an instant.
The theater bell rang, summoning the audience to return to the auditorium.
Everybody who had chipped in on the bottle decided to remain in the toilet and wait for
the Plague, since the store was right across from the theater. But Vitka Golovashov very
reasonably suggested that since Lyova the gym teacher was aware of their habits, he
would come to the toilet to check up on them. Vitka Golovashov is a bright lad, and so he
proposed climbing up onto the toilet bowls and hiding out in the stalls, since Lyova would
hardly come bursting in but would only look to see if there were any feet visible in the
open space between the doors and the floor.
And that's what everybody did. True, there were only four stalls, and so Vitka
Sitenko and Vitka Golovashov had to climb into one of them together, and they giggled
and fidgeted in their stall. The other kids told them to shush, and then they were quiet.
After the third bell, and as if Vitka had read his mind, Lyova came in. It was clear
just from the sound of his footsteps that it was the sturdy, not very good former athlete
grown soft as a teacher of physical education at an out-of-the-way school. The girls
claimed that when he lifted them up onto the rings or the horizontal bar, Lyova tried to
grab them by the breasts. Eddie-baby was contemptuous of Lyova and didn't go to his
classes, and Lyova for his part called Eddie-baby a peacock. Lyova remained in the toilet
for a while, combing his hair or something by the mirror, probably covering up his bald
spot with whatever was left, and then he went out.
The kids immediately jumped down from the toilet bowls all together, just about
at the same time that the Plague stuck his head through the transom window. Once he
had caught sight of his friends, his head hovered in the transom window for a moment,
merrily smirking, and then disappeared behind the cloudy windowpane, only to be
replaced by his hands, which were holding four bottles of fortified rose. It turned out
Vitka Golovashov had given him 25 rubles!
When Eddie-baby and the Plague returned to their seats toward the end of the
second act, they found them occupied. Sitting in Eddie-baby's place was a beautiful adult
girl oddly dressed in a long adult gown. Eddie-baby, though he had attended Secondary
School No.8 ever since the first year, had never seen her before. Sitting in the Plague's
seat was another very attractive maiden, wearing a black taffeta dress with a white lace
"O-o-oh!" the Plague exclaimed with satisfaction. "While D'Artagnan and I were
out for a stroll, our places were taken by the ladies. Who might you be, beautiful
strangers?" the Plague asked flirtatiously; he knew he was a handsome boy.
"Our classroom teacher told us to sit here," the girl sitting in Eddie-baby's seat
said severely. That was when Eddie-baby noticed her accent.
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"Yes," Eddie-baby said, "perhaps that's true, but we too have to sit somewhere.
And these are our seats."
"Go to the balcony, then. There are empty seats up there," said the girl who was
occupying the Plague's seat.
"But we don't want to go to the balcony," said the Plague, merry from the wine he
had drunk. "We want to sit in our own seats, the ones indicated on our tickets." And the
smirking Plague dug out of his pocket the crumpled bright blue ticket to the Lisenko
Theater of Opera and Ballet.
"We were told to sit here, we didn't sit here by ourselves," said the severe girl
who was sitting in Eddie-baby's seat. "And anyway, you're men. A man must be a
gentleman and yield to a lady."
"What I can suggest to you as a gentleman, milady," the Plague said, now smiling
at the girl in his seat and standing to his full height, "is that you sit on my lap."
The Plague had obviously started to take a liking to his opponent, and since they
had been shushed up by the other kids, the two of them were now bending toward each
other and whispering something and giggling.
But Asya Vishnevsky, watching the prince senselessly hopping about on the stage,
sat with a stern expression on her face and said nothing.
Eddie-baby had never been a malicious boy, but he had always been very
stubborn. And so, having decided to behave in a cultivated way, he went down to the
orchestra seats, found his classroom teacher, Rachel, and taking care not to breathe his
wine breath on her, told her that his and the Plagues seats had been taken by some girls
from another class.
On his way back to the dress circle with Rachel, since that's where their seats
were, he was already starting to feel ashamed of his action, but there was nothing he
could do about it now. Rachel easily straightened the matter out and, not wishing to
offend the girls, found them good seats of their own. But as they were leaving, Asya
gave him a dirty look of such intensity that it even sobered Eddie-baby up. The Plague
was also scornful of Eddie-baby and upset about what he had done. The Plague had
already managed to become quite friendly with Olga and had learned from her that Asya
(whose real name was Liza Vishnevsky, though her parents and friends called her Asya)
had just come from France, that she and her family had been repatriated from there,
that Asya was the most interesting and romantic girl Olga had ever met in her life, that
she was her best friend, and that Olga was ready to sacrifice her life for her.
"What the fuck did you do that for?" the Plague said. "What the fuck for?" Eddie-
baby himself didn't know why. Just out of stubbornness, probably. He wanted to have
things his own way. Eddie-baby had had things his own way his whole life.
Asya and Eddie-baby were reconciled within the month. In the first place, it turned
out that they lived almost next door to each other - only a few buildings separated
them. The buildings in Saltovka are arranged according to no particular system; there
aren't any yards between them, just bushes and trees. It's obvious the architects who
built the district were dreaming of a city of the future landscaped with forests of maples
and groves of elderberries.
Passing among the slender limbs of the maples and the low, dusty elderberry
bushes, Eddie-baby had frequently seen a girl walking ahead of him or behind him,
invariably wearing long dresses that reached to the ground, and velvet coats with hoods.
Asya had two such coats - objects of envy to the other girls of Saltovka, and rather like
Kadik's alpine parka, although that was something that Eddie-baby would encounter only
later on. Sometimes Asya was accompanied by her classmates, and sometimes she was
alone. Eddie-baby finally summoned up his courage and said to her, "Hello,
mademoiselle!" And she answered, "Hello, barbarian!"
It was evening and a light snow was falling, and Eddie-baby walked with Asya
around her building for a long time. They talked about books they had read - Asya was
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amazed at how well read Eddie-baby was; she hadn't expected him to be - and then
they talked about the Soul, about God, and about Love.
Eddie-baby had already talked about the Soul, about God, and about Love with
another girl, a beautiful girl who resembled an angel from a medieval picture - Veta
Volin. That she looked like an angel was something that the senior Pioneer leader Sonya
Alekseevna had told Eddie-baby, not something he had thought up by himself. But it was
different with Veta Volin. Eddie-baby was desperately shy with her and finally made the
decision to kiss her only a whole month after their first meeting. Asya, however, kissed
him herself on that same snowy evening, and the snow fell on their faces and on their
lips, so that their kisses were wet. They were both terribly cold after their three-hour
conversation, and Eddie-baby very badly needed to visit the toilet. Asya's and Eddie-
baby's lips were ever so cold, and Asya's smelled slightly of tobacco - she was a heavy
They never really fell in love - there wasn't any romance - but they did become
true friends. The reason there wasn't any romance was because, as Asya said, Eddie-
baby was first of all unfortunately a year younger than she was, and besides that, they
both turned out to have very strong characters. "Two such strong people cannot be
lovers," Asya said. Asya was the first person to realize that Eddie-baby had a strong
"How's Svetka?" Asya asks, drinking a little wine and setting her glass down on
the table. After that, she goes to the door and closes it. From the door she crosses to the
window, opens the transom, and only then lights herself a cigarette. Her parents don't
"How is she? The same as she always is," Eddie-baby answers, shrugging his
shoulders. "She was recently seen at a dance at the Stakhanovite Club with Shurik."
Asya sighs. She sympathizes with Eddie-baby's love for the capricious and
impetuous Svetka, although she also believes that the daughter of a prostitute is no
match for him. Everybody in Saltovka knows that Svetka's mother sleeps with men for
cash. But Asya bows down before love and takes an active advisory part in all the
romantic affairs of her friends and girlfriends.
"Perhaps I ought to punch his face in?" Eddie-baby asks thoughtfully.
"That would be silly," Asya objects. "How do you know, maybe there isn't anything
between them. Can't they just go dancing somewhere together? And anyway, why the
idiotic habit of settling everything with your fists?. After all, he's your friend too."
"What do you mean, my friend!" Eddie answers, frowning in annoyance. "It was
Svetka who introduced us. He's her friend."
"All right," Asya says, "look at the problem from a different angle. Considering it
logically -"
"Wait a minute" - Eddie-baby stops her - "how can you consider things logically
with Svetka? When we were celebrating May Day, the first time we were together, it was
very logical from her point of view to run off to the pond to drown herself. And that's not
even mentioning the fact that the pond is a long way off, so that you'd lose all desire to
drown yourself by the time you got there. She's crazy!"
"Eddie!" Asya interrupts him. "You're the last person to say anything like that.
Even your own friends think you're crazy, or didn't you realize that?" Asya says,
becoming agitated and waving her cigarette around.
"They do?" Eddie-baby asks incredulously.
"Of course, I don't think so myself," Asya says, "otherwise you wouldn't be sitting
here in my home. I think you are a sensitive boy and very fine, whereas almost all your
friends are crude working-class guys and girls who don't understand what you're like. But
you're a nice one too! It's your own fault Svetka ran away from you to drown herself.
What did you expect when you showed her your knife and said you'd cut her if she
betrayed you?"
"She was dancing with Tolik Lyashenko. And for too long," Eddie-baby points out
in confusion. "It seemed to me she was pressing close to him. And later on, when we
were all playing spin the bottle, the kids laughed in a disgusting way when Svetka went
into the other room with him to kiss, and they were gone for a long time. And anyway, I
didn't want to cut her, I just wanted to scare her a little."
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"Very nice!" Asya says indignantly. "If I were her, I'd never speak to you again.
But she probably loves you, since she came back to you after that."
"Do you think so?" Eddie-baby asks with hope in his voice.
"Of course!" Asya replies. "Although, as you know, I don't feel that your
relationship with her has much of a future. You're completely different from her, she's
not the right kind of girl for you."
Eddie-baby is silent.
"I think I understand you," Asya continues. "You and I are kindred spirits -"
A bell rings in the hallway. Asya leaves and comes back with a girl wearing a
chestnut coat. The girl has short black hair and is leaning slightly on a walking stick.
Clenched between her teeth is a pungent White Sea Canal Russian cigarette.
"Allow me to introduce you," Asya says. "This is my friend Katya Muravyov. She
was repatriated too. Katya writes poetry, like you. It's her heritage. Her ancestor was the
famous Decembrist Muravyov-Apostol, who was executed and who also wrote poetry."
"Hi." The girl tersely greets Eddie-baby while firmly shaking his hand. "Glad to
make your acquaintance."
"Katya lives in Moscow, but she's visiting me," Asya tells Eddie.
"Pleased to meet you. Eduard," Eddie introduces himself.
"Is that really your name?" the short-haired girl asks impudently, deftly moving
the cigarette to the other corner of her mouth. With her tongue. Eddie-baby knows how
it's done.
"It really is," Eddie-baby answers unequivocally.
"Well, I've got to be going," Eddie-baby announces. It seems to him that the girls
would rather be alone. "Don't forget you promised me a Romain Rolland book. The
(oul?" Eddie-baby says uncertainly.
"The (oul )nchanted," Asya answers. "Well, of course, take it, only it's about a
woman. It's really more of a woman's book. Are you sure you want it?"
"Give it to me," Eddie-baby decides. He enjoyed Romain Rolland's .ean/
Christo&he, and this book is probably a good one too.
It's already dark outside and no longer snowing, and the snow that has fallen is
melting on the ground. Here and there out of the Saltovka darkness - it's always dark in
Saltovka, since breaking streetlights is a peculiar sport of minors; Eddie-baby remembers
with a grin the slingshot Kostya once gave him - slowly walking couples emerge, or
whole groups of people loaded down with satchels containing whatever they're drinking
and snacking on, people who have come to visit and celebrate the October holidays.
Svetka has gone with her mother to visit relatives in Dnepropetrovsk, near
Kharkov, and so Eddie-baby is free for the evening. She'll be back tomorrow, and then
they'll go to Sashka Plotnikov's. Svetka wants to be able to tell her friends later on that
she spent the October holidays in the company of Sashka Plotnikov. For her that's the
same thing as being invited to the palace of a king. Eddie-baby knows that Svetka's vain,
but what can he do?
Eddie-baby turns in the direction of his own building. Veniamin Ivanovich is away
on a business trip, and his mother is probably celebrating the holiday with their
neighbors on the first floor, the ugly Auntie Marusya and the dignified, dark-haired Uncle
Vanya. They invited Eddie to come along too, only what would he do there among adults
who hold no interest for him? The other Auntie Marusya should be there as well, along
with her husband, Uncle Sasha Chepiga. "Uncle Sasha's a jolly fellow, but he's still a
member of the goat herd," Eddie-baby thinks scornfully.
Eddie-baby's mother enjoys great authority among the neighboring workers. She's
much better educated than they are, having once studied chemistry in a technical
secondary school, although the only time she actually worked was during the war. Since
then she has spent her life as a housewife, reading books. Both the Auntie Marusyas are
always coming to her for advice about their problems - Uncle Sasha drinks, and Uncle
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Vanya is far too good-looking for his Auntie Marusya (Eddie-baby takes it for granted that
he has had other women in his life) - so Raisa Fyodorovna plays the role of adviser all
day long.
"Uncle Vanya is probably a little in love with my mother," Eddie-baby thinks as he
strides in the direction of his building along the wet asphalt path that meanders through
the future forest of bushes and trees. He has noticed that his mother also behaves a little
oddly whenever she's around Uncle Vanya - as if she were embarrassed about
something. According to her, Uncle Vanya has Gypsy blood. "Maybe he actually does,"
Eddie-baby thinks. "He looks like one."
Eddie-baby's mother is for the most part bored in Saltovka; she has no real
friends here now. His father would be bored too, if he didn't spend all day at work or
away on his business trips. But Eddie's mother is a prisoner in Saltovka. She's much
higher class than her present worker and peasant girlfriends. Only a few years ago she
had much more interesting neighbors, half of whom were military people: Captain Posin's
family with his son, Valerka, who was almost Eddie-baby's age, just a year older, and the
military council member Sokolovsky with his two beautiful daughters, Galina and Larisa.
And there was the Shepelsky family, who lived in another part of the building -
Shepelsky himself, who was a Ph.D. and a rock climber, and his wife, Aleksandra
Vasilievna, and their two sons, the university students Vlad and Lyonka. True, Lyonka
turned up in Saltovka a little later, when he was already quite mad. He had lost his mind
in another city, in Pavlograd, apparently, and by the time he came to live with his
parents, he was an extraordinarily quiet and timid blue-eyed person. Eddie-baby
remembers how, during one of his attacks, he chopped off his little finger with a hatchet
and tossed it out the transom window onto the street below. Eddie also has a vivid
recollection of the arrival of the medical orderlies, who in a matter of minutes carried
Lyonka's bound body out of the building entrance adjacent to theirs and stuffed it into
the ambulance.
All of that belongs to the already ancient history of Building No.22 on First Cross
Street. Shepelsky long ago divorced his Aleksandra Vasilievna, and soon after that she
died. Shepelsky, however, married a young girl, one of his students who had gone
climbing with him in the Caucasus. Aleksandra Vasilievna couldn't climb mountains with
Shepelsky, since she was older than he was and had fat dropsical legs and was sick a lot.
When Shepelsky buried his former wife, Eddie-baby's mother went to the funeral, but she
didn't take Eddie-baby along with her, although he tried to go. Shepelsky was appointed
deputy minister of some Ukrainian industry and went to live in Kiev, where he moved
into a large apartment. His departure was like a signal, and after that Saltovka quickly
emptied. The military and other educated people all moved to the center of town, which
had been destroyed by the Germans but by then had been rebuilt, and noisy working-
class families - the proletariat, or as Kadik contemptuously calls them, the "hegemonic
element" - quickly moved into the vacuum they had left. There are good people among
them, such as the Auntie Marusyas and their husbands, but Eddie-baby's mother gets
tired of them sometimes.
Eddie-baby's mother was particularly despondent when the last of her close
friends, the Jew Beba, moved away from Saltovka with her husband, Dodik, and their
two sons, Mishka and Lyonka. Dodik was an engineer. Eddie-baby's mother wept when
Beba, Dodik, Mishka, and Lyonka left. They were very lively people, and the two families
used to spend their holidays together. Dodik was an amateur photographer, and Eddie-
baby's mother has a large number of snapshots in which Eddie-baby and Mishka and
Lyonka are standing in their little holiday, suits holding balloons, or lying on the May
grass with their faces turned toward the photographer, the playful Lyonka making faces
or sticking his tongue out,
After her friend Beba left, Eddie-baby's mother started to pine. A few days later
she got very mad at Veniamin Ivanovich, maintaining that his helplessness and lack of
character were destroying her life and that of her child - meaning Eddie-baby, of course,
since there wasn't any other child in the family. By "helplessness" and "lack of character"
she had in mind First Lieutenant Savenko's inability to obtain from his commanding
officers a new apartment in the center of town instead of here in Saltovka, a place that
civilization had left behind, and one whose streets were sunk in mud after every rain, not
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to mention the fact that they were living in a single room at a time when even some of
First Lieutenant's Savenko's subordinates had been given their own apartments, "so that
we are still stuck in this awful neighborhood where our son is compelled to sit at home
digging in books and making himself nearsighted, since he can't associate with the
hoodlums and rural children who populate Saltovka," as Eddie-baby's mother expressed
it in a torrent.
She was undoubtedly correct, although at the time there wasn't any indication of
the troubles that lay in store for the Savenko family and for Eddie-baby's upbringing
thanks to the Saltovka and Tyurenka punks whose company he would be forced to keep.
Eddie-baby's father disconcertedly answered his mother that he was an honest
person and that he therefore refused to use his position at work for his own personal
gain, and that, yes, some of his subordinates did on occasion obtain separate
apartments, but only those who had large families. "There's a waiting list for apartments
in our unit, and there are people ahead of me who need apartments much more than we
do," his father had said. And in response to the accusation that he lacked character and
was helpless, Eddie-baby's father suggested that his mother consider the fate of those
women whose husbands are confirmed drunkards or, even worse, womanizers. Eddie-
baby's father is neither a drunkard nor a womanizer, although he is good-looking, much
better-looking in fact than Eddie-baby is, as his mother sometimes tells Eddie-baby when
she wants to annoy him. His father has a straight nose, whereas Eddie-baby is snub-
nosed like his mother. And his father has large, beautiful eyes.
Eddie-baby grew up with the conviction inspired in him by his mother that "our
father is a good man, an exceptional man." Sometimes she tells Eddie-baby that his
father is too decent for his own good. Even during the period when Eddie-baby was
immersed in his books, he had already decided that he did not want to be good like his
father. Eddie-baby wanted to have his own room, or at least his own small room, where
he could put up his geography maps and spread out his books and his notes and hang up
his drawings of plants and animals and three-masted and two-masted ships with different
sailing rigs. But Eddie-baby's father was good, and so all of Eddie's property was kept in
the corner of the bathroom along with the other old things that were stored there. Slowly
but surely his father had begun to irritate him with his goodness.
Eddie-baby's life abruptly changed at the age of eleven the day after his fight with
Yurka Obeyuk. Yurka was a second-year student and therefore a year older than Eddie-
baby. Yurka had the healthy pink cheeks of a boy from the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk,
where he was born, and a strong, healthy body. In Eddie-baby's opinion, Yurka was a
complete fool. The inexperienced eleven-year-old Eddie didn't realize that a fool can still
be as strong as a young bull. As strong and just as dangerous.
They quarreled. Eddie-baby had drawn a completely harmless caricature of Yurka,
a picture of him asleep during class. And it was true that this healthy lad was always
falling asleep in the hot classroom. After Eddie-baby and another artist, Vitka Proutorov,
put up the class wall newspaper, Yurka pushed his way up to Eddie and said he wanted
to have it out with him. "Let's have it out, Savekha," he said. "Savekha" was a name
derived from Savenko, Eddie's last name. It was the fashion at the time among the
pupils of Secondary School No.8 to refer to each other using the suffix "-kha." Sitenko
was called "Sitekha," Karpenko was known as "Karpekha," and so on. As has already
been mentioned, Eddie-baby had managed quite well without a nickname during his
childhood; it was Kadik who started calling him Eddie-baby, which was hardly a true
nickname, since it actually wasn't very different from his real one.
Eddie-baby said, "All right, let's have it out." According to an unwritten law of
Secondary School No.8, refusing the challenge would have meant cowardice and
disgrace. They agreed to have it out in the empty classroom during the long recess.
The Siberian Yurka beat Eddie-baby till he was unconscious. And in the course of
that beating he abruptly changed Eddie's life - in the same way that the appearance of
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the angel Gabriel changed the life of Muhammad and turned him into a prophet, or the
falling apple turned Newton into Newton.
When Eddie-baby regained consciousness, he was lying on the floor in the empty
classroom. Several of his fellow students were standing around him with frightened
expressions on their faces, and Yurka Obeyuk was calmly sitting a little farther away at
one of the desks.
"Did you get the point?" Yurka said as soon as he saw that Eddie-baby had
opened his eyes.
"I got it," Eddie-baby agreed. Whether he had gotten it or not, he did at least
have a good grasp of objective reality. Accompanied by those who sympathized with him,
he proceeded to the boys' lavatory, where they washed off the chalk and dust on his
trousers and his black velveteen jacket. Five-kopeck pieces warmly offered by his
compassionate classmates were placed over the black-and-blue marks that completely
covered his face. And with that the incident was closed.
On his way home that day after school, Eddie-baby analyzed his life, looking at it
from various points of view. The whole eleven years of it. When he got home he was
somewhat distracted from this process by the terrified cries of his mother and by the
need to parry her questions about "Who?" "Where?" and "When?"
Eddie-baby said only that he had been in a fight. "Who" had beaten him up he
didn't say, justifiably regarding that as his own affair. The questions as to "when" and
"where" were irrelevant, as far as he was concerned.
That day he didn't touch his French kings or his Roman emperors, nor did he open
up any of his notebooks or immerse himself in any of his volumes. He lay on the couch
with his face turned toward its soft back and thought. He heard his father come in, and
he even stood up obediently so that his father could examine the black-and-blue marks
and welts that covered his face, but almost immediately he lay down again in the same
position with his face toward the wall. When he finally got tired of his father and mother's
buzzing behind his back, he pulled one of the cushions out and covered his head with it.
Just as his father did when he lay down on Sunday after dinner to take a nap. Eddie-
baby, however, didn't sleep. He thought.
He didn't sleep all night. But when he got up the next morning, dressed, washed,
and proceeded to the kitchen like an automaton to eat his usual breakfast of fried eggs
and sausage, and then took his father's old field bag, which he used for a briefcase, and
set off for school, he was already a different person. A completely different person.
Eddie-baby even now vividly remembers that morning down to the smallest
details: the bright springtime sunshine and how he walked along the path behind his
building, his usual route, in order to come out onto his own First Cross Street, which
would take him to school. That day, however, Eddie-baby stopped for a while behind the
building under the windows of Vladka and Lyonka Shepelsky, put his field bag down on
the ground, untied and removed his Young Pioneer kerchief, and stuck it in his pocket.
This gesture had nothing to do with rejection of the Pioneer organization; rather, the
removal of the kerchief was for Eddie-baby a symbol of the start of his new life. Eddie-
baby had decided to leave his books behind and enter the real world, and in that world to
become the strongest and the boldest.
He had decided to become a different person and to do so that very day. Although
he had always been quiet and self-absorbed for the most part, that day Eddie-baby made
jokes and insolently biting remarks about the teachers, which so astonished the French
teacher that she threw him out of class, and he spent the rest of the lesson hanging
around the hallway catching flies and sunning himself on the windowsill in the first spring
sunshine with the big second-year student Prikhodko. It was with Prikhodko that he
committed the first sex crime of his life. They burst into the girls' lavatory on the fourth
floor, where several girls from the fifth-year A class were hiding out from gym, and
started "feeling them up." Eddie-baby had seen other students doing the same thing, but
until then he had never felt any desire to "feel up" girls himself.
During the raid on the girls' lavatory, Eddie-baby, imitating Prikhodko, fell on his
victim from behind, a plump girl named Nastya whose last name he didn't know,
grabbing her by what might very approximately be termed her breasts. The girl tried to
break loose, but she didn't want to yell too loudly, lest they hear her in the classrooms
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and punish her for cutting gym, so she scratched at him and squealed quietly. Irritated
by her resistance and once more following the example of Prikhodko, who by then had
managed to pin the truly ample-breasted Olya Olyanich (she was already fourteen) to the
washstand and had stuck his hands under her skirt, the green Eddie-baby also thrust
both his hands under Nastya's school uniform skirt and grabbed her where girls have
their "twats." Eddie-baby had known the word "twat" ever since the second year, and he
knew where the thing was supposed to be.
Two of Eddie-baby's second-year classmates had once tried to rape Larka Gavrilov
- Tolka Zakharov and the Kolka who went by the nickname "Backstreet Scraps" (his
other nickname was less complicated and more humiliating: the "Pisser," in honor of the
fact that, as the kids said, he still pissed himself, that is, still wet his bed). They had
attempted the rape during the long recess, on the pile of overcoats that lay on the rear
desks in the classroom, since at the time they didn't hang their coats in the cloakroom.
Even though he's fifteen now, Eddie-baby still has no idea how eight-year-old boys could
"attempt to rape" an eight-year-old girl. "What with?" Eddie-baby grins. What sort of
penis could an eight-year-old have, even if he was a punk like Tolka Zakharov or Kolka
the Pisser? Kolka and Tolka were both expelled from school, but they returned two weeks
Eddie-baby seized Nastya by her "twat" under her skirt. There where Nastya had
her twat it was very warm. He seized her by that warm area and squeezed. Nastya
started bellowing the instant he did so. It seemed to Eddie-baby that Nastya was not
merely warm there but also moist. "She probably just peed," he surmised.
In response to the girls' cries, though they hadn't been very loud, the custodian
Vasilievna came running in (she and her husband, the hall porter Uncle Vasya, lived in a
small house in the schoolyard) and started lashing at the kids with a wet rag, shouting
that they were mad dogs and that the proper place for them was in jail. "Run for it!"
yelled Prikhodko, and letting go of the girls and shielding themselves from the rag, they
burst into the hallway and raced off.
After the incident in the girls' lavatory, Eddie-baby earned Prikhodko's patronizing
approval along with his unconcealed admiration. It was then too that Eddie-baby began
his friendship with the Plague - Vovka Chumakov - and in March ran off with him to
Thanks to a combination of circumstances, the escape to Brazil became widely
known throughout Secondary School No.8. Before running off, Eddie-baby and the Plague
had hidden their bookbags under some pieces of rusty iron in the basement of the
Plague's building - since what need would a person have for a bookbag in Brazil? It's
unclear why they took the trouble to hide the bookbags instead of simply throwing them
away. They had no intention of ever coming back to Kharkov from Brazil.
Whatever the reason, the bookbags were found by some electricians who had
gone down to the basement to repair the building's electrical system. The electricians
solemnly brought the bookbags to the school, where they were turned over to Rachel,
the boys' classroom teacher. By then a search was already under way for Eddie-baby and
the Plague.
Remembering his escape to Brazil, today's Eddie-baby smiles condescendingly.
The first naive attempts. Even Eddie doesn't understand anymore what it was that
possessed them to try to go to Brazil on foot and by compass. Whatever it was, he and
the Plague went south. Naturally, it didn't take them very long to get lost, and instead of
finding Brazil, they found themselves ten kilometers out of town in the city dump, where
bums and cripples robbed them of the whole sum - 135 rubles and 90 kopecks - they
had saved for their escape, leaving them with nothing but a couple of geography books
that Eddie-baby had brought along to bolster his own and the Plague's resolve through
examination of the photographs and drawings of tropical animals and birds and the sultry
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landscapes of Amazonia that the books contained. One of the books was called .ourney
Through (outh merica.
It was the end of March and still very cold, even though all the snow had melted
during the February thaw. Without money they'd never reach Brazil, as the Plague, the
son of a laundrywoman and the more practical of the two, quite sensibly explained to the
stubbornly romantic Eddie-baby as they sat next to a fire burning in an old steel barrel.
They wouldn't even get as far as the Crimea, where Eddie-baby had proposed waiting
until it got really warm before moving westward by compass in the direction of Odessa,
where they would stow away on a ship going to Brazil. "Let's go home," the Plague had
Eddie-baby didn't want to go home; he was ashamed to. Eddie-baby was a lot
more stubborn than the Plague. The Plague set off without compass in search of a bus
stop, while Eddie-baby stayed behind and spent the night stripped down to his undershirt
beside a steaming boiler in the boiler room of a large apartment building. Mice or rats
were rustling in the corners, and Eddie-baby stayed up all night. The next morning, as he
was trying to steal a loaf of bread from a bakery, he was apprehended by the salesgirls
and turned over to the militia.
Today's Eddie-baby is standing in front of his building, No.22 First Cross Street,
but he has no desire whatever to go home or to go to Auntie Marusya's. And so, after
gazing pensively for a while at Auntie Marusya's lighted windows on the first floor, he
decides to visit the benches under the lindens. Maybe some of the kids will be there, and
maybe they can all have a drink and shoot the breeze. Therefore, zipping up his yellow
jacket all the way to his throat and sticking his hands in his pockets and pressing The
(oul )nchanted lent to him by Asya ever more tightly under his arm, Eddie-baby
cheerfully sets off in the direction of Saltov Road, taking the asphalt path that leads past
Kadik's building. Not far from that building is a large, noxious public toilet, which Eddie-
baby needs to visit. If all he had to do was "take a leak," he would stand next to any wall
(manners being unpretentious in Saltovka), but unfortunately he has to do a "big job," as
his parents would say, or "dump a load," as Kadik might put it, or "take a shit," as the
crudest inhabitants of Saltovka would say. Because of its crudeness Eddie-baby is
embarrassed even to say this last denomination of the daily physiological process out
The toilet is a stone hut with two entrances, the men's and the women's, and it's
almost the only public toilet on this, "their" side of Saltov Road. Eddie-baby can't stand
going inside it, but since he now spends the better part of his time on the street (his
father and mother recall with nostalgic longing, as for some lost paradise, the time when
it was impossible to get him to go outside), it is an establishment that he is sometimes
obliged to visit.
Pushing open the wooden door, Eddie-baby notes with horror that the whole toilet
is flooded with a nasty mixture of water and urine, although across that liquid expanse
some anonymous folk craftsmen have laid a makeshift bridge constructed of bricks
brought from somewhere outside the building and leading to a raised wooden platform
with three holes cut into it. Trying not to breathe the foul air, Eddie-baby balances his
way along the bricks over the murky swill and, dropping his trousers, squats over one of
the holes. Since he has to breathe from time to time, he becomes aware against his will
that the toilet smells not only of urine and excrement but also of vomit. The corner of the
wooden platform opposite him is in fact thickly covered with it. The vomit is an artificial
red color; obviously the victim who left the contents of his stomach behind there had
been celebrating the forty-first anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution by
drinking nothing but cahors, or fortified red. Specialists and professionals (Eddie-baby is
a professional) are of the opinion that up to fifty percent of Soviet fortified red wine
actually consists of dye, and that it will eat away the stomach of any idiot foolish enough
to drink it.
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From a rusty nail on the toilet wall Eddie-baby tears a scrap of newspaper left by
some decent soul of the kind that will always be with us, and. wipes himself with it,
remembering with a grin the theory advanced by Slavka the Gypsy that the ink in
newsprint is harmful to the asshole, and that continual wiping with newspapers can give
you cancer of the rectum.
Today the toilet is so disgusting that Eddie-baby hurries to get out of it as fast as
he can, but he makes an unforgivable mistake. Standing up to toss the paper into the
hole, he inadvertently looks down and notices that the level of excrement under the
platform is unusually high, that no more than ten or fifteen centimeters separates it from
the platform, and that squirming around in it are pinkish white worms!
"Jesus fucking Christ!" Eddie cries out in horror, and rushes away over the bricks
and out of the disgusting cloaca, swearing at himself for having looked down. After
putting at least fifty meters between himself and the loathsome, always lit building, he
sighs with relief.
Eddie-baby is pleasantly surprised to find not only Cat and Lyova sitting on the
benches under the lindens, but also Red Sanya, who after all isn't supposed to be there.
Between Cat, Lyova, and Sanya are a half-liter of Stolichnaya and a white bowl
containing some cucumbers and slices of roast meat. The bowl has obviously been
brought by Cat and Lyova, whose building - No.5 - is nearby. Sanya's building is closer
to Eddie-baby's.
"Hey, Ed!" the three mates shout with delight.
Eddie-baby doesn't answer but just walks up to them, silently smiling. He knows
that if he asks "What?" or says "Yes?" all three worthies will happily and gallantly shout
back in unison, "Eat my dick for supper!" Eddie-baby isn't offended by this - it's a
traditional, jocular flourish - but remembering it, he doesn't answer.
To be fair, it should be said that the same thing holds for Cat, Lyova, and Sanya.
Sanya might call out "Cat!" and if Cat forgets and answers "What?" he will invariably get
the response "Suck my cock!" and a roar of laughter. It's a friendly if coarse joke and
nothing more.
"Sit down, Ed," says Sanya. "Lyova, pour the boy a drink."
Lyova pours Eddie-baby half a glass of vodka. Eddie drinks the cold, biting liquid,
and after a respectable pause he says,
"Hey, Sanya, I thought you were going to Rezany's."
Only when he has spoken these words does Eddie-baby permit himself to reach
out for a slice of meat and a cucumber. To be unhurried in the domain of drinking is a
sign of superior skill.
It turns out that even though it's only half past nine, Sanya has already managed
to have a tremendous fight with Dora, his hairdresser girlfriend, and has told her to go
fuck herself, slapped her face, and walked out of Tolya Rezany's, slamming the door
behind him (Tolya's a butcher too, and Sanya and Dora usually spend their holidays at
his place), which is why Sanya's now sitting on a bench under the lindens. Where else
can a young man from Saltovka go, where else can he take his grief and his troubles,
and who else is there to console him and bring him good cheer, if not his loyal friends
and a good glass of vodka?
"Fucking slut!" says Sanya in reference to his hairdresser, and chases his vodka
with a cucumber. "And she acts like her cherry's never been popped. Abanya told me a
month ago that some dude from Zhuravlyovka by the name of Zhorka Bazhok was
screwing her. I didn't believe him then, but now I see he was right!"
"You ought to tell her to fuck off for good, Sanya," Lyova says. "You can always
find yourself another pussy, can't you? All you have to do is whistle and a dozen will
come running to old Red."
"Just ask Svetka," Eddie-baby chimes in, thinking of Sanya's sister. "She has
plenty of girlfriends; she'll pick a good one out for you."
"Why the fuck should I ask anybody?" Sanya objects, maybe a little offended. "All
I have to do is walk into a dance and every cunt in the place is looking at me, waiting for
me to take her out and fuck her. As far as my sister Svetka is concerned" - and here
Sanya turns to Eddie - "she's still pissing her bed, and her little friends are more your
age, Ed. To me they're just minors."
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Eddie-baby doesn't say anything. He's ashamed to be a minor.
Crunching their cucumbers, the group falls into a melancholy silence. Now and
again from the neighboring buildings comes the sound of a drunken song, or snatches of
music, or a burst of laughter.
"Well, shall we get another bottle, then?" Cat breaks the silence, addressing
"Why not?" Sanya agrees, and reaches into his pocket for some money. "Grocery
Store No.7 is open till twelve tonight."
"I've got some cash." Cat stops Sanya. Cat's a decent guy and earns very good
money at his factory. Sanya, of course, earns a lot more as a butcher, and on top of that
he's always well supplied with meat, but he's also pretty careless about how he spends
his money. Cat wants to treat everybody now, which is his right, and so Sanya doesn't
object, and takes his hand out of the pocket of his beige Hungarian ratin overcoat.
Cat gets up from the bench, straightens his jacket - he and Lyova have come
outside without their coats on - says, "All right, I'll be back in a minute," and leaves.
"Buy a couple of bottles of Zhiguli, if they have any," Lyova calls after him as he
walks away.
"Okay, fatso," Cat replies without turning around.
After taking only a couple of steps, however, Cat stops and looks hard in the
direction of the trolley stop.
"Hey, guys," he announces, "there's a trash coming! This way!"
"Let the fucker come," Sanya says calmly. "We don't owe him anything. There's
no more vodka left anyway. He's wasting his time."
His heavy boots thumping and his greatcoat unbuttoned, the militia officer comes
running up to the benches. Eddie-baby knows him, as do the others. The trash Stepan
Dubnyak, a man of nearly fifty, naturally cannot be a good person, but on the other
hand, however tricky he may be, he's still not a complete shit. If he ever puts any of the
kids in for fifteen days, he always brings them a bottle in his pocket, even though
drinking in jail is of course prohibited. Several times Stepan has managed to avoid taking
Saltovka kids in when he ought to have arrested them, and so on. Stepan wants to live in
peace with the local punks. Now that Sanya has moved from the Horse Market to the
new food store on Materialist Street - the same one that Eddie-baby and Vovka the
Boxer broke into once - Stepan's wife buys her meat from him. He puts aside some nice
pieces for her. Or at least that's what he tells her. Sanya likes to have fun at his
customers' expense. One day on a bet, in Eddie-baby's presence, he pulled out the thick
red lining from somebody's galoshes, hacked it up with a cleaver on his butcher block,
smeared it with blood, and then sold it as a makeweight on somebody else's order. The
whole thing.
"What's the matter, Styopa?" Sanya asks in a falsely sympathetic tone. "The dogs
chasing you or something?"
"Give me a hand, boys!" Stepan blurts out, gasping for breath. "Some blackasses
in the Twelfth Construction Battalion have mutinied. They got high on hashish, and now
they're coming up Materialist Street toward the Stakhanovite Club. They're beating up
everybody in their path, they've already raped a girl,. and now they're coming here!
They beat my partner Nikolai senseless - I had to leave him at the club."
Judging by Stepan's face, the business is serious. He looks scared, and he doesn't
scare easily.
"How many?" Cat asks. "The whole battalion?"
"There were about twenty," Stepan says, breathing heavily, "but now there are
ten or twelve. All Uzbeks. The ringleader's a Russian, a sergeant. Apparently their
relatives brought the hashish from Uzbekistan for the holiday. They've gone completely
berserk, foaming at the mouth."
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"Why the fuck should we stick our necks out just to help the trashes?" Lyova
growls. "I've served time, thanks to you, so count me out."
"Are they armed?" Sanya asks Stepan, ignoring Lyova's grumbling.
"No, thank God. They've taken their belts off and are swinging the buckles
around. They're beating up everybody regardless, even women and children. Help me
out, boys. I'll never forget it! There's nobody at the station except the duty officers, and
by the time they get help from the other precincts, who knows how many people those
blackassed hoodlums will mutilate."
"What about it?" Sanya asks, speaking mainly to Cat. "Shall we help the forces of
the militia, the party, and the government in their struggle against the blackassed
Looking at Sanya, Eddie-baby realizes that he needs to take out the rage he feels
against Dora the hairdresser on somebody.
"What the hell have the party and the government got to do with it! They're
bashing your own girls. They just gang-raped a girl in the park!" Stepan shouts.
"If they catch mine, she'll be glad," Sanya laughs.
"Come on," Cat agrees. "Let's go!" He doesn't ask Lyova, knowing he'll come with
them anyway.
They all run after Stepan across the trolley tracks and into the darkness -
Stepan, and then Sanya, well built for all his twenty-two years, and then the powerful
Cat, as heavy as the barbells he lifts, and then Lyova and Eddie-baby, although nobody
asked him to come and he's a bit scared.
At the poorly lit Stakhanovite Club (closed for the day), two frightened old
doormen inform Stepan that the drugged, mutinous soldiers did not, as it turns out, head
for the Stakhanovite Club as Stepan had expected, but have for some reason run on
toward the practically deserted and uninhabited area over by Saburov's Dacha. That area
is bounded on one side by the fence that surrounds the Hammer and Sickle Factory and
extends for several kilometers there, and on the other side by the Piston Factory, while
through it and parallel to the factories on either side runs the trolley line that takes
people to and from Saltovka.
Eddie-baby thinks it's very possible that the soldiers have just gotten lost, since
there is absolutely nothing for those nomads crazed by some Asiatic narcotic to do in that
area. Beyond those two kilometers of wasteland, marshy in places and overgrown with
several years of weeds, there are only more residential blocks, and beyond them the city.
Perhaps that's where the soldiers want to go?
"Where are your fucking auxiliaries today?" Sanya shouts to Stepan as they run
along, their elbows working furiously, in pursuit of the savage nomads in the direction
indicated by the doormen.
"They're no goddamn use!" Stepan shouts back in despair. "None of them want to
go out on patrol on a holiday."
Breathing heavily, they all pound away for a while in silence along one of the
fences flanking the open rectangle. Its numbered steel sections flash by - 2, 3, 5, 7, .
20, and more, as Eddie-baby counts them off to himself.
At the place where the fences on either side of the rectangle converge in a sharp
angle and the narrow asphalt path abruptly turns toward the trolley line, they are met by
flying stones and a terrible howling. It isn't even a howling, more like a concerted roar -
something on the order of a distorted "Hurra-a-a-h!" coming from invisible throats in the
"Goddamn!" Stepan curses angrily but impotently as he ducks the cobblestones,
as heavy as cannonballs. His voice trembles, as if he were crying. "There's no fucking
way we'll get them out of there! We're the ones who have to pay just because those
asshole workmen haven't finished repaving the road."
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The fact is that the blackasses have taken refuge behind a natural barricade of
cobblestones, about a meter and a half high, left there by road workers who are now
probably off getting drunk somewhere, with no inkling of what is happening at their
abandoned workplace.
Stepan, Sanya, Cat, and Lyova, and behind them Eddie-baby, are forced to beat a
hasty retreat beyond the range of the heavy cobblestones and talk the situation over.
"We've got to hold them until the militia cars arrive," Stepan says.
"No fucking way," Sanya objects. "The main thing is to catch the sergeant, and
then the rest will run for it."
"Catch him, what do you mean catch him!" the militia officer sneers at Sanya.
"How are we going to do that? There are only four of us and at least ten of them."
"Five of us," Eddie-baby observes grimly and resolutely as he pushes his way into
the circle, but nobody pays any attention to him.
"Why don't you shoot them, you pussy?" Sanya asks Stepan. "What the fuck do
you think they gave you a TT for? So you can catch crooks with your bare hands?"
"I can't do that," Stepan answers severely. "If I kill somebody and he's not armed,
and a soldier to boot, I'll have to stand trial. I can't use the gun."
"You asshole!" Sanya says in a rage. "Shoot and they'll shit all over themselves.
We'll all swear that it was in self-defense. If you don't want to shoot because you're
afraid of killing them, then shoot at their legs."
"I can't do it!" Stepan cuts him off. "I can't do it."
"Well, give the cannon to me, then," Sanya says, "and I'll get the sergeant."
"How can I entrust a militia pistol to you!" Stepan says, losing his temper. "Are
you joking?"
"You asshole! You fucking asshole!" Sanya curses him.
Their argument is interrupted by an outburst of roaring and a hail of stones. This
time the situation is a great deal more serious. The frenzied soldiers have come out from
behind their barricade and are running toward them. Eddie-baby can see them for the
first time. Only a few of them are in greatcoats, despite the November cold. Without
belts, their uniform tunics hang on them like peasant shirts, and their open collars reveal
their white undershirts, which emphasizes their swarthy oriental features. Wrapped
around the right hand of each is a wide army-issue tunic belt with a heavy brass buckle.
Anybody taking one of those buckles in the side or top of his head usually falls down
unconscious. Fighting with belt buckles is normal army practice. The soldiers are now
running straight at them, swinging their belts in the air.
Sanya, Cat, and Lyova, the last limping, pick up the cobblestones thrown by the
soldiers and hurl them back at them. Eddie-baby follows their example. Without much
success. As in a slow-motion film, Eddie-baby sees the frenzied faces of the soldiers
coming dangerously closer.
As if to give Eddie-baby a better look at what is happening, a previously inaudible
trolley car rolls up and comes to an enforced halt, furiously ringing all its bells. It can't go
any farther, since some of the soldiers are running across the trolley line and several
large cobblestones are lying on top of the tracks.
The soldiers are now less than ten meters from the militia officer and the kids,
who have all taken cover behind a pile of telephone poles. Stepan's trembling fingers
move to the vicinity of his holster.
"Shoot, you asshole, or they'll bash our heads in! Shoot!" shouts Sanya.
Cat grabs Stepan by the arm and tries to take the pistol away from him.
Stepan wrenches himself free and holds the pistol at arm's length. The pistol
shakes in his hand. Stepan is terrified.
"Shoot!" shouts Sanya.
"Shoot, you pussy!" shouts Lyova in a fury.
"Shoot at their legs!" yells Cat.
"Shoot!" shouts Eddie-baby.
Accompanied by the ceaseless chiming of the trolley's bells, the militia sergeant
finally squeezes the trigger several times in succession. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Four
shots ring out in the night air, and four times the invisible bullets strike sparks on the
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cobbled roadway under and between the feet of the advancing horde, bringing it to a
sudden halt.
Clustered behind Stepan, the kids see the soldiers running back into the darkness
to take cover behind their barricade. In a shower of sparks, a second trolley car, also
ringing its bells, rolls up behind the first. Its doors are closed, and its passengers' faces
are pressed against the windows.
Stepan fires several more times and then changes the magazine.
The soldiers have taken cover behind the barricade, but not all of them. One large
figure stops, as if changing his mind, then utters a desperate roar - "A-a-a-h!" - and
sets out again toward Stepan and the kids.
"The ringleader!" Stepan says hoarsely, "the sergeant!" and steps back.
"That's the one we want," Sanya says. "Distract his attention, Stepan, tease him,
while Cat and I sneak around along the fence and grab him from behind. He's in such a
fucked-up state he won't notice."
Cat and Sanya drop down on all fours and creep toward the fence, staying close to
the ground.
The sergeant is no longer running but advancing ponderously toward the
retreating Stepan, Lyova, and Eddie-baby, who has stayed with them.
"Shoot, you motherfucker!" shouts the sergeant. "Shoot, you goddamn prick! Go
on, shoot a Russian soldier, you goddamn militia bastard!"
"Give up, you asshole, or you'll be sorry!" Lyova shouts to the sergeant. All three,
including Eddie-baby, retreat before the advancing hulk of the sergeant, waiting for the
moment when Sanya and Cat will drop on him from behind.
Suddenly the trolley driver switches on his headlights, and the whole scene is
bathed in yellow light. The sergeant is no longer a dark, massive figure but can now be
clearly seen. He walks toward them, pulling open his uniform tunic with both hands so as
to bare his chest, and despite the November temperature, drops of sweat are visible on
his forehead. Unlike the soldiers, whose heads are shaved, his reddish hair is in a crew
cut. He comes closer and closer. Stepan cautiously waves his TT, once more holding it
out at arm's length.
"You asshole! Don't do it!" Lyova shouts at the sergeant.
"Don't do what, or do it to whom?" Eddie-baby wonders, failing to understand.
Suddenly, looking at Stepan, who is bent almost double with the TT pointed straight
ahead, he realizes that Stepan doesn't actually know how to shoot. "Was he at the front
during the war?" Eddie-baby wonders for some reason.
"Shoot me in the chest, you bastard! Shoot a Russian soldier!" the sergeant keeps
shouting in a senseless, brutal way, and bending down, he picks up a cobblestone lying
in his path and lifts it over his head.
"I'll kill you-u-u!" he shouts in a savage voice, and lunges forward, only to crash
to the ground along with the stone under the weight of Cat and Sanya, who have hurled
themselves on him from behind.
The soldiers, who turn out to be closer than anyone expected, silently dash out
from behind their fortification to assist their leader and superior officer, but Stepan fires
at their feet and legs again, this time more coolly, once again striking beautiful yellow
sparks on the pavement.
Almost at that very moment the scene is enlivened by the sudden arrival of three
militia cars and the militia officers who leap out of them. Under Stepan's leadership, they
attempt to catch the soldiers. Both trolley drivers simultaneously open their doors, and
crowds of slightly drunk, festively dressed men tumble out, trying to find out what's
going on.
Eddie-baby hears his name: "Hey, Ed!" Sanya is calling him, and has obviously
been calling him for a long time, since his voice sounds angry.
"Goddamn it, Ed, where the fuck are you?! Come here!" Eddie-baby runs toward
the voice.
Sanya and Cat have the defeated Russian Samson pinned to the ground. The
Samson is wheezing and trying to move. Despite Sanya's hundred kilograms and Cat's
trained muscles, it's no easy matter for them to keep the sergeant immobile.
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"Ed, where the fuck have you been?" Sanya says in a friendlier tone. "Pull the belt
out of the stallion's pants!"
Eddie-baby cautiously pulls the sergeant's tunic up and unbuckles the belt on his
"Get your hands off me, you little fuck, or I'll break your neck!" the sergeant
wheezes through his bloodstained mouth.
"Shut up, stallion!" Sanya says to the sergeant in an affectionate tone while
punching him in the face from above as though with a hammer. Sanya's blow is a heavy
one; his hand is hard. He constantly toughens it by striking its edge against hard
surfaces. He can easily break a good-sized piece of wood in two. The sergeant falls silent.
Sanya and Cat turn the sergeant over onto his stomach and tie his hands together
with his belt as tightly as they can.
"We'll go take a look around while you stand guard over this criminal, Ed," Cat
says mockingly. He's obviously amused by his role as defender of law and order. Noticing
the wary look Eddie-baby is giving the sergeant, he adds, "Don't be afraid of him. If
anything happens, just kick him in the neck or the face with the steel tip of your shoe."
"And don't feel sorry for him," Sanya adds. "If he gets loose, he certainly won't
feel sorry for you."
Eddie and the sergeant are left by themselves. Nearby, shots and cries are heard
- the militia officers are rounding up the soldiers.
The sergeant, still lying prone just as Sanya and Cat left him, raises his bloodied
face from the ground and whispers,
"Untie me, son, huh? I'm a Russian, from Saratov. And you're a Russian too. Untie
Eddie-baby remains silent.
"You little fuck!" the sergeant whispers. "I'll untie myself and rip your dick off!" He
begins to strain his hands in an effort to loosen the strap binding them together, and
propping himself on the ground with his knees, he tries to stand up.
Eddie-baby, hardly even looking at him, kicks the sergeant in the ribs as hard as
he can with the tip of his shoe.
"Oh-h-h!" howls the sergeant. "You little scum! You filthy little bastard! You little
A couple of years ago Eddie-baby would have untied the sergeant. Once, in
response to a tearful plea, he had released mean Lyonka the Vixen after beating him up
in Building No.3 - Lyonka lay underneath Eddie-baby, who had his hands around
Lyonka's throat. Eddie-baby let him go. That unnecessary civility turned out badly for
Eddie in the most concrete way: Lyonka stabbed him in the hip. And even though the
knife was a small one and the wound was shallow and didn't take very long to heal,
Eddie-baby was goddamned if he would ever let anybody go again.
"I'll run into you sometime, you' little scum!" the sergeant whispers. His loglike
arms instinctively tense, as if an electric current were passing through his nerves. "I'll
tear your throat out in one bite!" he goes on with hatred.
Eddie-baby kicks the sergeant in the ribs several times more, with almost
automatic abandon. So the bastard will stop threatening him!
The returning Cat, Lyova, and several militia officers catch Eddie-baby in the
middle of this activity.
"Hey, hey!" shouts one of the trashes. "Lad, lad, stop! That's enough, you'll kick
him to pieces, and we still have to turn him over to the military authorities."
"There's no way you'll kick goddamn scum like that to pieces!" Sanya says,
standing up for Eddie. "Look at him, he's made out of cobblestones or something."
The militia officers, along with Sanya, Cat, Lyova, and Stepan, who has once
again returned to the scene of the action, lift the sergeant up from the ground and set
him on his feet. Only now does Eddie-baby really appreciate just how unusually large the
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sergeant is. Sanya and Cat take the sergeant by his arms, which are still tied behind his
back, and pull him toward one of the militia cars. Stepan obviously has another plan,
however, since he stops the kids, leads them a short distance away from the other militia
officers, and says in a half-whisper,
"Listen, Sanya, don't be a fool! If it hadn't been for you boys, there's no fucking
way we would have caught the sergeant. After all, these people" - he nods in the
direction of the other militia officers - "arrived after the fact. We need to take the
sergeant to the station ourselves and hand him over directly to Major Aleshinsky. He's
already at the station; they called him at home for a big thing like this." Then, changing
his businesslike tone to a more confidential one, he continues,
"Major Aleshinsky has it in for you, Sanya. But if we turn up with these goods" -
Stepan nods in the direction of the sergeant - "he'll change his mind and maybe even
arrange some official reward for you: 'For assisting the forces of the militia in preserving
law and order,' or something like that. What do you say?"
"Stepan's right, Sanya," Cat says. "And it wouldn't be such a bad idea for Lyova
and me to show ourselves at the station either. We still have suspended three-year
"All right, let's go to the station," Sanya agrees, although reluctantly.
Stepan informs his own and the other militia officers that they first have to take
the arrested sergeant to be identified by the raped girl at the Stakhanovite Club, where
there's an official Fifteenth Militia Precinct substation, and only then to the main station.
The trashes have no objection, so Stepan takes one of the arrested soldiers (as if
also for identification, but in fact so that everything will look more businesslike) and
quickly forms a small procession. Stepan and Cat go in front, each holding on to an arm
of the arrested Uzbek soldier. His tunic is torn at the shoulder and soaked in blood. He
looks scared. The effect of the hashish is obviously beginning to wear off, and he now
realizes that something not very pleasant is taking place. After the Uzbek come Sanya
and Lyova, leading the still snarling sergeant, who from time to time tries to stop. The
curious Eddie-baby goes with them, first running a little ahead and then dropping
This main group is accompanied by a dozen or so civilian bystanders, mostly thrill-
seeking drunks from the two trolleys.
They don't go into the Stakhanovite Club, of course. Outstripping his rivals, the
satisfied careerist Stepan walks with long, quick strides down Materialist Street, hurrying
to reach the militia station as quickly as possible and there present himself to Major
Aleshinsky as the conqueror who has captured the mutineers' ringleader.
Eddie-baby can tell from the behavior of his older comrades that they don't really
want to rush anywhere or even walk quickly, and that further developments are of little
interest to them, despite the temptation of making an appearance before the
commanding officer of the Fifteenth Militia Precinct not in their customary role as
hoodlums and criminals but as conscientious auxiliary forces aiding the militia in its
struggle against lawbreaking soldiers and gangsters.
Cat is the first to leave. Eddie-baby sees him turn the arm of the Uzbek he is
holding (the Uzbek's other arm is being pulled along by Stepan Dubnyak himself) over to
a zealous little man in a white cap and a shabby raincoat with raglan sleeves. The little
man grabs the arm with ferocious eagerness. Now free, and glad of it, as is clear from his
face, Cat drops behind a little way and for a time walks beside Sanya and Lyova,
whispering something to Lyova, obviously trying to get him to detach himself from the
procession too.
And in fact Lyova does need to take a leak, as he loudly announced a few minutes
ago, so he now hands over his post as escort to yet another bystander eager to take part
in the affair - a Georgian of criminal appearance who delightedly seizes hold of the
sergeants rocklike biceps.
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"Well, you guys go ahead and piss," Stepan says, turning around to Cat and
Lyova, "then catch up with us!"
They are now passing Grocery Store No.7, which is still open. The crowd by the
store cries out to them in greeting - in the same way, probably, that the Romans hailed
their men when they returned from a campaign against a neighboring tribe. The crowd's
information, however, is obviously the reverse of the facts, since some of its members
are maliciously yelling in Stepan's direction:
"Hey, trash, what did you grab the soldiers for? Let 'em go!"
"It's not militia business. Soldiers are the MPs' responsibility," somebody else says
in a bass voice.
"What, aren't they allowed to celebrate the holiday too?" says somebody else in
the crowd.
"Move along!" Stepan yells, without explaining anything to the crowd or even
Eddie-baby grins. The people have decided that anybody arrested by the
authorities is necessarily a victim - even if before being arrested the victim has shot at
people with a submachine gun, as was the case, or so they say, with a soldier at Kursk
Station in Moscow. His girlfriend had cheated on him, and so he walked into the train
station and started shooting into the crowd with an AK-47. He went berserk. "What idiots
they are!" Eddie-baby thinks contemptuously.
Eddie-baby's thoughts are interrupted by Sanya, who says to him in an undertone
so that neither the giant sergeant nor the Georgian will hear,
"Ed, take my place and lead this stallion to the militia station, but whatever you
do, don't go inside, all right? I'm going to. take a leak too."
Sanya gives Eddie a meaningful look, winks, and disappears into the crowd
without even telling Stepan.
Eddie-baby doesn't understand why they have to forgo the triumphant entrance
they have all earned. How come the other guys are refusing to go to the militia station
and present themselves to the dreaded major for the first time as heroes instead of
criminals and hooligans involved in one scrape or another? "It's stupid!" Eddie thinks.
"Stupid. The next time one of us was brought in on a minor charge, the major might
have let him off. After all, they always let their auxiliaries off."
Eddie-baby soon realizes, however, that if the older kids have decided to refuse
the pleasure of the triumph, then it's because they have a good reason. He has no idea
what that reason might be, but he's used to trusting Sanya. And he therefore continues
to hold on to the sergeant's biceps and obediently follow the procession on its way to the
militia station.
But several minutes later, after reaching the Fifteenth Militia Precinct station,
constructed of the same white brick as almost all the other buildings in Saltovka, Eddie
remains outside, as if lingering there, and allows the proud Georgian to squeeze through
the doorway with their prisoner, the granitelike sergeant. The onlookers all crowd into
the lobby of the station too. Eddie stands for a moment by the doorway, then calmly
walks away. Like an experienced old hand.
A few minutes later Eddie-baby is walking down Materialist Street, going over his
accounts with the militia. One evening right here by the station as he was innocently
strolling by - he was thirteen at the time and still had long hair - two trashes called him
over, and when he went up to them like an unsuspecting asshole, they dragged him
inside and put him in a lineup along with a dozen other people who had been detained for
some pale girl to identify. As Eddie-baby subsequently learned from his colleagues in
misfortune, the girl had been raped by a gang of youths. The girl didn't identify Eddie-
baby, although she did stare at him for a pretty long time. She didn't identify anybody.
The disappointed militia officers, swearing the whole time (Eddie-baby knew they were
drunk, he could smell it on their breath), cut off all the hair on the back of his head with
a rusty pair of scissors and tossed him out onto the street after presenting him with
several punches in the stomach, thereby creating for themselves and the whole race of
militia officers one more implacable foe. To the grave.
Eddie-baby is quite certain that the whole human race can be divided into two
categories - those you can beat up and those you can't. He, Eddie-baby, belongs to
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those you can't. When his father, trembling with rage and his own weakness, struck the
eleven-year-old Eddie-baby for the first time in his life after his flight to Brazil with the
Plague, Eddie-baby turned as white as the wall he was standing next to and, trembling
with rage as well, shouted at his father, "Go ahead and hit me again! Go ahead and hit
me!" As his mother later told him, his eyes were wild and his face had gone from white to
His father didn't touch him again after that. Eddie-baby told himself at the time
that if his father ever struck him again, he would cut him in the middle of the night.
Eddie-baby's father probably read his thoughts and was frightened by them. There was
hatred in Eddie-baby's face. His father understood.
Eddie-baby takes a much milder view of his other physical confrontation with the
militia, one in which two of his ribs were broken, since he himself was at fault and the
beating was justified. The fact that they used their boots wasn't justified, nor was the
fact that enraged men were beating up a minor, but they did have a reason, in Eddie-
baby's opinion, and a sufficiently good one. Eddie-baby had after all cut one of their
auxiliaries with a knife. Eddie-baby was drunk, one of those rare instances when he was
drunk to the point of no longer being aware of what he was doing, but that could hardly
be considered a mitigating circumstance. Eddie-baby is strict with himself, and if he's at
fault, he admits it.
Eddie-baby was exceptionally lucky that time. He could be in reform school or in
prison right now if Veniamin Ivanovich hadn't in his days as a young cadet gone to
military school with another cadet by the name of Ivan Sakharov and even shared a
room with him.
Fate. Eddie-baby knows he's a lucky person.
All that happened quite recently. Last summer, in fact. Eddie-baby had been
invited to a birthday party at Slavka Panov's. Slavka, whom Eddie-baby doesn't like for
some reason, isn't much: a short, stocky, bullet-headed kid with a little forelock - a
cheat and a pickpocket. But Slavka knows how to make himself useful to everybody, and
so everybody knows him. It's on a tip from Slavka that Kostya Bondarenko and Eddie are
planning to rob the house of the rich Uncle Lyova. It's on account of Uncle Lyova's
fortresslike home in Ivanovka that they're buying the TT from Kolka Varzhainov. Vovka
Dneprovsky brought Eddie-baby along to Slavka's birthday party, since he and Vovka had
become friends that summer. Or more accurately, they had made each other's
acquaintance the day before.
Vovka Dneprovsky had just returned from reform school. Vovka was fourteen, but
at the time he was half a head taller than Eddie-baby and as skinny as a rail. Like Eddie-
baby and Kostya, Vovka is the son of an army officer, although Vovka's father,
Lieutenant Colonel Dneprovsky, doesn't live with his family; he left Vovka and his older
brother, Tolya, and Vovka's mother several years ago. Vovka is a friend of Grishka
Primak's - they were in reform school together - and it was Grishka who introduced
Eddie-baby and Vovka.
Vovka and Eddie-baby got drunk in honor of their new friendship. As a result, they
came to an understanding and decided to rob the grocery store next to Soviet Hospital
No.2. Which is in fact what they did, although Vovka stopped by his house for a knapsack
first. Eddie-baby is ashamed of that "burglary," and Kostya was terribly ashamed of it
when he heard about it. "The clumsy work of snot-nosed village kids who smashed a
window with a shaft," he said. "Assholes! Idiots! Two alcoholics!" Kostya said. "Who does
things like that! Who does it that way!"
Both of them drunk, Vovka and Eddie-baby had actually thrown a cobblestone at
the grocery store window. But the window didn't break, since they had thrown the
cobblestone at its center and the large piece of glass had flexed and repelled the stone.
It's embarrassing for Eddie-baby to remember just how much noise they made before
finally managing to break the window.
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Eddie-baby and Vovka had not even tried to look for money in the store after
filling their knapsack with vodka. Without a thought they set off directly for Vovka's
building (Eddie-baby completely forgot at the time all of Kostya's instructions for
throwing the militia dogs off the scent, forgot, that is, all about water, tobacco, and
naphthalene), hid the knapsack in the basement, and went up to Vovka's apartment with
two of the bottles. Paying no attention whatever to the hysterical screaming of Vovka's
mother, the two friends finished off one of the bottles and lay down on Vovka's bed.
Vovka's only comment to his mother was, "Shut up, you old bitch, or Ed will fuck you!"
and then he and Eddie-baby fell asleep embracing each other. The next day was Slavka's
birthday party.
It was terribly hot that July day, perhaps the hottest day of the year. Slavka lives
in a ten-square-meter room in a barrack, a single-story wooden building off the beaten
track behind Grishka's and Vovka's buildings and right next to the river. Or rather, right
next to the creek that separates Ivanovka and Saltovka and has long since been reduced
to a trickle, so that only rushes and swampy pools with clouds of mosquitoes flying over
them mark the place where the creek used to be. Eddie-baby knows why Slavka lives in
a barrack - his mother and father were convicted of economic crimes and sent away,
and so he has to live with his grandfather. Usually old people or people unable to fend for
themselves live in barracks. The young people, one after another, obtain apartments or
rooms in the new buildings. There are very few barracks, and their number is growing
steadily smaller. Until he met Slavka, Eddie had never been in one.
Maybe if it hadn't been for Gorkun, they wouldn't have gotten so drunk, even
considering the heat and the ten bottles of stolen vodka that Vovka and Eddie-baby
brought with them to Slavka's birthday party. Gorkun is an old guy - he's already over
thirty, with half that time spent in Kolyma. Gorkun got three sentences of five years
each, and he served them all in Kolyma. Three sentences is like being a Hero of the
Soviet Union three times over, and all the kids and the grown-up thieves too had a lot of
respect for Gorkun, who had just been released from his last sentence. Yet after Slavka's
birthday party in the barrack and the events that followed it, Eddie-baby came to realize
that although he isn't a bad sort, Gorkun is done for, destroyed, and that neither Eddie
nor Kostya, both of whom dream of becoming criminal heroes, would ever want to lead
the kind of life that Viktor Gorkun has led. Although it may well be that Gorkun did save
Eddie-baby's life, just as he claims.
It may also be that they got drunk because there were so many snacks. Actually,
Eddie-baby doesn't remember very well now whether there were a lot of snacks or not.
All he remembers is that it was as hot as a steam bath in the hut, since neither the
erratically operating fan nor the transom windows helped. The boys and girls drank warm
vodka and followed it with food that was no less disgustingly warm. Slavka's guests sat
on two beds, Slavka's and his grandfather's, with a table in between them. When it
started to get dark, Gorkun suggested going over to his place for a drink.
It turned out that Gorkun's mother lived in the same building as Tomka
Gurgelevich. To say that Gorkun himself lived in the same building as Tomka would be
wrong, since Gorkun had for all practical purposes lived in Kolyma and had never been
free for more than a few months at a time. They brought the remaining vodka to
Gorkun's, and the five of them - Gorkun, Eddie, Vovka Dneprovsky, Slavka, and another
of Vovka's friends, Ivan, whose father works as a digger at the cemetery - drank several
more bottles and snacked on suet. Gorkun used an old hunting knife with a bronze guard
and a colored plastic decorative handle to cut the suet. It was with that knife that the
drunken Eddie stabbed a member of the militia auxiliary several hours later.
After drinking the vodka, they decided as a group to have some fun together by
going to the dances at Krasnozavodsk Park. Krasnozavodsk Park isn't their territory; it
belongs to distant Plekhanovka, and you can "find yourself up to your ass in adventures"
there, as the stern Kostya Bondarenko expresses it - you can, in other words, easily get
into a fight. It would be going too far, however, to say that they all set off for
Krasnozavodsk Park with the clear intention of getting into a fight; no, it was more that
they wanted to have some fun after all they'd had to drink, and that they were excited as
well by the presence of the hardened professional criminal and gangster Gorkun.
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The hardened criminal was much drunker than the rest of them - in addition to a
wide assortment of other diseases contracted in Kolyma, Gorkun had a stomach ulcer -
and so he didn't even notice when Eddie-baby put his hunting knife in his own back
pocket in order to compensate for the absence of his usual straight razor. Eddie-baby
never went beyond the territory of the Saltov district without a weapon, and there wasn't
time to stop by home, although his building was fifty meters from Gorkun's apartment
and could even be seen from his window. That's how Gorkun's knife rather than Eddie-
baby's own razor happened to get mixed up in the business.
It was a simple story, as simple as life itself in Saltovka, Tyurenka, or
Plekhanovka. Such stories usually landed the kids from Saltovka, Tyurenka, Plekhanovka,
or Zhuravlyovka in jail or reform school or a prison camp. Gorkun liked the big redhead
standing with her girlfriends and some guys in a secluded corner of the dancing area. To
his indescribable astonishment, however, she boldly and provocatively refused to dance
with him, and the kids around her even permitted themselves to smile as they gazed at
the very drunk and nearly bald Gorkun. Gorkun had brought the baldness back from
Kolyma along with his stomach ulcer.
It was then that Eddie-baby appeared on the scene, dressed in a white shirt
unbuttoned over his chest and armed with Gorkun's hunting knife. It is no easy matter
now to establish the details of what took place, but in all probability Eddie-baby was
offended on behalf of his older comrade, who was not good enough for the redheaded girl
and her friends. Most likely, Eddie-baby also took the redheaded girl's refusal to dance
with Gorkun as a personal insult.
Not wasting any time, Eddie-baby walked up to the girl with the mechanical stride
of a maniac and took the knife out of his pocket. According to evidence later provided by
Slavka, who was the least drunk of them, Eddie-baby didn't seem drunk; on the
contrary, he was very calm and precise in his movements. Pulling out the hunting knife,
he stuck it against one of the redheaded girl's breasts and pressed lightly. The redheaded
girl was standing by the railing of the dance area, and she moved back against it, trying
to avoid the knife point, but the implacable Eddie followed her to the railing, grabbed her
by the belt of her dress - the redheaded girl was wearing a plastic belt - once more
placed the point of the knife under her left breast (which was opposite his right hand),
and pressed. The girls who go to the dances at Krasnozavodsk Park all have big breasts.
Looking the girl in the eye, Eddie-baby said, "I'll count to three. If by three you don't
start dancing with my friend."
Looking back into the dull green and absolutely wild eyes of the minor, the grown-
up girl (she was twenty-five) realized it would be best not to wait until three.
"I'm going, I'm going," she said. And she went. And soon afterward she was
dancing with Gorkun.
Eddie-baby stood contentedly by and watched his handiwork. Maybe he was
thinking that Gorkun and the girl would make a nice couple. Who knows? Nobody asked
him what he was thinking. The kids who had been with the girl up to that point
disappeared somewhere, and everybody who witnessed the scene decided for one reason
or another not to interfere. Experienced people know that there's nothing worse than a
drunken minor with a hunting knife who's no longer conscious of what he's doing. There's
no worse adversary.
It was only at the exit, after everybody in the dancing area had left (it closed at
twelve), that Eddie-baby and his friends ran into the friends of the redheaded girl and a
force of militia auxiliaries. Eddie was the only one of their drunken company who had a
weapon. Or maybe the others did have weapons, but Eddie didn't know about it. And so
he pulled out the knife and rushed forward. His four companions ran after him with a
loud cry - nobody wanted to spend the night in a cell at the local militia station.
Krasnozavodsk Park is a real park, thickly overgrown with bushes and trees and
intersected here and there by small ravines and gullies, so that Eddie-baby and his
friends managed to get away without too much difficulty. It seemed to Eddie that he had
caught one of the militia auxiliaries with the knife - he had heard a cry of pain, and he
remembered lunging - but it no longer made any difference since they had escaped.
Or they would have, if it hadn't been for that asshole Slavka. Ivan and Vovka
Dneprovsky parted with the others at the park fence and took off on their own, while
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Eddie, Gorkun, and Slavka, still drunk, climbed over the fence, intending to go off in
another direction. Just beyond the fence, however, the fool Slavka for some reason
struck his heavily booted foot against one of the struts holding up a wooden signboard
with the painted entreaty "Let's Make Our Park the Greenest in the City! Don't Litter!" As
a result, the signboard fell over with a crack, whereupon two previously invisible figures
in militia uniforms stepped away from the fence and arrested Eddie-baby and Gorkun.
The incredibly unfair part was that the culprit - Slavka - got away by climbing back
over the fence into the park and running for it.
When they had been brought to the Krasnozavodsk district militia substation and
were being taken out of the car, Eddie-baby at once realized, drunk as he was, how
extremely unlucky he had been. They were met by the very same faces of the very same
militia auxiliaries they had succeeded in getting past only half an hour before. Except that
one of the auxiliaries was missing.
Eddie-baby broke free and ran for it. Both the militia and the auxiliaries took off
after him. Eddie-baby didn't get very far - an unfortunate consequence of being very
drunk. They knocked him down without too much trouble, kicked him several times with
their boots, picked him up, dragged him back to the substation, and then realized that he
was the same minor who had stuck a hunting knife into their comrade, their comrade
who had been taken away in an ambulance and about whom the doctors had said that
the wound wasn't dangerous, that he "would live," even though his lung was punctured.
When they realized who Eddie was, they started to beat him in earnest, seriously and
methodically, obviously intent on beating him to death. Just as they had done to other
people on other occasions. It was Eddie-baby's very bad luck to fall into their clutches
only half an hour after the business with the knife.
After several good blows, Eddie-baby fell down on the flagstone substation floor,
where the only thing he could do was to cover his head with his arms to protect it and
hope for the best. If Eddie-baby had believed in God, he probably would have prayed,
but the only place God could be found in Saltovka, in Tyurenka, or in Krasnozavodsk Park
and its environs was in the heads of addle-brained old women. Neither the militia nor
Eddie-baby and his friends needed God in their lives or in the exercise of their
uncomplicated mutual hostilities. "The main thing is to keep them from hitting my head,"
Eddie-baby thought while lying on the stone floor and taking the blows from the heavy
militia boots. With that thought about his precious head he lost consciousness.
Eddie-baby came to in a militia cell and could barely manage to get to the toilet,
even though accompanied by the duty officer. Subsequent events followed the routine of
obligatory tedium that is the same for militia and police departments the world over;
namely, one after another the civilian employees of the militia arrived, usually gray-faced
blonds conspicuously worn by life, while the hoodlums and criminals arrested the night
before asked to go to the toilet or wanted something to drink. The duty officers' first
cigarettes of the morning stank disgustingly, the prisoners in the cells groaned, blew
their noses, stamped their feet, and swore at each other, although lazily for the time
being. An ordinary, typically monstrous, dirty gray militia Monday morning had begun.
There could have been a lot more jail mornings like that in Eddie-baby's life, but if
you're lucky, you're lucky. Eddie-baby was sitting stupidly on the bench in his cell, on his
right the fat Uncle Fedya, a jerk who'd been arrested the night before for going after his
wife with an ax, and on his left some guy who had been arrested "for no reason at all."
Eddie-baby knew that ninety percent of the people who find themselves in militia cells on
Monday morning will tell you that they've been arrested for no reason at all. Eddie-baby
sat there while fate in the person of Major Ivan Sakharov, just back from vacation and
still rested and fresh, was already drawing near, accompanied by an obsequious duty
officer carrying the arrest log. After his vacation, Major Sakharov was full of
determination to bring order to his precinct once and for all. Normally, he lowered
himself to the dirty business of checking on the prisoners no more than once a month.
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It turned out that the guy who was arrested for no reason at all had merely set
fire to a nine-story building. And there were witnesses. When Eddie-baby's turn came, he
stood up, as is the custom, and gave the major his first and last name - Eduard
Major Sakharov gazed intently at the pale youth, as if attempting to remember
something, and then he asked Eddie-baby,
"You wouldn't be the son of Veniamin Ivanovich?"
Eddie-baby was indeed the son of Veniamin Ivanovich. That was probably the only
time that being the son of Veniamin Ivanovich proved to be an advantage. The major
left, but when Eddie-baby was summoned to his office two hours later, to the office of
Major Sakharov, the head of the Krasnozavodsk militia precinct, his father was already
sitting there. Eddie-baby's father, it turned out, didn't even know that Cadet Sakharov
had become a militia major and that he was living and working in Kharkov.
And then from the file of "E.Savenko and V.Gorkun, assault with a deadly weapon
on D.Krasnopevtsev, a member of the militia auxiliary forces, with subsequent knife
wound to D.Krasnopevtsev," the powerful hands of providence withdrew the principal
evidence - Gorkun's hunting knife - and squeamishly handed it over to Veniamin
Ivanovich as a souvenir. Veniamin Ivanovich must have hated Eddie-baby for forcing him
to use his "service connections" for his own private purposes for the first time in his life
as a good and upright man. Whatever the case, henceforth all relations between Eddie-
baby and his father ended. They became merely roommates.
It wasn't that easy for Major Sakharov to smooth the affair over. D.Krasnopevtsev
was in the hospital, and his family wanted satisfaction. What Veniamin Ivanovich's old
comrade did to shut them up Eddie-baby had no idea. Whatever he did, the at least five
to seven years in prison looming over Eddie-baby - the fact that he was a minor
wouldn't have helped - were ultimately reduced to a fifteen-day sentence, which he and
Gorkun were supposed to serve picking up trash and digging an irrigation ditch in
Krasnozavodsk Park under the supervision of an old militia desk sergeant. In point of
fact, however, since Eddie-baby couldn't move his arm without hurting all the bones that
had been beaten by the militia, he and Gorkun remained in the cell, where the latter
smoked and told him about Kolyma for days on end and also about how he had saved
Eddie-baby's life.
From what he said it emerged that Gorkun had not been beaten but had been
quietly sitting by himself on the bench in the vestibule of the Krasnozavodsk militia
substation. When he saw that the trashes were enraged at Eddie on behalf of their
comrade and had completely lost control of themselves and were close to killing the
minor, he decided to intervene.
"I decided to save you, you asshole," Gorkun said didactically. "According to one
law of Kolyma, you should have died that day, and I the next. It's dog eat dog, right? But
after the business at the dancing area, it turned out you were something on the order of
a pal, although I didn't want to have anything to do with you. But according to another
law of Kolyma, you're supposed to help out your pals - whatever it costs you in blood.
And so I started screaming as loud as I could, 'You filthy bastards! You'll kill the lad! He's
still just a lad! You fascists! You goddamn fascists!'
"I was screaming," Gorkun continued, "as loud as I could, but they weren't paying
any attention and were still beating on you all at once. So I got up, ran over to them,
and punched the lieutenant in the throat! And then they stopped beating you and turned
on me. But I've served time," Gorkun said with pride. "You couldn't even imagine how
many times I've been beaten, lad. I know what to do. And anyway, what's the point of
beating me up, I'm a goner anyway, I've served three terms, whether you beat me up or
not. I used to cut my veins every week with a spoon and wipe blood all over the walls in
camp. As a protest. It doesn't make any difference to me if they send me back to
prison. So they didn't beat me for very long."
Eddie-baby had no way of checking on what Gorkun said, but he believed him,
and not because he thought the bald Victor Gorkun was some kind of splendid Robin
Hood. The thing that actually sounded most convincing to Eddie was Gorkun's cynical
observation that he had had to intercede on Eddie's behalf because Eddie was bound to
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him as a pal. Gorkun, it turned out, was a formalist. The code of the experienced criminal
required him to hit the lieutenant. And so he did.
After they were released, Eddie and Gorkun didn't go their separate ways but
instead went straight to Grocery Store No.7, where they drank in honor of their lucky
escape. Gorkun, however, never found out about the great friendship between the cadets
Ivan and Veniamin. He thought that he and Eddie-baby had simply been incredibly lucky,
that the trashes had mixed up their papers or something.
Eddie-baby returns to the usual meeting place, where the other guys are naturally
already gathered. Cat and Lyova and Sanya and two others as well - Slavka Bokarev
and "Hollywood." Cat and Lyova, each augmenting the other, are giving a detailed
account of the capture of the ringleader of the soldiers, while Sanya is looking admiringly
at the large gold watch on his wrist.
"How do you like the ticker?" he asks the just arrived Eddie-baby with a little
"Where'd you get it?" Eddie-baby asks in amazement, although he is starting to
remember something.
"The sergeant gave it to me," says Sanya. "'It's no use to me,' he said, 'I'll lose it,
whereas it's just the thing for you, Red.'" Sanya guffaws complacently.
"Is it real gold?" Eddie asks.
"What else?" Sanya answers. "So, did you turn them over?" he asks Eddie-baby.
"Well, I took them to the precinct like you said, and then I cut out," Eddie
answers, shrugging his shoulders.
"You did right," Sanya says encouragingly. "A ticker like this would cost twenty-
five hundred in a store. That means I can sell it to the blackasses at the market for at
least a thousand, and maybe even more. And what could the goddamn trashes give us,
huh? A certificate to stick up our asses? Fuck them and their reward!"
"I didn't even see you take it," Eddie says with admiration.
"I took it when we were bringing him in. I immediately noticed he was wearing
gold, but I didn't want us to be the only suspects. Now, if they suspect anybody, they'll
suspect the Georgian too. Of course, after a fight and a scuffle like that, it's possible he
could have lost it himself. Maybe it fell off his wrist," Sanya innocently intones, and then
laughs again.
It's clear to Eddie-baby now why the guys turned down the triumphant return, the
opportunity to ride into the militia station on a white horse. The money is more
important, of course. Although if the choice had been Eddie's, he probably would have
chosen the triumphant return. He would have passed up his share of the watch merely
for the pleasure of actually seeing Major Aleshinsky shake his hand and express his
gratitude. And Zilberman! To get the better of the Jew Zilberman-Maigret is something
that Eddie-baby has long dreamed of. To walk into his office, sprawl on the chair by his
desk, light a cigarette, and lazily remark, "Yesterday when I was talking to the major."
Or, "Major Aleshinsky and I." Eddie grins. Zilberman would have gone out of his mind
with amazement.
The watch, however, means money. Eddie-baby painfully remembers that he has
to have 250 rubles by tomorrow night. If you divide a thousand by four, you get exactly
250 rubles. He won't really get that much, of course, since his part in acquiring the watch
was an insignificant one. He'll do well if Sanya gives him a hundred. Maybe he should ask
Sanya to lend him the rest?
"Sanya, hey, Sanya," Eddie says, "when are you going to sell the watch? Can you
do it tomorrow?"
"Not tomorrow. The market will be closed tomorrow. It's a holiday, or did you
forget?" Sanya says in surprise. "What's the matter, do you need cash or something? You
had some. When did I give it to you last time? It was less than a week ago."
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He's talking about the ring he and Sanya acquired together. Sanya, as if merely
playing with the hand of a girl they met, had taken the ring off while Eddie distracted
her. He played the part of Sanya's little brother. They were on a trolley. Not on their own
No.24, but on No.3 - in the city, in other words, and not in their own neighborhood. The
dumb girl was so pleased that the stylish Sanya (who called himself Richard) had made a
date with her that she never suspected he'd repeated the same line dozens of times and
had made dozens of such dates. Unfortunately the line doesn't always work, but Sanya
uses it over and over again. His fingers are thick and pink but very nimble.
"I spent it," Eddie justifies himself. "I thought my mother and father would give
me some money for the holiday, but they haven't given me a fucking thing!"
"You should have saved some cash for the holiday," Sanya says, shaking his head.
"Any other time I'd give you something, but I haven't got anything now either. I'm
squeezed dry. I gave everything I earned last week to my mother to buy a coat for
Svetka. The little twat has grown, and now she needs a new coat."
Eddie-baby's heart sinks. Sanya was his last hope. The butcher often has money,
although unlike the other butchers, Sanya doesn't hold on to it, he immediately
squanders it. He dresses expensively and wears skull rings on his pink fingers, and all
that costs money. "Where can I get some money?" Eddie wonders. "Where?"
"Why don't you ask Cat," Sanya says, seeing how crestfallen Eddie is, and without
waiting for an answer, he asks Cat himself.
"Cat, hey, Cat, have you got any cash you can loan Eddie?"
"How much does he need?" Cat asks from the other side of the bench, and
reaches into his pocket.
"How much?" Sanya asks Eddie.
"Two-fifty or three hundred.," Eddie says uncertainly.
"O-o-oh," Cat drawls, and takes his hand out of his pocket. "I don't have that kind
of money on me right now. I thought you maybe wanted thirty or fifty rubles. For two-
fifty you'll have to wait until I get paid."
"I need it by tomorrow," Eddie says in a hopeless voice.
"Eddie, you jerk, how many times have I told you, if you want money, go to the
track," Slavka Bokarev observes pompously.
The kids all laugh.
Eddie-baby waves Bokarev away. "You go there every day, so where's your
money?" he asks him in an irritated voice.
"I'm just now finishing going over the data, and pretty soon I'll have a system
that will bring me in a million in no time," Bokarev answers with conviction.
Eddie thinks there's no goddamn way you'll ever get that million out of Bokarev's
Bokarev used to have a completely different idea for getting rich. He dreamed of
organizing a vast network for the production and sale of exam cribs, each no bigger than
a small photograph. The cribs were supposed to earn Bokarev a million rubles.
Cribs of that kind had existed long before Bokarev ever thought of them. Eddie-
baby himself had seen photographic cribs for math with the tiny symbols of the basic
mathematical formulas thickly covering their whole surface. You could buy cribs like that
for whatever subject you wanted.
Bokarev, however, intended to carry out the manufacture and sale of cribs on an
industrial scale. He dreamed of a huge staff of photographers who would flood the entire
country with millions of photocribs, from Liepaja in the west to Vladivostok in the east,
from the Arctic Circle in the north to the city of Kushka in the south. Inspiration shone in
Bokarev's eyes whenever he spoke of his idea. Thousands of minors organized in
disciplined commercial teams would sell his photocribs in the vicinity of every school,
university, and technical institute in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. That
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ethnically diverse horde of photographers and minors would in the course of a year fill
Bokarev's pockets with millions of rubles.
The plan turned out to be less simple in practice than in Bokarev's inspired
calculations. Having barely begun to organize his empire, Bokarev ran up against a
number of insoluble difficulties, of which the main one was that the projected number of
students and schoolchildren weren't interested in buying his cribs. Some of them didn't
believe in cribs at all, while others were inclined to make their own - not photographic,
of course, but cribs nonetheless. Everything was as smooth as could be on paper -
expenditures, the number of students and schoolchildren in the USSR, income, a price
per crib of ten rubles, which would obtain you all the knowledge in a given subject area.
The problem was that only a few wanted to obtain it.
Now Bokarev has a new idea. He's already been working on his "system" for six
months. He goes to the track every day and writes down his data - which horse comes
in first in which race. He then diligently organizes the data, furrows appearing on his
Socratic brow. Bokarev really does have an unusually impressive forehead, and it really
does remind you of the forehead of Socrates. The only thing Eddie-baby isn't so sure of is
that such capacious crania and superbly protuberant thinker's foreheads invariably
contain all they're supposed to.
Bokarev works tirelessly on his system and maintains that it will soon be
perfected. Then he will make his million. Why exactly a million Bokarev himself has no
idea. Obviously he's impressed by the six whole zeroes that follow the one.
Until that day comes, however, Bokarev continues to attend his polytechnical
institute as a fourth-year student and to go around in terribly worn-out shoes, saving all
his money - his miserable stipend - to cover his track expenses and buy racing forms
and even trolley tickets, since the track is a good distance away.
The gang on the benches under the lindens accepts Bokarev out of the purest kind
of provincial snobbery - whatever he is, however ragged he is, he's still a student. Both
Cat and Lyova, not to mention Sanya, make about ten times as much money at their
factories as Bokarev gets on his stipend, and they steal as well.
Another reason why the kids permit Bokarev to spend whole evenings with them
is that he likes to shoot the breeze and knows how to do it. He can talk about anything,
an art in which he has only one rival - Slavka the Gypsy. The Gypsy's chatter, however,
is adorned with a kind of dreamy romanticism that always has a geographical flavor to it,
whereas Bokarev's talk gives off a mathematically romantic aura. Bokarev's hobby is
organization, calculations, estimates, and drafts, and his talk is more contemporary than
that of the other Slavka - or so it seems to Eddie-baby. And although Eddie, like the
other kids, doesn't believe that Bokarev will ever make a million rubles and laughs at his
idiotic ideas, he still has his doubts sometimes - what if he does?
It's also indisputable that even though Bokarev is now glad of every scrap he can
manage to eat for free, and lives with his grandfather and grandmother in a twelve-
meter room, in a little more than a year he will already be an engineer. And the other
kids won't.
Eddie-baby, like the other kids, doesn't want to be an engineer, although, as his
mother and father and his neighbors and everybody else who knows him admit, he has a
good mind. He doesn't want to be an engineer, and he has no desire whatever to
undertake the boring study of mathematics, physics, the tensile strength of materials,
and other "hard" sciences for five years. Eddie-baby hates mathematics. What he likes
are dates.
Although Eddie no longer writes anything down in his notebooks, he still has an
enthusiastic affection for history, and whenever the history teacher, a large redheaded
woman whose nickname is the "Mop," wants to unburden her soul of the bleating and
braying of the normal pupils, she turns to Eddie, and without even asking him to come to
the board, simply starts a discussion with him, say about the eleventh century in Europe.
"What happened in the eleventh century, Savenko?" the Mop asks, bearing down
on the e in Eddie's last name, and the whole class sighs in relief.
It's clear to them now that nobody will be called to the board, since the Mop and
Eddie, each hastening to interrupt the other, will be delightedly shouting till the end of
the period about European events in the obscure eleventh century, which not even
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university students in history are expected to know very much about. The only A in
Eddie's record is in history, although the Mop never formally calls him to the board - in
the same way, probably, that mathematics prodigies aren't bothered with ordinary
arithmetic problems. Eddie-baby is a history prodigy. "He could easily teach history in
school right now," the Mop says.
Eddie-baby departs the benches under the lindens along with Hollywood, who
happens to be going the same way. It's already long past two in the morning, and most
of the kids have wandered off home. Sanya's hairdresser came by - the vulgar Dora
who possibly loves him - and took him back to her place. As a matter of fact, there
wasn't anything particularly odd about their argument. Sanya and the hairdresser have
been sleeping together for over a year now, but they still get into bitter arguments and
even scuffles sometimes - lovers' quarrels, as the old women say.
Hollywood lives by himself in a dormitory a few buildings away from Asya's. Eddie-
baby doesn't even know what Hollywood's real name is. Actually, it would never enter his
head to use it, even if he did know what it was. Everybody in the district calls him
Hollywood. He got that nickname from his peculiar habit of explaining everything with
quotations from foreign films, especially American ones, although there aren't enough
knowledgeable people in the district to check up on whether Hollywood's quotations
really do come from movies or whether he makes them up himself. Kadik, for example,
claims that he makes up half the things he says.
Even now as the last late November leaves rustle under their feet, Hollywood
casually turns to Eddie and says with a cough,
"These leaves rustle like American dollars, don't they?"
Eddie-baby doesn't know what film this quotation comes from, and so he
cautiously replies with a noncommittal, "Uh-huh."
Eddie likes movies, but he's embarrassed about having to wear glasses, and so in
order to see a new one, he has to go into the city. There, where nobody knows him, he
can calmly watch the movie with his glasses on, giving it his full attention. Eddie's too
lazy to go to the city very often, especially since he has to go by himself, and so it
happens that he misses a lot of things.
Hollywood has a movie quote for every occasion. If the kids decide to go to the
store to get some biomitsin they've all chipped in on, Hollywood suddenly steps forward,
assumes a heroic stance, and shouts, "Mamelukes! I shall lead you to Cairo! Who has not
seen Cairo has seen nothing!" This is a scrupulously accurate quotation from the movie
The 0amelukes, which has just been showing on the screens of Kharkov.
The kids like Hollywood because he always livens up the occasion. He's about five
years older than Red Sanya, or perhaps, since bald spots gleam through his thin blond
hair here and there, even the same age as Gorkun, although unlike Gorkun he's never
been in prison. Hollywood doesn't steal; he works in the foundry at the Hammer and
Sickle Factory and lives in a dormitory. The parents of this strong, long-nosed fellow live
in a village near Kharkov, according to one of the kids. Both of them are sick and can't
work, and Hollywood sends them money. In the summer Hollywood goes around in
swimming trunks with palm trees on them. That's basically all that Eddie-baby knows
about him, but in Saltovka the kids and adults associate not on the basis of what they
know about each other but of how they feel. And it is Eddie-baby's feeling that Hollywood
is a good guy. Even if he is a worker, he's still not one of the goat herd.
They walk for a while without speaking, and then Eddie says to Hollywood,
"Aren't you celebrating anywhere today?"
"What do you think we've been doing, Ed?" Hollywood asks in a melancholy voice.
"We've been celebrating, and now we're finished and are on our way back home."
"No," Eddie insists, "I mean in the company of other people."
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"I've got too much company already at the dorm," Hollywood sighs. "They'll be
drunk all night long, and there's no fucking way you'll get any sleep. They'll be drinking
in every room. And then they'll get into fights."
"A-a-ah!" Eddie-baby answers sympathetically. He's never lived in a dormitory,
although he has visited them more than once. Both men's dormitories and women's. He
didn't care for them. Even though living in a dormitory is very cheap. But Eddie-baby
couldn't live in a single room with three other men who were complete strangers to him.
He wouldn't even mind getting rid of his own parents if he could. The balcony he sleeps
on is almost a separate room, but in the first place, they haven't had a chance to
winterize it, so he sleeps there only when the weather is warm, and in the second, he still
has to go through his parents' room to get there. Although his parents aren't strangers,
of course, and there are only two of them, not three, as in the dormitory where
Hollywood lives.
Eddie-baby and Hollywood separate at the fork in the old asphalt path built by the
first residents of Saltovka so they wouldn't sink into the mud, and now worn through to
the ground here and there.
"So long," Eddie says.
"When the brilliant tropical night casts its star-studded velvet black cloak over the
streets of Rio.," Hollywood begins the next of his movie quotations, but then, obviously
recalling the dormitory he's on his way back to, he waves his hand in annoyance and
interrupts the quote with a simple, "So long, Ed!"
Eddie-baby enters his building. Coming from the doorway of the apartment of the
Auntie Marusyas are laughter and music. Obviously his mother is still there. There are
three rooms in the apartment, with a different family in each one. In one of the rooms
live Auntie Marusya Chepiga, her husband, the electrician Uncle Sasha, who has lately
been drinking more and more, and their son, Vitka. In another, somewhat larger room
live Auntie Marusya Vulokh, her husband, Uncle Vanya, very good-looking and a
womanizer, their son, Valerka, and their daughter, Raya, who was named after Eddie-
baby's mother. Living in the apartment's third room, which is directly below the room
where Eddie and his family live, are the Perevorachaevs, including old Perevorachaev
himself, an unsociable and taciturn man who is a stovemaker by trade and slow-witted
even by the standards of Saltovka, his wife, a cleaning woman nicknamed "Blackie,"
whose real name Eddie-baby doesn't know, even though the Perevorachaevs have been
living in their building ever since it was first built, and their three children, the grown-up
whore Lyubka, the humpbacked Tolik, and "Baby" Nadka. Nadka is ten years old now and
already has quite noticeable breasts, but her family still calls her Baby Nadka just as they
did five years ago. When the dim Nadka was a toddler, she served Eddie-baby as a
model for the study of female anatomy. The lesson took place in the basement of their
building, to which Eddie-baby lured her with the aid of some chocolate candy.
The Perevorachaevs aren't home today, except for the lonely hunchback Tolik,
who at this minute is probably lying on a soldier's blanket reading a book, his ears
plugged with cotton wadding. The other Perevorachaevs have all gone to the country,
since many of the residents of Saltovka still have links to the villages beyond the city.
Uncle Sasha Chepiga's grandfather and grandmother live in a village called Old
Saltov. It's a good distance away - several hours by truck. To get to Old Saltov, you
take the Saltov Highway, or the Saltov Highroad, as it used to be called.
Eddie-baby spent a summer, the summer after his escape to Brazil, in fact, with
Uncle Sasha's grandfather and grandmother. There, in a shallow, swampy creek filled
with green water, he learned to swim, and there, while he was lying on a bank of that
creek with geese wandering nearby, Uncle Sasha Chepiga complimented him on his nose.
Eddie-baby had complained to Uncle Sasha about his pug nose. By way of answer, Uncle
Sasha had said that he would with pleasure, with the very greatest of pleasure, as he
reiterated, exchange noses with Eddie-baby. Eddie-baby looked carefully at Uncle
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Sasha's nose and was instantly ashamed. In the first place, it was of a permanently
reddish color, and in the second, its shape was reminiscent of an ugly, far from purebred
potato - as if nature had been intending to produce three separate potato tubers but
then had changed its mind and fashioned them all into one.
Eddie-baby ran away from Old Saltov too - on a day when he, Grandfather
Chepiga, and Uncle Sasha, who was then on a two-week vacation, were tending cows in
the forest and had some bad luck: two cows got separated from the herd. The forest
near Old Saltov is no artificial strip of woodland but a real old-growth forest, dense and
large. One might ask what kind of fool pastures his cows in a forest when there's a
meadow for that. But the explanation for the behavior of the strange herdsmen who had
suddenly chased their cattle into the forest was simple: the cows were the private
property of the collective farmers, whereas the meadow belonged to the collective farm
itself. The state permitted the collective farmers to have their own cows, but they had to
pasture them wherever they could, only not in the meadow. Which is why they pastured
them in the forest or on the railroad verge. They took turns pasturing everyone's cows,
one household doing it one week, another taking over the next. That week it was
Grandfather Chepiga's turn.
After the sun had gone down, Eddie-baby overheard Uncle Sasha and Grandfather
Chepiga's conversation about how, as soon as they returned to the village, they would be
killed by the owners of the lost cattle, and he decided he didn't want to be killed. Even
so, Eddie-baby still believes that it was not cowardice that governed his actions when he
stepped away from the campfire the three of them were sitting around and disappeared
into the underbrush on the pretext of having to do a big job.
Eddie-baby walked through the already dark forest and calmly sang a tune he had
made up himself. He had no supplies at all with him, just a herdsman's staff and Uncle
Sasha's large knife, but he was rather glad that he didn't have even so much as a piece
of bread with him: it would be an excellent opportunity to test his knowledge of which
wild plants might be used for food.
It was August, and Eddie-baby had no doubt that he could easily live in the fields
and forests until late fall at least, all the time moving steadily south. A thrilling picture of
his future life in the forest presented itself. He immediately thought of attaching his
knife to the staff by means of a vine so that it could be used as a spear to throw at small
Eddie-baby didn't last long in the forest, however. And it was not hunger that
drove him out but loneliness. Eddie-baby's book knowledge in fact proved useful after all;
he calmly lived on berries and the roots of plants of the temperate zone that had been
identified in his books, only occasionally discovering for himself that one or another root
was impossible to chew because of its almost eau-de-cologne-like taste. Eddie-baby had
not been afraid of the dark even as an infant. But he couldn't tolerate the loneliness.
That summer Eddie-baby discovered for the first time that he was a social animal.
He is ashamed around Uncle Sasha and Auntie Marusya to this day about the
commotion he caused in Old Saltov. Actually, thanks to him, Grandfather and
Grandmother Chepiga became celebrities of a kind. Pointing to them, the village
residents would say, "Theirs was the hut that the city kid ran off from."
Coming out of the forest onto the highway, which he had found long before, the
city kid waved down a passing car, and within half an hour or so he was at the village
store two houses away from the thatched hut where Grandfather and Grandmother
Chepiga lived. It turned out that the cows had been found the same evening, had come
quietly out of the forest by themselves to rejoin the herd. The kid rejoined the human
herd two days later.
Eddie casts a sidelong glance at the door of the Auntie Marusyas - apparently
they're dancing - and then resolutely goes on up to the second (and top) floor and
opens his own door.
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It's quiet in Apartment No.6. The drunk-tank major Shepotko disappeared from
the apartment a week before the holidays started, and their other neighbors, Lidka and
Uncle Kolya, took their newborn baby to see relatives.
Eddie-baby goes into the kitchen and finds the food his mother has left for him
under a clean towel - his favorite macaroni with meat patties already placed in the
frying pan with a pat of butter. "My mother really is a decent person," Eddie suddenly
decides, even though he called her a fool and a prostitute during a terrible argument that
Eddie-baby puts the frying pan on the gas range - a recent innovation. The
Saltov district was connected to a gas line about two years ago. Until then, part of the
kitchen had been occupied by a coal-burning stove. They all used to bake pies in the
stove's oven then, but with the arrival of gas, Eddie-baby's mother has been baking pies
less and less often.
While eating his macaroni with meat patties, something he could eat three times a
day without getting sick of it, Eddie reflects on how he and his mother never used to
swear at each other. Or at least he never called his mother names the way he did today:
"Fool! Prostitute!" Eddie-baby is ashamed that he didn't restrain himself. At the same
time, however, he understands perfectly well that his mother is just as responsible as he
is for the fact that they have such a terrible relationship. Ever since he started the eighth
year, Eddie-baby has considered himself an adult and has wanted other people to treat
him as one, but his mother still tries to tell him what to do.
What's unfair is that his mother basically doesn't care how Eddie-baby is -
whether he's happy or sad - or what he's thinking about. His mother quarrels savagely
with him over trifles, over things like whether he's going to wear pants that are twenty-
two instead of eighteen centimeters wide, or the way he parts his hair, or his yellow
jacket. It used to be that the only thing she got nervous about was how long his hair
was. Eddie's new classroom teacher, Yakov Lvovich (Rachel finally got so decrepit she
had to retire), has managed to create the firm impression in Eddie-baby's mother that
nothing good will ever come of him.
"Your son will grow up to be a criminal and a parasite," Yakov Lvovich announced
to Eddie's mother at their first parent-teacher conference. And his mother, rather than
taking Eddie's side in the matter, took Yakov Lvovich's.
In Eddie-baby's opinion, nothing good has come of Yakov Lvovich himself. He's a
swine and a bastard. Taking advantage of the fact that he's unusually big - more than
1.8 meters tall - the classroom teacher beats his pupils. He calls them into his physics
office - the fascist teaches physics - and beats them there where there aren't any
witnesses, and the kids come out with bruised noses and lips. The fascist thinks that by
using this severe method he's teaching the punks a lesson in behavior, although what
he's actually doing is beating up people who won't fight back. The majority of the punks
leave school for the streets or the factories after the seventh year. There aren't any real
punks left in their class. You can't actually call Sashka Tishchenko or Valka Lyashenko
punks. Even though they sometimes act like it and live in Tyurenka, they're really pretty
easygoing kids. In Eddie-baby's opinion, it isn't fair to beat them just because they're
lazy or lack ability.
But Yakov Lvovich has never once laid a finger on Eddie. He knows which ones he
can beat and which ones he can't. He doesn't hit Sashka Lyakhovich either. Or Vitka
Proutorov, although that's because Vitka has a weak heart.
The first reason why Yakov Lvovich doesn't hit Eddie is because of his father. The
quiet Veniamin Ivanovich is still in harness with the MVD, and even though Eddie is sure
that it would be hard to find a more innocuous person than his father, the magical letters
MVD have their effect on the physics teacher Yakov Lvovich Kaprov.
The second reason is because of Eddie himself. The first time the new classroom
teacher beat up one of the kids - Vitka Vodolazhsky, a harmless village fellow who is
impatiently sitting through the eighth year with his twin sister so he can transfer to a
technical high school - Eddie-baby swore to a group standing around in the toilet while
Vitka wiped the blood from his face that if "Yasha" ever touched him, he'd cut the physics
teacher with his razor. You can't let other people insult you, not even once - so he had
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been taught by Sanya, and all the punks in Saltovka live by that unwritten law. And
Eddie-baby tries to live by it too.
Maybe the kids didn't believe his oath, but Yasha did - there are informers
everywhere, and somebody reported it to him. He believed it because there had been
cases like that in the past, especially in recent years, both at their school and at the
neighboring ones. In 1956 somebody stabbed the bald gym teacher Lyova in the side
during the school New Year's party.
Still another reason why Yasha is afraid to touch Eddie is Red Sanya. Everybody in
Saltovka knows that Sanya looks out for Eddie-baby, and that Sanya can count on the
weight lifters and on all of Tyurenka, and when necessary, on the savage blackasses
from the Horse Market. Anybody who touches Eddie-baby is in trouble. Which is why
nightmares like Eddie-baby's fight with Yurka Obeyuk don't happen anymore. For a while
they continued to torment Eddie-baby in his sleep, but they don't now. Yurka himself
went back to Krasnoyarsk with his family, and Eddie-baby never got to take the revenge
he used to dream about. Actually, Eddie-baby didn't dream about it for very long - just
for the first six months after the fight. The fight was his own fault, after all, since in
poring over his books he had forgotten that he was a man and that a man has to be able
to take care of himself. And what did that have to do with Yurka Obeyuk?
Eddie finishes up the macaroni and in his thoughts returns once again to the
argument with his mother. Eddie-baby wonders why she's always on the side of his
enemies. She always is. Other mothers stand up for their children. But not Raisa
Fyodorovna. As far as she's concerned, it's always Eddie-baby's fault. Clearly taking
revenge on Eddie-baby for his promise to cut him, Yasha always gives him a C in physics,
although Eddie, realizing that Yasha finds fault with everything he does, learns his
physics lessons by heart, despite the fact that it isn't his favorite subject. Another
student would receive an A or maybe a B for the same answer, but Yasha gives Eddie a
C. His mother doesn't understand; she thinks it's because Eddie isn't studying physics
the right way.
"Injustice!" Eddie-baby once wrote on the classroom blackboard. This was meant
as a comprehensive explanation of the way the world is. Raisa Fyodorovna wants to raise
her son to be a "good person," as she puts it, and so, although by no means stingy, she
thinks that it's harmful to give a fifteen-year-old child money to cover his out-of-pocket
expenses. As a result, that fifteen-year-old is always going around the district looking for
money and is forced to steal. "What a fool she is!" Eddie-baby thinks bitterly. His mother
believes that if she doesn't give him any money to buy a bottle of biomitsin to drink with
his friends, he'll settle down and obediently go without both the biomitsin and the
friends. She doesn't know her son and that his character is too strong for that. She has
no idea that Eddie has been stealing for a long time now, and that he and Kostya have
started breaking into stores and even private apartments.
And his mother makes fun of his poems too. Asya doesn't make fun of them,
Kadik doesn't make fun of them, and Captain Zilberman doesn't make fun of them!
Zilberman even says that Eddie is talented, that if he were smart, he would stop hanging
around with the punks, finish school with top marks, and go to the Gorky Literary
Institute in Moscow. Raisa Fyodorovna, however, maintains that Eddie-baby's poems are
gibberish and sound just like the poets he's been reading. He read Blok and they
sounded like Blok; he read Bryusov and immediately started writing poems that sounded
like Bryusov; he read Esenin and he wrote poems like Esenin's.
Eddie thinks that if his mother and father had given him just a little money, he
wouldn't have started stealing. Or would he have started anyway? He isn't sure. He really
doesn't know. Probably he would have anyway, since, like Kostya, he steals not so much
for the money as because he wants to become a real criminal. Although he needs the
money too.
Kostya claims that in the USSR only the pickpockets have kept themselves
together as a more or less organized force. Several times he has pointed out to Eddie the
leaders of the pickpockets on Plekhanov Street and at the Horse Market - the so-called
&akhany. But real organized crime has been completely stamped out, according to
Kostya. Kostya dreams of a revival of organized crime. Their gang is just a first small
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step on the road to the network of armed gangs that Kostya, and Eddie-baby along with
him, will create in the future.
Eddie-baby is sick of his parents and sick of Apartment No.6 and of the fat-assed,
fat-bellied Major Shepotko, who always stinks the place up with his foul cigarettes and
his sitting on the toilet by the hour. Eddie wants to leave his parents as soon as he can.
Not the way he ran away last time, but quietly. He has four months left before he turns
sixteen and gets his own internal passport. Then it's goodbye to Apartment No.6.
"Grown-up children should live separately from their parents," Asya once told him. And
she's absolutely right. She too dreams of living by herself, even though she has her own
room and completely different parents. Eddie-baby would trade parents with her any day.
After making short work of the frying pan, Eddie-baby goes to the other room and
without undressing lies down on his couch, one side of which rests against his parents'
large iron bed. The head of that bed is nickle-plated and tall and consists of a whole set
of balls and stalks. When he was little, Eddie-baby didn't care where he slept. Now he's
bothered by the proximity of his parents. His friends have laughingly told him about
catching their own parents "in the act of fucking," as they put it, although Eddie-baby
has never caught his own. Sometimes at night when he was still a little boy he would
hear sighs and moans coming from their bed, but he attributed them to bad dreams his
parents were having.
Eddie-baby has no idea when his parents fuck each other. If his father isn't on one
of his long business trips, he usually leaves for work at the crack of dawn, since his
military unit is located far away, on the other side of the city, and he has to take two
different trolleys to get there. He returns home late, sometimes as late as nine o'clock at
night, eats his supper, and goes to bed, or watches television for a while and then goes
to bed. "It's not at all clear when they fuck," Eddie-baby thinks indifferently. He isn't very
interested in his parents' sexual life, but he still wonders when they do it.
From the apartment of the Auntie Marusyas down below comes another burst of
music and laughter - they're still at it. Eddie-baby has no idea where the hell his father
is celebrating the forty-first anniversary of the Great October Revolution. Maybe in a train
traveling through the already snow-covered Siberian taiga. His father's business trips can
last as long as a month, since he now works as chief of escort. For a long time Eddie-
baby was unable to imagine what that was, until he happened to See his father in the
performance of his military duty. That was about two years ago last spring.
Eddie-baby couldn't wait for his father to come back then, although now he
doesn't care; he even feels freer when his father isn't around. Then, however, he still
missed his father for some reason and was counting the days till his return from Siberia.
Eddie-baby knew when his father's train would arrive, and so he decided to
surprise him - to meet the weary Siberian traveler at the railroad station. After a bumpy
two-trolley ride, Eddie got to the Kharkov station, where he waited for the train to come
The train from Siberia - the Kiev-Soviet Harbor - whose arrival time
corresponded to that of Eddie's father's train wasn't scheduled to reach Kharkov for
another two hours, but the patient Eddie waited on the platform the whole time just to
make sure he wouldn't miss his father, in case the train came in early.
Bringing with it the icy breath of the Siberian expanses, with Siberian dust
covering its roof and steps, the train rolled up to the platform, and soon afterward the
Kharkov passengers started to get off. There were a lot of them, including a great many
in uniform, but Eddie-baby didn't see his father anywhere.
After waiting until the very last passenger had disappeared, Eddie-baby once
again visited the information desk in the station and asked if there would be another
train from Siberia. They said that there wouldn't, that there was only one train from
Siberia that day.
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Eddie-baby was sure he hadn't missed his father. Was it possible that his mother
had given him the wrong time for the train? But Raisa Fyodorovna was such an incredibly
meticulous woman that Eddie-baby simply could not believe it was possible that she had
been wrong about the time of her beloved husband's return from his business trip.
The Kharkov railroad station is immense, one of the biggest in the USSR, since
Kharkov is an important industrial city with a population of a million, and the gateway to
the south and the rest of the Ukraine. It is in fact just beyond Kharkov that the warm,
fertile land of the Ukraine really begins, and beyond it the Crimea and the hot, exotic
Caucasus, so that the principal railroad lines to and from those regions all pass through
Kharkov. Which is why in the last war the German troops and "ours" took Kharkov from
each other several times.
The trains hissed as they vented unneeded steam, and everywhere it smelled of
coal, fireboxes, chlorine disinfectant, springtime, and toilets. Racing about were whole
trains of baggage carts loaded down with suitcases and luggage belonging to the
residents of the different lands that make up the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. As
he looked for his father, Eddie-baby walked among the crowds of passengers who were
about to take their seats before departing, or who were getting off the trains after their
arrival in Kharkov, or who were in transit and had therefore hurried out onto the
platforms to fill their stomachs in the nearby cafeterias and restaurants during the one-
or two-hour interval their trains would be halted in one of the country's biggest railroad
stations. He walked among Uzbeks dressed in caftans and embroidered skullcaps, well-
scrubbed Georgians wearing large visored caps, and old women from Kharkov, of
indeterminate age and nationality, who were wrapped up in scarves and shod in rubber-
soled felt boots despite the fact that it was April. The old women had brought out pickled
cucumbers and tomatoes in tubs, hot fried potatoes seasoned with dill, and other
traditional railroad station fare to sell on the platforms. Hands with rubles were extended
to them directly from the windows of the train cars. Without exception, all the old women
hawked their wares with raucous cries.
"Pickled cucumbers here!" shouted one.
"Fried potatoes! Who wants fried potatoes!" yelled another.
"Meat pies! Who wants red-hot meat pies!" hollered a third over the voices of the
other two.
Standardized and worked out right down to the pauses and bursts of sound, their
hawking cries were as ancient as the world of Russia itself. All those "red-hot meat pies"
came out of the immemorial depths of the Russian language from as long ago as the time
of Batu Khan.
Eddie-baby didn't know why he had made the foolish decision to plunge into those
crowds. Finding anybody in them would have been as hard as finding a needle in a
haystack, but rational arguments had often abandoned Eddie-baby in his life, just as they
did then and just as they had always done whenever his powerful intuition took over. By
some strange reckoning, Eddie-baby still thought he would be able to find his father in
the crowds, and so he continued to wander from one platform to another.
And find Veniamin Ivanovich he did. On the verge of complete despair, Eddie-baby
had decided to leave the commotion of the railroad station and set off for home. He
wanted to take a shortcut to the clearly visible pedestrian bridge that extended over the
station and out to his trolley stop, but as soon as he jumped down from the platform to
cross over the tracks, he realized he was going in the wrong direction and got lost in the
labyrinth of freight trains and sidings. Emerging from behind one freight car and crawling
out from under another, Eddie-baby unexpectedly saw his father.
The scene that presented itself to him was utterly mute and austere. From under
his freight car Eddie-baby saw a ring of soldiers with rifles and fixed bayonets. The
soldiers held their rifles with the bayonets forward and slightly toward the ground while
people of some kind came single file down planks that extended from a boxcar with
gratings on its windows. The file flowed into a Black Maria - a black van. The ring of
soldiers, still wearing greatcoats since it was only April after all, broke off in just one
place - where the officer was standing. He held a piece of paper in one hand, and his
other hand lay on his open holster. The officer was Veniamin Ivanovich.
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Eddie-baby hadn't realized that his father transported convicts. Although he knew
theoretically that the MVD to which his father's unit was attached was made up of both
trashes and prisoner escorts, he somehow never connected that circumstance with his
father. True, his father went on business trips to Siberia, but how and in what capacity,
Eddie had no idea. Now he saw that his father was a real trash, even though he wore a
different kind of uniform. And even worse than a trash, since he transported the punks to
labor camps and prisons. "Maybe he even took Gorkun to Kolyma," Eddie-baby thought.
At the time Eddie-baby didn't identify himself with the punks, but he already felt
something like solidarity with them, inasmuch as the world of Saltovka basically consists
of the punks and their opposite, the trashes. Eddie-baby doesn't pay any attention to the
great sea of workers in between, since their role is a passive one.
Eddie-baby didn't go up to Veniamin Ivanovich, who was checking and counting
off the convicts, since he didn't want to distract him from his work. He slipped out from
under the freight car unnoticed, left the remote dead-end siding, and took the trolley
back home. He didn't tell anybody about what had happened, neither Raisa Fyodorovna
nor his father when he returned home several hours later. The fact that his father was a
trash became Eddie-baby's private secret, one that he carried within himself, since his
position in the world of the Saltov district and in the cosmos would have changed
abruptly if his friends had ever found out that he was the son of a trash.
In some strange way Eddie-baby doesn't blame his father for being a trash. It's
his, Veniamin Ivanovich's, business whether or not he wants to be one, although
"military man" sounds a lot nobler, especially if you're a military man in a victorious
country right after a great war. Eddie-baby simply regards himself as very unlucky in
respect to his father. After all, he could have been born into the family of a famous
explorer and traveler, or at least into the family of a general, a general decorated with
medals - but into the family of a trash? Eddie-baby suffers in silence.
There is another thing about Veniamin Ivanovich that bothers Eddie-baby, and
that is the fact that his father never served at the front. Eddie-baby is also careful to hide
this detail of his father's biography. All of Eddie-baby's male relatives perished in the last
war, including his father's brother, Uncle Yura, nineteen years old, whom Eddie-baby, as
his father says, very much resembles in both character and physique. Eddie-baby
understands that if his father had been at the front, he too would have been killed like
Uncle Yura and Grandfather Fyodor Nikitovich, the gallant captain of a penal battalion,
and he, Eddie-baby, would perhaps never have had to make his appearance in this world,
even though he sometimes feels ashamed around the kids whose fathers were killed in
the war. Eddie-baby knows that his father didn't evade the front, that it just turned out
that way against his will, since he was sent to a military academy at the very beginning
of the war, and after that to hunt for deserters in the taiga of the Mari Autonomous
Republic on a special commission signed by Lavrenty Beria.
The commission signed by Lavrenty Pavlovich, who was executed after the death
of Stalin, has also disappeared from the official oral biographies that Veniamin Ivanovich
furnishes his friends and acquaintances. But Eddie-baby knows that such a commission
existed. The Mari taiga part of his father's biography doesn't upset Eddie-baby the way
the trash part does, although it intrigues and disturbs him. In spite of herself, his mother
sometimes lets details of one kind or another about his father's life slip out, but they still
haven't taken shape along the orderly lines of a canonical biography. Sometimes when
she's irritated, his mother recalls a certain girl from the city of Glazov in the Mari
Autonomous Republic with whom his father obviously lived when he served in the taiga
with his terrible commission. Occasionally his mother drops subtle hints to the effect that
it's possible that Eddie-baby has a brother or a sister there in the Mari taiga. The brother
and sister leave Eddie-baby cold, but the commission has never ceased to trouble his
imagination. "Why doesn't my father have a commission like that now?" Eddie-baby
wonders. His own life would be entirely different if his father did.
Eddie-baby, copying one of his father's gestures, covers his head with a couch
pillow, catching himself in the act as he does so. The main things he has inherited from
his handsome father are his gestures and his rolling gait. Eddie's dark complexion and his
prominent cheekbones and pug nose come from his half-Tatar mother.
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Eddie-baby is of the opinion that his mother has made a prisoner of his father. In
the first years of their marriage, Veniamin Ivanovich still ran around some and tried to
slip out from under the stubborn authority of his wife (as Eddie-baby's mother has told
him). He even had lovers then, although he gradually got used to the yoke of family life
and learned to bear it patiently. That yoke may have been made somewhat lighter by the
fact that Veniamin Ivanovich, after disappearing at sunrise, doesn't turn up again in the
Saltov district until late in the evening. His life is largely spent on business trips and at
his military unit. What he actually does there Eddie-baby has no idea. He works.
After witnessing the scene at the railroad station, Eddie-baby started trying to
stay awake in order to listen to the nighttime conversations of his father and mother. It
turned out that they had the custom, while lying in bed just two steps away from his
couch, of talking over in a whisper whatever had happened that day. Once, after his
father had come back from one of his business trips, Eddie overheard the following
conversation while pretending to be asleep on his couch:
"An amazingly strong person," his father said. "You know, I've seen a lot of them,
Raya. Some of them weep like little children, others hide in a corner of the boxcar with
their eyes blazing like a wolfs, but this one talks to you calmly and politely, gets up early,
does calisthenics, and reads. A person of great dignity."
"What did they sentence him for, Venya?" Eddie's mother whispered.
"There wasn't any file on him. That means even we aren't supposed to know who
he is. A 'double zero' is a particularly dangerous individual. He did that the whole trip -
read and did calisthenics. He wasn't supposed to read, but I let him."
"Why did they drag the poor fellow all the way from Siberia to be executed?"
Eddie's mother whispered.
"Because this year they've been carrying out all the death sentences at Krivoy
Rog. A couple of years ago they executed them at our prison in Kholodnaya Gora. They
introduced this annual system for the sake of maintaining morale among the prison
guards. One year they execute everybody sentenced to death on the territory of the
USSR in one prison, the next year in another." Eddie's father paused for a moment and
then continued.
"A courageous man. Still young, no more than thirty-five. Redheaded. Tall. The
officer who turned him over to me hinted that there had been something like an attempt
on Nikitka himself."
Eddie's father fell silent again. He spoke the word "Nikitka" with obvious
contempt. Like many other military people, his father doesn't care for Khrushchev.
Khrushchev cut the military pension and is trying in every way possible to "disarm the
army," as Eddie's father puts it.
"Do you think, Veniamin, that he.?" whispered Eddie's mother, and frightened by
her own thought, didn't finish her sentence.
"What do you think? Of course!" Eddie's father confirmed, and then finished his
mother's sentence for her. "He tried to kill him. And they say it isn't the first time."
Eddie's parents didn't say anything more after that; obviously they'd fallen asleep.
And Eddie-baby fell asleep as well.
And on this day too, in the year 1958, Eddie-baby is falling asleep on his couch,
and without even taking off his jacket.
Naturally just as Eddie is about to fall asleep his mother comes in and wakes him
"You're home?" she says in amazement. "You made a mistake not going with me
to Auntie Marusya's, you fool. We all danced; it was lots of fun. Uncle Vanya even tap-
"Uh-huh," Eddie sleepily mumbles, "lots of fun."
"A lot more fun than with your hoodlums, anyway," his mother counters, and then
takes the offensive. "Why don't you take off your awful shoes? I always have to clean up
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the couch after you. There are spots all over it. And what kind of person sleeps in his
jacket?! You're not a son, you're a barbarian!"
Eddie-baby no longer feels like sleeping. And he also realizes that contrary to his
expectations, his mother has come back from Auntie Marusya's in a brisk and energetic
mood, so that he is assured of at least an hour of nagging. He therefore gets up, takes
down the suitcase standing in the doorway recess behind the portiere, removes the
sleeping bag given to him for his birthday by the Shepelskys, and goes out onto the
"What are you doing? Are you out of your mind!" his mother exclaims. "It's
November outside! Do you want to catch pneumonia? You're tetched!" And his mother
rotates her index finger next to her temple to indicate just how tetched Eddie-baby is.
It's Eddie-baby's view that his mother likes to brag about the purity of her
Russian, as if it were unspoiled by the local Ukrainianized pronunciation and Ukrainian
usage, but she still uses slang words like "tetched," and she still pronounces them the
same way everybody else does.
The tetched Eddie snorts contemptuously and goes out onto the balcony, closing
the door behind him.
At Eddie-baby's request, they finally decided to remodel the balcony into a
separate room, following the example of their neighbors, who have successfully created
additional living space for themselves that way. The lethargic Veniamin Ivanovich
bestirred himself at last and even paid the builders to erect a wide partition between
their part of the balcony and Major Shepotko's, and to put up a whole system of wooden
window frames to separate the front part of the balcony from the outside world. That
structure still doesn't have any panes, however, and the temperature on the balcony is
therefore the same as it is outside.
Eddie-baby spreads out the sleeping bag on a folding canvas cot and crawls into
it. He's no longer sleepy. The goddamn money problem is bothering him again. "Where
can I get some money? Where?" Eddie thinks over and over as he tosses and turns in his
sleeping bag.
Eddie believes that if his mother really were a decent human being, she wouldn't
begrudge him the 250 rubles. It's hardly anything at all! But his mother has dug in her
heels. Raisa Fyodorovna is just as stubborn as Eddie is.
The light has been turned out inside; Eddie's mother has gone to bed. And no
sooner has it been turned out than Eddie-baby recalls the cafeteria.
"What a great idea!" Eddie decides. "They probably took in a pile of money that
they haven't had a chance to turn over to the bank messenger for deposit. What kind of
bank messenger would there be on a holiday evening anyway?"
Eddie-baby still has doubts, however, about the amount of money actually taken
in today at the cafeteria on First Cross Street, and he therefore can't decide whether or
not to burgle it. He lies in the darkness for a while and thinks. The cries of the late-night
revelers gradually die out in the fall Saltovka air as the last groups finally begin to break
up and go home.
"I'll go," Eddie decides. "I'll take a look. If there's an opportunity, I'll slip in. The
only bad thing is that they leave the light on all night in the cafeteria, so you can see
everything that's happening inside through the big new glass door and the huge
windows." One of the windows, however, leads to the semibasement, and that's the one
Eddie is thinking of using to break into the cafeteria. Nobody will see him when he knocks
out the glass.
He has already decided to go, but after checking all his pockets, carefully turning
over in the sleeping bag for that purpose, which makes the springs and tubes of the
folding canvas cot squeak, Eddie-baby suddenly realizes that he has left his glasses in
the other room. That circumstance immediately cools his ardor, and he lies still for a
while, having decided not to break into the cafeteria after all.
"But where will I get the money to take Svetka to Sashka Plotnikov's?" Eddie asks
himself in dismay. "If I don't get it, the fickle Svetka will start going with Shurik." She
has already boasted that Shurik, who works as a clerk in a shoe store, makes a lot of
money and never comes to see her without a box of chocolates and a bottle of
champagne. "As far as I'm concerned, you're poor!" the insolent Svetka once told Eddie,
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puckering up her little doll's face. Eddie-baby pictures Svetka's little doll's face to himself
and smiles. Svetka also has terrific long, long legs exactly like the ones belonging to the
women in the foreign magazines that Kadik once showed him. Sashka Plotnikov has the
same kind of magazines - French, German, even American ones. They belong to his
Svetka's mother, regardless of what they say in the district about her being a
prostitute, still dresses Svetka according to the latest fashion. Svetka wears starched
crinolines and dresses trimmed with lace, which makes her look even more like a doll.
Eddie-baby is proud of his Svetka and regards her as the best-looking girl in the
district - among the minors, obviously. "Yes, and among the grown-ups too," Eddie
decides after thinking about it.
Eddie-baby has finally made up his mind to go. And to go without his glasses,
since getting them from the other room would mean waking his mother up; she's a very
light sleeper and would certainly wake up as soon as he opened the door. "I've got to go,
I've got to," Eddie says to himself by way of bolstering his courage. "There's no other
way to get the money." The cafeteria really does seem to him to be his only chance. The
idea first came to him that afternoon as he walked past it with Asya and Tomka, and it
came to him precisely because of the crowds of customers he saw in there. "They've
obviously taken in a lot of money over the holidays," Eddie continues to reassure himself,
"since who worries about spending money when it's a holiday?"
Eddie carefully climbs out of the sleeping bag, and after checking the contents of
his pockets one more time and buttoning up his jacket, he pushes his body through one
of the openings in the paneless window frames. A minute later and Eddie is already
sitting on the balcony's concrete cornice. He could jump down - after all, it's only the
second floor - but he's afraid of waking his mother and Tolik Perevorachaev downstairs,
since they might hear him land. So he grabs hold of the still open framework covering
the balcony and hangs by his hands. Like Eddie's family, the Perevorachaevs long ago
built themselves an additional room on their own first-floor balcony, and Eddie therefore
has to take extra precautions in order not to break one of the Perevorachaevs' windows.
He slides his body over the glass, seeking a foothold below, but unable to find it, he
releases his hands: plop! He lands safely on the asphalt path that goes around the
perimeter of their building.
Eddie sits without moving for a while, just as he landed. He doesn't want to be
seen either from the neighboring buildings, which are actually a good distance away, or
from his own. He needs to have an alibi, as Kostya has taught him. After taking care of
"business," Eddie will climb back up to his balcony and lie down on the cot again just as if
he had never left it.
Kostya, however, didn't teach him to steal on his own street. According to
Kostya's theory, stealing in your own neighborhood is the very last thing you should do.
"No self-respecting criminal would allow himself to burgle a cafeteria on his own street,"
Eddie-baby thinks a little guiltily. But what can he do? He has no alternative, and he
knows the cafeteria on First Cross Street very well.
Eddie-baby sneaks down First Cross Street, staying close to the walls of the
buildings. He doesn't want to run into acquaintances who've been out on a spree, since
by morning everybody in Saltovka will know that the cafeteria on First Cross Street has
been broken into.
Creeping past Karpovs building, Eddie continues on his way. Next to the women's
dormitory on First Cross Street, several drunken men or boys (it's impossible to tell
which in the darkness) and the dormitory super's wife are raucously abusing each other.
"It's pretty obvious," Eddie thinks. "They want to visit the girls, and the girls want them
to, but the super won't let them: It's against the rules!' It may be against the rules,"
Eddie thinks with a smirk, "but there are probably men and boys hiding out in half the
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rooms right now. Usually they climb in the windows. It's only the drunks who try to go in
through the front door."
It's a five-minute walk from Eddie's building to the cafeteria. Just as he expected,
the interior of the cafeteria is flooded with light. Eddie stands for a while on the other
side of the street next to the front garden of another women's dormitory (there are four
in all on First Cross Street) and, squinting hard, tries his best to take a good look around.
Only now does he realize how stupid it was, with his nearsightedness of -6, to attempt a
burglary without bringing his glasses.
Eddie-baby is well acquainted with the burglar's first rule: You must act boldly and
decisively, without waiting for an "ideal" situation. There won't ever be one. Therefore,
after taking another look around, he crosses the cobbled street without any wasted
movement, heads for the recess in front of the semibasement window, and quickly jumps
down into it.
It's damp and dirty in the recess and smells a little of urine, but Eddie-baby pays
no attention to such unimportant details. Taking a knife from his pocket, he at once sets
to work removing the putty in the right corner of the lower windowpane. On the basis of
some strange, idiotic logic, the pane has been installed from the outside rather than the
inside, which makes Eddie's work much easier. His delight is premature, however. The
putty turns out to be as hard as cement, obviously made that way by the rain or the frost
or all of the elements combined. It doesn't want to be removed, and Eddie's knife slips
off it, taking just a few tiny fragments from its rock-hard surface.
Eddie realizes there's no choice but to break the window. In a situation like this,
the professional Kostya would have brought a towel with him and, squeezing a tube of
BF-2 glue onto it, would have placed the towel against the windowpane and popped it out
easily and noiselessly. Eddie, however, is unprepared and poorly equipped, and he
therefore decides to break the glass and then pull out whatever pieces remain.
Taking off his jacket, Eddie places it over a corner of the window and strikes
through his jacket at the windowpane with the haft of his heavy knife. The glass doesn't
break at first, and despite the jacket there is still too much noise when it does. Eddie-
baby freezes and listens to see if anything is happening on the street. Nothing,
He wants to stick his head up out of his hole to look, but he waits before doing so.
Just then he distinctly hears the bootsteps of a trash - a unique sound impossible to
confuse with the light steps of a civilian. A heavy, proprietary tread: Eddie-baby crouches
in his hole without moving, pressing against its cold wall.
The steps come closer. Eddie-baby's stomach churns. As always in moments of
danger, he suddenly feels an overwhelming urge to defecate.
The steps come to a halt at the front door of the cafeteria, and for a while no
sound is heard, and then the steps suddenly begin again, this time moving away. Eddie-
baby breathes a sigh of relief. His stomach is no longer churning. The trash has tried the
door and continued on his beat. He obviously heard something when the glass was being
broken, or something else in the cafeteria seemed suspicious to him, and he decided to
investigate. If it had occurred to him to take a look in the hole, Eddie-baby would have
been done for.
"I've got to hurry," Eddie-baby thinks. Eddie knows that the trash has just come
on duty, and he is familiar with his beat. The trash will go up First Cross Street and check
several stores and kiosks in the vicinity of the vehicle maintenance lot, and then he'll
turn in the direction of the hospital. Next to the hospital is a large grocery store that has
just recently been built and has already been burgled several times by the punks, since
it's so far from the streetlights of civilization and the trolley stops. Eddie-baby doesn't
have a lot of time, but he has enough. He quickly sets to work removing the pieces of
glass from the window frame, using his jacket to grab hold of them. What he really
should have brought with him is a pair of gloves.
A couple of minutes later Eddie-baby is inside the cafeteria. It's stuffy there, and
the stoves visible in the kitchen are still hot, since the cafeteria has only been closed for
a few hours. Losing no time, Eddie gets to work on the hardest part. He goes to the
wooden cashier's cage, which is in the middle of the dining room and is brightly lit and
can therefore be seen through the window by any passerby, and tries the door.
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It won't open. For some reason Eddie imagined that it would be held by a
lightweight bolt, but instead there is an extremely heavy Moscow-type padlock hanging
from it. Eddie-baby knows from experience that opening or breaking such a lock is no
easy matter, especially if you don't even have a crowbar with you. But looking up, Eddie-
baby realizes that there's no need to remove the lock at all, since there's at least half a
meter between the top of the open cage and the very high ceiling. Eddie-baby quickly
moves a couple of chairs over and climbs up onto them, taking hold of the cage's top
edge. He then pulls himself up, throws his leg over, and slides down inside.
This is the most dangerous moment. Because the cage is so well lit and is in the
center of the dining room, anyone passing by on the street will be able to see the
pyramid of chairs. Eddie-baby is in a hurry and pulls at the drawer of the cash register.
It's locked, but he forces his knife into the crack above the drawer and tears away its
thin sheet-iron covering and the lock along with it. The drawer slides out. Squinting
nearsightedly, he bends over its compartments and swears to himself in disappointment:
"Cocksuckers!" There's nothing in the compartments but some small change and a thin
packet of fresh new rubles. About twenty in all. Or maybe thirty.
Eddie-baby quickly rummages through the drawers of the cashier's desk, which
aren't even locked, but all he finds in them are bundles of invoices and some other
worthless papers stuck on spindles, as well as several rubber stamps, some paper clips, a
dried-up leftover sandwich, a couple of forks and knives from the cafeteria, a green comb
with a few of the cashier's gray hairs stuck in it, a mirror, and some pomade in a
crumpled bronze tube. There isn't any more money.
Eddie-baby looks around the primitive structure. The only things in it are a chair
and the desk with the cash register on it, and above the register a price list pinned to the
wall. That's all the cage contains. Not much.
Eddie rakes the change into his pockets and puts the thin packet of rubles in the
same place. And then, without hesitating, he climbs up onto the desk, stands on the cash
register, and in a single leap vaults over the side of the cage, hangs from his hands, and
drops down to the floor. Eddie is always annoyed by movie heroes who stop to think in
perilous situations or take too long to part with their brides, which lack of haste
ultimately lands them either in prison or on the gallows. "Get out of there, you asshole!"
Eddie always whispers in the darkness of the movie theater on such occasions. Once
back on the floor, Eddie himself immediately grabs the two chairs and returns them to
the little table where he found them, and then, without even looking out the window to
make sure that nobody has seen him, he hides in the kitchen.
The kitchen is even hotter and reeks of overcooked soup or borsch. Eddie-baby
feels like something to eat and lifts the lids of a couple of saucepans, but either they're
empty or they don't contain anything interesting - the brown leftovers of borsch or soup
that the cook's helper will pour down the drain the next morning without regret.
Eddie-baby looks around. There can't be any money in the kitchen, of course, but
he soon notices another door next to the entrance to the dining room. He rushes over to
it, opens it, and finds himself in a small, cool, somewhat dank little corridor with two
other doors opening off it. Affixed to one of the doors is a small sign with the word
"Manager" on it.
It is in fact the manager's office that Eddie-baby wants. To his relief, it isn't
locked. Eddie turns the black light switch by the doorway and goes into the office.
A glance at the large gray safe in the corner immediately tells him that the game
is over. That all is lost. "You went through all this for nothing, you feeble asshole - just
so you could stand gaping at a steel box." It isn't the first time that something like this
has happened to him. Only recently he and Kostya spent a long time trying to drill out
the lock of a safe in a shoe store that by their calculations should have contained from
150,000 to 200,000 rubles! It just wasn't working, and there was nothing to do but give
up the whole thing and get out of there. Kostya is trying to learn how to crack safes, but
where can he learn and who is there to teach him? The only safecrackers, or "bear
hunters," left are those in the novels of Sheinin, the real ones having long ago been
liquidated as a class. There's nobody to apprentice with, and Kostya isn't a good enough
locksmith and mechanic to figure out for himself how it's done.
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Eddie kicks the safe in a fury and looks around. A large office desk made of an
unknown variety of wood stands in one corner, and above it is a small window covered
with a grating. There are no other windows in the office. The window looks out onto the
yard shared by Grocery Store No.11 and the Bombay, and it too is a semibasement
window, just like the one Eddie climbed through. Over the window is a thick, dark shade,
so that there's nothing to be concerned about. Eddie sits down in the manager's armchair
and starts opening the desk drawers one after another.
In them are papers, grimy folders with dirty, greasy fingerprints on them - the
sloppy bookkeeping of a cafeteria. Eddie systematically opens each folder in the hope of
finding a wad of hundred-ruble notes inside. One after another he tosses the inspected
folders onto the floor, where an impressive pile of documents quickly accumulates.
Eddie-baby is in a rage, and even though he ought to leave, since it's quite obvious that
the cafeteria's take for the day is locked up in the safe, it pains him to the point of tears
to do so. He doesn't even try to open the safe. What with? His finger?
In a corner of one of the drawers he finds a half-empty bottle of cognac.
Removing the cork, Eddie-baby puts the bottle to his mouth. The manager knows what to
drink; his cognac isn't just three-star (which even at that costs more than vodka) but
VSOP, which means "Very Superior Old Pale." Eddie-baby believes that everybody in
business is a crook. That's what all the punks and workers in Saltovka believe, and
Eddie-baby shares a great many of the district's opinions and misconceptions. Crooks
drink VSOP.
The funny idea suddenly occurs to Eddie-baby that he too is a crook, although he
is immediately calmed by the thought that burglary is a noble activity taking place out in
the open, so to speak, whereas it's bad to steal groceries on the sly and cheat on
invoices the way all the fat managers and directors do. "Is Red Sanya a crook, then?"
Eddie suddenly thinks, and laughs out loud, realizing that Sanya's a crook twice over.
Eddie-baby decides to get going and grabs the bottle, moving toward the
doorway. Next to it is a coatrack made of deer antlers, and hanging on the coatrack are a
navy blue beret and a white coat that obviously belongs to the manager. Taking down
the white coat, Eddie-baby discovers underneath a black wool ratin overcoat with an
astrakhan shawl collar. He instantly decides that he can fence the coat to the
Azerbaijanis at the Horse Market after the holidays, and so he pulls it on over his jacket
and sticks the bottle in one of its pockets.
Just as he reaches the door leading back into the dining room and is about to
open it, Eddie-baby suddenly hears the sound of highly excited voices coming from
somewhere outside - not somewhere far away but somewhere nearby, somewhere next
to the front door itself. He's terrified.
His stomach starts churning again, only this time in earnest, since it's upset by
the cognac as well. Unable to withstand the urgent promptings of his bowels, Eddie is
forced to beat a hasty retreat back to the managers office, where he unbuttons his
trousers with a jerk and squats down on his haunches. A stream of watery crap shoots
out of him all over the documents spread on the floor. Holding up the skirts of the stolen
coat with his hands, Eddie-baby sits still for a while and listens.
When he again makes his way into the dining hall of the cafeteria, now very
stealthily, the voices have ceased. No longer expecting any further developments, Eddie
heads for the window he came in by and climbs first into the damp recess and then, not
hearing any suspicious noises nearby, out onto the street. Like any other nearsighted
boy, he puts far more trust in his ears than he does in his eyes. Once outside, he goes as
Kostya has taught him, not in the direction of home, but in the direction of the school,
where he jumps over the fence and wanders for a while on the dark soccer field, finally
sitting down on some bricks in its most poorly lit corner to drink the cognac straight from
the bottle.
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Eddie-baby afterward takes a circuitous route home, skirting the vehicle
maintenance lot and going along the edge of the Russian cemetery just to be sure. He
knows that it costs money to call out the militia dog, and that they won't call it and its
special militia handler out just for twenty or maybe thirty stolen rubles. But following
Kostya's instructions, he scrupulously wanders for a whole hour in order to throw the dog
off the scent, and when he finally does reach home, he's terribly sleepy.
Ever since the Perevorachaevs built their room on the balcony, it has been very
difficult for Eddie-baby to climb up to his own room. It's a wonder he hasn't broken at
least one of their windows with his feet - it would be easy to do - but he still uses their
window frame for support, uses it only to reach up with his hand to the frame on his own
balcony, but uses it nevertheless.
After fifteen minutes of slipping and muffled swearing, Eddie finally manages to
climb up to his room, where he stuffs the stolen coat under the cot and lies down in his
sleeping bag. His mother, thank God, has not heard him. She's still quietly asleep in her
Already falling asleep, Eddie-baby thinks that the crook-manager will probably use
the unsuccessful burglary to write off the loss of thousands of rubles that he has in fact
embezzled and squandered himself, and in a couple of days all of Saltovka will be
buzzing about the huge sums of money taken in the cafeteria burglary. The bastard!
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Eddie-baby is sitting without any clothes on in the huge, white, naked lap of crazy
Tonka, feeling her powerful thighs pressing up against his buttocks. One of Tonka's
hands is holding Eddie-baby's stomach (he feels an embarrassed burning in it), and her
other hand, which is not so much white as bluish (even when it's very cold Tonka goes
around the district without any gloves on), is slowly moving in the direction of Eddie-
baby's penis. Eddie-baby remains motionless, anticipating what will happen next, and his
penis, engorged and erect, trembling and shy, waits for the touch of Tonka's hand.
At the very instant when crazy Tonka's rough palm at last takes hold of him and
hot white fluid spurts out of his penis in a high arc in response to the warmth of her
hand, Eddie-baby wakes up.
He lies still for a moment, trying to separate reality from what he has just
dreamed, and then he realizes that he is lying in his sleeping bag on his own balcony,
now bathed in dull November sunlight, and sighs in relief. He puts his hand under the
blanket, rummages there, touches a wet spot with his palm, and satisfied with that,
takes his hand away. He was quite startled the first time he came in his sleep, but now
he's used to it.
He started dreaming about Tonka last summer, and whenever he meets her on
the streets of the district or at home - his mother is well disposed toward her and feeds
her - Eddie-baby is quite abashed by the fifty-year-old, gray-haired crazy woman.
Antonina Sergeevna Chernov, a former lieutenant colonel in the tank forces, sustained a
severe concussion at the very end of the war, and ever since she has been notorious for
her extraordinarily eccentric behavior verging on insanity. She tells people the truth to
their faces regardless of who they are, and she drinks, an exclusively male activity
according to the code observed in Saltovka. You often see her at the beer stand, where
needless to say she gets her beer without waiting in line, brazenly pushing the men aside
and paying no attention at all to their indignant shouts. What is still more shocking to the
residents of Saltovka, however, is the fact that Tonka never stands in line for butter* the
food item that is for some reason in shortest supply. She walks in with all her medals and
decorations pinned to her blouse, including two Red Stars and two Red Banners (since
Antonina Sergeevna served with valor), or if it's winter pinned to her coat, and takes
whatever quantity of butter she needs. And she needs a lot, since she buys not only for
herself but naturally also for Raisa Fyodorovna, who hates to stand in line, and for
several other friends as well. When the militia officer watching the line tries to stop her,
Tonka, her hair flying out from under her kerchief, screams in his face that it was in fact
for the sake of dogs like him that she lost her health at the front during the Great
Patriotic War while he sat it out in the rear, and that if he doesn't instantly let go of her
sleeve, she'll complain to General of the Army Yepishev, commandant of the Central
Political Administration of the Soviet Army and her best friend. If the situation gets
serious, however, crazy Tonka doesn't wait for the help of the General of the Army but
happily resorts to her own large tank commander's fists and to the exceptional strength
of her robust Russian womanhood.
The men of Saltovka have beaten up crazy Tonka several times, once for the fact
that she pinched somebody's baby too hard. Tonka, for reasons nobody understands,
doesn't like babies. Eddie-baby happened to witness the final scene of one of these
skirmishes, when the bloodied but still unvanquished Tonka, her blouse torn at her
breast, threw stones at a scattered group of men standing not far away from her. "You
whores, you filthy buggers!" Tonka snarled. "You deserters! If I had run into you at the
front, I would have put all of you up against a wall!" As he watched her, the melancholy
thought occurred to Eddie-baby that if Tonka had known anything about the Furies, she
would have been amazed at how closely she resembled them. Out of Tonka's torn blouse
had tumbled a large white breast with a big rubbery nipple.
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Eddie-baby has never forgotten that mighty breast, and it may be that the
memory of it is what lies behind all the terrible dreams Eddie-baby's had in which he and
Tonka do disgusting things to each other, and after their often gymnastically complicated
frolicking, usually end up fucking. Tonka pursues Eddie-baby in the daytime too: all he
has to do is close his eyes somewhere in the sunshine - at the beach, say, where he
goes starting in early spring and ending in late fall - and at once the tormentor Tonka
appears before him, naked and shaking her gray mane of hair, in order to torture him.
Eddie-baby is embarrassed now even to look Tonka in the face when she comes to
visit them. In real life Tonka and Raisa Fyodorovna have become something like friends,
although Eddie's mother maintains that Tonka is secretly infatuated with Veniamin
Ivanovich. And really, in spite of her normally coarse and insolent way with men, Tonka
is quite shy and timid whenever she catches Eddie's father's eye. It's funny to see how
Tonka, that big battle-ax, suddenly becomes very polite, stammers, drops her gaze, and
picks at the fringe of their green silk tablecloth with her huge hands. Tonka is a lot taller
than Veniamin Ivanovich, who looks like an elegant boy dressed up in a military uniform
next to her - especially since he's also about ten years younger than she is.
Eddie's mother says that most likely Veniamin Ivanovich reminds Tonka of her
fianc, who died a long time ago during the Spanish civil war. His mother also maintains
that Tonka isn't as crazy as the Saltovka residents think - that even though her
concussion was certainly a serious one and she is sometimes ravaged by headaches she
takes special injections to relieve, it's also to Tonka's advantage to seem crazy, since it
makes life easier for her.
"Antonina Sergeevna is an intelligent woman," Eddie's mother's declares, "and a
real combat officer, unlike a lot of these other invalid-clowns, such as Efim from
Tyurenka, who had his leg cut off by a trolley before the war when he was drunk and
now drives around in his own specially adapted car all decked out in secondhand medals
he bought somewhere, pretending to be a hero." Antonina Sergeevna just isn't like
anyone else, which is why everybody in Saltovka thinks she's crazy. Who else in their
right mind would abuse Khrushchev in the presence of a militia officer? Antonina
Sergeevna and Eddie's father, like many other military people, dislike Khrushchev for
cutting their pensions. She lives alone on what she receives as a retired lieutenant
colonel, since all her relatives perished in the war, which may in fact be the reason why
she fought so valiantly - she was taking revenge on the Germans for her own family.
Eddie-baby can't get back to sleep again and is now thinking about how to sneak
past his mother to the toilet so she won't notice the spot on his pants. Eddie-baby is very
ashamed of this secret side of his life. His mother will think he masturbated and will
maybe say something to him about it. As soon as he started masturbating (Tonka was
mixed up in that business too, since Eddie-baby copied his dreams in his thoughts), his
mother knew about it. And Eddie-baby knows how she found out.
Very simple. He used to wipe his penis with sheets from a tear-off day calendar.
Sometimes he would throw the sheets in the toilet, although sometimes he forgot to. His
mother obviously found the sheets, stuck together with a dry yellow substance very
much resembling glue, and obviously guessed at once that that substance was none
other than semen produced by her son, who had finally reached the age of sexual
As gently as she could, Eddie's mother gave her son a lecture. Raisa Fyodorovna
is a well-read woman - the bookcase in their room is packed with books - and since it
was clear to her that Eddie-baby understood very little about his own behavior, she
decided to warn him about it.
During the lecture Eddie-baby blushed and then turned pale and denied it all. The
most he would concede was that, yes, the calendar sheets were his work, but he had
only blown his nose on them. Eddie-baby knew his mother didn't believe that the
substance on the sheets was dried snot, but what else could he say? Admit that he
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abused himself several times a day, panting and moaning with his eyes closed while
reviewing in his mind his latest dream about the huge, insolently smirking Tonka sitting
with her legs spread wide apart?
Despite his mother's warnings that masturbation is a dangerous disease, that it
dries out the brain and sucks the strength from a boy's body, Eddie-baby failed even to
reduce the frequency of his masturbation. The fact is, he gets tremendous pleasure when
he comes, and he hasn't the strength to deny himself that pleasure. Although he does
hide the calendar sheets in his pocket now, throwing them away outside.
Eddie-baby tries to recall when he first discovered masturbation. He remembers
unconsciously examining his penis, turning it in his hand. Yes, he suddenly recalls, it
was after a bath, when he used to go to the baths once a week with his father. His father
had pointed Eddie's penis out to him and told him not to forget to wash it.
Surrounded by clouds of steam and naked men, Eddie watched his father rub and
scrape his penis, and for the first time he realized that the tip of his father's penis was
red. Looking at his own sprout, Eddie at once noticed a difference: its tip wasn't red, it
was the same brown color as the rest of his skin, although it was wrinkled and had a little
bluish-red skin inside, but only a little, and only around the opening through which his
urine passed. After eluding his father, who was trying to catch him in the steam in order
to wash his penis for him (Eddie wouldn't even let his mother touch him), he decided on
the way home to examine his penis more closely as soon as he was alone.
It was not until the next day that he managed to do so, since the previous one
had been his father's day off - it was in fact on his day off that he and Eddie took the
trolley to the baths. Eddie's mother used to go to the baths with Auntie Beba, but now
she's going more and more with the Auntie Marusyas.
The day after the incident in the baths, Eddie-baby waited for his mother to go to
the store, and then he got undressed, sat down on his couch, and began looking at his
penis. It turned out on closer inspection that the design of his penis wasn't really much
different from his father's. The wrinkled skin covering its tip could be moved back,
thereby revealing the same bluish-red skin that Veniamin Ivanovich had on his.
Eddie-baby was astonished by his discovery. Moreover, when he attempted to
move the skin even farther back, his penis immediately increased in size, and when he
pulled the skin down as far as he could, he suddenly discovered that several centimeters
from the tip of his penis was a ring of some yellowish-gray fibrous substance. Picking at
it with his fingernail, Eddie-baby lifted some of it to his nose and sniffed. It didn't smell
very good - rather like Roquefort cheese. Picking at it again out of curiosity, he
managed to separate a whole layer of the yellowish-gray substance from the tender
whitish-pink skin underneath.
That scared him. He thought that he had accidentally destroyed something on his
penis. "What will happen now?!" he thought in dismay. The fact is that Eddie-baby's
knowledge in the areas of botany, zoology, or seafaring far exceeded his knowledge in
the area of human biology. As far as explaining it to him was concerned, nobody had
ever explained anything, and now he was sitting on his couch with his penis in his hand
and was quite confused.
After sitting in perplexity for a while, Eddie-baby for some reason decided to
remove the rest of the yellowish-gray substance, pulling it off little by little. Without that
substance, the tip of his penis looked like the head of a large screw, and his penis like
the screw itself, only made out of flesh. Eddie-baby moved the skin back and forth on his
penis. Nothing happened. Then he moved it again. The sensation was a pleasant one. He
continued moving the skin on his penis until he surprised himself by suddenly emitting a
quiet moan and slightly opening his mouth, while from the opening where his urine
usually shot out a large yellow drop emerged, remained there for a moment, and then
slowly slid down the side. Thus did Eddie-baby come for the first time in his life. A sense
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of relief as if after deliverance from a difficult thousand-year labor descended on him.
Along with anxiety about himself and about his body.
It was at that moment that the bewildered Eddie-baby heard the sound of a key
being turned in the lock. And it is precisely to that moment that the emergence of his
baneful habit of using the calendar sheets may be traced, a habit that sometimes
resulted in his tearing them off for several days into the future. For no sooner did he hear
his mother at the door than Eddie-baby grabbed the first thing that came to hand - the
calendar - wiped his penis on a couple of its sheets, and climbed back into his pants as
fast as he could. Luckily, his mother went into the kitchen first to put away the things
she had purchased. Eddie tossed the stuck-together calendar sheets under the couch.
Today Eddie-baby gets up from his cot and stealthily opens the door to the other
room. Despite his best efforts, the door creaks. With an annoyed expression on his face,
Eddie enters the room, trying to walk sideways. His mother isn't there, thank God. The
alarm clock standing on the white lace cloth on top of the television shows eleven, which
is hardly surprising, since Eddie-baby slept pretty soundly after dragging himself through
the mud of Saltovka in order to cover his tracks. In all probability, his mother is either in
the kitchen or has gone to get something from the Auntie Marusyas, inasmuch as the
three women are continually scurrying back and forth between the first and second
floors. Although she doesn't work, Raisa Fyodorovna still gets up early.
Eddie-baby carefully goes out of the room into the hallway and listens. No, it's
quiet in the kitchen, not a sound. No longer cautious now, he goes to the toilet, pees,
and only then goes into the kitchen and washes himself over the sink. Right there in the
kitchen, he takes off his pants and washes out the stain, which is already beginning to
dry. If he doesn't wash it out, as Eddie knows from experience, a white spot will remain
on the black velveteen Polish trousers. The Polish trousers have been torn here and there
and sewn back together by Eddie-baby himself, but he stubbornly continues to wear
them, since Asya once told him that when he has his black Polish trousers and a white
shirt on, he looks a lot like the recently deceased American actor James Dean, whose
picture she showed him in a book of photographs. And there really is a lot of
resemblance between them, although the actor was older. Eddie-baby's hair is a little
shorter than James's was, but otherwise the similarity is striking. James Dean was a
great guy; it's too bad he was killed. He smashed himself up in a sports car. Eddie-baby
asked Asya what movies James was in, but she regretfully told him that his movies aren't
shown in the Soviet Union - Khrushchev didn't buy any. Although he did buy a lot of
American movies, he didn't buy any with James Dean.
Eddie-baby cleans his trousers and thinks that while it may be true that
Khrushchev looks like a pig, life is still more fun with him around. At least with
Khrushchev the country isn't so bored. As far as the Saltovka kids are concerned, one of
Nikitka's more important services isn't the corn he introduced but the fact that he bought
foreign films that are entertaining and out of the ordinary. The Saltovka punks don't care
about Soviet films. "Which is understandable," Eddie thinks. "Nobody shows them films
about real voyages and adventures." All the Soviet films, if they show young people at
all, show the kind you see in posters - fucked-up types cheerfully working in plants and
factories fulfilling and overfulfilling the five-year plan. The Saltovka and Tyurenka and
even Zhuravlyovka kids know from their own lives that working in plants and factories is
boring, that the only reason anybody works in them is to make money, and that any
normal person, if he could, either wouldn't work at all or would steal or like Red Sanya
would get a job as a butcher where he could earn even more money and always bring
home the best meat.
"And it's even better," Eddie thinks, "to be an Azerbaijani or a Georgian. They
have plenty of money. And why is that?" Eddie goes on. "What's the reason? Russians
and Ukrainians don't have any money, whereas Azerbaijanis, Georgians, and Armenians
do. The reason is that their land is richer, and if they come to Kharkov with a boxcar full
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of tangerines, which grow where they live, they always return from Kharkov with several
suitcases of money."
Eddie-baby remembers the words of Slavka the Gypsy: ".Our ancestors had the
souls of slaves, so instead of bravely conquering warm lands for themselves around the
Mediterranean where lemons grow, they fled like cowards to this fucking snow!"
"That's bullshit," Eddie thinks. "Slavka's wrong." He, Eddie, has an excellent
knowledge of history - it's no coincidence that the Mop likes him - and the Georgians
and the Armenians and the Azerbaijanis, who are the same as Turks, were never braver
than the Russians. "After all, we're the ones who conquered them," Eddie-baby thinks,
"and not the other way around. But why has it turned out that they, the conquered ones,
live a lot better than we do, the ones who conquered them? Maybe the Georgians live as
well as they do because Stalin was a Georgian," Eddie thinks. "But how come the
Azerbaijanis and Armenians are better off than the Russians and a hundred times better
off than the kids from Saltovka? It doesn't make any sense."
After taking care of the spot, Eddie decides that he might as well iron his dress
trousers for the evening, just in case he and Svetka do go to Sashka Plotnikov's after all.
Remembering Svetka, the evening, and his dress trousers, Eddie-baby realizes with
dismay that he still doesn't have the money. He sticks his hand in his jacket pocket and
counts the rubles and change there: 46 rubles and 75 kopecks, one-fifth of the sum he
As a consequence of the despair that suddenly overwhelms him, Eddie doesn't feel
like doing anything, but after wandering around the empty apartment for a few minutes
- neither his mother nor their neighbors are there, a fact that would normally cheer him
- he gradually calms down. He realizes that it's not even twelve and that he's supposed
to pick Svetka up at eight, which means he has over eight hours left. He'll think of
something in the meantime.
For a start, Eddie ransacks the room, opening the bureau and digging around in
his mother's blouses and Veniamin Ivanovich's military tunics and shirts and in his
raincoat and winter coat. All he manages to turn up is four rubles, which he adds to the
money he got at the cafeteria. "Cocksuckers!" Eddie-baby swears out loud. If it weren't
for that safe, he wouldn't have anything to worry about now, and besides spending the
evening at Sashka Plotnikov's, he could take Svetka several times to the Theatergoer
downtown, where the music is good and the waiters let minors in. The first time Eddie
went to the Theatergoer was with Red Sanya. Where did they get the ridiculous habit of
keeping their money in a safe! Usually the managers or cashiers simply hide the money
they take in after the regular evening visit of the bank messengers (who only work until
six, according to Kostya), stashing it somewhere inside the store. Most of the time they
put it in the bottom of an empty or partly empty cardboard box. Now, however, they've
started using the fucking safes more and more.
Eddie goes out into the hallway, where the neighbors' coats are hanging behind a
white curtain - just Uncle Kolya's and his wife Lidka's, since Major Shepotko doesn't
keep his greatcoat in the hallway - and rummages through their pockets. Nothing,
unfortunately. "And what did you expect anyway - to find two hundred rubles in Uncle
Kolya's coat pocket?" Eddie thinks in irritated disappointment. Uncle Kolya drinks and
sometimes leaves cash in his pockets, but not two hundred rubles.
Moving several pots from their own kitchen table onto Major Shepotko's, Eddie-
baby spreads out an old army blanket he has brought from the other room and starts
ironing his dress trousers. As he guides the iron he thinks about what he will do.
"Svetka's really dumb," Eddie decides. "What does she want to go to Sashka
Plotnikov's so much for anyway? It'll just be a bunch of phonies who'll spend the evening
acting phony with each other." Eddie finds them boring, and if it weren't for Svetka, he
wouldn't go. No, he wouldn't go, although it's quite possible that Asya will also be there.
She hasn't decided yet.
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"My mother's really something too," Eddie thinks. On the one hand, she wants him
to associate with Plotnikov and his crowd, and on the other, she won't give him any
money, as a punishment. The contradiction is idiotic. Hanging out with any other crowd
would require a lot less money, since nobody besides Sashka and his friends would
expect you to chip in 250 rubles per couple. They drink brandy and champagne and buy
the girls fruit and chocolate for dessert. "Fucking aristocrats!" Eddie thinks, and frowns.
He doesn't like dessert and automatically holds in contempt anybody who does, demoting
them to the rank of women. Sashka Plotnikov likes chocolate.
By the time he's finished with his trousers, Eddie-baby has a plan. His best bet is
to borrow some money from Borka Churilov, his new friend from wrestling. The very first
evening Eddie went, Arseny, their coach, paired him with the experienced Boris to be
torn apart, and Borka tossed Eddie's body around to his heart's content, a body
unaccustomed to physical humiliation. The kids standing around at the edge of the ring
laughed, and Eddie-baby, getting up from the mat, threw himself at Boris again and
again in a helpless rage while the latter easily caught him by the arm or leg, using a
surprising new technique to hurl him deftly back to the mat.
Eddie never thought he would survive the humiliation. And he was enraged at the
coach for having pitted him, a rank beginner who had come to practice for the first time,
against Boris, who was five years older and who had a second-class rating at a time
when Eddie was still a long way even from a third-class rating.
Eddie would never have returned to that world of leather mats permeated with the
odor of masculine sweat, to that world of athletes in colored wrestling tights, had it not
been for Boris. Coming up to Eddie at the entrance to the Construction Workers'
House of Culture after practice, the short-haired, skinny Borka spoke to him in a
friendly tone that contrasted sharply with the ruthless person who had virtually broken
Eddie's neck with his iron holds.
"Your name's Ed?" he asked.
"Yes," Eddie-baby morosely confirmed.
"Don't be upset, Ed," Boris said. "Our Arseny has his own methods. He always
pairs beginners with experienced wrestlers, and if the beginner comes to the next
practice session, that proves he's strong-willed and can be a good wrestler. The majority
of kids don't turn up for the next practice. But you'll come, of course?"
Eddie-baby had already decided that he would never again go to wrestling at the
Construction Workers' House of Culture, would never again permit himself to be
humiliated like that, but he was ashamed to let this foundry worker down and came
anyway. And he wasn't sorry he did, because at the next practice Arseny first showed the
beginners several easy tricks and then divided them all up into pairs to wrestle with other
beginners. It was in a skirmish with the Tyurenka hoodlum Vitka Efimenko that Eddie-
baby enjoyed his first wrestling victory. Eddie proved to be very tenacious, as the coach
expressed it, and he got the win.
Borka Churilov's a strange guy. There aren't any others like him in Saltovka. Or in
Tyurenka either. Borka's sister lives in Zhuravlyovka, but Borka and his old mother live in
Why is he strange? Because you can't categorize him. Borka is certainly not a
punk, and although he's already worked for several years in the foundry at the Hammer
and Sickle Factory, you still wouldn't call him a normal proletarian. Would a normal
proletarian spend his whole salary on books? It's going pretty far if they have a couple in
their homes, whereas Borka's room, which is long and narrow like a trolley, is crammed
with them. Soon it will be impossible to find the lean Borka and his mocking and no less
lean old mother behind all their books.
Why else is Borka strange? Well, unlike all the other kids, he doesn't drink.
Although Eddie-baby does, he respects Borka for not drinking. He doesn't want to drink,
and so he doesn't, and who says he has to anyway?
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Borka has no father. Eddie-baby doesn't know whether Borka's father was killed at
the front or whether something else happened to him, since Borka doesn't talk about
him, which is his business. The only thing Eddie does know about Borka Churilov's father
is that he was a worker like his son.
Borka's mother believes in God. But she is unlike the other believers Eddie-baby
has run into in his life, in that her faith is a cheerful one. She keeps a picture of God
called an icon in the sunniest corner of their trolley-shaped room. Sometimes an anti-
religion agitator visits Borka's mother to try to talk her into taking the icon down, but she
just laughs. Borka, however, though he himself doesn't believe in God, gets very mad at
the agitator for bothering his mother and has even promised to kick the agitator
downstairs if he doesn't stop coming to see her while Borka is away.
Borka says he's a worker by birth and has had enough of the agitator. Borka loves
his mocking old mother very much, and they get along very well, although the Saltovka
gossips think that Borka and his mother aren't normal, that maybe they're sectarians.
The gossips say it isn't normal for a grown-up fellow like Borka to live with an old woman
like his mother and not drink, smoke, swear, go to dances, or take an interest in girls.
Therefore he must be a sectarian.
"Idiots!" Eddie thinks. If somebody's different from the rest of Saltovka society,
from all these Auntie Marusyas and Uncle Sashas, then he's immediately declared a
madman or a sectarian. But Eddie knows that Borka's not a sectarian - he's a yogi; he
has no stomach at all, and he can pull his stomach back to his spine. Borka is a yogi, and
Eddie has read about yogis.
Eddie-baby leaps from Borka to his own personality. After putting away his
trousers, he gets a jar of potato salad out of the large net bag hanging from the transom
window in the cool November air - a Saltovkan refrigerator, 1958 model - and not
bothering to put it on a plate, starts eating the salad directly from the jar, that being
Everybody thinks that he, Eddie, isn't normal either, as Asya has told him.
"Everybody" doesn't mean Kadik or Asya or Borka Churilov, but it does mean Red Sanya,
since he's also of the opinion that Eddie-baby isn't normal. "Why not?" Eddie wonders.
Well, in the first place, Eddie writes poetry, and Red Sanya says that he's a
second Yesenin. Several girls in Secondary School No.8 also write poetry, but Eddie
writes the kind of poetry that people remember and enjoy. Last summer he recited his
poetry to a crowd at the beach, and they greeted it with delight. After his recitation a
bearded man in red trunks came up to him and asked if he might talk to him for a
Sitting with Eddie in the shade under an umbrella and treating him to some wine
from a flask - it was a dry wine of good quality, like the wine at Asya's house - the
bearded man said that Eddie was a talented fellow and ought to study. The man provided
Eddie with the address of a Kharkov poet named Revolt Bunchukov and told Eddie not to
fail to go to Bunchukov's poetry workshop, since they could teach him a lot there.
"Hey, Ed! Ed!" Sanya started yelling.
The Saltovka punks always come to the beach in groups of no less than fifty, just
in case there's an attack by the Zhuravlyovka punks. At the time in question, they were
all spread out under the bushes swilling vodka. Sanya, of course, was ensconced in state,
a looming Goering-like presence sitting in the shade with his towel wrapped around his
head turban-style, since he's sensitive to the sun. That's because he's got the boiled-
lobster skin of a German.
"Hey, Ed!" all the kids started shouting now.
"You seem to be a popular figure with them," grinned the bearded man. "Their
own poet. Go, go," he said, "I wouldn't think of keeping you from them. But all the same,
drop by and see Bunchukov. You need to develop, you need new, more intellectual
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friends. With these" - and the bearded man tipped his head in the direction of the
Saltovka punks - "you won't get very far."
Eddie left him, putting the piece of paper with Bunchukov's address on it in the
pocket of his trunks, but in his mind condemning the bearded man and taking offense on
behalf of the Saltovka kids. "That bearded asshole. The Saltovka kids are good kids -
friendly, and a lot more interesting than anybody from Tyurenka."
Eddie eats the potato salad - he likes any food containing meat, and it has meat
in it - and thinks, "How come they've all started saying, 'You're not that kind, you're
different'? First the bearded guy last summer, and then Asya, and Slavka the Gypsy, and
Borka Churilov, and." The most ridiculous part of all is that even Captain Zilberman told
him he was special, that he wasn't like the other kids.
"Eduard," the captain tried to convince him the last time Eddie was in his office,
"stop hanging out with the punks; they're all on their way to the same place - prison.
And I'll admit I'm not the least bit sorry for them," Zilberman said seriously and
decisively, "but you, Eduard, will ruin yourself if you don't stop. Give up the thieving - I
know you and Kostya Bondarenko have a gang!" Zilberman suddenly announced, looking
at Eddie with one of his penetrating gazes, or at least with a gaze he thought was
penetrating, since in fact all he did was to widen his brown eyes in a ridiculous way.
Eddie-baby didn't answer him. Let Zilberman say whatever he wants.
"After all, you're an intelligent fellow, Eduard. Stop before it's too late," the
captain continued. "Your mother says you want to quit school. Don't do it, it would be the
stupidest thing you could do, with consequences that would last your whole life. Finish
school and you can go to the Gorky Institute in Moscow and become a professional poet.
You have the ability; all you need to do is study."
Eddie didn't say anything. He was watching a fly try to fuck another fly, although
the second obviously didn't want to be fucked by the first and kept flying away with an
annoyed buzzing.
Following Eddie-baby's gaze with his own, Zilberman shook his head and went on.
"Look at me!" Zilberman said, putting his little foot in its high militia officer's boot
on the chair and rocking it.
Eddie-baby looked at the diminutive Zilberman with a smile.
"I'm already an old man," Zilberman continued, "and even so I keep working to
improve myself," and he pointed to a bundle of magazines on his desk. "I read Polish
magazines. And why? Because I am interested in life and in culture."
"Yes," Eddie thinks, "there isn't that much in common between Captain Zilberman
and the moocher Slavka the Gypsy, but they say the same thing, word for word." It
seems to Eddie-baby too that he's a little different from the other Saltovka kids, or rather
it seems to him that until his fight with Yurka Obeyuk he was very unlike, very different
from the other kids. He's still different, but not so much now.
Of course, Eddie reasons, the fact that he sees the madwoman Tonka naked in his
dreams is substantial proof in favor of his being crazy. Very, very substantial proof. And
you wouldn't call the fact that he masturbates all the time a normal phenomenon either.
Eddie-baby is ashamed to recall his private secrets, to recall the stuck-together yellowed
sheets of calendar paper. But besides that, there's another thing that inclines Eddie in
favor of the conclusion that he's abnormal and a freak. And that is that Eddie-baby has
never in his life gotten laid. He's not a man but a boy.
Naturally, none of the kids know that he's never been laid, or else they'd laugh at
him. To hear them talk, all the Saltovka kids have been laid, but sometimes it seems to
Eddie-baby that Vitka Golovashov, for example, has never been laid either and is just too
embarrassed to admit it. The one in their class who has been laid the most is Borka
Khrushkov, but then he's two years older than the other kids and has been shaving for
some time. Borka is a swimmer and a regional champion - if he weren't, he would have
been kicked out of school a long time ago, since he's such a lousy student. The girls,
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however, like Borka because he's famous: his picture is in the regional newspapers year-
round, and once it was even published in Kiev in 1krainian Pra%da.
Having eaten the salad, Eddie returns to the balcony for his shoes and his yellow
jacket. As he gets dressed, he sadly ponders the fact that all the kids think that he and
Svetka are fucking each other, whereas in fact they aren't. All they do is kiss and feel
each other up. Eddie has tried several times to take Svetka's panties off, but she won't
let him - she's scared. Svetka tells Eddie-baby that she's never been laid, and Eddie
hides from Svetka the fact that he's still not a man. Actually, fat Adam from Svetka's
building maintains that Svetka has been getting laid for a long time now, and that the
fool Eddie just doesn't realize it. But Eddie doesn't believe Adam, since Adam used to go
with Svetka until she broke up with him because he was so boring.
Once Eddie got Svetka drunk on purpose in order to "hump" her, as the kids say.
The very drunk Svetka almost threw up all over the bed at Sashka Tishchenko's parents'
house, where they had gone for a party. Eddie-baby just managed to push her head off
the bed in the direction of the floor so she wouldn't vomit all over Sashka's parents' bed.
When Svetka finished throwing up, Eddie-baby had to bring a basin of water into the
bedroom to clean up the floor, since Svetka had vomited all over it. She couldn't even
get up to help him and only moaned whenever Eddie-baby started swearing at her.
After cleaning up the floor, Eddie turned out the light again and tried to hump
Svetka. Maybe he would have humped her if it hadn't been for her panties. Svetka had
on black panties that fit her doll-like ass very tightly - everything about Svetka is doll-
like, her little mug and her cheeks and her long doll's eyelashes. Sometimes even she
makes fun of the fact that she looks like a doll, and falling over backward, automatically
closes her eyes and says in a mechanical voice, "Ma-ma!" or "Na-na!"
Eddie was trying with all his strength to pull Svetka's panties off, but they
wouldn't come off, and when Eddie finally tried to rip them off, he couldn't do that either,
since they were made out of thick black cloth that shone like silk in the light coming
through the window from the Tyurenka streetlamp outside. Only after fooling around with
the panties for half an hour did Eddie finally figure out how to take them off. All you had
to do was unbutton two buttons on the side. The nearsighted Eddie hadn't noticed that
the panties had buttons.
It's terrible that Eddie is nearsighted, although there are many things in life that
he would prefer not to see. For example, until the fourth year, when his parents were
finally forced to buy him glasses, he thought his mother was very beautiful. But after he
put on his glasses, he not only looked through the window into their snowy yard and saw
a group of kids hitting the humpbacked Tolik Perevorachaev, a friend of his at the time,
but he also noted with horror that there were wrinkles on his mother's face and large
pores in her skin, a fact that made him very, very sad, and he took off his glasses and
decided to use them only to read and write, and then only at home, not at school.
Eddie-baby did, however, finally manage to get Svetka's panties off. Svetka
drunkenly tried to resist, but there wasn't much she could do since she didn't have any
strength. She only said, "No! No! Oh, no!" several times in a drowsy drunken voice, and
then lay still after her panties were off. Eddie pulled Svetka's taffeta dress up, but all she
did was mechanically put her hand over the place where she had the orifice into which
Eddie-baby was supposed to insert his penis.
Eddie-baby pushed Svetka's hand away and touched that place with his hand. The
place was hot and lightly covered with dark red hair. Taking his hand away, Eddie-baby
touched his penis. His penis was cold.
He just couldn't get it up. Nothing Eddie-baby did to his penis, pulling it and
stretching it, trying to make it hard and strong, had any effect; it still remained a soft,
rubbery tube. Eddie-baby even left the bedroom to talk things over with Sashka
Tishchenko, but only for a moment, only for a little while, since he was afraid that one of
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the kids might come into the dark room with the doll-like body of Svetka gleaming white
on the bed, and who knows, maybe that kid's penis would stand up for her.
Sashka Tishchenko advised Eddie to "beat off." But Eddie himself already knew
that he needed to move his penis with his hand, which was in fact what he had been
doing for the last half-hour in Sashka's parents' bedroom, turned away from Svetka and
her hips and stomach.
Then Svetka regained consciousness, and Eddie-baby started thinking about the
best way to kill himself. Because he simply could not endure the disgrace, the terrible
blow to his masculine pride.
As he was thinking about how to kill himself while writhing in a corner of the bed
at Svetka's feet, Svetka got up, shook herself off, and fiddling around somewhere behind
Eddie, put her panties back on, straightened her dress, and then sat down next to him.
He had the feeling that she had not been as totally unconscious as he had thought, and
from even greater shame he hid his face completely, covering it with his hand.
"Cut it out," said Svetka. "So it didn't work out today. It will some other time. Big
"I don't want to live anymore!" Eddie-baby said dully.
"You jerk!" Svetka said. "I love you. You're better than all the other kids." And
Svetka kissed Eddie's ear, although a bit clumsily, since she wanted to kiss him on the
cheek but he moved and she had to kiss him on the ear.
It's not clear what would have happened next had they been alone in the
apartment. It's even possible Eddie would have humped Svetka; after all, he didn't really
believe that he was impotent, that he was someone who couldn't have an erection. Every
morning when Eddie woke up he discovered that his penis was erect, even when he
hadn't dreamed of the madwoman Tonka the night before. But they weren't alone in the
apartment, and at that instant both Katka, who for some reason is called Kitty, although
she doesn't look at all like a cat, and Ritka, who goes with Garik the Morphine Addict,
came into the room and asked Svetka and him to dance. They had to go, especially since
the kids had several times attempted to smoke them out of the bedroom - the
apartment didn't have that many beds, and everybody wanted to try to hump his girl.
When Sashka Tishchenko asked Eddie if he had humped Svetka, Eddie tersely
answered, "Yes," although a real man should tell the truth.
An hour after ironing his trousers and eating the potato salad, Eddie-baby is
standing next to a dirty stream behind some sheds about a hundred meters from the
headquarters of the Fifteenth Militia Precinct, talking about murder with Grishka Primak,
who has just returned from reform school again (for the third time, in fact). Grishka
doesn't have any money, and so all he can do for Eddie-baby is drink a bottle of
biomitsin with him and talk.
Grishka's late grandfather was an aristocrat - a count, according to Grishka -
and an old Bolshevik. On the wall of the room where Grishka lives with his deaf and
dumb mother hangs a faded photograph of his grandfather embracing Lenin. If it weren't
for that photograph, the desperate Grishka would long ago have been serving time not in
reform school but in prison, and would very likely still be there.
Grishka is a remarkable person in his own way, although Eddie-baby
condescendingly regards him as a degenerate. He's tall, angular, and dystrophically thin,
and his small mug is abundantly covered with pimples. He smokes cheap White Sea
Canal cigarettes and enthusiastically grabs girls by the ass. When engaged in
conversation, he waves his arms, spits, and shouts, his voice passing through his large
nose, which he blows into a huge handkerchief since he always has a cold.
Grishka sometimes hits his deaf and dumb mother when she starts pestering him
to quit stealing and go to school. Grishka doesn't want to go to school; he already knows
everything without it. Eddie-baby isn't so sure that Grishka knows everything, although
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he's read as many books as Eddie-baby himself has and maybe even more, only of a
different kind - fiction - whereas Eddie has read specialized books.
Passing the bottle back and forth, Eddie-baby and Grishka take swigs from their
fire extinguisher of biomitsin and talk about murder. Grishka has just announced to
Eddie-baby that for a year now he has had the amusing desire to murder somebody. He
wants to try it, see what it's like to kill somebody.
"They say, Ed, that a knife will go into the human body as easily as it will go
through butter, unless you strike bone, that is," Grishka declares, and spits.
"They'll give you fifteen years if they convict you as a minor; otherwise they'll
execute you," Eddie-baby observes impassively. "Either way you'll get it. They executed
Shurik Bobrov, and they didn't even take into consideration the fact that he was drunk."
"Really?" Grishka asks in amazement. "He was such a quiet guy. When did that
happen? Probably when I was in reform school." Grishka's face suddenly stretches in a
grimace and he sneezes, although he doesn't just sneeze but deliberately draws out the
first sounds - "Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah." - and then abruptly ends with the word "shit!"
Sneezing like that is Saltovka's own brand of chic. You can also end your sneeze
with "bortion!" the way Red Sanya does: "Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah. bortion!"
"It was last winter," Eddie-baby replies. "He stuck a sharpened file into a guy who
insulted him at the dances, called him an asshole or something. He stabbed him in the
washroom. Maybe they wouldn't have sentenced him to death, but the guy he killed
turned out to be the secretary of the Communist Youth League at the Turbine Factory
foundry. He'd been married only a little while and left two kids behind. The public
demanded execution. It was bad luck for Shurik!" Eddie-baby observes, remembering
Shurik's harmless little face, his little blond forelock, and the white shirt he always wore.
He was a meticulous person. A metalworker.
"No," Grishka says, "I'm not such an asshole as to let myself get all worked up at
those dances at the club. I'm a peaceful guy," he adds, and then grins broadly. "I slept
during the day all last week and walked around the outskirts of the city at night, even in
the Tractor district, trying to find an old man to kill." Grishka laughs. "A knife in the back,
and your relative is gone."
"Is he telling the truth?" Eddie-baby wonders. "Who the fuck knows, maybe he
really did look for an old man to kill." Grishka is crazy enough to do it. His whole family's
crazy and degenerate, as everybody in the district says. His deaf and dumb mother's a
speculator, and his uncle has been in an insane asylum for many years and was elected
prime minister by the inmates. It's a difficult thing, probably, to be elected prime
minister of famous Saburka (also known as Saburov's Dacha), an institution visited by
many renowned representatives of Russian culture, including Garshin, Vrubel, and
Khlebnikov - as difficult, probably, as it is in the normal world. Grishka's uncle, however,
is obviously crazier than everyone else at Saburka. But that craziness is the reason why
Grishka acts the way he does; it's the influence, so to speak, of his family and
inheritance. In spite of himself, Eddie-baby has begun to feel respect for Grishka and for
his quest for the truth, for his desire to understand himself and his world. For his restless
Eddie-baby realizes that Grishka's search for an old man on a dark street at night
is to be explained not by considerations of a petty mercenary nature - to rob and kill his
victim, say, and then use the money to buy vodka - but by reasons that are lofty and
"Well, did you find one, then?" Eddie-baby asks Grishka in as indifferent a tone as
possible, as if he didn't care one way or another whether Grishka found an old man and
killed him.
"Ha-ha-ha-ha!" Grishka laughs. "What can I say, Ed? Do people really tell
something like that to somebody else, even a friend?"
Eddie-baby shrugs his shoulders. Obviously people don't, but Grishka's the one
who started bullshitting about wanting to see what it would be like to kill somebody, and
now he's backing off. "I wonder," Eddie thinks, "what you actually would feel. Maybe
nothing. Shurik Bobrov went home to bed afterward. But they say he was so drunk he
didn't even know what he was doing."
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Eddie-baby takes a swig of biomitsin and looks at Grishka out of the corner of his
eye. Actually, he probably never stabbed anybody, and maybe he never even planned to
and never went to the Tractor district and is merely showing off.
Grishka, however, just gazes at Eddie and smiles enigmatically.
Eddie-baby senses that Grishka has an undoubted psychological advantage over
him at the moment, and so in order to compensate for Grishka's advantage in the realm
of the transcendental, in order to keep Grishka from being too proud of the fact that
"dark forces incomprehensible even to him" (his own expression) are pushing him toward
murder, Eddie-baby recites a poem he has just written about a militia car that is taking
Eddie to prison to be executed:
nd in the morning the chief shyly said
They2d gi%en me the #tower# for it,
nd that in an hour they2d take me
To the hall and there e!ecute a &oet,
That if $ wanted cigarettes and wine,
They2d bring them to me without com&laint,
nd that #she# had sent a letter to me,
"ut $ interru&ted him, #The bitch3 4#
But before Eddie-baby can go on, Grishka stops him with another of his typically
idiotic questions.
"Who's a bitch, the chief or Svetka?" he says maliciously.
"What has Svetka got to do with it?" Eddie replies. "It's just a poem."
"You need to express yourself more clearly," Grishka mutters didactically. His
attitude toward Eddie-baby's poems is skeptical: since Eddie-baby won't improve on
Yesenin, there's no point in his wasting time on such silliness. Not that Grishka isn't
aware of the existence of other poets besides Yesenin, but for the Saltovka kids in their
Saltovka environment, Yesenin is much closer to them, much closer than all the others.
"Go on!" Grishka says.
"Forget it!" Eddie snaps. "You can go screw yourself, since you obviously don't
have any idea what poetry is and what it isn't." And he angrily hands Grishka back his
"You're not going to be offended, are you?" Grishka asks, and touches Eddie-baby
on the shoulder. "Don't be," he says apologetically. "It's just that I don't think it's one of
your best. Personally I'm fond of the other one," Grishka says, flattering him. "You
remember, the one about Natasha. How does it go? Why don't you recite that one, Ed?"
"Why the fuck should I recite anything to you?" Eddie says sullenly. "I have to go.
I need to get some money for tonight, and there isn't much time left," he adds a little
less severely.
"I've got a terrific idea!" Grishka exclaims, slapping himself on the forehead. "You
know Vovka Zolotarev from my building, right? He'll lend you the money. He always has
funds. After all, he's got a good job as a foreman at the radio plant. Let's go visit him!"
Eddie-baby realizes that Grishka feels in the wrong and is trying to do something
to make up for it. "Grishka really isn't a bad guy," Eddie thinks, "only he does bullshit a
lot, and he can be pretty mean."
"All right, then, let's," Eddie reluctantly agrees. "Only I don't know Vovka that
well. Borrow money from somebody you've only seen a couple of times in your life?" he
adds doubtfully.
"It doesn't matter. I'll vouch for you, since Vovka and I are neighbors. Only don't
let on immediately what we've come for, or else he'll think the only reason all the kids
make friends with him is to borrow money. We'll stay half an hour, and then I'll ask him."
"All right," Eddie says. What else can he do? He has already dropped by Borka
Churilov's, and there wasn't anybody home there, since Borka and his mother have gone
to see Borka's sister in Zhuravlyovka. For the holiday.
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At the door to Vovka's apartment Grishka smiles slyly. "Listen!" he says, and
presses the buzzer.
Eddie-baby listens. All of a sudden from somewhere in the ceiling comes the
sound of Vovka's gruff voice amplified by a loudspeaker:
"Who's there?" the voice asks.
"It's your neighbor Grishka," Grishka answers with a grin.
"What do you want?" the voice asks just as gruffly. Eddie-baby realizes now that
the voice comes from a loudspeaker over the door. The loudspeaker is covered with wire
"I need to talk to you," Grishka answers importantly.
"With or without a bottle? Alone or not alone?" the laconic Vovka asks.
"With a bottle," Grishka lies - the fire extinguisher in his hand is less than half
full. It would be nice if there were at least half a bottle of wine left, but there probably
isn't. "And with a friend," Grishka adds. "With Ed."
"All right," the invisible Vovka Zolotarev concludes, now satisfied. Something
hisses and clatters in the loudspeaker. "Press the button to the right of the door and
come in."
Grishka, winking at Eddie, presses the black plastic button, and the door opens of
its own accord.
"Everything's automated," Grishka says enthusiastically, turning to Eddie. "Vovka
doesn't even get up to open the door. He just lies in bed and picks up the receiver and
presses his buttons."
For all his automation, Vovka still has to share his apartment with somebody else.
He has sworn to outlast her and take over her room. For the time being, however, the
large room in the apartment belongs to Vovka and one of the two smaller rooms to his
mother. Both he and his mother are pressuring their neighbor by every possible means,
but basically by tormenting her with Vovka's music and his way of life. The neighbor,
whom Vovka refers to as "Mashka" even though she's forty years old, calls the militia at
least twice a week, which is easy, given the fact that the station's right next door and
you can see its yard from the window. But since Vovka's outrageous behavior doesn't
actually involve physical abuse, and since he is employed, there's really nothing the
militia can do. They don't even come anymore. Vovka's convinced them that Mashka is
Now, if Vovka were a parasite like the kids in the Blue Horse, they could do
something, such as exile him 101 kilometers away from Kharkov, but since he isn't, they
can't do anything. Vovka isn't even a dude or an alcoholic, although he does drink a lot
and has company every night.
Although nobody ever calls him anything but "Vovets" or "Vovka," Vovka is
actually a pretty old guy - more than thirty. But he doesn't like to associate with men
his own age. He prefers schoolboys. Even Sashka Plotnikov drops by Vovka's from time
to time. Vovka maintains that he has a lot more fun with schoolboys. And he sleeps with
and screws girls Eddie's age. Galka Kovalchuk from Eddie's class humped Vovka for a
while, and everybody knew about it.
Vovka really is lying in bed in his room with his clothes on. On the wall at the head
of the bed is a panel with numerous indicator needles, buttons, knobs, and lights, which
Vovka himself installed in a very professional manner. That's his Control Panel. It's a rare
thing in Saltovka for anyone to have a phone, but installed in Vovka's panel is a
telephone receiver that he uses to speak to visitors on the other side of his door. Vovka
threatens to "cop" himself a real telephone someday. He says the militia promised to let
him tie into their line. "It's very possible," Eddie thinks. Vovka is the kind of guy who
goes after things, and now that he's gotten acquainted with the militia through Mashka,
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he works for them as an electrician - for free, obviously - and has been helping them
set up their communications room. He realized that he needed to make friends with
Vovka's face is almost invariably stern. People who don't know him might think
he's a boring or somber person, or that he just woke up and is still vividly experiencing a
bad dream. Nothing could be further from the truth. Vovka is simply a businesslike
person, and everything he does - every one of his movements - is calculated.
"Greetings!" Grishka says, and puts his fire extinguisher down on the table. Like
all the other tables in Saltovka, Vovka's is in the middle of the room.
Vovka gets up from the bed without answering, shakes Grishka's hand and then
Eddie's. His hand is extremely limp. There is a vast gulf between Vovka's overflowing
energy and his external appearance.
Once again without speaking, Vovka goes over to the sideboard, opens it, and
takes out a few small glasses. After that, he goes into the kitchen and comes back with a
large plate of pickled cucumbers, a hunk of bologna already carefully sliced, and some
pieces of black bread. Putting the plate on the table, he looks thoughtfully at Grishka's
fire extinguisher and then goes back into the kitchen and returns with a bottle of vodka
and three forks. After placing the bottle on the table, he goes over to his panel and
moves one of its levers. Western music flows into the room from invisible speakers.
Vovka is no less a specialist in Western music than Kadik is, although he doesn't play the
saxophone, merely the guitar.
As they are sitting down at the table, Grishka asks,
"Where's Mashka, Vovets?"
Grishka wants to be polite and start a conversation.
It's apparent that he has hit the nail on the head. Vovka's face, in any case,
becomes noticeably livelier.
"She hauled her ass off to visit her little kurkul brother in the country," Vovka
says, pouring vodka into the faceted glasses. All his movements are amazingly precise
and professional. He pours out the vodka remarkably evenly, although he hardly looks at
the glasses. It's clear that Zolotarev has been doing this all his life.
Looking at Vovka, Eddie-baby is reminded of a machine designed to pour mineral
water into bottles, a machine of the kind he recently saw in a documentary film on
television. "Clack - pour., clack. clack. clack. next. clack!"
"May she be bull-fucked while she's there," Vovka says.
Eddie-baby saw Mashka the last time he visited Vovka. Nothing special - a
woman like any other. Large, a bit of a bumpkin, a fool probably, but the sort you'd wish
a bull on? That's just talk on Vovka's part. Eddie-baby imagines Mashka with a bull and
surprises himself by snorting.
"What is it?" Grishka asks.
"I was just imagining Mashka with a bull," Eddie answers, smiling.
Grishka neighs loudly, holding his abundantly pimpled neck in the vicinity of his
ear. Grishka likes to laugh emphatically and at length; it's a way he has. Maybe he wants
to seem relaxed or grown-up - Eddie-baby has no idea. Grishka, laughs now for a
particularly long time, and Eddie-baby feels awkward with Vovka around.
Grishka stops laughing and they lapse into silence again, although it is eased by
the music - saxophones droning and trumpets blaring in a boogie-woogie. It occurs to
Eddie that if Kadik were here, he would know at once what the piece is and who's playing
Several minutes pass while Vovka and the kids chew, snap cucumbers, squeak
their chairs, and slap their hands on the table in time to the music, but are otherwise
silent. It's always like that with Vovka - you don't know what to say until you get drunk,
and then it's a lot more fun. After that Vovka is just another member of the group -
they're all hosts - and it gets noisy and smoky, and the kids laugh and tell jokes. If any
of the kids bring girls to Vovka's, they get up and dance. It turns into something like a
club, with Vovka as the director.
"Well, let's get on with it and have another one," Vovka suggests, and without
waiting for their consent, he again fills up their faceted little glasses. And again just as
precisely as a machine.
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"You, Vovets, could get a job at the philharmonic with that number," Grishka says
in a nasal twang, snickering and pointing to the glasses.
Vovka doesn't reply but takes his glass and lifts it into the air. "Cheers!" Vovka
toasts, and then empties the glass into his large, toothy mouth. Besides his ugly mouth,
Vovka has another defect - he stoops and is shorter than Eddie, although the girls still
like Vovka, probably because he plays the guitar and sings. In fact, Eddie's father once
tried to teach him how to play, encouraging him with the promise that the girls would like
him better if he could play the guitar and sing. It turned out, however, that Eddie had no
ear or voice for music.
Still, he does like to sing. When he was little and had a good relationship with his
mother and father, he would sometimes sing for them. His mother and father would sit
on the couch, and Eddie would stand next to the table with a songbook in his hands and
sing. Eddie-baby's preference was for folk songs. His favorite song was the old ballad
about Khaz-Bulat.
The ballad's story is a bit unusual and is constructed in the form of a conversation
between an old warrior from the mountains and a young, obviously Georgian prince. The
prince is trying to persuade the old man to give him his wife:
#"old *ha-/"ulat3 Your saklya is &oor,
5et me shower you with golden coins3
$2ll gi%e you my steed, my dagger, and my rifle,
nd all $ ask in return is your wife3
You2re already old and already gray
nd there2s no life for her with you,
(he2s at the dawn of her years, you2ll ruin her3#
Eddie-baby sang away in all seriousness, holding the songbook in front of him like
an operatic recitalist. His mother and father would fall over from laughing. Veniamin
Ivanovich told Eddie that he had an excellent bleat. Not a bass, not a baritone, but a
bleat. Eddie, however, like a true artist, was for some reason unabashed by their
laughter. He felt the main song in his repertoire with all his heart, and therefore,
whenever he performed it, he derived pure aesthetic satisfaction from it. In the end
Khaz-Bulat murders his beautiful wife and contemptuously sends her body to the prince,
and Eddie-baby, whose whole life still lay ahead of him, dreamed of being both the young
Georgian prince who falls in love with the wife of Khaz-Bulat, and then years later the
bold life-scarred Khaz-Bulat himself, who proudly murders the beauty, thereby
preserving his honor.
Somewhere among the old photos kept by his mother is one of Eddie-baby
dressed in a pair of knickers and standing with his mouth open wide - singing. In his
hand is a plump, pocket-size songbook.
The knickers were connected with Eddie-baby's family's desire - his mother and
father's desire, that is, since there wasn't anybody else - to be an intellectual family.
The first knickers with cinch straps were obviously purchased from somebody, somebody
who had been to Germany and had brought them back as a kind of trophy. All the
subsequent pairs, which got bigger and bigger as Eddie-baby grew, his mother made
herself. It was only in his fifth year of school that Eddie finally got rid of the knickers and
his family was finally and decisively defeated by Saltovka. All that remained was their
love of books and their bookshelf crammed to bursting.
"Why don't you play something, Vovets!" Grishka asks after the fifth round of
vodka. "Make my heart gay!"
Eddie-baby thinks that Grishka's behavior with Vovka isn't natural, that he's trying
to act like some old mu-hik and strike a pose of hearty peasant simplicity, although
there's really much more to him than that. "And what's 'Make my heart gay' supposed to
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mean, anyway?" Eddie wonders. If it had occurred to Grishka to ask Eddie for something,
he would never have used that expression. "Make my heart gay!" That's the way
merchants talk in old books or in those awful Ostrovsky plays they've started to study at
Vovka picks up his instrument and, like every other guitarist, starts plucking at
the strings in order to tune it. Eddie-baby's father plays the guitar better and tunes faster
than anybody else.
After tuning the guitar, Vovka asks what he should sing.
"Vovets, why don't you do 'The days and years are passing.!'" Grishka exclaims.
"That is, The Wine of Love,'" he adds by way of clarification.
Vovka nods, makes himself more comfortable in his chair, and strumming the
guitar, he begins to sing.
The days and years are &assing,
nd how fleeting are the centuries6
Peo&les go, taking with them
Their customs and their fashions,
"ut the wine of lo%e is the only
Truly unchanging thing in the world3
Then, glancing at Grishka and Eddie and nodding to them to sing along, he shifts
to the chorus:
The wine of enchanting lo%e
$s gi%en to &eo&le to make them ha&&y,
The wine of lo%e burns
5ike a fire in the blood3
Eddie-baby and Grishka join in the chorus, and Eddie thinks that it's a strange
thing how this song with its (as the poet Eddie knows) rather trite words always manages
to affect him, making him at once happy and sad that the days and years and even the
centuries are passing, though love remains to intoxicate the residents of Saltovka and
Tyurenka and Kharkov just as it always has. Eddie-baby thinks tenderly about Svetka,
about her little doll's face and her vanity. "Dear Svetka!" he thinks. "I love her."
The main singer, guitarist, and accordion player in Eddie-baby's life was the blond,
blue-eyed, curly-haired Vitka Nemchenko. But in September Vitka's father came to
Tyurenka, where Vitka was living with his grandfather and grandmother, and took him
back to the Urals. It was very hard on Eddie-baby when Vitka left. He had lived in
Tyurenka only two years, and he and Eddie had been friends less time than that, but he
brought something into Eddie-baby's life that neither Kostya nor Kadik nor Red Sanya
had given him - nature, song, the village, the peasant house, and his grandfather and
One day last spring they were assigned a desk together, and after school they
discovered that they lived in the same direction. Usually Vitka took the trolley to the
Electrosteel stop and then walked the rest of the way with Vika Kozyrev, Vitka Proutorov,
Sashka Tishchenko, and the other kids from Tyurenka. On the day in question, however,
after a stop at Eddie's building, Vitka came with Eddie-baby past Asya's building and then
to the vehicle maintenance lot and from there across the Russian cemetery to Tyurenka.
When they reached Eddie's building, Eddie-baby tossed the field bag he used as a
briefcase and the bag with his slippers in it up onto the balcony. As in all the other
schools in Kharkov, it is the custom in Secondary School No.8 to take off your footwear
and put on slippers as soon as you enter. They won't let you past the first floor in muddy
boots or shoes. It may in fact be necessary to do that, since in the spring and summer
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the area around Secondary School No.8 is inundated with immense quantities of mud,
but Eddie regards it as degrading for a man to walk around in light slippers. Deprived of
your heeled shoes or your heavy boots, of that necessary weight on your feet, you are in
a sense deprived of your manhood.
Once rid of the hated slippers, Eddie-baby walked Vitka home.
The apple trees were already blooming in the cemetery, so that it resembled a
half-wild orchard. The kids walked along exchanging remarks, and the sunshine was so
warm that the flies, bumblebees, butterflies, and wild bees were all out. Eddie even took
off his black velveteen jacket with the white collar sewn on in keeping with the strict
rules of the school, and went on with his shirt unbuttoned at the chest.
It was quiet and very bright in Tyurenka, and it smelled of fresh new growth and
old wooden houses with chimneys billowing varicolored smoke for some reason. In faded
pastels like the Impressionist landscapes Eddie-baby had seen in large books belonging
to Borka Churilov, Tyurenka lay peacefully upon the afternoon hills.
"It will be Easter in a few days," Vitka said. "You see the different-colored smoke?
It means our people are making home brew. See that pinkish smoke?" Vitka asked.
"That's home brew from pears. Auntie Galya always makes it from pears." Vitka grinned.
Eddie couldn't really imagine what Easter was. He knew that they colored eggs at
Easter, that eggs were essential, and that the kids fought each other with colored eggs at
school. Each clutched an egg in his hand and tried to break his opponent's egg without
breaking his own. The winner got the loser's egg to eat.
Eddie-baby's mother has recently started coloring eggs too, yellow with pieces of
onion, and purple with a manganese solution, even though she doesn't actually believe in
God. As Eddie's class-room teacher, the bastard Yakov Lvovich, once told him, their
family is a synthetic one; it has no roots. Yakov Lvovich doesn't believe in God either,
unless he does so secretly, and then in a Jewish God, although that's quite unlikely, since
he's too big and too tall to believe in God. What he said about Eddie's synthetic family,
however, he said as a condemnation. But is it really Eddie's fault that they only stopped
transferring his military father from city to city seven years ago, and that he has hardly
any relatives since they were all killed or died young?
"What's Easter, Vit?" Eddie asked in embarrassment.
"Well, it's the day when Christ was resurrected after they crucified Him on the
cross," Vitka explained.
"Resurrected?" Eddie said skeptically. "What does resurrected' mean?"
Eddie knew all the details of Livingstone's journey through Africa, he could tie
mariner's knots of any difficulty with his eyes shut, he could probably give lectures on the
Spanish conquest of Mexico or of the Incas, he knew that when you're on a burglary job
you should wear rubber-soled shoes, and he knew how to pick almost any lock, but he
knew very little about God.
"'Resurrected' means He came back to life," Vitka said. "He was dead, but He
came back to life."
"I'm not too crazy about God; it's boring," Eddie said, justifying himself. "I've
never even been inside a church."
"I like Easter," Vitka said. "It's always warm and a lot of fun at Easter time. What
are you doing for Easter?" he asked Eddie.
"Nothing," Eddie answered in confusion. "We don't celebrate. Maybe my mother
will go visit the neighbors, the Auntie Marusyas. My father's a Communist, so he can't
celebrate. And he's in the army. Anyway, he's away on a business trip."
"Come to our house, then," Vitka suggested. "My grandma and grandpa believe in
God. They can let themselves; they're not Communists. It'll be fun. My grandmother has
just brewed some new homemade beer. Do you like homemade beer?"
"I've never tried it," Eddie was embarrassed to say.
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Eddie-baby went to Vitka's for Easter. He even wore his only sports jacket and
one of his father's white shirts with the collar buttoned, and he put a bow tie - a gift
from another Vitka, Vitka Golovashov - in his pocket, just in case.
Tyurenka was even more beautiful by Easter, since the fruit trees in the little
Tyurenka gardens had all finally started to bloom. The big old apple tree in front of
Vitka's house was completely filled with huge flowers and gave off a wonderful fragrance.
They had driven their big shepherd dog with its heavy paws and impressive muzzle
behind the house and tied it up in the garden, but it could still hear everything from
there, and when Eddie walked up to the gate, it started barking.
From inside the house came laughter and the clatter of dishes and the smell of
cooking food, along with a hint of strong cigarette smoke. Opening the gate, Eddie went
past the apple tree, and Vitka came out of the house to greet him dressed in black shoes
and a light blue shirt that was the same color as his eyes. His short blond curls were
carefully trimmed, and he smelled of cologne.
"Carmen," thought Eddie, who is good at distinguishing odors. "Carmen. He
borrowed it from his grandmother probably."
"Welcome!" Vitka said. "Christ is risen!" And then he added, "Let's kiss each
other!" and reached out for Eddie.
Eddie had heard about this custom and had seen the peasant men kissing each
other by the beer stand the Easter before, but Eddie is shy about kissing and only feels
like doing it with Svetka. It's even been a long time since he allowed his mother to kiss
him. But there was nothing he could do now. He gingerly kissed Vitka. Nothing particular
happened as a result. They just bumped together with their lips and noses and then went
into the house.
Awaiting Eddie inside were at least several dozen more exchanges of triple Easter
kisses, since there was an unexpectedly large number of guests already sitting on a
wooden bench at the table in the main room. Some of the exchanges were not entirely
unpleasant for Eddie - for example, the one with a large, beautiful girl named Lyuda.
Lyuda's lips were soft. By the time he had gone around to everyone sitting at the table,
Eddie was a professional kisser.
After that Vitka took him to see the barrel of homemade beer in the vestibule. The
beer was already standing in bottles on the table, but Vitka wanted to show Eddie the
barrel. He took the top off and pulled back the cheesecloth covering the beer, and Eddie
smelled the fresh, intoxicating, sourish smell. The barrel was filled with a brown liquid.
Using a wooden ladle, Vitka scooped up some of the liquid and poured it into
faceted glasses. After clinking their glasses, they drank.
"Look," said Vitka, "I know you're an experienced drinker, but Grandma's home
brew is worse than vodka - it's sneaky. You drink it as if it's nothing, not strong at all,
but it'll make you pretty drunk. It can knock a good-sized man off his feet."
They went back to the main room, where the other guests crowded together a
little to make room for them on the bench so they could sit down at the table. As the
host, Vitka looked after Eddie and served him some of his grandmother's homemade
meat in aspic, and along with that a bit of grated horseradish, which for some reason was
bright red.
"It goes really well with the home brew," Vitka said. "Grandma made it herself."
Just as they do in the country, they cook a lot in Tyurenka and make a lot of their
own things. Many people in Tyurenka have their own hogs, and several times a year on
holidays they slaughter them and make sausage. Nothing could be more delicious than
homemade Ukrainian sausage brought straight from the cellar to the table, cold and
hardened in lard. People in Tyurenka also sell their own fruits and vegetables at the
markets, and they live a lot better than the people of Saltovka do, which is why the
indigent Saltovka proletarians call them kurkuli. The people in Tyurenka are all local
people, and their houses are very, very old, having once been the homes of their
grandfathers and grandmothers. They're settled people. The Saltovka poor, on the other
hand, come from all over to work in the factories, even from the villages outside the city.
Eddie-baby realized that day in Tyurenka just what their classroom teacher Yasha meant
when he said that Eddie's family lacks roots, that it's synthetic.
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Vitka Nemchenko's roots - his grandfather and grandmother, that is - turned
out to be very nice and still young. Vitka's grandfather was a sort of replica of Vitka, with
the same blue eyes and the same lank, bony frame, only about forty years older and
even taller. It seemed to Eddie that if Vitka were to grow some more (Eddie himself plans
to add some height), then he would be just like his grandfather. Vitka's grandfather,
however, was shy; it was his grandmother who was the main person in their family.
And what a woman she was! Toward the end of the evening, excited by the folk
dancing and a little drunk, even Eddie-baby danced with Vitka's grandmother, although
he had never done that kind of dancing before and had no idea how. Vitka's little
grandmother lifted Eddie up off the bench by force and dragged him into the circle,
where to his own amazement he started dancing!
At the end of the evening, however, Vitka's grandmother disappeared into the
bedroom for a while after whispering something to Vitka, who was the center of attention
that evening, since he was tirelessly banging on his mother-of-pearl accordion. In
Tyurenka, just as in the country, the accordion player is at the center of things. When his
grandmother returned, Vitka suddenly burst forth with "Gentlewoman." His grandmother
was now dressed in a cap, a checkered shirt, and fashionably narrow Chinese pants
tucked in below and stretched tight across her bottom - pants of the kind that had
recently appeared in the stores and that probably belonged to Vitka. Vitka's small, round,
boisterous grandmother danced to "Gentlewoman" like a first-rate professional, cutting
such capers that Uncle Volodya Zhitkov, who had jumped up to dance with her, simply
threw up his hands in amazement and remained standing where he was.
"Now, that's a grandmother!" Eddie thought with delight and in envy of Vitka.
Eddie still had a grandmother - his grandmother Vera - in the town of Liski in the
Voronezh region, but he never saw her. That evening Eddie felt an urge to see his own
grandmother; maybe she was like that too.
By the end of the evening, Eddie was having fun and feeling good, and was once
again kissing all the guests, including the warm Lyuda, who turned out to be a neighbor
of Vitka's grandfather and grandmother. He went out into the garden with Lyuda to kiss
under the big apple tree, and either because of the home brew or because of Lyuda
herself, it seemed to Eddie-baby, now wearing his bow tie, which had emerged during
the second half of the evening, that the apple tree smelled wonderfully of Carmen.
After Easter, Eddie-baby started visiting Vitka in Tyurenka a lot. It turned out that
his grandmother didn't just make home brew for the holidays. The cold, brown, explosive
liquid resembling harmless kvass stood in the vestibule of the Nemchenko house all year
round. Eddie-baby remembers sitting with Vitka all spring and summer, singing along
with his accordion. Vitka also played the guitar and was learning how to play the
trumpet. He dreamed of becoming a musician in a restaurant, whereas for Eddie-baby it
was enjoyment enough just to sing the Tyurenka songs he learned from Vitka. Some of
the songs were at least fifty years old, and most of them were thieves' songs - about
prison, about the joy of getting out, and even about the joy of going back in. And about
love, of course. Prison and love - that's what most occupied the minds and hearts of the
people of Tyurenka.
"'The prosecutor demanded our execution.,'" Vitka sang, and Eddie-baby's heart
sank as he applied the situation to himself. It seemed to him that it was his own and
Kostya's execution that the prosecutor was demanding, and that he and Kostya were
sitting "on a bench in a hot people's court.," where "you could see the curtain swaying
and hear the buzzing of the flies."
The details of the song, for all their apparent triteness, were remarkably exact.
Eddie's presence had more than once been required in a hot people's court, which even
in the summertime was always heated, so that with the abundance of grief, the multitude
of relatives of those on trial, and the emotions, tears, howls, and fainting spells that were
their portion, it was nearly impossible to breathe. And Eddie was acquainted too with the
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terrible silence that reigns when the judge finally emerges and everyone stands up and
he clears his throat before pronouncing the sentence.
And what an explosion of joy when it's only "fifteen years!" and not the firing
$ see, the defense attorney smiles at us,
fter taking a &istol from his &ocket6
$ see, they2%e changed the ,udge for us,
The &rosecutor demands fi%e years3
7ur mothers wee& for ,oy,
The escort e%en smiles at us8
9hy didn2t you come, blue/eyed one,
To say farewell to me:
"The blue-eyed bitch," Eddie-baby thinks angrily. "She's betrayed me. Well, it
doesn't matter," Eddie persuades himself. "I'll get out of Kolyma and take my revenge.
I'll get my revenge! After all, Tolik Vetrov escaped from Kolyma. That means it's
possible. I'll come and stand threateningly in her doorway. 'Well, then, Svetka?' I'll say to
The wine of lo%e burns
5ike a fire in the blood3
Vovka ends his song and puts the guitar down on his automated bed.
"Great fucking job, Vovets! Really terrific!" Grishka says, coaxing a cigarette from
his box of White Sea Canals with yellow fingers. Even a meter away you can smell the
cheap tobacco; Grishka's as permeated with tobacco smoke as an old grandfather.
Vovka pours some more vodka with a bored look. If you didn't know him, you
might think he's really sick of his guests and wants them to leave. In fact, however, he
can't go more than half an hour without company. He gets bored by himself.
"Cheers!" Vovka says, but then he puts his glass back down on the table. He
forgot about music. He goes to the tape deck and turns it on. It's Glenn Miller. No, he's
taking Miller off - Miller doesn't suit him this time. He rewinds the tape - you can hear
the reels spinning - and puts on another one. It's Bobby Darin. The song about Mack the
Knife. Eddie-baby likes that one, maybe because Mack the Knife is a punk too. That's
probably the reason. "Mack the Knife is an unforgiving person," Eddie thinks as he listens
to the music. "The kind of person a man should be. Tough." Which is exactly the reason
why Eddie-baby carries a straight razor around with him.
"Cheers!" Vovka exclaims again. They clink glasses and drink up. Eddie-baby
nudges Grishka under the table with his foot. It's nice being at Vovka's, but Eddie came
for money. The little hand of Vovka's clock, which as in all self-respecting model 1958
Saltovka homes is on top of the television set, is pointing uneasily toward the southeast
- it's three-thirty.
Grishka clears his throat and begins: "Vovets! We have a small problem here.
Have you got any money you could lend for." He looks at Eddie-baby.
"For a week," Eddie says. Either Sanya will sell the watch, or Eddie will reborrow
the money from somebody else, maybe from Borka Churilov, but he'll pay Vovka back in
a week.
"How much?" Vovka asks. The terribly laconic Vovka. The Spartan.
"Two hundred," Eddie answers. He's laconic too.
"No, I haven't got that kind of money," Vovka says, shaking his head. "After all, I
don't print money here. All I have is my advance, and I'll be lucky if it gets me through
the holidays. But when I get my salary - be my guest," Vovka adds.
The kids say nothing.
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"Ri-ight!" Grishka finally sighs in disappointment. "That's too bad."
"You know I'm not cheap, Grigory," Vovka says in a dignified voice. "If I had the
money, I'd lend it to you."
Eddie doesn't think Vovka is cheap either. He always treats the kids to vodka and
doesn't scrimp on the snacks, and if they decide to go somewhere together for whatever
reason, Vovka buys both the champagne and the chocolate, knowing that unless they
steal, schoolboys don't have that much money. Where would they get it?
Reality begins to seem rather dark to Eddie, like eternal night. He has absolutely
no idea what to do. Ask his mother again? Tell her that their fucking system for training
their son to be sparing about his needs (Eddie-baby doesn't even have a wristwatch) is
pushing him into crime and in point of fact not training him to be sparing at all?
There was once another episode like the present one that grew out of Eddie's
resentment of his parents' stinginess. He successfully counterfeited several dozen cash
receipts for the grocery store on Stalin Avenue and two days later turned them in with
the kids from his class for liqueur, cake, cognac, and chocolate.
Using a knife, the talented Eddie-baby cut out a stamp for the receipts from a
rubber sole. In just a couple of days. The cash value and serial number of the receipt
were filled in later. The receipt paper itself was given to him in a roll by Yashka
Slavutsky, a Jew in their class whose mother works as a cashier in a store in town.
The mechanics of that little swindle were simple enough and were based on the
fact that the customer first has to pay at the cashier's booth for whatever it is he wants.
If, say, he wants five bottles of vodka at 28 rubles 70 kopecks apiece, then he goes to
the cashier and pays 143 rubles and 50 kopecks, in exchange obtaining a receipt with the
sum R143.50 printed on it. He then takes the receipt to the wine department and says,
"Five bottles of vodka, please," and turns over the receipt in exchange for the vodka. The
grocery store Eddie had picked out was a large one, where there was always a crowd of
people and always a line in the wine department.
Usually one of the kids went to the cashier and got a small receipt for about a
hundred grams of cheap candy - 1 ruble 2 kopecks, say. Then he quickly brought the
receipt outside to the yard behind the grocery store, where Eddie-baby, dipping his
rubber numbers into a special ink and using several of his own receipts with the amounts
already calculated and filled in (always more than a 150 rubles, since he wasn't fooling
around), would add the necessary serial numbers, beginning with the next one after the
candy receipt number and proceeding from there, depending on how many kids had
come to the grocery store with him to turn in receipts for goods.
The last time they tried it, it was cold outside, and Eddie-baby was in a hurry. His
hands were freezing, and he probably (if not certainly) stamped the numbers upside
down on one of the receipts, something that a cash register wouldn't do, the typeface
being so firmly fixed in it that there's no goddamn way you could turn it upside down.
The clerk, a fat old woman in glasses, had already stuck the receipt on a special
steel spindle behind the counter when - Eddie-baby sensed this more than saw it - her
gaze suddenly fell on the receipt and she said in an unusually tender voice,
"Oops, I'm all out of liqueur. Sorry, lad. I'll get some more from the storeroom."
She then set off in the direction of the cash register, which was about twenty-five meters
away. As she left, she removed the receipt from the spindle with an almost imperceptible
gesture, but Eddie, whose nerves were naturally already tense, noticed the light, almost
flylike motion of her hand, and after waiting several seconds until the clerk was
momentarily concealed behind a column (the store resembled a many-columned palace),
he dashed for the door, knocking people and boxes over along the way. The other kids
ran out with him.
They all got away and joined up in a square located half a kilometer from the
scene of the crime. It turned out that all of them had kept the bottles they had acquired,
and everybody except Eddie-baby had acquired something, so that everything ended
happily. They even had two large cakes, although the cakes had gotten a bit squashed
during their flight.
It was clear, however, that they had to put an end to the swindle with the
receipts. And Eddie-baby didn't try it at other stores as he had been planning to do. In
the first place, the counterfeiting of receipts didn't bring in any money - just groceries
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and drinks - and in the second, the kids had told him that the now alerted trashes would
probably start keeping track of cash receipt transactions, so that it would be dangerous
to go on with it.
"Even if it wasn't dangerous, an operation like that would still take several days,"
Eddie thinks bitterly. In any event, Plotnikov and his crowd had asked for money, so it
would be silly to turn up there in a bow tie with Svetka decked out in her crinolines on
one arm and string bags loaded down with bottles on the other. "There isn't even any
point in considering it;" Eddie thinks, "since it's impossible to get the bottles anyway."
Eddie wants to leave, but according to the petit bourgeois rules of proletarian
Saltovka, he has to stay at Vovka's for at least another half-hour "for the sake of
decency." So Vovka won't be offended.
It seems to Eddie that Vovka wouldn't be offended, that it's a matter of complete
indifference to him. But maybe Eddie's wrong about that. At least Vovka's face looks
languidly indifferent. And gray. His soft, thin auburn hair falls from either side of his
useless part. Not the kind of part that Eddie-baby has, but a careless one that has
formed of its own accord. Vovka's lips are pinkish and chapped - unpleasant lips. It's no
coincidence that Borka Churilov can't stand him. Borka says Vovka is a bad influence on
the kids, that he's a sluggard and a shit and will someday find himself in prison for
sleeping with underaged girls and being a lecher. According to Borka, Vovka gets the
girls drunk and then rapes them, and if they don't submit to him, he punches them in the
liver so they lose their strength for a few minutes, during which Vovka manages to take
his victims' pants off and start fucking them.
Once Borka even threatened to punch Zolotarev's face in if he didn't stop
corrupting Vitka Golovashov, who could become a very good wrestler if he didn't drink.
Vitka often drops in on Vovka and gets drunk with him.
Vovka, for his part, hates Borka and calls him a jerkoff, and he means it literally:
he suspects Borka of onanism. He calls him a sectarian too. Obviously, he doesn't call
him that to his face, since Borka's iron physique leaves no doubt about his ability to
make Zolotarev a cripple for the rest of his life, even though Borka Churilov's basically a
peaceful individual.
The doorbell announces the arrival of a guest or guests.
"Who's there?" Vovka asks into the phone after flopping down on his bed.
"It's Olga!" the phone crackles. "And Mushka's with me."
Vovka doesn't ask Olga and Mushka about a bottle. "Press the button," he says. A
few moments later the two girls tumble in through the door. Eddie has seen Mushka
more than once and has heard about her even more, although they've never actually
met. And who hasn't heard about her! Mushka's the whore of the Saltovkan chronicles.
All the Ivanovka kids, including fat Vitka Fomenko - yes, even Vitka - have gang-
fucked her several times, that is, fucked her by turns after waiting in line. All you have to
do to achieve that right, the kids say, is pour a half-liter of vodka into Mushka, and then
she'll happily take her clothes off and spread her legs all by herself. Her companion,
Olga, is a big girl, taller than Eddie, and from his school, although she's a year ahead of
him. Olga has a sad white face, and the kids think she's beautiful, but Eddie doesn't.
Mushka's wearing a man's cap, and her hair, bleached with peroxide to a sandy
yellow color, sticks out from underneath it. She's also wearing a woolen overcoat that
nearly reaches the floor, probably a man's too. On her feet are "spikes" with metal heels.
Mushka's high heels are worn over white socks that cover her ankles. Otherwise her legs
are bare, in spite of the fact that it's November. Mushka has a rather sweet little mug, in
Eddie's view, although sweet as it is, it's still the face of a whore. Under her coat, Mushka
has on a strapless black velvet dress. The dress is girded at the waist with a white plastic
belt, and around her neck Mushka is wearing white beads. "She obviously dressed in the
black-and-white style on purpose," Eddie thinks, "only it looks ridiculous."
"Hey, old buddies!" exclaims the free and easy Mushka.
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The gallant Grishka has long since risen to his feet and is hovering around the
"You know perfectly well, Mushka, that I've been an admirer of yours for a long
time!" says the gallant Grishka in the hoarse voice of a degenerate, using the formal
pronoun. Probably the same way his uncle, the ex-prime minister of Saburka, addresses
women. It's clear that Grishka is taken with Mushka.
Eddie suddenly realizes that he has been giving all his attention to the whore
Mushka and has hardly noticed the sullen and beautiful Olga, who is draped in a dark
green woolen dress. "Probably because Mushka's cheerful," Eddie thinks.
Mushka finally takes off her man's cap, and her bleach-blond bangs fall down over
her forehead. Vovka, who has disappeared into the kitchen, reappears with a fresh bottle
of vodka, and instead of a plate, a whole plastic tray covered with snacks.
"It's pretty certain Vovka ripped that tray off from the militia cafeteria," Eddie
notes in passing. He also manages to observe that Vovka has changed his footwear,
replacing his slippers with heeled black shoes.
"I just mobilized my mother; she'll make us some hot snacks. In the meantime
we'll start out with what's on hand," announces the visibly more animated Vovka. Very
much more animated. What's happened to his drowsiness and lethargy? Vovka once
again fills up the glasses with vodka, this time not with his previous shocking indifference
but with the smile of a generous host taking pleasure in his guests.
Grishka jumps up from his chair, assumes the posture of a hussar lieutenant,
even to the point of clicking his heels, and opens his mouth:
"Permit me to toast our beautiful ladies!" he exclaims in an astonishingly resonant
Mushka's lilac mouth smiles coquettishly. "They say she takes it in the mouth,"
Eddie thinks as he gazes at Mushka. She takes your cock in her mouth and sucks it. It's
called minette. Eddie knows all about it; Slavka the Gypsy told him about minette. Slavka
has a great fondness for minette. Eddie knows from Slavka that the best minette is done
by girls from the Baltic countries, because they are very Western and not so backward as
our Russian and Ukrainian girls. Baltic girls wear different panties too, Slavka told Eddie.
"They wear briefs and not those big, ugly, heavy, smelly lilac or light blue drawers full of
every kind of nasty stuff from the body that they wear in Kharkov," Slavka said with a
Eddie examines Mushka, trying to understand how such an apparently delicate
creature could gang-fuck a dozen Ivanovka hoodlums and suck the cocks of all twelve,
including fat Vitka Fomenko. Mushka does have an insolent look about her, it's true, but
she's pretty skinny, and she's not even fifteen. Eddie heard about one of Mushka's more
recent escapades: she crawled through the window of a men's dormitory and spent
several days inside, going from room to room and fucking with four men in one room,
then with four more in another, since there were four to a room in the dormitory. They
say that Mushka did it on a bet and in order to annoy Vitka Kryukov, who's in love with
her. Vitka has gold teeth, and all the kids except Mushka consider him a terrible loner
and are afraid of him. She, however, twists him around her little finger.
Mushka notices that Eddie is looking at her a bit too intently.
"Are you interested in making a purchase?" she asks, smiling and coyly pressing
her cheek to her shoulder. "I don't come cheap," she continues, proudly exhibiting her
profile to Eddie.
Eddie-baby has in fact heard that she does come cheap, but he doesn't say
anything to Mushka about that; he only smiles. He doesn't know what to say. He's shy
with girls. Not with Asya - Asya's a friend - but with girls like Mushka.
"He doesn't have any money," Vovka suddenly interjects. "He came to borrow
"You son of a bitch!" Eddie thinks in amazement. According to an unwritten
Saltovka law, you just don't say such things. You can get punched in the mouth for
saying things like that, and seriously too. For a moment Eddie doesn't know what to do,
but catching the pleading glance of Grishka, who is on his guard, he decides to ignore the
remark. You shouldn't disgrace a guy in front of girls by saying he doesn't have any
money. It's an insult.
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"I know your Svetka," Mushka says all of a sudden. "She and I both went to
School No.136. We were even friends."
Eddie is genuinely astonished. Svetka never told him she knew Mushka. It
somehow hadn't even occurred to him that Mushka ever went to school, that she ever
wore a school uniform and an apron.
"You did?" is all that Eddie can force out of himself. If he could, he would probably
"And you're cute!" Mushka suddenly says across the table. "Only your hair should
be longer," she adds with a giggle. "How come you have an army haircut?"
Eddie is even more embarrassed. "It's not an army haircut," he says. "I have a
part, after all. It's a Polish cut. Waclaw cuts my hair, and he's a very good barber," Eddie
says, justifying himself.
"Well, it looks like a bailiffs haircut. Bailiffs before the revolution wore parts in
their hair. You would look good in a pompadour," Mushka goes on, tipping her head to
the side and unabashedly examining Eddie. "Like Elvis's. You have the same kind of
face." Mushka falls silent and looks at Eddie, smiling ambiguously. And rubs her cheek
against her shoulder.
"Does she really like me?" Eddie thinks, now scared. "What a whore!" he thinks.
He's ashamed to admit that he himself likes Mushka very much right now with her bangs
and her slender little bare shoulders in her black grown-up's dress.
"Let's have another drink!" Eddie turns to Grishka, who is talking about something
with Olga. Olga lives not very far away in a barrack by the creek. She's poor and has
only her mother and two younger sisters. She lives in the same barrack as Slavka Panov
and his grandfather. Eddie knows that Olga plans to get married as soon as possible in
order to get away from the torment of living in a barrack. She already has a grown-up
suitor who's much older than she is. Who's bald, in fact.
"Let's!" Grishka readily answers. They pour out half a glass each and drink without
waiting for Vovka, who's started to dance with Mushka. Eddie sees Mushka's narrow back
coquettishly arching in Vovka's hands. The back of Mushka's dress is cut low, and Eddie
can see two reddish, lightly powdered pimples on her back. For some reason, looking at
those pimples, Eddie realizes that Mushka could gang-fuck after all, and even suck Vitka
Fomenko's cock with a smack of her lips. For some reason Eddie finds it unpleasant to
look at Mushka and Vovka, who from time to time kisses Mushka lightly on the neck with
his pink, crusty, chapped lips.
"Well, I'm off!" Eddie announces. "I'll try my luck somewhere else." Wishing to slip
away without saying goodbye to Mushka, he begins to take his leave hurriedly, but as
soon as she notices that he has stood up and is putting on his jacket, she pulls Vovka
over to him.
"Are we leaving, soldier?" she asks in a cute little voice.
"We are," Eddie confirms. "See you!"
Mushka, insolent Mushka, holds out her hand to Eddie, letting it droop at the wrist
as if for kissing.
"I won't do it!" Eddie objects in his thoughts, but he kisses her hand anyway. Her
hand actually smells very nice, with a fragrance of floral perfume.
"See you," Vovka adds. "Sorry."
Grishka slaps Eddie on the shoulder. "See you, old man! Drop by tomorrow."
Olga waves to Eddie from the table. Obviously she is even now thinking of the
moment when she'll marry the bald guy and leave her barrack behind. Her face is
It has already started to get dark, and a half-rain, half-snow is falling - barely,
but still falling. Eddie's in a foul mood. He has no idea what he'll tell Svetka when he sees
her at eight. You could burn up with shame over this money business. What a bitch his
mother is! They have the money, so what difference would it make to her to give him the
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250 he needs? Everything would be all right then. And anyway, all the kids get money
from their parents three times a year - on May Day, on New Year's, and for the October
holidays. It's a tradition. The poorest workers give their teenage children money so they
can be "like everybody else" and no worse than anybody else - so they can spend the
holidays with their friends and drink and dance a bit to the radio or a record player.
Eddie's father's an officer, and he makes twice as much as the workers, but Eddie still
has to suffer because of their fucking principles.
Beginning to shiver, Eddie walks down Materialist Street, empty for the second
day because of the holidays, and in spite of himself he starts to swear out loud. "We
want you to grow up to be an honest man!" he says, aping his father. "I want you to be
like your papa! He has never taken anything that belonged to anybody else, and he has
never used his position for his own personal advantage," he mimics his mother.
"Jesus! I don't want to be like my papa!" Eddie yells, and then looks around. No,
nobody's there. "So you want me to be an honest person, then?" he continues out loud.
"Then give me the miserable money and don't make me break into a cafeteria and risk
five years. Take Sashka Lyakovich. He doesn't steal because his mother and stepfather
not only give him money but let him invite any friends he wants, including girls, and they
even let the girls stay overnight if that's what Sashka wants. Now, those are good
parents! And as a result Sashka isn't a punk! The goddamn whore!" Eddie swears, ending
his tirade.
Eddie decides to go past Borka Churilov's windows again; maybe they're lit.
Maybe Borka is back from Zhuravlyovka. Wrapped up in their coats, domino players are
sitting under an awning at a wooden table in Borka's yard, by lamplight.
"It doesn't make any difference to those assholes whether it's raining or snowing,"
Eddie thinks scornfully, "as long as they can mindlessly slap their dominoes around. They
come home from the factory, gobble something down, and then it's outside to play
dominoes." The domino players play by lamplight until late at night. In Saltovka they can
be found in all the yards, or at least wherever there are streetlights. Borka laughs at the
domino players, and Eddie-baby holds them in contempt. He's in fact contemptuous of all
workers, except for Borka. He knows that workers are the most uninteresting and
backward people. Repatriated people are interesting. Asya is interesting. So is her family.
Their neighbor Viktor Apollonovich, who was also repatriated, is interesting too, although
he's probably crazy. Even in winter the bearded Viktor Apollonovich goes around the
snowy streets of Saltovka wearing a frock coat, a bow tie, a bowler, and no overcoat - a
specter from the tales of the brothers Grimm. "Even Katya Muravyov's interesting,"
Eddie thinks. According to Asya, Katya shot herself - she wanted to kill herself. True,
she somehow shot herself in the leg, so that she's lame now, but at least she tried. Not
the proletarians, though; people like that don't shoot themselves.
For some strange reason, Eddie's contempt does not extend to the occasionally
employed punks. The punks find work for themselves only when they are pressured to by
the militia, and then they only remain on the job for a little while, always looking for a
way to get out of it. As a rule, the punks are more likely to work in the winter than in the
summer. The hearts of the punks grow restless with the first rays of spring sunshine.
"The weather says it's time to settle up!" as a Saltovka saying has it, and the punks all
quit their factories in April.
"I'll never work!" the angry Eddie-baby whispers as he walks past the domino
players. Turning the corner, he notes in desperation that Borka's windows are dark.
There's nothing for Eddie to do but go home and somehow try to squeeze the
money out of his mother. Kadik is supposed to drop by at six. Maybe Kadik, who knows
how to talk to Raisa Fyodorovna, can help Eddie induce her to give him something.
However feebly, hope springs up in Eddie, and starting to shiver from a sudden sensation
of dampness, he turns toward Saltov Road in the direction of his own building.
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"The dictatorship of the adults," Eddie thinks as he strides along the dark streets
of Saltovka, each stone and tree of which he knows by heart. "The dictatorship of the
adults and the dictatorship of the proletariat."
Eddie believes that the things the adults spend most of their time on are
chickenshit, that the adults put on a self-important air to do what maybe doesn't need to
be done at all. For example, they use work to cover up their own personal weaknesses.
Eddie-baby knows that their neighbors in Building No.22 on First Cross Street do not in
fact like working. Uncle Sasha Chepiga really likes to be sick and is very happy if he
doesn't have to go to work. When that happens he plays soccer around the building with
his son Vitka and the humpbacked Tolik, and he could play all day long, even giving up
vodka for the sake of dribbling a soccer ball.
Looking around early in the morning, when the sleepy residents of Saltovka are
already on their way to work by 7:00 A. M. in a sad and bitter file, it's impossible to draw
any other conclusion than that they detest their plants and factories. They're happy only
twice a month - when they can draw their advances and on payday.
Eddie-baby started studying a new subject this year: "The Constitution of the
USSR." Studying the constitution is boring and unpleasant. Eddie-baby has no interest at
all in memorizing the cumbersome bureaucracy of the Soviet state, the greatest in the
world. Yet as a boy with a good mind, he thinks about the constitution from time to time.
He was particularly astonished, for example, to learn that the eight-hour workday is
regarded as one of the greatest achievements of the October Revolution. Before the
revolution, it turns out, workers worked for ten, twelve, even fourteen hours a day.
"That's really fucked up!" Eddie thinks. "What kind of slave would you have to be to
agree to work twelve hours a day?"
The well-read Eddie happens to know that the primitive tribes of Australia, Africa,
and Oceania, and also of New Guinea, where the explorer Miklukho-Maklay spent so
many years, work on average only three hours a day hunting and gathering fruits and
roots! "What the hell's going on here?" Eddie wonders. "It's a fraud." Eddie would prefer
to live in primitive conditions, if only to work five hours a day less than he would
otherwise have to do, since you can't avoid work altogether.
Eddie-baby's father doesn't care for military service either. And his mother doesn't
care for her husband's work. Sometimes when she loses her temper, she maintains that
their family life has been ruined by Eddie's father's work, that Eddie-baby and his mother
never see their father and husband. On the other hand, Eddie's father, angered by his
mother's complaints, very reasonably observes that if his military job that Eddie's mother
hates so much were suddenly to disappear, there would be no way for them to live -
they wouldn't have anything to eat or wear.
Sometimes Eddie dreams that his family lives differently - in the country, where
his father plows the earth dressed in a white peasant blouse. Eddie saw a father like that
in a Hungarian film once. In his dreams Eddie-baby and his mother and father have a
house like the one Vitka's grandfather and grandmother have, only bigger. In Eddie's
dreams, however, the family is also bigger: besides Eddie, there are Asya and Kadik and
Vitka - his sister and brothers. And in Eddie's dreams Vitka's grandfather and
grandmother are his grandfather and grandmother too. And they all have lots of
flowering apple trees around, and horses, and rifles to defend themselves with. Eddie
doesn't want the militia to protect him; he wants to protect himself.
And Eddie-baby's family is almost always dressed in white. No member of the
family wants to wear dark rags. And each one of the children has his own separate room.
And Eddie-baby at last has a place to put away all of his notes, notebooks, and books,
and to put up all of his geographical maps. All that stuff is now lying in a pile in the out-
of-order bathroom, but since the builders have promised to have the hot water running
soon, it may be necessary for Eddie to move his belongings down to the basement of
Building No.22, where his family keeps sacks of potatoes, like all the other families who
live there, and where they used to store firewood and coal before they had gas.
The adults play very seriously at a game that half and maybe even all of them
have no faith in - Eddie-baby is certain of that. He knows very well what kind of person
his father is, and he knows how weak he is, but just take a sort of sidelong glance at his
father when he's dressed up in his military tunic, with his service ribbons representing
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different honors and decorations, and he's walking down the street in his military cap,
boots, and riding breeches - oh, then he's the very incarnation of strength and power!
Even if he can't even wrest an apartment for himself from his superiors!
Listening to the leaders of the Ukraine and the Soviet Union on television and
looking at their faces, Eddie-baby is astonished by how backward they are and how
provincial their accents are. Until 1953, when they got their television set, one of the first
in Kharkov, Eddie had never seen the leaders of his country in action or heard them
speak. Now that he has seen them, he's amazed. "Why is Khrushchev such a clod, why
does he look like a fat Ukrainian pig?" Eddie wonders. "Is there really nobody else in the
country who's better-looking and more distinguished?" The local leaders Eddie has run
into in the course of his life - the school principal, the militia precinct chief - have all
seemed like dreadful, boorish, provincial fascists given to sneering at children and
adolescents. Eddie isn't very clear about who he'd like to see take their places, just
somebody of better quality. Eddie's mother and father are proud of their pure Russian
accents, so how can Eddie, in whose consciousness pure Russian has also taken root,
respect that fat, badly dressed man on television with his terrible mumbling accent and
his note-assisted speech?
Eddie has a notebook in which he has written down names and offices. Nobody
has seen the notebook, since Eddie keeps it hidden in a wooden box under the potatoes
in the basement along with the novel he has just started writing. If anyone should see
the notebook, it would be the end of Eddie-baby, who would perhaps be executed or
taken away to Kolyma by his father. The reason is that the notebook contains the names
and offices of the members of the Politburo and of all the generals and ministers and
secretaries of the regional committees who need to be eliminated. Who need to be
liquidated. Eddie-baby believes that the power of the state should be in the hands of the
punks. There should be a dictatorship of the punks in the Soviet Union instead of a
dictatorship of the proletariat. After all, the punks are much more developed, much
cleverer, and much more intelligent than the proletariat. A proletarian will always back
down before the knife of a punk. The punk always overcomes the proletarian.
Eddie-baby wants to talk over his idea with Red Sanya. He wants to, but he's been
putting it off. He plans to do it after the gang robs rich Uncle Lyova, so that Sanya will
take them more seriously and not regard them just as minors.
Eddie-baby is convinced that if the leading people in the state are liquidated, there
will be chaos in the country and a well-organized gang can seize power. Maybe Kostya's
gang. Not now, of course, but in twenty years or so. And they - the leaders, that is -
will all have to be liquidated in a single day.
Eddie-baby doesn't see anything impossible about his idea. Lenin and the
Bolsheviks also had a very small gang in 1917, but they still managed to seize power.
Kostya, the only person Eddie has told about his red list ("red" because Eddie wrote it out
in red ink), says he's crazy. Even so, Eddie is counting on eventually bringing Kostya
around, maybe when they're adults. "Why do you say I'm crazy?" Eddie asked. "After all,
what about Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar and Napoleon? And just recently Hitler
and Goering, who looks like Red Sanya? There wasn't always nothing but thousands of
boring Uncle Vasyas who look just like each other, and Uncle Tolyas and Uncle Sashas
and Uncle Ivans, was there? After all, Kostya, even though Hitler was our enemy, he was
a great man, don't you agree?" Eddie said.
Kostya said that, yes, Hitler was a great man, and that he, Kostya, personally
likes the SS, especially their black uniforms, but that you have to be crazy to plan such
things in Saltovka. And as Eddie's hetman, he also ordered him to say no more about his
red list and to get rid of it as soon as possible, before somebody put him away.
Eddie didn't get rid of the list, because he had spent a lot of time taking down the
names from the newspapers and then classifying them as he was accustomed to doing
with all his knowledge. He felt bad about wasting the work he had already done, so he
merely transferred the list to the basement from its original hiding place on the balcony.
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The humpbacked Tolik Perevorachaev is standing by the door to Eddie's entrance,
and there's no way of getting around him. He and Eddie used to be friends. Now Eddie
has grown up, has become an adult, or nearly one, whereas Tolik has remained small
because of his awful hump, even though he's a year older than Eddie.
"Hey, Tolik! How's life?" Eddie asks a bit more casually than necessary, while also
aware that he's being hypocritical. What kind of life can a person have if he's sixteen and
humpbacked and only one meter fifty-one centimeters tall? The only kind of life Tolik can
have is a pisspoor one, and even Eddie is offended by the cheerful asshole voice he's
using with Tolik.
"Not bad," Tolik answers, embarrassed. "There's a new picture I drew. Chapaev
drowning in the Ural River. Do you want to see it?"
Eddie really doesn't. Chapaev is about the only thing Tolik ever draws. Sometimes
he does a scene from the last war - the Germans and our side - but basically it's
Chapaev, and Eddie's already seen hundreds of Tolik's pictures in watercolor or colored
pencil with Chapaev in a moustache and a black Cossack felt coat. The colors in his
pictures are very bright, even garish. Eddies mother says that Tolik is mentally retarded
because of his hump, and psychologically a child, whereas his sexual development is
normal since he wants a woman, but how can he get one if he's a hunchback? As a
result, Tolik is slowly turning from a gentle, humpbacked boy into a bitter, grumbling
hunchback, and as Eddie's mother has learned in the strictest confidence from the
Perevorachaevs' neighbor, Auntie Marusya Chepiga, he's even attracted to his own
sisters, Lyubka and Baby Nadka.
Tolik's bitterness, however, has not extended to Eddie-baby. When they were still
children, they built a lot of homemade machines together, including several scooters
using roller-skate wheels. And when Eddie got sick with pneumonia and was in bed with
a fever of thirty-nine, it was none other than the humpbacked Tolik who sat with him and
patiently read him a travel book to take his mind off his fever.
Eddie-baby has no wish to offend Tolik, but he doesn't feel like going into the
Perevorachaevs' room with its repulsively hot, almost humid atmosphere, saying hello to
the dour stovemaker and Tolik's mother, Blackie, and sitting down on Tolik's smelly
flannel blanket to look at yet another Chapaev with his hand thrust up out of the water.
"I'd like to, Tol," Eddie says, "but a friend of mine's waiting for me at home. Let's
do it tomorrow, all right?" he promises, full of self-loathing.
"All right, tomorrow," answers the sallow if not greenish Tolik, probably aware, or
at least sensing, that his former friend won't have any time tomorrow either.
Eddie runs past the hunchback, who has stepped aside for him, and sighs with
relief as soon as he reaches his own floor. He got by.
His mother isn't home. And there isn't even a note on the kitchen table. Eddie and
Raisa Fyodorovna usually leave notes for each other. The absence of a note is always an
unmistakable sign that his mother is upset with Eddie about something. "What is it this
time?" Eddie asks himself, trying to understand. But he is unable to reach any immediate
conclusions about what it is that he's done - or not done - to earn her displeasure.
Kadik arrives precisely at six, just as he promised yesterday. He's in a very good
mood, although he's rarely in a bad one. Kadik is a life-loving individual.
"Hey, old buddy, you should have seen what happened yesterday!" he announces
while still in the doorway. "You'll never guess!"
"Can you guess?" and "You'll never guess!" are Kadik's favorite expressions.
"Lyudka Shepelenko was screwing George! You remember George, Eddie? Lyudka
was screwing him right on the table!" Kadik blurts out enthusiastically. "What an amazing
girl she is!"
Eddie brings Kadik's enthusiasm up short: "I didn't get the money," he gloomily
informs him. "I don't know what to do."
The expression on Kadik's face changes. Eddie knows he would be glad to help
him, but there's no way he can. How could he? He doesn't have any money either.
Sometimes Kadik earns good bread selling records, but it's been a month since he's had
any platters from the Baltic republics.
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"Shit, old buddy," Kadik says carefully.
"Let's have a drink," Eddie suggests in a preoccupied tone, and brings in a bottle
of port from the cold balcony. Usually there isn't anything to drink in the house, since
Eddie's father avoids alcohol - it makes him sick to his stomach. And they don't keep
any wine around for guests either, since they don't want to tempt Eddie. Whenever
company comes, his mother runs down to the store for wine. Today is a holiday,
"Haven't you got anything to munch on?" Kadik asks. "I came straight from
Eugene's. I haven't been home yet."
Eddie brings several cold meat patties from the kitchen, some bread, a couple of
boiled eggs, and a dish of cold, stuck-together meatballs wrapped in dough, puts the
food down on the desk, pulls up a chair for Kadik, and sits himself down on the edge of
the desk.
"Happy holiday!" he says to Kadik, and they clink glasses.
The dark red beverage unaccountably burns Eddie's throat like boiling water.
"Now, that's port!" Kadik says with a shudder, and stabs a cutlet with his fork.
"Mmm!" he moans with pleasure after swallowing the first bite. "Your old lady really
knows how to cook. She's much better at it than my idiot!"
"The fool Kadik doesn't realize what a good mother he has," Eddie thinks. And it's
true, whenever her little Kolka needs money, the postal worker disappears and gets it for
him. Maybe the reason Kadik doesn't appreciate her is because she's always there to help
him. But all Eddie says out loud is,
"That's bullshit. Your old lady's an excellent cook."
"Huh?" Kadik replies, waving his hand, since his mouth is full of cutlet. "My old
lady cooks like a peasant. She mixes everything together, the way they prepare slop for
pigs in the country."
It's clear to Eddie that the only reason Kadik is ashamed of his postal worker
mother is because that's what she is, and the only reason he gets along with Eddie's
mother so well, the reason why they like each other so much, is that he dreams about
having respectable parents. The officer Veniamin Ivanovich and the widely read Raisa
Fyodorovna would suit Kadik very well.
"Let's trade parents," Eddie suggests to him, pouring some more port into their
empty glasses. "If I had a mother like yours, I'd have two hundred and fifty rubles in my
pocket right now. But I don't, so what am I supposed to do?" he bitterly concludes.
"Well, old buddy," Kadik announces, perhaps a little exasperated, "all you have to
do is tell Svetka you didn't get the money. Take her to the movies instead, and then you
can come to my place afterward and listen to music. I'll send my old lady over to the
neighbors, or else we can go to Vovka Zolotarev's and dance and drink there. I don't
know why you put up with that stuff from her anyway. A really good girl will understand
when her old buddy doesn't have any money, that he's broke for the time being, and
she'll wait. She realizes they can have their holiday some other time, since there will
always be another chance," Kadik says quite reasonably.
Eddie says nothing. How could Kadik know how afraid he is of losing Svetka? A
true Saltovka adolescent, Eddie can't tell him that he's terribly in love with Svetka, that
he's never humped her even once, and that he's afraid that if he doesn't take Svetka to
Sashka Plotnikov's and in general keep her entertained, she'll start going with Shurik.
Even though Svetka has tried to convince Eddie that she and Shurik are just friends, in
the same way, for instance, that Asya and Eddie are friends, Eddie does not, to be
perfectly honest, believe her. He sees how Shurik sometimes looks at her. How could
Kadik know how hard it is when somebody like Shurik is hanging around Svetka all the
time? Especially since he's older than Eddie, works, and has his own money. But the
main thing in this shameful secret, the most important thing, is that Eddie isn't humping
Svetka, which means that they aren't really bound to one another and she doesn't
actually owe Eddie anything. If they were humping, Eddie could forbid her to see Shurik
just because he, Eddie, didn't want her to. Eddie can't explain all this to Kadik for the
simple reason that Eddie grew up in Saltovka, where an adolescent must be a man. But
the fact is that Eddie has secretly cried several times after fighting with Svetka. Nobody
knows about it, of course.
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"Well, what are we going to do?"
"How the fuck should I know?" Eddie answers despondently.
"Why don't we just go to Victory," Kadik says. "You can recite your poems, old
buddy. I'm sure you'll win a prize, eh?"
"What about Svetka?" Eddie asks uncertainly.
"We'll take her with us," Kadik decides. "She'll enjoy seeing her old buddy win the
prize for the best poems in front of an audience of thousands of people. Girls like that,"
Kadik says enthusiastically. "Lights, a microphone, and her old buddy on the stage! O-o-
oh!" Kadik drawls. "She'll really be impressed!"
"Why not?" Eddie thinks. "Maybe Kadik's right." That Svetka is vain he has no
doubt. Maybe it's not such a bad idea after all. He'll tell her he didn't get the money, and
that's all there is to it. It happens.
"All right," he says. "Let's go to Victory. What time is it?" he asks Kadik. "Our
fucking alarm clock doesn't work."
"Six-thirty. It's only six-thirty, and the poetry contest is scheduled for eight."
Kadik goes to the balcony door, opens it, and peers out into the darkness. "And the
weather's calmed down," he says with satisfaction. "It's dry, no rain or snow, which
means that the contest will definitely take place. There's lots of time to pick up Svetka.
Get dressed," Kadik says.
Eddie-baby doesn't dress as he would if he were going to Sashka Plotnikov's, but
all the same he puts on his best shoes, first wrapping his bare feet in newspaper as a
precaution and then putting on his socks. The newspaper is a tried and true method.
Slavka the Gypsy taught him to wrap his feet in newspaper last winter during the bad
freeze when they went to the dances in light leather shoes.
Eddie puts on a pair of very narrow dress pants, a white shirt, and over that his
yellow hooded jacket, and he sticks his bow tie in his pocket just in case. Maybe he'll put
the bow tie on before reciting. If he recites, that is. To be honest, Eddie is a little
intimidated by the prospect. He's never recited in front of thousands of people before,
and without exaggeration there will be thousands and even tens of thousands of young
and not so young people at the Victory for the People's Festival, as it's officially called.
He'll think about it on the way, since when you come right down to it, it's one thing to
recite at the beach, where there are maybe a hundred listeners who as a rule are
supportive of their own, and another when your poems are judged and you're given a
place in the rankings. "And what if they don't give me first place?" Eddie thinks fearfully.
"What will Svetka say then? And what will Kadik say?"
"The poems, the poems - don't forget your notebook," Kadik reminds him. "It's
better to recite without the notebook, of course, but what if you forget all of a sudden?"
Folding it in half, Eddie puts the velveteen-covered notebook in his pocket. He
pasted the velveteen on himself, so that the notebook would look special.
"Let's go," he says to Kadik. "We drop by Svetka's first. It's even better that there
are two of us - it will make it easier to explain the situation. With you around, she won't
bitch so much."
What happened next was something that Eddie didn't expect at all, and even
though it made him partly glad, it also put him on his guard. It turned out Svetka wasn't
home. Nobody was.
Eddie-baby and Kadik sat for a while outside Svetka's building and waited for her
with some of the neighborhood boys, who all knew Eddie well. She and Eddie had after
all agreed that he would drop by around eight. But when the hands of Kadik's watch
pointed to seven-thirty, they decided to go anyway in order to get to the Victory in time
to sign up for the contest.
Leaving the bench in Svetka's yard, Eddie realized that he was alarmed but also
relieved that he wouldn't have to disgrace himself in front of her, that he wouldn't have
to explain that he hadn't gotten the money and thereby humiliate himself. Eddie-baby
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asked the kids from Svetka's building to tell her that he'd dropped by and that if she
wanted to, she should come to Victory, since that's where he'd be. He didn't leave any
explanation as to why he was going to Victory instead of to Sashka Plotnikov's. For some
reason he was sure Svetka wouldn't be back by eight, as they had agreed, since it was
already past seven-thirty. At the same time, however, he wasn't concerned about her.
He knew she'd gone to Dnepropetrovsk with her mother and therefore nothing in
particular could have happened to her. Their train was probably just running late because
of the holiday. "If the train's more than an hour or an hour and a half late, that will work
out pretty well," Eddie reasoned as he and Kadik took the crowded trolley to Victory.
Almost all the passengers got off the trolley at the Victory, and it continued on its
way empty. Immediately on the other side of the tracks was a seething human broth, a
thick, swaying mass that possessed its own internal currents, like every crowd,
unconscious but clearly subject to some common law. Once Vitka Zhuk, the projectionist
at the Victory, took Eddie with him high up onto the roof of the House of Culture and
showed him the crowd from above. Looking down on it, Eddie was amazed by how much
it resembled a treacherous river - in some places it seemed to swirl around shoals, while
in others it seemed to bump up against them and flow powerfully off in one direction,
only to stop suddenly and begin flowing in another. "Holy fuck!" was all Eddie could say
then, although that evening he did try to write a poem about the crowd. In the poem too
he compared the crowd to a river, but the poem didn't work out - Eddie himself didn't
care for it.
"Hurry and sign up!" Kadik now says to Eddie, pulling him along. "Come on, come
on!" he urges, and they move through the crowd toward the immense stairway that leads
up to the first level of the building's terraced apron. The Victory is built like the
Parthenon, although it's much bigger. On the apron are towering microphones, crates
containing electrical equipment, the famous amplifiers Kadik is so delighted with, and a
place for the band, which has just left the stage for a break. Somewhere in the depths of
the Victory, Vitka Zhuk is playing records in the band's absence, at the moment a song
called "The Black Sea," popular that year:
9hoe%er was born by the sea
;as fallen in lo%e fore%er
9ith the white masts at rest
$n the smoke of the maritime city
sings a saccharine voice from all the loudspeakers on the square. Here and there
people in the crowd dance, while the rest buzz, yell, converse, and gather in little
Making their way onto the apron, Eddie-baby and Kadik slip under the rope
surrounding the microphones and equipment and go up to a group of people crowded
around a man in a black suit and bow tie - the master of ceremonies. Several Komsomol
auxiliaries - well-fed youths with red armbands - had tried to stop them, but Kadik
very impressively announced, "We're taking part in the poetry contest," and the
Komsomol auxiliaries let them through to the master of ceremonies.
"Excuse me! Excuse me!" the insolent and persistent Kadik politely says to
everyone, shamelessly pushing his way into the little group. "My friend, a very talented
poet from Saltovka, would like to take part in your contest," Kadik says in a dignified
tone, addressing the master of ceremonies.
"By all means!" the master of ceremonies answers without any particular pleasure
but with professional courtesy. "Whose poems will you be reciting, young man?" he asks,
addressing Eddie.
Eddie hardly has a chance to open his mouth before Kadik is answering for him:
"His own, naturally. Whose poems would a poet recite, anyway?"
"His own. Very fine!" the master of ceremonies says, becoming more animated.
"Ten people have already signed up, but most of them will be reciting the poems of well-
known Soviet and Russian poets. Only" - and here the master of ceremonies looks at a
piece of paper he's holding in his hand - "only four will be reciting their own poems. Last
year there were a lot more," he notes absently, as if puzzled, as if not knowing how to
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explain the drop in the number of poets who will be reciting their own poems at the
Victory this year.
"But aren't you having a contest for the best poems?" Kadik asks him.
"As a matter of fact, we did plan a tourney for poets," the master of ceremonies
confirms, "but in view of the small number of participants, we have pretty much decided
to have a contest just for poetry reciters -"
"Oh no, you have to have a contest for poets, just as you announced!" demands
the indignant Kadik. "It was announced in the press that there would be a contest for
poets," says the stern Kadik-Kolka, laying down the law.
Eddie has even forgotten his fear of the crowd, so completely delighted is he with
his friend-impresario. That's how he said it - just like a responsible comrade: "It was
announced in the press."
"Well, we have five people now. It's not a lot, but I think it will be enough for a
contest," the master of ceremonies says, making up his mind. "Four poets just wasn't
enough," he justifies himself to Kadik.
"The public has come to hear a contest for poets," Kadik declares, waving his
hand over the sea of people below them. "You can see how excited and full of
anticipation they are," he adds.
The crowd really is excited, but Eddie-baby, Kadik, and the master of ceremonies
know it couldn't be less interested in poetry. "It would watch the circus with the greatest
of pleasure," Eddie-baby thinks with a grin. "It wants bread and spectacles, biomitsin and
the circus. Roll out barrels of biomitsin for them and invite the regional circus to come
with its bears, elephants, and clowns, and the crowd at the Victory will be the happiest
crowd in the world. They'll remember it for years afterward."
The young people have come to the Victory to see each other, to drink together,
to get into fights, to pass the time with their friends. Every district has its own place on
the square. The half of the square to Eddie's right belongs to the kids from Tyurenka and
Saltovka, to "our guys," as he puts it. The other half belongs to the kids from
Plekhanovka, who share it as hosts with the kids from Zhuravlyovka. That doesn't mean
that the kids from Tyurenka or Saltovka can't go over to the side belonging to the kids
from Plekhanovka and Zhuravlyovka; certainly they can, but officially the gangs
congregate on different sides of the square - that's how the territory is divided. Eddie-
baby has no idea who divided it that way, but that's the way it has always been. It's a
tradition that has been passed down from one generation to the next.
"I'd like to look at your poems before you recite them," the master of ceremonies
says to Eddie. "Forgive me, young man, but what's your name?"
"Eduard Savenko," Eddie identifies himself with a certain reluctance. He doesn't
like his last name and dreams of changing it when he grows up.
"All right then, Eduard," the master of ceremonies says, "I'd like to take a look at
your work. Please don't be offended - that's the policy around here -"
"Censorship!" the insolent Kadik mockingly interjects. "Show him what you plan to
recite, Eddie."
It's a good thing that Eddie has brought the notebook with him. He leafs through
it now to find the poems he needs. This isn't the beach, after all; they won't let you recite
poems about the militia and prison. What's required are poems about love. You can recite
poems about love anywhere.
"Here's one," Eddie says, sticking his finger in the notebook. "And this one too,"
he indicates, turning the page. "And here's another one," he says, "just a short one," and
he hands the notebook to the master of ceremonies, who immediately immerses himself
in it. The master of ceremonies reads professionally and rapidly, and after a few minutes
he gives the notebook back to Eddie.
"Very talented, young man," he says. "Very. I'm pleasantly impressed. The
majority of people who recite here," he says, taking Eddie by the arm and leading him a
little away from the others, "the majority of the poets here are, how shall I put it" - and
he frowns - "are not very literate about poetry. And then too," the master of ceremonies
adds condescendingly, "they lack spiritual culture. You understand what I mean?" he
says, looking Eddie in the eye. "By the way, what do your parents do?" he asks.
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"My father's an army officer, and my mother's a housewife," Eddie succinctly
answers. Despite the compliment the master of ceremonies has bestowed on his poems,
Eddie doesn't care for him. There's something unpleasant about him. "A cultured
hireling," Eddie says to himself.
"That's what I thought, that's just what I thought!" the master of ceremonies
chirps happily. "Your father's an officer. Officers are our Soviet middle class. Of course,"
he says, "it's all clear now."
"And you, young man" - he turns to Kadik, who has come over to listen to what
they are saying - "you're wrong about the censorship. I'm not engaging in censorship
here. We don't have Stalinism in this country anymore, but we do have a huge audience
out there" - and the master of ceremonies waves his hand over the square filled to the
brim with people - "sometimes in the tens of thousands. No, we aren't censoring our
poets; we're simply required to protect people from any possible hooliganism, any
possible provocation. For example, you kids know what happened several months ago in
1krainian Pra%da, don't you?" he says, speaking to both of them now, to both Eddie and
"No," they answer.
"A terrible provocation. And very clever, too!" The master of ceremonies smiles
venomously. "A letter came to the editorial staff from Canada. In the letter a Canadian
Ukrainian, a young man, wrote that he loved our country and that he was a worker, and
he asked the staff to publish a poem in which he glorified the world's leading country of
victorious socialism and spoke of his hatred for capitalism, which has condemned the
workers to unemployment. They published the poem, but -" And here the voice of the
master of ceremonies becomes a loud whisper. "Well, as a poet, Eduard, you must know
what an acrostic is. Do you?" Eddie-baby nods. He knows what an acrostic is. "Well,
then," the master of ceremonies announces triumphantly, "it was an acrostic! So that if
you read only the first letters of each line, you got the infamous Ukrainian fascist cry: In
Muskovite, Polack, and Jew, take your knife and stick it through.' So you see how it is,
young people. And you say 'censorship,'" the master of ceremonies concludes, walking
away from Eddie and Kadik with a smug expression on his face to announce the start of
the poetry contest.
Even Kadik is dumbstruck. "Not too fucking bad!" he exclaims, laughing. "The
editor was probably prosecuted."
Not that Kadik feels sorry for the editor or approves of the deceptively provocative
actions of the Canadian poet, but like all the residents of Saltovka, for some reason he's
glad whenever the authorities slip up. Especially since 1krainian Pra%da is viewed as a
disgusting rag and is moreover in the Ukrainian language, which is considered provincial
in Kharkov. Nobody wants to go to the Ukrainian schools, so now all the kids in the non-
Ukrainian schools are being forced to study the Ukrainian language, even though the
instruction is conducted in Russian. Eddie-baby has been studying Ukrainian since the
second form and knows it very well, but where is he supposed to use it - in a village or
something? And where is such a village to be found? Even in Old Saltov it's only the old
people who still speak Ukrainian. The young people don't want to. In Kiev the
intelligentsia use it just to show off. They stand on Kreshchatik and loudly "conversate in
Ukrainian." You could just as easily show off by speaking English. "Asya, on the other
hand, is a modest person who doesn't boast about her French, even though she speaks it
better than any teacher of the language," Eddie thinks.
And there's no more boring subject in school than Ukrainian literature. The
endless whining about "serfdom" - it makes your ears burn. There hasn't been any
serfdom for a long, long time, but the whining remains.
Eddie is the second to perform. That's good, because by the fifth poet the
audience will be tired out and start whistling and demanding music. The first poet, a
muscular guy of about twenty-five, recites his poem about a boxer very badly. "He's
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probably a boxer himself," Kadik whispers. The poem in itself isn't that bad, although the
poet is obviously imitating both Yevtushenko and Rozhdestvensky at the same time,
which is fine, but nobody has taught the guy how to recite. He just mumbles into the
microphone, when what he needs to do with a crowd like this is recite loudly and clearly.
"And he should stand a lot closer to the microphone," Eddie reasons, analyzing the
mistakes of the boxer-poet. When the latter walks away from the microphone, the
applause is pretty sparse. "He could have performed a lot better," Eddie decides. "Read
well, his aggressive poem about a boxer who finally knocks out his opponent would
unquestionably have pleased precisely this rowdy group of young people, which respects
aggressive strength more than anything else. What a fool!" Eddie says in condescending
pity of his own unsuccessful opponent.
The master of ceremonies comes over to Eddie.
"Would you like me to announce you as a Saltovka poet, Eduard?" he asks with a
"Yes," Eddie answers.
"Of course," Kadik reiterates. Although Kadik doesn't like Saltovka, he does
appreciate that all the Saltovka members of the audience will root for Eddie and the
applause will be that much greater. What self-respecting patriot of Saltovka wouldn't clap
for one of his own?
"And now I would like to present to you," the master of ceremonies says into the
microphone in a hushed voice, "the youngest participant in our poetry contest. The
Saltovkan poet, as he calls himself" - and here the master of ceremonies makes a
significant and prolonged pause before shouting, "EDUARD SAVENKO!"
"Now, that's really professional," Eddie thinks with envy. "Whether you want to or
not, you'll hear him." Even the part of the crowd that's farthest away, standing by the
trolley stop hidden behind the last lamps, has now heard of the Saltovkan poet, and from
all over the square comes the sound of encouraging applause. If Eddie and Kadik have
counted accurately, there are thousands of people from Saltovka at the festival. Here and
there are heard shouts of "Ed!" as people in the crowd start to recognize Eddie, who has
now stepped up to the microphone, and then from the right-hand side of the square,
from the place where the Saltovka punks have congregated, comes organized, noisy
applause and more shouts of encouragement: "Ed! Ed!"
"Can you hear?" Eddie asks into the microphone in a loud, brash voice. His hands
are trembling, his mouth is dry, but he knows that in a moment his stage fright will pass
completely. Just as soon as he starts to recite.
"Yes! Yes!" come yells from the crowd.
"'Natasha,' do 'Natasha'!" A heartrending cry is suddenly heard. And from other
places in the crowd come other voices in support of the first: "Do 'Natasha'!" It's obvious
the kids have heard "Natasha" one of the many times he recited it at the beach.
Eddie wrote "Natasha" after spending Easter at Vitka Nemchenko's. Eddie hadn't
actually intended to recite "Natasha" for the contest and therefore hadn't shown it to the
master of ceremonies. But now, standing face to face with thousands of people, he thinks
that maybe he will do "Natasha" after all - why not? His audiences have always liked it.
Only he won't recite the last stanza about the punks, since the master of ceremonies and
the auxiliaries might gang up on him and throw him off the stage. Smiling, Eddie almost
asks into the microphone in a powerful but friendly way the first lines of the poem:
9ho2s that walking home,
$sn2t it our friend <atasha:
"raids in ribbons down her back,
=ear, sweet <atasha3
The crowd has grown quiet and is listening to him now. Eddie sees that even the
back rows have quieted down. They're all listening, unlike when the boxer recited. "You
can hear the trolley and the shuffling of thousands of feet, but otherwise the whores are
listening," Eddie thinks delightedly. He knows they won't listen to more than three poems
before they start fidgeting, but while they're still quiet, he'll give them a first-class
"Natasha" - like a national anthem. And he continues to recite clearly and forcefully:
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The wind is fresh, and the lilacs
re e%erywhere in bloom8
$n a white dress on a sunny day
You2%e come out to take a walk
After Eddie has chanted all twelve stanzas to them and is concluding with a
repetition (except for the last two lines) of the first stanza as a refrain -
9ho2s that walking home,
$sn2t it our friend <atasha:
;omeward with a ma,estic stride,
=ear 'ussian <atasha3
- the whole square erupts in a roar of applause, and Eddie realizes that whatever
happens, however good the poems recited after him, the first prize is his. He therefore
recites two more poems and despite the exclamations of "Bravo!" and "More! More!"
walks away from the microphone.
"Great job!" the master of ceremonies says to him, for some reason taking a more
familiar tone. "Great job! I'm sure the jury will give you first prize. Tell me, did you ever
take a speech class or acting lessons?" he asks. "You handled yourself magnificently! And
the poems were excellent," the master of ceremonies says, failing to remember that
Eddie didn't show him "Natasha" beforehand. It's not for the victor to be judged. "Even
though it's quite possible that 'Natasha' is an acrostic, that if you read the first or the last
letters in the stanzas, you might come up with some rubbish or other," Eddie thinks with
a laugh. "Maybe it says, 'Why don't you all get fucked in the mouth!'"
"Well, congratulations, old buddy!" shouts a happy Kadik, shaking Eddie by the
shoulders. "You see how well everything works out if you just listen to old man Kadik?
Today the best girls will be ours!" Kadik yelps in delight. "Go up to any one of them and
take her! That is, if Svetka doesn't come to Victory," he adds, correcting himself.
The words of his friend bring Eddie back to reality and distract him from the
greatest social triumph of his fifteen-year-old life. His intuition contributes a certain
anxiety on its own. If he had felt that anxiety before his performance, he would have
attributed it to stage fright, but now he begins to wonder if something hasn't happened
to Svetka. "Maybe the train went off the tracks?" he thinks with horror, although he
immediately pushes that thought out of his mind. "That's stupid - how often do trains
get derailed? Svetka is about as likely to be hit by a falling brick. It's just stupid."
During the next half-hour Eddie-baby shakes at least a hundred hands, and he
receives so many approving slaps that his shoulder aches. He wanders through the crowd
on the square with Kadik, greets people he knows, and from time to time one of their
acquaintances, taking out from under the flaps of his coat the ubiquitous biomitsin or
&ort%esha - port, that is - gives the two of them a drink. The results of the poetry
contest will be announced after an interval of dancing - after the jury, consisting of
some completely unknown cultural figures and activists, has finished deliberating inside
the movie theater - although all the kids are sure that Eddie will get first prize.
"First prize is yours, old buddy. It's in the bag," Kadik says. "You can rest easy. I
listened carefully to all the other poets, and they don't come close," he says. "It's your
good luck, old buddy, that there weren't any women poets or members of national
minorities in the contest, Chukchis or Evenks, say. Otherwise the jury would award first
prize to one of them, even if the poems were complete horseshit. That's the policy now
at all the People's Festivals. They give them prizes to encourage them," Kadik says, "so
they'll develop."
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"Right," mutters the skeptical Vitka Golovashov, who is standing with them. "I
wonder, what do you think the prize will be? They'll probably give you some crap. A book
"They should award money," Eddie says. "Even if it's only a little."
"I once won a velveteen bear at a shooting gallery," Kadik says, "shooting at
moving targets. I gave the bear to a certain girl who later fucked me for it."
"Kadik's probably lying," Eddie thinks. Kadik never told Eddie about that
experience. Of course, he's not telling the story to Eddie but to Vitka, so it's forgivable.
Somebody's hands suddenly cover Eddie's eyes. Eddie tries to break loose, but the
hands are strong ones. After a brief struggle he manages to grab his opponent by the leg
and flip him onto the pavement in front of him.
"Oh, you motherfucker!" the opponent says with a slight lisp, and up from the
pavement jumps the smiling Arkashka Yepkin. "What the fuck did you do that for?" he
asks, although he isn't offended. "The wrestlers have gotten together and are tossing
other people around."
The wrestlers are Eddie-baby and Vitka Golovashov. Vitka is of course an
experienced wrestler with a third-class rating, whereas Eddie is still considered a
beginner, but even so, "the wrestlers have gotten together."
"Why don't you boxers put up your fists, then?" Vitka answers for Eddie.
Arkashka assumes a boxer's crouch, and Vitka a wrestler's. They circle around
each other for a while, clearing a space in the crowd for themselves. The onlookers shout
encouragement to them: "All right, let's go, let's see what you can do!" "Show us what
you've got!" Vitka and Arkashka, however, have no intention of grappling. After circling
around some more and then, as they say in Saltovka, giving each other "tenners" -
slapping both their hands together palm to palm, in other words - they finally greet each
"Hey, you dipshit boxer!" Vitka declares.
"Hey, you fucking wrestler!" Arkashka replies.
They respect each other. Vitka is regarded as a wrestler with real prospects, and
Arkashka is a very good boxer. Very. Even though he's only just starting out.
There are three Yepkin brothers. Two of them are boxers. The third is still too
young, but he's already begun waving his fists around. Their mother is Russian, and their
father is a "Chuchmek," as they say in Saltovka - some kind of Asiatic, that is, either
Uzbek or Kazakh. Whatever the case, all the Yepkins have flat oriental mugs, the sly,
narrow eyes of Mongol khans, muscular yellow bodies, and very good boxer's
temperaments. Eddie-baby has yellow skin too, although of course not the same kind as
Arkashka Yepkin has. Arkashka's face is yellow, whereas Eddie's face and hands are
much whiter than the rest of his body.
"Great job, Ed, you old cocksucker!" Arkashka shouts. Sometimes Arkashka hangs
out at the benches under the lindens by right of being an athlete, and so he knows about
their idiotic flourish. Eddie isn't offended - Arkashka's just teasing him. Whenever
necessary, he sticks up for Eddie and quietly backs him in a fight, even though as a
boxer he's not supposed to get involved in street fighting - he could be disqualified.
At that moment up to the microphone steps some bald old fart whom the master
of ceremonies has identified as the Kharkov writer Boris Kotlyarov, if Eddie has heard
"Kotlyarov?" he asks the kids.
"Yah, something like that. Kuntlyarov.," the always mocking Yepkin answers.
"That's right, Eddie, it's Kotlyarov," Kadik confirms as he listens in annoyance.
Kadik doesn't like Yepkin, or Dipkin, as he calls him, and maybe he's afraid of him,
because he always gets nervous when Dipkin's around. "He's already getting nervous,"
Eddie thinks, "and pretty soon he'll be on his way." Kadik obviously resents Eddie's other
friends, and he avoids the punks in particular.
After a speech of several minutes whispered into the microphone, so that even the
attentive Kadik can't hear anything, Eddie-baby finally hears the "Kharkov writer"
Kotlyarov pronounce his name.
"Go on! Go on." The kids push him forward. "It's first prize. Go on!"
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Eddie, Vitka Golovashov, Yepkin, Kadik, and Lyonka Korovin, Vitka's invariable
drinking partner and friend, who has just joined them, all push forward to the steps, duck
under the rope surrounding the stage, and move in the direction of the microphone.
"Not everybody! Not everybody! Just Eduard!" the alarmed master of ceremonies
says, stopping them. "Eduard, you go over to Comrade Kotlyarov, please. And you guys
wait here."
Eddie goes up to the "Kharkov writer." Eddie has never in his life heard of the
writer Kotlyarov, but who cares about that?
"Congratulations!" Kotlyarov says to him. "Permit me to shake your hand, poet
Eduard Savenko," Kotlyarov says, opening and closing his pink mouth in his pink face,
"and to award you," he continues, "this certificate of victory in the poetry contest of the
Stalin District House of Culture."
"Certificate?" Eddie thinks. "What the fuck do I need with your certificate! What
about the prize?"
"Let's give a big hand, comrades, to the winner of the poetry contest!" the master
of ceremonies says to the crowd after running up to the microphone.
The crowd loudly claps its hands the same way that penguins in the Kharkov zoo
slap their flippers together. For a while the noise thunders over the square, and the
Saltovka and Tyurenka punks roar and whistle as their contribution to the tumult. Eddie-
baby sticks the certificate in his pocket and is about to leave when a small object
wrapped in red paper appears in the writer's hand.
"In addition to the certificate, allow me, Comrade Savenko, to give you this gift as
a memento," says the pink Kotlyarov.
"Right!" yell Yepkin, Vitka, Lyonka, and Kadik from where they're standing next to
the rope. "Right!"
Eddie takes the package from the writer, and they once again shake hands. The
crowd, no longer interested in the show, claps weakly. Eddie runs down the steps to his
friends. Yepkin, seizing the red package from his hands, immediately begins to tear off
the wrapping paper, while the master of ceremonies has already begun to announce the
next attraction on the program, a tug-of-war for those wishing to participate.
"Dominoes!" Yepkin howls in disappointment. "The faggots! They couldn't give you
anything more valuable than that, not even a small radio? Dominoes!" he says again with
All come to the unanimous conclusion that the House of Culture got greedy and
that its administration probably drank up the money that had been set aside for the
prizes and instead bought whatever crap they could find. All the other participants in the
contest received their prizes earlier, so nobody knows what they got, but obviously it was
shit too.
Yepkin whistles scornfully, and so does Lyonka, but not Kadik and Vitka. Eddie,
however, indifferently sticks the box of dominoes in his pocket.
"I'll give them to Uncle Sasha," he says. "Let the old guys slap them around. Their
set's pretty badly broken from the way they bang the dominoes down on the table.
They're an excitable lot, the goat herd!"
The kids squeeze through the crowd.
"We ought to have a drink to celebrate," Vitka Golovashov observes.
"Right, a drench in honor of the first prize," Lyonka says in support of his pal. "It's
on you, Ed."
"I'll run to the store," Yepkin readily volunteers. By offering to go to the store,
Arkashka is hoping to compensate for his usual lack of funds. He's not always able to
chip in like the other kids, since his family's large and poor.
Eddie digs in the pocket of his jacket and removes the crumpled certificate, which
Kadik at once grabs from him to look at, and then some money.
"It's my treat," Eddie says, and pours into Yepkin's palm all the change he took
from the cafeteria and all the rubles. "There's about thirty rubles there, Dipkin," he
announces. "Buy biomitsin for everybody."
"Four bottles?" Yepkin asks.
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"If it comes out to four, then buy four," Eddie answers. He has decided that it is
after all almost ten o'clock and Svetka has probably gotten stuck somewhere with her
mother in Dnepropetrovsk, and thirty rubles won't save him anyway.
Yepkin for some reason counts the change again. Vitka hands him more money.
Vitka always has cash.
"Here!" Kadik says to Eddie, returning the certificate. "Show it to Svetka when she
gets back. Let the girl see it. It's material evidence of the talent of her old buddy."
"Where's she getting back from?" Yepkin responds to Kadik's observation. "Where
did she go? I saw her just yesterday."
"How could you see her yesterday," Eddie cautiously asks Yepkin, "if she and her
mother left yesterday morning to visit their relatives in Dnepropetrovsk?"
Eddie suddenly feels the anxiety rising up in him again, and almost knowing
beforehand what Yepkin's answer will be, he still hopefully asks him,
"Are you sure you saw her yesterday? Maybe it was a few days ago."
"Do I look like a lunatic?" Yepkin asks, his round Mongol face staring and his
cropped head thrust forward. "I saw her last night coming out of her building with
another girl and Shurik Ivanchenko. They were carrying satchels with them."
After blurting all this out, Yepkin suddenly realizes that he has probably said
something he shouldn't have, since all the kids have fallen silent and are looking at
"That means she's betrayed me," Eddie thinks. "That's exactly right. She's
betrayed me. She didn't go to Dnepropetrovsk or anywhere else, she stayed home and
spent the holidays with Shurik." For some reason, Eddie-baby recalls the sparse blond
moustache of the seventeen-year-old Shurik and imagines Shurik kissing Svetka, the soft
moustache touching her cheek. As far as Eddie is concerned, Shurik is a slave and a fool
and has been all his life, and will still be working in his shoe store when Eddie is
accomplishing great deeds, but Svetka seems to regard him quite differently. Eddie-baby
sees what Shurik is, that he's a fop and an asshole, and that it's about people like him
that they sing in the thieves' song that "a fop in a satin tie / is now kissing you by the
gate." The words really apply, even the stuff about the tie, since the neatly dressed
Shurik always wears one. "The whore!" Eddie says, his blood boiling. "What am I
supposed to do now?" he thinks, and then notices the gazes fixed on him.
"Are the two of you still going together?" Yepkin asks guiltily. "I thought you had
broken up a long time ago -"
"Well, are you going to the store or not?" Kadik asks him angrily. "If you're going,
"I'm going!" Yepkin snarls in reply. "Don't yell at me, or you'll be sorry!"
"If you don't want to go, I will," Kadik says in a more conciliatory tone.
Yepkin leaves, and Kadik tries to calm Eddie down:
"Well, fuck her, then, fuck Svetka, Ed. You need a real girl, not that snot-nosed
minor. She doesn't even have real legs," Kadik says. "They're matchsticks instead of
"Goddamn!" Eddie thinks sadly. "Svetka's legs are better than anybody's. They're
long and straight and not matchsticks at all. There's just not very much flesh on them
yet, since she's only fourteen, but there will be. Svetka's beautiful, she's like something
from a dream," Eddie thinks. "What can I do? What can I do?" he reasons feverishly.
"Cut Shurik?" Eddie imagines cutting up the face, moustache, and tie of the hated Shurik
with his straight razor. "Ftt! Ftt! Ftt!" the razor whizzes. From the deep, instantly swelling
gashes on Shurik's cheeks, nose, and mouth dark red blood suddenly starts to flow. "You
bastard! You bastard! You snake! Don't you dare touch my Svetka!"
"Eddie! Eddie!" Kadik's voice reaches him from somewhere far away, as if from
Slavka's Vladivostok. "Eddie!"
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It's not a very easy thing to be among friends and have to conduct yourself as you
normally do when you feel like hell and can't bear it anymore. Eddie feels like
immediately getting on a trolley and dashing over to Svetka's to look for her and kill
Shurik and then go to prison and sit in solitary confinement, just so it will be more
bearable, but instead he has to pretend that nothing has happened; he has to be a man,
so that later on the kids won't say he fell apart when he found out that Svetka had
betrayed him. That Svetka has betrayed him, Eddie has no doubt. He's suspected it for a
long time, and the only thing now is to decide what to do about it.
Coming back from the store, Yepkin puts his hand on Eddie's shoulder and in a
guilty lisp says,
"If you want, Ed, I'll punch that clown's face in for you. Do you want me to?"
"It's all right," Eddie says in reply. "Never mind, I'll take care of it myself. It's my
And it really is his business, Eddie reasons as he drinks the biomitsin Yepkin
brought back. They have gone into the park, which is bare but still provides some
protection from a potential militia attack, since drinking in the square during People's
Festivals isn't allowed - it's against the law. It's his business how he'll straighten things
out with that bastard who's been dishonestly pretending to be Svetka's friend. "And
Svetka's a whore!" the wounded Eddie thinks. "She preferred me, she preferred me to
Shurik. Me!"
Eddie drinks, lifting the bottle skyward, but instead of the dark sky and the
denuded treetops, which look more like tangles of barbed wire than treetops, he sees
Svetka in the lilac serge dress and crinoline that she wore when she and Ritka came to
the party at their school, that she in fact had on when they first met, and he hears the
affectionate doll-like laugh she laughed when he kissed her in the empty classroom and
the moonlight fell through the window onto the chalk and the blackboard. His Svetka.
How could she?
Eddie-baby is hurt in a way he's unused to. Not hurt the way he was four years
ago when his whole body ached from the blows of the young Siberian bull Yurka Obeyuk.
A deeper sort of pain hurts Eddie now. "As if somebody cut me up inside with a razor,"
he thinks in astonishment. "As if somebody cut my insides up with a razor. And there
isn't any bleeding because it's inside, but your heart's all cut up," he thinks. Encountering
pain of that kind for the first time, he understands nothing of his own situation except his
sense of injustice. "Why?" he asks himself, tormented by his failure to understand.
The only thing that keeps him from animal-like cries of pain is paragraph one of
the Saltovka Youth Code, which says, "Be a man at all times and in all places." "Only
women cry in the presence of other people," Eddie thinks, "and only women admit that
they're in pain. A man endures it and says nothing." If he were acquainted with the
Japanese code of bushido or with the teachings of the Stoics, if he had read Marcus
Aurelius or Yukio Mishima, he would know that the Saltovkan code is not very different
from those codes, and in considering the similarities and differences between them, he
would have something to occupy his thoughts and might thereby ease some of his pain,
but Eddie-baby hasn't heard of bushido and the ;agakure or the Stoics; he has only his
pain - a primitive pain down inside, and the doll-like little face of Svetka before his eyes,
and her small, amazingly white breasts, which she would sometimes let him touch.
As the kids are leaving the park after finishing their bottles and are on their way
back to the crowd, which is humming like the boiler room of a huge steamship, Kadik
walks along beside Eddie and whiningly exhorts him.
"Stop it, Eddie-baby, don't take it so hard!" Kadik says. "Let's go rub shoulders
with the crowd. We'll pick up some girls, all right? They all saw you perform. Today it'll
be easy. Or you know what?" Kadik says with more animation. "Why don't we go to
Sums, eh? We'll take a stroll down there. I'll introduce you to the best old buddies, all
right, Eddie?"
"Why the fuck do you keep pestering me?" Eddie says to him in a remote voice,
suddenly coming to a halt. Kadik's whining is interfering with his thoughts about Svetka.
"Well, why do you think!" Kadik answers, offended. "All I did was make a
suggestion. I just wanted to take your mind off that skinny minor, and you start
snapping at me."
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Before they get into a real argument, however, a little kid from Tyurenka comes
running up to Eddie. Everybody calls him Dymok, although his real name is Dima. He's
only twelve or thirteen, and once he even told Eddie himself that Eddie was already over
the hill. Out of breath, he shouts,
"Where the fuck have you been, poet? Tuzik has been looking for you for a long
time. He wants to talk to you. Let's go!" And Dymok grabs Eddie by the sleeve of his
jacket. "Tuzik told me to bring you to him."
Hearing the name Tuzik, Kadik turns pale; Tuzik is the hetman of all the Tyurenka
punks. He's twenty years old, but he's hiding out from the army and lives. Well, who
knows where he lives? Wherever it is, he never goes out without his huge German
bayonet and at least a dozen adjutants. According to rumors, the place where he hides
out is defended by kids with rifles. Be that as it may, Tuzik is a mysterious and
frightening person. Why did he send for Eddie-baby? What does Tuzik want with him?
"Didn't 'he' say what 'he' wants Eddie for?" Kadik cautiously asks Dymok.
"Fuck off, dude," Dymok says to Kadik. "He didn't send for you. So why don't you
get the fuck out of here!" he adds contemptuously.
Dymok is a famous personality. He's the pet of everybody in Tyurenka, and as a
result, at his twelve years, he's a pretty spoiled little bastard. When they want to fuck
somebody over, the Tyurenka punks always send Dymok in first. Dymok will approach a
good-sized adult and, looking up at him from below, shout something very insulting like,
"Hey, you stupid prick, give me a light!"
It's rare that anyone addressed in that fashion can resist the temptation to give
Dymok a cuff on the back of the head. Which is precisely what the Tyurenka punks are
waiting for. Immediately, as if popping up out of the earth, at least a dozen Tyurenka
cutthroats appear, and shouting the classic line, "What do you think you're doing, you
bastard, hitting a minor!" they start beating the man up. They beat him with whatever
they have, since the Tyurenka punks aren't particular - iron rods, brass knuckles, chains
- and if the man is very strong, they put their knives into action. However big the man
- or even the men - what can he do against a crowd of enraged minors? Even if he's a
world champion in wrestling or boxing or even jujitsu, what can he do against jackals
falling upon him in waves? "You won't get very far against an iron bar," as the Tyurenka
saying puts it.
While all this is going on, Dymok circles around and either tries to kick the fallen
man in the face with his heel or cut him a little with the special wooden-handled blade he
carries for that purpose. Even if you don't actually kill the one who's been knocked down,
you can at least decorate his face for the rest of his life.
"You guys stay here. I'll go by myself," Eddie tells Kadik and Vitka and Lyonka.
Yepkin has already left; he had a date with a girl.
"Watch it.," Kadik says to Eddie as he walks away. He can't say, "Be careful!" as
long as Dymok's around.
Eddie-baby isn't afraid for himself. Tuzik won't touch him, since even he respects
Red Sanya and doesn't want to spoil his relationship with him by assaulting his best pal.
"That would be a really dumb thing to do," Eddie decides, although why Tuzik has sent
for him or what he wants from him, Eddie has no idea.
Although Eddie and Kostya don't say anything about it, they hold Tuzik in
contempt, since they don't understand why, with more than a hundred punks at his
disposal, or even more than that if he wants, he doesn't try anything big but is content
just to make a lot of noise and carry on violently, for the most part beating up and
robbing completely innocent pedestrians on Voroshilov Avenue. "A petty gangster," was
Kostya's reaction to Tuzik once, although he wouldn't mind having Tuzik's army. Tuzik
has a whole army of punks, and his name strikes terror in all the girls at their school
without exception, although Sashka Tishchenko, who is from Tyurenka, once told Eddie
that Tuzik even has a wife or something.
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Once Dymok and Eddie emerge from the crowd, Dymok bounds over to the very
tall iron fence that separates the rear courtyard of the Victory Movie Theater from the
surrounding square. Eddie follows him. The fence has thick iron spikes five or six meters
high that are painted black and end at the top in very sharp points - the kind of spikes
that pagans used to impale Christians on in ancient times. Pagan Turks, probably. "I
ought to impale that bastard Shurik on one of them," Eddie thinks with hatred.
Despite the fact that there is no gap to be seen and the gate is locked with a chain
heavy enough to stop an elephant, Dymok confidently strides up to the fence. Only after
he's gotten a little closer does Eddie notice that one of the spikes is missing, and that it's
possible to slip through into the courtyard on the other side without any trouble. Which is
exactly what they do - Dymok first and Eddie-baby after him.
Eddie immediately sees Tuzik and his gang. On steps of the same kind they have
on the front side of the Victory, the boys are sitting in picturesque poses around one
unmistakable center - their hetman. After the lighted square, Eddie at first has trouble
getting used to the dark rear of the movie theater, where the gang has evidently made a
point of eliminating all the streetlights. In keeping with the architectural plan of the
Victory, there aren't any windows on this side of the building.
The wind whistles in the trees and the bare bushes along the fence. It is strangely
quiet, except for the occasional roar of the human sea carried on gusts of wind from the
other side of the square. The sea laps and then recedes.
There are maybe twenty or thirty punks sitting on the steps. Tuzik, in a black
jacket and white shirt, his heavy reddish face standing out sharply against the
background of the movie theater, has his arm around a blonde with brightly painted lips
whom Eddie has never seen before.
"What are you squinting at, poet?. Come on over.," Tuzik says.
"He guessed, the bastard," thinks Eddie. "Is it really that obvious I'm
nearsighted?" Vitka Golovashov is only a little nearsighted, and he squints a lot more
than Eddie does. Eddie tries not to squint.
Disentangling himself from the girl, Tuzik gets up and offers Eddie his hand.
"How're you doing, poet!" he says. His hand is wide and strong. They say he's as
strong as a machine - not hands but flywheels. "Just the kind of hands a hetman ought
to have," Eddie thinks with respect. Even though Tuzik drinks like a horse and doesn't do
Eddie-baby is seeing Tuzik up close for the first time. There's nothing particularly
noteworthy about his face. Tuzik maybe looks like the overfed sailor in the movie n
7&timistic Tragedy. He's not very tall, but he's as broad as a gorilla in the zoo. There's
nothing sinister about his face, but judging from his reputation and his actions, he must
be sinister. To tell the truth, Eddie was expecting to see a face disfigured by scars and
sporting a black eye patch like the ones Stevenson's pirates wear.
"This is Kokha," Tuzik says, introducing the blonde. The girl offers Eddie her warm
little hand.
"My real name is Galya," she says. "'Kokha' is my nickname."
"Here, have a swig, poet," Tuzik says, holding out a bottle of vodka, and then,
nodding toward the girl, he adds, "She liked your poem about Natasha. Could you write
something like that about Galya?"
The weight of uncertainty falls from Eddie's mind. It all makes sense. Tuzik's girl
wants a poem written about her. Svetka asked him to write poems about her more than
once, too. Eddie knows that women are vain and there's nothing you can do about it.
After taking a swig of the vodka, Eddie answers, shrugging his shoulders slightly,
"Sure, why not?"
"What kind of a prize did they give you?" Tuzik wants to know, taking a long pull
from the bottle Eddie has just handed back to him.
"Just some crap," Eddie wavers, ".dominoes."
"What whores," Tuzik smirks. "You wouldn't call them generous. I'll pay you cash
- just get it written. She really wants a poem about herself," he says, indicating Kokha
with his head, even a bit shyly, as it seems to Eddie. A shy Tuzik.
"Only I can't do it right away," Eddie warns him. "I'll need time."
"Well, sure," Tuzik agrees. "You need inspiration. When can you do it?"
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"In a week, or maybe two.," Eddie decides.
"All right," says Tuzik. "But remember, I'm going to pay you. It's not for free."
And then, in a different voice, as if now that he's finished with the official part he can
settle down and enjoy himself, he adds, "Why don't you sit down? What are you standing
for?" and throws the empty vodka bottle into the dark, where it smashes against the
asphalt. "Sit down, we'll smoke some dope now. Timur!" Tuzik calls.
A gloomy-looking, dark-haired, long-waisted kid in a soldier's overcoat with torn-
off buttons who is sitting a little bit higher up on the steps than they are climbs down to
Tuzik and hands him a cigarette box.
"Iosif Vissarionovich's favorite brand," Tuzik observes ironically.
And in fact, embossed on the cardboard box in gold is the brand name Flower of
Hercegovina. Even five years after Stalin's death, the whole country still knows what kind
of cigarettes the leader and teacher smoked.
"But inside," Tuzik continues, "there's a totally different kind of filling." Tuzik
opens the box and takes out one of the cigarettes. Dymok, sitting at his feet,
immediately offers the hetman a light. Just like a magician.
"They're filled with grass," Tuzik explains. "Timur was born in Tadzhikistan. They
serve hashish and weed there in the morning instead of tea. Here." Tuzik offers Eddie the
cigarette. "Do you know how to smoke it?"
Since Eddie-baby says nothing, not wishing to admit that he's never tried dope
before in his life, Tuzik considers it necessary to give him a short course on how to
smoke grass. "Draw it in really deep, as much as you can, and hold the smoke. Don't
exhale for as long as possible; otherwise it won't work."
Eddie has heard a lot about dope, but he's seeing it for the first time. He takes the
cigarette from Tuzik. It looks just like an ordinary cigarette, only the smell is unusual -
stifling. Eddie draws on the cigarette just as Tuzik has shown him, but carefully.
"Well, what do you think?" Tuzik asks happily. "Is it working? Do you feel
anything, poet?"
"Nah. nothing.," Eddie answers in annoyance. "I don't feel anything."
Tuzik sucks in smoke with such intensity that the cigarette visibly diminishes.
"What else would you expect with a rib cage like he has?" Eddie thinks in awe.
"Here, swallow some more," says the hetman, giving the cigarette back to Eddie.
"I'm already feeling good," he announces in a changed voice.
Eddie takes another drag, but he still doesn't feel anything, just the reek of the
cigarette and an unpleasant burning in his throat.
"All right," Tuzik decides, "it's not working. Don't waste good stuff. Go get some
vodka from the guys!" Tuzik nods toward the punks higher up on the steps.
Eddie climbs the steps, and a kid in a goatskin coat with its sleeves and collar torn
off, so that fur curls up around his throat, hands him a bottle.
Eddie drinks and looks at their faces. Nobody he knows. These kids are probably
the nucleus of the gang. Eddie knows the relatively harmless Tyurenka kids, the ones
who go to school in Saltovka and live around the pond in Vitka Nemchenko's
neighborhood. But Tuzik's kids are older, for one thing, and besides that they're
obviously almost all from the other side of Tyurenka, the one that borders on
Zhuravlyovka, which is why Eddie doesn't know them.
"So the goods really go for the poems?" the kid in the coat asks Eddie as he hands
him a piece of cheese. "Here, have a bite! I heard that Esenin was a fearful fucker," the
kid says. "He couldn't keep the whores off him."
"Goods" are girls in Kharkov language. Eddie bitterly thinks to himself that his
own goods - Svetka, that is - likes, or rather used to like, his poetry, but she doesn't
really understand it very well. Her mother, Auntie Klava, likes Eddie's poems a lot more,
even though everybody says she's a prostitute. She likes Eddie.
Out loud, however, Eddie says something quite different. "What goods really go
for is cash. And the good life. That's the best way to lure them."
To Eddie these words seem very sad, but the kids laugh for some reason. They
hand the bottle back to Eddie, and this time he takes a good swig in order to forget
about Svetka and her mother and everything else. They can all go fuck themselves. Right
now, right here, he's fine!
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"Hey, poet," Tuzik calls, "come here!"
Eddie goes down to the hetman.
"Keep her warm while I go take a leak," Tuzik laughs as he gets up from his girl.
"Sit down."
Somewhat dumbfounded by this strange invitation, Eddie stands there hesitating,
not knowing what to do. He's starting not to like the situation. Tuzik's voice is already
stoned, no longer steady. Eddie-baby suddenly remembers the crazed sergeant and his
blackass soldiers.
"Sit down, sit down!" Tuzik pushes him to the ground. "It's her idea. Sit down!
She likes you."
The hetman staggers down the steps and goes over to the fence to take a leak.
The hetman's girl, Galya-Kokha, laughs in the dark.
"Are you scared?" she asks Eddie-baby.
"No," Eddie lies. "Is there some reason I should be?"
"Everybody's scared of him," Galya-Kokha says, and laughs again. "Except me,
that is. Hold me if you're not scared. I'm cold!" she exclaims in a mock-pitiful voice.
Eddie throws his arm around Galya and starts to embrace her. "She's very warm,"
Eddie-baby thinks to himself. "The hetman's girl could warm up anybody you like. So
why warm her?"
Galya-Kokha turns her face toward him, and Eddie-baby sees her up close for the
first time. She's not the kind of girl he thought she was at first. She's old! She has to be
over twenty. Maybe even twenty-five. Most of the Tyurenka girls are bleach blondes, but
the hetman's girl's hair isn't bleached - you can tell by her light gray eyes. Or maybe
they're blue. Eddie isn't sure in the dark.
"What are you looking at?" Galya-Kokha asks.
"I'm studying you," Eddie improvises. "I have to write a poem about you."
Galya-Kokha laughs.
Tuzik comes back after taking his leak.
"That's enough sitting," he says patronizingly, slapping Eddie on the neck.
"Anyway, it's time for her to go home. Would you like to walk her?" he asks Eddie-baby.
Eddie-baby is afraid of the hetman's girl. He doesn't want to walk her home.
Besides, he knows that he absolutely must see Svetka tonight and have it out with her.
Otherwise, he'll just keep thinking about her, and his broken heart, or whatever it is that
hurts there on the inside, will start to ache. His soul, maybe? Medicine has determined
that man has no soul. So what is it that aches, then?
"I can't. I have to meet somebody later," he forces out. And then he adds, "It's
"You're a busy man, poet," says Tuzik in a voice that also contains a threat. Eddie
is starting to get the idea that Tuzik isn't as simple as he first thought. In any case, he
has beautifully mastered the art of commanding his subordinates. Everything he says is
double-edged, a mixture of threat and encouragement that makes you nervous and
unsure of yourself.
"Zhorka! Vladimir Ilich!" Tuzik shouts. "Take her home!"
Eddie has heard about Vladimir Ilich. Bald virtually from the age of fifteen, the
Tyurenka kid looks, so they say, like a young Lenin, which is why they call him "Vladimir
Ilich." Here in the dark, of course, Eddie can't get a really good look at him, especially
since Vladimir Ilich is wearing a white cap pulled down over his eyes.
"So long, poet!" Kokha says, and unexpectedly kisses him on the mouth. Eddie
doesn't even realize what has happened before the girl unglues herself from him and
leaves in the company of the two punks.
"I said she likes you," Tuzik grins. "And now let's have something to drink!" he
shouts. "Sashka, play us the one about Lyolya!"
To his surprise Eddie realizes that one of his classmates, Sashka Tishchenko, is
sitting by the fence with his guitar.
In a hoarse and very unschoolboylike voice Sashka begins to sing:
5yolya was a *omsomolka8 Yeah/yeah3
>The rest of the kids ,oin in: #Yeah/yeah3#?
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Edward Limonov | MEMOIR OF A RUSSIAN PUNK | 1983
(he had a gang of hoods8 Yeah/yeah3
s soon as e%ening falls,
5yolya walks into town
9ith her gang of hoods8 Yeah/yeah3
Eddie-baby knows this song very well, and it has always bothered him. In the
song the punks "gang-bang" Lyolya, only it's not clear whether she's giving it to them
herself or whether they're raping her each time. Judging from the song, it seems it ought
to be rape. But then why is it "with her gang of hoods"?
(kirt torn u& to her na%el,
foreskin sticking from her twat,
nd hetman Grishka laughs3
At this point in the song Sashka stops, and Tuzik drunkenly laughs. And while he
laughs, Sashka accompanies him on the guitar. When Tuzik stops laughing, Sashka
resumes his song. Its plot unfolds - they gang-bang Lyolya for a long time, just like
Mushka. At the point where the punks are fucking Lyolya, an "old fart" turns up and
tries to get in line too. But the punks say to him,
#;ey, old fart, what are you doing:
9hy don2t you go fuck at home:
7r won2t your old lady let you:3# Yeah/yeah3
To the punks' observation about his old lady, the old fart gallantly answers the
following (Sashka performs the aria of the old fart in a nasal voice):
#Citi-ens, is that really your business:
Could be that $2m sick of my old lady8#
The old fart crossed himself
nd flung himself on 5yolya,
nd the work went on a&ace8 Yeah/yeah3
"Yeah-yeah," the gang chimes in threateningly, swinging their bottles in the air.
An hour later the Tyurenka gang, now swollen into a vast multitude, is surging
along Voroshilov Avenue. The punks are on their way home from the Victory. Tuzik is
grotesquely drunk. He walks leaning on Dymok and Eddie-baby and from time to time
suddenly yells, "Am I really not going to kill anybody today?" He hangs heavily on the
two minors. His famous bayonet is stuck in his belt under his white shirt and jacket.
"How does he keep from sticking himself in the stomach?" Eddie wonders. "He's used to
it probably."
Eddie is drunk too, although not of course in the same way that Tuzik is. He could
have detached himself from the gang a long time ago, but for some reason, vanity
probably, he's walking along holding up the hetman of the Tyurenka punks and following
the trolley line on Voroshilov Avenue, which goes past the tight-shut gates of the one-
and even two-story private dwellings that face the street there. The people who live on
Voroshilov Avenue are well-to-do; everywhere German shepherds - or kaby-dokhi, as
they're called in Tyurenka, from the expression kaby sdokh, which means "drop dead" in
Ukrainian - are growling and struggling against their chains.
"Well, am I really not going to kill anybody today?" Tuzik howls again, wrapping
his arms around the minors' necks. His shirt has come out of his pants and is sticking out
from under his jacket. He has an insanely sinister look. Eddie wouldn't want to run into
him as an enemy.
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Any chance pedestrians, hearing the racket and rumble and noise made by the
gang (from an excess of youthful strength, several of the kids have been ripping boards
off fences and throwing cobblestones at the kaby-dokhi or at windows that have foolishly
been left unshuttered), have obviously gone into hiding, perhaps turning quickly into one
of the little alleys that lead off of Voroshilov Avenue. At least, the kids haven't run into
anybody so far.
"Tuz, Tuz!" Kolya the Gypsy runs up to Tuzik. "There's some dressed-up dude up
there with two girls. What the fuck does he need two of them for, eh, Tuz? Let's take one
of them for ourselves!"
"All right, let's," Tuzik drunkenly agrees. "Dymok!" he yells, although Dymok is
right next to him. "Dymok, go over and politely ask that dude to give us one."
Dymok slips out from under the hetman's arm and runs off with Kolya the Gypsy.
Kolya the Gypsy has been Eddie-baby's enemy for a long time. Several summers
ago, when Eddie was swimming in Tyurenka Pond, Kolya grabbed Eddie's new navy blue
T-shirt, put it on, and never gave it back. Even though Eddie by that time was hardly an
exemplary boy anymore, he was still afraid to demand his T-shirt back. But now Kolya
the Gypsy is acting like he's Eddie-baby's best friend. The hetman doesn't entrust himself
to just anyone, and he doesn't put his arm around just anybody's shoulder. Despite the
drunken apprehension the intuitive Eddie is feeling, he has to admit to himself that he
likes playing the role of the hetman's friend, his pal, and enjoys walking along with him
at the head of a multitude of cutthroats, at least half of whom are prepared to follow
Tuzik through fire and water. Eddie looks back. Armed with whatever they've happened
to pick up, the gang surges along. "Now, that's power!" Eddie thinks delightedly.
At that moment Tuzik lurches forward and just about falls over Eddie and himself.
Ahead of them, by the gate of one of the houses, Dymok and Kolya the Gypsy are
talking to a man and two girls. Not shouting. Just quietly talking.
"Am I really not going to kill anybody today?" Tuzik groans in an intentionally loud
voice as they walk over to the group.
"He doesn't want to give one of them to us, Tuz. He says he needs them both. He
says one of them's his sister.," Kolya the Gypsy affectionately informs Tuzik, and then
comments almost indifferently, "He's lying, of course."
Tuzik frees himself from Eddie's support and seems to sober up some. "You don't
want to give us one?" he asks the man.
The man doesn't say anything.
Walking up behind Tuzik to the group, Eddie finally takes a good look at the man
and the girls. The man is large, large and adult, which is why he didn't hide in an alley
like a normal pedestrian - he was relying on his strength. He's about thirty years old,
and judging from his clothes, he has just come from downtown. He's wearing a short
beige cloth coat, he has dark hair, and he's bareheaded. He's standing there with a blank
look on his face as the approaching punks gradually close him in tighter and tighter.
The girls are huddled next to the fence in terror. They're adults too. Probably they
live in a Saltovka dormitory. Girlfriends. And as usually happens in such cases, one of
them is ugly and fat, while the other you might even call pretty. She is, in any case, tall,
and her blond hair is brushed up off her temples, and you can see traces of violet lipstick
on her lips. The man probably met them at the Victory and is walking them home.
"Asshole," thinks Eddie contemptuously. "What would it have cost him to hide in an alley
and wait for the gang to pass by? No, the fucker decided to play the hero for the girls.
And now he'll pay for it. The idiot!"
Tuzik suddenly smiles in a friendly way. "Scared?" he asks the man.
"I'm not scared, not of you jackals!" the man snarls. "Why should I be?"
"What are you talking about?" Tuzik says, playfully surprised. "What's wrong with
you, my dear fellow?" he adds in a still friendlier tone, and even puts his arm around the
man's shoulders.
Eddie-baby knows this dirty Asian Tyurenkan trick - pretend to be friendly, get
the victim on your side, and when he's completely convinced of your good intentions, hit
him all of a sudden with a knife, or a crowbar to the head, or a chain. Kolya the Gypsy,
for example, wears a chain on his pants instead of a belt.
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The man tries to break free, but Tuzik's no weakling, even when he's drunk. He
pulls the man close and, leading him slightly away from the girls, whispers, "My friend!
Let's be friends! Why should we fight, eh?."
The man doesn't trust Tuzik, but he's alone in a crowd of drunken punks and he
doesn't have much of a chance. The only possibility would be if five militia cars
immediately came rushing in (just one wouldn't be enough), but that's pretty much out
of the question. And so the man goes with Tuzik, who has his arm around him and is
continuing to whisper something to him affectionately - Eddie can't hear what anymore,
since they're now twenty or more meters away.
"Guys, let the girls go!" Tuzik's calm voice suddenly rings out.
It's a signal. Dymok whistles deafeningly and hurls himself under the legs of the
"Don't," she screams. "Boys! Don't!"
Kolya the Gypsy flings open her coat and grabs at her breasts. Tearing off the
buttons, he rips open her blouse and with one movement pulls off her bra.
"O-o-oh!" the mob roars in delight at her now exposed breasts. Lower down,
Dymok is at work under her skirt. You can hear material being ripped as the blonde
wails, "Boys, dear boys, don't! Oh!." She falls onto Dymok. Dymok always grabs girls by
the twat, so that it's pointless for them to struggle. Kolya the Gypsy and Dymok are
The other girl is also being attacked, and the first thing they tear off is her watch.
"Gold," rings out a satisfied voice. Dozens of hands grab at the two girls and rip off their
clothes. Within a few minutes several minors are hanging on the fat ugly girl all at once.
They removed her coat long ago, and tore the sleeves and the whole front of her blouse,
so that her large breasts with their dark brown nipples are helplessly swinging from side
to side. The girl is using her hands to defend the most important thing - her twat. She's
forgotten about her breasts. Everything that's taken place so far is a lot like the "feeling
up" that Eddie and his friends used to engage in at school (Eddie has outgrown that now,
and the boys in his year have even become a little shy around the girls), although it's
much more serious and rough.
To one side, closer to the trolley line, you can hear thuds and screams. Obviously
Tuzik and the other kids are beating the man up.
"A-a-a-ah!" A piercing howl of pain suddenly rings out. And once more blows and
swearing. "Take that, you whore! Take that! You wanted it?! Now you're going to get it!
You wanted it?! How about this!"
"Are they using a knife on him, or what?" Eddie wonders, not understanding. All
the older punks have disappeared somewhere. The only kids around Eddie now are
younger punks. "Where did the others go?" Eddie wonders.
One of the younger punks suddenly hits the fat girl in the mouth with all his
strength. "You bitch!" he screams. "She bit me!"
Blood is flowing from the fat girl's smashed lips and nose, and it gradually spatters
her huge, ugly cabbagelike breasts.
The young kids have completely stripped the fat one. Only a few shreds of her
dress are still hanging from her waist. Looking at her big belly, which she is still trying to
hide with her hands, Eddie suddenly wants very much to grab it. He has seen that kind of
belly, soft and protruding, so many times in his sleep. Right now is the most appropriate
time to find out just what kind of belly they have anyway. "When if not now?" Eddie
thinks. "Anyway, no one will ever find out. There are so many kids, they can't possibly
arrest them all," Eddie convinces himself, still wavering. "No one will ever find out," he
repeats cravenly to himself, and then finally making up his mind, he leaps at the girl.
The girl's belly turns out to be warm. The girl is no longer resisting. She has
closed her eyes and is slowly sinking down. If it weren't for Timur holding her from
behind, the girl would have tumbled onto the cold November asphalt long ago. The other
members of the gang are grabbing her thighs, laughing as they squeeze and pinch them
like pieces of meat and, stick their hands in her twat from time to time. Breathing
heavily, Eddie too drops to his knees and, still holding the girl's belly with one hand, puts
the other into her pubic hair, which is stiff like wire, and when one of the gang members
takes his hand out of her twat, pinching her with all his might as he does so, which
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makes her moan in pain - "O-o-o-oh!" - Eddie sticks his own hand into that female
orifice concealed by hair. It's wet and cold in the girl even though it's supposed to be
warm. Eddie pulls back his hand and looks at it. There's mucus and blood on it.
The blood from the girl's twat for some reason sobers Eddie up, and he suddenly
hears everything around him. Groans are coming from somewhere nearby. "Oh-ah-oh,"
the other girl is rhythmically groaning. "Oh-ah-oh."
At the moment when Eddie was investigating the fat girl, he was deaf, so to
speak, but now all the sounds have returned. Laughing and baring their teeth, the
younger kids push the fat girl under the fence. Eddie walks away from them in the
direction of the groans.
It turns out that they're fucking the blonde on her coat in the alley. Now Eddie
understands where all the older kids have gone. They're all here. Somebody still has a
bottle, and they're joking and taking swigs from it while waiting their turn in line.
The girl's legs are pushed up and out. One of the older punks is lying on top of
her, supporting himself on his arms, with his pants pulled down around his ankles so that
his ass is exposed. He first moves toward the girl and then ever so slightly moves away
from her again. The girl hasn't been resisting for a long time, obviously, and her groans
are calm now. "Oh-ah-oh," she moans weakly. And again, "Oh-ah-oh."
The girl has clasped the guy's back with her arms, which look very white in the
dark of the alley, and the movements of the two are accompanied by a smacking sound,
as if someone were eating sloppily. "Veniamin Ivanovich doesn't like it when people eat
sloppily," Eddie thinks for some reason.
Suddenly the guy starts to move really fast on the girl, and finally, writhing, he
hisses, "A-a-a-ah!" and climbs off of her. He's done.
Very white in the dark and almost naked, except for her stockings, which have
fallen down around her ankles and are wadded up there in awkward rolls, the girl lies in
the November air and waves her legs, probably in hysterics. "Well?" she asks hoarsely.
"Well, then?"
"She finally likes it now," one of the older punks says. "She's stopped making out
she's a virgin."
"Would you like a new prick, you bitch?" another kid asks her spitefully, kneeling
in front of her and sticking his penis into her.
"O-o-o-oh!" the girl bleats as if in pain.
"Do you like a big prick, you whore?" the punk asks again, angrily grabbing the
girl by her hips and moving her on his cock.
"O-o-o-oh, yes!" the girl answers, breathing with difficulty.
"Now he's going to split her with his log," the other kids laugh drunkenly. "He'll
clean out her oven. Mishka has a prick like an elephant's."
Leaning against the fence, Eddie thinks, "So that's what they call fucking. And
that's what all of the men and women in Saltovka and Kharkov and the whole world do
when they sleep together. And that's what Svetka is probably doing with Shurik."
Under the new punk, the girl's breathing is even louder and more labored. "U-u-u-
uh!" she howls. "U-u-u-uh!" The girl emits another trilled groan and then suddenly farts.
The kids laugh maliciously.
"Is that what Svetka's doing?" Eddie wonders in horror. "With Shurik? She ought
to do it with me," Eddie thinks distractedly. He's starting to get scared. He suddenly
understands why Svetka likes Shurik. He remembers Shurik's still sparse but real
moustache, the coarse, chapped skin of his cheeks, his big, rough, clumsy seventeen-
year-old hands. Svetka, like this girl and the other girl, or any girl when you get right
down to it, likes it when her warm soft belly and her warm body are held by rude, rough
hands. "It's the contrast," Eddie thinks. "Mushka likes it too."
For the first time in his life Eddie suddenly sees clearly that in the struggle for
survival of animals of the male gender, his inborn characteristics are too pisspoor for him
to stand much chance of winning. The fingers of his hands are too long, the skin on his
face is too tender, and thanks to his half-Mongol mama - Eddie thinks of his mother with
hostility - he hardly has any moustache or beard at all. How could Svetka, the most
tender, long-legged, and defenseless creature in the world, love somebody like him?
Shurik, however, can set her on his tall, hairy knees, grab her with his rough, oarlike
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hands, rub his razor-shaved stubble against her tender cheek, and Svetka probably feels
Carefully, as if afraid that somebody will stop him, Eddie moves toward the
'source of his pain, moves in the direction of Saltovka, maneuvering among the laughing
and drunkenly swearing punks. He's moving toward Svetka. He doesn't understand why,
but he's drawn to Svetka.
Several kids are standing near the trolley line looking at something. Lying in the
beams of their flashlights (all the Tyurenka kids carry pocket flashlights with them so
they can get into their parents' wooden houses at night without turning on the light) is
the beaten man. Eddie stops for a moment to look. The man is lying on his stomach with
one of his arms unnaturally twisted under him and the other one out of sight. His coat is
no longer beige but a dark, dirty color, from the blood it has apparently absorbed. You
can't see his face, but in place of his ear and cheek there's a dirty, clotted mass. The
man isn't moving.
"I think," Sashka Tishchenko whispers to Eddie, glancing around and looking
absurd in this situation with his guitar on his back, "that Tuzik went ahead and hit him in
the stomach with his bayonet. He decided to take him out, probably."
After a brief pause Sashka goes on. "They beat him a long time. Because of the
knife. He had a knife. He cut Valka Fitilya's hand, and the kids went crazy. They beat him
with chains and a fence board. Each one took a turn. It doesn't take much."
After another pause, Sashka sighs and says to no one in particular, or maybe to
himself, "Got to get out of here. Before the trashes come. He's dead for sure, since he
isn't moving." And then he turns off his flashlight. "The guy had bad luck."
It's already very late when Eddie finally reaches Svetka's building. Only after he
has entered her yard does he realize that he has no idea at all what to do next. He has
no definite plan. He has come here by following his instincts. But once he's in Svetka's
yard, his instincts abandon him.
Svetka's windows don't look out onto the yard but onto the street. Stealthily, like
a criminal, although he really has nothing to be afraid of, Eddie goes around Svetka's
building, steps a little away from it, and looks up at her windows on the second floor.
They're dark. Either nobody's home, or else they're asleep.
Remembering that Svetka has two other windows, the ones in her own room,
which are on the other side of the building. Eddie slips around to that side and checks
those windows too. The blinds are drawn, but even so, if a light was on, you'd be able to
see it.
Precisely because rumor has it that Svetka's mother is a prostitute, she and
Svetka have a separate two-room apartment all to themselves. "Only somebody like
Veniamin Ivanovich could manage not to get a separate apartment, even though he's a
trash," Eddie angrily thinks about his father. Eddie's furious with everybody tonight.
"Should I go up and ring her bell?" Eddie wonders to himself. "But if her mother's
home, she'll get really mad, since it must already be after two, must be between two and
three. And what if her mother isn't there and Svetka's with Shurik?" Eddie thinks. "What
happens then?" When he grabbed his notebook of poems to go to the Victory, he forgot
to take his razor too. "It was that goddamn dude Kadik!" Eddie thinks angrily. What can
he do to Shurik now without his razor? Eddie has no idea - he's half drunk and can't
concentrate. He stands there and looks up at Svetka's windows.
By the end of the second day of the October festivities, the majority of Saltovka's
residents have grown weary of celebrating and have gone to bed early - many windows
are dark, drenched in black. Certain restless groups, however, are still marking the
holiday, and from their partly open windows music can be heard. Eddie catches a few
notes of the ever popular "My Black Sea. My Black Sea."
Returning to Svetka's yard, Eddie sits down at the domino table and remains there
for a while with his elbows resting on it and his hands covering his face. The branches of
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a large tree nearby tremble in the wind, and in the light of the streetlamp their blurred
shadows, tremendously exaggerated, move across the surface of the table and over
Eddie-baby, creating the impression that he and the table are in constant motion.
Remembering that his "first prize," the box of dominoes, is still in his pocket,
Eddie takes it out and mechanically lays the dominoes out on the table. "Kill Svetka?" he
thinks. "Kill Shurik? Kill them both? Not kill anybody?" Eddie isn't afraid to kill them, but
he's held back by a small technical detail - the lack of a murder weapon, his razor. As
he lays the dominoes out on the table, he suddenly realizes that he won't kill anybody
today. There's nothing to kill them with. And he also realizes that tomorrow he'll no
longer be able to find the strength to kill Svetka or Shurik or both of them together.
Because tomorrow it will be daytime. And before it's daytime, he will have to sleep. And
while he's sleeping, the most decisive part of his pain will leave him, and all that will be
left will be the pain he'll have to live with.
"It was stupid," Eddie thinks. "It was stupid not to bring the razor." Obviously it
was as a result of taking the notebook with his poems in it that he left his razor behind.
"Fool!" Eddie thinks bitterly, since he wants to act the way he's supposed to according to
the unwritten laws of Tyurenka and Saltovka. Eddie wants to kill. The kids and punks -
public opinion, in other words - will forgive him for the murder, and he'll be a hero for a
long time, since he will have acted "the way he should have." They won't execute him for
the murder since he's only a minor. The very worst he'll get is fifteen years, which after a
bullet in the head is the most severe punishment in the penal code. "Asshole!" Eddie
whispers to himself. "You've always been an asshole, and you always will be."
Eddie thinks there's something wrong with him. Probably he isn't the same as the
other kids; probably he really is different. Although it's actually a very hard thing to say
whether you're the same as or different from other people, since you can't really get
inside another person's skin. The other kids don't write poems, of course - they don't
know how to - but the fact that Eddie does write them doesn't at all prove that he isn't
the same as they are. Still, if he were the same, he would have fucked Svetka. And he
Eddie hears footsteps in one of the entrances to Svetka's building - not hers,
though, a different one. Somebody is coming down the stairs. When the person coming
downstairs finally emerges, whistling to himself, Eddie recognizes him at once - it's
Garik. There's nothing remarkable, of course, about Garik's being here at three o'clock in
the morning. After all, his Ritka lives in the same building Svetka does.
"Hello, poet," Garik greets Eddie ceremoniously as soon as he recognizes him. And
then, noticing the dominoes on the table in front of Eddie, he shakes his head and, lifting
his finger to his temple, rotates it significantly.
"Have you gone crazy, or what? Playing dominoes with yourself in the middle of
the night?"
"I'm waiting for Svetka," Eddie answers.
"Isn't she home, then?" Garik asks in surprise. "I saw her in the yard on her way
home when Ritka and I got back."
"By herself?" Eddie asks, his heart skipping a beat. He so wants Garik to say yes.
"No," Garik answers reluctantly. "She wasn't by herself. She was with your friend
Shurik. What's his last name. Ivan. Ivan something. Ivankovsky?" Garik asks
"Ivanchenko," Eddie sternly corrects him. "Only he isn't my friend. He's Svetka's.
Was it very long ago that you saw her?"
"I don't know. A half-hour ago? An hour, maybe?" Garik says, shrugging his
shoulders. "Did you have a fight or something? And you didn't come to Plotnikov's either.
Everybody was waiting for you," Garik says.
"Well, how was it?" Eddie asks for the sake of decency. He doesn't really care
"how it was"; he's anxious for Garik to leave so he can go upstairs to Svetka's and.
Exactly what, Eddie doesn't know. Burst into Svetka's apartment and knock her down?
Strangle Shurik and put an end to him for good?
It's pretty hard to get rid of Garik, however. The Morphine Addict likes to wander
around late at night, and he likes to gab.
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"It was fun," Garik says. "And your friend Asya was there. She didn't look very
good," he announces.
Garik likes everybody else to look bad and him and Ritka to look good. He's a
bastard and pretends he's an aristocrat, although his mother's only a nurse and not even
a doctor. It's in fact because his mother is a nurse that Garik became a morphine addict.
His mother makes home visits to the very sick and gives them morphine injections to
ease their pain. So there's never a shortage of morphine ampuls in their house. Garik's
mother only recently discovered that her son had been stealing ampuls from her for
several years and injecting himself with morphine.
It's clear to Eddie why she never noticed it before. He knows Garik's mother, a
hysterical woman who twitches so much that she probably has to give herself morphine
injections every day. So how would she know how many morphine ampuls she has? Now,
however, Garik has to find other ways to get his morphine. He has to buy it. Which is
why he's always short of cash. Once Garik the Morphine Addict even took part in the
burglary of a store with them - with Kostya, Eddie, and Lyonka Tarasyuk. He wasn't
much use, however.
To Eddie's dismay, Garik sits down next to him on the bench and demands
"Show me your left hand."
"What for?" Eddie asks in annoyance.
"I can read palms now," Garik says. And without asking Eddie's permission, he
takes his left hand and peers at his palm.
"Your hand looks just like an ape's," Garik observes. "Like it's very old. An old, old
"Are you going to read my palm or criticize me?" Eddie asks. He's very interested
in his own future and always has been. The Tyurenka Gypsies tried to read his palm
many times, but he refused. A Gypsy once read in Veniamin Ivanovich's palm that he
would marry Raya, and now he's been married to her for over sixteen years. Eddie
doesn't want a Raya for a wife.
Bending so low over Eddie-baby's hand that all his hair hangs down - his hair
reaches to his shoulders - Garik examines Eddie's palm.
"So," Garik says, "you'll die when you're in your thirties."
"Thanks!" Eddie says angrily, and pulls his hand away. "You've already read it."
"What are you getting so mad about?" Garik says in a conciliatory tone. "We're all
going to die. Some sooner, some later. Your Life line breaks somewhere in your thirties.
True, there's a hint that you won't die, that you'll come close to death but will survive.
And if you do survive, you'll live for a long, long time."
"Can't you tell exactly when that will happen, so I can at least prepare myself?"
Eddie asks half-mockingly, half-seriously. "So I can at least make a will?" Garik's death
sentence alarms him.
"What do you think this is, algebra?" Garik says proudly. "Palmistry is unable to
give exact dates. All we can do is predict what will happen. Let me see what there is in
regard to your Heart line."
Garik examines Eddies palm, kneading it and scratching it with his fingernail.
"Oh, not too fucking bad," he announces. "I even envy you. Everything's just fine
in the love area." So Garik's found somebody to envy now. Even though he's been
fucking his Ritka, and that's a certainty.
"This really is not too fucking bad!" Garik announces, sincerely delighted. "You,
old man, have a double Arc of Venus. According to all the books, that means exceptional
sexual activity. A monster fucker!" Garik intones. "A single Arc of Venus is rare enough.
But a double Arc is the rarest of life's gifts. True, it's broken in several places - the Arc
of Venus, I mean. That's your neuroses," Garik says, speaking in a rush.
Garik doesn't have a goddamn thing to do, so he's studying palmistry in some old
books. He quit school and now sits for days on a bench near his building, strumming his
guitar. He doesn't even get dressed and can be found wearing only his robe and slippers.
Nobody else in all of Saltovka has a robe, not even Plotnikov, but Garik does. He sits
scratching one leg with the other and quietly singing songs that nobody else in Saltovka
knows. Garik's favorite song is one about cocaine:
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0y wings are broken and cli&&ed,
Fate smiles e%illy at me,
nd all the roads around are co%ered
9ith the sil%ery dust of cocaine
Garik claims to have tried cocaine. "Maybe he has and maybe he hasn't," Eddie
thinks. Eddie read in a book somewhere that during the civil war after the revolution, the
White officers and even the famous Women's Battalion snorted cocaine. Since then,
however, nobody has even heard of it. Maybe it disappeared. But there's still morphine.
Garik once talked Eddie into trying an injection and inserted the syringe into Eddie's vein
himself. Eddie didn't like it at all. After the injection, he felt weak and confused and
wanted to throw up. Garik declared at the time that Eddie didn't know shit about drugs
and that he was sorry he had wasted the morphine on him.
Garik is mumbling something else about Eddie's Heart line, but Eddie hears the
words as if they're coming from far away. He thinks that palmistry is medieval fanaticism
and a complete fraud. There's only one thing that's real as far as he's concerned: in spite
of his double Arc of Venus, Svetka has obviously dumped him and chosen Shurik. If she
had wanted to conceal the fact that she didn't go to Dnepropetrovsk but stayed behind in
Saltovka, she wouldn't have shown herself on the street, and certainly not with Shurik.
"I'm going," Eddie announces, and stands up.
"What about the dominoes?" Garik asks. "You forgot your dominoes."
"You keep them!" Eddie tosses back, without turning around. He strides over to
Svetka's entrance. Only now does he realize that he has been putting off for half an hour
going up to Svetka's and asking her to explain it all. He has been putting it off out of fear
of the unpleasant.
Svetka lives in Apartment No.14. Exactly the same as her age. Eddie goes up to
the door and raises his hand to knock, but after standing there for a moment with his
hand in the air, he suddenly puts his ear to the door and listens. It seems to him that he
can hear music softly playing on the other side. But it's also possible that it's just his
imagination. "If you closed the door to Svetka's room, then with both doors closed, you
wouldn't be able to hear anything," Eddie thinks. "Let alone quiet music."
Eddie knocks anyway. And waits.
There's no answer. Eddie's partly glad that no one answers - maybe Svetka's
out. But he can't go away having knocked just once, and not very loudly at that. It's
nighttime and everybody's asleep, and maybe in a deep sleep, since they're worn out
from the holidays, so that if he's actually going to wake Svetka up, he has to knock
louder. He knocks again, loudly and insistently and continuously. He knocks and then
puts his ear to the door.
This time Eddie clearly hears footsteps, a banging noise - a door perhaps - and
maybe even subdued whispering. And so, like an excited animal sensing some
misfortune, he stops knocking on Svetka's door with its number 14 and pounds on it
instead, raining blows down with his fists.
"Who's there?" Svetka's frightened voice is at last heard on the other side of the
"Open up! It's me, Eddie," he forces himself to say, and pounds again, renewing
his attack on the door.
"Don't completely lose your mind!" Svetka says angrily from the other side. "I'll
open it in a second. I just have to put something on." And the sound of her footsteps
moves away into the depths of the apartment; she's obviously barefoot.
Eddie leans his forehead against the door and is suddenly aware that he's almost
crying. "Fucking Svetka!" he thinks. "The whore! It's her fault Shurik's here, and
everything else is her fault too!" It's her meanness that's forcing Eddie to stand outside
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her door sick and crazy. Eddie feels the same way he did after Garik's morphine - weak
and weepy, disgusting and helpless.
The door swings open. Svetka is standing in the doorway as furious as she can be,
wearing her mother's robe.
"You should be ashamed!" she hisses. "What's the matter with you - couldn't you
pick another time? It's after three o'clock in the morning!"
Roughly pushing Svetka aside without listening to her, Eddie walks past her into
the apartment and looks into her bedroom. The daybed is open, and there are pink
sheets on the mattress. "They're her mother's," Eddie thinks.
"What are you doing?" Svetka demands, running after him. "This isn't your home!
Don't you dare go into my mother's room!" she cries, seeing that Eddie's heading in that
direction. "She's asleep!" Svetka yells, and grabs Eddie by the arm.
"Oh, you!" Eddie exclaims in contempt. "Oh, you!" he repeats. And tearing his arm
away, he pushes hard at the door to Auntie Klava's room. He doesn't care what he's
doing anymore, since he's one hundred percent sure that Shurik's in there.
But Shurik isn't in Svetka's mother's room. And neither is Svetka's mother. Eddie
suspiciously checks the corners, goes to the wardrobe, and flings it open, since like all
the other wardrobes in Saltovka, it's huge - easily big enough to hold Shurik. He tears it
open with a jerk. And then he rummages among Svetka's mother's perfumed dresses.
"Are you out of your mind!" Svetka screams behind him. "I've always told my
mother you're crazy! She's the one who made me go out with you - she said you were a
good boy. I never liked you! Get out of here! Get out of here at once! Get out of my
house!" she screams. "Get out, or I'll call the militia!" she shrieks.
To his own amazement, Svetka's shrieking puts Eddie in a savage rage. It seems
to him that she's squealing just like a pig. He grabs Svetka by the shoulders and shakes
her, shakes her with all his might, so that her doll-like head shakes as well. "You whore!"
he shouts. "I thought you were supposed to go to Dnepropetrovsk, right? Everybody in
Saltkovka saw you with Shurik yesterday, everybody saw you. Everybody!" And he
shakes Svetka again with all his strength.
Svetka's robe falls off, exposing her naked body, naked except for a pair of pink
silk panties. The pink panties hang loosely on Svetka's body; obviously they belong to
her mother, just like the robe.
"Prostitute!" Eddie yells. "Just like your mother. A prostitute!" And he suddenly
lunges for the sobbing Svetka's stomach, grabbing her by her mother's slippery silk
panties. "Take those prostitute rags off!" he yells. "So you want to be a prostitute just
like your mother? So you're learning how to do it? You're in training, right?!" Eddie yells,
hating Svetka at that moment with his whole being. Sobbing, Svetka resists.
Entwined like two desperate enemies, they fall to the floor. Eddie finally tears her
mother's panties off Svetka, and Svetka is now lying underneath him on the floor
completely naked, covering her cunt with her palm. She has closed her eyes and turned
her head away, no longer crying, and she's breathing heavily.
Eddie feels such intense anger at Svetka that he wants to cause her pain. He
grabs her breast in one hand and pinches her small pink nipple.
"Ow!" Svetka breathes.
Eddie torments Svetka's little breasts, the whitest in the world, with both hands,
and then says, surprising himself:
"Well, is this how Shurik squeezed you, huh? This way?"
For some reason Svetka makes no move to tear herself away from Eddie's hands
but merely lies there, breathing heavily. And hardly believing it, Eddie understands:
"Svetka's waiting for me to fuck her." This discovery astonishes Eddie. He clearly sees
that Svetka, breathing heavily, no longer a doll but a living girl flushed from the fight
between them, is waiting for his penis.
"He fucked you, didn't he?" Eddie says maliciously, feeling his penis grow erect as
it fills with vital blood, fills just because he is saying that word to Svetka for the first
time. "He fucked you in the cunt," Eddie says. "I know, he fucked you in the cunt," he
feverishly repeats as he unbuttons his pants and takes out his penis.
Svetka shudders when Eddie touches his penis to her mound covered with blond
hair. She shudders again when Eddie's penis bumps into her bone. The third time,
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however, Eddie stops bumping into Svetka's bone and freely enters into her somewhere.
Freely, because it's wet and slippery inside her. "Ah!" Svetka moans.
"Did he fuck you like this?" Eddie asks, guiding his penis into Svetka. "Like this,
huh?" Eddie sees Svetka licking her lips, but she says nothing, as if listening not to
Eddie's words but to something else. "She's listening to my penis," Eddie thinks with
horror. "Who taught her to do that?" he wonders. "Or maybe she was born with it." He
too falls silent as he fucks Svetka, moving his penis in and out of her. Each time, as
Eddie moves his penis into her, Svetka moves forward a little in response, and when he
moves back out, Svetka moves as if to follow his penis.
He suddenly realizes that his penis and Svetka's cunt are making a smacking
sound. The same way that the blonde girl's cunt smacked when the Tyurenka punks
gang-raped her. Remembering that girl and comparing her to Svetka, Eddie mentally
changes their places and suddenly thrusts several times in Svetka, thrusts faster and
faster in her and to his own surprise suddenly comes in her. At the same time, he feels
bad, as if ashamed of something, and even vile. Coming in Svetka is entirely different
from coming when you're masturbating, and for some reason Eddie feels humiliated, as if
he has revealed an awful weakness unworthy of a man.
He lies on Svetka for a while without saying anything, unconsciously kissing her
on the neck. When he finally lifts his head from her neck, he sees that Svetka is looking
at him in a mockingly pensive way, or even in a slightly contemptuous way, through her
dried tears.
"Well, what of it?" Svetka asks quietly. "As you see, you're too late."
Eddie at first doesn't understand what Svetka means by "late." He looks
suspiciously at her.
"As you see," she says, "I'm no longer cherry." She says it calmly and cynically,
as if a completely different woman and not the Svetka he has known up to then were
talking to Eddie-baby. "Cherry" sounds disgusting on her lips, as if Vovka Zolotarev or
Slavka the Gypsy were saying it. It sounds dirty somehow. "So that's what she's really
like," Eddie thinks.
"Shurik?" he asks.
"What's Shurik got to do with it?" she asks contemptuously. "One of my father's
friends humped me two years ago; he was drunk. My father had just died of alcohol
poisoning, and his friends were still coming to see us. 'Concern about the single widow
and her child,'" Svetka says sarcastically, mimicking someone.
"But what about Shurik?" Eddie asks.
"You've got Shurik on the brain," Svetka says in an almost friendly tone. "Well, I
did it with him too," she adds in a bold voice, and grins. "But don't worry," she says, "I
don't love him. I don't love anybody."
"Not even me?" Eddie asks maliciously. He lifts himself up onto his elbows and
looks Svetka in the eye. He still can't believe this is the same Svetka he parted with
before the holidays just three days ago. Just three days ago.
"You're a boy," Svetka announces pensively. "And I'm a woman. A man should be
a lot older than a woman, since women mature much faster. So for them to be equal's in
bed, the man should be a lot older. At least ten years," Svetka concludes.
Eddie-baby shyly pulls up his pants, stands, and buttons his fly while Svetka
continues to lie on the floor. From below, from down there on the floor, she suddenly
says to Eddie,
"I was really afraid of you - I'm sorry. I actually had been planning to tell you
everything, but I kept putting it off - I was afraid. My mother says that you're so
touchy you have to be approached in a special way. Besides, you're always carrying that
awful razor around." Svetka falls silent.
"Have I ever hurt you?" Eddie asks.
"Once you waved your knife at me." Svetka says.
Eddie-baby picks up his notebook of poems from the floor. It fell out of the pocket
of his jacket during their scuffle.
Svetka gets up and puts her mother's robe back on. "Are you leaving?" she asks
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"Answer one question for me," Eddie says to her thoughtfully. "Were you just
screwing around with all that? You know. the kisses, the wine, and me, like an asshole,
reciting my poems to you. If you didn't love me, what was the point?"
Svetka is silent, and then, picking her words with difficulty, she says,
"You see, you can't understand. The fact is that in a certain sense I loved you
then, and I love you now."
Eddie mockingly and maliciously shakes his head. "I see," he says. "You love
"Yes, I do," Svetka says, "but not as a man. I always liked talking to you, and
there wasn't anybody else I felt as comfortable with. The time we spent together was
very interesting. You're an exceptional guy -"
"Stop it." Eddie frowns. "We can do without that."
Svetka falls silent.
"Well, I'm on my way," Eddie says. "Farewell."
"Never say, Farewell! It's too sad," Svetka answers, frowning. "Say, 'See you!'
Can you come over, tomorrow for dinner? My mother will be back in the morning, and
she's going to make a holiday dinner. She asked me to be sure to invite you. She likes
you a lot," Svetka adds.
"Well, see you!" Eddie says, and followed by Svetka's pensive gaze, he walks out
of the apartment. He knows that it's not "see you" but "farewell." He'll never go back to
Apartment No.14 again. Never.
When Eddie turns around on the landing, he finds himself face to face with
Svetka, who is still standing in the doorway. Uncertainly she asks him, "Do you want to
stay with me? All night?" But Eddie doesn't answer her.
Outside it seems to have gotten even colder, and Eddie shiveringly pulls his jacket
tighter around him. "People deserve to be killed. When I'm completely grown, I'll
definitely kill people," he thinks.
The dominoes are still lying on the table as he walks past it. All Garik did was to
arrange them in a large, closed circle.
Early the next morning Eddie emerges from Vovka Zolotarenko's shed, where he
spent the night completely frozen. He didn't feel like going home. He didn't want to see
the sleepy face of his mother, he didn't want to answer her questions, and he didn't want
to refuse the food she would offer him and have to listen to her complaints about the fact
that everybody else has children who are children, whereas her son is a rogue who
comes home at four in the morning. Eddie-baby wanted to be alone and think.
Vovka gave Eddie the keys to the shed a long time ago, "just in case." Eddie had
never used them until now, when that "in case" finally came along. Vovka didn't tell
Eddie that the shed was full of rats, although it's possible he didn't know about that.
Clambering up onto an old door that he had placed on top of two barrels, Eddie
lay there calmly for a little while, or rather, not so calmly, since he was thinking about
what Svetka had said to him, but at least the first few minutes in the shed were quiet.
Then Eddie heard the first rustling sound, and soon the whole shed was filled with an
invisible clamor. Eddie-baby first thought it was mice, but in the dull light of the shed's
single half-meter window, he suddenly, even with his nearsightedness, saw eyes. He was
chilled to the bone, and he started lighting matches one after another in an attempt to
see what was going on.
Dozens of rats were wandering around the shed. Squeaking, long-tailed, and
disgusting, they poked in the corners and scurried around some boards, pattered on the
old suitcases and baby carriages belonging to the large Zolotarenko family, and jumped
up onto the Zolotarenkos' coal pile. Eddie-baby felt that the whole horde of rats was
quite capable of climbing up the barrels to his door, or of dropping down on him from the
ceiling, which was full of chinks and did not at all inspire confidence, and he therefore
decided to take drastic measures. Picking up his notebook of poems, Eddie started
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tearing out the blank pages, setting fire to them, and throwing them at the rats. The rats
were in no hurry to get away, although it was obvious the fire did frighten them. They
moved away deliberately, and not all at once. They merely gathered in the corners of the
shed, as far as possible from Eddie and his burning missiles, and there in the corners
they squeaked invisibly.
When the blank sheets finally came to an end, Eddie, after thinking it over for
several seconds, decisively tore out the first sheet with a poem on it and lit it. The lines
of "Natasha" curled and writhed in the fire: "In a white dress on a sunny day / You've
come out to take a walk."
"In a white dress," Eddie whispered bitterly, and hurled "Natasha" at the rats. "In
a dirty dress. In a greasy dress. In a dress covered with lard.," he whispered
maliciously. "In a Ukrainian peasant dress, in a dress covered with lard!" he said out
loud, and then resolutely climbed off the door.
Standing in the corner for who the fuck knows how long, obviously from some
previous holiday, was a Christmas tree, or rather the skeleton of one, with a few reddish-
brown needles still attached to it here and there. Eddie-baby dragged the tree into the
center of the shed and set fire to it, using one of his poems. The tree burst into flames,
and for a brief instant the flames almost shot up to the ceiling of the shed.
"I'll burn up!" Eddie thought, but for some reason he remained wistfully calm. "So
what the fuck if I do," he thought, "I'm already burned up anyway."
Frightened by the bright flames, the last rats withdrew into their holes, pulling
their tails in behind them.
Eddie-baby sat by his improvised bonfire and passed what was left of the night,
setting fire to whatever wood was in the shed. He sat and thought and waited for the
And finally the dawn arrived.
Swinging his arms as he walks and doing exercises in order to warm up, Eddie-
baby moves in the direction of the trolley stop, in the direction of the "circle" line. From
the circle, the trolley goes into the city. Eddie-baby is on his way to the train station. And
from the station, he's going to Vladivostok, because here in Saltovka there's nothing left
for him to do.
Only a few people are sitting at the trolley stop under the shelter, all hunched
over with their noses wrapped in scarves as they finish their dreams through half-shut
eyes. Even the earliest workers are not yet on their way to work, although Eddie knows
that in half an hour the trolley will be crammed full. The holiday is over.
Only after he has taken a seat on the cold bench does Eddie realize that his friend
and hetman Kostya is sitting on the same corner, hunched over like everybody else. And
that he has a knapsack on his back.
Eddie-baby stands up and goes over to Kostya. Kostya's eyes are closed. It's
possible he's asleep.
"Cat!" Eddie calls out.
Kostya shudders, but seeing Eddie, he smiles in wonder. "What are you doing
here so early in the morning?" he asks, astonished.
"That's what I was going to ask you - what the fuck are you doing here so
early?" Eddie says.
"I'm on my way to the station," Kostya says, becoming serious.
"That's where I'm going too!" Eddie exclaims. "I intend to get the fuck out of here
and go to Vladivostok."
"Without taking anything?" Kostya asks in amazement. "Just as you are?"
"What do I need things for?" Eddie says sadly. "I can steal whatever I need," he
adds, surprising himself. "Where are you going?" he asks Cat.
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"To Novorossisk," the serious Cat answers. "Novorossisk is the biggest port on the
Black Sea. I plan to buy some chewing gum and foreign cigarettes from the foreign
sailors," he says. "You can get them for just kopecks there."
"How will you understand each other?" Eddie-baby asks, puzzled. "You don't know
any foreign languages. How will you explain to them what you want?"
"It's easy," Kostya says. "Yura Gi-Gi wrote down in a notebook what I need to say
and how to haggle with them. He's been to Novorossisk several times. It's warm there
now, and the kids all wait until the sailors come ashore, and then they sneak up to
The trolley arrives with a ringing of bells, and the conductor jumps off to take a
leak. Kostya and Eddie-baby, sitting as far as they can from the door, where it's
warmest, continue their conversation.
"What made you decide to go all of a sudden?" Eddie asks. "And without even
telling anybody. After all, I could have come with you."
"Well, why don't you come?" Kostya says. "What sort of business do you have in
"I don't have any fucking business there," Eddie says, making a clean breast of it.
"I don't even know anybody there, not even one person. I just want to get away from
Saltovka. I can't stay here any longer." He turns away from Kostya and is gloomily silent
for a while, and then he adds, "I've had a fight with Svetka. It's all over between us."
Kostya remains silent for a while out of sympathy, and then he says, "Well then,
come to Novorossisk with me. It'll be more fun together. And it's a lot warmer there than
it is in Vladivostok. The Caucasus is right nearby. If we want, we can get there from
Novorossisk. The only thing is, we don't have passports."
An hour later they are sitting, or rather standing, between two passenger cars
belonging to the Moscow-Tbilisi train, Kostya a little higher on the ladder that goes up to
the roof, and Eddie a little lower down, almost next to the buffers. Kostya finally breaks
down and tells Eddie-baby his story. It turns out that Cat isn't going to Novorossisk
merely to buy gum and cigarettes.
"I'll kill him," Cat says. "Not now, but I'll kill him. He's not a true criminal; he's a
bastard. Real gangsters don't act like that. The filthy bastard!" Kostya says. "I'll get him,
even if it's the last thing I do, I'll get him."
The gang leader Zhora punched Kostya in the mouth in front of all the other
thieves and pickpockets. Eddie has seen Zhora and can easily imagine what an animal he
is. The gang leader Zhora just got out of prison a little while ago after serving a long
sentence, and now he's at large and greedily taking advantage of his freedom. He's a
huge gorilla, and it was a low thing for him to punch Kostya for no reason at all except as
a display of drunken bravado, since even though Kostya's broad-shouldered, he's still
pretty small.
"I should have done it right then, right by the store, I should have cut him then,"
Kostya says gloomily from up on the ladder.
"Yes.," Eddie says, at a loss for words. "But didn't he serve time for armed
"He did," Kostya reluctantly confirms, "but he's still not a true gangster. A true
criminal would never raise his hand against a minor, against a brother thief," Kostya
But he's not as confident now as he used to be when he extolled the virtues of
serious criminals to Eddie. In Kostya's descriptions of them, they had seemed elegant,
generous, and heroic. But now it turns out that they're worse even than the petty thieves
that populate Saltovka's criminal world. Eddie isn't at all sure how he would act in
Kostya's place. Would he kill Zhora?
They're silent for a while as they huddle in the wind. It's very cold - not really the
season for a journey of this kind. In the summertime it's nice on the roof of a train. Now,
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however, the kids have to keep crawling up and down the ladder, have to keep moving
around in order to stay warm.
Their shared misfortune has in a way brought them together, and Eddie decides to
tell Kostya about what's bothering him most - about Svetka.
"You know, Cat, last night was the first time I ever fucked Svetka. I never had
before that," he says, and then stops.
"I figured as much," Kostya says.
"Tell me, Cat," Eddie asks tentatively, "did you ever hear that Svetka hasn't been
cherry for a long time?"
"Yes," Cat says from up above. "All the kids knew about it, but nobody told you,
since you were so in love with her. You really doted on her, and for nothing. Women like
men who don't dote on them," Kostya says in a sadly philosophical tone. And then he
adds, "She's been fucking for a long time. She's even fucked your Red Sanya -"
"Sanya?" Eddie asks, thunderstruck.
Even though he realizes that he has said a bit too much, Cat confirms his words.
"Yes, but only once, and that was because he raped her." And then he falls silent.
Eddie is silent too. It seems to him that he's suddenly grown very old and very
"Tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu," go the wheels of the train.
"Tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu - Eddie'll do, and Cat will too," Eddie rhymes mindlessly. He
doesn't have any idea what he'll do or what will be. Just that something will.
Even though they climbed down off the roof during several of the train's stops and
ran along the tracks to warm up, Eddie-baby and Cat are so close to perishing from the
cold as they approach Rostov that they have finally decided to jump off the train. All
they're waiting for now is for the train to come to a bend and slow down.
"We'll fucking freeze to death!" Cat whispers. "If we don't jump off, we'll croak
from the cold. I can't move my fucking hands anymore; they're like iron. My hands are
freezing. How about you?"
Kostya at least has gloves, whereas Eddie has stuck his arms behind the ladder
and hooked his elbow around one of its rungs. His arm and his joints are shaking
painfully, and of course he'll have terrible black-and-blue marks after this little trip,
although that's the least of his worries. He and Kostya are freezing, and there isn't any
bend in sight. If they try to jump off the train at this speed, they'll be killed for sure.
"It would be stupid to freeze like this when the sun's still out, when it's daylight
and we're so near Rostov, where it's warm," Eddie thinks in amazement, no longer able
to feel his legs or his body.
They are saved by the sudden opening of the car door. Eddie and Kostya had
already tried the door once before, but it was locked, and Kostya even went along the
roofs of the other cars to try their doors as well.
Leaning out of the door now is a Georgian girl, one of the train's conductors, and
she's yelling to them. The wind carries her words:
"You lunatics! Climb down off of there!. We saw the shadows of two people on
the roof a long time ago, but we couldn't believe. that anybody would be crazy enough
in this temperature. to climb up there."
"Oh, sure, we'll climb down. You've probably already got the trashes in there
waiting for us!" Kostya squeaks suspiciously.
"What trashes?" yells the Georgian girl.
"The militia," Eddie says.
"Climb down off of there, you fools! There isn't any militia here!" the girl yells
Holding the ladder with his stiff hands, Eddie climbs down and squeezes into the
car, and then Cat comes down too. After the icy roof, the car is like heaven.
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"Suicides!" the girl says to them in a mocking voice, and pulls them into her
conductor's compartment. "You'll have tea in a minute."
An hour later, warmed by the tea, Eddie is sitting in the conductor's compartment
looking out the window. Kostya is asleep in the upper berth, or at least is pretending to
sleep. Sitting across from Eddie is a fat Georgian cook from the restaurant car. Selecting
the Russian words with difficulty, the latter is telling Eddie about his first impressions of
Russia in the winter, since this is the first time he has ever left Georgia, even though he's
already around fifty.
"I look out window," the naive cook says, "and I see that all trees is dead. All
Eddie smiles.
"Your have smiling," the cook says, "but I not know. I have never leave Georgia.
'Why Russian not cut down dead trees?' I ask vaiter. Vaiter."
"Tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu," go the wheels.
"Eddie'll do, and Cat will too," Eddie rhymes sadly. What he'll do and what will be,
he still doesn't know.
And so it was. In 1962 the Kharkov District Court sentenced Eddie-baby's friends
Kostya Bondarenko, Yurka Bembel, and Slavka, nicknamed the "Suvorovian," to the
ultimate punishment - execution. After several months, during which Kostya turned gray
and, strangely enough, suddenly grew, his and Slavka's sentences were commuted to
lengthy prison terms. The oldest of the three, Yurka, was executed. It was only by
accident that Eddie wasn't with his friends that fateful night. Lucky Eddie.
Upon learning about Kostya's arrest, Grishka Primak's deaf and dumb mother
managed to utter the garbled sentence, "They put Kostya in jail and Edink skipped away
abroad." She could speak a little, Grishka's mother, and obviously she could also predict
the future. Then - in 1962 - her words didn't make any sense to Eddie. It was only in
1974, when unexpectedly even for him he really did "skip away abroad" and Kostya was
exiled in Kolyma after serving twelve years in prison there, that Eddie finally understood
what Grishka's mother meant.
What happened to the others? Vitka Golovashov and Lyonka Korovin graduated
from a school for tank commanders, and now both hold the rank of major. Rumor has it
they're stationed in central Asia.
The insane, valiant Antonina Sergeevna passed away - may she rest in peace.
Obviously she was in no way responsible for the erotic fantasies of the young Eddie-baby.
Eddie ran into Borka Churilov in Paris in 1980. A Soviet citizen well known in his
own country as a skilled craftsman, Churilov came to Paris for an exhibition of his birch
bark prints at UNESCO. Borka's churches and images of saints had finally proved
profitable to the Soviet state. Borka and Eddie drank. The two Saltovkans met once more
in Paris in 1982 and drank vodka again. Borka has a beautiful wife and a beautiful
daughter. Borka's life-loving mother died recently, and as her last will and testament she
enjoined her son always to work and to be happy and independent.
Svetka, they say, married a shop superintendent and has two children.
Grishka, having dreamed about murder, became an engineer, although his true
passion is solitaire. He's a professional gambler.
Sashka Tishchenko works as a foreman in a factory.
Of the rest nothing is known. A quarter of a century has passed since that time.
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