All men are boys when they’re small. If I was a boy called Peter, I’d ramble along the forest path to our secret fir-tree and wait there stomping on a red toadstool in my impatience, chewing on a stringy stalk of grass and spitting this way and that. She wouldn’t come, and I’d go back to our secret place the next day, and gnaw the fir-tree’s bark and break off a few branches, then dig a hole with a stick and stare into it for a long time, then piss into the hole, fill it in and go away. Later I’d come back for the last time when the weather’s bad with no-one to meet and through the whispering of the rain I’d hear a familiar voice giggling – and someone else laughing – and in that laughter I’d recognize Victor from the end dacha, the boy that no one would even fight with, he smelt so rotten. I’d set off in a rush and take a floundering leap and fall, and start crawling, scraping my knees raw and bloody, and then from under the fir-tree I’d glimpse the pale little heels covered all over with rust-brown needles, and I’d understand everything, without really understanding anything at all, and I’d fly into a rage and draw myself up to my full height, and for the first time I’d feel something stirring in my blue polka-dotted trunks, and I’d stroke the place and take a closer took at it and I wouldn’t give a damn any longer about the others and I’d become totally engrossed in myself – and then I’d grow up and forget all about it. I’d pump iron, read boring books, memorize facts, follow sports events, laugh with my foul-smelling mouth, and snort out of turn in company, feigning weariness and disillusionment. And then I’d decide I want to get married (Why? I can’t really say why – I suppose it would make some kind of turning-point). I’d meet someone and see her home and get exasperated and buy her the wrong kind of flowers, and on our wedding day I’d set up a final sexual fling on the side, and come running into the registry office, smart as a new button, my eyes glinting devilishly behind my spectacles. I’d mumble a vow to be faithful that no-one would be able to hear, and I’d keep my promise for about a year and a half, tormented by mounting tedium and then I’d move into a new gray high-rise, and on the next floor down I’d spot a girl with bright eyes, a ready smile, a text book and an elegant profile against the light. I’d pretend to be a tutor and offer to explain the theory of relativity to her and then on some particularly dark evening I’d pack my wife off to the first night of her favourite opera, “La Traviata”, having picked up the one and only ticket left in the kiosk in the pedestrian subway – anything for you, my dear, anything at all, you see I haven’t forgotten how much you always loved this opera, remember the bit where they all stand up and he sings: “Now fill the glasses…” and she answers: “… brimming full..” Heavenly! How I envy you. But the first night would fall through somehow – the consumption must have seen off La Traviata a bit ahead of time – and my wife would come back home and bump into the bare-legged school-leaver in the doorway and I would come out, exhausted, in a ravishing and brazen display of rippling muscles, to see what the noise is about and collect a slap to the cheek on the spot marked by a trace of pearly make-up, and with my face gleaming and only half-dressed I’d step out proudly into the dank miserable night, forever, taking nothing with me, to walk round the block three times and take a last look at the window that was so dear to me and now seems so distant, and feel a sudden inexpressible joy at the awakening dream of a new life of freedom, in which I’d meet lots of comely young ladies, including a dark-haired one with a passionate body and a voice issuing from the depths of her magnificent bosom, and a red-haired one, pale and melancholy, and a silent one, with hair of indeterminate colour and pleading eyes, and none of them would fight but only believe and wait patiently, or visit me in my bright bachelor pad and never overstay their welcome. And as I dreamed I’d lengthen my stride and come out onto the empty street dusted with snow, and I’d recall some lines from some other rakish poet like myself: “I wander over newly fallen snow, Fresh powers sprout like lilies in my heart”. And my tracks would lead on across the snow and prickly humps of ice would force their way into my carpet slippers, and behind my blue lips my teeth would start beating out a tattoo, and all the doors in the building would be locked with codes I don’t know. So I’d go back the way I’d come, leaping and scurrying and pulling up my legs like a heron, and I’d come back home red-cheeked, with my behind frozen solid, and I’d be let in, and in the pitch darkness I’d follow the smell and guzzle a couple of helpings of my favourite pea soup with bacon, and I’d cast a satisfied, indifferent gaze around the walls, and my eye would come to rest on a decorative bast shoe dangling from a hook, and then I’d stare at it for a long time, my head empty of dreams, and then I’d feel drowsy and fall asleep with my unfrozen head resting on the table. And later, I’d be woken up and told to carry on living in the same old way, and I’d agree and live out my days until in the final hour I’d collapse on to an iron hospital cot, lower my gnarled and withered hand onto my striped hospital pants, and without feeling a thing, sob softly as I recall the joy of the forest and the first snow, and I’d die peacefully without any hysterics.
Translated by: Andrew Bromfield