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White Square

Naked Valkyries are ve-ry ve-ry spiritual!

Dasha Shiskin, 400 Series. 2004, etching. Courtesy of the artist and Fridman Gallery.

For Kirill Serebrennikov

Host Hello, and welcome to White Square! Today we’re going to talk about Russia. Russia “shall be unknowable to foreign sages for centuries and centuries,” as we sing in an old song. The truth is that our great, fantastical, and, in many ways, unpredictable country continues to prompt questions not only among foreign sages—that’s putting it gently—but also among our own countrymen. Recently I spoke to an old friend—an Orthodox man, a patriot, an intellectual deeply familiar with our history and culture. And yet this man confessed that after living in Russia for forty-odd years he still didn’t understand exactly what our country was. Can you imagine? Now, we’re not here to discuss our political system. Every kindergartner knows that Russia is a federal, democratic state, with a president and a parliament. Instead what we ask is: What is our image of the country? What does it look like to people? What associations does it carry? Everyone has their own image of Russia. I’m sure that many of these images line up with what others have in mind. Some may not. And no, I’m not just talking about what the fifth column thinks. In fact this diversity simply shows yet again, in all of its ebbs and flows, the deep mysteriousness of Russia. Shows—ebbs and flows! I’m speaking in rhyme, that’s how important our topic is today! Let’s really talk about this. Today, as always, four guests are sitting around our square, white table. You probably recognize some of them. But you know our rule on White Square: first names and professions only. No ranks, positions, or uniforms. And so: Irina is a municipal employee, Yuri is a military man, Anton is a theater director, and Pavel is a businessman. Respected guests of the program, I have one question for all of you: What do you think Russia looks like? Please!

Applause.

Irina  Why is everyone looking at me? (Laughs.)

Host Ladies first.

Irina Of course. Well, in that case, I’ll begin. You know what Russia feels like to me? A song. That sounds a little naive, doesn’t it?

Host Not at all.

Irina There you go, then. . . a song. A song. A long, sad song. I heard the song when I was still a child, when I couldn’t even talk—I heard someone singing it in the winter. I can remember how cold it was—all the windows in our town were frozen. And whenever anyone says “Russia,” whenever anyone says it slowly and draws it out, that melody comes to mind. I remember the frost on the windows, my grandma in the kitchen, her sturgeon pie, my little brother, our furry cats, the street with its big drifts of snow, our kindly neighbors. I remember the games we played, the long days at school, the long nights full of dreams, and then, suddenly, I remember this childish feeling that, well, we live in a very large country, a mighty and powerful country, that somewhere out there, really, really far away, is Moscow, with its Kremlin and its Spasskaya Tower, and that when I grow up, I’ll go there and see it all for myself. And the song goes on and on. Just like it always was. And for as long as it continues, for as long as we keep singing it, know its words, and remember its melody, Russia shall survive.

Applause.

Host That’s fantastic, Irina! I think a lot of people in our country are familiar with this image. It rings very true to them. There is no Russia without music. Anton, are you ready?

Anton Yes, of course. Irina put it very well. A song. A song from her childhood. A song is unforgettable. It etches itself into your memory for your entire life. For me, that song is “Blue Train Car,” which somehow eclipsed all the Russian folk songs we sang in my family and at school. It’s the only song that’ll stay with me forever. But I don’t want to talk about songs. I want to talk about my image of Russia. I admit it’s a bit different from Irina’s. When I think of our country, I imagine it as a huge louse. An enormous louse. A. . . monstrously large louse. The louse is completely frozen and in hibernation. Geographically speaking, it’s as big as Russia: its head and its, what do you call it, its pedipalps are located near our border with Belarus, right around Chop. Its butt hangs out over the Pacific Ocean, near Sakhalin Island. This gigantic louse is sleeping. It’s not moving at all. It doesn’t wake up often, but when it does, what a joy for all of us. We live atop this icy monster, slide around on its back, get frightened by it, admire its unusual shape, and wait for it to wake up. We wait with impatience and awe. Sometimes for decades, like we are now.

Applause.

Host Hmm. . . No wonder your plays always provoke such outrage, Anton. What’s the latest with the lawsuit over your production of Dead Souls, by the way?

Anton We’re gonna win.

Host Oh, really?

Laughter.

Anton The lawyers’ living souls will help!

Laughter.

Host Send my best to their living souls! Anyway, while we must of course discuss every image in detail, everyone must first have the chance to speak. Yuri!

Yuri You know, when I was invited onto White Square, they also—and I’m giving away a secret here—they gave me the topic of today’s discussion. I had a few days to think about it, to get my thoughts in order. So. For me, Russia has always seemed like a cave. A mysterious cave. A huge, dark cave—an endless cave filled with stalactites, stalagmites, holes of all shapes and sizes. Crags and depressions, all of them pitch black, no end to any of them. You can’t see a thing in there. There’s no light at all. The cave is immense and goes on forever. And there are treasures in this cave. They shine in the darkness. You’re walking through the cave, the ground is uneven, there’s danger at every step. You could slip or fall, but just ahead, you see something flickering. Those are her riches. Russia’s riches. They shine in the darkness, they’re beckoning to you, and you move toward them. There’s too much treasure to count.

Host Diamonds in dusky caves?

Yuri Yes! But not just diamonds. We’re not just talking about gold, oil, uh, gas. Russia is rich on the inside, in terms of what she has inside. . . in her soul. Rich in spirit! That’s our main source of wealth.

Applause.

Host Fantastic! And yet, how interesting that so much variation has immediately become apparent in these images, no? (Addressing the audience) Our guests today demonstrate the unpredictability of our country.

Applause.

Pavel It probably won’t be terribly original if I say that, for me, Russia has always been connected to the notion of struggle. Struggle for survival, for the right idea, for comfort, for friendship, for love, for family, and, finally, for business. Everyone sitting at this table was born in the Soviet Union and remembers it in one way or another. For example, when my wife gave birth to our daughter, the first thing the Soviet state did was take the baby away and carry it off to another ward, where the mothers weren’t allowed to go. This was a Soviet tradition that, in my opinion, all of those who gave birth in the Soviet Union will remember. Of course, the possibility of the father being present at the birth wasn’t ever discussed, even though this is something that now happens around the world. The night my daughter was born I couldn’t even get inside of the maternity hospital. All the fathers would walk in circles around the building, looking through the windows, trying to see something. That night I gave a nurse 3 rubles so she would let my wife into the ward where they kept the newborns to see our Olya. Can you even imagine? A mother sneaking around like a thief to go see her baby! The struggle of something like that! From its first days, every newborn child was implicated in a struggle. Everyone has had to and will have to struggle, and every step is an act of overcoming. That’s what Russia is.

Applause.

Host It’s hard for me to even imagine. I was at my wife’s side when she gave birth. We got through it together, and when my son was born. . .

Pavel They put him on his mother’s chest, right?

Host Yep, they didn’t even wash him, just laid him on my wife’s chest. It was. . . it was unforgettable. But Pavel, in tsarist Russia, though they may not have taken children away from their mothers, back then, did all of them survive? What about in the villages? They didn’t even have maternity hospitals out there! They would have had to carry their children out into the barn with the cows! And how many of them died? Even Leo Tolstoy, a count, lost four of his children.

Pavel But even animals put newborn babies on their mother’s chests!

Anton And it doesn’t cost 3 rubles.

Pavel And it doesn’t cost 3 rubles!

Host You’re complaining about giving a nurse 3 rubles? The greed!

Laughter.

Pavel That was a lot of money for us back then.

Irina They laid my daughter on my chest, too. But this was already in the Russian Federation.

Host I can only imagine how beautiful that must have been. A scene out of Raphael!

Applause.

Pavel Thank God that’s how it is in our time. . .

Anton But will it be like that forever? That’s the question!

Applause.

Host Let’s hope so! Still, Russia continues to move forward. With difficulty and confusion, yes, but forward nevertheless. The fact that we can calmly discuss all of this here in the studio is proof of that!

Applause.

Host It’s time to start up our voting machine. Those of you who are here in the studio can vote for any image of Russia our guests brought up: Song, Icy Louse, Cave, or Struggle. Let’s vote! And, in the meantime, my first question is for Irina. In the district you help administer, do songs help people build their lives? Do they help them live through every passing day?

Irina We sang and danced so much on the Day of the City!

Host The senior citizens, too?

Irina Of course.

Host Were they waving around bills with increased utility rates as they danced?

Guffaws.

Irina The rates in our district haven’t gone up for five months. And they’re never going to go up! I promise!

Host Well, that sounds like a good song, then! We’ll all join in.

Applause.

Host Now, Anton, tell us. Your icy louse. What does it do? Suck the people’s blood?

Anton It had enough to drink in the 20th century.

Host And now it’s digesting?

Anton Yes. Digesting, meditating, and resting.

Host What about us?

Anton We admire it, worship it, write songs in its honor, make films about it.

Irina Why is your image of our country so repulsive?

Anton Look back at the 20th century. Tens of millions of victims. Innocent victims killed by a monster called the USSR.

Irina But now we live in the RF.

Anton Yeah! New letters, yet the monster’s genetics have stayed the same. Not everything, no, of course not. A lot has changed for the better. But on the whole. . . the genetics of the state haven’t changed.

Yuri But why a louse and not, say, a bear?

Host Yes! Why not a bear? That’s an animal that looks more like Russia: it sleeps for a long time, but then when it wakes up, it tosses and turns, until it starts howling and scratching itself. Nobody can look at that bear and remain unimpressed.

Laughter.

Anton A bear is an image from a fairy tale. The Gulag Archipelago is not a fairy tale.

Host So—a louse?

Anton A louse.

Host Forgive me Anton, but is this a regular louse or is it a pubic louse? Are we talking about crabs?

Guffaws.

Anton I don’t find that funny. I find it sad.

Host Well, you have, you do have every right to get sad. . . Now, Pavel, a question for you about your “struggle”: does that word come from Marx or—and forgive me—from Mein Kampf?

Pavel Neither. It comes from the Stone Age. I mean the struggle for survival.

Host In that case, are you suggesting that Russia hasn’t changed since the Stone Age? Do you use a stone ax instead of an iPhone? Which model? At least an 8, I hope?

Laughter.

Pavel They make iPhones in America. Russia’s problem is that we live our lives apart from the state. There’s a divide between us, and it’s growing. That’s why our struggle for survival is becoming more difficult every year.

Host Irina, do you agree?

Irina No. We have problems, but there’s no divide.

Applause.

Pavel Of course you don’t see the divide. You’re a part of the state.

Irina And a part of the people too. Think about it—are you a part of the people?

Pavel (Laughing) I am the people.

Host Oh really?

Laughter, applause.

Host Let’s move on! Yuri, in your cave of the Mountain King, are the diamonds and emeralds of Russian spirituality still as inexhaustible and plentiful as they once were? Or is it at least possible that some of our deposits have been depleted?

Yuri We’ve wasted a lot of it, it’s true, but some of it’s being ruined on purpose.

Host Wasted by the fifth column?

Yuri By the bribe takers. And the fifth column. But there are new mineral deposits, new mines, that have only just been discovered in our time.

Applause.

Anton (Ironically) Yes, they just. . . shine in the darkness! Geysers of spirituality bursting with diamonds.

Yuri You’re just jealous, you’re so jealous.

Anton I wish that were so.

Host Does the spirituality of the people bother you?

Anton More like their lack thereof.

Host So you think modern Russia is soulless?

Anton For the most part, yes.

Host Did you already get the money for your new play?

Laughter.

Anton Yes, yes, I got it. We’re going to elevate the spirituality of the people.

Yuri With naked Valkyries?

Anton It can’t hurt.

Host Naked Valkyries are ve-ry ve-ry spiritual!

Laughter.

Irina My daughter’s a big fan of yours, Anton. But after your last play, even she said, “They went overboard with the naked butts, Mom!”

Laughter.

Yuri Our government has always had money for naked butts and always will. But it’s not all that eager to spend anything on veterans.

Pavel Isn’t it more eager to spend money on students and doctors?

Yuri Students and doctors put that money to good use.

Anton Buying paper clips?

Yuri Again with the irony. Don’t you ever get bored?

Announcement: “The voting has concluded.”

Host Friends! The voting on images of Russia is now complete. So: 37 percent of you voted for Song, 31 percent for Cave, 28 percent for Struggle, and 4 percent for Icy Louse. It seems you’re in the minority, Anton. Which means we have the right not to believe your thesis about the soullessness of Russia. Our winner is: Russia as a song!

Announcement: “The Hype is here.”

Host It’s time for the White Hype!

A song begins to play: “The White Hype is here, many squares.”

Host It’s time to get moving, my friends! The product is in the studio!

As the song plays, four lovely nurses in short white skirts enter the studio. Each of them carries a tray with a syringe, a tourniquet, a cotton swab, and a vial of alcohol.

Host Today, White Square is asking its guests to get hyped on a new product that was approved for use a week ago. It’s called WH-4! Let’s hear it!

Applause.

Host Our lovely girls—Sonya, Vera, Fatima, and Natasha—will help you out.

The guests sitting at the white table roll up their sleeves. The nurses give each of them an intravenous injection.

Host WH-4 is an amazing drug, and the most remarkable thing about it is its subtlety. It leads to cheerfulness and clarity of mind, but it also intensifies the senses. And all of this happens unobtrusively, subtly, even delicately. The hype comes on gently, offering itself to you instead of dragging you along. WH-4 has all the well-known features of the WH formula. But compared with WH-3, which so many Russians have fallen in love with, which our mighty rock bands sing about, which our minister has spoken about so effusively—compared with WH-3, it’s a little different. But not for the worse! Not at all for the worse, ladies and gentlemen! Our guests are beginning to feel it now. We can see that almost immediately! As always, after the White Hype, the discussion will begin to operate on another level. It will attain a new valence and gain new energy and meaning, all of which will be passed on to the viewers. Friends, a lot of interesting stuff lies in store. Let’s hear it!

Applause.

The nurses finish the injections and take their leave of the studio. The four guests stay seated, pressing cotton swabs into the crooks of their arms.

Host Again, just what an amazing country we live in! Here we are, able to take turns discussing its image with such enthusiasm! It’s extraordinary! Can you imagine a talk show like this on French or German television? I won’t even say anything about the Americans. . . (Laughter) Can you imagine any of them seriously reflecting on the image of their country? For them, it’s not even worth asking the question. Everything’s been clear for a long time. Every kindergartner knows that Europe is stagnant. The Europeans know it too. Oh they know! But they stay silent! And what about us? The greatness of Russia is that it changes, evolves, reveals itself and its shimmer in new ways. It surprises and shocks us practically every day.

Applause.

Pavel Well, I’m not sure . . . if you want to  . . . to even know . . . I mean, to put it simply . . . when you want to do something new and striking, something totally different. Then? Something necessary, then?

Anton Something powerful, right?

Pavel Yeah! Powerful! Bright! Something totally different! So that it shines just like something “different”! Like a neon sign, and then?

Host Here we go. The White Hype has begun!

Applause.

Anton Because you’re sick of it.

Yuri So fucking sick of it!

Anton So sick you’ll throw up, you’ll puke . . .

Yuri Had e-fucking-nough! It’s dark, it’s pathetic—had e-fucking-nough!

Host My dear guests! Though our channel has the ability to censor those words, I would perhaps ask you. . .

Irina (Standing up and interrupting) What would you ask? Huh?

Host I would ask you to perhaps. . .

Irina What, what can you ask us, you stupid fuck? (Throws her cotton swab in his face.)

Host Irina. . . I don’t understand your aggression.

Irina What are you asking? What do you want? (Kicks the host in the leg.)

Host Hmm. It seems that something’s gone wrong. (Bumps into Anton as he backs away.)

Anton Where do you think you’re going, you worm? (Grabs the host’s jacket and pulls violently, splitting the seam at the shoulder.)

Host I would ask you. . . that, gentlemen. . .

Yuri (Stands up) Here’s your gentlemen. (Punches the host in the face) Little shit stain. . .

Pavel (Grabs the host and shoves him to the ground) You’re a nuisance . . . a leech. . .

Host Call security!

Yuri (Hits the host) Here’s your security. Here’s your. . . Here’s . . .

Irina (Kicks the host) He’s gonna tell me. . . bastard. . .

Host Security!

Yuri (Sits down on top of the host) Lie the fuck down. . .

Two security guards appear and run in.

Guard What’s going on here?

Yuri (Sitting on the host) Nothing’s going on. He’s just been ripping all of us off. Both of you, too. He’s a criminal. A federal offender!

The guards stand next to Yuri.

Yuri What regiment did you guys serve in?

The guards silently exchange a look. The host starts to shout, but Irina puts her hand over his mouth.

Irina Just lie there—don’t push us!

Yuri (To the guards) I asked you a question: What regiment did you serve in?

Guard I served in the missile forces. What’s going on?

Anton What’s happening is what’s supposed to happen, guys. The radiance of the new!

Pavel Exactly! The radiance!

Yuri (To the second guard) And where did you serve?

Guard In the Baltics.

Yuri Grab that crab, sailor! (Extends his arm to the guard) As soldiers, do you know what honor and redress are? How is this any different? Hmm? From honor and red dress?

The guards are silent.

Yuri Well? You’re not saying anything—what are you doing, playing with your dicks? It’s time for you to learn, soldiers: Honor and red dress are better than honor and redress. Than honor and chess. Than honor and stress. Than honor and abscess. And never, under any circumstances, ignore me and try to fucking transgress. As in the case of a federal offender. Am I clear? Everything’s under control, guys! You can go!

The guards leave.

Host (Desperately) Where are you going?! You’re leaving! Seryozha, you idiot, they overdosed!

Irina (Covering his mouth) You’re the one who overdosed, you little shit!

Anton No, there are no limits for the new, for the one who tears down the old walls! It’s like a ram! I feel like a ram! I can crush old junk, break it, grind it into a new, prospective something that will shine out a way for the new icy louse! This louse will shine all our old doubts away, all the old meanness and abomination, all of it will bounce off the louse, fly off it, all the dummies, the mummies, the Mickey Mouses, the Richard Strausses, Mr. Santa Claus, the useless laws, the Pikachus and the Gucci shoes. Only the honest will remain. Only the new.

Pavel Shining! Like the sun!

Anton Shining for all eternity! Forever! And why don’t I hear any applause?! Huh?

Applause.

Yuri So. We’ll need four belts.

Pavel What kinds of belts?

Yuri Strong! Faithful! Durable!

Anton (Takes off his belt) Here! For the new!

Pavel Take mine too! (Takes off his belt) For the shining!

Irina (Still holding the moaning host’s mouth shut) I. . . don’t have a belt. But I should also. . . should also give something up for the new. (Takes off her blouse.)

Host Call the police, you idiots! You’re gonna be fired and put in jail!

Yuri Take the belt off the past! (Jabs his fist in the host’s face.)

Irina takes off the host’s belt; Yuri takes off his own belt.

Yuri Brothers and sisters, let us lift up the past.

They lift up the host, who is screaming, moaning, swearing.

Yuri Put him on that table.

Anton New! Everything is newer, more cheerful, and better!

Pavel And shining!

Yuri Bind his hands and feet to the corners of the table.

As he lies on the table, the hosts hands and feet are tied to its four corners with three belts and one twisted blouse.

Host Seryozha! Call the police! What are you waiting for?! You idiot!

Yuri (Gagging the host with his handkerchief) The evil of the past.

Irina So much evil! And yet he seemed so kind, with his curly hair. Have we been tricked?

Yuri He tricked us, and he tricked our Russia.

Pavel Our eternal Russia! Its eternal ice shining in the sun! Such beautiful ice!

Anton Deception? How can it be so?! This. . . shocks me. It rends my soul. (Sobs.)

Irina Calm down! I love you!

Anton And I love you! (Kisses Irina.)

Pavel I love all of you! (Kisses Irina and Anton) I love you so much!

Anton We must clear the old from the new path, smash, destroy, and sprinkle the dust and ashes of the past into the wind! Ahead lies only the new, the strong, and the bright!

Yuri We have to do everything properly. Otherwise it’s already too late. It’ll be impossible to fix!

Irina We must do everything properly! My darlings! Let’s do this right!

Pavel There’s no other way! The new and the proper! The shining and the good! In the name of shining Russia!

Anton She’s shining! Ahead! For all of us!

Applause.

Yuri (Takes an AK-47 knife out of his pocket and opens it) Here. Hello, my old and faithful friend. You’ve seen so much! I’ve always carried you, I carry you today, and I will always carry you with me. (Kisses the knife’s blade) You’ve never betrayed me. Please help us now! (Cuts the clothes off the host, who is still tied to the table; the others help him.)

Anton (Drops the strips of clothing on the floor) This is the past. The bad.

Pavel Very bad! Evil!

Irina Naked evil. Beastly evil! (Spits in the host’s face.)

Anton The evil of the past must be overcome. So that it cannot obstruct the shining of eternal Russia!

Applause.

Pavel Together we shall overcome all of this!

Yuri Brothers and sisters! Let us begin properly! And amicably!

Yuri makes deep cuts on the hosts hands and feet. The other four peel back his skin, flaying him. He twitches before beginning to roar and struggle. But soon he is quiet.

Yuri A great deed! (Unties the corpse from the table, shoves it onto the floor, and pushes it under the table with his foot) Now we have to do something important. Let us begin, brothers and sisters!

They stretch the host’s skin tightly over the table.

Yuri Careful! It won’t tear! There’s no rush!

Anton Careful! Step by step, one at a time! Be precise! (Covers Irina’s shoulders with admonishing kisses.)

The skin is completely taut.

Yuri We have done a great and important thing!

Applause.

Pavel Victory!

Irina Joy!

Anton (To Irina) A happy time has come! A new happiness!

Pavel (To Irina) A shining happiness!

Yuri (Cuts Irina’s underclothes off with his knife) Bring us happiness! You must!

They help Irina, now naked, climb onto the table.

Irina (Throws her hands into the air and begins to quickly spin around on the table) Ababara! Akhakhara! Atatara! (Puts her hands to her groin and squeezes her legs together) Ababonia! Amamonia! Akhakhonia! (Shaking from the force of her orgasm) Mamo rokhma-a-a-a-a! (Howls and shakes; spreads her legs and urinates on the table) Mamo I can’t bocomo like a hordo-o-o-o-o!! No need to becomo together and then like a hordo-o-o-o-o!! Now that they have bocomo like all of us a hordo-o-o-o-o!! Nothing to bocomo if Mamo’s not already a hordo-o-o-o-o!! Everyone becomo everyone and everyone’s a hordo Mamo’s a hordo and everyonnnneeeeee!!

Irina falls from the table, limp. Yuri, Pavel, and Anton catch her. She is moaning with exhaustion.

Anton (Shaking his head rhythmically, trembling, stomping his feet) Let’s go, brothers! Brothers, let’s go! Let’s go, brothers! Brothers, let’s go!

Yuri (Shaking his buttocks in a series of painful maneuvers) To do do do do do do do that which is good.

Pavel (Squirming) And shining! Shining in the darkness! In the dark darkness, the dork dungeon, they built something good, necessary, shining dmommy dmommy dmommy! For centuries! Centuries!!

The three men carry Irina out of the studio. They moan and sob, full of greed and pain as they lick and suck her arms and legs.

A Voice The show is now over. We ask everyone to leave the studio.

The audience leaves. After a few minutes, a group of people enters: the channel’s managing director, its assistant director, a chemist, the show’s director, and the guards.

Managing Director (Approaching the table) Finita. First-rate.

Assistant Director The product proved itself. Really frickin’ proved itself, huh? Maybe it was a little much, though.

Chemist You can’t even compare WH-4 to RH-1.

Director (Shaking his head) I can’t believe it. Awesome!

Managing Director (Slaps him on the back) You better believe it! RH’s time has come.

Chemist We need to make some adjustments.

Managing Director That goes without saying. . . (Looks under the table) Or we’re not gonna have enough hosts. . . The product killed two birds with one stone, didn’t it? Bumbarash! As my deceased dad used to say in just this sort of situation.

Director Bumbarash! Yeah! I mean. . . totally!

Assistant Director Nobody was expecting this, right? Were you expecting it? None of us was! That’s what we mean by extra milligrams, right?

Chemist Half a square. We’ll need some adjustments, some new R-tests. It’ll take two or three weeks, we’ll need a new selection of donors, a small one.

Managing Director (Ignoring the chemist) Yeah. . . and the third thing: What we saw was a mythical tale being played out. Unexpectedly! But inevitably.

Assistant Director What do you mean?

Managing Director The flaying of Marsyas. You don’t know it? Look it up.

Assistant Director (Looks at his tablet, finds the Wikipedia article, reads it) Ah! Cool! But. . . Marsyas was punished by Apollo for winning their competition? Is that right?

Managing Director (Pokes the corpse under the table with the toe of his shoe) Apollo won, too. More precisely—he didn’t lose. (To the guards) Take the body away. (To the assistant director) Process this as an occupational injury, fatal.

Assistant Director (Tapping his tablet) Doing that now.

The guards drag the corpse away.

Managing Director Take the skin off the table and wrap it up neatly.

Guard But. . . all the urine. And the blood. . .

Managing Director So?

Guard Could we wash it first?

Managing Director Urine is good for the environment. So is blood. Do what I say! Wrap it up tightly.

The guards take the skin off the table and wrap it up carefully.

Director (Touches the blood-soaked table) Listen, if we’ve got more of a Red Hype goin’ down, maybe we should change the name? Like, Red Square?

Managing Director That’ll just get lumped together with the Reds: Bolsheviks, Lenin, the revolution. . . Fuck that! We’ll stick with White Square. It’s a brand everyone knows.

Assistant Director We just have to redo the song: “The Red Hype is here. . .”

Director “There are so many squares”?

Managing Director Yeah. But we’ll keep the table white.

Director That’ll cost money.

Managing Director We’ll help out. We’ll give you everything you need.

Director And the host?

The managing director raises his hands with a sigh.

Director What. . . again?

Assistant Director (With a reproachful laugh) Who else could we get? Do we have any other options?

Director (Grimacing) No, but maybe. . .

Managing Director It’s not worth it. Time, time.

Director But, at least. . .

Managing Director We have no choice. You know the year we have coming. It’s crawling in like a glacier.

Assistant Director (To the director) What? Are you afraid it’s not going to work out? Get that thought out of your head. We’ve got him by the balls. He’ll do everything he’s supposed to.

Director No, listen, it’s not really about. . .

Managing Director (Interrupts) You will work together. You have no choice.

Director (Disagreeing) No one asked me if I wanted to get partnered up. It’s just like last time, dammit! Why?

Assistant Director Because you have to, old man! You’re a genius. Everyone knows that. We’ll help you. This’ll be the hit of the year.

Managing Director (To the guards) Did you finish wrapping it up?

The guards show him the skin, which has been rolled into a tube.

Managing Director (Takes the skin and sniffs it; puts the two ends of the tube together and hands it to the guard) Hold it like that.

The guard holds it. The managing director takes the clip off his tie and sticks it through the two ends of the tube. The tube becomes a ring.

Managing Director (Puts the tube around the director’s neck) Check it out! Wear that for a little while. For inspiration.

Director (With a tired, ironic laugh) Well-l-l-l tha-a-a-a-nks!

Managing Director I’m off! (Slaps the director on the shoulder and pokes the ring of skin) So beautiful. It suits you. Bring it back to me in a little while. We’ll get a drink.

Everyone except the director leaves the studio. He walks up to the window and opens it. Starts to smoke. Observes the city at night. A light snow falls.

Director The flaying of Marsyas. . . (Laughs and begins to sing an old Russian song) Doubts away, into the night, another. . . (Pauses, smirks) Another bit of madness.

He takes the ring off his neck, sniffs it, and frowns.

Director (Addressing the ring) My old friend. I never raised my voice at you. And you yelled at me so often. A star! (Grins.)

He puts the ring around his arm and begins to spin it around. It spins faster and faster.

Director But, I mean. . . how can I put this . . . generally speaking . . . well . . . how about this: Nothing but gratitude will come out of my mouth. Forever. I’m being . . . honest. No, really. No joke. Thank you for everything. We did good work. We did some quality work. And you were a pro. Always. So . . . White Hype or Red . . . it’s whatever. Whatever, whatever, whatever. The main thing is being a pro. We’re pros. Pro, pro, pro. Whatever, whatever, whatever. Pro, pro, pro. That’s decisive. That, that, that. That, that, that. As such . . . as such . . . personally . . . yes, personally, personally thank you for . . .

The ring flies off his arm and falls out the window.

Director Motherfucker! (Looks out the window, pulls out his iPhone, and makes a call) Yes, Seryozha, go ask the guard to go downstairs right now, just outside to the right of the entrance, on the lawn, he’ll find a kind of ring . . . how should I put this . . . well, it’s made of papier-mâché . . . no, it’s basically folded parchment. They have to find it! They must! They have to look! Tell them it’s the managing director’s ring. His property. We need it for the show. (Leaves the studio with his iPhone in his hand.)

A crow sitting on a telephone pole saw the ring of skin fall from the seventh floor onto the snow-covered lawn. Took off from the pole, glided down, and landed next to the ring. Bent down to the ring and pecked at it several times. Picked up the ring in its beak with some difficulty and flew off with it. Flew over a steel fence and past a parking lot, almost hitting several cars with the ring. Two other crows noticed the first crow, took off, flew after it. Sensing that it was being followed, the crow flapped its wings faster, flying higher. The other crows caught up to it as it flew over an overpass. There was a brief tussle in the air, and the crow dropped the ring. It fell onto the roof of a large semi going over the overpass. The semi got onto the Yaroslavl highway and stayed on it for six hours and eighteen minutes. During this time, the ring moved to the front of the semi, shifting forward slightly every time the driver braked. The semi turned off the highway onto a road, then turned left, right, and left again. During the last turn, the ring of skin flew off the roof and fell into a ditch. Forty-two minutes later, a stray dog found it, picked it up, and ran off with it. When the dog ran across the square and past a shop, it was spotted by Andruykha Smirnov, a cripple everyone called Earwax. He walked through the open door of the shop to buy some bread and then stopped, lit a cigarette, and leaned on his cane. Watching the dog running with the ring of skin between its teeth, he noticed something shiny. Hungover as he was, it seemed to him to be an expensive woman’s watch, right there on the ring. Earwax spat out his cigarette butt, drew back his arm, and threw his cane at the dog. The cane, which was carved from a young ash tree, hit the dog in the legs. The dog yelped, dropped the ring, and rushed off. Earwax walked over, hobbling. He picked up the ring with a grunt. Removed the golden tie clip and brought it to his face.

“Aha . . .

Footsteps rang out behind him. Earwax quickly put the clip into the pocket of his jacket, picked up his cane, and turned around. A big, dirty man, Sasha Losev, walked up to him. Sasha was also there to buy bread.

“What the hell are you doing?” growled Sasha.

“Oh, hey Sashok!” Earwax smiled and turned his hat-covered head in Sashok’s direction. “Look what I got from that mutt!”

He showed Sasha the ring of skin, which was now beginning to straighten out.

“What the hell?” Sasha scowled dismally.

“It’s kind of a . . . sausage, see. It must have come from the fucking factory, but I got hold of it over here!”

“What kind of sausage is that?” Sasha looked at it grimly.

“Uh.” Earwax turned the ring over and sniffed it with his flat nose. “No, you know what this is: sheep gut. That’s right! They fill it with liver. See? Stuffed right into the tube!”

Squinting at the ring with his watery eyes, Sasha pulled a pack of Parliaments and a lighter from the pocket of his jacket.

“When will you pay me back?”

Earwax pressed the ring to his dark gray jacket. “Jesus, Sash! I fucking swear to you, when Ma’s pension comes in, I’m gonna be good for it—100 percent, or, you know what, you can rip the teeth right out of my mouth!”

Sasha silently lit a cigarette. Spat.

“It’s been two months.”

“Sashok, I don’t have shit, I swear. This is what we could scrape together for bread, Ma’s been begging me to go to the store since this morning. We eat potatoes and cabbage. It’s no fun at home right now.”

Sasha waited and blew out a cloud of smoke.

“Here’s how it’s gonna be. If you don’t get it before the holidays, I’m gonna come over on the 31st and break your windows. Your New Year might be a little breezy.”

“Sash, I swear, I won’t fuck you . . .

“I’m gonna fuck you if you don’t get it to me. Fuck you in the freezing cold.”

“I get it, Sash. At least take this . . . tripe. It’s nice. When we kept sheep, Grandma would make tripe soup all the time—delicious! Take it. Take it!”

Earwax stuffed the ring into Sasha’s bag. Without a word Sasha stepped off and walked over to the store. Bought a stale loaf of rye bread and two warm loaves of white bread after waiting in line. Walked home through the village. At home, his wife had almost finished stoking the coals. Sasha put a warm loaf of white bread onto the table, took the ring of skin out of his bag, and handed it to his wife.

“Here.”

“What the hell is this?” His wife looked at it with great suspicion.

“Mutton tripe from the factory. I found . . . Earwax stole it. Or someone brought it to him.”

His wife took the ring, looked at it, and sniffed.

“The bastard still doesn’t have the grand. He swears he’ll have it before the holidays.” Sasha took off his hat and woolen gloves.

His wife put the ring on a little table by the oven along with two pots, a peeled potato, a chunk of lard, and an onion.

“Even Earwax, that loser—even he has friends at the plant. We’ve got no one! God, it sucks . . .” Sasha took his jacket and hung it on a nail in the door. “Seryoga got fired, Sanek ran off. But we’ll find someone, don’t worry.”

“We’ll find, we’ll fi-i-ind!” his wife began to sing in a mocking tone, narrowing lips that were already too thin. “The whole village is filled with sausages, and all we can do is sniff ’em.”

Sasha waved her off with his large hand, sat down at the table, tore off the heel of the warm loaf, and started to eat it. His wife put the potato, the lard, and the onion in a small pot, added some water, salted it, put the lid on, and pushed it into the oven with a large fork.

Straightening back up, she put her hands on her narrow hips.

“And what am I supposed to do with this tripe?”

“I don’t know.”

“It needs to be washed!”

“It’s been washed. It’s all twisted up.”

“There’s some dried blood on it.”

“Len, if it hadn’t been washed, it wouldn’t have been twisted.”

His wife took the ring. Sniffed it again.

“It stinks . . .

“It’s tripe! It’s supposed to stink. It’s nutritious. They even fill it with liver.”

His wife quickly washed the ring in the sink, put it on the cutting board, and cut it into pieces. She put them into a big pot of cabbage soup, put the cast-iron lid back on, picked up the fork, and, with a half-repressed pickup hiccup, pushed it into the oven. She grabbed a long poker and raked the glowing coals over to the pot.

“Give me something to drink and I’ll go,” Sasha said, chewing the last of the heel.

His wife poured him a big mug of tea with two intertwined Soviet and American flags on it, above the phrase summit 1987. He picked up a jar of currant jam, cut a slice of bread, spread some jam onto it, and began to eat while sipping the tea. His wife poured herself some tea, put some jam into it, sipped it, sat down, but immediately stood back up.

“I’ll pack you some food.”

She cut a slice of rye bread, put a piece of lard on it, cut off a piece of a pie filled with the same currant jam, and wrapped it all up in newspaper. She put all this into Sasha’s bag, along with a couple of apples, a little pickle, and a half head of garlic. Sasha glanced at his watch.

“OK, I’m off.”

He started to get up, bumped the table with his heavy body, then straightened up. He put on his jacket and hat, took out a cigarette, put it in his mouth, and lit it.

His wife sipped at her tea, picked up a tin flap that was leaning against the oven, shut the mouth of the oven, stood up on her tiptoes, and put the tin flap over the chimney pipe.

“Will you be back earlier today?”

“I don’t know. We’ll see how it plays out. Today’s a holiday. Two services.”

“Ahhh . . .

With his bag over his shoulder, he went out into the vestibule and opened a closet. Took out an old-looking suitcase, a square panel that had been painted white, four bars that were tied together, and a folding chair. Went out onto the porch, walked down the stairs, and started walking on the snow-dusted ground, puffing his cigarette. The village had already woken up and lit their stoves. Sasha got to the bus stop and glanced at his watch. Four others were standing at the bus stop. He knew two of the men, but he didn’t talk to them, just stood there, turned away, and finished his cigarette. The bus came. Sasha climbed in last with his things, put his suitcase into the aisle, and leaned the white panel, the bars, and the chair against it. He pulled out his travel card and showed it to the driver. The bus wasn’t full. Sasha got off at the fourth stop. There were already cars crowded around the Temple of the Pantaleon all the way out to the road. People were walking into the service, which had started thirty minutes earlier. Sasha walked over to the fence and put his heavy suitcase down onto the asphalt. As always, two beggars sat by the entrance: Kolya, young, one-legged, and Oksana, elderly and pasty white. Not far from Oksana, an old woman, Nastya, was selling dried herbs, jam, and wooden spoons from her stand. It made Sasha happy that no one else was selling anything. Oksana and Kolya greeted him. “Hey,” he muttered. He untied the bars, placed them upright, and connected them together with the steel rods, creating a platform. Placed the white, square panel on the platform. Opened his suitcase. Inside were twenty-six jars of honey, sixteen small ones and ten big ones. Sasha placed them on the panel, shut his suitcase, and unfolded his chair, but didn’t sit down yet. Instead he lit a cigarette and looked around. People were walking. Not one people, but separate individuals. A large number of them had already been in the temple, from which the song of a small choir and the voice of the priest could be heard.

“The old man from Ukhtoma’s not here today,” Sasha thought happily, “That’s good. Maybe he got sick. At least for a few days.”

The old man from Ukhtoma was the main source of competition for Sasha in the honey trade. Sasha had started selling honey at the end of August. That month, Vovka Maltsev and a guy from Dagestan robbed the apiary in Kukoboi. They got away with sixty frames full of honey using the Dagestani guy’s Ford. The Dagestani made an offer to Vovka. The kind of offer that doesn’t come along every day. They got to work immediately after the robbery: they cooked a hundred liters of fake honey using molasses, old honey, and starch, poured it into jars, and put a piece of real honeycomb into every jar, which they’d cut out of the stolen frames. The jars turned out very well. There were a lot of them: 368. The Dagestani guy took half of them, and Vovka got the rest. He hid them in his attic. His wife and mother-in-law first started selling the fake honey in Vladychny, but they already had quite a lot of honey there—real honey, too. They went around to various markets, but it wasn’t much use. They didn’t have a car and couldn’t imagine carrying the jars themselves. Then Vovka ended up in the slammer again, this time for two years. There was no good reason for it: he started insulting a bunch of Azeris in a teahouse, wouldn’t stop, a fight broke out, and someone pulled out a knife. They cut Vovka, but he managed to smash an Azeri’s skull with a bottle. Then, basically the Azeris had an in with the cops and Vovka got put in jail. That was when his wife reached out to Sasha and Lena: Help us move the jars and we’ll split the profits. Lenka immediately refused to sell the jars herself. She wouldn’t have been able to, since she didn’t know how to smile or talk to customers. So Sasha had to learn the trade. He had no choice because they had no money then and never had before. He started out at the markets but soon realized that they were a dead end. Then he moved to the Temple of Pantaleon, a roadside establishment. He set up his stand on Sundays and on holidays. It started out pretty well: he sold forty jars in September. The half-liter jar cost 400 rubles, the small one cost 200. Then, one dark day, on the Feast of the Cross, an old man from Ukhtoma appeared. He rolled up in a green Zhiguli carrying a battery of jars filled with real honey, pollen, beeswax, and propolis covered in eye-catching, printed labels. He put up two tables and spread out his goods. At first, he wanted to set up next to Sasha, but Sasha immediately caught on.

“Find another spot, old man. More money that way.”

“Whatever you say, my dear, whatever you say.”

The old man was little, quick, kind, and a fast talker. He was always around Sasha, casting the younger man’s gloominess and heavy motionlessness in broad relief. He called girls “my darling” and men “my dear.” His first questions made Sasha tense up and freeze. They were about bees, and Sasha didn’t know a damn thing about beekeeping.

“My dear, how was the swarming? Your bees didn’t fly away?”

“Do you make the queen cell yourself or do you buy it at the store?”

“How many times did you feed them?”

“How was their hibernation?”

His questions stung like bees. Sasha had to wave them away like a bear. Fortunately, they were not the first questions he had gotten about these mysterious insects, which were so incomprehensible to him.

“How’s the varroatosis going for you?”one man asked.

“I don’t have anything to complain about yet.” Sasha smiled, thinking that the man was asking about varicose veins, which Sasha’s deceased mother had had a lot of.

“We’re in big trouble in Sheksna. Almost all our hives are infected.”

It turned out he wasn’t talking about varicosis, but varroatosis, a bee sickness. Another time, someone asked whether he used an electric honey extractor, or if he did it by hand. Almost everyone asked what kind of honey he was selling.

“Mixed grass, mixed grass honey,” Sasha blurted out.

After a little while, Sasha thought of a simple lie: his brother tended to the apiary and he just sold the honey. With this shield, he could now defend himself against any and all questions.

After an hour and a half, the service ended, and people came out of the temple. Now it was time to work. Energized by the lard, garlic, bread, and pickled cucumber, Sasha seemed to come to life: he clapped his big, fat hands together, swayed back and forth, stamped his feet, jabbered away.

“Honey, Russian Orthodox honey, you gotta buy it, don’t pass this offer by!”

But the people, as always, walked right by.

“Russian Orthodox honey. Mixed grass honey. Smells like meadows, smells so sweet.”

Even as he said all this, Sasha could not shake his innate gloominess. The old man from Ukhtoma flogged his wares so loudly the whole district must have heard. Sasha could yell loudly and sincerely like that only when he was chasing the neighbors’ goat from his vegetable garden. He had no interest in the people who were now leaving the church, but, logically, he knew that they were the only people who might buy his jars of fake honey. This didn’t help him overcome his gloominess.

“Have some honey, some Russian Orthodox honey.”

A woman and her daughter walked over. Tried it. Walked away. Two women walked over. One tried it. “I’ll take that one there,” she said, buying a small jar. Having made 200, he spread all of the money out between the jars like Lena told him to: for luck. A stout, gray-haired man with a wide, red nose and an unhappy face walked over, tried it. Walked away unhappily. A family walked over. Everyone tried the honey twice and walked away. An old woman walked over and immediately bought a small jar. Then Seryozha, the police officer, walked over.

“How’s it going?”

“It’s going,” Sasha replied.

Sasha paid Seryozha a thousand a month. Seryozha glanced at the jars with his indifferent eyes and walked away.

Because of the holiday, the temple was open all day. People came to light candles and then drove off. Sometimes Sasha would go into the temple and light a candle “for his health,” but he didn’t believe in God. Lenka didn’t believe in God, either, but she told him that “fate exists, so you better sniff out your path in life.” Before the evening service, Sasha ate the pie and the apples and began to feel slightly cold despite the sweaters he wore under his jacket. He went to the temple three times to warm up and to the bushes twice, to relieve himself. He followed the people with his watery eyes, trying to guess how much money they had, what their family circumstances were, and where they lived. These people were so different, but they still somehow resembled one another. How exactly, Sasha couldn’t explain. There was always something incomprehensibly unpleasant about people . . . His thoughts jumped around like fleas from one passerby to the next: he estimated, judged, reasoned, ridiculed, approved, compared. The people passing by forced him to remember other people: his relatives, neighbors, friends from the army or from his childhood in Rybinsk. Back then, life was good, cheerful, and satisfying, his father worked at an electromechanics factory called Magma earning decent wages. Sasha went to sambo class and was also learning to play the accordion. But then, Magma closed and his father got fired. Sasha had to join the army. Came back, got married. His mother died, his father died. And another life began . . . At moments like this, he would invariably begin to think about the old man from Ukhtoma. Why did he have to come here?

“What the fuck?” Sasha muttered, looking at all the people.

What was stopping him from selling his honey in Ukhtoma? What, with a car, he could go anywhere he wanted. Even to Yaroslavl. Even to Moscow. Sasha turned green with envy when he saw someone buy anything from the old man. He clenched his jaw with rage. If Vovka weren’t in prison, he would give him a thousand to pop the old man’s tires. Or just to scare him a little. Doing it himself would be too much. The police were nearby, too. Sasha weighed in at a hundred kilos and could smash the fidgety old man like a fly, but unfortunately it just wasn’t possible.

Right before the evening service, it was starting to get dark. Big flakes of snow fell now and again. Sasha was freezing as he waited for the people to come pouring out of the temple, so he started stomping his boots and walking back and forth in front of the fence. The beggars and Nastya, the old lady, had all left.

At last, they started to come out. Walking, walking. Almost no one walked over to Sasha. Eventually, however, a woman in a fur coat bought a big jar. Sasha did the math in his head: 200 plus 200 plus 400 equals 800. Not bad.

When everyone had left, Sasha started to pack up. Put the jars in his suitcase, took down the white panel, dismantled the platform, tied the bars together, and folded his chair. Picked up everything and shuffled over to the bus stop.


At home, it was warm and smelled like cabbage soup.

“I need a drink, I’m cold as ice!” Sasha said as he walked in.

His wife was silent as she took out a liter bottle of home-brewed potato vodka and poured a glass. Without taking off his hat or his jacket, Sasha drank it in one gulp, took a piece of rye bread from the table, brought it to his nose, sniffed it loudly, salted it, and ate it.

“So, how was it?” Lena looked straight at him with her black, endlessly serious eyes.

“Two little ones, one big one.”

“Well, thank God. Sit down, everything’s ready. I’ve been waiting for you.”

Sasha took off his hat and his jacket and one of his sweaters, pulled off his felt boots, put on his slippers, and sat down at the table. Lena set out one bowl with pickled cucumbers, another with sauerkraut, and a third with sliced lard. They drank half a glass and started to eat. Lena served the cabbage soup. In the sea of the dark cabbage, they could see pale, swollen pieces of curled-up skin.

“There’s no sour cream,” his wife announced.

“Well, what the hell.”

Sasha picked up his favorite wooden spoon and started to eat the cabbage soup. Lena also started to eat. Sasha ate greedily. He was hungry. Lena chewed the skin.

“Look at that . . . the tripe’s soft . . .

“Well well . . .” Sasha muttered reproachfully. “And you were asking what to do with it . . .

“It softened up in the soup . . .

“Nutritious . . .

Sasha continued chewing.

His face became even gloomier as he ate, as if he were eating in order to punish someone. His front teeth were still strong, though discolored by smoking. One had gotten chipped when Sasha was young. He was riding Alyoshkin’s moped and flew off it into the corner of a fence. He also had problems with his molars. Sasha lost his first tooth when he was in tenth grade, when his whole cheek swelled up from an abscess. The tooth was ruined, the dentist didn’t bother trying to save it and just pulled it out. He lost three more teeth in the army: his periosteum got inflamed because of bad sleep, bad food, and the cold in the barracks. Because of this, he got to spend some time in a warm hospital. After that, Sasha had problems with two more teeth. They had to pull one of them out. Аfter selling the apartment in Rybinsk, he got a little money and had two bridges put in. Six years later, the tooth under the left bridge got inflamed. They removed the bridge and wanted to do some work on the tooth, but Sasha didn’t have enough money. They pulled out the tooth. He still had the right bridge. Now Sasha chewed everything on the right.

Lena continued chewing.

When she ate, her face lost its dismal seriousness, relaxed, and became attractive. While chewing she often moaned as if she were preparing to sing. But she didn’t know how to sing. Lena’s teeth were reasonably good, even though she rarely brushed them. She’d only had three teeth removed in her life: a baby tooth in third grade and two upper teeth that were growing in the wrong places when she was 20.

They finished the cabbage soup. Sasha asked for seconds and Lena gave him some, adding potatoes cooked with lard and onions to the soup. Sasha drank another half glass. He started to eat the cabbage soup and potatoes. Picked up the remote for their small television, which was sitting on their small refrigerator. Pressed the red button.

The white square of the screen was filled with static. Sasha flipped through the channels. Stopped on a scene from the movie Secret Agent. There was a bald traitor standing in front of an SS Gruppenführer. They were listening to the radio, from which a Russian song was playing.

“The music’s not bad, huh?” the Gruppenführer asked.

“I don’t like Russian music, Mr. General,” the bald man answered.

“What kind of music do you like?”

“I’m Ukrainian, Mr. General. Moscow has its songs, we have our own.”

The frame froze and the round-faced, catlike host of the show walked into the frame, gesticulating energetically.

“That’s where it all began! These are the roots of modern Ukrofascism!”

“Sash, I’m sick of the war,” Lena said with a frown.

Sasha changed the channel. A tanned, beautifully dressed host made an inviting gesture with his hands and began to speak. He stood in the middle of a large, bright studio.

“Hello, and welcome to White Square! Today we’re going to talk about Russia. Russia ‘shall be unknowable to foreign sages for centuries and centuries,’ as we sing in an old song. The truth is that our great, fantastical, and, in many ways, unpredictable country continues to prompt questions not only amongforeign sagesthat’s putting it gentlybut also among our own countrymen. Recently I spoke to an old friendan Orthodox man, a patriot, an intellectual deeply familiar with our history and culture. And yet this man confessed that after living in Russia for forty-odd years he still didn’t understand exactly what our country was. Can you imagine? Now, we’re not here to discuss our political system. Every kindergartner knows that Russia is a federal, democratic state, with a president and a parliament. Instead what we ask is: What is our image of the country? What does it look like to people? What associations does it carry? Everyone has their own image of Russia. I’m sure that many of these images line up with what others have in mind. Some may not. And no, I’m not just talking about what the fifth column thinks. In fact this diversity simply shows yet again, in all of its ebbs and flows, the deep mysteriousness of Russia. Showsebbs and flows! I’m speaking in rhyme, that’s how important our topic is today! Let’s really talk about this. Today, as always, four guests are sitting around our square, white table. You probably recognize some of them. But you know our rule on White Square: first names and professions only. No ranks, positions, or uniforms. And so: Irina is a municipal employee, Yuri is a military man, Anton is a theater director, and Pavel is a businessman. Respected guests of the program, I have one question for all of you: What do you think Russia looks like? Please!”

All movement stops. Everyone in the studio freezes, as if the frame were frozen. Alex, the protagonist of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, walks into the studio. He is wearing a tight white suit and black boots, holding a cane in his hand. Two of his droogs follow him in. They’re dressed in the same way.

Alex Dooby doo?

Droog 1 Dooby doo!

Droog 2 Dooby doo!

Alex Dooby dooby doo?

DROOG 1, Droog 2 Dooby dooby doo!

Alex Dooby dooby dooby doo?

DROOG 1, Droog 2 Dooby dooby dooby doo!

Alex (Tapping the white table with his cane) What’s this?

Droog 1 It’s moloko vellocet.

Droog 2 Yeah, Alex, it’s moloko vellocet.

Alex Moloko vellocet?

DROOG 1, Droog 2 Moloko vellocet!

Alex (After a pause) My dear, old, darling droogs. Do you take me for a gloopy devotchka?

Droog 1 No, Alex.

Droog 2 What do you mean, Alex? You’re not a gloopy devotchka!

Droog 1 You’re our droog and our leader.

Droog 2 Yeah, Alex! Our droog and our leader.

Alex Does that mean you did everything horrorshow?

Droog 1 We did everything horrorshow, Alex.

Droog 2 We did everything, absolutely everything, absolutely horrorshow, brother!

Alex Horrorshow?

DROOG 1, Droog 2 Horrorshow!

Alex smiles, then sharply whacks both of his droogs in the codpiece with his cane. The droogs fall writhing onto the floor.

Alex No, you didn’t do everything horrorshow, droogs. But you must. It’s necessary. To do everything in the horrorshow way.

Walking backward, Alex starts to explore the White Square pavilion. Having left the studio, he enters Sasha and Lena’s house, then finds himself outside the Temple of Pantaleon, on the bus, in Sasha and Lena’s house once again, and, finally, in the square by the store. The dog running across the square drops the ring of skin from his mouth after being hit by Earwax’s cane. Alex picks up the ring, puts it on his cane, and, beginning to twirl the ring, leaves the White Square pavilion. A giant, shining space spreads out before him, in which the names of many different pavilions are lit up in red. Whistling the melody to “Singin’ in the Rain” and twirling the ring around his cane, Alex quickly moves through the shining space. A pavilion catches his eye: “Victory Day.” He begins walking toward it. He ends up on Red Square. It’s May: blue sky, sun. The parade is ready to go, the frame is frozen. Two pigeons are frozen in flight over the square. Near the State Historical Museum, rows of convicts are standing wrapped in their jackets, arranged behind wheelbarrows. Near the first column of men, machine gunners stand in wooden watchtowers. Alex walks through the empty square toward the gray column of convicts. His boots knock on the pavement, and the sound rings out over the frozen square. In front of Lenin’s Mausoleum, zoomorphs are standing in their bright, summer costumes, dressed as hyenas, crocodiles, and rhinoceroses. Alex takes the ring of skin off his cane, winds up, and throws it at the side of the mausoleum. The ring flies through the spring air, its golden hairs shining in the sun, before falling onto a rhinoceros’s horn and dangling from it. Continuing on, Alex whistles and applauds himself, putting his cane under his arm. He walks up to the first row of the column. Convicts stand in front of him. They’re of various ages, also dressed in jackets of various ages, also pushing wheelbarrows of various ages. There’s clothing in the wheelbarrows, and books, religious objects, radio equipment, toys, dishes, glasses, hats, shoes, bed linens, sculptures, paintings, locksmith and carpentry tools, musical instruments . . . Alex whistles as he paces around inspecting the unmoving convicts, tapping his cane on their wheelbarrows, examining their contents. Then, he steps forward, turns his back on the convicts, and makes a precise movement with his cane. The convicts start moving. They pull air into their lungs and start to sing.

“It’s Victory Da-a-a-ay!”

The column of men begins to move. The convicts sing in their gloomy voices, pushing their wheelbarrows. Alex walks at the front of the column, throwing his cane from hand to hand and dancing in time with the convicts’ song. The zoomorphs standing by the mausoleum soon join the parade.

—Translated from the Russian by Max Lawton

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