Man in the Drawer

A soft shalom I thought I heard, but considering the Slavic cast of the driver’s face, it seemed unlikely. He had been eyeing me in the rearview mirror since I had stepped into his taxi, and to tell the truth, I had momentary apprehensions. I’m forty-four and have recently lost weight but not, I admit, nervousness. It’s my American clothes I thought at first, one is a recognizable stranger. Unless he was tailing me to begin with, but how could that be if it was a passing cab I had hailed myself?

He had picked me up in his noisy Volga of ancient vintage on the Lenin Hills, where I had been wandering all afternoon in and around Moscow University. Finally I had had enough of sight-seeing, and when I saw the cab, hallooed and waved both arms. The driver, cruising in a hurry, had stopped, you might say, on a kopek, as though I were someone he was dying to give a ride to; maybe somebody he had mistaken for a friend, whom, considering my recent experiences in Kiev, I wouldn’t mind being mistaken for.

From the first minute our eyes were caught in a developing recognition although we were complete strangers. I knew nobody in Moscow except an Intourist girl or two. In the rectangular mirror his face seemed globular, the eyes small but canny — they probed, tugged, doubted, seemed to beg to know — give him a word and he’d be grateful, though why and for what cause he didn’t say; then, as if the whole thing wearied him insufferably, he pretended no further interest.

Serves him right, I thought, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing if he paid a little attention to the road once in a while or we’ll never get where we’re going, wherever that is. I realized I hadn’t said because I wasn’t sure myself — anywhere but back to the Metropole just yet. It was one of those days I couldn’t stand my hotel room.

“Shalom!” he said finally out loud. It came forth like a declaration of faith.

“Shalom to you.” So it was what I had heard, who would have thought so? We both relaxed, looking at opposite sides of the street.

The taxi driver sat in his shirt sleeves on a cool June day, not more than fifty-five Fahrenheit. He was a man in his thirties who looked as if what he ate didn’t fully feed him — in afterthought a discontented type, his face on the worn side; not bad-looking even though the head seemed pressed a bit flat by somebody’s heavy hand although protected by a mat of thick uncombed hair. His face, as I said, veered to Slavic: bony, broad cheekbones tapering to sensitive chin; but he sported a longish nose and distinctive larynx on a slender hairy neck, a mixed type, you might say. At any rate, the shalom had seemed to change his appearance, even of the probing eyes. He was dissatisfied for certain this fine June day — his lot, fate, himself, what? Also a sort of indigenous sadness hung on him, God knows from where, and he didn’t mind if who he was was visible; not everyone could do that or wanted to. This one showed himself. Not too prosperous, I’d say, yet no underground man. He sat firm in his seat, all of him driving, perhaps a little frantically. I have an experienced eye for such details.

A Story by Bernard Malamud

“Israeli?” he finally asked.

“Amerikansky.” I know no Russian, just a few polite words.

He dug into his pocket for a thin pack of cigarettes and swung his hairy arm back, the Volga swerving to avoid a truck making a turn.

“Take care!”

I was thrown sideways, no apologies. Extracting a Bulgarian cigarette I wasn’t eager to smoke — too strong— I handed him his pack. I was considering offering my prosperous American pack in return but didn’t want to affront him.

“Feliks Levitansky,” he said. “How do you do? I am the taxi driver.” His accent was strong, verging to fruity but redeemed by fluency of tongue.

“Ah, you speak English? I sort of thought so.”

“My profession is translator — English, French.” He shrugged sideways.

“Howard Harvitz is my name. I’m here for a short vacation, about three weeks. My wife died not so long ago and I’m traveling partly to relieve my mind.”

My voice caught, but then I went on to say that if I could manage to dig up some material for a magazine article or two, so much the better.

In sympathy Levitansky raised both hands from the wheel.

“Please watch out!”

“Horovitz?” he asked.

I spelled it for him. “Frankly, it was Harris after I entered college, but I changed it back recently. My father had it legally changed after I graduated from high school. He was a doctor, a practical sort.”

“You don’t look to me Jewish.”

“Not particularly, I admit.”

After a minute he asked, “For which reason?”

“For which reason what?”

“Why you changed back your name?”

“I had a crisis in my life.”

“Existential? Economic?”

“To tell the truth I changed it back after my wife died.”

“What is the significance?”

“The significance is that I am closer to my true self.”

The driver popped a match with his thumbnail and lit his cigarette.

“I am marginal Jew,” he said, “although my father—Avrahm Isaakovich Levitansky—was Jewish. Because my mother was gentile woman I was given choice, but she insisted me to register for internal passport with notation of Jewish nationality in respect for my father. I did this.”

“You don’t say?”

“My father died in my childhood. I was rised — raised? — to respect Jewish people and religion, but I went my own way. I am atheist. This is inevitable.”

“You mean Soviet life?”

Levitansky did not reply, smoked, as I grew embarrassed at my question. I looked around to see if I knew where we were. In afterthought he asked, “To which destination?”

I said, still on the former subject, that I had been a reluctant Jew myself, one might say. “My mother and father were thoroughly assimilated.”

“By their choice?”

“Of course by their choice.”

“Do you wish,” he then asked, “to visit Central Synagogue on Arkhipova Street? Very interesting experience.”

“Not just now,” I said, “but take me to the Chekhov Museum on Sadovaya Kudrinskaya.”

At that the driver, sighing, seemed to take heart.

ROSE, I said to myself, you’re really gone.

I blew my nose. After her death I had planned to visit the Soviet Union but couldn’t get myself to move. I’m a slow man after a blow; though I confess I’ve never been one for making up his mind in a hurry, at least not on important things. Eight months later, when I was more or less packing, I felt that some of the relief I was looking for was, also, from the necessity of making an unexpected important personal decision. Out of loneliness I had begun to see my former wife, Lillian, in the spring, and before long, since she had remained unmarried and attractive, to my surprise — these things can slip from one sentence to another before you know what’s going on — there was some hesitant talk of remarriage. In which case we could turn the Russian trip into a sort of honeymoon — I won’t say second because we hadn’t had much of a first. In the end, since our lives had been so frankly complicated — hard on each other — I found it impossible to make up my mind, though Lillian, I give her credit, seemed to be willing to take the chance. My feelings were so difficult to define to myself, I decided to decide nothing for sure. Lillian, who is a forthright type with a mind like a lawyer’s, asked me if I was cooling off to the idea, and I told her that since the death of my wife I had been examining my life and needed more time to see where I stood. “Still?” she said, meaning the self-searching, and implying, I thought, forever. All I could answer was, “Still,” and then, in anger, “forever.” I warned myself afterward: stay out of any more complicated entanglements.

Anyway, that almost killed it. It wasn’t a particularly happy evening, though it had its moments, you might say. I had once been deeply in love with Lillian. I figured then that a change of scene, maybe a month abroad, would be helpful. I had for a long time wanted to visit the U.S.S.R., and taking time to be alone, and, I hoped, at ease to think things through, might give the trip an additional value.

So I was surprised, when my visa was granted, though not too surprised, that my anticipation was by now blunted and I was experiencing uneasiness. I blamed it on a dread of traveling that sometimes hits me before long trips, that I have to make my peace with before I can move. Will I get there? Will I get lost? Maybe a war breaks out, and I’m surrounded by enemies on all sides. To be frank, though I’ve resisted the idea, I consider myself an anxious man, which, when I try to explain it to myself, means being this minute halfway into the next. I sit still in a hurry, worry uselessly about the future, and carry the burden of an overripe conscience.

I realized that what troubled me about going into Russia were those stories in the papers of some tourist or casual traveler in this or that Soviet city, who is suddenly grabbed by the secret police on charges of spying, “illegal economic activity,” “hooliganism,” or whatnot. This poor guy, like somebody from Sudbury, Mass., is held incommunicado until he confesses, and then is sentenced to a prison camp in the wilds of Siberia. After I got my visa I sometimes had fantasies of a stranger shoving a fat envelope of papers into my list and then arresting me as I was reading them — of course for spying. What would I do in that case? I think I would pitch the envelope into the street, crying out, “Don’t try that one on me, I can’t even read Russian,” and walk away with dignity, hoping that would freeze them in their tracks. A man in danger, if he’s walking away from it, seems indifferent, innocent. At least to himself; but then in my mind I hear the sound of footsteps coming after me, and since my reveries tend to the rational, two KGB men grab me, shove both my arms against my back, and make the arrest. Not for littering the streets, as I hope might be the case, but for “attempting to dispose of certain incriminating documents,” a fact it’s difficult to deny.

I see Harvitz shouting, squirming, kicking his captors, till his mouth is shut by somebody’s stinking palm, and he is dragged by superior force, not to mention a blackjack blow on the cranium, into the inevitable black Zis that I’ve read about and seen on movie screens.

The cold war is a frightening business, though I suppose for some more than others. I’ve sometimes wished spying had reached such a pitch of perfection that both the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. knew everything there is to know about the other, and having sensibly exchanged this information by trading computers that keep facts up to date, let each other alone thereafter. That ruins the spying business; there’s that much more sanity in the world, and for a man like me, the thought of a trip to the Soviet Union is pure pleasure.

Right away, at the Kiev airport, I had a sort of fright, after flying in from Paris on a mid-June afternoon. A customs official confiscated from my suitcase five copies of Visible Secrets, a poetry anthology for high school students I had edited some years ago, which I had brought along to give away to Russians I met who might be interested in American poetry. I was asked to sign a document the official had slowly written out in Cyrillic except that Visible Secrets was printed in English, with “secrets” underlined. The uniformed customs officer, a heavyset man with a layer of limp hair on a small head and red stars on his shoulders, said that the paper I was required to sign stated I understood it was not permitted to bring five copies of a foreign book into the Soviet Union, but I would get my property back anyway at the Moscow airport when I left the country. I worried that I oughtn’t to sign but was urged to by my lady Intourist guide, a bleached blonde with wobbly high heels, whose looks and good humor kept me more or less calm, though my clothes were frankly steaming. She said it was a matter of no great importance and advised me to write my signature because it was delaying our departure to the Dnipro Hotel.

At that point I asked what would happen if I willingly parted with the books, no longer claimed them as my property. The Intouristka inquired of the customs man, who answered calmly, earnestly, and at great length.

“He says,” she said, “that the Soviet Union will not take away from a foreign visitor his legal property.”

Since I had only four days in the city and time was going fast, faster than usual, I reluctantly signed the paper plus four carbons — one for each book? — and was given a copy, which I filed in my billfold.

Despite this incident — it had its comic side — my stay in Kiev, in spite of the loneliness I usually feel my first few days in a strange city, went quickly and interestingly. In the mornings I was driven around in a private car on guided tours of the hilly, broad-avenued, green-leaved city, whose colors reminded me of a subdued Rome. But in the afternoons I wandered around alone. I would start by taking a bus or streetcar, riding a few kilometers, then getting off to walk within a particular neighborhood. Once I walked into a peasants’ market where collective farmers and country people in beards and boots out of a nineteenth-century Russian novel sold their produce to city people. I thought I must write about this to Rose; I meant, of course, Lillian. Another time, in a deserted street when I happened to think of the customs receipt in my billfold, I turned in my tracks to see if I was being followed. I wasn’t, but enjoyed the adventure.

An experience I didn’t appreciate so much was getting lost one late afternoon several kilometers above a boathouse on the Dnieper. I was walking along the riverbank enjoying the sight of the boats and island beaches, and before I knew it, was a good distance from the hotel and eager to get back because I was hungry. I didn’t feel like retracing my route on foot — too much tourism in three days — so I thought of a taxi or maybe an autobus that might be going in the general direction I had come from. Nothing doing, though I searched on some of the inner avenues for half an hour. I tried approaching a few passersby whom I addressed in English, or pidgin-German, and occasionally trying “pardonnez-moi“; but the effect was apparently to embarrass them. One young woman ran from me a few steps before she began to walk again. I stepped into an oculist’s shop to ask advice of a professional-looking older woman, wearing pincenez, a hairnet, and white smock. When I spoke in English, after momentary amazement her face froze, and she turned her back on me. Hastily thumbing through my guidebook to the phonetic expressions in Russian, I asked, “Gdye hotel?” adding “Dnipro?” To that she answered, “Nyet.” “Taxi?” I asked. “Nyet,” this time clapping a hand to her heaving bosom. I figured I’d better leave. Though frustrated, annoyed, I spoke to two men passing by, one of whom, the minute he heard my first word, walked on quickly, his eyes aimed straight ahead, the other indicating by gestures that he was deaf and dumb. On impulse I tried him in halting Yiddish that my grandfather had long ago taught me, and was then directed, in an undertone in the same language, to a nearby bus stop.

As I was unlocking the door to my room, thinking this was a story I would be telling friends all autumn, my phone was ringing. It was a woman’s voice. I understood “Gospodin Garvitz” and one or two other words as she spoke at length in musical Russian. In fact, her voice was like a singer’s. Though I couldn’t get the gist of her remarks, I had this sudden vivid reverie, you might call it, of walking with a pretty Russian girl in a birchwood or thereabouts, coming out on the other side in a field that sloped to the water, and then rowing her around on a small lake. It was a very peaceful business. That was the general picture; but when she was done talking, whatever I had to say I said in English, and she slowly hung up.

The next morning after breakfast, she, or someone who sounded like her — I recognized the contralto quality — called again.

“If you could understand English,” I said, “or maybe a little German or French—even Yiddish, if you happen to know it — we’d get along fine. But not in Russian, I’m afraid. Nyet Russki. I’d be glad to meet you for lunch, or tea if you like; so if you get the drift of these remarks why don’t you say da? Then dial the English interpreter on extension 37. She could tell me what’s what, and we can meet at your convenience.”

I had the impression she was listening with both ears but after a while the phone hung silent in my hand. I wondered where she had got my name, and whether someone was testing me to find out if I did or didn’t speak Russian. I honestly did not.

Afterward I wrote a short airmail letter to Lillian, telling her I would be leaving for Moscow via Aeroflot, tomorrow at 4 P.M., and I intended to stay there for two weeks, with a break of maybe three or four days in Leningrad, at the Astoria Hotel. I wrote down the exact dates and later mailed the letter in a box some distance from the hotel, whatever good that did. I hoped Lillian would get it in time to reach me by return mail before I left the Soviet Union. To tell the truth, I felt uneasy all day.

But the next morning my mood had changed, and as I was standing at the railing in a park above the Dnieper, looking at the buildings going up across the river in what had once been steppeland, I had an expansive feeling. The vast construction I beheld — it was as though two or three scattered cities were rising out of the earth — astonished me. This sort of thing was going on all over Russia — halfway around the world — and when I considered what it meant in terms of sheer labor, capital goods, plain morale I was then and there convinced that the Soviet Union would never willingly provoke a war, nuclear or otherwise, with the United States. Neither would America, in its right mind, with the Soviet Union.

For the first time since I had come to Russia, I felt safe and secure and enjoyed there, at the breezy railing above the Dnieper, a rare few minutes of euphoria.

WHY is it that the most interesting architecture is from Czarist times I asked myself, and if I’m not mistaken Levitansky quivered, no doubt a coincidence. Unless I had spoken to myself aloud which I sometimes do; I decided I hadn’t. We were on our way to the museum, hitting a fast eighty kilometers, which translated to fifty miles an hour was not too bad because traffic was sparse.

“What do you think of my country, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics?” the driver inquired, turning his head a half circle to see where I was.

“Please watch where we’re going.”

“Don’t be nervous, I drive now for years.”

“I don’t care for needless risks.”

Then I said I was impressed by much I had seen. It was obviously a great country.

Levitansky’s face appeared in the mirror globularly smiling, his dark teeth eroded. The smile seemed to emerge from within the mouth. Now that he had revealed his half-Jewish background I had the impression he looked more Jewish than Slavic, and possibly more dissatisfied than I had thought.

“Also our system — Communism?”

I answered carefully, not wanting to give offense. “I’ll be perfectly honest. I’ve seen some unusual things here — even inspiring — but my personal taste is for more individual freedom than people seem to have here. America has its serious faults but at least we’re privileged to criticize, if you know what I mean. My father used to say, ‘You can’t beat the Bill of Rights.’ It’s an open society, which means freedom of choice, at least in theory.”

“Communism is altogether better system,” Levitansky replied calmly after a minute, “although is not in present stage totally realized. In present stage” — he gulped for air, swallowed, and did not finish the thought. Instead he said, “Our revolution was magnificent holy event. I love early Soviet history, excitement of Communist idealism, and victory over bourgeois and imperialist forces. Overnight was lifted up — uplifted — the whole suffering Russian masses. It was born a life of new possibilities for all in society. Pasternak called this ‘splendid surgery.’ Evgeny Zamyatin spoke thus: ‘The revolution consumes the earth with the fire but then is born a new life.’”

I didn’t argue, each to his own revolution.

“You told before,” said Levitansky, glancing at me again in the mirror, “that you wish to write articles of your visit. Political or not political?”

“I don’t write on politics although interested in it. What I have in my mind is something on the literary museums of Moscow for an American travel magazine. That’s the sort of thing 1 do. I’m a free-lance writer.” I laughed a little apologetically. It’s strange how stresses shift when you’re in another country.

Levitansky politely joined in the laugh, stopping in midcourse. “1 wish to be certain, what is freelance writer?”

“Well, an editor might propose an article, and I either accept the idea or I don’t. Or I can write about something that happens to interest me and take my chances I can sell it. Sometimes I don’t, and that’s so much down the drain financially. What I like about it is I am my own boss. I also edit a bit. I’ve done anthologies of poetry and essays, both for high school kids.”

“We have here free-lance. I am also a writer,” Levitansky said solemnly.

“You don’t say? You mean as a translator?”

“Translation is my profession, but I am also original writer.”

“Then you do three things — write, translate, and drive this cab?”

“The taxi is not my true work.”

“Are you translating anything now?”

The driver cleared his throat. “In present time I have no translation project.”

“What sort of thing do you write?”

“I write stories.”

“Is that so? What kind, if I might ask?”

“I will tell you what kind — little ones — short stories imagined from life.”

“Have you published any?”

He seemed about to turn around to look me in the eye but reached instead into his shirt pocket. I offered my American pack. He shook out a cigarette and lit it, exhaling slowly.

“A few pieces but not recently. To tell the truth” — he sighed — “I write for the drawer. Like Isaac Babel, ‘I am master of the genre of silence.’ ”

“I’ve heard the expression,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“The mice should read and criticize,” Levitansky said bitterly. “This what they don’t eat they make their drops — droppings? — on. This is perfect criticism.”

“I’m sorry about that.”

“We arrive now to Chekhov Museum.”

I leaned forward to pay him and made the impulsive mistake of adding a one-ruble tip. He was immediately angered. “I am Soviet citizen.” He forcibly returned the ruble.

“Call it a thoughtless error,” I apologized. “No harm meant.”

“Hiroshima! Nagasaki!” he taunted as the Volga took off in a cloud of smoke. “Aggressor against poor people of Vietnam!”

“None of that is any of my doing!” I called after him.

AN HOUR and a half later, after I had signed the guest book and was leaving the museum, I saw someone standing, smoking, under a linden tree across the street. Nearby was a parked taxi. We stared at each other — I wasn’t certain at first who it was but Levitansky nodded amiably to me, calling “Welcome! Welcome!” He waved an arm, smiling open mouthed. He had combed his thick hair and was now wearing a loose dark suit coat over his Lieless white shirt, and yards of baggy pants. His socks, striped red-white-and-blue, you could see under his sandals.

I am forgiven, I thought. “Welcome to you,” I said, crossing the street.

“How did you enjoy Chekhov Museum?”

“I did indeed. I’ve made a lot of notes. You know what they have there? They have one of his black fedoras and also his pince-nez that you see in pictures of him. Awfully moving.”

Levitansky wiped one eye, to my surprise. He seemed not the same man, at any rate somewhat modified. It’s funny, you find out a few personal facts about a stranger and he changes as he speaks. The taxi driver is now a writer, even if part-time. Anyway that’s my dominant impression.

“Excuse me my former anger,” Levitansky said. “Now is not for me the best of times. ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ ” he quoted, smiling sadly.

“So long as you pardon my unintentional blunder. Are you perhaps free to drive me to the Metropole, or are you here by coincidence?”

I looked around to see if anyone was coming out of the museum.

“If you wish to engage me I will drive you, but at first I will show you something — how do you say? — of interest?”

He reached through the open front window of the taxi and brought forth a Hat package wrapped in brown paper tied with string.

“Stories which I wrote.”

“I don’t read Russian,” I said quickly.

“My wife has translated of them, four. She is not by her profession a translator, although her English is advanced and sensitive. She has been for two years in England for Soviet Purchasing Commission. We became acquainted in university. I prefer not to translate my own stories because I do not translate so well Russian into English although I translate beautifully the opposite. Also I will not force myself—it is like self-imitation. Perhaps the stories are a little awkward in English — also my wife admits this — but at least you can read and form opinion.”

He offered me the package as if it were a bouquet of spring flowers. I thought to myself, can it be some sort of trick? Are they checking up on me because I signed that damned document at the Kiev airport, five copies no less?

Levitansky seemed to read my mind. “It is purely stories.”

He bit the string in two, and laying the package on the fender of the Volga, unpeeled the wrapping. There were four stories, clipped separately, typed on long sheets of thin blue paper. I took one Levitansky handed me and scanned the top page — it seemed a story — then I flipped through the other pages and handed the manuscript back. “I’m not much of a critic of stories.”

“I don’t seek a critic. I seek for reader of literary experience and taste. If you have redacted books of poems and also essays, you will be able to judge literary qualities of my stories. Please, I request that you will read them.”

After a long minute I heard myself say, “Well I might at that.” I didn’t recognize the voice and could hardly understand why I was saying it. You might say I spoke apart from myself, with a reluctance that either he didn’t recognize or didn’t care to acknowledge.

“If you respect — if you approve my stories, perhaps you will be able to arrange for publication in Paris or either London?” His large larynx wobbled nervously.

I stared at the man. “I don’t happen to be going to Paris, and I’ll be in London only between planes to the U.S.A.”

“In this event, perhaps you will show to your publisher, and he will publish my work in America?” Levitansky was now visibly miserable.

“In America?” I said, raising my voice in disbelief.

For the first time he gazed around cautiously before replying.

“If you will be so kind to show them to publisher of your books — is he reliable publisher? — perhaps he will also wish to put out volume of my stories? I will make contract whatever he will like. Money, if I could get, is not an ideal.”

“What volume are you talking about?”

He said that from thirty stories he had written he had chosen eighteen, of which these four were a sample. “Unfortunately more are not now translated. My wife is biochemist assistant and works long hours in laboratory. I am sure your publisher will enjoy to read these. It will depend on your opinion.”

Either the man has a fantastic imagination or he’s out of his right mind, I thought. “I wouldn’t want to get myself involved in smuggling a Russian manuscript out of Russia.”

“I have informed you that my manuscript is only made-up stories.”

“That may be, but it’s still a chancy enterprise. I’d be taking chances I have no particular desire to take, to be frank.”

“At least if you will read,” he sighed.

I took the stories again and thumbed slowly through each. What I was looking for I couldn’t say: maybe a booby trap? Should I or shouldn’t I? I thought. Why should I?

He handed me the wrapping paper, and I rolled up the stories in it. The quicker I read them, the quicker I’ve read them. I got into the cab.

“As I said, I’m at the Metropole,” I told him. “Come by tonight about nine o’clock, and I’ll give you my opinion for what it’s worth. But I’m afraid I’ll have to limit it to that, Mr. Levitansky, without further obligation or expectations, or it’s no deal. My room number is 538.”

“Tonight?—so soon?” he said, scratching both palms. “You must read with care so you will realize the art.”

“Tomorrow night, then. I’d rather not have them around in my room longer than that.”

Levitansky agreed. Whistling softly through his eroded teeth, he drove me carefully to the Metropole.

That night, sipping vodka from a drinking glass, at first reluctantly I read Levitansky’s stories. They were simply and strongly written—I can’t say 1 was surprised, I sort of expected it — and not badly translated; in fact the translation read better then I had been led to think although there were of course gaffes here and there, odd constructions, ill-fitting words surrounded by question marks, taken, I suppose, from a thesaurus. And the stories, short tales dealing—somewhat to my surprise — mostly with Jews and you might say their problems, were good, really moving. The situation they revealed wasn’t news to me: I’m a careful reader of the New York Times. But the stories weren’t written to complain, nothing of the kind. What they had to say was achieved as form, no telling “the dancer from the dance.” I finished reading, poured myself another glass of potato potion — I was beginning to feel high, with occasional thoughts of wondering why I was putting so much away— just relaxing, I guess. I then reread the stories with a sense of growing admiration for Levitansky. I had the feeling he was no ordinary man. At first I felt excited, then depressed, as if I had been let in on a secret I didn’t want to know.

It’s a hard life here for a fiction writer, I thought.

Afterward, having the stories around began to make me uneasy. In one of them a Russian writer starts to burn his stories in the kitchen sink. But nobody had burned these. I thought to myself, if I’m caught with them in my possession, considering what they indicate about conditions here, there’s no question I’d be in trouble. I wish 1 had insisted that Levitansky come back for them tonight.

There was a solid rap on the door. I felt as though I had risen a good few inches out of my seat. It was, after a while, Levitansky.

“Out of the question,” I said, thrusting the stories at him. “Absolutely out of the question!”

THE next night we sat facing each other over cognac in the writer’s small, book-crowded study. He was dignified, at first haughty, wounded, hardly masking his impatience. I wasn’t myself exactly comfortable.

I had come out of courtesy and other considerations, I guess; principally a sense of dissatisfaction I couldn’t exactly define, except it tied up in my mind with who I was and wanted to be, issues that disturb me, to say the least, because they sometimes compel me to get involved in ways I don’t want to get involved, always a dangerous business.

Levitansky, the taxi driver rattling around in his Volga-Pegasus and amateur trying to palm off a half-ass manuscript, had faded in my mind, and I saw him simply as a serious Soviet writer with publishing problems. What can I do for him? I thought. Why should I?

“I didn’t express what was on my mind last night,” I apologized. “You sort of caught me by surprise I’m sorry to say.”

Levitansky was scratching each hand with the fingers of the other. “How did you acquire my address?”

I reached into my pocket for a wad of folded brown wrapping paper. “It’s right on this — Novo Ostapovskaya Street, 488, Flat 59. I took a cab.”

“I had forgotten this.”

Maybe, I thought.

Still, I had practically had to put my foot in the door to get in. Levitansky’s wife had answered my uncertain knock, her eyes uneasily worried, which I took to be the expression she lived with. The eyes were astonished to behold a stranger, and outright hostile once I had inquired in English for her husband. I felt, as in Kiev, that my native tongue had become my enemy.

“Have you not the wrong apartment?”

“I hope not. Not if Mr. Levitansky lives here. I came to see him about his — er — manuscript.”

Her eyes darkened as her face blanched. Ten seconds later I was in the flat, the door shut tightly behind me.

“Levitansky!” she summoned him. It had a reluctant quality: come but don’t come.

He appeared at once in apparently the same shirt, pants, tri-colored socks. There was at first pretendboredom in a tense, tired face. He could not, however, conceal excitement, his lit eyes roving, returning, roving.

“Oh, ho,” Levitansky said, whatever it meant.

My God, I thought, has he been expecting me?

“I came to talk to you for a few minutes, if you don’t mind,” I said. “I want to say what I really think of your stories that you kindly let me read.”

He curtly said something in Russian to his wife, and she snapped an answer back. “I wish to introduce my wife, Irina Filipovna Levitansky, biochemist. She is patient although not a saint.”

She smiled tentatively, an attractive woman about twenty-eight, a little on the hefty side, in house slippers and plain dress. The edge of her slip hung below her skirt.

There was a bit of British in her accent. “I am pleased to be acquainted.” If so one hardly noticed. She stepped into black pumps and slipped a silver bracelet on her wrist, a lit cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth. Her legs and arms were shapely, her brown hair cut short. I had the impression of tight thin lips in a pale face.

“I will go to Kovalevsky, next door,” she said.

“Not on my account, I hope? All I have to say —”

“Our neighbors in the next flat.” Levitansky grimaced. “Also thin walls.” He knocked a knuckle on a hollow wall.

I chuckled politely.

“Please, not long,” Irina said, “because I am afraid.”

Surely not of me? Agent Howard Harvitz, CIA, a comical thought.

THEIR living room wasn’t unattractive, but Levitansky signaled the study inside. He offered a slightly sweet cognac in whiskey tumblers, then sat facing me on the edge of his chair, his repressed energy all but visible. I had the momentary sensation his chair might begin to move, even fly off.

If he goes he goes alone.

“What I came to say,” I told him, “is I like your stories and am sorry I didn’t say so last night. I like the primary quality of the writing. The stories impress me as strong, if simply wrought, and I appreciate your feeling for people and at the same time the objectivity with which you render them. It’s sort of Chekhovian in quality. For instance, that story about the old father coming to see the son who ducks out on him. I guess I can’t comment on your style, having only read the stories in translation.”

“Chekhovian,” Levitansky admitted, smiling through his worn teeth, “is fine compliment. Mayakovsky, our poet, described him ‘the strong and gay artist of the word.’ I wish I was so gay in respect of enjoyment of art and life.” He looked at the drawn shade in the room, though maybe no place in particular, then said, perhaps heartening himself, “In Russian is magnificent my style — precise, economy, including wit. The style is difficult to translate in English, which is less rich language.”

“I’ve heard that said. In fairness I should add I have some reservations about the stories, yet who hasn’t about any given piece of creative work?”

“I have myself reservations.”

The admission made, I skipped the criticisms. I had been looking at a picture on his bookcase, and asked who it was. “It’s a face I’ve seen before. The eyes are quite poetic, you might say.”

“So is the voice. This is Boris Pasternak as young man. On the wall yonder is Mayakovsky that I mentioned to you. He was also remarkable poet, wild, joyous, neurasthenic, a lover of the revolution. He spoke, ‘This is my Revolution.’ To him was it ‘a holy washerwoman who cleaned off all the filth from the earth.’ Unfortunately he was later disillusioned and shot himself.”

“I read that somewhere.”

“He wrote: ‘I wish to be understood by my country — but if no, I will fly through Russia like a slanting rainstorm.’ ”

“I bet it sounds magnificent in Russian. Have you by chance read Doctor Zhivago?”

“I have read,” the writer sighed, and then began to recite in Russian, I guessed some lines from a poem.

“It is to Marina Tsvetayeva, Soviet poetess, friend of Pasternak.” Levitansky fiddled with the pack of cigarettes on the table with the cognac. “The end of her life was unfortunate.”

“I guess why I really came,” I said, “is I wanted to express to you my sympathy and respect.”

Levitansky popped a match with his thumbnail. His hand trembled, so he shook the flame out without lighting the cigarette.

Embarrassed for him, I pretended to be looking elsewhere. “It’s a small room. Does your son sleep here?”

“Don’t confuse my story which you read with life of author. My wife and I are married eight years but without children.”

“Might I ask whether the other experience you describe in that same story — the interview with the editor — was that true?”

“Not true,” the writer said impatiently. “I write from imagination. I am not interested to repeat contents of diaries or total memory.”

“On that I go along with you.”

“Also, which is not in story, I have submitted to Soviet journals sketches and tales many times but only few have been published, although not my best.”

“Did you submit any of the Jewish stories?”

“Please, stories are stories, they have not nationality.”

“I mean by that those about Jews.”

“Some I have submitted, but they were not accepted.”

Brave man, I thought. “After reading the four you gave me, I wondered how it was you write so well about Jews? You call yourself a marginal one — I believe that was your word — but you write with authority about them. Not that one can’t, I suppose, but it’s surprising when one does.”

“Imagination makes authority. My work is work of imagination. When I write about Jews comes out stories, so I write about Jews. I write about subjects that make for me stories. Is not important that I am marginal Jew. What is important is observation, feeling, also the art. In the past I have observed my Jewish father. Also I observe sometimes Jews in the synagogue. I sit there on the bench for strangers. The gabbai watches me, and I watch him. But whatever I write, whether is about Jews, Galicians, or Georgians, must be a work of invention or it does not live.”

“I’m not much of a synagogue-goer myself,” I told him, “but I like to drop in once in a while to be refreshed by the language and images of a time and place where God was. That’s funny because I had no religious education to speak of.”

“I am atheist.”

“I understand, though, what you mean by imagination — for instance that praying shawl story. But am I right” — I lowered my voice —“that I detect you might also be saying something about the condition of the Jews— er —at the moment?”

“I do not make propaganda,” Levitansky said sternly. “I am not Israeli spokesman. I am Soviet artist.”

“I didn’t mean you weren’t, but there’s a strong current of sympathy, and after all, ideas come from somewhere.”

“My purpose belongs to me.”

“One senses, if I might say, an attack on injustice.”

“Whatever is the injustice, the product must be art.”

“Well, I respect your philosophy.”

“Please do not respect so much,” the writer said irritably. “We have in this country a quotation: ‘It is impossible to make out of apology a fur coat.’ The idea is similar. I appreciate respect but need now practical assistance.”

Expecting words of the sort, I started to say something noncommital.

“Listen at first to me,” Levitansky said, smacking the table with his palm. “I am in desperate condition— situation. I have written for years, but little is published. In the past, one, two editors who were my friends told me, private, that my stories are excellent, but I violate socialist realism. This what you call objectivity, they called it excessive naturalism and sentiment. It is hard to listen to such nonsense. They advise me to walk but not with my legs. They warned me; also they have made excuses for me to others. Even they said I am crazy, although I explained to them I submit my stories because Soviet Union is great country. A great country does not fear what artist writes. A great country breathes in its lungs work of writers, painters, musicians, and becomes more great, more healthy. This is what I told to them, but they replied I am not enough realist. This is the reason that I am not invited to be member of Writers Union.” He smiled sourly. “They warned me to stop submitting to journals my work, so I have stopped.”

“I’m sorry about that,” I said. “I don’t myself go for exiling the poets.”

“I cannot continue longer anymore in this fashion,” Levitansky said, laying his hand on his heart. “I must free from drawer my imagination. I feel I am myself locked in drawer with my poor stories. Now I must get out or I suffocate. It becomes for me each day more difficult to write. I need help. It is not easy to request a stranger for such important personal favor. My wife advised me not. She is angry, also frightened, but is impossible for me to go on in this way. I am convinced I am important Soviet writer. I must have my audience. I wish to have in someone’s mind different than my own and my wife acknowledgment of my art. I wish them to know my work is related to Russian writers of the past, as well as modern. I am in tradition of Chekhov, Gorky, Isaac Babel. I know if book of my stories is published, it will make for me good reputation. This is reason why you must help me — it is necessary for my interior liberty.”

His confession came in an agitated burst. I use the word advisedly because that’s partly what upset me. I have never cared for confessions of this kind, which are a way of involving unwilling people in others’ personal problems. Russians are past masters of this art — you can see in their novels.

“I appreciate the honor of your request,” I said, “but all I am is a passing tourist. That’s a pretty tenuous relationship between us.”

“I do not ask tourist—I ask human being, man,” Levitansky said passionately. “Also you are free-lance writer. You know who I am and what is on my heart. You sit in my house. Who else can I ask? I would better prefer to publish in Europe my stories, maybe with Mondadori or Einaudi in Italy, but if this is impossible to you I will publish in America. Someday will my work be read in my country, maybe after I am dead. This is terrible irony, but my generation lives on such ironies. Since I am not now ambitious to die, it will be great relief to me to know that at least in one language is alive my art. Osip Mandelstam wrote: ‘I will be enclosed in some alien speech.’ Better so than nothing.”

“You say I know who you are but do you know who I am?” I asked him. “I’m a plain person, not very imaginative though I don’t write a bad article. My whole life, for some reason, has been without much adventure, except I was divorced once and remarried happily to a woman whose death I am still mourning. Now I’m here more or less on a vacation, not to jeopardize myself by taking serious chances of an unknown kind. What’s more — and this is the main thing I came to tell you — I wouldn’t at all be surprised if I am already under suspicion and would do you more harm than good.”

I told Levitansky about the airport incident in Kiev and the paper I had signed five copies of. “I signed a document I couldn’t even read, which was a foolish thing to do.”

“In Kiev this happened?”

“That’s right.”

Levitansky laughed dismally. “It would not happen to you if you entered through Moscow. In the Ukraine — what is your word? —they are rubes, country people.”

“That might be — nevertheless, I signed the paper.”

“Do you have copy?”

“Not with me. It’s in my room in the hotel.”

“I am certain this is receipt for your books which officials will return to you when you depart from Soviet Union.”

“That’s just what I’d be afraid of.”

“Why afraid?” he asked. “Are you afraid to receive back umbrella which you have lost?”

“I’d be afraid one thing might lead to another — more questions, more searches. It would be foolhardy to have your manuscript in my suitcase, in Russian no less, that I can’t read. Suppose they accuse me of being some kind of courier or spy?”

The thought raised me to my feet. I then realized the tension in the room was thick as steam, mostly mine.

Levitansky rose, embittered. “There is no question of spying. I do not think I have presented myself as traitor to my country.”

“I didn’t say anything of the sort. All I’m saying is I don’t want to get into trouble with the Soviet authorities. Nobody can blame me for that. In other words, the enterprise is not for me.”

“I have made inquirings,” Levitansky said desperately. “You will have nothing to fear for a tourist who has been a few weeks in U.S.S.R. under guidance of Intourist and does not speak Russian. My wife said to me your baggage will not be further inspected. They sometimes do so to political people, also to bourgeois journalists who have made bad impression. I would deliver to you manuscript in the last instance. It is typed on less than one hundred fifty sheets thin paper and will make small package. If it should look to you like trouble you can leave it in dustbin. My name will not be anywhere and if they find it and track — trace to me the stories, I will say I have thrown them out myself. They won’t believe this but what other can I say? It will make no difference anyway. If I stop to write I may as well be dead. No harm will come to you.”

“I’d rather not if you don’t mind.”

With what I guess was a curse in Russian, Levitansky reached for the portrait on his bookcase and flung it against the wall. Pasternak struck Mayakovsky, splattered him with glass, breaking his own, and both pictures crashed to the floor.

“Free-lance writer,” he shouted, “go to hell back to America! Tell to Negroes about Bill of Rights! Tell them they are free although you keep them slaves! Talk to sacrificed Vietnamese people!”

Irina Filipovna entered the room on the run. “Feliks,” she entreated, “Kovalevsky hears every word!”

“Please,” she begged me, “please go away. Leave poor Levitansky alone. I beg you from my miserable heart.”

I left in a hurry. The next day I left for Leningrad.

THREE days later, not exactly at my best after a tense visit to Leningrad, I was sitting loosely in a beat-up taxi with a cheerful Intouristka, a half hour after my arrival at the Moscow airport. We were driving to the Ukraine Hotel, where I was assigned for my remaining few days in the Soviet Union.

I would have preferred the Metropole again because it’s so conveniently located and I was used to it; but on second thought, better someplace where a certain party wouldn’t know I lived. The Volga we were riding in seemed somehow familiar, but if so it was safely in the hands of a small stranger with a large wool cap, a man wearing sunglasses who paid me no particular attention.

I had had a few pleasant minutes in Leningrad on my first day. On a white summer’s evening, shortly after I had unpacked in my room at the Astoria, I discovered the Winter Palace and Hermitage after a walk along the Nevsky Prospekt. Chancing on Palace Square, vast and deserted, I felt an unexpected emotion, you might say, in thinking of the revolutionary events that had occurred on this spot. My God, I thought, why should I feel myself part of Russian history? It’s a contagious business, what happens to men. On the Palace Bridge I gazed at the broad ice-blue Neva, in the distance the golden steeple of the cathedral built by Peter the Great, gleaming under masses of wind-driven clouds in patches of green sky. It’s the Soviet Union but it’s still Russia.

The next day I woke up anxious. In the street I was approached twice by strangers speaking English; I think my suede shoes attracted them. The first, gray-faced and badly dressed, wanted to sell me black market rubles. I said, tipping my straw hat and hurrying on. The second, a bearded boy of nineteen, with a left-sided tuft longer than that on the right, wearing a homeknitted green pullover, offered to buy jazz records, “youth clothes,” and American cigarettes. “Sorry, nothing for sale.” I escaped him too, except that he in his green sweater followed me for a mile along one of the canals. I broke into a run, then forced myself to stop. When I looked back he had disappeared. I slept badly at night — it stayed light to long past midnight; and in the morning inquired about the possibility of an immediate flight to Helsinki. I was informed I couldn’t possibly get one for a week. Calming myself, I decided to return to Moscow a day before I had planned to, mostly to see what they had in the Dostoevsky Museum.

I had been thinking a good deal about Levitansky. How much of a writer was he really? I had read four of eighteen stories he wanted to publish. Suppose he had showed me the four best and the others were mediocre or thereabouts? Was it worth taking a chance for that? I thought, the best thing for my peace of mind is to forget the guy. Before checking out of the Astoria I received a chatty letter from Lillian, forwarded from Moscow, apparently not an answer to my recent letter to her, but one written earlier. Should I marry her? Who knows, I don’t. The phone rang piercingly, and when I picked up the receiver, no one answered. In the plane to Moscow I had visions of a crash. There must be many in the Soviet Union nobody ever reads of.

IN MY room on the twelfth floor of the Ukraine I relaxed in a plastic “leather” armchair. There was also a single low bed, and a utilitarian pinewood desk, an apple-green phone plunked on it for instant use. I’ll be home in a week, I thought. Now I’d better shave and see if anything is left over downstairs in the way of a concert or opera ticket for tonight. I’m in the mood for a little music.

The electric plug in the bathroom didn’t work, so I put away my shaver and was lathering up when I jumped to a single explosive knock on the door. I opened it cautiously, and there stood Levitansky with a brown paper packet in his hand.

Is this son of a bitch out to compromise me?

“How did you happen to find out where I was only twenty minutes after I got here, Mr. Levitansky?”

“How I found you?” the writer shrugged. He seemed deathly tired, a bit popeyed, the face longer, Leaner, resembling in a way a hungry fox on his last unsteady legs but still canny. “My brother-in-law was the chauffeur for you from the airport. He heard the girl inquire your name. We have spoke of you. Dmitri—this is my wife’s brother informed me you have registered at the Ukraine. I inquired downstairs your room number, and it was granted to me.”

“However it was,” I said firmly, “I want you to know I haven’t changed my mind. I don’t want to get involved. I thought it all through while I was in Leningrad, and that’s my final decision.”

“I may come in?”

“Please, but for obvious reasons I’d appreciate a short visit.”

Levitansky sat, somewhat shriveled, skinny knees pressed together, in the armchair, his parcel awkwardly on his lap. If he was happy to have found me, his face didn’t show it.

I finished shaving, put on a fresh shirt, and sat down on the bed. “Sorry I have nothing to offer in the way of an aperitif, but I could call down for something.”

Levitansky twiddled his fingers no. He was dressed without change down to his red-white-andblue socks. Did his wife wash out the same pair every night, or were all his socks red-white-andblue?

“To speak frankly,” I said, “I have to protest about this constant tension you’ve whipped up in and around me. Nobody in his right mind can expect a total stranger visiting the Soviet Union to pull his personal chestnuts out of the fire. It’s your own country that’s restricting you as a writer, not me or the United States of America, and since you live here, what can you do but live with it?”

“I love my country,” Levitansky said with dignity.

“Who said you didn’t? So do I love mine, though love for country, let’s face it, is a mixed bag of marbles. Nationality isn’t soul, as I’m sure you will agree. But what I’m also saying is there are things about a man’s country he might not like that he has to make his peace with. I’m not saying it’s easy but if you’re up against a wall you can’t climb or dig under or outflank in some way, at least stop banging your head against it, not to mention mine. Make your peace in some way. It’s amazing, for instance, all that can be said in a fairy tale.”

“I have written already my fairy tales,” Levitansky said moodily. “Now is the time for truth without disguises. I will make my peace to this point where it interferes with work of my imagination — my interior liberty; and then I must stop to make my peace. My brother-in-law has also told to me, ‘You must write acceptable stories, others can do it, so why can’t you?’ and I have answered him, ‘They must be acceptable to me. Ich kann nicht anders!’”

“In that case, aren’t you up against the impossible? If you permit me to say so, are those Jews in your stories, if they can’t have their matzos and prayer books, any freer in their religious lives than you are as a writer? That’s what you’re really saying when you write about them. What I mean is, one has to face up to his society.”

“I have faced up. Do you face up to yours?” he said, with a flash of scorn.

“Not as well as I might, I admit. My own problem is not that I can’t express myself but that I don’t. In my own mind Vietnam is a terrifying mistake, though I’ve never spoken out against it except to sign a petition or two. My first wife used to criticize me. She said I wrote the wrong things and was involved in everything but action. My second wife knew this but she made me think she didn’t.”

From the heat of my body I knew I was blushing.

Levitansky’s large larynx moved up like a flag on a pole, then sank wordlessly.

My God, not another confession, I hoped.

He tried again, saying, “The Soviet Union preservates for us the great victories of our revolution. Because of this I have remained for years at peace with the State. Communism is still to me inspirational ideal, although this historical period is spoiled by leaders who have taken impoverished view of humanity. They have pissed on revolution.”


“Him, but also others. Even so I have obeyed Party directives, and when I could not longer obey, I wrote for drawer. I said to myself, ‘Levitansky, history changes every minute, and Communism also will change.’ I believed if the State restricts two, three generations of artists, what is this against development of true socialist society — maybe best society of world history? So what does it mean if some of us are sacrificed to Party purpose? The aesthetic mode is not in necessity greater than politics — than needs of revolution. And what if are suppressed two generations of artists? Therefore will be so much less bad books, paintings, music. Then in fifty years more will be secure the State and all Soviet artists will say whatever they will. This is what I thought, but I do not longer think so in this manner. I do not believe more in partiinost, which is guided thought. I do not believe in bolshevization of literature. I do not think revolution is fulfilled in country of unpublished novelists, poets, playwriters, who hide in drawers whole libraries of literature that will never be printed, or if so, it will be printed after they stink in their graves. I think now the State will never be secure — never. It is not in the nature of politics to be finished with revolution. After revolution comes revolution. Evgeny Zamyatin told: ‘There is no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite!' ”

“I guess that’s along my own line of thinking,” I said, hoping for reasons of personal safety maybe to forestall Levitansky’s ultimate confession — one he, with brooding intense eyes, was already relentlessly making — lest in the end it imprison me in his will and history.

“I have learned from my stories,” the writer was saying, “as I wrote them, that imagination is enemy of the State. I have learned from my stories that I am not free man. This is my conclusion. I ask for your help not to harm my country, which still has magnificent possibilities, but to help me escape the worst errors. I do not wish to defame Soviet Union. My purpose in my work is to show its true heart. So have done our writers from Pushkin to Pasternak. If you believe in democratic humanism, you must help artist to be free. Is not true?”

I got up, I think to shake myself free of the question. “What exactly is my responsibility to you, Levitansky?”

“If I am drowning you must assist to save me. We are members of mankind.”

“In unknown waters if I can’t swim?”

“If not, throw to me a rope.”

“I’m just a visitor here. Besides, I’ve told you already that I may be suspect, and for all I know you yourself might be a Soviet agent out to get me, or this room might be bugged, and then where will we be? Mr. Levitansky, I don’t want to hear or argue anymore. I’ll just plead personal inability and ask you to leave.”


“Some sort of listening device planted in this room.”

Levitansky turned slowly gray. He sat for a minute in motionless meditation, then rose wearily from the chair.

“I withdraw now request for your assistance. I accept your word that you are not capable. I do not wish to make criticism of you. All I wish to say, Gospodin Garvitz, is it requires more to change a man’s character than to change his name.”

LEVITANSKY left the room, leaving in his wake some fumes of cognac. He had also passed gas.

“Come back!” I called, not too loudly, but if he heard through the door he didn’t answer. Good riddance, I thought, not that I don’t sympathize with him, which I do, but look what he’s done to my interior liberty. Who has to come all the way to Russia to get caught up in this kind of mess? It’s a helluva way to spend a vacation.

The writer had gone, but not his sneaky manuscript. It was lying on my bed.

“It’s his baby, not mine.” Seeing red, I knotted my tie and slipped on my coat, then via the English language number, called a cab. But I had forgotten his address. A half hour later 1 was still in the taxi, riding frantically back and forth along Novo Ostapovskaya Street until I spotted the house I thought it might be. It wasn’t, it was another like it. I paid the driver and walked on till once again I thought I had the house. After going up the stairs and getting a whiff of the cooking smells, I was sure it was. When I knocked on Levitansky’s door, the writer, looking older, more distant — as if he had been away on a trip and had just returned, or maybe simply interrupted at his work, his thoughts still in his words on the page on the table, his pen in hand — stared blankly at me.

“Levitansky, my heart breaks for you, I swear, but I can’t take the chance. I believe in you but am not, at this time of my life, considering my condition and recent experiences, in much of a mood to embark on a dangerous adventure. Please accept deepest regrets.”

I thrust the manuscript into his hand and rushed down the stairs. Hurrying out of the building, I was, to my horror, unable to avoid Irina Levitansky coming in. Her eyes lit in fright as she recognized me an instant before I hit her full force and sent her sprawling along the cement walk.

“Oh, my God, what have I done? I sincerely beg your pardon!” I helped the dazed, hurt woman to her feet, brushing off her soiled skirt, and futilely, her pink blouse, split and torn on her lacerated arm and shoulder. I stopped dead when I felt myself experiencing erotic sensations.

Irina Filipovna held a handkerchief to her bloody nostril and wept a little. We sat on a stone bench, a girl of ten and her brother watching us. Irina said something to them in Russian, and they moved off.

“I was frightened of you also as you are of us,” she said. “I trust you now because Levitansky does. But I will not urge you to take the manuscript. The responsibility is for you to decide.”

“It’s not a responsibility I want,” I said unhappily.

She said then as though talking to herself, “Maybe I will leave Levitansky. He is wretched so much it is no longer a marriage. He drinks; also he does not earn a living. My brother Dmitri allows him to drive the taxi two, three hours in the day, to my brother’s disadvantage. Except for a ruble or two from this, I support him. Levitansky does not longer receive translation commissions. Also a neighbor in the house — I am sure Kovalevsky — has denounced him to the police for delinquency and parasitism. There will be a hearing. Levitansky says he will burn his manuscripts.”

“Good God, I’ve just returned the package of them to him.”

“He will not,” she said. “But even if he burns he will write more. If they take him away in prison, he will write on toilet paper. When he comes out, he will write on newspaper margins. He sits now at his table. He is a magnificent writer. I cannot ask him not to write, but now I must decide if this is the condition I want for myself the rest of my life.”

She sat in silence, an attractive woman with shapely legs and feet, in a soiled skirt and torn pink blouse. I left her sitting on the stone bench, her handkerchief squeezed white in her fist.

That night—July 2, I was leaving the Soviet Union on the fifth — I underwent great self-doubt. If I’m a coward, why has it taken me so long to find out? Where does anxiety end and cowardice begin? Feelings get mixed, sure enough, but not all cowards are necessarily anxious, and not all anxious men are cowards. Many “sensitive” (Rose’s word), tense, even frightened human beings did in fear what had to be done, the fear in some cases giving energy when it came time to fight or jump off a rooftop into a river. There comes a time in a man’s life when to get where he has to go —if there are no doors or windows — he walks through a wall.

On the other hand, suppose one is courageous in a foolish cause — you concentrate on courage and not enough on horse sense? To get to the nub of the problem on my mind, how do I finally decide it’s a sensible and worthwhile thing to smuggle out Levitansky’s manuscript, given my reasonable doubts about the ultimate worth of the operation? Granted, as I now grant, he’s trustworthy, and his wife is that and more; still does it pay a man like me to run the risk?

If six thousand Soviet writers can’t do very much to enlarge their freedom as artists, who am 1 to fight their battle? — H. Llarvitz, knight of the free lance from Manhattan. How far do you go, granted you have taken to heart the creed that all men (including Communists) are created free and equal and justice is for all? How far do you go for art if you’re for Yeats, Rouault, and Ludwig von Beethoven? Not to mention Gogol, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky. So far as to get yourself internationally involved: the HH MS. Smuggling Service? Will the President and State Department, not to speak of the CIA, send up three loud cheers for my contribution to the cause of international social justice? And suppose it amounts to no more than a gaffe in the end? — what will 1 prove if I sneak out Levitansky’s manuscript, and all it turns out to be is just another passable book of stories?

That’s how I argued with myself on several occasions, but in the end I argued myself into solid indecision.

What it boils down to, I’d say, is he expects me to help him because I’m an American. That’s quite a nerve.

Two nights later — odd not to have the Fourth of July on July fourth (I was even listening for firecrackers) — a quiet light-lemon summer’s evening in Moscow, after two monotonously uneasy days, though I was still making museum notes, for relief I took myself off to the Bolshoi to hear Tosca. It was sung in Russian by a busty lady and handsome tenor, but the Italian plot was unchanged, and in the end, Scarpia, who had promised “death" by fake bullets, gave, in sneaky exchange, a fusillade of real lead; another artist bit the dust, and Floria Tosca learned the hard way that love wasn’t what she had thought.

Next to me sat another full-breasted woman, this one a lovely Russian of maybe thirty in a white dress that fitted a well-formed body, her blond hair piled in a birdlike mass on her head. Lillian could sometimes look like that, though not Rose. This woman — alone, it turned out — spoke flawless English in a mezzo-soprano with a slight accent.

During the first intermission she asked in friendly fashion, managing to seem detached but interested: “Are you American? Or perhaps Swedish?”

“Not at all Swedish. American is right. How’d you happen to guess?”

“I noticed perhaps a certain self-satisfaction, if it does not bother you that I say so?” she remarked with a laugh.

“You got the wrong party,” I said.

When she opened her purse a fragrance of springtime burst on the scene — fresh flowers, the warmth of her body rose to my nostrils. I was moved to memories of the hungers of my youth — desire, love, ambition.

In the intermission she said in a low voice, “May I ask a favor? Do you depart soon the Soviet Union?”

“In fact tomorrow.”

“How fortunate for me. Would it offer too much difficulty to mail wherever you are going an airmail letter addressed to my husband, who is presently in Paris? Our airmail service takes two weeks to arrive in the West. I shall be grateful.”

I glanced at the envelope, addressed half in French, half in Cyrillic, and said I wouldn’t mind. But during the next act sweat grew active on my body, and at the end of the opera, after Tosca’s shriek of suicide, I handed the letter back to the not wholly surprised lady, saying I was sorry. Nodding to her, I left the theater. I had the feeling I had heard her voice before. I hurried back to the hotel, determined not to leave my room for any reason other than breakfast, then out and into the wide blue yonder.

I LATER fell asleep over a book and a bottle of sweet warm beer a waiter had brought up, pretending to myself I was relaxed, though I was as usual dealing beforehand with worried thoughts of the departure and flight home; and when I awoke, three minutes on my wristwatch later, it seemed to me I had made the acquaintance of a spate of nightmares. I was momentarily panicked by the idea that someone had planted a letter on me, and I actually searched through the pockets of my two suits. Nyet. Then I recalled that in one of my dreams a drawer in a table I was sitting at had slowly come open, and Feliks Levitansky, a dwarf who lived in it along with a few friendly mice, managed to scale the wooden wall on a comb he used as a ladder, and to hop from the drawer ledge to the top of the table, where he leered into my face, shook his Lilliputian fist, and shouted in highpitched but (to me) understandable Russian: “Atombombnik! You murdered innocent Japanese people! Amerikansky bastards!”

“That’s unfair,” I cried out. “I was no more than a kid in college at the time. If it was up to me such things would never have happened.” I also remember crying, which was where the dream had ended.

That’s a sad dream, I thought.

Afterward this occurred to me: Suppose what happened to Levitansky happens to me. Suppose America gets into a war with China in some semireluctant way, and to make fast hash of it (despite my loud protestations: mostly I wave my arms and shout obscenities till my face turns green) we spatter them with a few dozen H-bombs, boiling up a thick atomic soup of about two hundred million Orientals — blood, gristle, bone marrow, and lots of floating Chinese eyeballs. We win the war because the Soviets hadn’t been able to make up their minds whom to shoot their missiles at first. And suppose that after this slaughter, about ten million Americans, in self-revulsion, head for the borders to flee the country. To stop the loss of goods and capital, the refugees are intercepted by the army and turned back. Harvitz hides in his room with shades drawn, writing, in a fury of protest, a long epic poem condemning the mass butchery by America. What nation, Asiatic or other, is next? Nobody wants to publish the poem because it might start riots and another flight of refugees to Canada and Mexico; then one day there’s a knock on the door, and it isn’t the FBI but a bearded Levitansky, in better times a tourist, a modern not medieval Communist. He offers to sneak the manuscript of the poem out for publication in the Soviet Union.

Why? Harvitz suspiciously asks.

Why not? To give the book its liberty.

I awoke after a restless night. I had been instructed by Intourist to be in the lobby with my baggage two hours before flight time at 11 A.M. I was shaved and dressed by six, and at seven had breakfast — I was hungry — of yogurt, sausage and eggs, tea with lemon, in the twelfth-floor buffet. I then went out to hunt for a taxi. They were hard to come by at this hour, but I finally found one near the American Embassy, not far from the hotel. Speaking my usual mixture of primitive German and French, I persuaded the driver, by slipping him an acceptable two rubles, to take me out to Levitansky’s house and wait a few minutes till I came out. Going hastily up the stairs, I knocked on his door, apologizing when he opened it to the half-pajamaed, iron-faced writer, his head looking slightly flatter, for awaking him this early in the day. Without peace of mind or certainty of purpose, I asked him whether he still wanted me to smuggle out his manuscript of stories. I got for my trouble the door slammed in my face.

A half hour later I had everything packed and was locking the suitcase. A knock on the door — half a rap you might call it. For the suitcase, I thought. 1 was for a moment frightened by the sight of a small man in a thick cap, wearing a long trench coat. He winked, and with a sinking feeling, I winked back. I had recognized Levitansky’s brother-in-law, Dmitri, the taxi driver. He slid in, unbuttoned his coat, and brought forth the familiar manuscript. Holding a finger to his lips, he handed it to me before I could say I wasn’t interested.

“Levitansky changed his mind?”

“Not change mind. Was afraid your voice to be heard by Kovalevsky.”

“I’m sorry, I should have thought of that.”

“Levitansky say not write to him,” the brotherin-law whispered. “When is published book please send to him copy of Das Kapital. He will understand what means this.”

I reluctantly agreed.

The brother-in-law, a thin figure with sad Jewish eyes, winked again, shook hands with a steamy palm, and slipped out of the room.

I unlocked my suitcase and laid the manuscript on top of my things. Then I unpacked half the contents and slipped the manuscript into a folder containing my notes on literary museums and a few letters from Lillian. I then and there decided that if I got back to the States I would ask her to marry me. The phone was ringing as I left the room.

ON MY way to the airport in a taxi, alone — to my surprise no Intourist girl accompanied me — I felt, on and off, nauseated. If it’s not the sausage and yogurt it must be ordinary fear, I thought. Still, if Levitansky has the courage to send these stories out, the least I can do is give him a help. When you think of it, it’s little enough one does for freedom in the course of his life. At the airport, if I can dig up some bromo or its Russian equivalent I’ll feel better.

The driver was observing me in the mirror, a stern man with the head of a scholar, impassively smoking.

“Le jour fait beau,” I said.

He pointed with an upraised finger to a sign in English at one side of the road to the airport.

“Long live peace in the whole world!”

Peace with freedom. I smiled at the thought of somebody, not Howard Harvitz, painting that in red on the Soviet sign.

We drove on, I foreseeing my exit from the Soviet Union. I had made discreet inquiries from time to time, and an Intouristka in Leningrad had told me I had first to show my papers at the passport control desk, turn in my rubles — a serious offense to walk off with any — and then check luggage; no inspection, she swore. And that was that. Unless, of course, the official at the passport desk found my name on a list and said I had to go to the customs office for a package. In that case (if nobody said so I wouldn’t remind them) I would go get the books. I figured I wouldn’t open the package, just tear off a bit of the wrapping, if they were wrapped, as if making sure they were the books I expected, and then sort of saunter away with the package under my arm. If they asked me to sign another five copies of a document in Russian, I would write at the bottom: “It is understood I can’t read Russian,” and sign my name to that.

I had heard that a KGB man was stationed at the ramp as one boarded the plane. He asked for your passport, checked the picture, threw you a stare, and if there was no serious lack of resemblance, tore out your expired visa, pocketed it, and let you embark.

In ten minutes you were aloft, seat belts fastened in three languages, watching the plane banking west. I thought maybe if I looked hard I might see in the distance Feliks Levitansky on his roof, waving his red-white-and-blue socks on a bamboo pole. Then the plane leveled off, and we were above the clouds flying westward. And that’s what I would be doing for five or six hours unless the pilot received radio instructions to turn back; or maybe land in Czechoslovakia, or East Germany, where two big-hatted detectives boarded the plane. By an act of imagination and will I made it some other passenger they were arresting. I got the plane Into the air again, and we flew on without incident until we touched down in London.

As the taxi approached the Moscow airport, fingering my ticket and gripping my suitcase handle, I wished for courage equal to Levitansky’s when they discovered he was the author of the book of stories I had managed to sneak out and get published, and his trial and suffering began.

LEVITANSKY’S first story of the four in English was about an old father, a pensioner, who was not feeling well and wanted his son, with whom he had continuous strong disagreements, and whom he hadn’t seen in eight months, to know. He decided to pay him a short visit. Since the son had moved from his flat to a larger one, and had not forwarded his address, the father went to call on him at his office. The son was an official of some sort with an office in a new state building. The father had never been there, although he knew where it was, because a neighbor on a walk with him once had pointed it out.

The pensioner sat in a chair in his son’s large outer office, waiting for him to be free for a few minutes. “Yuri,” he thought he would say, “all I want to tell you is that I’m not up to my usual self. My breath is short, and I have pains in my chest. In fact, I am not well. After all, we’re father and son and you ought to know the state of my health, seeing it’s not so good and your mother is dead.”

The son’s assistant secretary, a modern girl in a tight skirt, said he was attending an important administrative conference.

“A conference is a conference,” the father said. He wouldn’t want to interfere with it and didn’t mind waiting, although he was still having twinges of pain.

The father waited patiently in the chair for several hours; and though he had a few times risen and urgently spoken to the assistant secretary, he was, by the end of the day, still unable to see his son. The girl, putting on her pink hat, advised the old man that the official had already left the building. He hadn’t been able to see his father because he had unexpectedly been called away on an important state matter.

“Go home, and he will telephone you in the morning.”

“I have no telephone,” said the old pensioner impatiently. “He knows that.”

The assistant secretary, the private secretary, an older woman from the inside office, and later the caretaker of the building all attempted to persuade the father to go home, but he wouldn’t leave.

The private secretary said her husband was expecting her, and she could stay no longer. After a while the assistant secretary with the pink hat also left. The caretaker, a man with wet eyes and a ragged mustache, tried to persuade the old man to leave. “What sort of foolishness is it to wait all night in a pitch-dark building? You’ll frighten yourself out of your wits, not to speak of other discomforts you’ll suffer.”

“No,” said the father, “I will wait. When my son comes in tomorrow morning, I’ll tell him something he hasn’t learned yet. I’ll tell him that what he does to me his children will do to him.”

The caretaker departed. The old man was left alone waiting for his son to appear in the morning.

“I’ll report him to the Party,” he muttered.

♦ ♦ ♦

The second story was about an old man, a widower of sixty-eight, who hoped to have matzos for Passover. Last year he had got his quota. They had been baked at the State bakery and sold in State stores; but this year the State bakeries were not permitted to bake them. The officials said the machines had broken down, but who believed them.

The old man went to the rabbi, an older man with a tormented beard, and asked him where he could get matzos. He was frightened that he mightn’t have them this year.

“So am I,” confessed the old rabbi. He said he had been told to tell his congregants to buy flour and bake them at home. The State stores would sell them the flour.

“What good is that for me?” asked the widower. He reminded the rabbi that he had no home to speak of, a single small room with a one-burner electric stove. His wife had died two years ago. His only living child, a married daughter, was with her husband in Birobijan. His other relatives, the few who were left after the German invasion — two female cousins his age — lived in Odessa; and he himself, even if he could find an oven, did not know how to bake matzos. And if he couldn’t, what should he do?

The rabbi then promised he would try to get the widower a kilo or two of matzos, and the old man, rejoicing, blessed him.

He waited anxiously a month, but the rabbi never mentioned the matzos. Maybe he had forgotten. After all he was an old man with many worries, and the widower did not want to press him. However, Passover was coming on wings, so he must do something. A week before the Holy Days he hurried to the rabbi’s flat and spoke to him there. “Rabbi,” he begged, “you promised me a kilo or two of matzos. What has happened to them?”

“I know I promised,” said the rabbi, “but I’m no longer sure to whom. It’s easy to promise.” He dabbed at his brow with a damp handkerchief. “I was warned one can be arrested on charges of profiteering in the production and sale of matzos. I was told it could happen even if I were to give them away for nothing. It’s a new crime they’ve invented. Still, take them anyway. If they arrest me, I’m an old man, and how long can an old man five in Lubyanka? Not so long, thank God. Here, I’ll give you a small pack, but you must tell no one where you got the matzos.”

“May the Lord eternally bless you, rabbi. As for dying in prison, rather let it happen to our enemies.”

The rabbi went to his closet and got out a small pack of matzos, already wrapped and tied with knotted twine. When the widower offered in a whisper to pay him, at least the cost oi the flour, the rabbi wouldn’t hear of it. “God provides, he said, “although at times with difficulty.” He said there was hardly enough for all who wanted matzos, so one must take what he got and be thankful.

“I will eat less,” said the old man. “I will count mouthfuls. I will save the last matzo to look at if there isn’t enough to last me. God will understand.”

Overjoyed to have even a few matzos, he rode home on the trolley car and there met another Jew, a man with a withered hand. They conversed in Yiddish in low tones. The stranger had glanced at the almost square package, then at the widower and had hoarsely whispered, “Matzos?” The widower, tears starting to his eyes, nodded. “With God’s grace.” “Where did you get them?” “God provides.” “So if He provides, let Him provide me,” the stranger brooded. “I’m not so lucky. I was hoping for a package from relatives in Cleveland, America. They wrote they would send me a large pack of the finest matzos, but when I inquire of the authorities they say no matzos have arrived. You know when they will get here?” he muttered. “After Passover by a month or two, and what good will they be then?”

The widower nodded sadly. The stranger wiped his eyes with his good hand, and after a short while left the trolley amid a number of people getting off. He had not bothered to say good-bye, and neither had the widower, not to remind him of his own good fortune. When the time came for the old man to leave the trolley he glanced down between his feet where he had placed the package of matzos but nothing was there. His feet were there. The old man felt harrowed, as though someone had ripped a nail down his spine. He searched frantically throughout the car, going a long way past his stop, querying every passenger, the woman conductor, the motorman, but no one had seen his matzos.

Then it occurred to him that the stranger with the withered hand had stolen them.

The widower in his misery asked himself, would a few have robbed another of his precious matzos? It didn’t seem possible. Still, who knows, he thought, what one will do to get matzos if he has none.

As for me I haven’t even a matzo to look at now. If I could steal some, whether from Jew or Russian, I would steal them. He thought he would even steal them from the old rabbi.

The widower went home without his matzos and had none for Passover.

♦ ♦ ♦

The third story, a folktale called “Tallith,” concerned a youth of seventeen, beardless but for a few stray hairs on his chin, who had come from Kirov to the steps of the synagogue on Arkhipova Street in Moscow. He had brought with him a capacious prayer shawl, a white garment of luminous beauty which he offered for sale to a cluster of congregants on the synagogue steps, Jews of various sorts and sizes — curious, apprehensive, greedy at the sight of the shawl — for fifteen rubles. Most of them avoided the youth, particularly the older Jews, despite the fact that some of the more devout among them were worried about their prayer shawls, eroded on their shoulders after years of daily use, which they could not replace. “It’s the informers among us who have put him up to this,” they whispered among themselves, “so they will have someone to inform on.”

Still, in spite of the warnings of their elders, several of the younger men examined the tallith and admired it. “Where did you get such a line prayer shawl?” the youth was asked. “It was my father’s who recently died,” he said. “It was given to him by a rich Jew he had once befriended.” “Then why don’t you keep it for yourself, you’re a Jew, aren’t you?” “Yes,” said the youth, not the least embarrassed, “but I am going to Kharborovsk as a Komsomol volunteer, and I need a few rubles to get married. Besides I’m a confirmed atheist.”

One young man with fat unshaven cheeks, who admired the deeply white shawl, its white glowing in whiteness, with its long silk fringes, whispered to the youth that he might consider buying it for five rubles. But he was overheard by the gabbai, the lay leader of the congregation, who raised his cane and shouted at the whisperer, “Hooligan, if you buy that shawl, beware it doesn’t become your shroud.” The fat Jew with the unshaven checks retreated.

“Don’t strike him,” cried the frightened rabbi, who had come out of the synagogue and saw the gabbai with his upraised cane. He urged the congregants to begin prayers at once. To the youth he said, “Please go away from here, we are burdened with enough troubles as it is. It is forbidden for anyone to sell religious articles. Do you want us to be accused of criminal economic activity? Do you want the doors of the shul to be closed forever? Do us a mitzvah and go away.”

The congregants went inside. The youth was left standing alone on the steps; but then the gabbai came out of the door, a man with a deformed spine and with a wad of cotton stuck in his leaking ear.

“Look here,” he said. “I know you stole it. Still, after all is said and done a tallith is a tallith, and God asks no questions of His worshipers. I offer eight rubles for it, take it or leave it. Talk fast before the services end and the others come out.”

“Make it ten and it’s yours,” said the youth.

The gabbai gazed at him shrewdly. “Eight is all I have, but wait here and I’ll borrow two rubles from my brother-in-law.”

The youth waited impatiently. Dusk was thickening. In a few minutes a black car drove up, stopped in front of the synagogue, and two policemen got out. The youth realized at once that the gabbai had informed on him. Not knowing what else to do he hastily draped the prayer shawl over his head and began loudly to pray. He prayed a passionate kaddish. The police hesitated to approach him while he was praying, and they stood at the bottom of the steps waiting for him to be done. The congregants then came out and could not believe their eyes or ears. No one imagined the youth could pray so fervently. What moved them was his tone, the wail and passion of a man truly praying. Perhaps his father had indeed recently died. All listened attentively, and many wished he would pray forever, for they knew that when he stopped he would be seized and thrown into prison.

It has grown dark. A moon hovers behind murky clouds over the synagogue steeple. The youth’s voice is heard in prayer. The congregants are huddled in the dark street, listening. Both police agents are still there, although they cannot be seen. Neither can the youth. All that can be seen is the white shawl luminously praying.

♦ ♦ ♦

The last of the four stories translated by Irina Filipovna was about a writer of mixed parentage, a Russian father and Jewish mother, who had secretly been writing stories for years. He had from a young age wanted to write but had at first not had the courage to — it seemed such a merciless undertaking— so he had gone into translation work instead; and then when he had, one day, started to write seriously and exultantly, after a while he found to his surprise that many of his stories, about half, were about Jews.

Well, for a half-Jew that’s a reasonable proportion, he thought. The others were about Russians who sometimes resembled members of his father’s family. “It’s good to have such different sources for ideas,” he said to his wife. “In this way I can cover a more varied range of experiences in life.”

After several years of work he had submitted a selection of his stories to a trusted friend of university days, Viktor Zverkov, an editor of the Progress Publishing House; and the writer appeared one morning after receiving a hastily scribbled cryptic note from his friend, to discuss his work with him. Zverkov, a troubled man to begin with — he told everyone his wife did not respect him — jumped up from his chair and turned the key in the door, his ear pressed a minute at the crack. He then went quickly to his desk and withdrew the manuscript from a drawer he had first to unlock with a key he kept in his pocket. He was a heavyset man with a flushed complexion, stained eroded teeth, and a hoarse voice; and he handled the writer’s manuscript as though it might leap up and wound him in the face.

“Please, Tolya,” he whispered breathily, bringing his head close to the writer’s. “You must take these dreadful stories away at once.”

“What’s the matter with you? Why are you shaking so?”

“Don’t pretend to be so naïve. You know why I am disturbed. I am frankly amazed that you are even considering submitting such unorthodox material for publication. My opinion as an editor is that they are of doubtful literary merit — I do not say devoid of it, Tolya, I wish to be honest — but as stories they are a frightful affront to our society. I can’t understand why you should take it on yourself to write about Jews. What do you really know about them? Your culture is not in the least Jewish, it’s Soviet Russian. The whole business smacks of hypocrisy, and you may be accused of anti-Semitism.”

He then got up to shut the window and peered into a closet before sitting down.

“Are you out of your mind, Viktor? My stories are in no sense anti-Semitic. One would have to read them standing on his head to make that sort of judgment.”

“There can be only one logical interpretation,” the editor argued. “According to my most lenient analysis, which is favorable to you as a person of let’s call it decent intent, the stories fly in the face of socialist realism and reveal a dangerous inclination — perhaps even a stronger word should be used — to anti-Soviet sentiment. Maybe you’re not entirely aware of this — I know how a story can take hold of a writer and pull him along by the nose. As an editor I have to be sensitive to such things. I know, Tolya, from our conversations that you are a sincere believer in our kind of socialism; I won’t accuse you of being defamatory to the Soviet system, but others may. In fact I know they will. If one of the editors of Oktyabr was to read these stories, believe me, your career would explode in a mess. You seem not to have a normal awareness of what self-preservation is, and what’s appallingly worse, you’re not above entangling innocent bystanders in your fate. If these stories were mine, I assure you I would never have brought them to you. I urge you to destroy them at once, before they destroy you.”

The editor drank thirstily from a glass of water on his desk.

“That’s the last thing I would do,” said the writer. “These stories, if not in tone or subject matter, are written in the spirit of our early Soviet writers — the free spirits of the years just after the Revolution.”

“I think you know what happened to many of those ‘free spirits.’ ”

The writer for a moment Stared at him.

“Well, then, what of those stories that are not about the experiences of Jews? Some are simply pieces about homely aspects of Russian life; for instance, the one about the pensioner father and his invisible son. What I hoped is that you might recommend one or two such stories to Novy Mir or Yunost. They are innocuous sketches and well written.”

“Not the one about the two prostitutes,” said the editor. “That contains hidden social criticism and is too adversely naturalistic.”

“A prostitute lives a social life.”

“That may be, but I can’t recommend it for publication. I must advise you, Tolya, if you expect to receive further commissions for translations from us, you should immediately get rid of this whole manuscript so as to avoid the possibility of serious consequences both to yourself and family, and for this publishing house that has employed you so faithfully and generously in the past.”

“Since you didn’t write the stories yourself, you needn’t be afraid, Viktor Alexandrovich,” the writer said coldly.

“I am not a coward, if that’s why you’re hinting, Anatoly Borisovich, but if a wild locomotive is running loose on the rails, I know which way to jump.”

The writer hastily gathered up his manuscript, stuffed the papers into his leather case, and returned home by bus. His wife was still away at work. He took out the stories, and after quickly reading through one, began to burn it page by page, in the kitchen sink.

His nine-year-old son, returning from school, said, “Papa, what are you burning in the sink? That’s no place for a fire.”

“What am I burning?” said the writer. “My integrity.” Then he said, “My heritage. My talent.”