Anatoly Kurchatkin (Education and Professional Experience )
In 1967-1972 studied in the Moscow Gorky Literary Institute Graduated in 1972. Profession - philologist.
Professional writer. Member of the USSR Writers' Union since 1977. In 1991 entered the Russian Writers' Union, is a Secretary of the Moscow Department. Executive Member of the Russian PEN Centre of the International PEN Club since its foundation in 1990.
The main field of consideration is investigation of the Russian history via fortunes of ordinary people. The most attractive subjects are: power and personality, a person under the totalitarism conditions, a person in freedom. Author of 15 books, a few dozen of literary, critical, philosophic and sociological essays on contemporary conditions in Russia.
"Seven days of the week", stories and novellas, collection, "Sovremennik" publishing house, 1977.
"A transfer in
the middle of the season", stories and novellas, collection, "Molodaya
Gvardia" publisching house, 1978.
"A Though rout
via Moscow", stories, collection, "Sovietskey pisatel" publishing house,
novel, "Sovetskey pisatel" publishing house, 1985.
of diverse locations, stories, collection, "Sovremennik" publishing house,
of a romantic young man",stories and novellas, collection, "Sovremennik"
"Notes by an extremist",
the book of fiction, stories and novella, collection, "Moskovsky rabochi"
publishing house, 1993 and others, 15 books in total.
of dacha's season", - "Ural", ## 1-2, 1991 "Requiem",- "Znamia", # 9, 1991
"Policewomen", - "Znamia", ## 5-6, 1993 "Gladness of the death" (5 parts
of the novel) - "Znamia", # 10, 1998.
Books (in other languages):
Collection of Stories, "Narodna kultura' publishing house, Sofia, 1986
"Ein Veiberhaus", novel, "Aufbau" publishing house, Berlin, 1988
"Podjednou strechou", novel, "Lidove Nakladatelstvi" publishing house, Praha, 1990
"Moscou aller-retour", stories, collection, "Flammarion" publishion house, Paris, 1991
"Memoires d' unextremiste", novel, "Rocher" publishing house, Paris, 1997
Translations of stories and novellas to English, French, Chinese, Korean, Bulgarian, Czech and other languages in magazines:
"Confrontation", - # 50, Fall 1992, New-York. "Staple" - # 23, Spring 1992, England. "Glimmer Train" - Issue 8, Fall 1993, Portland, USA. "Przegad literack" - # 6/27, 1993, Warsaw, Poland and others, 15 in total.
"The burden of a dead calm", "Literaturnoe obosrenie" magazine. No. 12, 1980.
"To Listen and Comprehend", "Literaturnoe obosrenie" magazine. No. 9, 1983.
"To serve for the modern times", "Octiabr" magazine. No. 5, 1984.
"The doom of intelligence", "Russkaya myusl" weekly. No. 3918-3919, 1992.
"Justification of an average man", "Russkaya myusl" weekly. No. 3042, 1992.
"Tortures of giving up the last myth", "Russkaya myusl" weekly. No. 3988, 1993.
"New boors", "Russkaya myusl" weekly. No. 4018, 1994. "Power and intelligence", "Russkaya myusl" weekly. No. 4057, 1994.
"The past which creeps into our present", "Russkaya myusl" weekly. No 4064, 1995.
"Weeping over Socialism", "Soglasie" magazine. No. 2, 1994.
"Compatibility of supreme power ideas and human rights", "Russkaya myusl" weekly. No. 4088, 1995.
"Russia is a ruined society", "Russkaya myusl" weekly. No. 4245, 1998 and others;
articles and essays in total.
Translated by Arch Tait
I had no choice but to sit down at my desk, take some paper, and start writing. This gradually settled my heart, and when the letter was written and sealed, I could feel the shape of a heart through the thin transparent paper of the envelope. It was a warm heart, hot even. You could not hold the envelope in your hand for long. I put it down on the table.
Behind me someone was watching. Not that I could see them, of course. I just sensed I was being watched. I knew whoever it was had wide round eyes, peering like moist spheres out of their sockets, and inflamed, reddened eyelids. The eyes were swelling up, their fissiparous cells teeming like points of black light. They had come closer, very close. Now they were immediately behind my hunched back, but, I could not look round. I was wooden, unable to see them, feeling only something at my back. Something white was fluttering in front of my face. It took me a long time to realise it was the sheet of paper shaking in my hand. I was under scrutiny by the Void.
The sheet of paper fell from my hand, swished over the table and brushed against a pencil. The pencil swayed, began to roll, tottered for a moment, tinkled loudly as it hit the floor. I wanted to cry out, but my lips would not move. I straightened myself up and turned round.
The light from the table lamp divided the darkness gathering in the corners and forming a blanket just below the celing, hanging there like smoke. The walls were intangible, dissolving and retreating beyond their finiteness to where their existence could only be guessed at. The room was unfathomable, and almost certainly had an echo.
I had spent the whole of my life obtaining this room, with its separate entrance and private kitchen, its strong, thick walls and strong, solid door with the deep, ingenious lock which cut me off from the world outside. I had had enough of communal flats. All I wanted was peace, quiet where I could be on my own, remote from the rest of humanity. When this flat was still only a dream I loved imagining myself its master, coming home to it: it would greet me with its blinds billowing over a window which had nobody but me to close it. An alarm clock would be ticking loudly on the bedside table. Soundless, splitting floor boards would be waiting to creak as I stepped on them. I imagined my homecoming with nobody able to make a nuisance of himself, nobody to turn on the light as I was going to sleep, or to talk loudly. Nobody to play records loudly or to bring a friend home at inconvenient times.
Nobody was going to disturb me, for I had no intention of telling anyone my address. Even if somebody knocked at the door, I would pretend nobody was in the flat.
For some reason I can't recollect moving in, and sometimes I even imagine I built and plastered the walls, hung the door and fitted the lock myself.
The eyes were on me again, their red lids twitching, the pupils swollen, radiating a chill which made me shiver uncontrollably. I realized I could not stay in this place any longer. Another night in this room, and I would have no option but to hang myself.
I took the envelope from the table, feeling with my fingers the flat, heart-shaped letter inside.
Opening the door was an effort. The air outside was dense and unyielding, and I had to walk out, pushing it aside with my arms as if walking through rubber.
The street was deserted, the sound of my shoes on the tarmac resonant and desolate. The white globes of street lamps floated in round clouds of yellow light. I had the envelope in the inside pocket of my coat and kept slipping my hand in under my scarf to make sure it was there. Each time, I felt a flat heart shape through the thin, rustling paper.
I walked to the end of the block and crossed the square. The traffic lights had been switched to their night-time mode and were flashing mechanically on amber. I stepped on the pavement again, expecting to find a letterbox, but I walked the length of a building without success. I went back and walked the length of the building a second time. There was no letterbox.
I thought I must be mistaken and that the letterbox was at the next building. No doubt I had simply forgotten.
I walked past three more buildings, but still there was no letterbox. At this point I had a quite clear recollection that the letterbox was not in fact any further along the street and had indeed been outside the first building after the square. I turned and retraced my steps, now deliberately observant, looking in under the archways to courtyards to see if it was hidden in there. I walked back in this way, past the buildings to the corner where the blinking yellow eye of the traffic lights floated out to me. There was no letterbox.
I took the envelope from my pocket and looked at it in the yellow light. The letter inside looked like a dark stain. I felt an urge to scream. I sat down at the curb side and covered my face with my hands, my fingers pressing the envelope against my cheek. It felt warm at first, but became gradually hotter and hotter until it burned me. I pulled my hands from my face. My cheek hurt. I could feel my skin stretched and inflamed.
Slowly, I got up and set off down another street. The night was mantling itself in fog through which the more distant street lamps were no longer visible, blurring and merging into a single cloud of yellow light. The air had become crisp, and there was a frost sneaking in. I turned up my coat collar, pushed my hands into my pockets, and paddled ahead with my right shoulder, looking all the while at the walls of the buildings. I was walking now at random along a street I did not know. There must be letterboxes somewhere. All I needed was one!
The streets were still completely empty. Nobody came towards me, nobody overtook me, and not a single car went by. Without exception the windows of the houses I was walking past were darkened. The street ended, crashing into a building which suddenly blocked its way. I turned down another, and walked to the end of that one too. It didn't take long. I turned into another, and then another. I wandered endlessly through the streets, but never a letterbox was to be seen.
I had been walking for a long time now. I could not remember when I had left home. My feet were tired and I noticed a sound as if somebody were shuffling alongside me. Several time I looked round, but there was nobody there. I realised it was the sound of my own shuffling feet.
There were no letterboxes. There were none anywhere in town. All letterboxes vanished. All of them.
Suddenly I felt eyes again watching me. I became aware of their red, inflamed eyelids and the needle-like glinting of their pupils. They began to enlarge and close in on me. The eyelids had become antennae tipped with yielding sacs of suckers. My innards turned to ice in an instant. I was being dissolved by those eyes. I screamed.
Lights immediately blazed in the windows of the building before me. It was as if a pane of glass had shattered, revealing a secret entry. High above my head, in red letters in the air, blazed the words "Central Post Office". A van roared past and hit me with its wing, knocking me to the ground. A screaming of brakes, the tread of a tire frozen above my head. A car driver stuck his head out of the window. "Look where you're going, you eyeless prat. Think I want to land injail because of you?" The doors of the Post Office were opening and slamming, heels were clacking on its concrete steps.
I picked myself up. The car drove off.
The Post Office was busy, its vast hall boiling with hundreds of people in motion. There were the ink-stained, glue-smeared table, the heavy, leather-upholstered stools, the long rows of glass-fronted counters with their bronze numbers. I looked around.
Where the oversize plastic or varnished wooden letterboxes you find in post office should have been there was only tiled wall. I went over to a counter empty of any lines of people. A young woman sitting at a table behind the window was sorting envelopes. She sat very upright, as if afraid to move, her skin very white as if steeped in starch. The rest of her seemed starched too.
"Excuse me," I said. "Where can I post a letter?" "In the letterbox by the entrance." "It isn't there."
She had long fingers. They were white too, with sharp nails painted with nail varnish.
"Of course it is." "It isn't," I said. She looked up again. "What've you done to your cheek?"
I fingered my cheek. The skin had stretched tight and was rubbery to the touch. "Have you burned it?" "Yes," I said, pulling out the envelope. "With this letter."
She took the heart-shaped letter carefully, extending out only two of her fingers. "Ohhh, it's hot," she cried as she pulled her fingers away.
"I can't carry it around any longer, you know. I really can't. I must post it." "Put it in the letterbox then." "It isn't there." "It is for everybody else. What's special about you?"
"Look, I'm telling you, there isn't one there. Don't you understand plain Russian?"
She went back to counting envelopes. "Perhaps I could give it to you," I suggested.
"Certainly not. This counter is for buying envelopes, not handing in letters. Put it in the letterbox."
"But there isn't one there!" I shouted. "Don't you understand. I've been all over town looking. There isn't a single letterbox to be seen."
"That's impossible. Everybody know letterboxes are located on every street corner. Anyone can post letters in them, by the hundreds if they want to."
"Take it," I said quietly. My burned cheek was beginning to hurt again. "Please take it. There aren't any letterboxes anywhere."
She looked up again.
"Citizen!" she announced in her white, starchy voice, "I repeat, that of course there are. Who ever heard of such nonsense! How could there possibly be no letterboxes!"
"I''ve been all over town," I said. "You may not believe me, but I have. And there are none in here either."
"You're drunk," she said. "You're drunk. Of course you are! Can't you see I've got work to do. Go away or I'll call the police!"
Her hand reached for the telephone. Pushing the envelope back in my pocket, I made for the exit.
Cars were thronging the crossroads waiting for the lights to turn green, while others were rushing across before the lights turned red. Behind me two women with shopping bags slammed the Post Office doors.
I walked down the steps and looked up to Find the windows of the Post Office now dark. The sign high up in the air that designated the "Central Post Office" was gone. The building itself was stitched impenetrably shut by a line of double doors firmly bolted together. There were no cars to be seen, no women. Nobody.
I started back home, walking this time on the other side of the street, no longer expecting to find a letterbox, but walking on that side anyway, just in case ...
It had grown very cold while I was in the Post Office, and the fog had thickened. When I came down the steps from the entrance a fit of shivering hit me. I must have shivered for five minutes without getting any warmer, but by that time the trembling lessened. Although my body was no warmer, I didn't feel the cold in my bones, and that was all I cared about.
I wasn't wandering aimlessly now. I was cutting corners purposefully. Soon I was back at the square I had set out from on my quest for a letterbox. I was only a short distance from home. Around the corner, the amber of the traffic lights washed toward me, switching mechanically on and off. They had been in front of me when I had left the house and now they again reminded me of my letter. It was still there in my inner coat pocket. I had no reason to go back to my room.
I propped myself up against the wall.
Something pressed bluntly into me just below the shoulder blade. I turned round. It was the clamp the letterbox had been attached to, a single iron clamp, ribbed and rusty, bent into a hook. Barely protruding from the wall, it was hard to discern.
Through the fog there drifted a muffled sound like the heavy clip-clop of horses' hooves. It came to my ear suddenly and then vanished just as suddenly. I thought I must have imagined it, but a moment later the sound was there again, and this time it didn't go away. In the fog a human figure took shape. The clouds of yellow light threw it from one to the other. The figure would disappear for several seconds, dissolving into the night, but the next patch of light would catch him, outlining him dimly, and limning him more clearly and materially until finally I could make out a man in a long coat with a peaked cap pulled down over this eyes and wearing heavy boots.
He caught sight of me too, pressed against the wall. For just a moment he hesitated in his stride, but quickly resumed his pace, giving me a wide berth and taking his hands out of his pockets.
I broke away from the wall. "Excuse me," I said.
He made no reply and didn't look over. He had not yet come level with me. I had said "Excuse me" quietly. He might not have heard.
"Excuse me!" I shouted, and barred his way. "Eh?" he asked. "What do you want?"
"There used to be a letterbox here," I said. "I was going to post a letter, but it isn't there anymore."
"So?" he said. "What am I supposed to do about it? Find it for you? It must have moved. Look for another one."
"There are no other ones!" I cried. "None! Do you understand? Please try to understand... I've been all over town and haven't found a single one."
The man put his hand to his cap and set it on the back of his head. Now I could see his deepset eyes, light and mischievous. "You mean you really want only a letterbox?" he asked.
"Yes," I stammered. He pulled his cap back down, flat as a pancake, over his eyes.
"Come on. I know one, and I'm going that way. It's a block from here, to your left."
"Aren't you cold?" I asked. "Should I be? Are you? It's ten degrees above zero."
I could see he was feeling no discomfort from the cold. You couldn't see his breath in the air either.
"Weird," I said. "Ten degrees above! I thought it was ten degrees below at least."
He made no reply.
We didn't look at each other, the clouds of light catching us up and releasing us, leading us on past the barren walls of buildings. Finally we turned into the side street. "There you are," the man said, stabbing a Finger in the air. "A letterbox just for you."
I looked to the spot at which he was pointing. There was no letterbox, only a rusty clamp bent into a hook shape, black against the whiteness of the wall.
"What letterbox? There's none here either."
"Do I have to do it for you?" the man said. "Can't you see? A perfectly good blue letterbox, collections Five times daily from 6:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m.. What more do you want?"
I suddenly remembered seeing exactly the same sort of clamp as this one and also the one I had leaned against on one of the buildings earlier. I had not known then what it was.
"You're sure..." I said, and just as the sound of my own footfalls had seemed to exist apart from me when I had been walking along the street, so now I seemed to hear the sound of my voice reflected off the buildings. "You're sure there is really a letterbox here?"
The man took the letter out of my hand. I heard the metallic click as he opened the flap covering the slit. I waited, expecting to see the corner of the letter disappear, then a quarter, then a half, and then to hear the flap click back down.
The man launched the letter. It flew in a downwards curve, struck the wall, somersaulted and flopped down on the tarmac.
He leapt back from the letter and stared at me, the cap shifting on his head. I could not see his eyes, shielded as they were by the peak of his cap, only the whites jerking convulsively.
I bent down slowly to pick up the letter, and my companion did the same. I touched it first, but he continued to reach down for it, and his fingers drove into my hand, entering it as if it were not there, tearing through it as if it were fog, coming out on the other side.
We did not move. His fingers were sticking out of the palm of my hand like gross stumps. I looked at my hand and only now realized I could see through it, like those apples which become transparent when they are ripe. My hand had the same kind of transparency. The tarmac, grainy as apple pits, was as clearly visible to both of us as if my hand were not there.
A long moment the two of us were motionless. Finally the man tugged his fingers from my hand, and again I felt nothing. The cap flew from his head and I saw his hair standing on end.
He backed away, still half-crouching. He did not shout, but stared, his eyes enormous and saucer-like. His lips moved soundlessly as he tiptoed away, tripping over his own feet. Colliding with the wall, he turned slowly around. Then he ran furiously away.
"Stop!" I shouted and tried to run after him, but my legs gave way beneath me. I turned up my trouser leg—my sock retained the form of a foot, but there was no longer any suggestion of a leg. It was as if it had been severed from my body, and whatever was in the shoes on the tarmac was no longer part of my body.
I began to discard my clothes, removing my coat, unwinding my scarf, peeling off my jacket, pulling my shirt over my stomach. I could see through to the wall behind me. I sat down on the tarmac, threw the coat over myself, and propped myself against the wall.
Although trees were growing curly with hoar frost, I did not feel cold. Quite the reverse. I even began to feel warm. Well, not warm exactly: I felt nothing at all. I took off my shoes, pulled away my socks, pulled my trousers up, and found myself gazing with a bemused smile at the spot on the tarmac where my feet should have been.
I did not exist. I was still alive, because I could still talk and think. My clothes retained the shape of my body, but I no longer existed.
I fell into a deep sleep and dreamed of the frost at Epiphany when the smoke stands above the chimneys like a staff rising into the sky. I was walking through town with a great bundle of letters in my hands, and there was a letterbox on every building. I posted several letters in one, then in another, and went on to a third. Guests were waiting at home for me, not because it was my birthday but just because they wanted to come around and talk. In the kitchen the kettle was boiling, an ice-cold bottle of Stolichnaya vodka was in the fridge, and there was music playing. And as I made my way from house to house the bundle of letters never lessened.
The dream began to fade and then it vanished.
I heard my coat, now formless, flop softly to the tarmac, heard the clatter of my belt buckle, and my shirt sliding down in a rustle.
It was the last thing I knew.