Book 3. The Space of Love (1998)
Money for crap?
“You see what a bright lad I have for a grandson!” Aegorych proudly declared with a warmth in his voice. ‘A healthy curiosity, a budding craftsman! Way to go, Vasya! We’d better give him some money”
The hint was all too clear, and I started to pull out my wallet. But Vasya, encouraged by the words of praise, went on:
“I gotta listen to everything about the cosmonauts. Ours and the Americans’. When I grow up, I’m gonna be a cosmonaut.”
“What?! What’s that you said?!” Yegorych suddenly pricked up his ears.
“When I grow up, I’m gonna be a cosmonaut.”
“The hell you are, Vasya! You’re not gettin’ any money from me for that kind of crap!”
“That ain’t crap, noway, being a cosmonaut. Everybody likes cosmonauts. They’re heroes, they show them on TV. They’re always orbiting the Earth on their huge spaceships. They can talk with a whole lot of scientists right from space.”
‘And what good does all that chatter do? They’re flying away up there, and in the meantime there’s less and less fish in the Ob.”
“The cosmonauts can tell everybody about the weather. They know ahead of everyone else what the weather will be like tomorrow anywhere in the world!” Vasya continued his defence of modern science.
“So what else is new? You go see Babka Martha.1 Just ask Babka Martha and she’ll tell you what the weather will be
tomorrow and the day after and next year. She won’t charge any money not like your cosmonauts, eh? Those cosmonauts of yours are wasting Petya’s money. Your father’s money.”
“The cosmonauts get a lot of money from the state.”
‘And where d’ya think the state gets its money from? From where, dammit? It’s from Petya, your father, that the state gets its money I catch some fish and Petya later sells it in town. He wants to become this smart businessman, see, and the state tells him: ‘Pay your taxes, give us all your money — after all, you know, we’ve got a lot of expenses.’ And over in the Duma they just keep on fussin’ and fussin’, worse than a bunch of old biddies at a well. The way they’ve over-invented everything, they think they’re the cat’s whiskers! They’ve got all sorts of amenities, their own, clean bathrooms to go to, those smart asses, and meanwhile our river here gets dirtier and dirtier. You’re not gonna get any money, Vasya, ‘til you wash that nonsense of yours right out of your head. An’ I won’t make any more trips, I’m not gonna earn good money for crap like that.”
Yegorych, probably because of his drunken state, got so angry he was just about ready to cancel the trip. Then he uncorked one of the vodkas Sashka had just brought from the settlement and took a drink straight from the bottle. After lighting a cigarette, he managed to calm down a bit, and we all climbed into the boat. So he ended up not giving Vasya any money and, instead, kept muttering something into his beard about ‘crap’ during the whole trip.
The ageing motor sputtered noisily along. It was hard to make conversation above the din. We scarcely said a word until we reached an old hunter’s hut with a single little window. The first stars appeared in the night sky. Having finished off en route the bottle he had begun at the point of departure, Yegorych muttered to his Sashka:
“I’m-m off to sleep. You make yourself comfy here by the fire or on the floor of the hut. When it gets light, take him to our spot.”
Yegorych was already bending over to get through the tiny door of the hut, but all at once he turned around and repeated with an admonishing tone:
“To our spot\ G-got it, Sashka?”
“Got it,” Sashka calmly replied.
As we sat by the fire eating fish cooked over the coals, I asked Sashka a question about a phrase Yegorych had used which rather alarmed me.
‘Alexander, can you tell me what this ‘spot’ of yours is where Yegorych told you to take me?”
“Our spot — that’s on the opposite bank of the river from the village where you set out for Anastasia’s glade,” Alexander calmly replied.
“So that’s it!” I exclaimed. “Here you go charging all this money, and you don’t even take people where they need to go!” “You’re right, that’s the way we do things. It’s about all we can do for Anastasia, to make up for what we’ve done to her in the past.”
“What have you done to her? And why are you confessing this to me? How can you take me to ‘your spot’ now?”
“I’ll tie up the boat wherever you tell me to. As far as the money goes, I’ll give you back my portion of it.”
“So why do me a favour?”
“I recognised you. I recognised you right off, Vladimir Megre. I read your book and saw your photo on the cover.
I’ll take you wherever you want. Only there’s something I gotta tell you... You’ve got to listen calmly to what I say An’ think about it. You mustn’t go into the taiga. You won’t make it... Anastasia’s gone. I think she’s gone way back into some remote part. Or somewhere else — off into the unknown. YDU won’t make it any more. You’ll get yourself killed on the way Or the hunters’ll shoot you. The hunters won’t tolerate any intruders on their lands. Intruders they deal with at a distance, so as not to subject themselves to unnecessary danger.”
Alexander was outwardly calm as he spoke, only the stick he was stirring the embers with betrayed an awkward trembling, and the sparks flew up alarmingly into the night, like fireworks.
“Did something happen here? What was it? You recognised me, so tell me, what happened? Why did Anastasia go away?”
“I’ve been wanting to tell this myself,” replied Alexander in a hushed voice. “I’ve been wanting to tell it to someone who will be able to understand. I don’t even know where to begin so’s you’ll make sense of it... so’s Til make sense of it.”
“Tell it simply like it is.”
“Simply? You know, it’s true, it’s all really quite simple. Only it’s so simple it’s terrifying. Just hear me out calmly, if you can — don’t interrupt.”
“I’m not interrupting. Give me the gist of it. Don’t drag it out.”