Pavel Vadimov

LUPETTA (Lupetta)

Publishers      Ripol Classic; Prestizh kniga (Prestige Book), Moscow          

Pages #           384     

ISBN              5-7905-3659-X         

Publish Date  2005   

Tirage             3000

Agent:            Julia Goumen at


Link to the synopsis, author biography & praise for the novel


Read excerpts from the novel in English, as translated by Mary C. Gannon


            True books, and contracts with the devil, are written only in blood. No one has yet questioned the quality of this ink. It would be interesting to know whether the Prince of the World would accept a manuscript written in tainted blood. Tainted, not in a figurative sense, by an accident of birth or a gypsy’s curse, but in the most literal sense of the word. Blood that slowly kills its host, carrying painful affliction through his veins.

            Is it possible to write about love with such blood? Or will it end up being only about death? God knows. I will have to try to write about both.





            The name was born in Naples, two years ago when we were traveling through Italy. By that time I had already come up with the nickname “Wolfie” for the queen of my heart. In some of her habits she really did resemble a wolf cub. Just for fun I asked our guide how to say “wolf cub” in Italian. “Lupetto,” she answered, very matter-of-factly, as though the question didn’t surprise her in the least.

            “And a ‘she-wolf’ cub? I mean, when it’s a girl?”

            “Just the same, only with an ‘a’ instead of an ‘o’.”

            That was how my love started answering to the name Lupetta.

            I had always wanted to find an original nickname for her. The names people give each other nowadays! “Honey,” “Sugar,” “Kitty-cat”... saccharine sobriquets dripping from a million mouths, uttered apropos of something, or nothing. “Honey, did you pay the rent?”; “Sugar, don’t forget to buy beer!”; “Kitty-cat, I’m staying late tonight at the office!” Dreary, cloying and predictable. To be honest, “wolfie” wasn’t any better than the “kitty-cats” or “sweeties.” That’s why I was so glad to find a real name for my love—a name that, as it turned out, fit her like no other I could ever have dreamed up.




            If Lupetta is the name of my love, the name of my death is Lymphoma. I began this story talking about Lupetta. Now it’s time for her to share some of the attention with her dark sister.

            The creation of lymphocyte cells, known by the scientific term of lymphopoesis, is a fairly complex and strictly programmed process that begins in the bone marrow. Experience has shown that at certain stages in the process a glitch in the program can damage or corrupt the process of cell division, and ultimately lead to various kinds of severe illness, one of which is Lymphoma.

            The  causes of impairment in the process of cell division, and the mechanism that sets off the pathological changes, have yet to be thoroughly understood, though hematologists continue to study the influence of etiological factors traditionally associated with such illnesses (ionizing radiation, chemical carcinogens, and adverse environmental conditions).

            My Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, unlike leukemia, takes the form of a malignant tumor, initially appearing not in the bone marrow, but in the lymphatic tissue. Some lymphomas are characterized by a fairly favorable prognosis (life expectancy 10—20 years after diagnosis). Others, to put it mildly, not very favorable (a year or less).

            My Lymphoma is the second kind.




            After our first meeting on the Kazansky Bridge, I stayed up half the night wondering what it was about Lupetta that had  made such an impression on me. Words like “pretty,” “attractive,” or “interesting” struck me as too commonplace; and besides, that wasn’t what it was about. Ten years ago, all that would have been enough; but not afterwards, after...everything that happened.

            Towards morning I began to doze off.  Then it hit me. What surprised me more than anything else was how I acted around her. Egocentric nonsense, right? Only, at that point in my life I felt that I was surrounded by an invisible shell that smothered all strong emotion  (I still couldn’t bring myself to say “feelings”).

            But suddenly, Lupetta was there; and she just had to look at me, to smile, to say a few words to me, and I felt...I felt that I could feel again! That morning, I got an e-mail from her. “We’re sort of alike. Both a tad bit nuts. Though you might not have realized that from our conversation.”

            At that moment I thought I understood. But without that  tad bit,” life would have been such a dull affair!




            The chemotherapy treatment I have undergone for half a year already is called EPOCH.  In fact, it has nothing to do an epoch or era; it is an acronym from the first letters of the latin names of the drugs—doxorubitsin, vepezid, vinkristin, cyclofosfan, prednizolon. For me, though, this treatment really does constitute an era: the last one in my life, I suppose.

            At night in the ward I am haunted by a recurrent dream. I get up from the bed to go the the bathroom. Still groggy from sleep, I forget to take the drip stand that accompanies me everywhere for days on end, with tubes stuck into a vein by my collarbone .  The tubes sprouting from my chest drag the stand behind them; it falls,  glass bottles full of chemicals topple over onto the floor as if in slow motion and shatter into thousands of shards and poisonous droplets, splashing everywhere. Blood gushes from the dangling tubes in three concentrated torrents. I clutch at them in panic and race through the corridors looking for a nurse to summon a doctor from the emergency room. But the corridor is deserted. The nurse has disappeared. I try to cry out for help, but my throat clamps shut in fear, and only a hoarse, barely audible moan escapes. My legs buckle under me, cold ribbons of fear surge through my stomach, the walls start to spin before my eyes, a knot of nausea rises to my throat, I lose consciousness...and in a cold sweat I wake up, my trembling hands groping for the drip stand to make sure it’s there, where it belongs.

            The doomed have a sense of humor all their own. The drip stand has been baptized any number of things— “christmas tree,” “festoons,” and even “floor-lamp.” “Going to the john? Don’t forget your floor-lamp!” quipped my neighbor  with sarcoma in the bed next to mine. He was one of the first in the ward to die.




            My encounter with Lupetta turned all my notions about courting and romance upside down. At first I didn’t want to make any predictions about the future or entertain any dreams. It was enough for me that she was walking beside me, talking to me, listening, smiling. That her eyes shone with a light that seemed to come from somewhere far away.

            “You probably already think I’m crazy,” I wrote her. “I’d think the same thing if I were you. I mean, ‘real men’ don’t act this way, do they? It’s such a weird feeling, as if I’m fifteen years old and I’ve met a girl for the first time. And this is after everything that has happened. What are you going to do with me?”

            “I want to apologize to you right away,” she answered. “For my cynicism, and for being overly direct. For giving you reason to think that I expect you to behave like a guy. It’s not that way at all. You know, a month or two ago I would have given anything for a line or two from your letters. Just to know that someone felt like that about me. ‘Real men’ were always making big plans for the future. They never thought about the beauty of the moment. It didn’t matter whether I was by myself, or with one of them—I felt crushed by the knowledge of my own solitude. Once, a certain guy, one with a calculator instead of a heart, told me to pick out some flowers for myself. He wanted dahlias or roses, but I asked for a lily. The money was paid, and the the clerk handed me the flower.

            ”Look,” I said to him. “It’s pretty, isn’t it? Me with the lily against the black background?”

            ”I don’t understand how you can like lilies. I hate the way they look and I hate the way they smell,” he replied.

            I turned around with my flower and walked off in the opposite direction. We never saw each other again. Why am I telling you all of this? Just so you’ll understand, I guess, that ‘not-acting-like-that’ is the way I am, too. Though ‘after everything that happened’ you should know that we aren’t likely to be happy for long...”




Each of the six courses of chemotherapy treatment lasts for five days. There is a three-week pause between them to allow the blood to replenish itself. During the treatment, various toxins that destroy all growing cells in the body are fed to it drop by drop through a subclavian catheter. Once every 24 hours the intravenous drip is changed and the tubes that empty into the catheter are reattached. My job is to keep an eye on the flow rate of each of three drips, regulating them by means of a special valve if they get out of sync. Ideally, one drop should fall every ten seconds; but in practice, it never happens this way. During the first days after my “attachment” I constantly readjusted the darned valves on all the drips, one after another. They seemed to mock my efforts. First, one would flow faster, then another more slowly, and a third would stop altogether. When I got sick of playing traffic engineer, I decided to read a bit and was immediately punished by the resentful glass receptacles: one of the drips began unaccountably to flow so generously that the fluid that should have taken 24 hours to empty out was depleted in an hour and a half. When I noticed in horror what had happened, I cut off the flow altogether, grabbed the drip stand, and rushed to the nurse’s station, sick with foreboding. No one made any move to transfer me posthaste to the emergency room, however. “Well, what can we do about it now?” Olenka, the sweetheart of the ward, asked with a shrug. “It’s already about gone. Next time you’ll watch it more carefully.”

That’s the way life is sometimes. You try to adjust it so that it flows a bit at a time, you watch the valve like a hawk; and then something else captures your attention and distracts you—and when you look back, it’s all gone. And you don’t get a second chance.




            When I was nineteen, like Lupetta, I didn’t like spending time with people my own age. Girls under twenty bored me. They didn’t read what I read, they didn’t get excited about the things that intrigued me; and, to be honest, they didn’t find me particularly interesting, either. Older women scared me, because of my relative lack of experience. So my relations with the weaker sex took shape awkwardly, in fits and starts.

            This was probably the reason that her tender age unnerved me slightly, at first. But only at first. Very soon I discovered that I had never met a nineteen-year old who was as intellectually advanced as she was. “How was she different from the others?” people ask. What can I say to that? This genre is as old—and as new—as the Song of Solomon. Yes, my beloved is slender, she is beautiful, and her eyes are like...  No, I won’t indulge in comparisons; it’s absurd. It feels like I’m enumerating the qualities of a racehorse. I should add that in the past my inveterate cynicism had always confronted me with the deficiencies of any girl I happened to be with. And after I hit thirty, any lingering ideals deserted me once and for all. This time, though, there were no faults to be found. None whatsoever. Lupetta was the pure embodiment of my abandoned dreams. Outside, as well as in. At one time, I would have said it was impossible. But I was wrong. Oh, how wrong I was.

            Lupetta made me understand intuitively, without saying a word, how dangerous it was to dissemble around her. I knew that if I were not sincere, I would lose her unconditionally and forever. My habitual notions of means and ends evaporated without a trace, like so many smoke-rings.  I was thrilled to discover in myself the art of taking pleasure in every moment that I spent in the company of the queen of my heart. And the thought of what was to follow simply didn’t occur to me.

            “Maybe ‘perfects moments’ (remember, in Sartre?) do exist,” she wrote to me. “At least, I’d like to believe they existed for you. For us both.”




            The lymphatic system of a human being is an enormous network of tiny capillaries that merge into larger ones, the so-called lymphatics, which in their turn extend into lymph nodes. Bodily fluids, proteins, metabolic substances, microbes, as well as toxins and foreign matter are filtered out from the tissues through the lymphatic system. There are about 500 lymph nodes dispersed throughout the body. These glands are round or oval in shape, and one to two centimeters in size. Lymphocytes are formed within them. These lymphocytes help to ensure the body’s immunity by attacking foreign matter and cancer cells. Lymph nodes become enlarged when the white cells in the blood mount a defensive assault against invading bacteria. More infrequently they are the consequence of a tumor, which can be caused by a range of oncohematological illnesses, one of them being lymphoma.

            Lymphoma, my last love, why did you begin with the neck? Your little mushroom-like caps could have crept into any space or crevice—the underarms, groin, liver, lungs, even the spleen, for god’s sake! But no, you were determined to give me your first love-bite just here, the most erogenous place of all, in your expert view. I have to admit, you turned out to be a true master, kissing me so that everything went black before my eyes, my breath stuck in my craw. Your barbed-wire glove turned the whole bright and happy world, all the pleasures of existence, inside out in the wink of an eye. No one had ever given me love bites like that before; and thanks to you I learned once and for all what it meant to be “loved to death.” You no doubt thought I would succumb—to come instantly from your passionate kiss, didn’t you? After all, no one before me had been able to resist your advances. But, dunderhead that I am, I vowed not to lose my head over you, and instead to fill up an old fountain pen with the blood you had whipped into a frenzy—that is to say, the cartridge of a printer that had seen better days. I decided to pour out my sufferings onto paper. Just promise me one thing—don’t look over my shoulder while you’re  sucking at my neck. What are you so curious about anyway, if the last word in the story will inevitably be yours?




            Once, on one of those warm fall evenings when  we were walking down Nevsky Prospect, hand in hand like kids, it suddenly struck me how out-of-place Lupetta seemed against the self-important grandeur of this thoroughfare, this city. It was as if her image had been cut out by the scissors of an otherworldly Warhol, lifted out of a picture of other times, a picture of elsewhere—and then pasted onto this alien avenue. That was the day I first understood that I had never wanted anyone as I wanted her. I don’t mean with such intensity of desire, but with desire of that particular kind. I’m at a loss to describe it. Deep? No, that misses the mark. Pure? Wrong again. Actually, it’s all so insipid: I need you; I Luv U. It sickens me. It smells like popcorn. What was clear was that for the first time I realized that I didn’t feel the insipidness of feeling. It’s possible that I had just lost my sense of smell; or my head. Or both? Anyway, the main thing was that I had found Lupetta.

            The morning when the view outside my window was blurred by the first daubs of cold whiteness spiraling downward, she wrote: “Yesterday we were together. Today it’s snowing. Soon November will come. My month. Cold and long. Dreamlike. Will we be together? Wintry autumn. I’ll turn nineteen then. I don’t know. This time of year always makes me think of partings. Of how they went away...I don’t want it to be like that with us. Really.”




            You’re not too busy right now? Good, then let your head hang limply, and make the muscles in your neck as taut as they’ll get. Now probe your neck deep under the chin with your thumbs, on both the left and the right side. You don’t feel any elusive little marbles slipping around under your fingers? You’re sure now? Try it again. No? Well then, congratulations. You’re in luck; you’re going to die of something else. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you; it just slipped out...but why, why in god’s name did this happen to me, and not to any other tom, dick or harry?

            Take a look at this cretin who drags himself down the long hospital corridor every morning, armed with his drip stand, on his way to the bathroom, where he will go up to the mirror and indulge in masturbating the lymph nodes under his jaw. Cuts a ridiculous figure, doesn’t he? He doesn’t really need to probe. It’s enough just to drop his chin, and when he flexes his neck, the little buggers appear of their own accord. At first it seemed you could see some progress, but then—nuts to you!—everything started all over again.

            And why complain? You’re the one who begged for something like this in your moments of despair; don’t you remember? Who were your prayers addressed to? It doesn’t matter anymore. Who can guess which office of which authority responded to your request? The important thing is that it was granted. The boy who cried “wolf!” fooled everyone with his antics until they stopped believing him. And then turned into a werewolf and massacred the whole village.




            Many years ago I told a girl, “More than you, I love only my loneliness.” She was terribly hurt, which surprised me. “If you love your loneliness even more than me,” she sobbed, “I must mean nothing at all to you!”

            I was mistaken in thinking that everyone valued loneliness equally. What seemed to me a compliment of the highest order, others felt as an affront. With time, I found it amusing to test the responses of all the girls I knew, or even barely knew. “I wonder, if your chosen one told you that he loved only loneliness more than he loved you, would you feel ecstatic or insulted?” The response always came in a flash, and it was not comforting. I finally grew convinced that I would never meet the person who valued solitude as much I do.

            Lupetta was the first girl who most likely wouldn’t have been upset by such a confession from me. Why “most likely”? Because I never said those words to her. She vanquished my love for solitude, almost in passing, like a wolf-cub eats a fledgling fallen from its nest. Strangely enough, I never regretted my loss. On the contrary, I completely forgot about the pleasures of loneliness, because every minute apart from Lupetta was filled with the thought of when we would be together again.

            “Will I see you tomorrow?” I asked once when we were saying goodbye. “No, not tomorrow,” she replied. “I want to be alone so I won’t lose the sharpness of the feeling.” And that was how all my former girlfriends took revenge on me for cheating on them with my solitude.




            A lengthy trial run of infusions and transfusions—from several days to several weeks or months—is an absolute indication before central vein catheterization; while infusions in the peripheral veins are out of the question.  The more rapid blood circulation in the central veins (subclavian vein, the external jugular, and the femoral) decreases the local effects on the walls of the blood vessels of the substances introduced into the body, as well as the risk of venous spasms. The subclavian vein is considered to be the most suitable for percutaneous catheterization, for infusion therapy, and for post-catheterization care.

            The procedure is carried out under the local anesthetic Sol.Novocaini 0.5-5%. First, the right subclavian vein is punctured, using the Seldinger method. Then the catheter is inserted, with the help of a dilator. The accuracy of the placement of the catheter is gauged by allowing the blood to flow backwards. In order for the catheter to remain fast, it is sewn in place, and covered with an antiseptic bandage. The frequency of complications from catheterization reaches 30%, and does not depend on variations in the techniques by which it is carried out.

            The first time I received a catheter, the surgeon missed, and hit an artery. I covered the whole operating room with blood. The second time, the doctor mixed up the catheters and gave me a triple lumen instead of a double lumen. When the blunder became apparent, I had to lie down on the operating table again. The third time, my respiratory nerve became paralyzed during the administering of anesthesia.  I was lucky to live to see the light of day.

                        After this Job opened his lips and cursed the day he was born.




            My love and her mother lived together in a tiny little nest of a room in a communal apartment on Marat St. After raising her daughter by herself, without a husband, Lupetta’s mother decided to take charge of her personal life. When Lupetta and I started seeing each other, she was about to embark on a serious virtual romance with a gray-haired American.

            It wasn’t that Lupetta adored her mother—to say that she worshipped her would be no exaggeration. She didn’t bow down before her, and they even argued from time to time; but her mother was, in fact, her sole ideal. I didn’t realize that such relationships still existed. “Mama molded me all alone into the shape that I am, the me that you know,” Lupetta admitted. “No one else has influenced me like she has. All my ideas, my attitudes, my habits come from her.”

            If we stayed out late somewhere, her mother called constantly on the mobile, fretting and wondering when her daughter would get home. That isn’t at all surprising—most parents behave the same way. How often have I heard undisguised irritation in the voice of the wayward child, chafing at such overweening concern! Lupetta, though, was never put out by these calls. Far from it. She reassured her mother again and again, her voice brimming with tenderness: “Mommy, don’t worry; I already told you I’d be home soon.” It was strange that despite her anxiety, her mother never interrogated Lupetta about who she had been with. Even when we began staying out all night, she never confronted her daughter or made a scene. But I’m getting ahead of myself now.




            I’ve noticed that terminally ill patients pass over into another category of being, irrespective of their social status or station in life. I’m not talking about the ones who are already on the threshold of life and death. I mean the ones who already know that there’s no real hope, but who haven’t yet felt the first timid kisses of the Reaper on the cheek swollen from chemotherapy.

            When death becomes visible, it ennobles them. It’s not at all like I once thought—that it would embitter them. In fact, there isn’t so much as a trace of aggressiveness or anger. Everyone here is  is extraordinarily genteel, as if they’re in the House of Lords, ready to help one another and to fulfill any request. Cursing is almost never heard in the ward, although it’s clear that several of my neighbors were on the best of terms with profanity just a short time ago. No one raises his voice, and if the pain gets to be unbearable, many of my fellow patients try to muffle their groans with the pillow. Only when the platonic caress of the Reaper becomes a sadistic stranglehold does a bestial moan sometimes escape.

            A bird-feeder made from a milk carton dangles outside the window. Up until his last day, my neighbor, eaten away by Sarcoma, hobbled over to sprinkle it with fresh bird-feed. Then, with tears in his eyes, he would watch the sparrows flutter around their spoils. After he died, I never thought of replenishing the feeder, although my bed was closer than anyone else’s to the window. The sparrows visited us for a few days afterwards, but when they found there was no food for them, they flew off.  Later they stopped showing up at all, and the feeder, swollen with rain, fell to pieces. Why wasn’t I able to help my lesser brothers? Probably because in order to feel pity for others, you have to begin with yourself.         




            Lupetta took night courses in the department of art history at the Academy of Arts. She entered that program after she had failed to get admitted to the department of philology at the University. When time allowed, she worked part-time as a reporter in the Culture section of Petersburg Business World. One crisp fall day she invited me to accompany her to the Hermitage, where she had an assignment to cover the opening of an exhibit called “Three Centuries of Jewelry Arts in St. Petersburg.” Of course, I agreed.

            The small exhibition hall of the cavernous museum was packed. Clouds of heady French perfume hung thick in the air. Sophisticated art aficionados were altogether absent. Most of the guests at the opening looked like customers in an upscale jewelry store. Bald nouveaux riches with long-legged, vacuous-looking models draped on the their bulky arms paraded between the brightly illuminated showcases and clicked their tongues appreciatively at the sight of an outsize diamond.

            And there was ample opportunity for appreciation. Behind the bullet-proof glass, the  exquisite handiwork of Jeremiah Posier, Jean-Pierre Adore, Jean-Jacques Duc, Johann Gottlieb Scharf, Joachim Hasselgren, and others, commissioned for the court of Empress Elizabeth and Catherine the Second, was laid out on little satin pillows. Nineteenth-century jewelry was represented by the work of Johann Helfried Barbe, Wilhelm Keibel, and the renowned masters of Faberge. There were watches, snuffboxes, rings, bracelets, and small bouquets made of gems.

            The conservative Hermitage had decided to exhibit the work of contemporary Petersburg jewelers for the first time. “Look! What a unique piece!” Lupetta exclaimed, pointing to a choker named after Kandinsky, an intricate assemblage encrusted with little mirrors. Then she rushed off to get an interview.

            I felt stranded. And all because we were together and apart at the same time. It was probably the first time I had looked at Lupetta with the objective eye of a stranger. I saw her chatting, but not with me; smiling, but not at me; speaking, but not to me. And I felt that something was wrong here. Terribly wrong...

            Uranov, the well-known Petersburg jeweler, strolled up and down between the display cases, deep in conversation with the director of the Hermitage. Apparently, the Patriarch himself wears a cross covered with precious stones made by Uranov. The proprietor of the prestigious Nevsky Prospect jewelry store had flung a black silk scarf nonchalantly around his neck. The Hermitage boss wore an identical scarf. They looked like members of some secret masonic brotherhood who recognized one other by their signature funereal scarves.

            Uranov, a man of medium height with a bald patch that gleamed under the halogen spotlights, would never have caught my attention if it hadn’t been for one brief moment when his beetle-like eyes fastened on me. My heart jumped. “What was that about?” I wondered. “I seem to be so impressionable when I’m with Lupetta. Or maybe it’s just because I stayed up all night smoking my pipe and dreaming about my love.”

            “Listen, wouldn’t it be great if I could get an interview with Uranov?” Lupetta remarked, suddenly materializing beside me. “I’m sure some magazine would pay me royally for it.”

            “Well, what are you waiting for? Go up and ask him—he won’t turn down a journalist as accomplished as you are,” I quipped acidly. A few minutes later she was waving a business card of enormous proportions under my nose.  It vaunted a golden eagle and other such regalia, all to the greater glory of the owner. “He said yes! He said I should call him at his office, and he’d make time for it. Can you imagine?”




            I’ll never forget the night when the first patient in the ward died. It happened just after the New Year. Plastic lights blinked on the artificial Christmas tree that the soft-hearted nurses had put up in the hospital corridor. For the last few days, he had asked for only one thing each time he gained consciousness: “I beg you, please don’t let them dissect me when I die! I don’t want them to cut me up—burn me right away, please, please...!

            He died in his sleep, pumped full of drugs. His hoarse, ragged breathing suddenly smoothed into a protracted sigh, and then broke off altogether. An unbearable, deafening silence filled the ward. His wife, who had stayed by his side every night and never bothered to wipe her tear-drenched face, asked the nurse for something to bind up his jaw, which had fallen open.

            He ended up here for good, long before my first stay in the hospital. His death warrant read: lymphatic leukosis. He struggled with it for several years, and seemed to be recovering. But the summer before, he had visited the place he was born, by the sea, despite the strict orders of his doctors to avoid hot climates. That trip did him in. He arrived here already on his last legs.  The whole time that death was doing its filthy work he hardly slept at all. He prayed incessantly, asking forgiveness of those he had hurt during his lifetime. It was terrible to look at him. Enormous lymph nodes opened in purple tumors on his neck. His lips and nose were eaten away by herpes, eyes covered with a yellow film. And his swollen arms, lacerated by the drip needles, resembled huge yellow bowling pins, cross-hatched with hematomas.

            Before he died a priest was called in. Those who could walk left the ward so as not to interfere with the mysteries of the rite of confession. I hobbled along the corridor with my drip stand and thought to myself: is there really nothing in this world, not even death, that will bring me at least a step closer to faith?




            I often met Lupetta outside the editorial offices of Petersburg Business World, not far from the Sovietskaya Hotel. We would eat at a cafй, then take a walk together. It didn’t matter which direction, as long as it led away from there. I guess everyone has a least favorite neighborhood in the city. I had an aversion to this part of town, and it answered my dislike in kind. The gloomy aura surrounding the old industrial district, and the Obvodny Canal, thick with exhaust fumes, produced a nauseating miasma, the underside of Petersburg’s elegant overcoat. Not far from here my good friend Erik had been killed. He was a remarkable jazz flutist with the sad eyes of a disheveled bird. One morning he was found strangled to death in a small amateur theater on Rizhsky Prospect. During the night he had been composing music for his friends’ performance. Someone knocked at the door, and for some reason he let in the uninvited guests... the murderers were, of course, never found.

            As for my demons, they took the form of a gang of deaf-mutes who also stalked Rizhsky Prospect. One bright spring day near the Sovietskaya, a well-dressed young man in glasses stopped me. He handed me a piece of paper with an address written on it and seemed to be asking for directions. Not a sound passed between us. The young man made it known through gestures that he was deaf and dumb.  The handwriting on the piece of paper was barely legible, and I had to bend over to make it out. At that moment, a pair of strong arms seized me by the neck and tossed me out into the traffic. The world turned upside down before I realized what was happening. My glasses flew off my nose and landed under the wheels of a car. A searing pain ripped through my elbow, where I had landed on the asphalt. And the scoundrel had already jumped into a parked minivan, thrusting my wallet into the pocket of his coat.

         And then instincts that I never even knew I had awakened in me. Rather than chalking up the loss of a battered wallet that had never held more than a few hundred rubles at a time, I leapt to my feet, made a lunge for the door (not shut all the way) of the already moving minivan, flung it open, and clutched frantically at the steering wheel. In the van were four deaf-mutes, along with my ambusher. They bellowed indignantly and flailed their arms around, threatening to brain me with a crowbar if I didn’t let go of the steering wheel. But by that point I was beside myself with rage. I remember only that I refused to let the driver pry open my fingers and that I cursed wildly: “Give me back my money, assholes!” The whole drama lasted no more than a few seconds. On a cue from one of the others, the main culprit fumbled in his pocket for the stolen wallet  and threw it onto the road. Caught off-guard by surprise, I weakened my grip. The driver ripped my hands from the wheel and forcefully ejected me from the van. The engine revved up and the van sped off, wheels screeching, thus abandoning the scene of the crime, as they say in crime reports. I sat in the middle of the road, in tears, coughing amidst clouds of exhaust. Cars, coming from all directions and signaling crazily, veered around me. Passersby turned around to stare. My glasses, covered in mud, were sticking out of my pocket, and my hand, swelling visibly with every passing second, clenched the infernal wallet, which hadn’t lost so much as a kopeck.

            I still didn’t understand how I’d managed to emerge the victor in all that commotion. Those bastards could have crippled me if not killed me outright when I threw myself into their car. Evidently, heists like this one are predicated on the factor of unexpectedness. If things don’t go precisely according to plan, the crooks simply toss out the loot, without considering other options. However you look at it, the “operation” takes place in broad daylight, and losing time can draw unwanted attention to the scuffle. That’s just a hypothesis—I might be able to find other reasons to explain my luck, but why speculate? To be honest, I plunged into the fray not for the money, but because I was mortally offended by the idea that I had been so much putty in their hands and had played a part in my own undoing. If someone had discreetly and dexterously plucked my wallet on the street, I might have even applauded the professionalism of a veteran pickpocket. But I had been humiliated; and if I had just walked away, I could never have forgiven myself for my inaction. Even with a busted skull I wouldn’t have regretted my headlong retaliation, whether in this world, or in the great hereafter.

            My fears connected with the hellish district around the Sovietskaya vanished once and for all only after I had met Lupetta. She became my good fairy—the demons of my past could not harm me in her presence. They could only hiss malevolently, spit venom, and bare their fangs. With the white chalk of her charm, Lupetta drew a magic circle around us that kept them at bay. But they were patient. They knew how to wait.




 A boy once composed this little ditty:

                        I will open a little scarlet wellspring on my neck.
                                   It will be the size of a kopeck.
                                   Let its babbling soothe me,
                                   Even if it be for eternity.
                                   I just need some peace.…


            Reading what he had just written, the budding author took fright at the words that had issued from his pen. He had no intention of going for his own jugular; and suicidal thoughts had never actually taken such a physiological turn in his mind. The years passed, and the boy almost forgot about his strange lyrical debut. He experienced his first romantic encounters, and he found new subjects to satisfy his literary pretensions. The boy, in the best traditions of 20th century troubadours, scribbled awkward sonnets dedicated to the objects of his longing, who generally scoffed at the self-proclaimed poet.

            Various cataclysms, storms, and periods of calm beset the boy’s young life. He daydreamed, fell in love, quarreled, and grieved like millions of other adolescents. And, like most of his peers, he comforted himself with the hope that he was special, that someday he was destined to meet the one girl who would be the closest and dearest creature to him on earth.

            The most curious thing of all was that many years later it happened in just this way. But then this forgotten poem played a dirty trick on the author. A lymph node on his neck suddenly bloomed into a loathsome cancerous orchid, a hematoma the size of a copper coin at its very center. And the blood poisoned with sick cells snickered at him, gurgling quietly. The promise of eternal peace yawned before him.




“Love is the art of hesitation,” Milan Kundera once observed. “I don’t trust the kind of love that has a long gestation period,” Ortega y Gasset retorted, belatedly. I decided to kiss Lupetta for the first time a month after we had met. Actually, I wasn’t the one who took the initiative.

            The shabby archway of her dirty red building on Marat Street served as the sanctuary where the rite was carried out. I thought that by this time I had already broken the physiological fetters that make “before” and “after” inevitable in relations between the sexes. I was already infinitely happy with Lupetta. I came to understand that medieval minstrels didn’t suffer from being physically deprived of their belles dames. On the contrary, the very inaccessibility of the objects of their desire guaranteed the authenticity of their feelings, unsullied by the laws of cause and effect. Thus, I became the novitiate of love, all but losing the sensations and awareness of sex.  The seasoned tomcat turned into a dove, cooing happily in the heavens with his beloved...  But it was time to come back down to earth.

            Accompanying Lupetta as far as the archway of her building, as I had done countless time before, and exchanging a fraternal peck on the cheek with her, her tender little tongue found its way into my mouth, abruptly erasing all traces of our previous chaste kisses; that tongue was so jealous it couldn’t tolerate so much as a hint of rivalry. And it turned out to be so mighty that it could create anew, from clay moistened with semen, a male virgin who had never known the taste of a woman’s saliva. I became a tabula rasa on which the queen of my heart could write whatever nonsense her head dreamed up. From the most tender confessions to the foulest curses.

            Did I respond to her kiss? Of course I did—but so timidly, for a thirty-year old cynic with a soiled and creased Don Juan’s list in my back pocket, that it even surprised me to feel how she trembled.




            1. I saw that the Surgeon placed the first of six catheters, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying, as with a voice of thunder, “Come and see!”

            2. And behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it was Vincristine and had a bow, and a crown was given to him; and he came forth conquering, in order to blockade Tubulin and to halt the division of cells in the metaphase.

            3. And when He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come and see!”

            4. Another came forth, a red horse. To him who sat on it, Doxorubicin, was given power to penetrate the cells, to link up with perinucleic chromatin, to obstruct the division of cells and the synthesis of nucleic acids, acting specifically upon the S phase of the cell cycle, which generates chromosome aberrations.

            5. And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come and see!” And behold, a black horse, and on it VePesid, with the means for disrupting the cycle of cell division at the G2 stage in vitro, to inhibit the inclusion of thymidine in the DNA, and to lead the cells in mitosis to lysis.

            6. I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “100 ml of VePesid daily for four days, 100 ml of Vincristine daily for four days, 100 mg of Doxorubicin daily for four days, and 1300 ml Cyclophosphane in a single dose.

            7. And when He opened the fourth seal, I heard the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see!”

            8. And behold, a pale horse, and he who sat on it, his name was Cyclophosphane; and authority was given him to suppress the proliferation of lymphocytic clones taking part in the immune response, acting primarily on B lymphocytes.

            9. And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been killed for the Word of God and for Lymphoma, which they had.

            10. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, Master, the holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

            11. A long white robe was given to each of them. They were told that they should rest for a while, until their fellow servants and their brothers, who would also be killed even as they were, should complete their course.

            12. I saw when he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. The sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became as blood.

            13. And the stars of the sky fell to earth, like a fig tree dropping its unripe figs when it is shaken by a great wind.

            14. And the sky was removed like a scroll when it is rolled up. Every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

            15. And the kings of the earth, the princes, the rich, the commanding officers, the strong, and every slave and free person hid themselves in the caves and the rocks of the mountains.

            16. And they told the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of his Lymphoma,

            17. For the great day of the wrath of his Lymphoma is come; and who is able to stand?”




            If anyone is a good storyteller it’s me. Many of my friends have complained that they can’t read a book or see a movie after I’ve recounted the plot—the original pales by comparison. They say that the way to a woman’s heart is through her ears. I’ve used this fact to my advantage times too numerous to mention. By words alone I could wrap any girl I happened to like around my little finger —provided, of course, that she didn’t suffer from a lack of intellect.  True, my narrative ingenuity didn’t always lead them to my bed.

            The only thing that annoyed me was when a new flame listened to me open-mouthed and kept repeating, like a mantra, “Wow, you’re so smart! It’s so interesting to be around you!” Compliments stroked my ego, naturally, but I wanted to engage in more than just a one-way briefing—I wanted dialogue, dispute, disagreement, at the very least.

            I was always impressed by the fact that unlike the others, Lupetta didn’t just lap it up. Yes, she liked me as a raconteur, but she never hung on to every word that came out of my mouth. Sometimes she ridiculed my enthusiastic banter about something or other. There were times when she didn’t even try to conceal her absolute indifference to my artful paraphrasing, interrupting me with the laconic question, “Uh-huh. How much longer did it go on?”


To be continued


© 2006 Pavel Vadimov

             Translated by Mary C. Gannon

Link to the synopsis, author biography & praise for the novel

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