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from the November/December 2003 issue

Me and Perestroika

Now I will tell you how perestroika collapsed. To be more precise, it hasn't collapsed yet, but it definitely will due to the archaic institutions of the family and marriage, which dominate in times of real socialism. To be fair, one must add that history recalls a few cases when trivia stood in the way of great achievements. Such was the case with the emperor Peter Fedorovich, who didn't succeed in carrying out his reformist program only because, several times, in public, he reprimanded his spouse Catherine for her exuberant spirit.

All last year I had been working on a project of radical economic reform, which, in my opinion, would lead the country to the frontier of complete prosperity, and, most important, in the shortest time. This work dragged on somewhat; I expected to finish it by winter and I did finish by winter, only of another year, since after the October holidays I went on a bender. My wife, Vera Stepanovna, somehow put up with this hard drinking, because as we say, even a porcupine could see that I was carrying a superhuman load on my shoulders: both work at the plant and around the house, and, in addition, every single evening I set off for the kitchen and sat down to my revolutionary project, burning the midnight oil. The only problem was, Vera Stepanovna wouldn't let me go anywhere on Saturdays and Sundays, the time I needed relaxation most of all after my insane weekdays; she would usually stand in the doorway with a mallet for tenderizing meat and say:

"Saturday and Sunday are for being home."

In the long run, I finished my project. This year, on the night of December 3rd, I set the final period in place, put the manuscript in a folder with silk ribbons, paced the apartment embracing it, gazed my fill in the mirror to see what one of those genetically gifted Russians looked like, then hid the folder on the highest shelf. From the very start, I had decided to immure my work because I knew all too well the self-destructive consequences had I tried to push it through to my superiors, for "history recalls thousands of cases with similar consequences": take the example of our first aeronaut, Kuzma Zhemov, who was repeatedly put on the rack for his invention of "the fly-craft," though civilized descendants ought to know that the fruitful Russian mind doesn't doze off even in the filthiest of times. However, upon mature consideration, I decided nevertheless to make a précis of my project and send it to the guys in the Council of Ministers, but this was really vanity taking the upper hand in me.

Unpredictable are your ways, oh Lord: I sent the package on Monday and on Saturday got a call; a voice, very pleasant and youthful, wished me a nice Saturday and stated:

"Nikolai Ivanich will speak with you now."

Something in me broke out at once in happiness, pride, and the sensation of being a person of state. I must confess that had the fate of my project come to an end with this phone call, my vanity would have been one hundred percent satisfied. Sure, I made a face and began waving my free hand, signaling my wife to pick up the extra receiver so that she might become convinced that her husband was by no means some lousy dreamer, but a true person of state.

"Hello Alexander Ivanovich," said Nikolai Ivanich suddenly. "How are you doing, how are things?

I answered:

"As far as I know, everything's okay."

"How come I haven't heard anything about you before?" Nikolai Ivanich went on with his speech. "Where do you work: in the Academy of Sciences or at Abalkin's Institute?"

"I am," I answered, "in practical application, so to speak, and deal directly with production."

"And what is your degree, your rank?"

"No problem. I'm a driller fifth class-you've got it all here, degree and rank."

"Well then, that makes it even more interesting. So, dear Alexander Ivanovich, we need to meet and have a serious talk. We are indeed interested in your ideas, but in your memo there are some, let me call them obscure places, which demand authorial decoding. So how about meeting and having a serious talk?"

"I'm ready," I answered and made eyes at my wife, as if to say, we're the real thing, as if to say, you've spent fifteen years of your life with me, Vera Stepanovna, never once realizing who you lived with.

"Then shall we not postpone the matter?" said Nikolai Ivanich. "Let's meet today; we will be happy to send a car for you . . . "

"I'm ready," I answered.

After that, I was again connected to that pleasant, young voice, which stated:

"The car will be there in fifteen minutes, number seventeen twenty-four."

Replacing the receiver, I looked at Vera Stepanovna merrily and went to dress. But Vera Stepanovna took her mallet for tenderizing meat, stood in the doorway and said as usual:

"Saturday and Sunday are for being home!"

"Here we go again!" I exclaimed, at the same time climbing into my new Czechoslovakian boots. "Use your head: look who is summoning me, why and where to. These are matters of state! A limo is coming to take me there . . . I don't get it, what do Saturday and Sunday have to do with anything?"

"They have a lot to do with it," Vera Stepanovna explained. "Two Saturdays ago it was also a matter of state, and then you showed up at two in the morning crawling on all fours. And a car also came to take you, only it wasn't a limo but an ambulance-or, have you, Alexander Ivanovich, drunk as you were, forgotten?"

How could I forget; of course I hadn't forgotten. Two Saturdays ago I suddenly felt very depressed, because from morning on, I had been reading in the papers about the economic ruin of our country-and so, I'm sorry to say, I called a friend of mine who worked as an ambulance driver and was picked up on suspicion of having salmonella, which, supposedly, had attacked the plant where I worked. In a word, I didn't have a leg to stand on concerning Vera Stepanovna because I really had appeared at two o'clock in the morning and really was crawling on all fours.

Read more from the November/December 2003 issue
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