“He wanted desperately to seize the tantalizing essence: why? The rustle and smell of the essence were somewhere here, but he knew it would not yield itself up…” – A SIMPLE SOUL
“So, what’s up? How are you?” she asked with a yawn. “Come on, speak up fast. I’m a little busy here.” In the background some smooth jazz was playing, and men’s voices could be heard. Frank felt his heart would rip out of his chest and fly into the abyss.
“Olga,” he uttered, “please, will you marry me?”
She was silent a long time, then mumbled, “Hang on,” and yelled in frustration at someone close by, “Bug off, will you! This doesn’t concern you!” Then she sighed and said tenderly and warmly, “Frankie, you’re still such a child. Go home. It’s better for you there – much, much better, trust me.”
“I see,” he replied. “Well, bye.” He depressed the hook and stood a long while with the receiver in his hands. When he came to his senses, he opened the balcony door and went out to the Volga, majestic and tranquil, to the quay still full of the people, to voices and music, and the scent of kebab grills with their coals extinguished, where the vendors now only hawked beer. In his soul it was lightless and bitter; he felt he had endured the biggest loss in his life. The city below exulted frantically, as though it were for the last time, and Frank White knew he was seeing this place for the last time, and for some reason, this also weighed heavily on his chest.
Then the music stopped as if on command and the coast became empty at once. Only the occasional drunks wandered, wobbling, also unneeded by anyone this night. And then the streetlamps began to go out one after the other – both on the embankment and in the city itself as far as the eye could see. Soon everything around was plunged into darkness; only the water gave off an oily sheen in the moonlight. At that moment, Frank understood something about this country; inconceivable grief engulfed him – a reflection of the great despondency of the open expanses. Thus it was here over the centuries, and thus would it always be – and what a terrible thing that is, an unlit city!
“It’s hopeless,” said Frank White loudly into the summer night. The bleakness of big open spaces, for which even the horizon was no more than a detail, revealed itself to him with flawless clarity. Its scale was beyond measure, but its power still wasn’t absolute. Frank knew that even there madmen sufficed – those who dared to challenge its supremacy. It succumbed deceptively, until it swallowed them once and for all. But others would appear in their wake and fight with all their might…
He wanted desperately to seize the tantalizing essence: why? The rustle and smell of the essence were somewhere here, but he knew it would not yield itself up – it was as elusive as the Firebird Olga. “Already the End, Not Yet the End,” he murmured. You couldn’t grasp the flame with your hand, but could your palm at least catch its reflection? Strange hexagrams, not resembling anything, appeared to him in patches of river light. “Land of Love,” “Land of No Love,” he named them. “And the second follows the first.”
It occurred to him right then how easy it was to just drop dead, in a hotel room, without having learned whether another life – better, simpler, more sensible – lay ahead. Easy to vanish, and nobody would notice the loss – how would they notice, when it’s so dark all around? The stars twinkled, divulging no secrets. He knew only that somewhere overhead the sky hung: it was real – it, and the great river. And, clinging to this knowledge, Frank White, Jr. soared between the river and the sky, having suddenly forgotten all names and faces, cherishing like an eternal treasure the boundlessness of his sadness – a proof he was still alive…” – A SIMPLE SOUL
Image credit: ahermin
“I read this one from cover to cover in one sitting without wanting to be disturbed” – Readers’ Favorite