Record Twenty One

The Duty of an Author
The Ice Swells
The Most Difficult Love

Yesterday was her day and again she did not come. Again there came her incoherent note, explaining nothing. But I am tranquil, perfectly tranquil. If I act as I am told to in the note, if I go to the controller on duty, produce the pink check, and then, having lowered the curtains, if I sit alone in my room, I do all this not because I have no power to act contrary to her desire. That seems funny? Decidedly not! It is quite simple: separated from all curative, plaster-like smiles I am enabled quietly to write these very lines. This, first. And second: I am afraid to lose in her, in I-330, perhaps the only clue I shall ever have to an understanding of all the unknowns, like the story of the cupboard, or my temporary death, for instance. To understand, to discover these unknowns as the author of these records, I feel to be my simple duty. Moreover, the unknown is naturally the enemy of man. And Homo sapiens only then becomes man in the complete sense of the word, when his punctuation includes no question marks, only exclamation points, commas, and periods.

Thus, guided by what seems to me my simple duty as an author, I took an aero today at sixteen o’clock and went to the Ancient House. A strong wind was blowing against me. The aero advanced with difficulty through the thicket of air, its transparent branches whistling and whipping. The city below seemed a heap of blue blocks of ice. Suddenly — a cloud, a swift, oblique shadow. The ice became leaden; it swelled. As in springtime, when you happen to stand at the shore and wait, in one more minute everything will move and pull and crack! But the minute passes and the ice remains motionless; you feel as though you yourself are swelling, your heart beats more restlessly, more frequently. . . . But why do I write about all this? And whence all these strange sensations? For is there such an iceberg as could ever break the most lucid, solid crystal of our life?

At the entrance of the Ancient House I found no one. I went around it and found the old janitress near the Green Wall. She held her hand above her eyes, looking upward. Beyond the Wall, the sharp black triangles of some birds; they would rush, cawing, in onslaught on the invisible fence of electric waves, and as they felt the electricity against their breasts, they would recoil and soar once more beyond the Wall.

I noticed oblique, swift shadows on the dark, wrinkled face, a quick glance at me.

“Nobody here, nobody, nobody! No! And no use coming here . . .”

In what respect is it “no use,” and what a strange idea, to consider me somebody’s shadow. Perhaps all of you are only my shadows. Did I not populate these pages, which only recently were white quadrangular deserts, with you? Without me could they whom I shall guide over the narrow paths of my lines, could they ever see you?

Of course I did not say all this to the old woman. From experience I know that the most torturing thing is to inoculate someone with a doubt as to the fact that he or she is a three-dimensional reality and not some other reality. I remarked only, quite dryly, that her business was to open the gate, and she let me into the courtyard.

It was empty. Quiet. The wind remained beyond the walls, distant as on that day when shoulder to shoulder, two like one, we came out from beneath, from the corridors—if it ever really happened. I walked under stone arches; my steps resounded against the damp vaults and fell behind me, sounding as though someone were continually following me. The yellow walls with patches of red brick were watching me through their square spectacles, windows — watching me open the squeaky doors of a barn, look into corners, nooks, and hidden places. A gate in the fence and a lonely spot. The monument of the Two Hundred Years’ War. From the ground naked stone ribs were sticking out. The yellow jaws of the Wall. An ancient oven with a chimney like a ship petrified forever among red-brick waves.

It seemed to me that I had seen those yellow teeth once before. I saw them still dimly in my mind, as at the bottom of a barrel, through water. And I began to search. I fell into caves occasionally; I stumbled over stones; rusty jaws caught my unif a few times; salt drops of sweat ran from my forehead into my eyes.

Nowhere could I find that exit from below, from the corridors — nowhere! There was none. Well, perhaps it was better that it happened so. Probably all that was only one of my absurd “dreams.”

Tired out, covered with cobwebs and dust, I opened the gate to return to the main yard, when suddenly . . . a rustle behind me, splashing steps, and there before me were the pink wing—like ears and the double-curved smile of S-. Half-closing his eyes, he bored his little drills into me and asked:

“Taking a walk?”

I was silent. My arms were heavy.

“Well, do you feel better now?”

“Yes, thank you. I think I am becoming normal again.”

He let me go. He lifted his eyes, looked upward, and I noticed his Adam’s apple for the first time; it resembles a broken spring sticking out from beneath the upholstery of a couch.

Above us, not very high (about fifty meters), aeros were buzzing. By their low, slow flight and by the observation tubes which hung down I recognized them. They were the aeros of the Guardians. But there were not two or three, as usual, there were about ten or twelve (I regret to have to confine myself to an approximate figure).

“Why are there so many today?” I dared to ask S-.

“Why? Hm. . . . A real physician begins to treat a patient when he is still well but on the way to becoming sick tomorrow, day after tomorrow, or within a week. Prophylaxis! Yes!”

He nodded and went splashing over the stones of the yard. Then he turned his head and said over his shoulder, “Be careful!”

Again I was alone. Silence. Emptiness. Far beyond the Green Wall the birds and the wind. What did he mean? My aero ran very fast with the wind. Light and heavy shadows from the clouds. Below blue cupolas, cubes of glass ice were becoming leaden and swelling. . . .

The Same Evening

I took up my pen just now in order to write upon these pages a few thoughts which, it seems to me, will prove useful to you, my readers. These thoughts are concerned with the great Day of Unanimity which is now not far away. But as I sat down, I discovered that I could not write at present; instead, I sit and listen to the wind beating the glass with its dark wings; all the while I am busy looking about and I am waiting, expecting . . . What? I do not know. So I was very glad when I saw the brownish-pink gills enter my room, heartily glad, I may say. She sat down and innocently smoothed a fold of her unif that fell between her knees, and very soon she pasted upon me, all over me, a host of smiles, a bit of a smile on each crack of my face, and this gave me pleasant sensations, as if I were tightly bound like an infant of the ancients in a swaddling cloth.

“Imagine! Today, when I entered the classroom” — she works in the Child-Educational Refinery — “I suddenly noticed a caricature upon the blackboard. Indeed! I assure you! They had pictured me in the form of a fish! Perhaps I really—”

“No, no! Why do you say that?” I hastily exclaimed. When one was near her, it was clear indeed that she had nothing resembling gills. No. When I referred to gills in these pages I was certainly irreverent.

“Oh, after all it does not matter. But the act as such, think of it! Of course I called the Guardians at once. I love children very much and I think that the most diflicult and the most exalted love is — cruelty. You understand me, of course.”

“Certainly!” Her sentence so closely resembled my thoughts! I could not refrain from reading to her a passage from my Record No. 20, beginning “Quietly, metallically, distinctly, do the thoughts” . . . etc. I felt her brownish-pink cheeks twitching and coming closer and closer to me. Suddenly I felt in my hands her firm, dry, even slightly prickling fingers.

“Give, give this to me, please. I shall have it transcribed and make the children learn it by heart. Not only your Venerians need all this, but we ourselves right now, tomorrow, day after tomorrow.”

She glanced around and said in a very low voice:

“Have you heard? They say that on the Day of Unanimity —”

I sprang to my feet.

“What? What do they say? What — on the Day of Unanimity?”

The coziness of my room, its very walls, seemed to have vanished. I felt myself thrown outside, where the tremendous, shaggy wind was tossing about and where the slanting clouds of dusk were descending lower and lower.

U- boldly and firmly grasped me by the shoulders. I even noticed how her fingers, responding to my emotion, trembled slightly.

“Sit down, dear, and don’t be upset. They say many things; must we believe them all? Moreover, if only you need me, I shall be near you on that day. I shall leave the school children with someone else and I shall stay with you, for you, dear, you, too, are a child and you need . . .”

“No, no!” I raised my hands in protest. “Not for anything! You really think then that I am a child and that I cannot do without a . . . Oh, no! Not for anything in the world.” (I must confess I had other plans for that day!)

She smiled. The wording of that smile apparently was: “Oh, what a stubborn, what a stubborn boy!” She sat down, eyelids lowered. Her hands modestly busied themselves with fixing the fold of the unif which fell again between her knees, and suddenly, about something entirely different, she said:

“I think I must decide . . . for your sake. . . . But I implore you, do not hurry me. I must think it over.”

I did not hurry her, although I realized that I ought to have been delighted, as there is no greater honor than to crown someone’s evening years.

All night strange wings were about. I walked and protected my head with my hands from those wings. And a chair, not like ours, but an ancient chair, came in with a horse-like gait; first the right foreleg and left hind leg, then the left foreleg and right hind leg. It rushed to my bed and crawled into it, and I liked that wooden chair, although it made me uncomfortable and caused me some pain.

It is very strange; is it really impossible to find any cure for this dream sickness, or to make it rational, perhaps even useful?