Penguin books - səhifə 33
Certainly not Galina. Galina won't even be a proper "memory." Already she is more like the shape of an alphabet, the procedure for field-stripping a Moisin—yes, like remembering to hold back trigger with forefinger of left hand as you remove bolt with right, a set of interlocking precautions, part of a process among the three exiles Galina/Luba/Tchitcherine which is working out its changes, its little dialectic, until it ends, with nothing past the structure to remember. . . .
Her eyes hide in iron shadows, the orbits darkened as if by very precise blows. Her jaw is small, square, levered forward, the lower teeth more apt to show when she speaks. . . . Hardly ever a smile. Bones in her face strongly curved and welded. Her aura is chalkdust, laundry soap, sweat. With desperate Luba about the edges, always, of her room, at her window, a pretty hawk. Galina has trained her—but it's only Luba who flies, who knows the verst-long dive, the talon-shock and the blood, while her lean owner must stay below in the schoolroom, shut in by words, drifts and frost-patterns of white words.
Light pulses behind the clouds. Tchitcherine tracks mud off the street into the Center, gets a blush from Luba, a kind of kowtow and mopflourish from the comical Chinese swamper Chu Piang, unreadable stares from an early pupil or two. The traveling "native" schoolteacher Džaqyp Qulan looks up from a clutter of pastel survey maps, black theodolites, bootlaces, tractor gaskets, plugs, greasy tierod ends,
steel map-cases, 7.62 mm rounds, crumbs and chunks of lepeshka, about to ask for a cigarette which is already out of Tchitcherine's pocket and on route.
He smiles thank you. He'd better. He's not sure of Tchitcherine's intentions, much less the Russian's friendship. Dzaqyp Qulan's father was killed during the 1916 rising, trying to get away from Kuropatkin's troops and over the border into China—one of about 100 fleeing Kirghiz massacred one evening beside a drying trickle of river that might be traceable somehow north to the zero at the top of the world. Russian settlers, in full vigilante panic, surrounded and killed the darker refugees with shovels, pitchforks, old rifles, any weapon to hand. A common occurrence in Semirechie then, even that far from the railroad. They hunted Sarts, Kazakhs, Kirghiz, and Dun-gans that terrible summer like wild game. Daily scores were kept. It was a competition, good-natured but more than play. Thousands of restless natives bit the dust. Their names, even their numbers, lost forever. Colors of skin, ways of dressing became reasonable cause to jail, or beat and kill. Even speaking-voices—because rumors of German and Turkish agents swept along these plains, not without help from Petrograd. This native uprising was supposed to be the doing of foreigners, an international conspiracy to open a new front in the war. More Western paranoia, based solidly on the European balance of power. How could there be Kazakh, Kirghiz—Eastern—reasons? Hadn't the nationalities been happy? Hadn't fifty years of Russian rule brought progress? enrichment?
Well, for now, under the current dispensation in Moscow, Dzaqyp Qulan is the son of a national martyr. The Georgian has come to power, power in Russia, ancient and absolute, proclaiming Be Kind To The Nationalities. But though the lovable old tyrant does what he can, Dzaqyp Qulan remains somehow as much a "native" as before, gauged day-to-day by these Russians as to his degree of restlessness. His sorrel face, his long narrow eyes and dusty boots, where he goes on his travels and what really transpires inside the lonely hide tents Out There, among the auls, out in that wind, these are mysteries they don't care to enter or touch. They throw amiable cigarettes, construct him paper existences, use him as an Educated Native Speaker. He's allowed his function and that's as far as it goes . . . except, now and then, a look from Luba suggesting falconhood—jesses, sky and earth, voyages. ... Or from Galina a silence where there might have been words. ...
Here she has become a connoisseuse of silences. The great silences
of Seven Rivers have not yet been alphabetized, and perhaps never will be. They are apt at any time to come into a room, into a heart, returning to chalk and paper the sensible Soviet alternatives brought out here by the Likbez agents. They are silences NTA cannot fill, cannot liquidate, immense and frightening as the elements in this bear's corner—scaled to a larger Earth, a planet wilder and more distant from the sun. . . . The winds, the city snows and heat waves of Galina's childhood were never so vast, so pitiless. She had to come out here to learn what an earthquake felt like, and how to wait out a sandstorm. What would it be like to go back now, back to a city? Often she will dream some dainty pasteboard model, a city-planner's city, perfectly detailed, so tiny her bootsoles could wipe out neighborhoods at a step—at the same time, she is also a dweller, down inside the little city, coming awake in the very late night, blinking up into painful daylight, waiting for the annihilation, the blows from the sky, drawn terribly tense with the waiting, unable to name whatever it is approaching, knowing—too awful to say—it is herself, her Central Asian giantess self, that is the Nameless Thing she fears. . . .
These tall, these star-blotting Moslem angels ... O, wie spurlos zerträte ein Engel den Trostmarkt. . . . He is constant back there, westward, the African half-brother and his poetry books furrowed and sown with Teutonic lettering burntwood-black—he waits, smudging the pages one by one, out across the unnumbered versts of lowland and of zonal light that slants as their autumns come around again each year, that leans along the planet's withers like an old circus rider, tries to catch their attention with nothing more than its public face, and continues to fail at each slick, perfect pass around the ring.
But didn't Dzaqyp Qulan, now and then—not often—across the paper schoolroom, or by surprise in front of windows into the green deep open, give Tchitcherine a certain look? Didn't the look say, "Nothing you do, nothing he does, will help you in your mortality"? And, "You are brothers. Together, apart, why let it matter this much? Live. Die someday, honorably, meanly—but not by the other's hand. ..." The light of each common autumn keeps bringing the same free advice, each time a little less hopefully. But neither brother can listen. The black must have found, somewhere in Germany, his own version of Dzaqyp Qulan, some childish native to stare him out of German dreams of the Tenth-Elegy angel coming, wingbeats already at the edges of waking, coming to trample spoorless the white marketplace of his own exile. . . . Facing east, the black face keeping watch from some winter embankment or earth-colored wall of a fine-grained
stone into low wastes of Prussia, of Poland, the leagues of meadow waiting, just as Tchitcherine grows each month now more taut and windsmooth at his westward flank, seeing History and Geopolitics move them surely into confrontation as the radios go screaming higher, new penstocks in the night shudder to the touch with hydroelectric rage, mounting, across the empty canyons and passes, skies in the day go thick with miles of falling canopies, white as visions of rich men's heavenly dzurts, gaming now and still awkward, but growing, each strewn pattern, less and less at play. . . .
Out into the bones of the backlands ride Tchitcherine and his faithful Kirghiz companion Dzaqyp Qulan. Tchitcherine's horse is a version of himself—an Appaloosa from the United States named Snake. Snake used to be some kind of remittance horse. Year before last he was in Saudi Arabia, being sent a check each month by a zany (or, if you enjoy paranoid systems, a horribly rational) Midland, Texas oil man to stay off of the U.S. rodeo circuits, where in those days the famous bucking bronco Midnight was flinging young men right and left into the sun-beat fences. But Snake here is not so much Midnight-wild as methodically homicidal. Worse, he's unpredictable. When you go to ride him he may be indifferent, or docile as a maiden. But then again, with no warning, seized out of the last ruffling of a great sigh, he could manage to kill you simply as the gesture of a hoof, the serpent tuck of a head toward the exact moment and spot on the ground that you'll cease to live. No way to tell: for months he can be no trouble at all. So far he's ignored Tchitcherine. But he's tried for Dzaqyp Qulan three times. Twice dumb luck preserved the Kirghiz, and the third time he actually hung on and rode the colt a long time down to a fair kind of obedience. But each time Tchitcherine goes up to Snake's jingling picket on the hillside, he carries, with his leather gear and his bit of scarred tapestry for the horse's back, the doubt, the inconsolable chance that the Kirghiz didn't really break him last time. That Snake is only waiting his moment. . . .
They're riding away from the railroad: farther away from the kinder zones of Earth. Black and white stars explode down the Appaloosa's croup and haunch. At the center of each of these novae is a stark circle of vacuum, of no color, into which midday Kirghiz at the roadsides have taken looks, and grinned away with a turn of the head to the horizon behind.
Strange, strange are the dynamics of oil and the ways of oilmen. Snake has seen a lot of changes since Arabia, on route to Tchitcherine,
who may be his other half—lot of horse thieves, hard riding, confiscation by this government and that, escapes into ever more remote country. This time, the Kirghiz pheasants scattering now at the sound of hooves, birds big as turkeys, black and white with splashes of blood-red all around the eyes, lumbering for the uplands, Snake is going out into what could be the last adventure of all, hardly remembering now the water-pipes at the oases crawling with smoke, the bearded men, the carved, nacred and lacquered saddles, the neck-reins of twisted goathide, the women pillioned and wailing with delight up into Caucasian foothills in the dark, carried by lust, by storm along streaks of faintest trail . . . only traces spread back in a wake now over these terminal grasslands: shadows damping and passing to rest among the rout of pheasants. Momentum builds as the two riders plunge ahead. The smell of forests on the night slowly disappears. Waiting, out in sunlight which is not theirs yet, is the . . . The . . . Waiting for them, the unimagined creature of height, and burning . . .
. . . even now in her grownup dreams, to anxious Galina comes the winged rider, red Sagittarius off the childhood placards of the Revolution. Far from rag, snow, lacerated streets she huddles here in the Asian dust with her buttocks arched skyward, awaiting the first touch of him—of it. . . . Steel hooves, teeth, some whistling sweep of quills across her spine . . . the ringing bronze of an equestrian statue in a square, and her face, pressed into the seismic earth. . . .
"He's a soldier," Luba simply meaning Tchitcherine, "and far away from home." Posted out to the wild East, and carrying on quiet, expressionless, and clearly under some official curse. The rumors are as extravagant as this country is listless. In the dayroom the corporals talk about a woman: an amazing Soviet courtesan who wore camisoles of white kid and shaved her perfect legs every morning all the way to the groin. Horse-fucking Catherine, ermined and brilliant, brought up to date. Her lovers ran from ministers down to the likes of Captain Tchitcherine, naturally her truest. While neo-Potemkins ranged the deep Arctic for her, skilled and technocratic wolves erecting settlements out of tundra, entire urban abstractions out of the ice and snow, bold Tchitcherine was back at the capital, snuggled away in her dacha, where they played at fisherman and fish, terrorist and State, explorer and edge of the wavegreen world. When official attention was finally directed their way, it did not mean death for Tchitcherine, not even exile—but a thinning out of career possibilities: that happened to be how the vectors ran, in those days. Central Asia for a good part of his
prime years, or attache someplace like Costa Rica (well—he wishes it could be Costa Rica, someday—a release from this purgatory, into shuffling surf, green nights—how he misses the sea, how he dreams of eyes dark and liquid as his own, colonial eyes, gazing down from balconies of rotting stone . . .).
Meanwhile, another rumor tells of his connection with the legendary Wimpe, the head salesman for Ostarzneikunde GmbH, a subsidiary of the IG. Because it is common knowledge that IG representatives abroad are actually German spies, reporting back to an office in Berlin known as "NW7," this story about Tchitcherine is not so easy to believe. If it were literally true, Tchitcherine wouldn't be here—there's no possible way his life could have been spared in favor of this somnambulism among the eastern garrison towns.
Certainly he could have known Wìmpe. Their lives, for a while, ran close enough in space and time. Wimpe was a Verbindungsmann in the classic style, with a streak of unhealthy enthusiasm: charming, handsome in a way that came at you in shelves or terraces of strength: amiable gray eyes, vertical granite nose, mouth that never quivered, chin incapable of fantasies . . . dark suits, immaculate leather belts and silver studs, horsehide shoes that gleamed under the skylights in the Czarist entrance-halls and across the Soviet concrete, always dapper, usually correct, informed and passionate about organic chemistry, his specialty and, it's been suggested, his faith.
"Think of chess," in his early days around the capital, looking for a comparison that Russians might take to, "an extravagant game of chess." Going on to show, if his audience was receptive (he had salesman reflexes, knew to steer automatically along lines of least indifference) how each molecule had so many possibilities open to it, possibilities for bonding, bonds of different strengths, from carbon the most versatile, the queen, "the Great Catherine of the periodic table," down to the little hydrogens numerous and single-moving as pawns . . . and the brute opposition of the chessboard yielding, in this chemical game, to dance-figures in three dimensions, "four, if you like," and a radically different idea of what winning and losing meant. . . . Schwärmerei, his colleagues back home had muttered, finding excuses to drift away into other conversations. But Tchitcherine would have stayed. Foolish and romantic, he would have kept listening, even egged the German on.
How could they have failed to be observed? By and by, as the affair in its repressed and bloodless way proceeded, the Soviet chain of command, solicitous as any 19th-century family, would begin to take sim-
pie steps to keep the two apart. Conservative therapy. Central Asia. But in the weeks of vague and soft intelligence, before the watchers quite caught the drift of things . . . what heads and tails went jingling inside the dark pockets of that indeterminacy? Since his earliest days as a detail man, Wimpe's expertise had been focused in cyclized ben-zylisoquinolines. Those of major interest being the opium alkaloids and their many variations. Right. The inner rooms of Wimpe's office—a suite at an older hotel—were full of samples, German dope in amazing profusion, Wimpe the jinni of the West holding them up, vial after vial, for little Tchitcherine's face to wonder at: "Eumecon, a 2% solution of morphine . . . Dionine (we add on an ethyl group, here, to the morphine, as you see) . . . Holopon and Nealpon, Pantopon and Omnopon, all mixtures of opium alkaloids as the soluble hydrochlo-rides . . . and Glycopon, as glycero-phosphates. . . . Here is Eucodal— a codeine with two hydrogens, a hydroxyl, a hydrochloride"—gesturing in the air around his basic fist—"hanging off different parts of the molecule." Among these patent medicines, trappings and detailing were half the game—"As the French do with their dresses, nicht wahr? a ribbon here, a pretty buckle there, to help sell a sparer design. . . . Ah, this? Trivalin!" One of the jewels of his line. "Morphine, and caffeine, and cocaine, all in solution, as the valerates. Valerian, ja—root and rhizome: you may have older relatives who took it years ago as a nerve tonic ... a bit of passementerie, you might say—some trimming over these bare molecules."
What did Tchitcherine have to say? Was Tchitcherine there at all? sitting back in the dingy room while the lift cables slapped and creaked through the walls, and down in the street, rarely enough to matter, a droshky rattled whip-snapping over these black old cobbles? Or while snow beat at the grimy windows? How far, in the eyes of those who would send him to Central Asia, was too far: would his simple presence in these rooms have gotten him death automatically ... or was there still, even at this stage of things, enough slack to let him reply?
"But once the pain has been taken care of... the simple pain . . . beyond . . . below that zero level of feeling ... I have heard ..." He has heard. Not the subtlest way to get into it, and Wìmpe must have known every standard opener there is. Some military men are only blunt, while others are of such reckless blood there is never a question of "holding back"—it's a positive insanity, they not only will commit horse against cannon, they will lead the charge themselves. It's magnificent, but it's not war. Wait until the Eastern Front. By his first action, Tchitcherine will have gained his reputation as a suicidal maniac.
German field commanders from Finland to the Black Sea will develop for him a gentlemanly distaste. It will be seriously wondered if the man has any sense of military decency at all. They will capture him and lose him, wound him, take him for killed in action, and he will go on, headlong, a raving snowman over the winter marshes—there'll be no wind adjustment, no field-change to the bottleneck fairing or deadly ogive of their Parabellum rounds that can ever bring him down. He is fond, as was Lenin, of Napoleon's on s'engage, etpuis, on voit, and as for plunging ahead, well, that IG man's hotel room may have been one of his earlier rehearsals. Tchitcherine has a way of getting together with undesirables, sub rosa enemies of order, counterrevolutionary odds and ends of humanity: he doesn't plan it, it just happens, he is a giant supermolecule with so many open bonds available at any given time, and in the drift of things ... in the dance of things . . . howsoever . . . others latch on, and the pharmacology of the Tchitcherine thus modified, its onwardly revealed side-effects, can't necessarily be calculated ahead of time. Chu Piang, the Chinese factotum in the red dzurt, knows something of this. The first day Tchitcherine came to report in to the place, Chu Piang knew—and tripped over his mop, not so much to divert attention as to celebrate the meeting. Chu Piang has a bond or two available himself. He is a living monument to the success of British trade policy back during the last century. This classic hustle is still famous, even today, for the cold purity of its execution: bring opium from India, introduce it into China—howdy Fong, this here's opium, opium, this is Fong—ah, so, me eatee!—no-ho-ho, Fong, you smokee, smokee, see? pretty soon Pong's coming back for more and more, so you create an inelastic demand for the shit, get China to make it illegal, then sucker China into a couple-three disastrous wars over the right of your merchants to sell opium, which by now you are describing as sacred. You win, China loses. Fantastic. Chu Piang being a monument to all this, nowadays whole tourist caravans come through to look at him, usually while he's Under The Influence . . . "Here ladies and gentlemen, as you may have observed, the characteristic sooty-gray complexion. . . ." They all stand peering into his dreamstruck facies, attentive men with mutton-chop sideburns, holding pearl-gray morning hats in their hands, the women lifting their skirts away from where horrid Asian critters are seething microscopically across the old floorboards, while their tour leader indicates items of interest with his metal pointer, an instrument remarkably thin, thinner than a rapier in fact, often flashing along much faster than eyes can really follow—"His Need, you will notice, retains its shape under all
manner of stresses. No bodily illness, no scarcity of supply seems to affect it a whit ..." all their mild, their shallow eyes following gently as piano chords from a suburban parlor . . . the inelastic Need turns luminous this stagnant air: it is an ingot beyond price, from which sovereigns yet may be struck, and faces of great administrators engraved and run off to signify. It was worth the trip, just to see this shining, worth the long passage by sleigh, over the frozen steppe in an enormous closed sleigh, big as a ferryboat, bedizened all over with Victorian gingerbread—inside are decks and levels for each class of passenger, velvet saloons, well-stocked galleys, a young Dr. Maledetto whom the ladies love, an elegant menu including everything from Mille-Feuilles a la Fondue de la Cervelle to La Surprise du Vésuve, lounges amply fitted out with stereopticons and a library of slides, oak toilets rubbed to a deep red and hand-carved into mermaid faces, acanthus leaves, afternoon and garden shapes to remind the sitter of home when he needs it most, hot insides poised here so terribly above the breakneck passage of crystalline ice and snow, which may be seen also from the observation deck, the passing vistas of horizontal pallor, the wheeling snowfields of Asia, beneath skies of metal baser by far than this we have come to watch. . . .
Chu Piang is also watching them, as they come, and stare, and go. They are figures in dreams. They amuse him. They belong to the opium: they never come if it's anything else. He tries not to smoke the hashish out here, actually, any more than courtesy demands. That chunky, resinous Turkestan phantasmagoric is fine for Russian, Kirghiz, and other barbaric tastes, but give Chu the tears of the poppy any time. The dreams are better, not so geometrical, so apt to turn everything—the air, the sky—to Persian rugs. Chu prefers situations, journeys, comedy. Finding the same appetite in Tchitcheríne, this stocky, Latin-eyed emissary from Moscow, this Soviet remittance man, is enough to make anybody trip over his mop, suds hissing along the floor and the bucket gong-crashing in astonishment. In delight!
Before long these two wretched delinquents are skulking out to the edges of town to meet. It is a local scandal. Chu, from some recess within the filthy rags and shreds that hang from his unwholesome yellow body, produces a repulsive black gob of the foul-smelling substance, wrapped in a scrap torn from an old Enbeksi Qazaq for 17 August of last year. Tchitcherine brings the pipe—being from the West he's in charge of the technology of the thing—a charred, nasty little implement in red and yellow repetitions over Britannia metal, bought used for a handful of kopecks in the Lepers' Quarter of
Bukhara, and yes, nicely broken in too by that time. Reckless Captain Tchitcherine. The two opiomaniacs crouch behind a bit of wall wrecked and tilted from the last earthquake. Occasional riders pass by, some noting them and some not, but all in silence. Stars overhead crowd the sky. Far into the country, grasses blow, and the waves move on through, slow as sheep. It's a mild wind, carrying the last smoke of the day, the odors of herds and jasmine, of standing water, settling dust ... a wind Tchitcherine will never remember. Any more than he can now connect this raw jumble of forty alkaloids with the cut, faceted, polished, and foiled molecules that salesman Wimpe showed him once upon a time, one by one, and told the histories of. ...
"Oneirine, and Methoneirine. Variations reported by Laszlo Jamf in the ACS Journal, year before last. Jamf was on loan again, this time as a chemist, to the Americans, whose National Research Council had begun a massive program to explore the morphine molecule and its possibilities—a Ten-Year Plan, coinciding, most oddly, with the classic study of large molecules being carried on by Carothers of du Pont, the Great Synthesist. Connection? Of course there's one. But we don't talk about it. NRC is synthesizing new molecules every day, most of them from pieces of the morphine molecule. Du Pont is stringing together groups such as amides into long chains. The two programs seem to be complementary, don't they? The American vice of modular repetition, combined with what is perhaps our basic search: to find something that can kill intense pain without causing addiction.
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