| BEN GREENMAN
By Grigory Satyrenko
Translated by Leonard Onge
All of Satyrenko's stories are necessarily about photographers;
it makes compressive sense of what he does. The Polariod of the
boy hunched over in a wheatfield in "The Brothers."
The unsigned gelatin print that haunts "Two Birds Shot Over
a Rough Grey Sea." Since the early Sixties, when he first
made his name as a photojournalist in the Kiev Collective, Satyrenko
has developed the photographic element of his fiction, and the
great stories of the late Eighties (especially "Double Exposure")
foreground his concerns with the medium. Reading his work, we
should think of the camera as an instrument that inscribes as
well as describes. As my friend Martin Hutchinson says, the kind
of eye we see with matters. -L.O.
It is April. In Moscow, the cherry blossoms are in bloom, and
fleecy boughs canopy the flat grey streets. One morning, over
his toast and coffee, Pyotor Petrovich reads of a dispute between
American and British researchers played out in the pages of The
London Journal of Scientific Inquiry. A distinguished British
physicist has challenged the unorthodox results of an American
team, insinuating that he is not satisfied with the soundness
of their laboratory methods. Pyotor Petrovich is a conscientious
man, and this sort of thing upsets him greatly. When he was a
young graduate student, his mentor, the esteemed Doctor Alexsandr
Rostikov, was infamous for the scornful gaze he would fix upon
students remiss in their experimental preparations. Rostikov
would tower over the helpless tyro, and then, from the Andean
peak of his unimpeachable intelligence, issue a single scathing
word: "Careless!" Pyotor Petrovich only needed one
such incident to terrify him, and to convince him of the absolute
necessity of meticulous order, both within the scientist and in
the environment around him. "We are caretakers of new realities,"
Pyotor Petrovich often explains to his younger colleagues, his
rhetoric and delivery altogether less magisterial than Rostikov's,
but every bit as heartfelt. "The experiment is a world,
and its Genesis must be seamless. What happens afterward, we cannot
say. We can only watch. The apple may be plucked and eaten. The
apple may be left untouched. After the setup, we are a perfect
eye. But during the setup, we are the one and only God."
This deistic metaphor rarely finds favor among the younger researchers,
who view it as a quaint myth of impossible exactitude, but even
they agree that procedural prudence is vital.
Pyotor Petrovich's initial suspicions regarding the London
Journal case, which arise during his breakfast, are only confirmed
by his second reading, which takes place on the bus from his flat
to Drudzgrad-7, the secret research city just south of the capital,
and his third, which occurs while he is waiting to enter the I-9
Lab. The Britisher, it seems, is trying to return to prominence
after nearly a decade of relative invisibility, and the upstart
group of young researchers from Baltimore has had the misfortune
of serving as the first victims of this renewed vigor. Not only
because he tends to side with the underdogs - it is in Pyotor
Petrovich's nature to support some notion of universal parity,
where all benefits and deficits are subtly counterweighed - but
because of the clear facts of the controversy, which he reviews
as he eats his modest lunch of cheese and onion, that he finds
himself growing increasingly incensed at what he perceives as
unjust treatment of the Americans. In at least one section of
his challenge, this Englishman has resorted to irresponsible conjecture
regarding the execution of a Hungarian experiment of 1978, and
this egregious misreading of the Rackozy setup invalidates his
entire argument. Pyotor Petrovich hopes the Americans are aware
of this flaw in the attack, but he has his doubts - few men in
the world, he knows, are as attentive to these minute details
of operations as he is. Greatly agitated, he paces his small
office space, all the while ticking a fingernail across the rim
of his styrofoam coffee cup, and then, in a quite uncharacteristic
outburst, banging a closed fist against the flat white formica
of his lab table. "This is true injustice!" he exclaims
loudly. Natalya Azkharava, the thick brunette in charge of equipment
requisitioning, looks up from her desk and gazes quizzically through
the glass partition. Pyotor Petrovich returns an abashed smile.
But all afternoon, as he fits lenses and samples wavelengths,
he cannot help thinking of the team of four Americans, and how
they must be clustered around a conference table in The Johns
Hopkins University, picking nervously at cold meats and vegetables
as they draft and redraft letters of protest. "We the undersigned
wish to object strenuously to the charges of our distinguished
" "It is with great certitude that we
reassert our original results and urge the withdrawal of this
" "We appeal to the fairness
and objectivity of the international community
From the top drawer of his desk, Pyotor Petrovich withdraws his
prized fountain pen- he ordered it years before from a French
catalog, and was overjoyed when it met and even exceeded the beauty
of the model pictured in the advertisement - and writes to Dr.
L. Rashman, the lead researcher on the American study. Pyotor
Petrovich is very proud of his English, almost as proud as he
is of his pen. He had spent some time in London as a student during
the Fifties, and attended a play starring Jean Simmons, something
about a young boy imprisoned in a manor house by his beautiful
but tyrannical aunt. After the play, he stood outside on Shaftesbury
Avenue with the crowds, waiting for Simmons to emerge, and when
she did, he extended his playbill to her deferentially. He kept
the program, the actress's name scrawled in two hurried tiers
across its face, and when he returned from London presented it
to his fianceé as a gift, along with a love note in fluent
English. It is with that same English - weakened slightly, of
course, by the intervening decades, but still more than adequate
- that he writes to the American doctor in condolence and commiseration.
"Doctor Rashman, I know how great must be your discomfort,"
he writes in a careful script, his lower lip folded inward with
concentration. "I am research scientist here in Russia and
an associate of the late Doctor Alexsandr Rostikov, with whom
you are perhaps familiar. I studied under him years ago. In reading
the London Journal of Scientific Inquiry, I have looked
at an article about your research team what I feel is most unjust.
Please send to me a copy of your original article. I would like
to read of your work and then to write on your behalf to those
who I know. Also, that you would read the 1978 paper delivered
by G. Rackozy in Budapest, and that you would see the errors of
Dr. Phillips in applying it to this case. I sense that you are
in the right, and hope to help convince others of this."
After signing his name, Pyotor Petrovich rereads the letter,
and feeling that he has assumed a tone at once too condescending
and too pessimistic, adds a light-hearted postscript: "I
wish that you will accept my humble assistance, and hope that
you are not a rash man."
After sealing the letter in a crisp envelope of watery green
color, Pyotor Petrovich deposits it in a red wire basket on the
far right of his desk. The basket is situated just in front of
a photograph of his wife, long-dead, and his two sons, who are
grown now and live nearby. Behind those photographs are more:
another of his wife as a young bride, his sons playing in the
snow, him and Anna on holiday. He has practiced this hobby of
amateur photography for more than thirty years, and his persistence
has rewarded him with countless photographs of his family and
friends and none at all of himself. In the one photograph in
which Pyotor Petrovich should appear, a lab snapshot that shows
him working with Rostikov, his face is obscured by a beaker perched
upon a ringstand. According to his own record, he is an ontological
naught; he often jokes that if he were to vanish, it would be
without a trace. And yet, a discerning eye would find evidence
of him everywhere. In the careful maintenance of the lab's lasers;
in the white coat, right cuff rubbed with ink, that hangs upon
the corner hook; in the apple and the pastry missing from the
Drudzgrad-7 commissary every afternoon. And even in the pictures
themselves, in the way the faces of the subjects reach across
the photographic plane and locate him with love.
The advancing spring is regressing dawn, and bringing the first
few rays of light to the early morning hours. Pyotor Petrovich
lives in a small flat that he has rented with prompt monthly payments
for the nine years since his wife's death. A tiny corner kitchen,
a sofa that folds out into a bed, and a large mahogany bookshelf.
They are mostly his wife's books; she was a poet, and she collected
other poets in thin brown volumes, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, Mandelstam.
Each morning he rises at half-past five, washes down flavorless
toast with lukewarm coffee, and then walks to the corner to catch
the government bus into the research park. He is usually among
the first to arrive at his building, and he awaits the opening
of the Checkpoint Alexei security gate along with the other obsessively
punctual chemists and botanists, astrophysicists and physicists.
The men who gather in the early morning arrange themselves into
informal fours and fives, and wonder aloud about the condition
of the country, especially the rapid change that is occurring
in the national rhetoric. Pyotor Petrovich himself has a set
of stock comments, most of which are cut with the cautionary saws
of folk tales; Gorbachev is both the prince and the fool, or change
is a golden ball coveted by an avaricious empress. The aeronautics
engineers who work the East Wing are the least agreeable to these
impromptu conferences - a close-knit group of tall and haughty
men susceptible to affectations, monocles and pocket-watch chains,
they are not native Russians, but the sons of German exiles who
came East as defectors in the wake of the Nazi downfall. Their
labs reflect their otherness, and are arranged with forbidding
Kopfvedreher precision, instruments tagged and sorted,
circles chalked on the countertops to indicate the proper storage
zones for instruments.
Pyotor Petrovich, by contrast, approaches his work as a natural
extension of his life, continuous with his domestic existence,
and as a result, his laboratory is decorated like the modest home
of a cottager - like his own home, in fact. Lab equipment and
scientific paperwork are juxtaposed haphazardly with chance articles
of cheap furniture - a compact cubic refrigerator and a red velour
easy chair, a weatherbeaten mahogany end-table, and a wall-mounted
plywood shelf that holds volumes of Pushkin, Flaubert, and his
beloved Dostoevsky. This shelf overhangs a small metal workbench
at the rear of the lab, and it is Pyotor Petrovich's sanctum.
For more than a decade now, he has been collecting castaway parts
from neighboring labs and cobbling together inventions, experimenting
with small advances in electronics and optical technology. The
previous summer, for instance, he had begun work on a perfectly
flat video monitor, thin as card stock, and he had recently drafted
plans for a portrait camera equipped with an automatic framing
feature. Almost none of these devices works correctly - the video
monitor, for instance, can display only one image per second,
rendering it insufficient for anything but novelty status - but
this does not worry Pyotor Petrovich. In fact, it is the very
failure of his inventions to function that engages him. Imperfect,
incapable, unresolved, they inspire in him a sentiment that transcends
pragmatic concerns; they are like children who will never grow
up, and will always need the guiding hand of a parent to find
their way in the world. The longer he spends tinkering with their
circuits without definitive results, the more affection he feels
for them. They need him.
It is an overcast day, threatening yet another May rain, when
Pyotor Petrovich receives a manila envelope in the mail. It is
three weeks after he has sent his letter to Johns Hopkins - he
has been waiting eagerly for a response - and his heart thrills
when he sees that the envelope is posted with an American stamp,
a watercolor of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk. Before he
even opens the envelope, he razors off its post-corner; he must
show this stamp to the aeronautics engineers. This is who they
have to thank, not their Venckmanns and von Brauns. For a letter-opener,
he uses a dull butter knife, sawing away at the flap until he
finally extracts a neatly folded sheet of stationery. It is white
but not white, and he holds it against the formica top to better
gauge its color. Cream. The letter is from Dr. Rashman, and
it is forthright and friendly, exactly as he imagines America:
Dear Dr. Petrovich, I thank you very much for your interest
in our case. I am happy to inform you that we have reached an
understanding with Dr. Phillips, and that he has ceased to hint
at improprieties. He has not yet apologized for casting aspersions,
but as a colleague of mine has remarked, we're not holding our
breath. Still, the last few weeks have been difficult, sometimes
maddeningly so, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the
support of colleagues across the globe. I was especially intrigued
to learn of your association with Doctor Rostikov, whose work
provided the foundation for so much of my own. We scientists
work too often with theoretical propositions, isolated from phenomenal
fact, and though I have seen countless photographs of the man,
I never until now conceived of him as an actual corporeal being,
someone with students and friends. If for nothing else, I thank
you for helping to give a certain heft to my professional imaginations.
The final paragraph is short, but despite its brevity Pyotor
Petrovich has to read it a few times to be certain that he has
understood: In response to your wonderful postscript, I must
admit that I am not a rash man. In fact, I am not a man at all.
Your, Dr. Lila Rashman. A woman. He never would have guessed,
and yet now that he knows he is not surprised.
The American has enclosed an article about the resolution of
the conflict, the opposing parties making a public show of goodwill
at an international conference held in New York City. Alongside
the article, the journal has printed a photograph of the Hopkins
team, all of them smiling broadly and one of them, a stout fiftyish
woman, gripping the hand of the Englishman. Pyotor Petrovich
searches the caption, and is relieved to learn that this is not
Doctor Rashman. He finds her finally in the left foreground,
standing behind a table. She is a tall woman with long black hair
and a penetrating gaze, and she looks rather young, no older than
thirty-five. A slight warmth rises into his face. The photograph
does not flatter her entirely - there is something thick and rectangular
about the set of her jaw - but this Pyotor Petrovich chalks up
to the cruelty of the camera. He knows how it can falsify; his
wife, slight and small, always looked slightly overweight in photographs,
with an overbite his sympathetic gaze could not detect.
He mounts the photograph on the wall over his workbench. As
the afternoon proceeds, he comes to understand it better. Some
of the heaviness of her face results from the shadow cast by the
figure to her left, a well-known Harvard mathematician whose name
he cannot recall now. And while the woman is older than he initially
suspected - at least forty, he now guesses - he can see her twentieth
year in the playful tilt of her head, her tenth in the unguarded
brilliance of her smile. But it is her eyes that draw him most
powerfully, with such a luminosity that looking into them, even
through the intervening medium of the photograph, is like listening
to the voice of their owner. The magic of this photograph, and
of photographs in general, lies in the multiplicity of their effect,
the way they operate both viscerally and surreptitiously, simultaneously
presenting a simulacrum of reality to the intellect and floating
undetected into the recesses of the mind (memory, desire) like
wisps of fragrance from a bakery window. Anyone could look at
this picture and fall in love with this woman instantly. Pyotor
Petrovich does. And yet, there is a certain gravity that dilates
this process. Gazing into Lila Rashman's eyes, which he imagines
from their amplitudes are green, Pyotor Petrovich feels quite
acutely the pain of his wife's loss. One thing has nothing to
do with the other, and yet perhaps they are the same - this new
beautiful face renewing an old wound of the heart, and especially
the memory of another woman, also quite beautiful, who is now
long hid among packs of years.
Every night, Pyotor Petrovich sits down to write at the simple
pine desk in his apartment. As a young man, he believed that scheduled
reflection yielded profoundly therapeutic benefits, and that a
mere hour of meditative jotting each day returned to a man many
more hours of spiritual equilibrium. Some nights he spends with
his journal; on others he composes letters to old friends, or
transcribes sections of Pushkin. Tonight, with the light spray
of the May rain descending, Pyotor Petrovich writes to Lila Rashman.
He discusses scientific issues, including the most recent American
advances in laser optics and how they might profitably be applied
to medical technology. The letter doubles as a language lesson.
Pyotor Petrovich, whose confidence in his English has been tempered
by the American doctor's effortlessly elegant prose, has asked
his new corespondent to correct his errors, and to be unflinching
in her criticism. He encourages her with a number of purposeful
solecisms, "After a hard day of work I am exhaust,"
and "It is to you that I make question." She finds
these, and more. Her grammatical rigor kindles a sort of camaraderie.
And yet, it is not only the grammar. The letters have an indisputable
appeal, and they produce a bright excitement that sometimes flowers
into joy. Pyotor Petrovich, a man not given to jocosity, finds
himself humming a ballad from his student days under his breath.
"The river and the afternoon, your arm at rest in mine
He has quite forgotten the rest of the words, although he knows
at some point the couple rests in a deep green grove, at which
point the boy carves the name of his beloved in the trunk of a
young pine. Whenever he had sung the song before, the lovers'
circumstance drew Pyotor Petrovich into curious reverie. Were
the names still on the tree? Did surface carvings move upward
along the trunk as the tree grew in height? Were they covered
by the addition of new rings? But this particular morning, as
he hums with Lila Rashman in mind, he finds himself suddenly liberated
from this line of inquiry, which strikes him as extending well
beyond the purview of the tune, and he concentrates instead on
the music itself - the periodic rise and fall of the melody,
the way that the notes of the chorus cluster in bunches like grapes,
the perfect correspondence between the trilling coda and his own
lightsome mood. A bumblebee of wadded tape and paper buzzes on
the flat top of the file cabinet. He gathers it into his right
hand and flings it toward the wastepaper basket, smiling abstractly
as it caroms off the rim.
One Monday afternoon, shortly after the weather has thickened
in the summer heat, Pyotor Petrovich's older son Vasily comes
to visit him at the laboratory. To other men, the two of them
must seem quite similar; there is a striking physical resemblance,
the same collapsed chin and sharp dark features, the eyes that
are the glossy brown of seacoast pebbles. And yet, as men of
the world, they could not be more different. As a boy, Vasily
had been intelligent but impatient, driven by a burning desire
for change that sometimes bordered on despair. As a man, he has
become a big wheel in the fledgling world of Soviet advertising,
a key figure in the transition from one type of propaganda to
the next. Attired like a sharpster in a Botany 500 suit and brushed
suede shoes, he is all rude shift, as if a pea has been slipped
beneath the mattress of his life. He is a rash man. But
his energy is contagious, and his rough manner cannot conceal
how much he loves his father.
"Ah, so this is your American doctor," Vasily says,
tapping the photo, whistling too loudly. "Very easy on the
eyes. It's what they call a cocoa tan. I'll bet she has smooth
hands and nice curves. The complexion-and-contour model is all
the rage in America these days."
"I have been in communication with her about a very important
case for the international research community. You see, a well-respected
British scientist accused her team of misconduct."
Vasily is uninterested. "Yah, yah."
"The matter is quite serious, I assure you."
"But this picture is more serious to me. Do you deny that
she is bewitching? And if you do deny, perhaps you could explain
to me why you have put the picture up? Is it covering a hole
in the wall?"
"I have a picture of your mother in that same pose."
"What pose? There's no pose in that photography. It's a
straight-on head shot." But his son was not looking carefully.
Pyotor Petrovich had studied the photograph enough times to recall
it to his mind in great detail, and he envisioned her left hand,
with its long nails, hovering over the back of the chair, the
penumbral rim along the lower edge of her knuckles suggesting
a distance of inches between the fingers and the furniture. The
picture was taken at a slight angle - the window in the room's
rear, which admitted a torrent of white light, was not level with
the photographic frame - and the conference table that anchored
the scene was novelly foreshortened. A clock on the left wall
"I will create an ad campaign for your laboratory. Hop
on over to the Drudzgrad-7 Institute. Watch tomorrow's lasers
through magic spectacles." He has a great persuasive energy,
even though his own conviction is clearly evanescent, and the
trained observer in Pyotor Petrovich recognizes the pilgrim under
the cynic, the eagerness and even the naivetee in his son's brittle
wit. At fifteen, Vasily had travelled to Sofia, and the letters
he sent home had convinced Anna that her son was destined to be
a great writer. "I am happier than ever," he wrote,
"and more uncomfortable than ever. Once your life has taken
on the shape of magic, you cannot wait patiently for each individual
miracle." Pyotor Petrovich wishes he could warn Vasily of
the dangers of his attitude, the folly of embracing extravagant
hope, but the thought of his wife softens him. "They are
not spectacles," he tells his son, "but special lenses
crafted for the testing of new optical technologies."
"You speak like an old woman. The word we print next to
it, that is what the world accepts as genuine. Phrase is power."
When Pyotor Petrovich announces that he must return to his work,
Vasily salutes. "Right, old bean," he says, camouflaging
his disappointment with an insincere chipperness. "Do hope
to speak with you again some time soon." That night, as
he reviews the visit, what surfaces within Pyotor Petrovich is
not the barbed comments or the accents, but a single gentle image
of Vasily singing, applying a wavery tenor to a popular tune that
has drifted over from Prague or Budapest, and before that probably
from the West:
To kiss a second pair of lips
I know it is a vice
but tell me true what would you do
when she's half as far and twice as nice?
The next morning, Pyotor Petrovich phones his younger son Jurij,
who agrees to visit him in the early afternoon. Once a quiet
boy with none of the arrogance of his brother - as a child he
had been the very model of modesty and kindness - Jurij has become
moody, and sometimes almost inexplicably so, in the last four
or five years. Since Anna's death, Pyotor Petrovich knows, the
family has endured a vague and general estangement; in a society
of men it is inevitable that any individual will feel distant
from the fears and hopes of the others, and even from those of
his own heart. At times, Vasily has tried to serve the maternal
role, calling the three of them together in a rude burlesque of
Anna's gossamer diplomacy, and Jurij has resisted those attempts.
But this is something different.
Jurij is a concert violinist with one of the finest sububan symphonies,
and his music is the most brilliant hue in the spectrum of his
young life, a piercing sunflower yellow. At the time of Anna's
death, he had just completed his own musical training, and was
planning to join the staff of an academy for young prodigies.
Anna thought this decision suited him perfectly. "He loves
young children so much," she told Pyotor Petrovich, "and
is so gentle with them." But after five years at the school,
Jurij suddenly submitted his resignation. He was marrying another
teacher, a cellist, and the following year, they had a daughter.
If Jurij seemed to enjoy his family life at first, there were
soon signs of discontent, a bitter gauntness in his manner. Pyotor
Petrovich was bothered by this, but he was most troubled by Jurij's
growing aversion to Vasily. Whereas he once respected his brother
immensely, his attitude now alternated between disdain and envy,
and in Vasily's presence he wore a continual sneer that gave him
the appearance of a boy on the verge of tears. In the last year
or so - since a particularly peevish outburst in which Jurij disparaged
Vasily as a "mountebank" and a "rug salesman"
- the two had seen each other only rarely, and Pyotor Petrovich
did not have the strength to force a reconciliation.
Today, Jurij seems talkative, which Pyotor Petrovich accounts
as a positive sign until he begins to listen more closely to the
content of his son's conversation. It seems he is thinking of
leaving Moscow. "I am considering Petersburg," he says,
"or perhaps Paris. Somewhere with a well-respected orchestra
and some distance from this place. Perhaps that way I can concentrate
on my music. These days, when I play, I feel that I am doing
nothing but planting myself deeper in mediocrity and sadness."
The previous winter, Jurij and his wife had lost a child at twenty
weeks, and the miscarriage had strained the marriage greatly.
Through Jurij, whose oblique remarks were often quite direct,
Pyotor Petrovich gathered that his son suspected Mariana of infidelity,
and that he was protecting himself from the consequences by conducting
an affair himself.
"Mediocrity?" Pyotor Petrovich says, thinking of Anna,
wondering if she monitored the three of them, crisp surveillance
pictures delivered to her study in the afterlife. "Nonsense.
I've copied out all the praiseworthy bits from last month's Tchaikovsky:
'Impeccable tone,' 'the picture of delicate intensity,' 'the performer's
artful domination of the audience.' I even have a picture from
the newspaper. There, behind you, to the left of the workbench."
Looking at the photograph, Pyotor Petrovich hears the orchestra,
the swooping group adagios, the pizzacato of his son's passion
singing on the strings. It is hard for him, he admits, to connect
that man with the one who stands before him, and harder still
to connect either of them with the happy infant who used to gurgle
and pinch roundly at his arms. The changes in Jurij these days
are like strokes of an oar across the smoky top of a winter lake.
Over the next weeks, his visits become more frequent and more
erratic - sometimes a ten-minute chat early in the morning, other
times a long and silent appearance that spans the afternoon.
One day he stays late, and as he stares at his father with an
inscrutable look, Pyotor Petrovich feels as if he were being observed
by the ocelli of a peacock. While Vasily is incessant in his
commentary - "For the want of a loaf," he might say,
tipping Crime and Punishment from its station on the bookshelf
- Jurij notices nothing, not even the picture of Lila Rashman
that counterbalances the picture of him. One day, he asks his
father for a camera. This request animates Pyotor Petrovich at
once; not only does the mere mention of the device transport him
into the past, where he is greeted by dutiful and happy children
and a lovely wife, but Jurij's request gives him the opportunity
to hold forth on his newest invention. With a happy laugh, he
produces a small black box, no larger than a cigarette-pack, with
a panel of buttons stretching across its top. This is the plain-paper
camera, a device that transfers black-and-white photographs to
ordinary white paper in the manner of a xerographic copier. He
has had great success with it lately - though the images produced
are of inferior quality, the process compensates with its incredibly
low cost - and has begun to dream of marketing it, rueing his
dreams of wealth even as he dreams them, knowing how foolish they
must be. "I hope that it brings you pleasure," says
Pyotor Petrovich, proffering the camera with a flourish. His
son returns a grim indecipherable smile.
With his only promising invention loaned out, Pyotor Petrovich
wraps himself tighter in his epistolary flirtation, feeling as
he did when he was a young man. He pulls a footstool into the
closet and retrieves from a high shelf a box of stationery, a
gift to him from his wife in the year of her death. The beautiful
golden hue of the paper has since faded, but it has left behind
a pattern, a comfortable honeyed grain. It is proper, and even
generous, to write his letters on this paper. It will remind
him of his strongest moments, and help him validate them.
Lila. He writes it and then stops. He paces his apartment,
singing, the freshness of the music almost indecent, like the
sharp sweet swell of a newly mown meadow. In Britain he once
developed a passion for a radio singer named Lily Atamasco, but
this is an unfamiliar variation. Lila. He pronounces it
sometimes in bed as a private enjoyment, feeling quite silly,
but attempting the American accents, elongating the i until
it is a long staircase of gentle grade and the l's newels
at either end, with the a an exhaled afterthought, a foot-carpet
thrown by the bottommost riser. Spoken in the dark of his bedroom,
a close and treacly dark more green than black, her name is a
stream, cool and subtle, purling in his throat. Lila.
Under the spell of these two syllables, each the imperfect copy
of the other, together a perfect pair, his work begins to change.
He is less methodical and less patient, finds himself daydreaming
in ways he has not in forty years - hung up on a vague memory
of the first line of "Novogodnee," an unfamiliar raven-haired
figure glimsped from behind - and then finds the daydreams alternating
with flashes of brilliant intuition. What would Rostikov think?
Would he scorn this intuitive turn as sophistry and sorcery?
When Pyotor Petrovich attempts the mental transport that usually
brings him closer to the man, his memory is of a portly figure
rather pontifical than authoritative, and with an affected orotundity
that verges on the comical. One night he dreams that he portrays
his old mentor in a skit, and that he waxes the ends of his costume-moustache
until his eyes are wet with laughing tears. He knows he is performing
for someone, that he is showing off, and when he wakes in the
morning he can do nothing but lie grinning in his bed. The dreamer
and the scientist are warring within him, and victory is falling
to the dreamer.
It is early on a Tuesday morning when Jurij calls the flat.
"Father," he says, and nothing else. Pyotor has not
even had his toast and coffee.
"Jurij," he says. No response. He repeats his son's
name, searches for him in the interminable silence. Still nothing.
His heart thudding, Pyotor Petrovich sighs to calm himself and
delivers a sugared homily. "Jurij, listen to me. Whatever
is troubling you, it will pass. You are very young still, and
look upon such difficulties as permanent. I have more experience
with these things. Please, Jurij, I cannot talk to you now.
The bus for work is leaving shortly. But come by and see me this
Finally, Jurij answers. "I will." But Pyotor waits
into the evening, staring at the wall clock and the newspaper
photo of Jurij beneath it, and finally leaves shortly after seven.
The next day Ivan Zaitsev, the lab director, informs him that
the equipment office cannot account for a small amount of money.
It has been accounted as lost, but there are suspicions of theft,
directed chiefly at Old Ganev, who has guided his mop listlessly
around the corners of the lab for almost twenty years now. It
is only later, when he returns to his small apartment, that he
remembers Jurij's phone call, and feels a sick tug at his stomach
as he wonders if perhaps his younger son subscribes to a very
different standard of conduct from that which he has upheld all
Two weeks later - weeks that have passed without any sign of
Jurij, who continues to schedule visits he does not keep - a small
fire breaks out in a laboratory down the hall, and spreads through
I-9. Arriving in the morning, Pyotor Petrovich finds one of the
Kopfverdrehers clucking in the security area. "What's
the matter?" he asks, and is answered only by stern Teutonic
silence. In his lab, a sooty patina has settled over the floor
and workbench. His bookshelf attests to a critical precision
in the flames' encroachment; the Dostoevsky is damaged, but the
Puskhin barely touched. It is not until nine that he notices
his greatest loss - the two newsprint photographs that flanked
his workbench are gone, and where they hung there are now only
nails ringed by collars of carbonized paper. He finds a single
scrap that must have been blown free of the flames and handles
it as reverently as the palmer treats his leaves. She is not
in it, only the face of a man who stood to her rear right, but
he knows her in the man's aspect. That night, he writes with
greater urgency, heedless of his grammar and dependent on his
intensity to navigate him safely through. He reports the fire,
even ventures an explanation that he will admit to no one else
- "I am afraid that my son is somehow involved in the cause"
- and concludes with a request divested of his usual playful manner.
"My dear Doctor Rashman, I would like from you a replacement
of the photograph. Or else I should feel as if there is nothing
firm beneath my feet."
Another round of vists by his sons. Again, Vasily comes first,
volume turned high, pressuring his father to help him invest in
a new business. "Oh, that's right, father. You don't know
what business is. How could you? When have you seen true industry
at work? The hot blood of capital flowing freely."
He hardly has the energy to spar, but he makes a valiant attempt,
fearful that if he does not, Vasily will sense his preoccupation,
and ferret out its source. "I was once a visitor in Berlin."
"Ach, Berlin. Jelly doughnuts. I am speaking of America.
Bruce Springsteen. Michael Jackson. Julia Roberts. Abundancies
you cannot dream of. Once more, into the broil. Your ideas will
make us men thick with money." From his tone, it is apparent
that it is more than mere cupidity that powers this vision of
a life transformed. It is pride in his father, and it is love.
Shortly after Vasily departs, singing another American song,
Jurij arrives. He enters without ceremony, Pyotor Petrovich's
camera extended before him, and despite the shaky smile on his
face, his struggle with his demons has apparently been to lamentable
purpose, for he looks dissipated and afraid, with a terrible unevenness
to his gaze. Shortly after he arrives he bends over the wastebasket
and spits noisily into its depths, an insanity. "Father,"
he says, and then pauses, steadying himself against the workbench.
His smile is gone now and his starched shirt collar pretends
to cut his throat. "I have two favors to ask."
"What I need," he resumes, "is for you to hold
something for me." He produces a thin manila envelope.
"This contains some extremely important documents that need
safekeeping until next month." Pyotor Petrovich accepts the
envelope without comment and, as his son watches, places it in
a file drawer. "Good," says Jurij. "Also, I need
more money. Do you have some I could borrow?" Pyotor Petrovich
silently gestures toward the top drawer of the desk. Jurij slides
out a few bills, and conveys them to a front pocket of his pants.
There is something in the gesture that strikes Pyotor Petrovich
as professional. He does not ask his son questions, but lets
him speak, and speak he does, about his wife, how he loves her,
how he hopes that his life regains its balance. "And little
Julia," he says, "she is growing so quickly that I close
my eyes sometimes to keep an image of her. Yesterday I lay on
the ground and held her up flying until my arms hurt." The
memory brushes his features with a faint happiness, and Pyotor
Petrovich remembers how his son had looked at birth, at two, on
the first day of school, on his wedding night. Open-mouthed,
seemingly on the verge of explaining what it is that troubles
him, Jurij suddenly colors a deep red, and then that color, too,
drains from his face, and he leaves the lab without speaking.
That night, Pyotor Petrovich writes a long letter to Lila Rashman,
a confession of sorts that telescopes his paternity into a few
representative incidents - Vasily's birth, a minor ice-skating
accident when Jurij was eight, the stark mystery of that afternoon's
visit. "I do not know what to do. He will not confide in
me, and his fear frightens me terribly. All children must grow,
and so, too, have my sons, although as men they are leaving me
emptier than ever." He intends this lament as a declaration
of love, and after rereading the letter copies it into his journal,
so nakedly does it present his feelings. He does not, however,
The following week he spends his evenings in the laboratory,
each night staying later than the one before. He eats less and
less, not out of diet any longer but because he is not hungry,
and one night he realizes with that he is pining over the letter
he has not mailed, pining like a schoolboy, and that he will not
regain his equilibrium until he knows, in some small way, that
Lila Rashman understands the extent of his feelings for her.
Thursday night, he is tinkering with the camera when he hears
a faint noise somewhere in the building, a distant plashing of
glass. Ganev, he thinks to himself. Senile. Should tell Ivan
Zaitsev. Pyotor Petrovich returns to the camera, and he is probing
in its empty stomach with a tweezer, trying to separate two capacitors,
when a terrible scraping fills the room. His glance flies to
the peephole. Someone is at the laboratory door. He reaches
for the telephone, but the lights are suddenly dimmed, and a streak
of grey enters his field of vision. Wild, panicked, he gropes
for his glasses, spilling a flask of water onto Jurij's envelope,
overturning a lamp, and then incongruously, even delicately, depressing
the small red button atop the camera. Click. The image is of
an older man, his eyes bright with terror, a scream sliding from
between his thin concluding lips. A moment later darkness descends
with the speed of a shutter.
Vasily will never forget that night. He had a girl at his apartment,
a delicious blonde from the firm, and with the help of two bottles
of Rumanian wine, he had divested her of her blouse and begun
to explore the thrilling heat seeping from beneath her skirt.
Fortune, he remembers thinking, is kissing me once more. And
then the phone rang. "I am sorry to bother you at home,"
said the voice, "but there has been an incident in the Drudzgrad-7
"My father," said Vasily. "Is he hurt?"
"No," said the detective, and Vasily felt relief mingled
with annoyance - if not hurt, then why the disturbance - a relief
that was quickly obliterated by the force of the clarification.
"He is dead."
At the lab, Vasily wept openly in the room that no longer contained
his father's body, the spilled water, the overturned lamp. Why
would anyone kill this man? Had his behavior been strange, the
detective asked. Not at all, Vasily reponded. But he knew that
this was not quite true. His father's behavior had been strange.
He had been in love.
In the year since he founded the Stuttgart-based Patersen Camerawerkes,
Vasily himself has ripened; he has become an important man with
a serious manner, a large office, a larger home, and an imperiously
beautiful German fiancée. Many days, he cannot believe
the change that time has wrought, and he sneaks away with a secretary.
Other days, he patrols the office proudly, especially the lobby
area, anchored by a photograph of Pyotor Petrovich retrieved from
the X-3 prototype the morning after his death. This photograph
- grainier than the prints the cameras now produce, but a respectable
predecessor nonetheless - has an appropriately memorial flavor,
although no one, not even Vasily, imagines the grisly circumstances
of its production.
The company is a great success, one of the largest suppliers
of personal cameras in Eastern Europe, and its rise is followed
with interest by the international press. Hungry for stories
of post-Communist accomplishment amid the myriad examples of fracture
and failure, journalists are drawn to Patersen Camera not only
by its balance sheet but by the young and charismatic president
whose financial success conceals two personal tragedies - the
murder of his father and the mysterious death of his brilliant
younger brother. Selections from Pyotor Petrovich's journals,
made public under Vasily's supervision, often accompany articles;
the corporation owes its humanistic philosophy, Vasily insists
repeatedly in print, to his father. As the first anniversary
of the Stuttgart plant approaches, Vasily asks a young German
reporter who has recently written on the company if his paper
would be interested in the correspondence between Pyotor Petrovich
and an American research scientist. "It's a touching story,"
he says. "He felt so deeply for her, and they never met.
We give all of our employees a week's paid vacation when they
are married. Her name was Lila Rashman. I will try to contact
her if you like, and give your paper an exclusive."
He felt so deeply for her. How deeply? And did she feel for
him? Vasily muses on these questions, framing possible answers,
on-the-record answers, as the overseas operator patches him Transatlantic,
as the American operator retrieves the call, as the secretary
in the chemistry department places him on hold, and then she is
on the line, a pleasant voice with flattened vowels and a quizzical
cast. "This is Lila Rashman." He introduces himself.
"My father was a scientist in Moscow. He corresponded with
you a few years ago. I wonder if you might remember him."
"Of course I remember your father. We had written to one
another a few times, and then his letters stopped. Has something
happened? Has he lost his job."
"He has lost more than his job." It is a stupid thing
to say, characteristic of his love of cleverness over kindness,
and it verges on a cruelty toward this stranger who cares for
his dead father. She lets out a soft cry. "You don't mean
"Yes, I'm afraid so." He has regained control now,
his consonants rolling, continental and persuasive, his speech
the speech of the man he always knew he would become. "A
rather tragic case, something in his laboratory. My father was
killed by an intruder. It was very difficult for us at first,
but easier now. He spoke often of you."
"Yes," she says. There is still a wariness in her
voice. "How strange that you should call me now. I will
be in Prague this April for a conference, and I was considering
phoning your father."
"Prague," he repeats. "How wonderful. You must
come to Stuttgart. You will be my guest."
She arrives just before lunch, accompanied by another American
doctor. After a round of introductions, the man excuses himself,
reminding her that he be at the station at seven. She sits in
Vasily's office, brushing her skirt nervously, and the two of
them begin to talk. She is forty-two, ten years divorced, childless,
an avid crossword hobbyist. She loves her work. Her traveling
companion is a man who believes she will agree to marry him.
She will not. Vasily nods ruefully. I understand completely,
he says. I have an engagement myself that I may be breaking shortly.
I have found myself sometimes satisfied with only the shallow
portions of myself. My father was murdered and my brother, too,
They eat in the company cafeteria, Vasily making a show of his
good rapport with even the lowest employees. "Hello, Karl,"
he says to the burly cashier. "Is your son's twisted ankle
healed? He is a smart boy who should not be playing with the
roughnecks." Lila Rashman laughs. Late in the afternoon,
after an hour of wine has created a provisional intimacy - an
intimacy assisted, they both know, by the fact that they will
never again see one another - Vasily asks her if she knew his
father loved her. She lifts her eyes to his without answering,
and a mix of pain and passion flickers in their middle depths.
"Would you like to see a photograph of him?" asks Vasily,
and she nods.
He takes her to the lobby; a company photographer is waiting.
Lila Rashman stands silent before the showcase, shifting. The
main lamp has switched to evening wattage, suffusing the case's
contents with a yellow melancholy. "I thought he would look
different," she says. As she stares at the photo, Vasily
permits himself to stare at her. Even teeth. Long black hair.
Complexion and contour. He marvels at his father's boldness;
she really is quite beautiful. The photographer arranges the pair
before the case and snaps once, twice, a third time, each click
accompanied by the pop of a recyclable flashbulb manufactured
in the Stuttgart facility. Two of the photos are published the
next morning alongside an article about the company's first birthday;
Lila Rashman is mentioned in a caption as "a friend and colleague
of the late Pyotor Petrovich." There will come a time when
nothing is left of the picture but an ashen ghost haunting scraps
of newsprint. But for now, forever, the two of them together
gaze up as at an altar, into the magnified image, grand in modesty
and kindness, of Pyotor Petrovich's dead face.