The Sacred Book of the Werewolf
I turned the television off and sat there in a state of prostration for a few minutes, trying to think. It was hard to think - I was in shock. I imagined the possible future: a special clinic, a zombification operation, a command cable installed in your head (I recalled the flesh-coloured wire in the ear of the security guard in the National hotel). And then - your mission. For instance, throw yourself under a tank with a mine on your back - like some heroic German shepherd during the Second World War . . . No, tanks were irrelevant now. Let's say, under a yellow 'Hummer' on Fifth Avenue. That was a more picturesque option, but I didn't like it much better. As they say, same shite, different Shakespeare specialist . . .
Go away? I could do that - I had a false passport for foreign travel. But where to? Thailand? London? Most likely London . . . I'd been meaning to write a letter to E Hu-Li for a long time, but never got round to it. Now I had a good reason. I sat down at the computer and focused my mind, recalling all the things I'd wanted to tell her just recently. Then I started typing:
How are you? Still the same old mischievous smile and those heaps of corpses behind your back? :))) Be careful. But then, you're the most careful of all of us, so I have nothing to teach you there.
I recently got a letter from our sister U, whom you visited. How I envy her modest, but pure and happy life! She complains that the work makes her tired. It is probably a blissful kind of tiredness - like a peasant's tiredness after a day's work in the field. Tiredness like that heals spiritual wounds and helps you to forget your sorrows - it was what Leo Tolstoy was pursuing across the fields with his plough. In the city you get tired in a different way. You know, there are some horses who walk round and round a well, pumping water. If you think about it, you and I are the same kind of beast. The difference is that a well horse drives away the horseflies that feed on it with its tail, but you and I use our tails to lure the horseflies who feed us. And apart from that, the horse contributes to people's well-being. As for us . . . Well, let's say people contribute to ours. But I know you can't stand moralizing.
U Hu-Li wrote that you have a new husband, a lord. Do you at least keep count of them? I'd love to get just a brief glimpse of him while there's still something to see :)))) From what she said, just recently you've been taking a serious interest in the subject of the super-werewolf. And you obviously didn't ask me about that demolished church out of idle curiosity.
It is true that the prophecy of the super-werewolf says he will appear in a city where a church or shrine will be restored after not a single stone of it was left standing. But the prophecy is about two thousand years old, and at that time similes and metaphors were the common manner, and everything that was important was always expressed allegorically. Prophecy was written in the language of ancient alchemy - 'city' means a soul and 'a shrine that is destroyed and restored' means a heart that has fallen under the power of evil and then returned to good. Please do not seek for any other meaning in these words.
I will risk making one suggestion - only, please, do not be offended. You have lived in the West for a long time, and the Christian mythologeme has imperceptibly taken root in your mind. Think about it: you are waiting for some super-werewolf to appear, atone for the sins of the foxes and make our souls pure, as they were at the very beginning of time. Listen. No messiah will ever come to us were-creatures. But each of us can change ourselves by exceeding our own limits. That is the meaning of the expression 'super-werewolf' - one who has passed beyond his own boundaries, exceeded himself. The super-werewolf does not come from the East or from the West, he appears from within. And that is the atonement. There is only one path that leads to him. Yes, those same old prescriptions that make you sick:
2. causing no harm to the weak of this world, animals or people - at least not when it can be avoided;
3. most important of all - the striving to understand one's own nature.
To put it very briefly, in the words of Nietzsche (adapted slightly to suit our case), the secret is simple - transcend the bestial! I have no doubt that you have already transcended the human :)))
Remember the lessons in meditation that we took with the teacher from the Yellow Mountain. Believe me, in the thousand years and more that have passed since then, they still haven't invented anything better. The atom bomb, Gucci cologne, condoms with ribs and notches, CNN news, flights to Mars - this entire motley array of wonders has not had the slightest effect on the scales in which the essence of the world is weighed. And therefore, return to the practice, and in only a couple of hundred years you will have no need of any super-werewolf. If I have wearied you, forgive me - but I was sincerely thinking of your own good as I wrote these lines.
And now for the most important thing. In recent years things have not been going well for me. My basic earnings used to be provided by a paedophile financier who was certain he could be arrested for what he was doing. A school satchel, a report book with C grades - you understand. He was sentimental - while he was waiting for our meetings, he shuddered every time a siren sounded. Yes, he was repulsive. But I only used to go out to work once a month. And then he was paralysed and I had to look for different options. For more than a year my top spot was the hotel National. But I ran into serious problems there when a certain client slipped off the tail. And now I'm surrounded by problems on every side. I'm not sure that you can understand them. The specifically Russian flavour is too strong. But they are very, very serious.
I realize you have no time for other people's troubles. But I'd still like to ask for your advice and, perhaps, assistance. Should I move to England? I'm sure I would get on with the English - I've seen quite a few of them in the National and they seem like a quite decent people to me. I'm often paid in pounds, so I wouldn't suffer any culture shock. Write quickly and tell me if there is a quiet spot in London for A Hu-Li.
Heads and tails,
As soon as I sent the letter, my mobile rang. There was no number displayed, and my heart skipped a beat, I guessed who it was before I heard the voice in the phone.
'Hello,' said Alexander, 'you said three days, but that's too long. Can I see you tomorrow? At least for five minutes?'
'Yes,' I said, before I'd even thought about it.
'Then I'll send Mikhalich. He'll call you. I kiss you.'
The door of the lift opened, and Mikhalich and I entered the penthouse. Alexander was sitting in an armchair in his general's uniform, watching television. He turned towards us, but it wasn't me he spoke to.
'Right, Mikhalich, I see your lot's fucked it up again!' he said cheerfully, with a nod at the long liquid-crystal panel that was showing two channels simultaneously - on one half of the screen there were red and white footballers running about, and on the other Aslan Udoev, who looked a bit like Bluebeard, with his dark purple beard and a sticking plaster on his forehead: he was muttering something into a microphone.
'Yes sir, comrade lieutenant general,' Mikhalich replied, embarrassed. 'The entire crew's made a real bollocks of it this time.'
'Don't swear in front of the girl.'
'But what the fuck went wrong?'
'We can't tell. Unforeseen interference. Apparently something distorted the precise time signal.'
'Always the same story,' said Alexander. 'As soon as there's a fuck-up, they blame it all on the technical department.'
'Yes sir, comrade lieutenant general.'
'Don't you regret the waste of an operative?'
'We've got any bloody amount of Shakespeare specialists like that, comrade lieutenant general. But somehow no Shakespeares.'
'I told you quite clearly, Mikhalich, don't swear here.' Mikhalich squinted sideways at me.
'Yes, sir. Shall I draw up a report?'
'I don't want a report. It's none of my business, the ones who thought it up can take the consequences. I don't like bits of paper. On paper everything always comes out right, but in life' - Alexander nodded at the screen - 'you can see for yourself.'
'Yes, sir, comrade lieutenant general.'
'You can go.'
Alexander waited until Mikhalich closed the door, then got up out of his chair and came over to me. I guessed he hadn't wanted to show his feelings in front of a subordinate, but even so I pretended to be offended and when he put his hand on my shoulder I moved away.
'You could have said hello to me first. And then you go and chat with that jerk about football. And in general, turn the television off!'
Udoev was no longer on the screen - he had been replaced by a smart young man with a motor-trike, who exclaimed boisterously:
'Today we're lighting it up with the Marlboro youth team!'
And then he disappeared in a pool of darkness.
'I'm sorry,' said Alexander, tossing the remote control back on to the coffee table. 'Hello.'
I smiled. We looked at each other in silence for a few seconds.
'How are you feeling?' he asked.
'Better now, thank you.'
'And what's that basket you're holding?'
'I brought that for you,' I said shyly.
'Right, let me have it . . .'
He took the basket out of my hands and tore open the packaging.
'Pies?' he asked, looking back up at me in bewilderment. 'Why pies? What for?'
I looked away.
His face slowly lit up.
'Wait . . . I was wondering why you were wearing that red hood. Ah-ha-ha-ha!'
He burst into peals of happy laughter, put his arms round me and sat me down beside him on the divan. He made the movement very naturally, too quickly for me push him away, although I'd been intending to play hard to get for a little longer. But then, I'm not sure that I really wanted to.
'It's like the joke,' he said. 'About Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf. Little Red Riding Hood says: "What big eyes you have, wolf!" And the wolf says: "All the better to see you with." Little Red Riding Hood says: "What big ears you have, wolf!" "All the better to hear you with," the wolf replies. And then Little Red Riding Hood says: "What a big tail you have!" "That's not a tail," says the wolf, and blushes . . .'
'Isn't it funny?'
'It's not realistic. For a wolf to blush. His entire face is covered with fur. Even if he does blush, how can you see it?'
Alexander thought about it.
'I suppose that's right,' he agreed, 'but it's a joke.'
'It's a good thing you know who Little Red Riding Hood is, at least from jokes,' I said. 'I thought you might not get the hint. You don't look like someone who reads too many books.'
He blushed, just like in his own joke.
'That's where you're wrong. I read every day.'
He nodded towards the coffee table, which had a paperback detective novel lying on it. The title was Werewolves in Shoulder Straps.
'Is it an interesting book?' I asked.
'Not really. Nothing special.'
'Then why are you reading it?'
'To understand why it's called that. We check out every hostile comment.'
'That's not important,' he said. 'It's got nothing to do with literature. '
'Detective novels don't have anything to do with literature either,' I said.
'You don't like them?'
I shook my head.
'They're boring to read. You know from the first page who killed who and why.'
'Yes? If I read you the first page of Werewolves, will you tell me who the killer is?'
'I can tell you now. The author did it, for money.'
'Hmmm . . . Well yes, I suppose. But then what is literature?'
'Well, for instance, Marcel Proust. Or James Joyce.'
'Joyce?' he asked, moving closer. 'The one who wrote Ulysses? I tried to read it. It's boring. To be honest, I don't know what books like that are any good for.'
'How do you mean?'
'Nobody reads it, that Ulysses. Three people have read it, and then they live off it for the rest of their lives, writing articles and going to conferences. But no one else has ever got through it.'
'Well now,' I said, throwing Werewolves on to the floor. 'Let me tell you that the value of a book doesn't depend on how many people read it. The brilliance of the Mona Lisa doesn't depend on how many people file past her every year. The greatest of books have few readers, because reading them requires an effort. But it's precisely that effort that gives rise to the aesthetic effect. Literary junk-food will never give you anything of the kind.'
He put his arm round my shoulders.
'I already asked you once, speak more simply.'
'Speaking in very simple terms, I can say this. Reading is human contact, and the range of our human contacts is what makes us what we are. Just imagine you live the life of a long-distance truck driver. The books that you read are like the travellers you take into your cab. If you give lifts to people who are cultured and profound, you'll learn a lot from them. If you pick up fools, you'll turn into a fool yourself. Wasting time on detective novels is . . . it's like giving an illiterate prostitute a ride for the sake of a blowjob.'
'And who should I give rides to?' he asked, slipping his hand under my T-shirt.
'You should read serious, profound books, without being afraid to spend time and effort on it.'
His open hand froze on my stomach.
'Aha,' he said. 'So if I'm a long-distance truck driver I should take some bald-headed winner of the Schnobel Prize for literature into my cab, so that he can shaft me up the backside for two weeks while I dodge the oncoming traffic? Did I get it right?'
'Well, you know, you can vulgarize anything like that,' I said and stopped talking.
But would you believe it, I'd used the same example of a blowjob in a long-distance truck that had made me almost kill poor Pavel Ivanovich. And I couldn't have come up with anything more stupid than my comment about prostitutes - after all, Alexander knew what I did for a living. I could only hope that it would pass for an expression of humility. Judging from his reply, it had.
We foxes have one serious shortcoming. If someone says something memorable to us, we almost always repeat it in conversation with other people, regardless of whether what was said was stupid or clever. Unfortunately, our mind is the same kind of simulator as the sack of skin under our tail that we use as a prick-catcher. It's not a genuine 'organ of thought' - we have no need for that. Let human beings 'think' in the course of their heroic slalom from the vagina to the grave. A fox's mind is simply a tennis racket you can use to keep bouncing the conversation from one subject to another for as long as you like. We give people back the ideas and opinions that we have borrowed from them - reflecting them from another angle, giving them a different spin, sending them into a vertical climb.
Let me remark modestly that my simulated thought almost always turns out better than the original. To continue the tennis analogy, my return improves on every hard shot. Of course, inside people's heads every shot is a hard one. But what I can't understand is - who serves all these shots? One of the people? Or should the server be sought in some completely different place, which isn't even a place at all?
I'll have to wait until I have a conversation on this subject with some intelligent person. Then we'll see which way I drive the ball. That's the way I've been discovering the truth for more than a thousand years now.
While I was finishing this thought, he had almost managed to remove my dress. I didn't resist, I just raised the very ends of my eyebrows with a martyred air, like a little ballerina being raped yet again by a big red-necked SS man on her way to the philharmonia. What's to be done, comrades - this is occupation . . .
Today, to be sure, the little ballerina had prepared for the encounter. I was wearing underwear - lacy white panties, in which I had cut a hole for my tail with scissors. And three identical lacy bras, size zero. The two lower ones had nothing to support, but they pressed into my body slightly and created a certain small content for themselves. Of course, I wasn't actually trying to make any special concessions to lupine demands. It was an ironic postmodern comment on what was happening, a variation on the theme of the Beast that he had talked about so much during our last meeting.
I didn't know if he would like my joke and I was a bit nervous. He liked it. In fact he liked it so much that he started to transform.
I wasn't so scared this time and I studied the transformation more closely. First of all the grey, shaggy tail sprang out. It looked rather sexy - as if a spring that he couldn't hold back inside his spine any more had suddenly straightened out. Then his body arched over and his tail and head jerked towards each other like the ends of a bow drawn together by an invisible string. And then he sprouted fur all over him.
The word 'sprouted' isn't entirely appropriate here. It was more as if his tunic and trousers crumbled into fur - as if the shoulder straps and stripes were drawn in watercolour on a solid mass of wet hair that suddenly dried out and layered off into separate hairs.
At the same time, in some very natural manner, he inflated and grew. There are no wolves that large in nature, he looked more like a bear that has managed to slim a bit. But his body was real, physical and substantial - I felt its weight when he leaned his paw on my hand: it sank a long way into the divan.
'You'll crush me, you animal,' I squealed, and he took his paw away.
He was obviously excited by the sensation of his own strength and my weakness. Leaning his huge, monstrous jaws down over me (his breath was hot, but fresh, like a baby's), he bit through all three of my bras, pulling them off with his terrible hairy fingers.
My heart stopped every time his teeth clicked together so close to me. They were razor-sharp - I couldn't think why he bothered to keep that Monica Lewinsky cigar-clipper on his desk. But then, I suppose he probably smoked cigars in his human form.
After doing the same thing with my panties, he pulled away from me and began growling, as if he was about to tear me to shreds. Then he went down on his knees in front of me and lowered his immense paws on to my fragile collarbones, like some infernal organist. This is the end, I thought.
But he avoided causing me pain. In fact, to my mind, he could have behaved a little more aggressively - I was prepared for it. But this wasn't too bad either. I mean I'd geared myself up in advance for pain and suffering and was prepared to put up with more. However, the ordeal proved not to be as painful as I'd been expecting.
But I did things right anyway and groaned from time to time:
'Oh, that hurts! Don't pound so damn hard, you ugly monster. Gently, smoothly . . . That's right.'
The letter from E Hu-Li was a long one.
So nice to see that you haven't changed at all and are still trying to guide my lost soul out on to the true path.
You write that the clouds are gathering over your head. Are you serious about that? As far as I recall, the clouds have been gathering over your head for seven hundred years already; experience shows that in most cases you simply need to start thinking about something else. Maybe everything's not so terrible this time either?
Do you seriously want to come to England? Do you think you'll be better off here?
Understand this - the West is just one big shopping mall. From the outside it looks magical, fantastic. But you had to live in the Eastern Bloc to take its shop windows for the real thing. Perhaps that was the only meaning of your life - do you remember that Soviet song, 'We were born to make the fairy tale reality'? That's what you always did quite well - 'in your head, in your head', as the song goes. In actual fact, there are three roles you can play here - the buyer, the seller, or the product on the shelf. To be a seller is vulgar, to be a buyer is boring (and you still have to earn your living as a seller), and to be the product is repulsive. Any attempt to be anything else actually means 'not to be', as the market forces are quick to teach any and every Hamlet. All the rest is simply show.
Do you know what the secret horror of life here is? When you buy yourself a blouse or a car, or anything else, you have in your mind an image, implanted by advertising, of some wonderful place you will go wearing that blouse or driving that car. But there is no such wonderful place anywhere, apart from in the advertising clip, and this black hole in reality is lamented by every serious philosopher in the West. The joy of shopping cannot conceal the unbearable awareness that our entire world is one huge ski shop standing in the middle of the Sahara desert. You don't just have to buy the skis, you have to buy the imitation snow as well. Do you understand the metaphor?
Apart from that, there is a specific difficulty for us foxes. With every year that passes it becomes harder and harder to maintain your identity and feel that you are a prostitute, so fast is everything else being prostituted all around you. If you hear an old friend's voice speaking in confidential tones, you can be sure it is advising you to buy two bottles of anti-dandruff shampoo so that you can get the third one free. I remember a certain word that you always used to try to introduce into the conversation whether it was relevant or not - 'uroborus'. I think it means a snake biting its own tail. When that snake's head and tail only exist as special effects in an advertising clip, it's no great comfort to know that the body is alive and fat. That is, maybe it is a comfort, but there's no one to experience it.
Your world will soon be like ours (at least, for those who are kept on to service the extraction and export of oil), but as yet it still has twilight zones where a salutary ambivalence is the rule. And that is precisely where a soul like yours can be, if not happy, then at least in balance. If these zones of ambivalence are created for you by others, then enjoy them while they still exist. The world will not always be like that. This is me preaching to you in response to your lectures.
Now about English men. Don't judge them from your brief encounters in the National. They're quite different here. Do you remember the writer Yuan Mei, whom our sister U married in 1739? I don't expect you've forgotten him - a scholar from the Hanlin Academy who studied the Manchurian language and collected stories about evil spirits . . . By the way, he knew who our sister really was. That was precisely why he married her.
His book (it was called What Confucius Did Not Speak Of) is half made up of stories, but it also contains some intriguing ethnographic sketches. In those times England was known as the 'Land of the Redhairs'. This is what Yuan Mei wrote about the English - I cite the passage in full:
'407. INHABITANTS OF THE LAND OF THE REDHAIRS SPIT AT YOUNG SINGERS
The inhabitants of the Land of Redhairs often engage in dissolute behaviour with young singers. When they arrange their carousals, they invite young singers, undress them then sit round them and spit at their secret place. They do not require any greater intimacy. When they have finished spitting, they let them go, with a generous reward. This is called "money from the common pot".'
This story, which might appear to be historically inaccurate, in fact reflects very accurately how an English aristocrat deals with a woman's soul when it opens itself to him (fortunately, the system of privileged education here transforms most of them into homosexuals). Before, when I observed the English, I used to wonder what was hidden beneath that impenetrable armour-plating of hypocrisy forged over the centuries. And then I realized - it was precisely that simple act. There is nothing else there, and that minimalism is what guarantees the stability of the order of things here.
Believe me, if you come to London, you will feel like a spittoon wandering alone among snipers who hawk and spit into your very soul, men for whom equality for women means only one thing - the chance to save a bit on 'the money from the common pot'.
As for the super-werewolf... You know, it seems to me you have become too bogged down in introspection. Think - if everything that is most important were inside ourselves, then why would we need the external world? Or do you believe that it no longer holds any possible surprises for you and it is enough simply to sit by the wall on a dusty meditation rug, pushing away the thoughts that crowd round you, like a swimmer pushing away dead jellyfish? What if one of them turns out to be a golden fish that grants wishes? I think it is still too soon to give up on this world - by doing that you might find you have given up on yourself. You know what my hubby said to me yesterday? 'The super-werewolf will come, and you will see him as clearly as you see me now.' Even if in my heart of hearts I agreed with you, how would I dare to argue with the head of the house of Cricket? :-=))). But let us discuss this when we meet, my dear. In a week Brian and I shall be in Moscow - don't turn your mobile off!
Heads and tails,
When I finished reading the letter, I shook my head. Someone was in for it soon. The doodle :-=))), which looked like the war criminal Hitler grinning, was an ominous sign that E Hu-Li used - it meant that she had bleak and cruel intentions in mind. But what else was to be expected from the most pitiless fox in our entire family? She's the same in everything, I thought. Ask her for help, and she advises you to think about something else. The clouds, she says, are just an illusion . . .
Although, perhaps she's right? After all, things aren't nearly as bad as I thought only yesterday. I was bursting with the desire to tell someone about the affair I had been forced to start. But who? Of course, I could spill the whole thing out to a taxi driver, and then make him forget what he'd heard. Only it was dangerous to play pranks like that on the road. No, I have to wait for E Hu-Li, I thought. She'll certainly be interested in listening to me. And apart from that, she had been making fun of my virginity for so many centuries that it would be a pleasure to throw the news in her face. For all her sophistication, she had never had any lovers like that, except perhaps for one yakshi-devil in the sixteenth century. But compared to Alexander, even he seemed pitiful . . .
At this point I came back to my senses - my sister's letter had reminded me about the most important thing of all.
I had known for a long time that the moment when you are overflowing with the joys or sorrows of life is the best time to practise meditation. I turned off the computer and laid out a foam plastic rug on the floor. It's absolutely fantastic, a real gift for a meditator, it's a shame there weren't any in ancient times. Then I put a cushion filled with buckwheat husks on it and sat on the cushion in the lotus position, with my tail lowered on to the floor.
The spiritual practice of foxes includes 'contemplation of the mind' and 'contemplation of the heart'. Today I decided to begin my session with contemplation of the heart. The heart plays no part in this practice, apart from a metaphorical one. It's an accident of translation: the Chinese hieroglyph 'xin', which stands for 'heart' here, has many different meanings and 'contemplation of the innermost essence' would probably have been a more accurate translation. And from a practical point of view, it would have been more correct to call the technique 'tugging the tail'.
Every child knows that if you tug a dog or a cat by the tail, they feel pain. But if you pull a fox by the tail, then what happens is beyond the understanding of even the most intelligent tailless monkey. At that moment the fox feels the full weight of all her bad deeds. This is because she uses her tail to commit them. And since every fox, apart from the total failures, has a whole heap of bad deeds to her name, the result is an appalling attack of conscience, accompanied by terrifying visions and insights so overwhelming that the fox loses the very desire to carry on living. The rest of the time our conscience doesn't bother us at all.
A lot here depends on the strength of the tug and how unexpected it is. For instance, when we happen to snag our tails on a bush during a chicken hunt (I'll tell you about that later), we also experience light pangs of conscience. Only while we are running, the corresponding muscles are tensed, and so the effect is not so pronounced. But the essence of the practice of 'tugging the tail' lies in giving your own tail a powerful tug at a moment when the area of the tail muscles is as relaxed as possible.
Not everything here is as simple as it seems. In actual fact 'contemplation of the heart' cannot be separated from 'contemplation of the mind', because the correct performance of the techniques requires consciousness to be layered off into three independent streams:
1. the first stream of consciousness is the mind which remembers all its dark deeds from time immemorial.
2. the second stream of consciousness is the mind which spontaneously and unexpectedly makes the fox tug her own tail.
3. the third stream of consciousness is the mind as the abstract observer of the first two streams and itself.
Speaking very approximately, this third stream of consciousness is also the very essence of the technique 'contemplating the mind'. All of these practices are preliminary - you have to perform them for a thousand years before moving on to the most important, which is called 'tail of the void' or 'artlessness'. This is a secret practice that is not entirely clear even to foxes like me, who have completed the thousand-years preliminary cycle a long time ago.
And so, I sat in the lotus position, placing my left hand on my knee and my right hand on my tail. I concentrated and began remembering my past - the layers of it that are usually concealed from me by the stream of everyday thoughts. And suddenly, entirely out of the blue, my right hand jerked and tugged. I felt a pain in the base of my spine. But that pain was nothing compared with the stream of repentance, horror and shame for what I had done that flooded over me with such great power that tears sprang to my eyes.
The faces of those who had not survived their encounter with me floated past in front of my face, like yellow leaves drifting past a window in an autumn storm. They emerged from non-existence for only a second, but that second was long enough for each pair of eyes to sear me with a glance full of bewilderment and pain. I watched them, remembering the past, with the tears pouring down my cheeks in two great streams as repentance tore my heart apart.
At the same time I was serenely aware that what was taking place was simply the insubstantial play of reflections, the rippling of thoughts that is raised by the habitual draughts of the mind, and that when these ripples settled down, it would be clear that there were no draughts and no reflections, and no mind itself - nothing but that clear, eternal, all-penetrating gaze in the face of which nothing is real.
That is the way I have been practising for about twelve centuries.
From the very beginning Alexander and I had an unspoken agreement not to pester each other with questions. I wasn't supposed to ask about things that he couldn't talk about because of the non-disclosure agreements he'd signed and all the other FSB garbage. And he didn't ask any unnecessary questions, because my answers might have placed him in an ambiguous position - for instance, what if I suddenly turned out to be a Chinese spy? Things could quite easily have been made to look that way, after all, I didn't even have an internal passport, and only a fake one for foreign travel.
I wasn't really happy with this situation: there were lots of things I wanted to find out about him. And I could see he was consumed by curiosity too. But we were getting to know each other gradually, groping our way along - the information was provided in homeopathic doses.
I liked to kiss him on the cheek before he transformed into a beast (I could never bring myself to kiss him on the lips, and that was strange, considering the extent of our intimacy). But then, the caresses didn't last for long - a few touches were enough to trigger the transformation, and after that kissing became impossible.
For so many centuries a kiss had been simply one element of hypnotic suggestion to me, but now I myself was kissing, even if it was in a childish fashion . . . There was something dreamlike about that. His face was often hidden by a gauze mask, and I had to move it aside. One day I couldn't stand it any more, I tugged on the lace of the mask that had slipped off his face and said:
'Maybe you could not put it on when we're together? Who do you think you are, Michael Jackson?'