The Sacred Book of the Werewolf

Chapter Five


'I don't know,' he answered. 'That's the point. I couldn't defeat her. I did for all the rest, but not her, no way. So the game ended there . . .'
'Why is this memory so important to you?' I asked. 'There are plenty of games.'
'Before that I'd always succeeded at everything,' he said.
'Absolutely everything?'
He nodded.
'Oh, sure,' I said. 'Of course.'
'You don't believe me?'
'Why not? I believe you. I can tell from the car.'
A few seconds passed in silence. I glanced out of the window. We were approaching the beginning of Tverskoi Boulevard.
'A new restaurant,' I said. 'The Palazzo Ducale. Have you been there?'
He nodded.
'And what are the customers like?'
'Oh, the usual.'
'So what do people talk about there?'
He thought for a second. Then he answered in a ludicrous woman's voice:
'What do you think, is Zhechkov frightened to live in the dacha where Stalin's butcher Yezhov lived?'
Then he answered himself in an equally ludicrous bass:
'What do you mean? It's Stalin's butcher Yezhov who'll be shitting himself in his grave because Zhechkov's living in his dacha . . .'
'And who is this Zhechkov?' I asked.
He glanced at me suspiciously. Apparently Zhechkov was someone I ought to know. I'm losing the context, I thought, it happens every twenty years or so.
'I was just giving an example,' he said. 'The kind of thing they talk about there.'
I remembered Yezhov's dacha as it was in the 1930s. I used to like the plaster lions with balls under their paws who guarded the entrance - their faces had a slightly guilty expression, as if they could sense they wouldn't be able to protect their master. A thousand years earlier a lion looking almost exactly the same used to stand in front of the shrine of the Huayan sect - only he was made of gold and on his side he had an inscription that I still remember by heart:
The cause of error by living beings is that they believe it is possible to cast aside the false and attain unto the truth. But when you attain unto yourself, the false becomes true, and there is no other truth to which one need attain after that.
What people there used to be around in those times! But nowadays is there anyone who can even understand the meaning of those words? All of them, every last one, have departed to the higher worlds. No one wishes to be born in this hellish labyrinth any more, not even out of compassion, and I'm wandering here on my own in the dark . . .
We stopped at a crossroads.
'Tell me, Alexander, where are we going?' I asked.
'Do you know a good jeweller's anywhere round here? I mean really good?'
Every time I see a girl in a boutique with an admirer buying her a brooch that costs as much as a small aeroplane, I'm convinced that human females are every bit as good at creating mirages as we are. Perhaps even better. It's some going to pass off a reproductive mechanism as a delightful spring flower worthy of a precious setting - and to maintain that illusion, not just for minutes, as we do, but for years and decades, and all without the use of a tail. That takes real skill. Evidently women, like mobile phones, have some kind of inbuilt antenna.
This is what my internal voices say about that:
1. since a woman can pass off a reproductive mechanism as a wonderful spring flower, female nature cannot be reduced just to the bearing of children: it also includes at least the skill of brainwashing.
2. by its very nature a wonderful spring flower is exactly the same kind of mechanism for reproduction and brainwashing, only its meat is green and it brainwashes the bees.
3. apart from the woman, no one needs the precious setting, so it's pointless to discuss whether she is worthy of it or not.
4. mobile phones with inbuilt antennas have convenient shapes, but poor reception, especially in reinforced concrete buildings.
5. mobile phones with an external antenna are inconvenient, and their reception in reinforced concrete buildings is even worse.
Woman is a peaceful creature, she only hypnotizes her own male and inflicts no harm on birds and animals. Since she does this in the name of the supreme biological goal, that is, personal survival, the deception here is pardonable, and it's none of our foxy business to go sticking our noses in. But when a married man who lives every moment in a dream planted in his head by his wife, complete with elements of nightmare and gothic, suddenly declares over a glass of beer that woman is simply a device for bearing children, that is very, very funny. The man doesn't even realize how comical he is when he says that. In this particular case I'm not hinting at Count Tolstoy, whom I admire tremendously, I'm speaking generally.
But I'm wandering from the point. I just wanted to say that woman's hypnotic abilities are obvious, and anyone who has any doubts about that can easily lay them to rest by going into a shop that sells expensive trinkets.
I didn't realize until the final moment that Alexander was choosing a present for me. I simply had no reason to think anything of the kind. I assumed he needed to buy a souvenir for some glamorous little bimbo, and I gave him perfectly serious advice. So I felt quite exceptionally stupid when he finally held out the bag containing the two small cases that he had just paid for. I wasn't expecting it. And foxes have to foresee what a man will do - if not everything, then at least the things that affect us personally. Our survival depends on it.
The two identical small white boxes contained rings that cost 10,000 and 18,000 dollars - platinum and diamonds. The large stone was point eight of a carat, the small one point five four. Tiffany. Would you believe it - 28,000 dollars! How many times I'd have to strain my tail for that, I thought with a feeling that was almost class hatred. And the most important thing was that he didn't want anything from me. Apart from my phone number. He said he was flying to the north and he'd call when he got back.
It wasn't easy buying the rings. The sales assistant wasn't prepared to put through such a substantial transaction herself. Neither was the cashier.
'I can't do it without the manager,' she kept saying.
It was only when I got back home to Bitsevsky Park that I realized how tired I was - I didn't even have the strength to check my e-mails. I slept until the middle of the next day. I had suspiciously Borgesian dreams about the defence of a fortress - something like the storming of a city during the Yellow Turban rebellion. I was one of the defenders and I was throwing heavy javelins down from the walls.
No need to explain the symbolism to me, I can't stand that. Back in the 1920s I used to drive romantic Red Freudians crazy by telling them dreams that I invented: 'And then our tails fell off and they told us they were lying in a coconut hanging above a waterfall.' If I sometimes throw javelins in a dream, it doesn't mean I don't take in the symbolic significance of what's going on. And even less does it mean that I do take it in. I stopped collecting that sort of garbage a long time ago. Life's less cluttered that way.
After a rest, my head was working clearly and efficiently, and the first thing I thought about was the financial aspect of what was going on. My personal solvency index was now tinged a delicate green: the two rings had cost 28,000 in the shop, and that meant I could sell them for 18,000.
But it would be a shame to sell them - in the last hundred years I hadn't been given such pretty baubles very often. In Soviet Russia they were very strict about that kind of thing. Even in late Brezhnev times it was like that: if a man with a string bag walked off the street into a jewellery shop and bought a brooch for 30,000 roubles, the entire central press wrote about it indignantly for a week, asking what the competent organs were doing about it. In the era of stagnation, 30,000 really was a huge amount of money. But then why did they put the brooch in the shop window? As bait? There's really no other way to explain the indignation of the press - they laid down bait and, the fish ate it and just swam away.
At least, that was what the director of Moscow's Grocery Store Number One, who bought me the brooch, whispered in my ear with a passionate laugh. He was a careful man, but passion had made him a romantic. The poor fellow was executed by firing squad, and I felt sorry for him, although I still couldn't force myself to wear the brooch. It was a unique example of Soviet kitsch: diamond ears of wheat surrounding emerald cucumbers and a ruby beetroot. An eternal reminder of the only battle that Soviet Russia lost - the battle for the harvest . . .
After I finished admiring the rings, I decided to check my e-mails. There was only one letter in my inbox, but it was a very welcome one - from my sister U Hu-Li, whom I hadn't seen for an eternity.
Hi there, Red,
How are you getting on? Are you still into moral self-improvement? Searching for the exit from the labyrinths of the illusory world? I'd really like at least one of our big, ne'er-do-well family to find it.
But I've completely lost my way in those labyrinths. I'm still here in Thailand, although I've finally left Patthaya. In the last thirty years the sea has become really dirty. And apart from that, the competition from local women is so great that earning a living from the fox's trade is getting harder all the time. Everything here has been turned inside out - in most countries in the world people are delighted when they have a son, but here they're delighted when they have a daughter, and they say, quite literally: 'How good it is that we have a daughter, we won't go hungry in our old age!' If he heard that, Confucius would hang himself with his own sleeve.
The island of Phuket, where I live now, is still clean, but in a couple of years it will be the same as Patthaya. There are too many tourists. I've found a place to live on Patong beach and I work in Christine's Massage Parlour. We - the masseuses - sit on benches in a special room where the men can take a look at us, with our cheeks brightly rouged, looking like evil spirits. The pink, sunburned farangs (that's what we call the tourists from the West) come in off the street and choose a masseuse. After that, it's a separate room, and you know the rest. I'm regarded as a unique specialist in Thai massage, so my rates are higher than the other girls', but even so I still have to earn a bit on the side in the bars on Bangla Road, just five minutes away from my massage parlour. I get so tired during the day, and then I have to get dolled up in bright-coloured rags and go out on the stage. It's not even a stage really, just a counter that we walk around slowly from one pole to the other, girls with numbers on our breasts. And the farangs sit at the bar below us, drinking cold beer and take their time to choose. If I can put away fifty dollars a day working in two places, I'm doing well.
The very foundations of life have been perverted here. Thai girls are modest and as industrious as bees. Only in natural conditions bees fly from flower to flower, working hard collecting nectar. But if you tip a bucketful of sugar syrup out beside the hive, they go straight for the sugar, and none of them will fly to the flowers. That's exactly the way the West is destroying our tropical garden with its bodily secretions, drenching it with rivers of sweet dollar syrup from the hotels beside the sea. Your Russia is as great a sexual exploiter as anyone else here, and the fact that now she is no more than a raw-material appendage of the developed countries doesn't relieve her of her moral guilt. Although in a certain sense you could call Thailand a raw-material appendage too . . . Don't think that I'm waxing dogmatic, it's just that it was hot today, and I'm very tired.
By the way, about Russia. Just recently I was talking to our sister E, who came to visit us in Phuket with her new husband, Lord Cricket (the fool is perfectly happy). She told me something quite incredible. Do you remember the prophecy of the super-werewolf? She says that the place mentioned in the prophecy is Moscow. Her reasoning is certainly ingenious. The prophecy says that the super-werewolf will appear in a city where they will destroy a Temple and then restore it in its previous form. For many centuries, everybody thought that meant Jerusalem, and the coming of the super-werewolf was a prophecy that concerned the very end of time, something like the Apocalypse. But E Hu-Li is sure that we've simply been hypnotized by Judaeo-Christian symbolism - if there's a Temple, then it has to be the one in Jerusalem . . .
In fact, however, there are no references to Jerusalem in the prophecy. But not so long ago in Moscow they restored the Temple of Christ the Saver (if our sister E hasn't got the name confused), which was destroyed during the cultural revolution. And what's more, they restored it in the form in which it was originally built - she's relying on information she got from you there. I think you can expect her to visit you soon with her husband, who is totally obsessed with these mystical riddles.
This Lord Cricket is not only a mystic. He is well known in London as a patron and collector of art, and he deals with many art galleries. Apart from that, he was one of the leaders of an organization you have certainly heard of - the Countryside Alliance, which tried to prevent fox-hunting from being banned. I know how hard it is to let a character like that stay alive. But please remember that our little sister E hasn't yet decided who's going to be next. So gather your willpower up into a tight fist, just as I did. Take a detached view of what's going on - his lordship is obsessed with the search for were-creatures absolutely everywhere, except in his own bedroom. That's always the way with people. There's just one thing I don't understand. How did he come to develop such an interest in the supernatural? But then, the members of the exploiting classes often resort to occultism in the attempt to find a justification for their own parasitic existence.
I want to ask your advice. Should I move to Russia? I like the Russian tourists - they're good-natured, they tip well and fall asleep quickly because they drink a lot. I saw a beautiful tattoo on the chest of one of them - Lenin and Marx with a hammer and sickle - and he was still very young. He took a real liking to me. He filmed me with his video-camera and then advised me to come to Russia. 'With beauty like yours, you could make a career,' he said. 'And not in some massage parlour, either. Hang about with our elite for a year or two and you'll make enough money to last a lifetime.' He said everything is different now in Russia. There are sweeping reforms and the people have lots of money. Is that true? What is this elite that I ought to hang about with? Apart from that, he said your roubles have almost the same rate against the dollar as our bahts, so I wouldn't suffer any great culture shock. Write and tell me what it's like in Moscow and if there's a place there for U Hu-Li.
Heads and tails,
My little sister U . . . I smiled as I remembered her - serious, solemn and very sincere. She was probably the best of us, and so she always ended up bearing the heaviest burden. She went through the entire war of liberation with Chairman Mao, she had medals from the Chinese National Liberation Army, and when capitalism was restored in China she burned her party card on Tiananmen Square and went away to Thailand. And now she wanted to come to Russia - she thought it was still the same old motherland of the October Revolution . . . The poor girl, I had to persuade her not to come. What if she really did, and ended up miserable and depressed among our northern snows? Or got involved with some kind of national bolsheviks? And when the national bolsheviks signed a contract with 'Diesel', she'd stay honest right to the end and then serve obscenely long sentences - it had happened to her so often already . . .
I spent a few seconds searching for an image that could reach her. Eventually I thought I'd found one. I put my hands on the keyboard.
Hello, Little Red,
You can't possibly imagine how pleased I was to hear from you up here in our snowbound back of beyond. You say you're fed up with Thailand? Try thinking about this: in the countries of the golden billion, people put money away for a whole year in order to come to your coconut paradise for just a couple of weeks. I understand that the life in the five-star hotels is very different from yours. But, after all, the sea and the sky are the same for all, and that's the real reason why they come to you from their neon catacombs.
You say life in Thailand is perverted because the visitors swamp the innocent natives with their poisonous dollar syrup and deprive them of the joy of simple labour. I respect your views, but try to look at things from a different angle: those same debauchers of innocence spend the whole year tearing each other's throats out in their offices in order to save up enough of that poisonous dollar slush. It's their lives that are really perverted, otherwise why would they come to your massage parlour, my sweet love? Low rates - yes, that is something that must be fought. But what point is there in these universal generalizations that end up with fifty million people getting killed every time?
You ask me what it's like here. To be brief, even the most hardened of optimists are now finding that any hope that the brown sea advancing on us from all sides consists of chocolate is melting away. And, as the advert puts it so wittily, it is melting not in their hands, but in their mouths.
In Moscow they are building skyscrapers, eating sushi by the ton and bringing billion-dollar court cases. But this boom doesn't have much to do with the economy. It's just that the money from all over Russia flows into Moscow and moistens life here a bit before it departs for off-shore hyperspace. I remember you once saying that the fundamental contradiction of the modern age is the contradiction between money and blood. In Moscow its sharpness is blunted somewhat because as yet the blood is spilled far away, and the money always belongs to someone else. But that's only a temporary state of affairs.
Life here is so distinctive, so unique, that it would take a clairvoyant like Oswald Spengler to grasp its true essence. From Spengler's point of view, every culture is based on a certain mysterious principle that manifests itself in a multitude of unrelated phenomena. For instance, there is a profound underlying kinship between the round form of a coin and the wall surrounding an ancient town, and so on. I think that if Spengler were to study modern-day Russia, what he would be most interested in would be the same thing that interests you - the local elite.
It is genuinely unique. You have been misinformed: no one has yet become any richer by 'hanging about' with those folks. You can only end up with less money than ever after putting yourself through that, otherwise the elite would not be the elite. In ancient times in the Middle Kingdom every official strove to do good on the Great Way of Things. But here they all set up their own toll bars across the road and only raise them for money. And the essence of the social contract lies precisely in them raising their booms for each other.
The elite here is divided into two branches, which are called 'the oligarchy' (derived from the words 'oil' and 'gargle') and 'the apparat' (from the phrase 'upper rat'). 'The oligarchy' is the business community, which grovels to the authorities, who can close down any business at any moment, since business here is inseparable from theft. And 'the upper rat' consists of the authorities, who feed on the kickbacks from business. The way it works is that the former allow the latter to steal because the latter allow the former to thieve. Just think about the kind of people who have managed to create such a spellbinding formation in the middle of empty space. At the same time, there are no clear boundaries between these two branches of power - one merges smoothly into the other, forming a single immense, fat rat trying to swallow itself. Do you really want to hang about with this perpetually champing uroborus? That is what the alchemical symbol of the snake biting its own tail is called - but in our case the connotations are more urological in nature.
The reforms that you have heard about are by no means new. They have been going on here constantly for as long as I can remember. What they essentially come down to is the choice, from all the possible versions of the future, of the one that is the most disgusting. Every time the reforms begin with the declaration that a fish rots from the head, then the reformers eat up the healthy body, and the rotten head swims on. And so everything that was rotten under Ivan the Terrible is still alive today, and everything that was healthy five years ago has already been gobbled up. Instead of a bear, the 'apparat' or 'upper rat' here could have used a fish head on its banners. Although a bear is a witty choice too: it is the international symbol of economic stagnation, and there is also the Russian expression 'greasing the paw'. The Eskimos have thirty words for describing different kinds of snow, and modern Russian has about the same number of expressions to describe giving a bribe to a state official.
But Russians still love their country anyway, and their writers and poets traditionally compare this order of things to a weight attached to the foot of a giant - otherwise, they say, he would start rushing along too fast . . . Oh, but I don't know about that. I haven't seen any signs of a giant for a long time, just an oil pipeline with a fat rat hanging over it, giving itself a royal autocephalic uroborus. It sometimes seems to me that the only goal of Russian life is to drag this rat across the snowy wastes, trying to make some geopolitical sense of all this and inspire the minor nations with it.
If you analyse another two interconnected aspects of the local culture - the strictly taboo vocabulary employed for daily communication between people here, and laws under which the generally accepted way of life is a crime (which means that the face of every citizen bears the indelible imprint of sin) - you have a brief description of the 'gestalt' that you are intending to visit. And this list could easily be extended indefinitely: it would include the metal doors with security locks on flats, metaphysical blockbusters in which good allows evil to feed, because evil allows good to feed, and so on. But enough of that.
Let me share with you my professional views on the prospects for a working girl here. There is a game played in the local prisons that the intelligentsia calls 'Robinson Crusoe' and the intellectuals call 'Ultima Thule'. What it consists of is the following: a man sits down in a tub of water so that only the head of his penis is visible on the surface. Then he takes out of a matchbox a fly whose wings have been pulled off in advance and releases it on to that little island. The essential content of this northern amusement is watching the aimless wanderings of the unfortunate insect across the foreskin (hence the name of the game). It is a meditation on the hopelessness of existence, loneliness and death. Catharsis is achieved here through the stimulation of the head of the male member produced by the rapid movements of the fly's feet. There is a version of this game that the intelligentsia calls 'Atlantis', and the intellectuals call 'Kitezh of the spirit' (after the sacred underwater city in the Russian folktale). But the details of that are so sombre that I'd rather not spoil your sleep by mentioning them.
Believe me, my sister, if you come here, you will feel like a wingless fly wandering over the islands of an archipelago, about which everything important that there is to say has already been said to mankind by Solzhenitsyn. Is it worth exchanging your sea and sun for such a hard life? Yes, there is more money here. But believe me, the local inhabitants all spend it on pretending to move a bit closer, if only in a state of heroin-and-alcohol-induced stupor, to that torrent of happiness and joy in which your life is spent.
And one last thing, since you have already mentioned the super-werewolf. I'm absolutely certain that all the legends about him should be understood metaphorically. The super-werewolf is what any of us can become as a result of moral self-improvement and the development of our abilities to the greatest possible extent. You are him already, in potential terms. Therefore, to seek him somewhere outside of yourself is to err. I would not waste my time trying to convince E Hu-Li of this, or her husband (it would be interesting to get a look at him while it's still possible). But you, my little sister, with your clear mind and truthful heart, should understand this.
Heads and tails,
There was a seventeenth-century Chinese comedy called Two Foxes in One Town. Moscow is a very big town, which meant there could be very big problems here. But it was not misgivings of that sort that stopped me, not at all - quite honestly, I was only thinking of my sister's happiness. If I laid it on a bit thick in my letter, then it was only out of concern for her - let her carry on warming herself in the sun a bit longer, happiness has nothing to do with money. And what I'd written about the super-werewolf was the most important thing of all, I was quite sure of that. Next time I would have to remind her always to work with the 'bride returns the earring' method.
An earring . . . I suddenly had a quite delightful idea that sent me dashing to the metal box where I kept my jewellery and all sorts of valuable bits and pieces. I found what I wanted immediately - the silver earrings were lying on the very top.
I opened my old Leatherman with the tiny pliers (one of the first models, they don't make them like that any more), carefully detached the hooks from the earrings, and soon I had something quite incredible lying on the palm of my hand. It was a pair of earrings in the form of diamond rings on silver hooks with a colour that almost merged into the platinum. The diamonds in the earrings were different, one a bit larger and one a bit smaller. I didn't think anyone had ever made earrings like that before. When people saw it, they'd steal the idea, I thought. But what could I do about that . . .
I put the earrings on and looked at myself in the mirror. It looked great. It was clear from the first glance that what I had hanging on my ears were not earrings, but finger rings. And apart from that, it was obvious that the rings were expensive - the diamonds glittered delightfully in the dusty beam of light that illuminated my humble abode. The most stylish part of it was the way an expensive item had been mounted to express emphatic contempt for its monetary value, a combination of the ideals of the financial bourgeoisie and the values of 1968 in a single unified aesthetic object which promised that its owner would put out for Che Guevara as well as Abramovich, and even vaguely hinted that she would only put out for Abramovich on a temporary basis, until Che Guevara moved in (of course, Che Guevara doesn't really have anything to do with the whole business, nobody's thinking of putting out for him - it's just that the girl thinks Abramovich is more likely to go for shiny bait like that). In a word, it was just what the doctor ordered.
But then I couldn't give a damn for the doctor. In two thousand years, I'd seen more than enough doctors like that - they make their prescription, and time after time the human heart believes in the same old deception, dashes straight at the cliffs of the world and is smashed to pieces against them. And then it dashes at them again, and again - just like the first time. When you live by the edge of that sea and hear the roar of its waves, you think what a blessing it is that each wave only knows about itself and has no knowledge of the past.
Of course, no one gives me rings and brooches like that because of the perfection of my soul, which it is beyond modern people's ability to perceive. The only thing they value is my physical attraction - poignant, ambivalent and overwhelming. I know its power very well - I have learned to understand it over many hundreds of years. But after the meeting with Alexander for some reason I had lost my usual self-confidence. I couldn't remember time ever moving so slowly - the two days while I waited for his call seemed like an eternity to me. The minutes crawled by from the future into the past like snails, I sat in front of the mirror, gazing at my reflection and thinking about beauty.
A man often thinks: there's a beautiful girl, a lovely flower, walking through the town in spring, smiling in all directions, and she's not even aware of how lovely she is. This thought naturally develops into the intention to acquire this flower who is unaware of her own beauty for considerably less than her market value.
Nothing could be more naive. The man is aware of her beauty, but the girl, the lovely flower, is not? It's like a collective farmer from some remote village who has sold his cow and come to Moscow to buy an old Lada walking past the Porsche sales room, seeing a young salesman in the window and thinking: 'He's very green . . . maybe he'll believe that an orange Boxter is cheaper than a Lada, seeing as it's only got two doors? I must try having a word with him, while he's in the place on his own . . .'
A man like that is very funny, of course, and he has no chance at all of getting what he wants. But it's not all gloom and doom. There is good news and bad news for the collective farmer who has sold his cow:
1. the bad news is that he'll never buy anything for less than its market value. Everything's been worked out, checked and double checked. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
2. the good news is that this market value is considerably lower than he imagines it to be in his state of hormonal intoxication, multiplied by his inferiority complex and his lack of faith in success.
There'll be no new orange Boxter for him, of course - it will be bought by an amiable elderly gent from the Ministry of Social Development. But he might well be able to afford an old Audi. Only it's not an Audi that he needs, it's a tractor. The tragedy of this collective farmer, and that of all other men, is that they run after our beauty without understanding its nature. So many different things have been said about it - it's a terrible and appalling thing, which is also going to save the world, and so forth. But none of that throws even the slightest bit of light on the subject.
What a fox has in common with the most beautiful of women is that we live off the feelings we arouse. But a woman is guided by instinct, and a fox is guided by reason, and where a woman gropes her way along in the dark, a fox strides proudly forward in the bright light of day.
But then I must admit that some women cope rather well with their role. Only even if they want to, they can't reveal their professional secrets, since they themselves do not understand them at a rational level. But we foxes are quite consciously aware of these secrets - and now I'll tell you about one of them, the simplest and most important.
Anyone who wishes to understand the nature of beauty should first of all ask himself: where is it located? Can we say that it is somewhere inside the woman who is considered beautiful? Can we say, for instance, that there is beauty in the features of her face? Or in her figure?
Science tells us that the brain receives a flow of information from the sense organs, in this case from the eyes, and without the interpretations imposed by the visual cortex, this is simply a chaotic sequence of coloured dots, digitized into nerve impulses by the visual tract. Any fool can understand that there is no beauty in that, so it doesn't find its way into a man through his eyes. In technical terms, beauty is the interpretation that arises in the consciousness of the patient. As they say - in the eye of the beholder.
Beauty does not belong to a woman and it is not her specific quality - it is just that at a certain time of life her face reflects beauty, as a windowpane reflects the sun that is hidden behind the roofs of the houses. And so we cannot say that a woman's beauty fades with time - it is simply that the sun moves on and the windows of other houses begin to reflect it. But we know that the sun is not in the windowpanes that we look at. It is in us.
What is this sun? I'm sorry, but that's another mystery, and today I was only planning to reveal one. And in any case, from the point of view of practical magic, the nature of the sun is absolutely irrelevant. What matters are the manipulations that we perform with its light, and here lies an important difference between foxes and women. But, as in the previous case, I can only explain it by using an analogy.
There is a kind of lamp that people wear on their foreheads, on a special strap. They are popular with cyclists and potholers. It's very convenient - whichever way you turn your head, that's where the beam of light shines. I use one myself when I ride my bike at night in the Bitsevsky Park - it has three tiny, pointed bulbs that throw a spot of blue-white light on the asphalt surface of the path. Well then, beauty is the effect that arises in a person's consciousness when the light of the lamp on his head is reflected off something and back into his eyes.
In every woman there is a mirror, set from birth at a specific angle, and - no matter what the beauty industry might tell us - that angle cannot be changed. But we foxes can adjust the angle of our mirror across a very wide range. We can adapt to suit almost any cyclist. In this process hypnosis works hand-in-hand with flirting: the tail stays under our clothes and we only use it just a little bit to help ourselves. But every fox knows that 'little bit' is the key.
Especially for these notes I translated an excerpt from the memoirs of the Comte de Chermandois, a well-known eighteenth-century adventurer, in which he depicted my sister E Hu-Li for posterity. Chermandois met her in London, where he was taking refuge from the horrors of revolution. They started an affair, but it had an unfortunate ending - the comte died of a heart attack in strange circumstances. But here is how Chermandois describes the moment when a fox adjusts her mirror to direct the beam of reflected light straight into the eyes of her victim:
I cannot say that she was especially good-looking. On those occasions when I saw her after a long separation, I was amazed at how this skinny little creature with such fierce eyes could have become everything for me - love, life, death, the salvation of my soul. But she only had to meet my glance, and everything changed. First of all a startled doubt that she was loved would appear in those green eyes. At that moment it was obvious that there was nothing to love her for, and every time I experienced a wave of pity, merging into tenderness. But she soaked up those feelings like a sponge soaking up wine, and immediately blossomed into a tormenting beauty that could drive a man insane. A brief exchange of glances changed everything. A moment before it, I was not able to understand how this essentially unlovely woman could have enthralled me, and afterwards I could not grasp how I could have doubted even for a minute the magical power of her features. And the longer I gazed into her eyes, the stronger this feeling became, rousing me to ecstasy, to a state of physical pain - as if she had thrust a knife into a crack in the wall behind which I was trying to hide and, with a few swift movements of the blade, had loosened the brickwork so much that the wall had collapsed and I was left standing before her once again, as naked and defenceless as a child. I have studied this metamorphosis through and through, but I have still not learned to understand the nature of the fire that has seared my soul and reduced it to ashes.
Alas it is true: beauty is like fire, it burns and consumes, driving you insane with its heat, promising that in the place to which it drives its victim there will be calm, cool shade and new life - but that is a deception. Or rather, it is all true - but not for the victim, only for the new life that will take the victim's place, and then also be consumed by this pitiless demon.
I should know what I'm talking about. The demon has served me for more than two thousand years, and although he and I have a long-established working relationship, I am a little afraid of him. The demon of beauty is the most powerful of all the demons of the mind. He is like death, but he serves life. And he does not dwell within me - I only release him from the lamp on the forehead of the beholder, like Aladdin releasing the genie, and when the genie returns to his prison, I pillage the field of battle. It is a hard lot, and the Buddha of the Western Paradise would hardly approve of what I do. But what's to be done about it? Such is the fate of foxes.
Not only is it our fate, it is also the fate of our little sister, woman. But only an insensitive and stupid male chauvinist could reproach her for that. After all, woman was not created from Adam's rib at all, that's simply a mistake the scribe made when the weather was too hot. Woman was created from the wound through which the rib was extracted from Adam. Every woman knows this, but I can only remember two who have ever admitted as much - the poet Marina Tsvetaeva ('from friends - for you, the lowdown on the mystery of Eve from the tree - here it is: I am no more than an animal wounded in the belly') and the Empress Tsy See, who was incredibly irritated by her own membership of the weaker sex (I won't cite her utterance, firstly because it is obscene and secondly because it is highly idiomatic and difficult to translate). But they gave Adam his rib back, and ever since then he keeps trying to stick it back into the wound - in the hope that everything will heal up and knit back together. No chance. That wound will never heal.
The Comte de Chermandois's remark about the knife blade and the wall is a very telling image. We foxes actually do something of the kind - we feel for a man's secret heartstrings, and when we find them, we try to play the 'Ride of the Valkyries' on them, and that brings down the entire edifice of the personality. In fact, nowadays that's not so very terrible. The edifice of the modern personality is more like a dugout than anything else - there's nothing in it to collapse, and its conquest hardly requires any effort at all.
But then the spoils of conquest are insignificant too - the feelings of modern eye-blinkers, as Nietzsche called them, are shallow, and the barrel organs of their souls only play the 'Dog's Waltz'. Summon up in a man like that the most powerful hurricane that he is capable of containing, and the wind is only strong enough to blow a few hundred-dollar bills your way. And you still have to check to make sure they're not fake, torn or - God forbid! - issued before 1980. That's the way things are.
Alexander rang two days later, as he had promised. I was still asleep when I picked up the phone, but I had absolutely no doubt that it was him.
'Ada,' he said, 'is that you?'
I was quite sure I'd never called myself that.
'I'm going to call you Ada,' he said. 'We can take it as a diminutive from Adele, can't we?'
In Russian there could have been two polar opposite meanings concealed in the name Ada - 'ad A' (i.e. 'hell A') or 'A da' (i.e. 'Ah yes'). That was worrying. 'All right,' I said, 'call me that, if you like.'
'I want to see you,' he said.
'Right now.'
'Er . . .'
'My car's waiting for you.'
'By the stands at the track.'
'By the stands? But how did you find out where I . . .'
'That's not difficult,' he laughed. 'Mikhalich will drive you.'
There was a loud knock at the door.
'There,' said Alexander's voice in the phone, 'that's him. I'm waiting for you, my little flower.'
He hung up. My little flower, I thought; well, well, he thinks I'm a plant. There was another knock at the door, more insistent this time. Consideration like that was almost insulting.
'Adele,' a familiar voice called from the other side of the door. 'Are you there? I can see from the reading I have that you are. Hey!'
He knocked again.
'You've got a sign here that says "No entry. Danger of death." So maybe you went in anyway and got killed? Are you alive? Answer! Or I'll break the door down!'
Idiot, I thought, then all the people will come running. But no, they won't, it's still too early . . . Even so, it was better not to risk it. I went to the door and said:
'Vladimir Mikhailovich, quiet! I'll open up in a moment, just let me get dressed.'
'I'm waiting.'
I got dressed quickly and glanced round my residence - I did-n't think there was anything compromising in open view. But how had he managed to find me? Had he trailed me, or what?
'I'm opening up . . .'
Mikhalich came in and blinked for a few seconds as he got used to the darkness. Then he looked round.
'You mean to say this is where you live?'
'Well, yes.'
'What, in a gas-pipe junction?'
'It's not a gas-pipe junction. That sign at the door is just so that people won't start asking questions.'
'What's it supposed to be then?' he asked.
'How do you mean?'
'Well, every place has a function. What kind of premises is it?'
'I dislike premises,' I said. 'And I don't like it when people apply their own premises to me. It's an empty space under the stands. At first there was a storage space in here. Then they boarded everything off, built a transformer substation behind the wall and forgot about this part. Well, they didn't just happen to forget. Of course, I had to help them along a bit . . .'
I shuffled my fingers to make my point clear. Of course, what I should have done was wave my tail, but I wasn't about to initiate Mikhalich into all the details of my difficult fate.
'Do you have heating at least?' he asked. 'Aha, I see the radiators over there. But where's the toilet?'
'Why, do you want to go?'
'No, I'm just curious.'
'You have to go along the corridor. There's a shower there too.'
'You really live in this kennel?'
'Why is it a kennel?' I said. 'Its layout's more like a loft, the kind lawyers and political technologists have. Lofts are very fashionable. The ceiling's slanting, because the stand runs overhead. It's romantic.'
'But how do you manage without any light?'
'See that little pane of glass just below the ceiling? That's a window. When the sun rises, a very beautiful beam of light shines straight in here. And anyway, I can see pretty well in the dark.'
He cast another glance round my residence.
'Is that your junk in those sacks?'