The Sacred Book of the Werewolf
Commentary by Experts
The present text, which is also known under the title of 'A Hu-Li' is in fact a clumsy literary forgery, produced by an unknown author during the first quarter of the twenty-first century. Most specialists are agreed that this manuscript is of no interest in its own right, but only for the manner in which it was launched into the world. The text file entitled 'A Hu-Li' was supposedly found on the hard disk of a laptop computer discovered in 'dramatic circumstances' in one of Moscow's parks. From the militia report describing the discovery it is quite clear that the whole incident was deliberately staged. Indeed, to our mind the report provides useful insight into the virtuoso techniques employed in modern PR.
The report is authentic, incorporating all the requisite stamps and signatures, although the precise time at which it was composed is no longer known - the upper section of the title page was cut off when the report was bound into a file before being despatched to the archives at the end of the calendar year, as required by standing instructions. It appears from the report that the interest of members of the militia was attracted by strange natural phenomena in the Bitsevsky Park in the Southern Administrative District of Moscow. Members of the public observed a bluish glow above the treetops, ball lightning and a large number of five-coloured rainbows. Several of the rainbows were also spherical in form (according to the testimony of eye-witnesses, the colours in them seemed to shine through each other).
The epicentre of this strange anomaly was an extensive waste lot at the edge of the park, where the ramp for bicycle jumping is located. The half-melted frame of a 'Cannondale Jekyll 100' bicycle was discovered close to the ramp, together with the remains of its tyres. The grass around the ramp was burned to a distance of ten metres, with the burnt area taking the form of a regular five-pointed star, beyond which the grass remained unaffected. Certain articles of female clothing were discovered beside the bicycle frame: jeans, a pair of trainers, a pair of panties with the word 'Sunday' on them (evidently from a weekly set) and a T-shirt with the letters 'ckuf' on the chest.
Judging from the photographs in the report, the third letter of this word appears to resemble the Cyrillic letter '' rather than the Latin 'U'. We may therefore assume that what we are presented with here is not an anagram of the English word 'fuck', as M. Leibman asserts in his monograph, but a representation of the Russian word 'K', i.e. Scythian. This surmise is confirmed by the phrase 'yes, we are asiatics' on the back of the T-shirt - a clear allusion to Alexander Blok's poem 'Scythians', which, to all appearances M. Leibman seems not to have read.
Also found with the articles of clothing was a rucksack containing a laptop computer, as already mentioned in the report. None of these items had been damaged, and no signs of exposure to fire were discovered on any of them, which indicates that they were planted on the site of the incident after the five-pointed star was burned into the grass. No criminal investigation was initiated as a result of this event.
The subsequent fate of the text that was (supposedly) discovered on the hard disk of the laptop is well known. It initially circulated among occult fringe groups, and was later published as a book. The original title of the text, sounding exactly like the Russian phrase for 'so fucking what?', was considered obscene even by our modern-day literary hucksters, and so it was published under the changed title of The Sacred Book of the Werewolf.
This text is not, of course, deserving of any serious literary or critical analysis. Nonetheless, we would like to note that it presents such a dense interweaving of borrowings, imitations, rehashings and allusions (not to mention the poor style and the author's quite exceptional puerility), that its authenticity or genuineness do not pose any question for serious literary specialists: it is interesting purely as a symptom of the profound spiritual decline through which our society is currently passing. And for serious people who have made their way in the world the pseudo-oriental pop-metaphysics that the author is unable to resist flaunting before other dismal failures like himself cannot possibly evoke anything more than an intense feeling of compassion.
We should like to assure Muscovites and visitors to the capital that cleanliness and public order in Bitsevsky Park are always maintained well up to the mark and the militia of Moscow stand guard over the peace and security of citizens walking there by day and night.
Finally, and above all, my dear friends, may there always be room in your lives for a song of joy!
Major, head of the 'Bitsa Centre' Department of the FSB
Maya Marmeladoff, Igor Shitman,
PhD in philological science
Presenter of the TV programme 'Karaoke Homeland'
Who is your hero, Dolores Haze,
Still one of those blue-caped starmen?
The client I had been directed to by the barman Serge had been waiting in the Alexander Bar of the hotel National since seven-thirty in the evening. It was already seven-forty and the taxi was still crawling along, shifting from one traffic jam to another. I had a dreary, depressed feeling so deep in my soul that I was almost ready to believe I had one.
'I want to be forever young,' Alphaville sang yet again on the radio.
I wish I had your problems, I thought. And immediately remembered my own.
I don't really think about them that often. All I know is that they reside somewhere out there in the black void and I can come back to them again at any moment. Just to convince myself one more time that they have no solution. And thinking about that for a moment leads to interesting conclusions.
Let's just suppose I solve them. What then? They'll simply disappear - that is, they'll drift away for ever into the same non-existence where they reside for most of the time anyway. And the only practical consequence will be that my mind will stop dragging them back out of that black void. Doesn't that mean my insoluble problems only exist because I think about them, and I recreate them anew at the very moment when I remember them? The funniest of my problems is my name. It's a problem I only have in Russia. But since I live here at the moment, I have to admit that it's a very real problem.
My name is A Hu-Li. When this is spelt in Russian letters - ' X' - it becomes a Russian obscenity.
In the old days, with the pre-Revolutionary Russian alphabet, I was able to avoid this, at least in the written form of my name, by writing it as ' Xy?'. On a seal given to me in nineteen-thirteen by a certain wealthy patron of the arts from St. Petersburg who knew the secret, it is condensed into two symbols:
The Sacred Book of the Werewolf
It's an interesting story. The first seal that he ordered for me was carved on a ruby, and all five letters were incorporated into a single symbol.
The Sacred Book of the Werewolf
He gave me that ruby when we were sailing on his yacht in the Gulf of Finland and I threw it straight into the water the moment I looked at it. He turned pale and asked me why I hated him. He didn't, of course, really think that I hated him. But it was just a time when theatrical, soulful gestures were the fashion. Indeed, as it happens, they were responsible for the First World War and the Russian Revolution.
I explained that it was possible to lay all the letters on top of each other and fit them on a small gemstone, which wouldn't be too expensive, but then you couldn't tell which letter came first. A day later the second version was ready, carved on an oblong opal - 'with a teasing mysterious "AH"', as the patron noted elegantly in the poem appended to the gift.
That was the kind of people there used to be in Russia. Although, in fact, I suspect that he didn't write the poem himself, but commissioned it from his friend - the gay poet Mikhail Kuzmin - since after the Revolution I was visited by a gang of cocaine-intoxicated queers from the Cheka, looking for some diamonds or other. Then they moved a load of plumbers and laundrywomen into my flat on Italianskaya Street and took away the final prop of my self-respect, the old Russian letter 'i' that rendered my name printable. So I never did like the communists from the very beginning, even at a time when many brilliant minds believed in them.
My name is actually very beautiful and has nothing to do with its apparent Russian meaning. In Chinese 'A Hu-Li' means 'the fox named A'. By analogy with Russian names, you could say that 'A' is my first name and 'Hu-Li' is my surname. What can I say to justify it? I was given the name at a time when the obscene phrase didn't exist in the Russian language, because the Russian language itself didn't even exist yet.
Who could ever have imagined in those times that some day my noble surname would become an obscene word? Ludwig Wittgenstein once said that names are the only things that exist in the world. Maybe that's true, but the problem is that as time passes by, names do not remain the same - even if they don't change.
We foxes are fortunate creatures, because we have short memories. We only remember the last ten or twenty years clearly, and everything from before that slumbers in the dark void that I've already mentioned. But it doesn't completely disappear. For us the past is like a dark room from which we can extract any memory we wish by making a special and rather painful effort of will. This makes us interesting to talk to. We have a lot to say about almost any subject; and apart from that, we know all the major languages of the world - we've had enough time to learn them. But we don't go picking at the scab of memory without any need, and our everyday stream of thought is virtually the same as people have. The same applies to our operational personality, which renders a fox virtually indistinguishable from a tailless monkey (our ancient term for humans).
Many people cannot understand how this is possible. Let me try to explain. In every culture it is usual to link particular aspects of a person's appearance with specific character traits. A beautiful princess is kind and compassionate; a wicked witch is ugly, and she has a huge wart on her nose. And there are more subtle connections that are not so easy to formulate - the art of portrait painting is constructed around them. These connections change over time, which is why the great beauties of one age are a puzzle for another. Anyway, to put it simply, a fox's personality is the human type with which the present age associates her appearance.
Every fifty years or thereabouts, we select a new simulacrum of the soul to match our unchanging features, and that is what we present to people. Therefore, from the human point of view, at any given moment our inner reality corresponds completely to our external appearance. It's a different question altogether that it's not identical with the genuine reality, but who's going to understand that? Most people don't have any genuine reality at all, all they have are these external and internal realities, two sides of the same coin that the tailless monkey sincerely believes has actually been credited to his account.
I know it sounds strange, but that's exactly how it is: in order to make ourselves acceptable to our contemporaries, we adopt a new personality to match our face, exactly like altering a dress to suit a different fashion. The previous personalities are consigned to the lumber room, and soon it becomes a strain for us to remember what we used to be like before. And our lives consist of jolly trivia, amusing fleeting moments. I think this is a kind of evolutionary mechanism designed to make mimicry and camouflage easier for us. After all, the best kind of mimicry is when not only your face becomes like others' faces, but your stream of thought becomes like theirs too.
To look at I could be anything from fourteen to seventeen years old - closer to fourteen. My physical appearance arouses feelings in people, especially men, that are boring to describe, and there's no need - nowadays everybody's read Lolita, even the Lolitas. Those feelings are what provide my living. I suppose you could say I earn my living as a swindler: in actual fact I am anything but a juvenile. For the sake of convenience I define my age as two thousand years - the period that I can recall more or less coherently. This could possibly be regarded as coyness - I am actually significantly older than that. The origins of my life go very, very far back into the depths of time, and recalling them is as difficult as lighting up the night sky with a small torch. We foxes were not born in the same way as people. We are descended from a heavenly stone and are distantly related to the king of apes, Sun Wukong himself, the hero of Journey to the West (although I can't really claim this is all actually true - I have no memories left of that legendary time). In those days we were different. I mean internally, not externally. We don't change externally as we grow older - apart, that is, from the appearance of a new silver hair in our tails every 108 years.
I have not made such a significant mark in history as others of my kind. But even so, I am mentioned in one of the greatest works of world literature, and you can even read about me if you like. To do that, you have to go to the bookshop and buy the book Anecdotes of Spirits and Immortals, written by Gan Bao, and find the story of how the governor of Sih during the late Han period searched for the commander of his guards, who had fled. The governor was told that his officer had been led away by an evil spirit, and a detachment of soldiers was sent to look for him. To this day, reading what comes after that never fails to excite me (I carry the page with me as a talisman):
. . . the governor and several dozen soldiers on foot and on horse-back, having taken the hunting dogs with them, began prowling about outside the walls of the city, tracking down the fugitive. And indeed, Tsao was discovered in an empty burial crypt. But the were-creature had heard the voices of the people and dogs and hidden. The men sent by Sian brought Tsao back. In appearance he had become entirely like the foxes, almost nothing human remained in him. He could only mutter: 'A-Tsy!' ('A-Tsy' is a name for a fox.) About ten days later he gradually began to recover his reason and then he told his story:
'When the fox came the first time, a woman who was most beautiful appeared in the far corner of the house, among the hen-roosts. Having named herself as A-Tsy, she began enticing me to herself. And so it happened several times, while I, without intending to, followed her summons. There and then she became my wife and that very evening we found ourselves in her home . . . I do not recall meeting the dogs, but I have never felt so glad.'
'This is an evil spirit from the mountains,' the Taoist soothsayer said.
'In "Notes on the Glorious Mountains" it says: "In deep antiquity the fox was a dissolute woman and her name was A-TSY. Later she was transformed into a fox."
'This is why were-creatures of this kind most often give their name as A-Tsy.'
I remember that man. His head was like a yellow egg, and his eyes looked like two pieces of paper glued on to the egg. His version of the story of our affair is not entirely accurate, and the narrator is mistaken when he says I was called A-Tsy. The head of the guards called me by my first name, 'A', and 'Tsy' came from the sound that he began making involuntarily when his vital energy fell into decline: while we talked he sucked in air very noisily, as if he were trying to pull his dangling lower jaw back into place. And what's more, it's not true that I was once a dissolute woman and was then transformed into a fox - things like that simply don't happen, as far as I'm aware. But even so, I get the same thrill from re-reading this passage of ancient Chinese prose as an old actress does from looking at the very earliest photograph that she has kept.
Why am I called 'A'? A certain Confucian scribe with a predilection for boys, who knew what I was, but nonetheless had recourse to my services until the day he died, thought up an interesting explanation. He said it was the very shortest sound that a man could make when the muscles of his throat ceased to obey him. And it is true that some of the people over whom I cast my web of hallucination have just enough time to make a sound something like a muffled 'A-a ...' This Confucian scribe even wrote a special sheet of calligraphy as a gift for me - it began with the words 'A Hu-Li, willow in the night above the river . . .'
It might seem that living in Russia with a name like mine is a rather sad fate. Something like living in America and being called Whatze Phuck. Yes, the name does lend my life a certain tone of gloom, and there is always a certain inner voice ready and willing to ask - 'So what the fuck were you expecting from life anyway, A Hu-Li?' But as I have already said, this is the very least of my concerns, not really even a concern, since I work under a pseudonym. It's more like a humorous comment - although the humour, of course, is black.
Working as a prostitute doesn't really bother me either. My shift partner at the Baltschug hotel, Dunya (she's known as Adulteria in the hotel) once defined the difference between a prostitute and a respectable woman as follows: 'A prostitute wants to get a hundred bucks out of a man for giving him a good time, but a respectable woman wants all his dough for sucking all the blood out of him.' I don't entirely agree with this radical opinion, but it does contain a certain grain of truth: morals in modern Moscow are such that the correct translation of the phrase 'for love' from the slick humour of the glamour magazines into legal terminology would be 'for a hundred thousand dollars plus a pain in the arse'. Why bother paying any attention to the opinion of a society dominated by a morality like that?
I have more serious problems. Conscience, for instance. But I'll think about that in some other traffic jam, we're almost there now.
A top hat is a badge of caste indicating membership of the elite, no matter how we might feel about that. And when you are met at the entrance to a hotel by a man in a top hat who bows low and opens the door for you, you are elevated thereby to social heights that impose serious financial obligations towards those who have been less fortunate in life.
Which fact is immediately reflected in the menu. Taking a seat at a table by the bar, I immersed myself in the drinks list, trying to locate my niche among the forty-dollar whiskies and fifty-dollar cognacs (and that's for just forty grams!). The names of the long drinks arranged themselves into the storyline of a high-tension thriller: Tequila Sunrise, Blue Lagoon, Sex on the Beach, Screwdriver, Bloody Mary, Malibu Sunset, Zombie. A ready-made proposal for a movie. So why am I not in the movie business?
I ordered the cocktail called Rusty Nail - not in honour of the impending meeting, as anybody of a psychoanalytical cast of mind might be inclined to think, but because in addition to scotch, its contents included the incomprehensible Drambuie. One should experience something new every day of one's life.
There were two of my co-workers sitting in the bar - Karina, an ex-model, and the transsexual Nelly, who moved here from the hotel Moscow after it was closed. Nelly had just recently hit the big five-oh, but business was still going pretty well for her. Just then she was swarming all over some gallant Scandinavian type, while Karina was sitting on her own, finishing off a cigarette that wasn't her first by a long way - that was obvious from the lipstick-smeared butts in the ashtray. I still haven't finally figured out why that happens, but it kept happening all the time: Nelly, an ugly freak who spent her previous life in the Komsomol, earned more bucks than the young girls who looked like supermodels.
There could be various reasons for this:
1. Western man, who has imbibed the ideals of equal rights for women with his mother's milk, is not capable of rejecting a woman because of her age or her external imperfections, since he sees her above all as a person.
2. For the thinking Western man, to satisfy his sexual needs with the help of a photographic model means to follow the dictates of the ideologues of consumerist society, and that is vulgar.
3. Western man regards social instinct as so far superior to biological instinct, even in such an intimate matter as sex, that his primary concern is for the individuals least capable of competing in the conditions of the market.
4. Western man assumes that an ugly freak will cost less, and after an hour of shame, he will have more money left for the payments on his 'Jaguar'.
I did as the barman Serge said and didn't even look in his direction. In the National everybody reports on everybody else, so you have to be careful. And anyway, right then I wasn't much interested in Serge, I was more concerned about the client.
There were two possible candidates for the position in the bar; a Sikh wearing a dark-blue turban who looked like a chocolate Easter rabbit and a middle-aged man in a three-piece suit with glasses. They were both sitting alone - the man in glasses was drinking coffee and surveying the rectangular courtyard through its glass roof, and the Sikh was reading the Financial Times, swaying the toe of his lacquered shoe in time to the pianist, who was masterfully transforming the cultural legacy of the nineteenth century into acoustic wallpaper. The piece concerned was Chopin's 'Raindrops', the same composition that the villain in the film Moonraker is playing when Bond appears. I used to adore that music. Leo Tolstoy's wife, Sofia Andreevna, was right to entitle the rebuttal of her husband's 'Kreutzer Sonata' that she worked on in her final years as 'Chopin's Preludes' . . .
I'd prefer the one in glasses, I thought. He was obviously not saving up for a 'Jaguar', he already had one. For his kind the whole thrill is in spending money, they get more excited over that transaction than all the rest, which doesn't even have to happen at all, provided you can get them drunk enough. But that Sikh would be really heavy work.
I smiled at the man in glasses and he smiled back. That's great then, I thought, but just after that the Sikh folded his financial newspaper, got up and came to my table.
'Lisa?' he asked.
That was my pseudonym for the day.
'That's right,' I said happily.
What else could I do?
He sat facing me and immediately started abusing the local cuisine. His English was good, not the kind people from India usually have - genuine Oxford pronunciation, with that dry tone to it reminiscent of a Russian accent. Instead of 'fucking' he said 'freaking', like a Boy Scout, and it sounded funny, because he stuck the word into every second sentence. Maybe swearing was against his religion, there was some little point like that in Sikhism, I thought. He turned out to be a professional portfolio investor, and I only just stopped myself from asking where his portfolio was. Portfolio investors don't like jokes like that. I know that, because every third client of mine at the National is a portfolio investor. Not that there are all that many portfolio investors at the National, it's just that I look very young, and every second portfolio investor is a paedophile. I don't like them, to be quite honest. It's strictly professional.
He began with extremely old-fashioned compliments, saying how he couldn't believe his luck; I was like the girl from the romantic dreams of his childhood - that was what he said. And then more in the same vein. Then he wanted to see my passport, to make sure I wasn't under age. I'm used to requests like that. I had a passport for foreign travel - false, naturally - in the name of 'Alisa Li' - it's a common Korean surname and it suits my Asiatic face. The Sikh looked through it very carefully - he was obviously concerned about his good name. According to my passport I was nineteen.
'Do you want a drink?' he asked.
'I've already ordered,' I replied. 'They'll bring it in a moment. Tell me, do you say that to all the girls, about the romantic dream of your childhood?'
'No, only to you. I've never said anything like that to any girl before.'
'I see. Then I'll say something to you that I've never said to any other man before. You look like Captain Nemo.'
'From 20,000 Leagues under the Sea?'
Oho, I thought, what a well-read portfolio investor!
'No, from the American film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. There was one extraordinary gentleman who looked just like you. An underwater karate specialist with a beard and a blue turban.'
'Why, was the film based on Jules Verne?'
They brought my cocktail. It turned out to be small - only sixty grams.
'No, they gathered together all the supermen of the nineteenth century - Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, Dorian Gray and so on.'
'Really? That's original.'
'Nothing original about it. An economy based on brokerage gives rise to a culture that prefers to resell images and concepts created by others instead of creating new ones.'
That was a phrase I'd heard from a certain left-wing film critic who stung me for 350 euros. Not that I entirely agreed with it, it was just that every time I repeated those words in conversation with a client I felt the film critic was paying me back a few bucks. But it was too much for the Sikh.
'I beg your pardon?' he asked with a frown.
'The point is, the Nemo character looked remarkably like you. A moustache and beard . . . he even prayed to the goddess Kali in his submarine.'
'Then it's not likely that we have much in common,' he said with a smile. 'I don't worship the goddess Kali. I'm a Sikh.'
'I have a lot of respect for Sikhism,' I said. 'I think it's one of the most advanced religions in the world.'
'Do you know what it is?'
'Yes, of course.'
'You've probably heard that Sikhs are men with beards who wear turbans?' he laughed.
'It's not the external attributes of Sikhism that I find attractive. I really admire its spiritual side, especially the fearless transition from reliance on living teachers to reliance on a book.'
'But that's the case in many other religions,' he said. 'It's just that instead of the Koran or the Bible, we have Guru Granth Sahib.'
'But nowhere else do they address the book as their living mentor. And apart from that, nowhere else is there such a revolutionary concept of God. I'm impressed most of all by two features that distinguish Sikhism radically from all other religions. '
'Firstly, the acceptance of the fact that God didn't create this world for some exalted purpose, but exclusively for his own amusement. No one before the Sikhs ever dared go that far. And secondly, its God-finding. As distinct from other religions, in which there is only God-seeking.'
'And what are God-finding and God-seeking?'
'Do you remember the aporia with the execution on the square that is often referred to in the commentaries on the Sikh sacred texts? I think it goes back to Guru Nanak, but I'm not absolutely certain.'
The Sikh stared at me, opening his brown eyes wide, which instantly made him look like a crayfish.
'Imagine a market square,' I continued. 'Standing at the centre of it is a scaffold surrounded by a crowd, and they're beheading a prisoner on it. A fairly ordinary scene for medieval India. And for Russia too. Well then, God-seeking is when the best people are horrified by the sight of blood on the axe and start seeking for God and the result is that a hundred years and sixty million corpses later they get a slightly improved credit rating.'
'Oh yes,' said the Sikh. 'That's a tremendous achievement for your country. I mean the improved credit rating. So what's God-finding then?'
'That's when they find God right there in the market square, as the teachers of the Sikhs did.'
'And where is he?'
'In this aporia God is both the executioner and his victim, but not only. He is the crowd round the scaffold, the scaffold itself, the axe, the drops of blood on the axe, the market square, the sky above the market square and the dust under people's feet. And, of course, he is this aporia and - most importantly of all - the person who is listening to it . . .'
I'm not sure that this example can really be called an aporia, since it doesn't contain an irresolvable contradiction - although that might be in the very fact that God is discovered in the midst of blood and horror. But the Sikh didn't object to the term. He opened his eyes even wider, so that he looked even more like a crayfish, but a crayfish who has finally realized why he's surrounded by all these immense beer mugs. While he pondered what I'd said, I calmly finished off my cocktail - I still hadn't found out what Drambuie was. I must say the Sikh looked a real picture - he seemed to be teetering on the brink of enlightenment, as if a slight nudge would be enough for the unstable equilibrium of his mind to shift suddenly.
And that was what happened. The moment my glass touched the table, he recovered his wits. He took a Diners Club Platinum Card with a hologram of Che Guevara out of his wallet and tapped on the table with it to call the waiter, then he put his hand over mine and whispered:
'Isn't it time to go to the room?'
The name National suggests a hotel representative of national taste. In Russia this taste is eclectic, which is reflected in the decor: the carpet on the stairs is covered with classical fleurs-de-lys, the stained glass in the windows is art nouveau, and it is hard to discover any principle at all in the selection of paintings on the walls - churches, bouquets of flowers, forest thickets, old peasant women, views of Versailles, with Napoleon suddenly turning up in the middle of them all, looking like a blue parrot with a gold tail . . .
But actually it's only at first glance that the pictures have nothing in common. In fact they all share the most important artistic attribute of all - they're for sale. As soon as you remember that, the remarkable stylistic unity of the interior becomes clear. And in addition, you realize there is no such thing as abstract art at all, it's all very concrete. A profound thought, I even wanted to make a note of it, but that would have been awkward with a client there.
We stopped at the glass door of room number 319 and the Sikh gave me a sultry smile as he slipped his key card into the lock. He had a VIP suite - they cost 600 dollars a day there. Behind the double door there was a small businessman's sitting room: a striped sofa with a high back, two armchairs, a fax and a printer, a palm tree in a tub and a small cupboard with antique tableware. The window offered a panoramic view of a street from which the Kremlin could be seen. That's category 'B'. There's a category 'C' there too - that's when the window looks out on to a street from which you can see the other street, from which the Kremlin is visible.
'Where's the bathroom?' I asked.
The Sikh began unfastening his tie.
'Are we in a hurry?' he asked playfully. 'Over there.'
I opened the door he had indicated. Behind it was the bedroom. Almost the entire space was taken up by an immense double bed, and the small door into the bathroom was in the corner of the room: I didn't even notice it at first. That was the way it should be, the dimensions of things proportionate to the place they occupy in life. The suite approached the ideal, since it was structured precisely like the VIP life. Work represented by the businessman's sitting room - receive a fax, send a fax, sit on the stripy sofa for a while, look at the palm tree in the tub and when you get fed up with the palm tree, turn your head and look at the tableware in the cupboard; personal life represented by the bedroom with the bed stretching from wall to wall: take a sleeping pill and sleep. Or else what was happening now.
I went into the bathroom, turned on the shower and started getting ready for work. It wasn't difficult - I simply lowered my trousers a bit and freed my tail. I only turned on the water as camouflage.
I feel I have now reached the point where certain explanations are required, otherwise my narrative will seem rather outlandish. So let me pause for a while to say a few words about myself.
Foxes don't have any sex in the strict sense of the word, and if we are referred to as 'she', it's because of our external resemblance to women. In actual fact we're like angels - that is, we don't have any reproductive system. We don't reproduce because we don't grow old and we can carry on living until something kills us.
As for our appearance, we have slender, shapely bodies without a trace of fat and magnificently defined musculature - the kind that some teenagers who do sport have. We have fine, silky, gleaming hair that's a bright fiery-red colour. We are tall, and in ancient times that often used to give us away, but nowadays people have become taller and so this feature doesn't make us stand out at all.
Although we don't have any sex in the sense of the ability to reproduce, all of its external signs are present - you could never take a fox for a man. Straight women usually take us for lesbians. Lesbians usually go nuts. And it's not surprising. Beside us even the most beautiful women look crude and unfinished - like a carelessly dressed block of stone beside a completed sculpture.
Our breasts are small and perfectly formed, with small, dark-brown nipples. At the spot where women have their most important dream factory we have something similar in appearance - an imitative organ with a function I'll tell you about later. It doesn't serve for childbirth. And at the back we have a tail, a fluffy, flexible, fiery-red antenna. The tail can become larger or smaller: in the sleeping state it's like a ponytail about ten or fifteen centimetres long, but in the working state it can reach almost a metre in length.
When a fox's tail increases in length, the ginger hairs on it grow thicker and longer. It's like a fountain when the pressure is increased several times over (I wouldn't draw any parallels with the male human erection). The tail plays a special part in our lives, and not only because of its remarkable beauty. I didn't call it an antenna by chance. The tail is the organ that we use to spin our web of illusion.
How do we do that?
By using our tails. And there's nothing more to be said about it. I have no wish to conceal the truth, but it really is difficult to add anything else. Can a person who isn't a scientist explain how he sees? Or hears? Or thinks? He sees with his eyes, hears with his ears and thinks with his head, and that's all. Likewise we create illusion with our tails. It feels just as simple and clear to us as the other examples. But I won't attempt to explain the mechanics of what happens in scientific terms.
As for the illusions, they can be of various kinds. Everything here is determined by the personal qualities of the fox, her imagination, mental strength and other distinctive features. A great deal also depends on how many people have to see the illusion simultaneously.
There was a time when we could do a great deal. We could create illusions of magical islands and make crowds of thousands see dragons dancing in the sky. We could create the appearance of a huge army approaching the walls of a city and all the city dwellers would see this army in exactly the same way, right down to the details of its equipment and the hieroglyphs on its banners. But those were the great, incomparable foxes of antiquity, who paid for their wonderworking with their lives. In general, since those days, our kind has declined rather seriously - probably because we are always so close to people.
Of course, my powers are nothing like those of the great foxes. Put it this way - I can make one person see anything at all. Two? Almost always. Three? That depends on the circumstances. There aren't any precise rules here, everything is decided by the feel of things: I sense what I am capable of more or less like a rock-climber standing in front of a crevice in the mountains. He knows where he can jump from one side to the other, and where he can't. If you don't make the jump, you fall off and tumble into the abyss - the analogy with our enchantment is very precise.
It's best not to exceed your own limits, because a hallucination that is not strong enough to subdue another person's mind gives the whole game away. The mechanism involved is complicated, but the external result is always the same - when a person suddenly escapes from hypnotic control (slips off the tail, as we say), he suffers a seizure, with unpredictable consequences. More often than not he tries to kill the fox, who is entirely defenceless just at that moment.
The point is that our sport involves a certain provocative detail. In the non-working state, our tails are really small, and so we hide them between our legs. For the antenna to work at full power, it has to be unfurled. To do this, you have to lower your trousers (or raise your skirt) and spread your tail into a fiery-red plume. This increases the power of suggestion by several orders of magnitude, and that's the way all serious questions are decided.
The need to expose yourself could give rise to awkward and ambiguous situations, but - fortunately for foxes - there is one helpful feature to the process. If you can expose yourself quickly enough, the subject will forget everything that he has seen. There's a kind of twilight zone, ten or twenty seconds that disappear from the memory, and we have to manage the manoeuvre within that time frame. They say the same thing happens when someone faints - when they come round, people don't remember what happened immediately before their fainting fit.
And now for the final thing I ought to tell you. We eat ordinary food (fairly close to the Atkins Diet). But in addition to that, we are capable of directly assimilating the human sexual energy that is released during the act of love - whether real or imaginary. And while ordinary food simply maintains the chemical equilibrium of our bodies, sexual energy is like our most important vitamin, the one that makes us enchanting and eternally youthful. Is this vampirism? I'm not sure it is. We simply pick up what the irrational human being carelessly discards. And if he is so profligate that he actually kills himself, does that mean that we're to blame?
In some books it says that foxes don't wash - supposedly, that's how they can be recognized. It's not because we're dirty creatures. It's just that the excess sexual energy transfuses us with the immortal nature of the primordial Yang principle and our bodies clean themselves through the corresponding influx of Yin. The faint odour that our skin gives off is actually extremely pleasant and reminiscent of Essenza di Zegna eau de cologne, except that it is lighter and more lucid - without that hot, sensuous breath of the mistral in the distant background.
I hope that now the reasons for my actions will be clearer. And so, I turned on the water, so that my client would hear the noise, then unfastened my trousers and lowered them slightly to free my tail. And then, trying not to hurry, I counted to three hundred (a notional five minutes) and opened the door.
Popular expositions of the theory of relativity often ask the reader to compare the pictures that would be taken by two cameras - one in an independent system of coordinates and the other on the head of an astronaut. In our case it would be more correct to say 'in the head' rather than on it. What would the camera in the Sikh's head have shown? The door of the bathroom opened and the girl of his romantic childhood dreams stepped into the room. With a blindingly white towel wrapped round her body.
After she came out of the bathroom, the girl went over to the bed, threw back the blanket and dived under it, blushing ever so slightly: everything pointed to the fact that she hadn't been in the business long and still hadn't acquired the professional shamelessness of the trade. That was what the Sikh saw.
I don't know if the rooms in the National have cameras set in an independent system of coordinates. The staff there claim that they don't. But if they did have, then they would have shown the following:
1. the girl wasn't wearing any towel. She hadn't even thought of getting undressed, but merely slightly lowered her trousers, releasing the red plume of her tail.
2. the girl didn't walk into the room, she crawled into it on all fours and her tail swayed in the air before freezing above her back in a ginger question mark.
3. she looked less like a bride than a beast prepared to pounce - there was a fierce, intense look in her green eyes and there wasn't even a trace of a smile on her face.
4. since in modern Russian the word 'bride' signifies something very close to 'a beast prepared to pounce', there is no contradiction here anyway.
The Sikh looked at me, raised his eyebrows and swayed on his feet. When a person is overwhelmed by the hypnotic shock, a shadow of something like faint revulsion passes across his face, like when a bullet just clips someone's skull: if anyone has seen the documentary footage of Vietnamese executions, then he'll know what I mean. Only after my bullet the client doesn't fall down.
With a smile on his face, the Sikh staggered towards the empty bed, pulling off his jacket on the way. I waited until he had made himself comfortable in it, then sat on the chair beside it and opened my handbag.
I'm trying to improve myself morally, and so I avoid looking at the client once the paid time has begun. I feel ashamed even to describe what happens to a man during his encounter with a fox. Ashamed above all for the man, since he looks quite terrible. And a little awkward for myself too, since all this doesn't just happen of its own accord.
I'm not writing for the yellow press, so I won't go into the scabrous details, but simply say that a man's behaviour is especially unattractive when he starts to realize his sexual fantasies. The fact that he is performing alone increases the obscenity of it to the second power. And if the man concerned is wearing a blue turban and is so hairy that his beard seems to cover his entire body, then it is quite fair to say it is raised to the third.
Maintaining an illusion is considerably easier than breaking into someone else's mind in order to establish it. Everything is decided in the first moment, after that it's all pretty routine. But even so, while the client is in the world of his illusions, it's best not to go too far away from him, because you have to perform the functions of a nurse. As I've already explained, looking at the patient is rather unpleasant, so I usually take a book with me, and that was what I did this time. I settled down beside the bed and opened Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, which includes a lot of interesting things about various systems of coordinates. I've already read the book from cover to cover several times, but I still haven't got fed up with it, and every time I laugh as if I were reading it for the first time. I even have a suspicion that it's a postmodern joke, a kind of scam. The very name Stephen Hawking is suspiciously reminiscent of another horror writer by the name of Stephen King. But the horrors here are of a different kind.
The Sikh turned out to be relatively quiet. He muttered something in his native language and squirmed about in the very centre of the bed. There was no need to be concerned that he might fall out on to the floor. But even so, like a good nurse, I glanced at the patient occasionally. When he got fed with embracing the upper half of an empty space, he started pressing himself against it from the side. Then he moved back to the top again.