Sergei’s Profligate Lamentation at Sebastopol (a short thing)

1.

Sergei: he was one with all the sugar riding an objection over the clutches of a Braille-natured run of luck. “I want no ifs and but-shafts to come tearing along, like the kind of overcoat worn by a Polish nobleman with ringlets, making a frontal attack in a Phyrric victory!” Alas, I bathed too long in a cup of tea damming a river with my teeth every ten days. “Ha” said he, “An intake of fresh blood is all your liberty; to litter the floor of an abattoir with fresh cigarette-butts; to shoot at close range your hopes of success; to speak slowly and deliberately two miles away from one’s nearest neighbour. I have cut my finger badly!”

But he then fell silently down with his legs apart, much like one with a book of dream-interpretations, like an enemy detachment, like a respectable machine-tool. He stood in the corner a while after a lengthy service and I was non-plus-minused, a fait accompli, installing a telephone for the old ladies of Cordoba. We got off the stage together having been obliged by court-order to settle in a remote area after completing our prison-sentence in the Socialist Republic of Seattle – like old times in the enemy’s stainless steel arms. The fur coat made him look fat. “Keep quiet,” said I, assiduously, “the current things are slack, and if the whole trouble lies in the grip of fear, we shall advertise a tight spot to the first symphony of sense! Dig your heels in Sir Packing-Crate; the middle ear attenuates pleasure, delight and a healthy morning performance – go for a Burton and bang one’s fist on the table, overplay and contrive for the performance of Utopianism. Sleep.”

He cared not for my oversights, and stumbled about the rafters looking for a gold necklace that, he believed, once belonged to the Prince of Homburg. I urinated on myself after a short prayer to my own amplification; “I shall be back in a year’s time!” I yelled, but he was deaf suddenly, resembling a human head.

2.

Outside the theatrical place my greatcoat was splendid; ‘I must thank my seamstress,’ I thought to myself, ‘for she is an ostentatious target of sixteen. The Supreme Court is but half a mile in a handsome cab and I must get there before my appendectomy becomes intolerable.’ I yelled across the sea of traffic for an armour-plated cruiser, but he misunderstood my statement. ‘If the same happens in court, I’m in a cardiac of judgement.’ thought I in an Aristotelian manner. ‘Perhaps I don’t speak any of the language here?’ I wondered adroitly that my yelling at these armies might require speech therapy and more expert manners saturate the mind of Moscow. ‘This city has over one million inhabitants getting up to every sort of stupid trick. I must regulate my New World in fixed working hours to realise my rights, or the court shall reflect my life of alienation in the All-Union Book Chamber. My flea-collar is a dead giveaway. I will not sign the non-aggression pact! The barometer is falling on my head whilst the sentence lengthens my change of heart. If I could train a dog to carry things, I should make it there without any further ado – that’s the new fashion in Ossetia – to amend a bill of wrongs, to divide in half a touchstone, to mend, repair a magnificent mountain panorama by instalments.’ A dog was atomising its waste over my logging-trousers and I saw the mayor unclasping his garter, about to join in. It was time to exfoliate.

On my way out of there – the sidewalks of my mind – I took some time to unpuzzle my fragments over a pint of the old stuff. The place was called “Dissipation, Debauchery, Profligancy, Libertinism” A nice sort of tavern-reckoning I mused, whilst the men of Ind became angry at the transplanting of the socialist Hospital-Ship to the South China Sea. It was in all the papers. Sanitary regulations had been poor, right from the start. “That’s the source of all the troubles,” said a power-plant worker, limply holding a home-made cigarette of shag rolled up in newspaper, “the tractive force of gravity remains valid to the point of a term of imprisonment.” I coughed, and the cigarette spilled out on his trouser-things. “I do not question your integrity,” said I, “but to cut down expenses in the treasure-house of art, to sleep half-awake in an assembly of the slow-witted, to communicate the peace-treaty over the radio, to shamelessly inquire without permission like a grant-aided student is not the fashion of a mount-guard. Who is this area familiar to? What’s holding things up?” But his display of extravagant fashions in dress and manner was not in the Julian style; his spontaneity, dried-up like the stylistic categories of old Kant were inconvenient to his valved, fibreglass position. “Look you,” said he like the Secretary of State, “I’m no hanger-on; I’m an inconvenient bathtub fellow who with fear and trembling went to France to recount all manner of horrors in Holy Week.” He was an odd person. “In Muscovy during the 16th and 17th Centuries, members of the military corps instituted by Ivan Grozny were enjoying special privileges!” He was speaking sense at last like an old mariner. I gave him leave to vent rheum. “To construct a polygon one must inaugurate, strictly speaking, with firearms, and cut all to pieces. The structure of the earth’s crust is a kind of pancake, a timekeeper, a multiplication table, a scutcheon; at the COMECON, if not today then tomorrow, the political police procession hosts an arbitration tribunal, and I’m not going to be the one they practice their archery upon!”

I was sorry, almost to the point of crying, for the old sot and his conventional, stereotyped blather. I noticed he had a three-inch field gun tucked under the corner of his double-breasted jacket like a milksop. They watch over us from their dressing-tables from their seat of power; they become addicted to calming-down the chemical warfare units of the distressed among us. I decided to become autonomous and finish my pint-pot like a mendicant and hurry east – not as far as Ho Chi Minh City, but as far as the next bus stop at least. The snow was too thick for buses and, nagged by doubts, I trudged towards the administrative region of the city.

3.

Before the Court I met Sergei again, hastily blacking his shoes spotlessly like a thoroughbred. He was still head of the department on paper, but all the duties were being performed by his deputies. “Why aren’t you drinking?” His speech made a somewhat disagreeable impression, whilst I said nothing the whole time. “The ambassador is extraordinary and plenipotentiary; perhaps we should be going?” The tart – he didn’t know I was a plain-clothes detective, a sword-swallower in blinkers, an evolutionist, a sluice-gate of a man. Does anyone ever admit such things? “We must make an examination of Aesopian Language, especially of allegorical language used by Russian non-conformist publishers to conceal anti-regime sentiments!” His face turned thyroid. “I thought we could not designate the encyclopaedic brain of the Schutz-Staffel sang-froid scum for fear of reprisals and egocentrism amongst the people?” I snorted apologetically to make my point more persuasive and suave; “I have moved my queen. What about you? What have you ever done in the coolness of your composure to acquire a petition from a privy-councillor? The statutes remove obstacles at the mouth of the estuary of the CPSU charter; pacify yourself in a nomad camp in some part of Siberia! Improve your cantilever Ulkranian! Establish by degree the poverty of ideas or go into retirement already; a terrible fate hangs over us!” I know he was taught by a celebrated Spanish violinist, but all the same, he won three games of chess from me and he knew it. He wanted to go home and not face the barristers, the prison-governors, the vainglorious hard-nosed blockhead Philoctetes and his Trotskyist second-cousin. I can sympathise, but must press-on, into the courts, up the labour-consuming staircases to talk about this and that, to become overgrown, to be seen as transit-goods, to be shipped away to the outer world on a fleet of tractors.

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