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Hermit and Sixfinger

Translated from Russian by Serge Winitzki and Sergey Bratus © 1996

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Notes 1
"Get lost." "???" "Like I said, get lost. Let me watch." "But what is it you are watching?" "Oh God, what an idiot... The Sun, OK?" Sixfinger looked up from the black turf covered with food, sawdust and peatcrumbs. He squinted and stared upward. "Well... We live and live -- but what for? A mystery of ages. And did anybody even begin to grasp the thin, thread-like nature of the suns?" The stranger turned his head and stared at Sixfinger with disdainful curiosity. "Sixfinger," he immediately introduced himself. "I am called Hermit," the stranger answered. "Do they say that in your Socium? About the thin, thread-like nature?" "It"s not `my Socium" any more," Sixfinger said and suddenly whistled: "Look at that!" "What?" Hermit asked suspiciously. "There, look! A new sun just appeared!" "So what?" "In the center of the world it never happens. Three suns together..." Hermit chuckled condescendingly. "Once I saw eleven at once. One was in the zenith and five more in each epicycle. Although it wasn"t around here." "Where was it then?" Sixfinger asked. Hermit kept silence. Turning away, he went aside and chopped off with his foot a piece of food from the ground, and ate. A gentle warm breeze and the reflection of the two suns in grayish-green planes of the distant horizon made for such a serene and sad mood that the ponderous Hermit twitched when he saw Sixfinger again. "You are back. What do you want now?" "I just... wanted to talk." "Well, but I think you are stupid," Hermit answered. "You"d better go back to the Socium. You"ve wandered too far, really, go back..." He waved his hand toward a narrow, slightly undulating and trembling, dirty-yellow stripe -- amazingly, that was what the huge, roaring crowd looked like from here. "I would go," Sixfinger said, "but they expelled me." "Really? And why? Political reasons?" Sixfinger nodded and scratched one foot on the other. Hermit looked at his feet and shook his head. "Are they real?" "Of course, what else... They told me outright: the most, one could say, Decisive Stage is coming, and you have six toes on your feet... Couldn"t I find a better time for that, they said." "What is this `decisive stage" about?" "I don"t know. Everybody is on the edge, especially the Twenty Closest, but nobody makes any sense. They all just run around screaming." "Ah, I see," Hermit said. "This Stage, is it perhaps getting more and more distinct by the hour? And its shape more clearly seen?" "Exactly," Sixfinger was surprised. "How do you know that?" "Well, I have seen about five or so of these Decisive Stages. They called them differently each time, though." "No way," Sixfinger said. "This is going to happen for the first time." "Oh sure. I would be curious to see how it could happen for a second time. But we are talking about somewhat different things." Hermit laughed quietly, walked away a bit, then turned his back toward the far-away Socium and started scratching the ground energetically with his feet, until a cloud of garbage and dust hung in the air behind him. Meanwhile, he was looking back, waving his hands and muttering something. "What are you doing?" asked a somewhat frightened Sixfinger when Hermit returned, breathing heavily. "This is a gesture," Hermit answered. "Kind of an art form. You recite a poem and make the corresponding action." "And which poem did you just recite?" "This one:
    At times I feel sad,
    looking at those I abandoned,
    At times I do laugh,
    and between us then rises
    a cloud of yellowish fog."
"Why, it isn"t a Poem," Sixfinger said. "Thank God, I know all the Poems. That is, not by heart, of course, but I have heard all twenty-five of them. This one is surely not one of the Poems." Hermit regarded him in bewilderment but then seemingly understood. "Do you remember any of those Poems?" he asked. "Say it." "Just a minute. The twins... the twins... Well, anyway, we say one thing, and we mean another. And then we again say one thing, and we mean another, but the other way around (1). It"s very beautiful. Finally, we look up at the Wall, and there..." "Enough," Hermit said. There was silence, until Sixfinger broke it: "Listen, what about you -- where you also expelled?" "No. Actually, it was I, I expelled them all." "How could it happen that way?" "Things happen in many ways," Hermit said, looked at one of the celestial bodies, and added, as if he meant to stop chatting and start talking seriously: "It"s going to be dark soon." "Stop that," Sixfinger said, "nobody knows when it"s going to be dark." "Well, I do know. If you want a good sleep, do as I do." And he began to shove pieces of garbage, turf and sawdust that lay on the ground. Gradually he made a wall about his own height that encircled...

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