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A Lass Named Troof

24 min

an absurdist folk tale about two strangers uniting on a surreal journey for their personal quests

The story is my submission to the Soaring Twenties, a magazine published monthly with each issue focusing on a single theme and featuring fiction, essays, poetry, art, film, and more. This issue's theme is "Perspective(s)".

Such a predicament, seemingly hopeless: somewhere in the back of beyond, night eternal, darkness unending, holodrigue so fierce you could put engines on your chattering teeth and fly into space, rattling through its distant reaches, as they say. Snow's falling too, right thick and persistent, not only can you not see ahead, but behind as well—blink and you’re lost. Your legs plunge knee-deep into snow and your footprints still get covered as soon as you take a step. Snowdrifts keep growing and growing, growing and growing, growing and growing, so much that before you know it, you'll start wandering amidst the tops of fir trees instead of their trunks, and if such a thing happens, heaven forbid, and you get dizzy, there'll be nothing to grab onto, you'll topple over and freeze to death. So, through all this wintry resplendence, two fellows trudged, knowing nothing of each other, unsuspecting, in complete ignorance, each in his own adventure until they chanced upon an abandoned hut. It stood bereft of windows and doors with only a roof peeking out from beneath a snowdrift and a chimney jutting forth.

There they stood, the fat one and the thin one like in Chekhov's story, shining torches in each other's mugs, squinting, silent, breathing steam, bearded, all covered in snow. The thin one wore a short sheepskin coat and a fur hat. The fat one was enrobed in a whole bearskin with the head and toothy maw—you wouldn't tell right away if it's a man or a forest sprite standing before you. The wind whistled, the environs hummed, the trees crackled, their frozen twigs a-tapping. The fellows took turns shining their torches on the hut, nodded to each other in a stoic manly way and started digging it out, throwing snow to the sides. They dug for a long time, puffing and panting, working up a sweat, but reached the window. They grabbed the shutters together, one on the left, the other on the right, somehow managed to fling them open, and climbed inside.

When the fat one was climbing in, a fiasco occurred.

—Gadzooks!—he bellowed.


—Gadzooks, I said!


—I'm stuck fast, mate.

—Press on, then.

—I'm telling you, I'm stuck!

—Well, draw in your belly and press on.

—Bloody ‘ell!

The fat one exhaled with all his might, the thin one pushed against him with all his vigour, and they both tumbled head over heels inside the hut.

The thin one fell on top of the fat one, both enveloped by stygian gloom like in the devil's nether regions. They gathered their wits, rose, closed the window, took out their torches again, and looked around. The hut was utterly barren, no soft, comfortable, gold-embroidered divans, no table with a self-serving tablecloth laden with delicacies, no samovar for tea, no vodka, no hot baths, not even a looking glass. Even the stove was buried under snow. Well, at the very least, the wind wasn't wailing, the trees weren't cracking, it was completely silent, only the floorboards and the fellows’ bones were creaking, and their heads were still a-ringing.

So they stood there, blinding each other with their torches, examining one another.

—Human?—asked the thin one.

—That's right,—replied the fat one.

—I'm human too.

—I can see that, mate.


—Where are you from?—the fat one continued.

—From Tulubaika.

—Oh, I'm from Tulubaika too!

Silence again.

—Really?—said the thin one, surprised.

—Very much really.

—And where are you headed, if I may ask?

—Well, to Tulubaika.


The thin one took off his hat and scratched the back of his head.

—I was hoping you'd show me the way,—added the thin one.

The fat one was perplexed.

—Where to?—he inquired.

—To Tulubaika,—the thin one mumbled.

—To Tulubaika? But you're from there yourself, aren’t you?—the fat one exclaimed in surprise.

—Well, so are you.

—Ha-ha! But I don't remember the way, mate. That’s the thing.

—Uh-huh… I don't remember either...—said the thin one and sighed heavily.

They stand there, frowning, spinning their tangled thoughts as if on a spindle.

—And who does remember?—asks the fat one.

—Only God knows,—answers the thin one.

—To Bumfuck, Nowhere, then turn left, as they say,—the fat one quipped sarcastically.

The thin one's eye twitched, but both fellows smirked, meaningfully so, with a hint of bitterness, sighed, fell silent, looked around, took off their rucksacks, and decided to sit down.

The fat one took a thermos out and asked:


—Won't say no to coffa in an hour of need.

He poured the coffa into cups, inhaled a lungful of its sobering vapours, gasped with joy, sipped the beverage, warmth spread through his body, his cheeks flushed—pure ecstasy, in a word.

—And who might you be?—asks the fat one.

—I might be Benjamin Patrickovich.

—Wow, right...

—... And yourself?

—Maximilian, or just An.


—Eh? An, I said.



—And why "just An"?

—Because of my tongue-tied pops. He couldn't pronounce the letter M, old bastard, so that's what he called me, to keep it simple.

—I see.

They sat there, drank coffa, savoured the moment as their souls were covered in goosebumps and trembled with pleasure. It's always good to have a chat with a fellow human, even if it's not yet clear what manner of character is in front of you.

—Been walking long, Benjamin Patrikovich?—asked Maximilian.

—Aye, quite a while, about ten years. And you, Maximilian?

—Oh, I don't count the years. It's not a prison after all. Ha!

Benjamin Patrikovich frowned, a light surprise with a hint of spice appeared on his face. Well, he thought, it's a matter of perspective. There may be no walls or bars, but it doesn't seem to make one any freer.

—I'm a free man, I go where I want,—says Maximilian.—Fancy a bublik?

Maximilian (and the author, by the way, unlike Maximilian's dad, can pronounce the letter M, so he refuses to call him An) pulled out a string of bubliks from his rucksack, smooth, round, neat, the holes all in a row. He took one off and handed it to Benjamin Patrikovich.

With trembling hands Benjamin Patrikovich took the bublik, bit into it, relishing the noble dough. Feels so good that tears almost well up, he thought.

Thus they sipped hot coffa, chewed loudly, looked at each other, grinning from ear to ear, content, but with a speckle of tension.

—It doesn't really matter when I left, the important thing is that I'm going back,—Benjamin Patrikovich declared with special significance.

Maximilian looked at him, munching on a second bublik (or maybe a third, as you can't keep track of him—he's gobbling them up like a beaver, by god), and nodded with full empathetic understanding.

—And why did you leave?

Benjamin Patrikovich fell silent and frowned. The coffa made him drowsy, he felt he could fall asleep any moment. He stroked his beard wet from the melting snow, pondering, as if grinding a thought in a mill mortar.

—To seek the Truth, Maximilian.

—To seek the troof?

That pronunciation tickled Benjamin Patrikovich’s ear, gently, like a feather.

—Precisely. The Truth. The very one.

—Is that the one with a capital letter or a small one?

—Listen closely,—said Benjamin Patrikovich, raising his hands skywards, looking in the same direction (at the black ceiling, by the way), and discharged a word,—Truth.

—Oh, I see... With a capital letter then.

—The most capital of them all.

Maximilian slurped the coffa, clicked his tongue, driving the coffa liquids through all available receptors, relishing the aromatic blend.

—So, did you find it, the troof?

Benjamin Patrikovich glanced at him from under his brows.

—What do you reckon, Maximilian?

—Well, I reckon not,—Maximilian replied, spreading his hands.

Benjamin Patrikovich nodded silently and continued chewing his bublik. He consumed it in thirty-three-degree segments—as much as his jaws could handle—straight to the hole, turning the bublik into a horn. This bublik-eating technique seemed to appal Maximilian to the point where his eyebrows arched up in horror. Well, well, he thought, that's quite a soulless attitude you've got there towards the bublik, mate. And to put an end to this crime against humanity, he decided that the dialogue must absolutely be continued and his interlocutor's mouth busy with words rather than the bublik.

—So since you didn't find it, why are you going back? You should keep going and searching further. Don’t give up, they say, aye?

As planned, that distracted Benjamin Patrikovich from munching on his bublik and he froze in space, falling out of time for a fraction of a second. Maximilian's question, you see, triggered in him inevitable cognitive storms in him, swirling into vortices. He paused for a score of seconds, winced and blinked.

—The way it happens, Maximilian…—said Benjamin Patrikovich and inhaled, nearly coughing.—Let's say there's Tulubaika, or Tmutarakan, or the Boonies, or, pardon me, the Arse End, places that aren't half bad, quite ordinary to the unknowing man, but that's not even important, because at first glance they simply exist and there's nothing special about them, except for themselves.

—Aye, preach.

—And so that unknowing little man is born, crying, grumbling, discontent, starts running around the area to explore his native space and then thinks, is this really all? Right here, past the open field, by the old birch tree, is the boundary of my world? My dear soul feels cramped in such conditions, the little man thinks. It yearns to fly, not to sit in a cage, to soar and glide over the expanses. For I am not really a little man, but a great man, and my soul knows no bounds within the universe, for it is the universe. It must see the world, know itself, gather the Truth bit by bit. Well, and since the universe has no boundaries, the Truth can't be concentrated entirely in one small plot of land, can it?

—Sure it can't, Patrikovich. Logical and mathematical, that.

—And so, this great man rises in the morning, laces his bast shoes, and sets off far, far away. He walks a long way across the earthly expanses to see the world and to show himself. He visits Belovodye, the Land of Chud, makes his way to Shambhala, reaches as far as Nova Nevédoma, eats soft French buns on the banks of the Mississippi River, but the Truth is still nowhere to be found. He descends into dungeons, drinks tea with Satan, plays cards with Hades, plays preference with Mara, lectures demons on emotional intelligence. And meanwhile, no matter what wonder he beholds, be it the palaces of Semiramis, the Great Wall of China, the pyramids of Cheops, or the Firebird singing arias, there's still emptiness inside. He sleeps hugging his knees, barely reflects in the mirror in the morning, goes for walks in the park, touches the grass there, wanders, scuffing his soles, but the emptiness doesn't go away until he realises what needs to be done.

Maximilian cringed from such philosophical excesses.

—Mate, you sure went off the deep end there. Now I won't be able to sleep a wink. Therefore, I declare—we need a drink. Gotta sterilise the old noggin from these dastardly thoughts,—he said as he rummaged through his backpack for a bottle.—Fighting suicidal notions with a bit of chemistry.

—Bite your tongue, Maximilian.

—Me? You bite yours. Don’t worry, though. We'll fill your emptiness now, mate,—said Maximilian, filling the ornate shot glasses.—”Realised”, he says, “what needs to be done”! Unbeli—

—To Tulubaika! Need to return to Tulubaika, Maximilian. Lord have mercy. "Suicide"...—Benjamin Patrikovich said in a voice electrocuted with emotion and bit off another thirty-three degrees from the bublik.

A shiver scraped across the back of Maximilian's head again. He looked at Benjamin Patrikovich, how his jaws move, creak, grind his bublik, and held out one of the shot glasses to him.

—No alcohol, Maximilian,—Benjamin Patrikovich answered, chomping.—I’ve enough spirit of my own.

—Oh, come one, mate, there's barely a louse's worth of alcohol in there,—Maximilian laughed, showing the bottle to Benjamin Patrikovich.—You haven't tried anything like this yet—my granny's recipe, an infusion of pine resin, frog skins, and the secret ingredient. Family recipe. Do you know how hard it is to get frogs nowadays? I won't even mention the secret ingredient. One sip, and your troof will strip naked before you. The main thing is not to go blind from what you see, however. Our Tulubaika folk know their stuff. Let's knock one back, and the road might just open up before us, aye? Everything in the world is connected, after all. The Tulubaika recipe knows the way home. It's how I go. Without it—I would've been lost long ago.

Benjamin Patrikovich looked at the bottle where blackened frog skins and other unknown matter floated in the murky waters, grimaced, fell silent, twisted his thought into a knot. In the end, he waved his hand at it.

—Just one, perhaps,—Benjamin Patrikovich mumbled and took the glass.

Maximilian cheerfully raised his drink in the air, scratched the back of' his head with the other hand, and said:

—We need a toast! You go.

Benjamin Patrikovich hesitated, inhaled-exhaled, melancholically glanced through the liquid, and spoke:

—Some things, Maximilian, are only visible from afar. We humans have very developed farsightedness. Until you step back far enough—you won't see the bigger picture.

—Well, to farsightedness!

Benjamin Patrikovich nodded. The glasses clinked, the infusion streamed down their throats.

—Ooh, sheer ecstasy. Haven't had this in a long time.

Maximilian sat content, his cheeks reddening, eyes shining. His drinking companion, meanwhile, grimaced, his mug all scrunched up, his hair standing on end.

—Indeed, Maximilian.. Indeed...

Maximilian chuckled, patted Benjamin Patrikovich on the shoulder, took out another bublik, and began to work on it carefully, along the contour, circle by circle, without breaking it, so that the hole would remain a hole for as long as possible—the hole must be respected, it's the most important part and tastiest part of the bublik, a delicacy after all. Why is it there otherwise? Meanwhile, Benjamin Patrikovich sat, staring at the black floor through the bottom of the glass and observed the blackness glimmering.

—And where are you coming from?—Maximilian asked him.

—From where?

—From where, yeah. West, east or whatnot.

—Ah, from the north.

—Oho, and I'm from the souths.

Benjamin Patrikovich, not understanding the point of the question, nodded in agreement.

—Well, here we are, met up,—Maximilian said.

No response followed.

—Bastardous destiny brought us together, as they say,—Maximilian continued.—And do you know what that means?

—It’s apparent that we're both destiny's fools, Maximilian.

—Oh, you don't understand anything, Patrikovich. Seems you're still a far cry from your troof.

Darkness descended upon Benjamin Patrikovich's face, and he glared maliciously at his newly acquired comrade.

—Don't be cross. Look, I'll lay out the arithmetic for you now, all neat and tidy. I was good at geography and geometrics in school, you see—Maximilian began enthusiastically, drawing figures in the air with his hands.—You're coming from the norths, I'm from the souths. We were both going to the same place in opposite directions. And suddenly—bam!—we met. What does that mean?

—I don't understand, Maximilian,—Benjamin Patrikovich sighed dejectedly.

—That we're closer to our goal than ever before. For this, I think, we must drink!—Maximilian exclaimed, so loudly that even the soot from the ceiling of the hut showered down.

He reached for the glass but Benjamin Patrikovich wouldn't give it up.

—I've had enough. Your chemistry isn't helping. It's only getting worse.

Eat another bublik, Maximilian wanted to say, but stopped himself. I'm not going to waste my precious bubliks on you, mate.

—I'm going to sleep. I'm tired. A long road lies ahead,—said Benjamin Patrikovich, lay down, turned away, tucked his legs in.

—Aye, to hell with you then.

—Good night.

—Jolly good one, mate.

Maximilian stared at him for a few seconds, grinned, put the food and drinks back in his rucksack, wrapped himself in his bearskin, and carefully lay down next to Benjamin Patrikovich, slightly embracing him (to keep the warmth).

—What's this all about?—Benjamin Patrikovich protested.

—To avoid freezing, the first camping rule,—Maximilian said and threw his arm over Benjamin Patrikovich.

—Well, you watch yourself…

They lay, warming up, trying to fall asleep. Barely audible, the winds raged outside, whistling, inviting them to come out and be torn to pieces, tapping on the roof of the hut with tree branches—come out, wanderer, come out!

Benjamin Patrikovich had similar hurricanes in his head, only thoughtful ones, the very same that are with him day and night, from sunset to sunrise, in sleep and in wakefulness, whistling, hitting him on the head with branches. In these raging reflective storms, all sorts of things happen—it throws him about so much that it sometimes makes him nauseous: along a slippery path from existentialism to nihilism, through absurdism astride a snake that eats its own tail at the speed of light to meet the Truth. Until suddenly the ontological police stop him, ask him to present his documents only to find out that the speeding violator has no papers, no passport to confirm his identity, no driver's licence, no registration for the snake. The violator scurries away into an open field and hides in the pulsating oat dunes that stretch from one horizon of the universe to the other. And the violator immediately realises that he's completely and irrevocably lost, lowers his head and the banner of all hope and wanders alone through the field until he meets a lass named Truth who starts dancing round dances around him. She flashes before his eyes every few precious moments, waving her hand and immediately flying off into the distance, giggling. Red cheeks, merry eyes, all dressed in a kokoshnik, a sarafan, and with long braids—unspeakable beauty, in a word. She grabs his hand, takes out a chintz hanky embroidered with neat letters, spreads it out right in front of his mug, and as soon as he starts reading, she immediately—phew!—puts the hanky away, drops his hand, laughs, and grasshops away, blending in with the surrounding reality, and so on in a circle. But suddenly, after another turn, when our violator has already lost interest in what she has embroidered on the hanky in golden letters, Truth throws off her kokoshnik and takes off her sarafan. She rushes around like a madwoman and her clothes become less and less until she is left in a single translucent shirt showing “almost” everything. With an unwavering gaze, spellbound and embarrassed, the violator gawks at her and then with one swift movement, she throws off her shirt too, baring her breasts and her other androgynous charms down below. The violator flinches at such a delicate turn of events, squeezes his eyes shut with all his might, stumbles, and almost falls.

All the while, Maximilian breathed loudly right in his ear.

—What are you thinking about?


—What are you thinking about? I see you're dozing, can't fall asleep.

—About the Truth.

—Ah, about the troof.

Once again, from such a pronunciation of this sacred word for Benjamin Patrikovich, he cringed. It felt like a knife in the back.

—Well, don't worry,—Maximilian added.—We'll head out at dawn.



—I think I've already headed out.



—We'll head out for your troof at dawn, I say.

—"At dawn". Funny. We'll be lucky if it dawns.

—I feel it in my gut that it will dawn.

—The sun hasn't been seen lately so I've already forgotten what it looks like.

—And I'll tell you. It's like a shining orange hanging in the sky. Its beams feel warm, pleasant, and tickle the skin. In Tulubaika, it's like California—always sunny.

—I don't remember that.

—Stir your memory then.

—Nothing to stir there. You stick your hand in—they'll chop it off. Sleep now.

—Oh, you've got a good wellful of gloominess in you, mate. One can scoop it up with buckets.

—The well is deep, and the one can't reach the bottom.

—Aren't you tired, mate, of digging this well deeper?

—. . .

—When you get to Tulubaika, take a break or something. Go to a kabak, drink a shtof of beer, and play cards. There's plenty of that stuff in Tulubaika.

—Go to sleep.

—Oh well…

Maximilian sighed and shut up at last. Chronic philosopher, he thought. What can you expect from him? You need a mademoiselle, not your troof.

Immediately, images of long, endless tables appeared before him, laden with victuals, drinks, wines, such as, for example, the legendary Tulubaikan Riesling, sour as moonshine infused with lingonberries, cherry plums, and lemon peels but with such a pleasant aftertaste on the tongue and in the throat and a soothing sediment in the belly that if it were vinegar and not wine, it could be forgiven, yet it was wine, real wine, from real Tulubaika vineyards planted on the banks of the Tulubaika River, far from tall trees, so that the grapes would be filled with sun, swell, and the Tulubaikan maidens would knead them with their angelic tender feet, pour the juices into barrels, and then bury those barrels in the ground, so that the wine would mature, absorb the spirit of the Tulubaikan land and its filigree fabric of time, and then, when the time came, they would dig up the barrels, pour the wine into bottles, cork them and put them on the table, a long, endless table, at which all the inhabitants of Tulubaika would gather, from small to great, including, of course, Maximilian himself, and they would drink this wine, and they would eat Tulubaikan victuals: rye bread baked from flour ground in an old mill, marbled beef raised in Tulubaika, fed with beer and chestnuts and then roasted on a spit over a fire made from Tulubaikan firewood, salted cucumbers and sauerkraut grown in Tulubaikan beds, apple pie made from fruits picked from Tulubaikan apple orchards, and much, much more. And songs would sound, old, good songs that their grandfathers and great-grandfathers used to sing, and they would dance to these songs until they dropped knackered. That's what Tulubaika is like, Maximilian thought, and not these bottomless wells of yours.

—Say, Patrikovich, can you play accordion?—Maximilian asked, but there was no answer, for Benjamin Patrikovich had already fallen into a deep sleep and was snoring like a hog, the hedge one.

. . .

In the morning, or rather by noon, it really did dawn, which surprised both of them, emboldened Maximilian, and slightly offended Benjamin Patrikovich despite the favourable development of events. How could this be, it dawned? Where has such a thing been seen? The clouds, however, not paying attention to his convictions, bid their adieus and eloped far beyond the horizon; the wind died down; and the sun, that celestial orange, peeked out, shining its cheeks, sparkling its fiery smile, and wishing them a pleasant journey. Its beams reflected off the snow and blinded the eye but didn’t warm much... Well, at least there's no blizzard, and for that, thank you, he thought.

Benjamin Patrikovich walked, listened to the curious stories from Maximilian's hedonistic adventures and as usual looked around (you never know). Sometimes he fell with one foot into a snowdrift and wondered how Maximilian managed to walk straight and steady. He walked in front and checked the density of the snowdrifts with a long cane before stepping on them. Benjamin Patrikovich stepped exactly in the footsteps left by Maximilian but for some reason he often fell through, staring at Maximilian's bearskin cape with its head thrown back. He didn't have a good look at it at night, but now it was in front of him the whole way. The expression on the poor bear's face was, to put it mildly, like that of an utter village idiot who was dropped on a hard floor as a child, placed under a falling brick from the sky, and had new infusions tested on him before they go to production, whether made from frog, snake, or mole skins—eyes slanted, mouth agape, bouncing with each step, a masterpiece of taxidermy no less.

For a long while Benjamin Patrikovich thought about his own affairs until suddenly this happened:

—And, by the way, no matter what anyone says, orgies in Tulubaika are the best, Patrikovich.

—Huh? What?

—You probably remember, the whole village then on Solstice? It became a tradition, by the way.

—I don't recall that,—Benjamin Patrikovich said, frowning.

—You were probably already legging it after your troof then and missed everything. But don’t worry, I'll tell you. So, that day we uncorked a couple of barrels of wine and started lighting the festive bonfire. Everyone was merry, throwing more and more firewood into it, and our tractor driver Semyon (maybe you remember him), already sloshed to the gills by that time, dragged a canister of diesel fuel from somewhere and poured it right there, so he did, for real. Oh was it burning, mate, a real fuckin’ inferno right up to the heavens so that the glow was seen in the neighbouring villages. They thought we were on fire, imagine. And well, you understand, jumping over such an attraction is chanceless. Your clothes will catch fire and you won't have to go to the crematorium no more. A real bargain for some, I must say. But most still want to have fun because you can't go against traditions, can you? Therefore, everyone decided to take off their clothes and jump like that, straight through the flames, in their birthday suits, both lasses and lads, no one was shy. We ran, jumped, sang songs, laughed, shook our bodies, shone with our genitals and other charms of our figures. And the figures in Tulubaika—ooh! The gene pool, as they say, is ho-ho! No Greek muse has such roundness. And Denis, the priest's son whom everyone called Dionysus, turned out to have such a hose, he should've gone into firefighting with it.

Benjamin Patrikovich even winced, and the image of the polymorphic Truth without clothes, with fine roundness and with bits and bobs outwards appeared before him again. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to evict her from his consciousness, but she wouldn't disappear until he pinched himself on the cheek.

—What a disgrace,—resented Benjamin Patrikovich.—You're making it up. There was no such thing.

—Oh, there was. While jumping naked through the fire everyone got sweaty and went to bathe in the river. And there... If you only knew what we did.

—You're lying.

—I swear on my tooth, the Kama Sutra was invented in Tulubaika. I'd tell you but I'm afraid you can't listen to such things, Patrikovich—your ears would curl into tubes. Ooh, now that I remember, I get goosebumps down my spine. I've been to Europe, to the Americas, to the best brothels in Thailand, you name it—I've never seen anything like it anywhere. Tulubaika is truly special.

—Come to your senses, there has never been such a thing in Tulubaika and there couldn't be. No decent person in the village would allow that bacchanalia.

—It was, it sure was.

Benjamin Patrikovich refrained from answering.

—Denis then even joked that we should re-equip his pops’ little church into a temple of Dionysus.

—Tulubaika is not a circus or a brothel,—Benjamin Patrikovich grumbled.

—Tulubaika is whatever you want it to be, mate,—Maximilian parried.

Plugging his ears by sheer willpower, Benjamin Patrikovich kept silent and tried to think of his own affairs again. He knew precisely what Tulubaika had been like and what Tulubaika awaited him and it was nothing like the way Maximilian described it. There was no garden of earthly delights, no island of the lotus-eaters, no cradle of voluptuousness, no custard shores by the river, and, God forbid, no collective fornication to speak of. The people in Tulubaika had always been kind, thoughtful, spiritual, valuing order, justice, God's law, apparently knowing something about the Truth, which he, Benjamin Patrikovich, had missed in his foolish youth when he ran away lured by hidden meanings. As for risqué activities—at most going to the banya together, steaming, relaxing the body and spirit, but is that really a sin?

—... and I thought,—Maximilian continued,—I'll return to Tulubaika and write a book.

This cheered Benjamin Patrikovich up and straightaway pulled him out of the trance he'd slipped into whilst trying not to listen to the unrelenting Maximilian.

—A book? You?

—"The Adventures of Maximilian Bzdynkin: Ecstasy and Other Meanings" in three volumes, mind you. It'll sell millions of copies, put your religious-philosophical scribbles to shame, and teach folks a thing or two about life.

—I see you've thought it all through,—said Benjamin Patrikovich with a spasm of sarcasm. It must be said, he could make any face he wanted, even to tuck his tongue out, while trudging along behind.

—You bet!

—If Tulubaika had bored you so much that you left, why are you heading back there?

—Why, to teach the young'uns how to live. I've grown old and  now entering the sage phase, so to speak. I'll sit on a stump in the middle of the village, dispensing advice, egging on the Tulubaika youngsters, setting them on the right course in life.

—You? Old?—Benjamin Patrikovich ironised, but thought something else to himself (not going to tell you).

—You bet, quite old. Got hangovers now and all that. Here, listen to my knees cracking.

Stopping, Maximilian lifted one leg, moved it in circular motions clockwise, and the cracking echoed through the grove.

—Indeed,—smiled Benjamin Patrikovich.

—That's what I'm saying. But that's the least of it, mate. I've realised something else. As you said, "mankind suffers from short-sightedness".


—Doesn't matter. Mankind sees poorly, needs special specs, or some glassy magnifying friend.

Bellend, thought Benjamin Patrikovich, and immediately chided himself in his mind. He tensed up and quickened his pace to hear better but Maximilian stopped and turned around, looking him straight in the face, which made Benjamin Patrikovich flinch. Did he say it out loud?

—Look here, Patrikovich. Let's say there exists Ecstasy with a capital E. That's how I'll start the book. So you live, your stomach wants one thing, your brain a second, your male organ a third, and your heart—a fourth.

—You seem to have forgotten the spirit, Maximilian.

—Don’t interrupt. So I live in Tulubaika, don’t grieve, have earned my medals in hedonism, erotica, gambling and all that, but suddenly decide that it’s boring here with you lot, something’s just not right. Not enough of everything. I want more, and something new, something... something unlike all the previous stuff, you know. Well, I think, to hell with you, I'll go conquer the globe. There's still an unploughed field there in terms of Ecstasy. I'll test my luck, so to speak.

—And did you? Test your luck?

—Oh, did I ever, mate. But luck, it seems, grows tired of being tested. You walk the world, but what are you looking for? No clue. The million-lucre question, as they say.

—Ecstasy, apparently,—Benjamin Patrikovich quipped.

—Ha, Ecstasy is all well and good, but which one exactly? That's the question.

—Is there a difference which ecstasy?

—We-e-ell...—Maximilian broached.—The difference is so great that... You know, my philosophical apparatus wouldn't suffice to express it.

No surprise there, thought Benjamin Patrikovich.

—But tell me, does it make a difference to you which troof you follow?

Truth is one and there can be no other,—replied Benjamin Patrikovich, pronouncing Truth with emphasis on how it should be pronounced, not how Maximilian did that.

He stood in front of Benjamin Patrikovich with his hands on his hips.

—Well then, describe it to me, this troof of yours.

—Truth,—Benjamin Patrikovich corrected sharply.

—Doesn't matter, troof-shmuf. What is it then? Do you know?

Benjamin Patrikovich faltered at such attacks, grew angry, like a wolf driven into a corner, and with a voice trembling from the energies seething in his body, replied:

—I think so, yes.

And Maximilian attacked:

—You think or you do?

Benjamin Patrikovich's arterial pressure rose, thought began to pulsate in his brain, his head spun, images of the Truth flashed before him in her most diverse guises, with all her primal trappings. He blinked loudly and said:

—I would tell you, Maximilian, but I'm afraid your ears would curl into tubes.

—Oh, spare me. You don't know, and no one knows. That's why you wander the forests. "Go I know not whither and fetch I know not what".

—It’s a personal journey. Truth can't be expressed in words. It doesn't want to be known and subjected to description. It shuns all human efforts to encase it in our foul language.

—Exactly, Patrikovich. Ecstasy is just the same. When you remember it—your cheeks and ears would blaze. You can't tell your grandkids about it, at most—to your lawyer. It is attained, like troof—

Truth,—snorted Benjamin Patrikovich.

—... through personal experience, step by step. Somewhere you smoked hashish to oblivion, somewhere you broke a fine mahogany bed with a fine maiden, somewhere you gambled away your cat at cards, somewhere you nearly drowned in wine, almost died. But this is the way, you know. As the ancient Tulubaikans said, troof is in wine.


—What Romans?

—It was the Romans who said that, not the Tulubaikans. In vino veritas. And grapes never grew in Tulubaika. How could they in such latitudes?

—Your Tulubaika is wrong, Patrikovich. Seems your wanderings haven't cured your short-sightedness, only made it worse. You're going back too soon, should've wandered more, aye? I told you, you're as far from your troof as Antarctique is if you crawled there.

At this moment, Benjamin Patrikovich's brain and heart became coated with a black crust resembling solidified lava. His brows furrowed, his fists clenched, his legs trembled.

—Now say “Truth”,—he growled through his teeth.

—Troof,—Maximilian said carelessly.

—Say “Truth”, say it properly, with the “th”!—insisted Benjamin Patrikovich.


Growling, Benjamin Patrikovich rushed at Maximilian, swinging his arms. He deftly dodged it and the attacker fell face-first into the snow.

—Oi eh, this is new, Patrikovich. Set upon a mate with your fists? Over some troof? Not a sacred bone in your body.

All covered in snow, his mug red, Benjamin Patrikovich went right berserk, leapt out of the snowdrift and sank his teeth into Maximilian's leg, but missed, only biting the thick trousers stuffed with cotton. Maximilian tore free from his weak grip, laughed, and ran away through the snowdrifts up the hill between the trees, waving the degenerate bear hanging from his back.

—TRUTH! Say it!

—Troof-troof-troof!—he teased as he fled.

Benjamin Patrikovich rose from the snow and ran after him.

—Freak, swine! Say TRUTH! Heathen.

—Troof! F-f-f-f-f-f,—Maximilian drawled, now and then hiding behind trees and playfully peeking out from behind them.

The hill grew steeper, the trees sparser. Maximilian with rosy cheeks bounced back and forth like a ball. Benjamin Patrikovich with a boiled lobster face ran after him, panting, stumbling, shouting insults and demanding he pronounce the Truth correctly. His heart pounded like a locomotive piston at full speed, steam coming from every crevice. He grabbed trees, leaned on them, pulled himself up, dragging himself Maximilianward, snatched branches and threw them but they never reached the target, falling into the snowdrifts.

—Bastard, damn you, stop right there you dog turd! TRUTH! Say TRUTH! You stinking git, damn you!

Merry, laughing, Maximilian would stop, wait for Benjamin Patrikovich, then break away again. It grew harder for both to advance, the hill seemed to gain an ever greater incline as if leading them into the pure blue sky with a smiling chubby-cheeked sun at the centre.

—And you eat bubliks wrong, by the way!—shouted Maximilian to Benjamin Patrikovich, who sounded and looked like an old sick mongrel with tuberculosis.

He had already lost his hat and gloves, his long black hair with streaks of grey stuck to his face, got into his eyes, clung to his beard, sweat streamed down his body, snot hung from his nose.

—Damn wanker, curse you! Run, you idiot, run! Dog turd, stinking skinflint, shit, bitch, bastard! Run, scoundrel, wretch, snake! You, shit, arse!

Here Maximilian discovered that the hill in front of him ended, and it ended with none other than a cliff.

He quickened his pace and, sinking into the snow, grabbing onto bushes sticking out from under the snowdrifts, he climbed upward and paid no attention to Benjamin Patrikovich crawling behind him.

At the edge, when new horizons opened up before him, Maximillian was dumbfounded, his lower jaw dropped, his eyes rounded, his ecstatic heart shook even faster, exhilarated. There, among the forests, lost in the snow-covered valley and shining brighter than the sun itself, it sprawled—Tulubaika.

Wooden mansions several stories high, adorned with filigree carving were wrapped in soft white coats and towered over the streets. Their pointed roofs in colourful patterns were sprinkled with snow as if with powdered sugar. Above the porches with twisted columns, stove pipes smoked merrily. Among the mansions, on the main square, the golden domes of churches proudly gleamed. Their crosses, crowned with bullfinches, reached into the frosty blue sky. The chime of bells floated over environs merging with the festive hubbub and the inviting cries of merchants. Along the streets strolled festively dressed folk. Pretty lasses in downy shawls and embroidered kaftans walked. Daring lads raced on swift horses, whipping up snow dust whirlwinds. Children squealed as they slid down icy hills and played snowballs. Under the hunchbacked bridges, decorated with icy lace, the Tulubaika River slumbered under the ice. And on the shore, sprawling freely, the fair was abuzz. In the painted tents, samovars smoked, plump kettles sparkled, and bundles of bubliks hung.

Intoxicated by the fairy-tale visages, Maximilian went completely limp and lost his vigilance. There it was, right in front of him. He turned around to share what he had found, but there appeared snarling Benjamin Patrikovich and charged at him. Before Maximilian could say a word, both of them somersaulted down from the cliff cuddled up and screaming. Right in the middle of the way, the crispy breeze caught the wanderers and carried them to Tulubaika.



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