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Uncle Doubt by Elliot Krop

Uncle Doubt by Elliot Krop

Fiction, Vol. 2.2, June 2008

Translated from the Russian by I.I. Dubinov, then translated back, and so on…

On an evening indistinguishable from any other, I sat in my thinking-chair, speculating. Margarita was still at her dance class and I relaxed with an Armagnac on my drink cart, reclining on the black leather, my eyes fixed at nothing in particular on the ceiling. On an arm of my chair, an anthology of Russian literature lay agape, but as with the doing of all good things, trying too hard takes away from the goodness. Deep in empty contemplation, I heard a knock at the door. It was too late for guests. Curious and without a second thought, I forced myself up from the comfortable repose.

Peering through the peephole, I saw an old man in a ragged overcoat with a long grey beard—almost white. He stood hunched, supporting himself with a cane, a tattered brown bag slung over his shoulder.

“Who is it?” I asked, not recognizing the face and wondering what business such an elderly gentleman would have with me.

“It’s me,” he answered, “your uncle.”

Now on my father’s side, there were many brothers and sisters, more than most, but all sedentary. I was quite sure that I knew them all, though it had taken my entire life to get it right. On my mother’s, the uncles and aunts came and went, some calling themselves relations when later it was found out that they were relatives of friends of grandparents. However, any inquest as to why we should call them uncles and aunts met with offense and wounded feelings, and in my youth, a possible smack to the back of the head. From an early age, I learned that sometimes it was best to leave such questions to the writers of obituaries.

“Uncle?” I asked, leaving him the opportunity to fill the uncertainty with solid facts.

“Oh little one… don’t you remember me? When you were but a babe bouncing on your mother’s leg, I was there warning you, cautioning your mother, ‘Careful! Is it safe? What if the baby falls? Is there any point to such hard lessons?’”

“I remember those words!” I exclaimed through the door and opened it continuing, “They would always make me cry and the bouncing would quickly cease.”

“And very well it did,” he added. “You could have been killed!”

I looked him up and down then, still not recognizing the features. Time had not been kind to my poor uncle. His face had the texture of rubble and he hunched so badly that one could mistake him for a circus performer—a contortionist. Moreover, his hands shook, and the cataracts in his eyes made me wonder how it was that he faced the correct direction when talking to me.

“I’m sorry, uncle, if I don’t remember…” I began but paused, interrupted by the scrutinizing glare with which he studied the inside of my apartment from the doorway.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Oh nothing, nothing, I mean, that is, well… something is not quite right here. But never mind me. Who am I to tell you what is this and that? Who am I to tell you my impressions of things anyway? I am but a stranger to you now, I see that, after all these years you do not even remember me, my poor little Leopold.”

No one had called me by that name in years. That he knew it was a sure sign that we were indeed relations, though I still had trouble placing him.

“And who is that over there?” he asked from the doorway, pointing to a picture of Margarita and me, which sat on a side table in the corner of the room.

“That’s my wife, Margarita,” I answered.

“Hhhmmmm… well that is very interesting.”

“What do you mean?”

“I couldn’t possibly tell you as a stranger outside of your house, I mean who would I be to tell you your business? No no, my words are meaningless if I am but a stranger.”

“Oh uncle, please, you are not a stranger, you are my uncle, except that, well, I am sorry but I forgot your name.”

“Yes I know that I am nameless and formless to you, a shiftless idea, don’t apologize please. Let me remind you. I am your uncle J.K. Doubt, now do you remember?”

“Well I’m not sure if I do or if I don’t,” I answered, surprising myself with my uncertainty. “As soon as I decide that I don’t remember I think to myself that I probably do, which leads me to greater certainty that I don’t.”

He stood there in my doorway expectantly, his hands shaking a little, looking from the picture of Margarita to the drink cart and back.

“Perhaps I should ask you to come in,” I said. I may not have been sure of his origin and relation to me, but I did want to hear what he had to say about the picture with Margarita.

“Perhaps you should,” he replied, “I do miss my little nephew, where would I go without you?”

“Yes, well,” I stammered, uncomfortable at the pathetic display of miserable neediness, “come right in then.”

He limped across the threshold, and once in the apartment, straightened his bent back, stretched his arms up into the air and yawned as if after a long sleep. Then, shaking off the look of absolute defeat, he made his way straight to the drink cart.

“What is this?” he asked.

“Brandy,” I answered, not thinking it right to offer an old enfeebled man, for the good of his health, yet thinking it poor manners not to offer to a guest. Before I could decide, he pointed to the drink and said, “All alone and drinking? Is there a problem that you want to talk about?”

“Not at all,” I recoiled defensively. “Can’t a man have a comforting drink in the evening without being accused of trouble?”

“Your defensiveness gives you away,” he smirked. “Maybe you should ask yourself that same question?”

I didn’t know what he was getting at but before I had time to come up with a wise retort, he picked up the glass and downed the contents in one swallow.

“Hey!” I yelled but he only let out a fluttering breath and smiled through his beard, standing even straighter.

“Now,” he said, “we can talk like men.”

I thought that he would go to the picture of Margarita, but instead he turned in the opposite direction and made his way straight to the couch. Once there, he dropped himself down and wriggled his ancient limbs, rubbing his rear into the cushion.

“Now uncle,” I stammered, frustrated by his familiar behavior.

But he shushed me, answering,, “Not now Leopold, I’m studying.”

“What on earth?” I asked but he just caressed the cushion with his rear and stared at the ceiling.

“Yes, I am certainly onto something,” he exclaimed. “Do you know the history of this couch, little Leopold?”

“Well history is such a darned elusive thing,” I said, getting philosophical. “Can anybody ever really know history? Even, say, if you were there yourself, you are stymied by your faulty senses. And having many perspectives may not do you any better. Ten accounts can be written, each in complete disagreement with the others, and who to believe? You see, there really is no way, dear Uncle, to know what ever happened.”

“Hhmmm… You are quite a sharp one you are,” he said, and though he had walked into my life only minutes earlier, I felt a warm sense of satisfaction from the compliment. “Yes, skepticism, mistrust—stable notions to rely on. If I know one thing, it is that I don’t know many things. And that thing is a constant thing. Or is it? But back to the point at hand; have you turned your keen brain to this question: Who has lain on this couch?”

“Well, I suppose it was only me and my wife Margarita. Very simple, nothing to ponder,” I said, but just that he had brought this question up made me think that indeed there was more to the story—that I wasn’t seeing it all, hidden as some of it may have been behind the shadows of illogic and deceit.

“Illogic and deceit,” he said.

“What was that? I was just thinking the words ‘illogic and deceit’ and now you say them as if you read my mind?”

“It may have been a coincidence,” he pointed out and sprang up from the couch, rushing with a mad limp back to the front room.

“Whimsical villainy,” he decried before I even had the wherewithal to follow him. “Beanbaggery! Tomfoolery!”

I followed uncertainly, only to find my uncle on his hands and knees, his gangly nose poking about the floor of my coat closet.

“Uncle, please! I entreat you to get up this instant.”

He turned his head full well around, snapped it back in expectation, and let out a howling sneeze.

“What is this with you entreating? Nephew, little Leopold, tell me: What is it that you do? What have you become?”

I could not answer. The question was imprecise.

“Your profession, man!” he bellowed, “What cockamamie vocation has made you ‘entreat’?”

“I am a man of letters,” I replied, beginning the well-practiced, careful examination. “In part, I work as a translator of great Russian literature, but my true calling is in gleaning from said works the rudimentary character of the Russian soul, and transliterating this spiritual ‘symbologia’ into a form palatable to the American reader. I do this creatively, in short story medium…”

“Shut up! Shut up!” he cried, his palms on his ears. “A writer. And probably an academic – aren’t you, well aren’t you?”

“I do teach at institutions of higher learning.”

“Community colleges, no doubt?”

“I have been known to pick up a class or two at such…”

“You are an adjunct! God be merciful if ever there was one. Your poor mother!”

He clutched his heart and returned his nose to examining the closet floorboards.

“She probably doesn’t know. However, if you ever speak to me that way again, or ‘entreat,’ or put on these ‘academic’ airs with me, nephew, I swear, I will tell her. A waste of a man—a waste of a life!”

Indeed, he may have been right. For months now, I had been deliberating on a question most dear, “What is the worth of a life?” But I alighted on nothing but hypnotic circumlocution. The crux of it, the core of my conundrum: Whether I was wasting away, squandering my abilities, misdirected. I could have made a fortune in business, I could have garnered worldwide esteem for my brilliance in some scientific field, I could have been a doctor. But to fall so desperately into the pit of melancholia for love and dedication to the art of my profession, well… I had to ask, was it worth it, and if so, what was that worth—the worth of a life?

“Oh Uncle,” I moaned, with tears in my eyes, “you have stripped me to the root. Pithy, so very pithy…”

In an instant, he was up on his feet. I didn’t have a chance to blink before he delivered a well-marked slap square across my face.

“That will do,” he said. “How dare you speak to your uncle like that? Keep your smutty ways to your intellectual community! Vulgarian! Pedophile! Liberal!” but seeing as I was moved to tears he relented and took me by the shoulder.

In a firm tone he scolded, “Nephew, little Leopold, all is not lost. Do not despair. You can do anything you want. All you have to do is decide what that thing is.” He then pulled away from me and smiled.

“Besides,” he said, “this nonsense that you do may have developed your senses of observation. There may be benefits. Perhaps you are keener now than you were before…”

Yes, keener now, I thought. This was a good turn of events, the keenness. It may behoove me to continue upon the accursed journey of my literary career. I wiped my eyes with my sleeve as Uncle paced in front of the closet, pulling on his beard.

“Show me your foot,” he said.

“No, I will not.”

“Leopold, I am here for you—to help you. Now do it.”

“No.”

“Are you sure about that?”

I wasn’t sure, and before I could decide he had already fallen upon me, commencing his examination.

“Yes,” he said, feeling the outlines of my right foot in its slipper. “Yes,” he continued sniffing the top of my left foot. “Most curious.”

“Uncle, if you do not stop this at once, I will be forced to ask you to leave.”

“But you just invited me in. Don’t you want to know what I am doing, what this is all about? I am investigating all this for you, you know.”

“I can’t help but be curious.”

“Well then,” he went on, “what would you say if I told you that there may have been shoes in your closet which your feet did not wear?”

“Such a thing is possible. Margarita keeps some shoes here.”

“This Margarita,” he said, wrinkling his old skin to such an extent that he looked like an accordion, “this wife, or as you call her, Wife—she is female, yes?”

“What kind of a question is that? She is my wife.”

“True enough, but you are some kind of namby-pamby writer-academic. You lie for a living son, and there are stories of your ilk, tall tales, though let me tell you—none too tall for a sharpshooter like myself. One young gadabout of your sort, an I.I. Dubinov I believe, wanted to please his poor ailing parents in their only hope—that he would have a happy marriage to a devoted woman. However, as is so common with you hoity-toity loafers, he wanted to be ‘progressive.’ Oh no, let’s throw the old fashioned out the window and turn the world on its ear, take a telephone and plug it into a washing machine, call up the fire patrol for a weather forecast, why don’t we, huh? Well, why don’t we? So what does he do then? I’ll tell you what.”

He did not tell me what.

“Tell me,” I said.

“No.”

“Yes, tell me now, and quickly Uncle, for you are standing in my abode and as such, are expected to return the hospitality that you receive.”

“You ungrateful ingrate! I try to spare you the hard truth of a moral lesson and you threaten me. Very well, I’ll tell you what he did. He married his apartment.”

“And what is so wrong about that?”

“No Leopold, you must have misheard me, he did not get married in his apartment; he married the apartment itself.”

“But this is completely absurd. What kind of sense does that make, and what hard lesson is there to learn? You are just making up nonsense now.”

“Nonsense? It is not my fault that your mother dropped you all those times. I told her not to play that darned leg-bouncing game. Just think, Nephew. Think of the implications of an unholy bond with one’s dwelling. Never a moment’s peace at home, everywhere you turn, there she is, all around you. Can’t take her anywhere, and I know that beauty is in the eye of the bee-holder but how could any man have relations with anything so many times larger than him? Is she ever satisfied? Are you? What of constancy—is she faithful? Every man that you bring home has a go with your wife, and she takes him as easily as you invited him, the harlot. Inevitably, when you leave her, you’re out of house and home. It’s a recipe for disaster, and an abomination if you ask me, but looking at you I see that you don’t understand the lesson here one bit. Nope. Must be well on your way to apartment love and degeneracy yourself then, with your, ‘Show me respect, I’m the master of my domain.’ Oh, the tasks here before me…”

As a writer and reader—in short, one used to the analysis of metaphors and intertextual postmodernism—I took up the challenge and listened closely to my uncle’s story. However, at his censure of my apparent ignorance, I couldn’t help but feel dejected. I mean, this was my profession. If I couldn’t analyze subtext, then my identity was in crisis. Who was I?

He was still shaking his head when I said, “I am sorry if I offended you. You are my guest and I am at your service. Please tell me all that you need to without my interruptions. Impart upon me your wisdom.”

“Yes, wisdom,” he nodded. “Perfidy. Do you know that word, writer?”

“Porfyri, yes, very famous surname, but also it is a kind of photosensitivity, madness really, acquired and inherited, vampirism some say, you know how people are…”

“Exactly—treachery. We are on the lookout for duplicitousness. Now fix your keen mind on this—you are home alone.”

“Yes.”

“You are married.”

“Indeed.”

“Are you so dull? Think. Conclude.”

“What must I conclude?”

“I can’t tell you. That is up to you. I can only hint and insinuate, nose around and implicate.”

“I may seem quite foolish but I just don’t see what you’re getting at.”

He swiped at my arm and pulled me to the picture of Margarita.

“What is this?” he asked.

“I already told you, my wife, Margarita.”

“And what is this I see hanging from her ears? Is it noodles?”

“Noodles? They are hoop-earrings, uncle.”

“Oh pardon the mistake, it’s these pig-cataracts, and I think someone has smeared my eyeglasses.”

“You are not wearing eyeglasses.”

“Right. What is it that you do again? But we’ve been down that road.”

He twirled a wild eyebrow hair and plucked it in exasperation.

“Leopold—when was the last time you made love to your wife?”

“Uncle! How dare you! That is too personal.”

“You would tell this to a doctor who was trying to aid you, but what doctor has the wealth of my wisdom? Let me in nephew—I only want to help.”

“Very well,” I sighed, “it might have been two weeks.”

“Two weeks! But she doesn’t look a day over forty.”

“She’s twenty-seven.”

His head drooped, his neck elongated, and he resembled a weeping willow.

“And she makes love to you once every three weeks?”

“I said two weeks, and it’s not so unusual. Or is it? Maybe it is. But if she is not satisfied, she would tell me. Frequent enough, but maybe… perhaps she wants more, but I don’t think so.”

“Unless… It may not be once every three weeks.”

My breath turned to ice.

“Are you saying that Margarita is… cheating on me?”

He thought to himself for a second, as if the notion had never crossed his mind.

“It’s possible,” he answered slowly and raised his eyebrows. “Well, I’m not saying that she’s not.”

I stumbled back and fell into my thinking-chair, confusion gnawing at the corners of my face.

“She has been gone for some time now,” I mumbled, “and these dance classes, they seem to crop up every other night…”

Did I live in the same world I inhabited yesterday? Was it possible that all this time I had sat unthinking, blind to what passed in front my eyes, content in the ephemeral pursuit of the ether? Had I only now turned my keen mind to questions so dear—betrayal, truth, meaning? Had I taken these things for granted as natural laws, an innocent babe, unaware that all around me the world was ablaze in treachery and deceit?

“Treachery and deceit,” he whispered in my ear.

“Uncle, please, help me. What do I do? How can I ever know?”

“Oh no, now you ask too much.” He shook his head. “What can I do to help you—an old man without a home?”

“No, you have a home here, you can stay with us, I entr… I beg you. You are all I have.”

“All right, Leopold. Enough of this pathetic display of neediness. So much discourtesy and now you want the benefit of my visit! But I’ll stay. You will have to hide me, you know.”

“Of course, I am very stealthy when I need to be. Margarita won’t even glimpse your shadow.”

*

I hid him in the shoe closet, and none too soon. Within minutes Margarita returned, all blond sunshine and smiles. She kissed me hello, spinning away.

“You wouldn’t believe it, but Gorman just started taking classes at my studio.”

Gorman D. Crimini—my thesis advisor!

“Did you dance with him?”

“I did, and then we talked. That’s why I’m late.”

“You… talked?”

“The man is a genius of intertextual analysis… and to have mastered Welsh and Russian at such a young age!”

“Did he bore you?” I asked hopefully.

“I’d say. How could he not? You know how when he talks to you with that gaze of his—he bores right into your soul.”

“What did you talk about?”

“His marvelous heuristics for the problems of epistemology. The man has single-handedly solved the dilemmas of modernism. And what an expositor… oh he has very nice expositions! You chose the right advisor.”

Cruel fate—my choice of advisor had pushed her straight into his arms.

“All that modernist stuff,” I said, “I reject it!”

“Langdon Leopold Snodgrass!” she exclaimed. “How can you say that? He’s your advisor. Have you been drinking?”

“I said it and I’ll say more. It’s meta-narrative hogwash. Grand theory schmand theory. It’s an infinite regress of vicious circles on a slippery slope—the devil take them! They can all slip and slide around themselves forever! Epistemology my butt!”

“Langdon, what’s gotten into you? Turning your back on your work, on your philosophy—you betray yourself.”

“Betrayal you say?”

“Yes… And what next? Will you start questioning us, our marriage, our love?”

“In fact, I just might.”

With a twirl, she spun around and walked off into the bedroom.

Out of the shoe closet, Uncle called out in a hoarse whisper, “You have been bamboozled by fluff and feathers! Heed my wish, ‘No fluff, no feathers.’”

“To the devil!” I exclaimed.

“Exactly,” he replied, “Now you’re getting it.”

“Are you cursing in there?” Margarita called out from the next room.

I pried the closet door open a crack and whispered to my uncle, “What do I do?”

“This is quite serious,” came his voice from the darkness, “but I think I can help.”

“She’s cheating on me, isn’t she?”

“That’s what we have to determine, but first you must lure her out of the bedroom.”

“How do I do that?”

“Use some of that nonsense of yours, you know, your snooty scholar-babble. You seem to have found a woman who is so masochistic that she craves your ineffectual and snobby pedantry. So, Leopold, give it to her with all you’ve got. Give it to her good.”

“But Uncle, my entire worldview has changed. I’ve shifted paradigms like a confused cross-dresser.”

“Then tell her that. Dwell a little on that ‘epistemology’ word. Six syllables can be useful.”

“Yes, the nature of knowledge, what it means to ‘know’. Of course!” and I was off to the bedroom.

“Please understand, my dear Margarita,” I began as I entered, taking her by the shoulders, “it’s not personal. I’ve suffered a philosophical breakthrough. I have deciphered the Hermeneutic Circle.”

“You do that thing in a circle? Are you telling me that you’re gay?”

“You misunderstand. I’ve tapped into the great vein of awareness. The nature of knowing, you see, is self-referential. It’s that darned epistemology.”

“Yes, go on.”

I held her hand and walked her to the doorway.

“You see, to understand, to ‘know,’ we rely on other sources, text and context. To know a thing may mean that you have to know the other things that that thing comes from, semantic and syntactic. Then, often, you come back full circle, until knowing a thing becomes… self-referential.”

“I’m not sure I see what you mean.”

“Exactly.”

I pulled her further out until we stood in the hallway to our bathroom.

“Let us take as an example a story that incorporates, as symbols, references, and tropes, Mark Twain, Gogol, Chekhov, Bulgakov, and some notions of uncertainty. Can there be a point? No. Because understanding the piece means understanding the pieces and the symbols, which means that you have to know everything that these authors could possibly have meant and the relevance. Then, extrapolate this to knowing the whole world and you are lost—because knowing the story means knowing everything. And knowing everything, means knowing the story.”

“So how does this align with Gorman’s theory?”

“The devil take Gorman and his theory! The man is leagues behind me, muckraking around with his modernist problems. His focus is passé, onanistic, annalistic, effete. He thinks that some theory will right all wrongs, solve all problems… he’s fooling himself. I’ve stumbled onto something far more poignant. Not only is modernism bunk, but so is post-modernism, as well as whatever comes next. Even this theory—horse pucky—can’t be known, since it reverts back on itself until it is also invalid. We know nothing! Nothing!”

“My dear,” she rushed over to me and took me in her arms. “You’re having a metaphysical crisis.”

She kissed me on the forehead and moved her lips around to my ear.

“God, that turns me on,” she whispered and sucked my earlobe in her mouth.

Slinking through the shadows, my dear Uncle passed around us, behind Margarita, and falling to the ground like a corpse, rolled under the bed. She hadn’t noticed a thing.

“Oh my dear Langdon,” she said, “I need you, I need you now.”

“But I have more… the paradox of the liar… the Münchhausen-Trilemma… the…” but I couldn’t finish as she was kissing me passionately, pushing me back into the bedroom in the direction of the bed. Once in the room, I resisted.

“My sweetheart, I want to but… in this tumultuous time I am all upheaval and turmoil…”

“You mean you can’t?” she asked.

“No, no, it’s not that. I just need a few seconds alone here in the bedroom. Just give me a chance to quell my mind’s disorder.”

“Of course,” she said immediately, “quell away. I’ll be back in a minute.”

She danced out of the room, passing me a flying kiss.

I fell to the floor, but the darkness under the bed was so absolute that I couldn’t even see my Uncle’s beard.

“What am I to do?” I whispered.

After a pause, I heard him say, “You must make love to her. Then, when you’re in the thick of it, a’rompin’ an’ a’wailin’, that’s when you do your figurin’.”

“But how will I know?”

“You have to be keen, Leopold.”

I was halfway there.

“Do you promise to help me?” I asked.

He said nothing.

“Promise Uncle, promise.”

“All right, I promise, but then you must blindfold her.”

Within seconds, Margarita returned, with a woolen scarf.

“I thought we would be adventurous,” she said, and tied the material around her eyes. “I’ve always wanted to be blindfolded.”

Warily, I clambered upon her, placating her passion with wet kisses and desperate words, all along, my mind resounding with the absolute deafness of my unknowing. Numb and overfull, I waded in uncertainty.

Dark thoughts fluttered together with no thoughts at all: Was she disloyal? Will I have the presence of mind to go through with the deed at hand and discover that most private secret? Will keenness prevail in this probe for the truth? And how to conjoin the intellect and the body for a fait accompli?

Inauspiciously, still grander uncertainty seized me as to the merit of my keenness, the prowess of my technique—the shortfalls and defects. Was I unqualified? After all, I did not even have a certificate of achievement. Floundering, I found that the root of my confidence had withered and would not awaken. Soothing words were impotent against the withering fright. Prying and wrenching too threw salt on the wound.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

“No no, my darling, I am savoring you, lingering on in the state of amorous delight,” and I lavished her with kisses as my fevered brain sought a fix which my body would not provide.

“Uncle,” I hissed. “Uncle!”

“What is that?” Margarita asked.

“I am crying Uncle, for you have won me so completely. I am calling Uncle for my heart.”

Blindfolded as she was, Margarita could not espy the figure that rose from beneath the bed and whispered in my ear, “What’s the matter?”

“Uncle I am lost,” I said, “I am inoperably lost.”

He examined the situation and pointed here and there.

“What about this and that?” he asked gesticulating, “And have you tried that hither and thither? And what about this dither and yon?”

“No no, I am lost. Oh Uncle I am lost.”

“Enough already,” Margarita said, “I know you are lost and I have won and all, but you better get on with it.”

Desperate, I entreated, “You must take my place.”

He let out a sigh and rolled his eyes.

“You must,” I said, and with a stealthy substitution, we righted the contretemps, switching positions, Margarita unwitting, not a modicum abreast of our little pas de deux.

“So are you finding it out?” I whispered to Uncle as he got upon his business.

“Not yet,” he whispered back.

Several minutes passed and Margarita began to put up much of a fuss, writhing and hollering.

“Now, Uncle, what about now?” I asked, raising my voice over the noise.

“Yes,” Margarita called out, “Now!”

“You’ll have to wait a moment, dear Leopold. I think I’m onto something.”

But in a few seconds it was over and Uncle slithered back under the bed as I took his place.

“Wonderful,” she said. “I never knew how much I’d like to be blindfolded. It is a new experience entirely. And the way you were calling out ‘Uncle!’ Well it was kinky, Langdon. I never knew you had it in you. ‘Uncle’ anytime!”

It was unbearable lying there with her when all I wanted was to have a few words with my Uncle only two feet away. I started hatching plots to send her out of the bedroom when to my mercy came an advantageous knock on the door.

“Now who could that be?” Margarita asked, as she threw on a robe and walked to the door.

Taking the opportunity so rightly afforded me, I fell to the floor.

“Well?” I asked. “Do you know? Is she cheating?”

His somber voice stilled my anticipation.

“I’m sorry Leopold. In the immortal words of the famous Soviet martyr, Zoya Anatolyevna Kosmodemyanskaya, ‘Kill me, I to you nothing not say.'”

“But you promised….”

“And what does that mean?”

“I don’t know. But still you promised…”

“Are you sure?”

I was not, because sureness was like knowing and knowing was impossible. Perhaps Margarita knew, so I ran to the other room where she stood by the door, talking through a crack.

“Who is it?” I asked her.

“It is an old Aunt of mine,” she said.

Turning to me, she whispered, “But I don’t remember her at all.”

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